Your Ultimate Guide to Writing Amazing Essays

Posted on January, 2024

What is an Essay?

An essay is a written piece of writing that is designed to illustrate an idea to a reader and discuss and prove a thesis. A thesis is a statement that is put forward for discussion or proof.

For example, you might state in your thesis statement that “Dogs are better than cats”. This statement is an opinion, and you could write an essay to show this to be true.

An effective essay, however, should be set out in a balanced way, so you need to discuss this viewpoint from different viewpoints.

Why Improve Your Essay Writing Skills?

I believe writing essays is a key skill that everyone should learn and try to master.

I have found, however, that students can be resistant to learning this skill, so here are six reasons why you need to master this skill:

  • Learning to write better essays is essential because it helps individuals express their thoughts clearly in written form, a skill crucial in academic, professional, and personal contexts.
  • Essay writing enhances critical thinking by requiring individuals to analyse information, evaluate perspectives, and construct logical arguments, fostering the ability to question assumptions and form well-informed opinions.
  • It contributes to knowledge acquisition as it involves researching and gathering information from various sources, allowing individuals to explore different viewpoints and deepen their understanding of the subject matter.
  • Essays emphasise organisation and structure, teaching individuals to present ideas coherently and logically, a skill applicable to other forms of writing and effective thought organisation in daily life.
  • Proficiency in essay writing leads to academic success. Essay writing helps students to convey their knowledge effectively, resulting in higher grades, improved comprehension of course material, and enhanced overall performance.
  • Strong essay writing skills are valuable in professional development, showcasing one’s ability to communicate ideas persuasively and concisely, essential in business reports, proposals, research papers, and impactful presentations.

The Essay Writing Process

  1. Prewriting: Brainstorming ideas, conducting research, and organising thoughts, including creating outlines and gathering relevant information. Tip: I always get students to start by dividing their page and putting down at least three points arguing for the thesis statement and three arguing against.  
  2. Drafting: Putting ideas into writing, focusing on developing a coherent and logical flow of content without worrying about perfect grammar or style.
  3. Revising: Reviewing and restructuring the draft for clarity, coherence, and effectiveness, refining arguments, rearranging paragraphs, and addressing grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.
  4. Editing and Proofreading: Detailed review to eliminate errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting, ensuring proper sentence structure, word choice, and overall coherence.
  5. Finalising: Making necessary adjustments based on feedback, polishing the essay, ensuring proper formatting, citations, references, and a professional and well-organised presentation. This stage is especially important for academic essays for A-Level, College or University. It is best to collect references as you research.

Essay Structure

Students often come to me with no idea of how to set out their essay’s structure. Although every essay will be different in terms of content, it is still crucial to understand a basic framework which you can play with over time.

Here is the way that you can approach essay writing with confidence:

Introduction:

  • Hook or attention-grabbing statement.
  • Background information on the topic.
  • Thesis statement presenting the main argument or central idea.

Example Essay Introduction

Body Paragraphs:

  • Topic sentence introducing the main point.
  • Supporting evidence, examples, or research.
  • Analysis and explanation of the evidence.
  • Transition sentence connecting to the next paragraph.

Conclusion:

  • Restatement of the thesis statement and main points.
  • Summary of key arguments or evidence.
  • Closing thoughts or implications.
  • Thought-provoking concluding statement or call-to-action.

Hooks for Essay Introductions

In your introduction, it is important to engage the reader in what you want to say. Students often ask me, “How can I hook the reader from the start?”

There are 7 hooks that can be used to engage a reader into your writing. I’ve attempted to arrange them by levels of difficulty just so that you can :

1. Interesting Fact or Question Hook

This essay writing hook is one of the easiest for a student to use, and that’s why I’ve put it first.

People are naturally interested in gaining knowledge that they don’t know, and a question usually gets them thinking from the start. I’d always recommend students who struggle with writing to use this strategy.

Also, I think it’s important to emphasise that often, the more wide your general knowledge, the easier it will be to include interesting facts.

2. Strong Statement or Declaration Hook

Controversy always brings entices people in. If a statement in your introduction is bold and controversial, it will naturally draw more eyes.

Naturally, however, make sure that you can back up your bold statement in the body of your essay!

3. The Quotation Hook

The quotation hook is an effective way for you to show your knowledge. It can also be an effective tactic to disagree with the quotation, so that your thesis statement is instantly interesting.

4. A Metaphor or Simile Hook

Metaphors and similes can be creative ways to start an essay. They can be challenging to weave into the introduction, but if you’re confident in your writing, don’t be afraid of including them.

These more advanced hooks can help demonstrate to the reader or examiner that you are confident in your command of English. They, in addition, are a way of showing that you have a personality and uniqueness to your writing.

5. A Story or Anecdote Hook

A short story can be a unique way for a reader to access your essay. I would not recommend this if you are writing certain types of essays in exam conditions, but they can be useful if you are writing a long piece of coursework or a personal statement for university. This hook is again, more challenging to implement, and can often rely on a person’s experiences or outside knowledge.

6. A Descriptive Hook

A descriptive hook is a type of attention-grabbing technique used at the beginning of a piece of writing to engage the reader’s senses and create a vivid mental image. It aims to draw the reader into the narrative or topic by painting a detailed picture or setting the scene. Descriptive hooks often appeal to the reader’s emotions and imagination, making them feel connected to the story or subject matter. It again is one of the more challenging hooks to place within an essay.

7. A Joke Hook

Believe it or not, in my time at Forest School, I have seen the odd essay start with a joke. I vaguely remember one of my friends starting an essay about the Lutheran Reformation with a joke. However, I would not generally recommend this hook as it has to be used in the correct situation and context. Some light humorous phrasing might be appropriate, but it is challenging to get right.

Sentence Starters in Essays

I have found that one of the barriers for a student in writing essays is getting started in the first place. Sentence starters can be extremely useful for getting those initial words on paper before entering your flow state.

Here are some examples for you to use in your next essay:

Posing a Question:

  • “Have you ever wondered…”
  • “What impact does…”
  • “How does [topic] influence…”
  • “Can [situation] truly be understood without considering…”

Quoting a Relevant Authority:

  • “According to [Author], ‘…”
  • “In the words of [Expert], ‘…”
  • “As [Historical Figure] once stated, ‘…”
  • “[Author] argues that ‘…”

Providing Background Information:

  • “In the context of…”
  • “Originating from…”
  • “Dating back to…”
  • “With roots in…”

Defining a Key Term:

  • “The term [term] is commonly understood as…”
  • “When we refer to [term], we are essentially talking about…”
  • “In the context of this essay, [term] is defined as…”

Highlighting Relevance:

  • “In our contemporary world,…”
  • “Given the current discourse surrounding…”
  • “With growing concerns about…”
  • “In an era where…”

Presenting a Dilemma or Contradiction:

  • “While it may seem counterintuitive that…”
  • “The paradox of [situation] lies in…”
  • “Despite initial expectations that…”
  • “In the face of apparent contradictions…”

These sentence starters can help you create engaging and informative introductions, setting the stage for the rest of your essay. Choose the ones that align with your topic and overall essay structure.

What is PEEL?

PEEL, PETAL or PEAL are acronyms which are commonly used by teachers to explain to students how to structure their body paragraphs.

PEEL stands for Point, Evidence, Explanation and Link.

PETAL stands for Point, Evidence, Technique, Analysis, and Link (more used in literature).

PEAL stands for Point, Evidence, Analysis, and Link. 

Your body paragraphs will be better if you structure them in this way.

The four main components for any essay are Point, Evidence, Explanation and Link.

Point

The “Point” in the PEEL paragraph structure is the topic sentence, serving as a concise statement that communicates the main idea of the paragraph.

It acts as a signpost for the reader, guiding them on what the paragraph is about. The point often demonstrates cause and effect, providing a logical flow to the information presented.

Think of it as a mini-thesis statement for each paragraph, revealing the central focus and setting the direction for the reader.

Evidence

Evidence in the PEEL structure is the support for your main idea.

It gives weight to your point, can be facts, examples, or quotes, and convinces your reader (more later).

Choose evidence that directly connects to your point, and adding depth makes it more convincing and enhances your paragraph’s flow.

Explanation

Just stating the evidence is not sufficient to provide an answer. You need to also explain what conclusions can be inferred from the evidence, and also, form judgements about the evidence.

In certain types of essays such as scientific essays, or history essays, forming judgements about the quality of evidence is particularly important. If there are contextual points that you want to include, you can also use them to provide more explanation about the quality of the evidence.

Link

Effective body paragraphs in an essay should conclude with a clear link to the original question or thesis statement.

This can be achieved by restating the main point, connecting to the overarching question, highlighting the significance of the information, transitioning to the next point, foreshadowing, synthesising information, or offering a thought-provoking insight.

Establishing this link ensures that the reader understands how the paragraph’s content contributes to the broader argument and maintains a cohesive flow in the essay.

This PEEL paragraph structure is best explained by way of an example:

Essay Title: Should smoking in public places be banned?

Example
example peel paragraph annotated
This is from one of our independent school learning packs

Different Types of Essays

There are 4 main types of essays.

Here is a table to explain each type further:

4 types essay

In this article, I’m focusing more on the argumentative type of essay, but if you want to learn more about structuring descriptions, check out this blog.

Different Types of Evidence

There are also different types of evidence which you can use depending on the subject or topic.

Evidence is the material the writer uses to support the statements in the topic sentence. Evidence can come in many forms:

  • Statistics and facts – The numbers that matter
  • Testimony – Expert opinion
  • Anecdotal evidence – Individual experiences or observations
  • Analogies – Comparison of one thing to another
  • Textual evidence – Details from a text
  • Hypothetical scenarios – Imagined situations

Each type of evidence should also be criticised and evaluated. Discussing evidence for its reliability and usefulness are invaluable skills for any student to master.

Essay Length

There is a part of me that dislikes any question about how long an essay needs to be, but probably because teachers used to tell me that an essay should be as long as it takes to answer the question.

I think, however, that there are certain guidelines for different groups that can point anyone in the right direction.

How long are independent school 11 plus essays?

The length of independent school essays can vary depending on the specific requirements of the school or the application. Independent schools may have different guidelines or word count limits for their essay prompts. It’s essential to carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the school or the application platform.

In general, independent school essays might range from a few hundred words to a couple of pages. Commonly, schools provide specific prompts or topics for applicants to address, and the length requirements are often outlined in the application instructions. Some schools may have a maximum word count, while others might provide a suggested length.

To ensure that you meet the requirements, it is crucial to carefully review the application guidelines and adhere to any specified word limits. If there are no specific guidelines, it’s a good idea to aim for a clear and concise response that fully addresses the given prompt or question. If in doubt, you can reach out to the admissions office for clarification on essay length expectations.

I remember in my exam to get into Forest, I wrote around two and a half sides of A4.

How long are GCSE essays?

The length of GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) essays can vary depending on the subject, the specific question or task, and the guidelines provided by the examining board. GCSE essays are typically written during exams and are expected to be concise yet comprehensive in addressing the given prompt.

In many cases, GCSE essays are expected to be around 250 to 500 words, but this can vary. Some essays may have specific word count requirements, while others may be more flexible. It’s crucial to carefully read the instructions provided by the examining board for each exam, as they will often specify the expected length or format.

If you are uncertain about the length requirements for a particular GCSE essay, you can consult your teacher, review the exam board’s guidance, or practice writing essays within a time limit to get a sense of how much content you can reasonably produce during an exam. Remember that clarity, coherence, and relevance to the question are more important than length. Always focus on fully answering the question and providing a well-supported argument or analysis within the given constraints.

However, having said this, there was a study which analysed grades achieved amongst GCSE students and their essay lengths in English literature. The study concluded that there was a strong correlation between the grades achieved and the word count. So, learning how to put a lot of ideas on paper quickly is really important for getting the grade you deserve.

How long are college essays?

The length of university essays can vary significantly depending on factors such as the academic level, the course or subject, and the specific assignment or guidelines provided by the university or instructor. Unlike standardised tests or applications, universities may not have a standard essay length across all disciplines or assignments.

In higher education, essay lengths are often specified in terms of word count rather than pages. Common word count expectations for university essays can range from a few hundred words for shorter assignments or sections of a larger project to several thousand words for more extensive research papers or dissertations.

It’s crucial to carefully read the assignment guidelines provided by the instructor or the department for each specific essay. They typically outline the expected length, formatting requirements, and any other specific instructions relevant to the assignment.

If you’re unsure about the length requirements, don’t hesitate to seek clarification from your instructor. Remember that the most important aspect of any university essay is the quality of the content and its ability to address the assignment prompt effectively, rather than simply meeting a specific word count. Always prioritise clarity, coherence, and engagement with the topic in your writing.

At university, I remember writing essays that were usually between 1,500 – 2,500 words, but for dissertation projects, you can expect to write around 12,000 words. Sometimes we would be allowed contingency and could go over a word count by 10%.

How to Make Essays Longer

Many students really struggle to make their essays longer.

However, there are simple ways to add more content without sacrificing quality:

Research More:

Explore your topic thoroughly and gather more information. This will help you discuss your ideas in more detail. Most students who are doing academic essays fall down on this critical point. Thorough research takes a long time, and you should actually spend a lot more time researching the topic than writing the essay.

Expand on Main Points:

Instead of introducing new ideas, go into more depth on the ones you already have. Add examples, evidence, or case studies to make your arguments stronger. I remember our history teacher recommending that we use 3 to 4 examples to illustrate each of our points.

Include Supporting Details:

Make your analysis richer by adding specific quotes, statistics, or examples that back up your points.

Address Counterarguments:

Talk about different viewpoints on your topic. This shows you understand it well and adds more to your essay.

Elaborate on Examples:

If you use examples, give more details about them. Explain why they matter and what they show.

Explain Things More:

Instead of keeping things short, explain them in more detail. Break down complex ideas and analyse them thoroughly. I like to use analogies whenever possible to explain difficult concepts.

Use Relevant Quotes:

Add quotes from experts to support your ideas. Explain how each quote relates to your arguments. Usually students assume quotations speak for themselves, but there is an opportunity to unpack an idea in detail. You can also criticise a quotation. Never take an expert opinion for granted when you are writing an essay.

Develop Sub-points:

If it fits, add sub-points under your main ideas. This helps you discuss things more without going off-topic. For instance, if you were describing the benefits of engaging in physical exercise to help your mood through the release of endorphins, you could expand upon this point using an addition connective, and say something about exercise reducing stress.

Use Transitions:

Connect your ideas with transitions.

This not only makes your essay easier to read but also adds more length. Here are some examples of transitional phrases:

  • Addition: Additionally, Moreover, Furthermore.
  • Contrast: However, On the other hand, Nevertheless.
  • Comparison: Similarly, Likewise, In the same way.
  • Cause and Effect: Therefore, As a result, Consequently.
  • Time: Meanwhile, Subsequently, Simultaneously.
  • Example: For instance, For example, Specifically.
  • Summary: In conclusion, To sum up, Ultimately.
  • Sequence: First, Second, Third, Next, Finally.
  • Emphasis: Indeed, Undoubtedly, Certainly.
  • Clarification: In other words, That is to say, To clarify.

Conclude Well:

Summarise your main points in the conclusion. Restate your thesis and add a bit more to finish your essay on a strong note.

These simple strategies can help you meet length requirements without compromising the quality of your essay. It’s about adding more thoughtful content that enhances your writing.

The AI Threat to the Art of Essay Writing

With the advent of AI, it is clear that people will become more reliant on tools to put their ideas on the page. We have already discussed the potential dangers of over-reliance on these AIs in our podcast.

 

Although, the genie is very much, out of the bottle, I think it is important for you to think of essay writing as an exercise in personal development, rather than a way to gain the grade you want.

Essay writing is a brilliant way for you to develop skills of critical thinking, learn more about topics in depth, and develop an understanding of synthesis and cohesion.

Synthesis involves combining different ideas, information, or elements to create a new, unified whole.

In writing, cohesion means that sentences and paragraphs flow logically and smoothly. Transitions and connections between ideas make the text feel organised and coherent.

Here are some suggested essay titles to get you thinking:
  1. “How does Technology Shape Human Connections in the Digital Age?”
  2. “Can Success Truly Lead to Lasting Happiness?”
  3. “In what Ways does Education Mold the Future?”
  4. “Is Balancing Individualism and Community Essential for Societal Harmony?”
  5. “How does Empathy Drive Effective Global Problem-Solving?”
  6. “What Secrets Does the Universe Hold, and How Can We Uncover Them?”
  7. “What Impact Does Nature Have on Human Well-Being?”
  8. “How can Societies Successfully Navigate Cultural Diversity?”
  9. “Why is Emotional Intelligence Crucial for Effective Leadership?”
  10. “What Ethical Dilemmas Arise in the Development of Artificial Intelligence?”
  11. “Why do We Procrastinate, and How Can it be Overcome?”
  12. “To What Extent does Social Media Affect Mental Health?”
  13. “How can Individuals Achieve Work-Life Balance in a Fast-Paced World?”
  14. “What is the Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Health?”
  15. “How does Literature Shape and Reflect Societal Values?”
  16. “How is the Concept of Beauty Defined in the Modern Age?”
  17. “How do Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Personality?”
  18. “What Secrets Lie Behind Dreams, and What Role do They Play?”
  19. “What Challenges and Rewards Come with the Pursuit of Personal Growth?”
  20. “How can Individuals and the Global Community Embrace Sustainable Living?”

Summary

So the next time your teacher, professor, or tutor sets you an essay, look at it as an opportunity for personal intellectual development, not just as a task. Take advantage of the insights shared in this article – from optimising PEEL settings for well-crafted body paragraphs to creating interesting introductions with different hooks to using transition phrases effectively.

In a world that seems to be on the brink of an AI revolution, remember that essay writing goes beyond word count conventions. It’s about synthesising information, developing critical thinking skills and articulating coherent views – qualities that remain invaluable even in the face of technological advances. So approach your next essay with confidence armed with the knowledge you gain from this insight into the nuances of essay writing.

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