A simple guide to writing a first-class essay
The Internet is awash with not-so-helpful essay writing advice, making it tricky for students to find the advice they need when writing essays. To help you out, our aademic experts have written the following tips you can use before and whilst crafting your essay, to ensure your writing hits the mark.
Understand the question
This may, at the face of it, sound like somewhat banal advice – but fact of the matter is that failing to properly understand the question set is one of, if not the most common reason behind a disappointing grade when it comes to essay writing. Are you being asked to critically evaluate something? Compare and contrast? Analyse a particular circumstance? Evaluate the usefulness of a particular concept?
These are some of the common phrases found in essay questions, and each indicates a different set of expectations. If you are asked to critically evaluate a particular theoretical approach, for instance, you have to gain an understanding not only of said theory, but also other common approaches. They must all be weighed against each other, highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each theory and, importantly, you must come to a well-justified and confident conclusion. Is the theory good? What are its flaws? How can it be improved?
If you are asked to evaluate the usefulness of something, however, you don’t necessarily need to go into as much critical depth. Yes, you should still acknowledge alternative approaches, and yes, you should still note some strengths and weaknesses – but the bulk of the work must emphasise the concepts practical usefulness. Perhaps the best approach is to find one, or a few, case studies where the theory has been used – what was the outcome of this? Does the application of the theory reveal any particular shortcomings, or strengths?
“Compare and contrast” essays, meanwhile, are essentially a hybrid of the above – you need to take a critical approach and evaluate the literature, but your focus has to remain solidly on the theories that you have been asked to compare and contrast. It is important to show that you understand both (or all) core theories in great depth, both on a theoretical and applied level.
In essence, the wording of the essay question will tell you how the essay should be written. It will indicate where the focus of your essay should lie as you research and write.
Plan and schedule
Understanding the question is the first step, but it is equally important that you make efficient use of the available time. Students often underestimate the amount of work required to write a good essay, which results in two things: (1) late nights at the library, and (2) a disappointing grade. If you want to achieve a good mark, you should start planning your essay the moment you receive the essay question. The following table may be a useful aid:
By setting deadlines for yourself and committing to stick to them, you are ensuring that you won’t be left with too much work right before your hand-in date. It is also important that you leave time, ideally a couple of days, between finishing your first draft and proofreading.
Perfect theories and academic approaches are rare – the clear majority of theories, arguments, and studies have flaws. Being descriptive is fine if you are looking to scrape a pass, but for a higher grade you need to show that you are able to leverage critical reasoning in your dealing with academic materials. What are the limitations of the theories you are drawing on? How have these been dealt with in the literature? How do they impact the quality of arguments presented, and to what extent do they limit our understanding of what you are studying? What alternate explanations might offer additional depth?
Critical thinking is what will make your essay stand out. It shows the marker that you are not simply repeating the arguments that have been fed to you throughout your studies, but actually engaging with theories in an academic manner. A good way to practice this is to pay careful attention when reading literature reviews in published articles – you will see that authors don’t simply summarise previous studies, but offer a critique leading to a gap for their own research.
Structure, flow and focus
How you present your argument is nearly as important as the argument itself, which is why it is imperative that your essay follows a logical structure. A classic piece of advice is to “tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and tell them what you told them” – this, in essence, summarises the core introduction, main body, and conclusion structure of your essay.
Having a clear and logical structure will help ensure that your essay stays focused, and doesn’t stray from the question being answered. Each section, paragraph, and sentence should add value to the argument you are presenting. As you are writing, it’s good to take a step back and ask yourself “what value does this sentence/section add? How does it link to my overarching argument?” If you find that you can’t answer that question, there is a high risk that you have strayed from your core argument, and you may want to reconsider the path you are taking.
You should also make sure that all the different parts of your essay fit together as a cohesive and logical whole, and that the transition from one argument to the next is fluid. Students often treat essays as lists of arguments, presenting one after the other with little consideration for how they fit together, which inevitably leads to a lower grade. Make sure to tell your reader why you are transitioning from one argument to the next, why they are in this particular order, and how each argument helps shed light on a particular aspect of what you are discussing.
Writing may be the core task, but reading is equally important. Before you start writing your essay, you should conduct a broad search for relevant literature. Learning how to sift through a large amount of data is an important academic skill. You should start by searching through databases – Google Scholar is a great tool for this – using key words related to your research topic. Once you find an article that sounds promising, read through the abstract to ensure that it’s relevant.
If you are still not a hundred percent sure, it is usually a good idea to skip to the conclusion – this usually contains a detailed summary of the study, which will help determine whether you should read the article as a whole. You don’t want to waste time reading through and endless number of articles simply to find that they aren’t actually relevant. Once you have identified a few solid articles, you should (a) go through their bibliographies and take note of who they are citing, as these articles will likely be of value for your own research; and (b) check on Google Scholar to see who has cited them. To do this, simply input the name of the article in the search bar and hit enter. In the results, click “cited by” – this will return a list of all of the articles that have cited the publication you searched for.
It’s important that you don’t rely too heavily on one or a couple of texts, as this indicates to the marker that you haven’t engaged with the wider literature. You should be particularly careful in using course books (i.e. “introduction to management” and the like), as these are essentially summaries of other people’s work.
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Quoting, paraphrasing and plagiarism
Academic writing requires a careful balance between novel argument, and drawing on arguments presented by others. Writing a completely ‘novel’ essay, without drawing on a single source, indicates that you haven’t made yourself familiar with what has already been published; citing someone for every point made suggests that you haven’t produced a novel argument. As such, it is important that you provide evidence (a credible citation) when you are making a statement of fact, or drawing on arguments, frameworks, and theories presented by other academics. These, in turn, should support the overarching novel argument that you yourself are making.
When drawing on other authors it is important to understand the distinction between quoting and paraphrasing. The general rule of thumb is that you should paraphrase wherever possible, and quote only when necessary or if it clarifies the point you are making. That said, paraphrasing can be difficult without losing the inherit value of the argument presented. In case you are unsure about the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, we’ve included an example below.
Quote: “Cultural capital can be acquired, to a varying extent, depending on the period, the society, and the social class, in the absence of any deliberate inculcation, and therefore quite unconsciously“ (Bourdieu, 1986: 18)
Paraphrase: Unlike economic capital, the amassing of which requires some conscious effort, cultural capital can be built simply by existing and consuming (Bourdieu, 1986).
Both the quoted and the paraphrased versions carry essentially the same meaning – with the exception that paraphrasing shows slightly wider knowledge of Bourdieu (through mentioning another form of capital), and presents an argument that – while true to the writings of Bourdieu – better fits the overall argument.
Properly citing the sources upon which you draw also ensures that you will not be accused of plagiarism, which is a serious offence in academia. In fact, repeated and grievous plagiarism can lead to the suspension of your studies at the majority of academic institutions!
Find a ‘study buddy’
Having a similarly ambitious ‘study buddy’ is often undervalued by students, but the synergy achieved by working together can help both of you achieve considerably higher grades. It is important to note that you shouldn’t write your essays together, nor necessarily agree on the approach to be taken beforehand, as this leads to the risk of submitting two papers that are too similar – again linking back to the issue of plagiarism.
Instead, you should exchange essays with each other once you are both done with the first draft. It is immensely difficult to proofread your own work – one goes blind to minor grammatical issues in a text after reading it repeatedly for days on end – and it is similarly easy to overlook gaps in flow and logic of argument. Having a friend read through the work will address both of these issues, assuming that they, too, are high achieving.
Another common issue – particularly amongst first and second-year undergraduates – is that they tend to use rather non-academic language:
“In this essay I will look at how people who buy art use cultural capital. My theory is that having more cultural capital will change their taste in art, as they are able to understand the pieces differently to other people.”
Examples such as the above are unfortunately rather common, and should give you a good idea of what to avoid. The sentiment behind the text is good, but it reads more like a second-rate blog post than an academic essay. An academic might instead write:
“This essay explores the role of cultural capital in the consumption of art, and the impact of cultural capital on consumers’ perception of artistic expressions.”
You will note that this second example is far more concise yet none of the meaning is lost. It also uses present (rather than future) tense, and avoids informal terms. Clear, concise, and precise language is a hallmark of academic writing.
Essay-based examinations can be some of the most daunting that students have to face. Not only do you have to learn all the facts and information. You also have to work out, under time pressure, how to present them in a clear and well-structured essay that addresses the requirements of the question.
Many students struggle to produce a sophisticated essay format under exam conditions. Instead of writing to their usual standard, they panic and just scribble down all the information they know on the subject. Sound like you?
You can earn a lot of extra marks in these exams, if you know how to answer the question specifically and producing a well-structured essay. So it’s Oxbridge Essays to the rescue, with a series of custom essay formats that you can use to answer any one of these common exam question types: ‘Compare and Contrast’, ‘To What Extent’, ‘How does the Writer’, ‘For and Against’ and ‘Close Reference’.
To What Extent?
It’s really common to see ‘To what extent…’ essay questions
in an exam. They come up time and time again, across a range of different subjects.
Why are they so popular? Well, this type of question allows the student to show a variety of skills. Firstly, the depth of their knowledge on the given subject. Secondly, students can display independent judgement by analysing the importance of different pieces of information.
What your custom essay should include
There are two principle elements that a ‘To what extent…’ essay question should include.
The first is detailed source evidence and extra material, to support your argument. Let’s use an example essay question here to demonstrate. In a history exam, the essay might ask: “To what extent was the character of Charles II responsible for his problems with parliament?“.
The student is being asked to do two things here: to show an in-depth knowledge of Charles II’s character, and to analyse which specific aspects of his character may have affected his political relationships.
Incorporating detailed evidence will always demonstrate how much you know of the subject matter, and will help to support the angle and strength of your argument.
The second element is linking to wider issues, topics or arguments that support your point of view. For example, in this particular history essay, a student could refer to other historical events that were responsible for problems between Charles II and parliament, but which were not related to his character.
Drawing on other factors in this way helps to increase the significance of your argument, and will round out your essay fully.
These two elements of analysis – including detailed evidence and linking to wider ideas – can be used to answer any ‘To what extent…’ question. In other words, when answering this type of essay question, keep the general structure the same and change the the appropriate information in the right places.
Remember also to analyse your evidence as you weave your argument. Do this by answering questions like, ‘how significant is your evidence in supporting your argument?’ and, ‘what are the potential weaknesses that this evidence carries?’.
How your custom essay should be structured
A custom essay designed to answer a ‘To what extent…’ question should look something like this:
As with all essays, the introduction needs to briefly answer the question
. However with a ‘To what extent…’ question, the introduction will usually, to some degree, agree with the assertion of the essay question.
For example, going back to our history essay question above, the introduction would need to acknowledge that to some extent, the character of Charles II was responsible for his problems with parliament.
An introduction should then go on to highlight the importance of taking into account other aspects which also impact the topic of the essay.
Paragraph 1 and 2
These are dedicated to proving, with detailed evidence, that the assumption stated in the question is true, explaining how and why. So in the history essay, these paragraphs would detail key aspects of Charles’s character that negatively affected his relationship with parliament and show proof of their impact.
This recaps the important points you have made in the first two paragraphs and goes on to say that, on the other hand, it cannot be said that the question is completely true, as there is an extent to which other aspects also come into play.
Paragraph 3 and 4
These paragraphs show the extent to which the assumption of the question is not true.
This can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, by showing flaws in its logic (in this case, by suggesting that there were actually some aspects of Charles’s character that in fact improved his political relationships). Secondly, by offering alternatives (in this case, other elements unconnected to his personality that may have soured the parliamentary relationship independently).
Any ‘To what extent…’ custom essay must end with a concluding summary
which answers the overall question.
To do this, simply recap:
• The points that suggest the question’s claims are true
• The points against
• Then conclude whether you agree the statement is true ‘to a certain extent’, ‘to a great extent’ or ‘to a very small extent’. This must be backed up by a summary of the argument on both sides to prove why you feel it to be weighted one way or the other.
Once you have finished your essay, the little touches matter. You don’t want to risk being penalised for not sticking to the formatting guidelines set for your submission. Many students seek the assistance of a good proofreader to check for any errors or omissions in your work and will ensure that you have every opportunity to present your points in the best possible light, with the perfect structure, formatting and presentation to match. After your thorough research and work put into completing this best essay writing, you deserve the best possible grade.
Are you a stickler for good grammar? Perhaps you’d even go as far as to call yourself a grammar geek? Well, whether you’re the sort of person who prides themselves on their flawless grammar, or a hapless essay writer looking for a trick or two, this post will introduce you to some of the more unusual grammar rules you should know.
Below are six common grammatical mistakes we see routinely, not just in undergraduate essays, but also in professional publications like newspapers, magazines and even best selling novels. With that said, here are some weird grammar rules you might not know.
Which and That
This is a common mistake that even professional writers regularly make. You might think these two can be used interchangeably, but you’d be wrong.
‘That’ is a restrictive pronoun, so it’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring, e.g. I don’t trust second hand cars that aren’t nearly new. So in this instance, I trust all second hand cars that are nearly new.
‘Which’ introduces a relative clause that allows non-essential qualifiers, e.g. ‘I only trust second hand cars that are nearly new, which come from the Ford or Renault garage.’ So while ‘that’ restricts, ‘which’ is used to add more detail.
May and Might
Again, most people assume these two words can be used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference in their meaning.
‘May’ implies a possibility, whereas ‘might’ implies far more uncertainty. For example: ‘I may fall over if I drink all that wine’ implies a good chance of falling over, but ‘I might start singing once the karaoke begins’ implies it’s not that likely to happen.
Fewer and Less
This is an excellent example of one of the grammar rules in essay writing which is commonly broken. Thankfully it’s actually a very simple one to remember.
‘Less’ is reserved for hypothetical quantities, whilst ‘few’ and ‘fewer’ are reserved for items you can actually quantify. For example, ‘the firm is less fun to work for now we have fewer than five employees’.
Affect and Effect
This one is not so much an example of a weird grammar rule, but one you absolutely must know. Both of these words are extremely common, but it’s amazing how many people get them wrong. However, it’s actually very easy to differentiate between the two.
‘Effect’ is almost always a noun, and ‘affect’ is almost always a verb. So ‘the effects of alcohol can be damaging’ describes the result or outcome of drinking alcohol. Affect is used to describe the influence or cause of an impression i.e. ‘alcohol’s affects can be damaging’.
This doesn’t fit into the bracket of weird grammar rules. Instead, it’s just a word that’s not a word, born and bred in the corporate jungle. Please don’t use it, no matter how ‘impactful’ you want to be.
Comma Use with Adjectives
– Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives as in the following: ‘The unkempt, brilliant man was always unhappy.’
– Do not use commas to separate cumulative adjectives: ‘The long yellow car circled the factory.’
– Do not use a comma when the adjective modifies both the noun and the other adjectives modifying it: ‘The late humorous and generous Mr Welby will be sorely missed.’
– Comma use with descriptive adjectives can also be determined by the class of adjective, i.e. age, size, colour, shape, material, origin and general. If multiple adjectives from the same class appear, separate them with a comma: ‘The sad, broken man fell into the smelly, murky lake.’
A first-class essay is one that is categorised by a grade of 70 per cent or higher, though in some institutions the minimum requirement is 75 per cent. Whatever the case, for many students this benchmark seems almost impossible to attain.
Rest assured, however, that there are steps that you can take to help ensure you’re able to write a first-class essay. We’ve put them together into an easy-to-read (and follow) list; read on to familiarise yourself with them.
Step 1: Understand the marking criteria
This seems quite straightforward, however you’ll be surprised to learn that many students aren’t well informed about the criteria they must meet to be awarded a first. It’s a very important point, however; you must determine exactly what the marker is looking for from a first-class essay so that you can meet these points effectively. You’ll often find these criteria in your course handbook, or it may feature as an add-on to your essay question, so do look out for it. Bear in mind that a marker will generally outline various criteria for different aspects of the essay such as: content, presentation, referencing, critical analysis, technical knowledge, spelling, grammar, structure and coherence, amongst others.
Ensure that you understand what is required under each category – don’t just assume, as each essay you’ll write will most likely have a different set of criteria. When drafting your essay, focus on the criteria with which it will be marked and ensure that you address every one of them. This will not only make essay-writing a more straightforward process, you’ll be inching closer to the first-class essay grade you desire so much.
Step 2: Put some thought into choosing your question
It’s imperative that you put considerable thought into choosing your essay question – don’t just pick a question because you are familiar with the topic or because it ‘sounds interesting’. Of course, this will ensure that you are genuinely interested in your essay question, but there are other important factors to consider as well. It is important to first ensure that the topic is manageable. Avoid questions that are too broad as it increases the likelihood that you’ll steer off topic, reducing your chances of getting a first. Also, check that there is enough literature on the topic you choose so that your essay can be supported by enough academic sources. Remember that a first-class essay must demonstrate the use of a high standard and number of reputable academic sources, so it’s important to do a quick check to see if you’ll have access to plenty of these before you start your draft – you’ll save a lot of time in the long run by doing this.
“Avoid questions that are too broad as it increases the likelihood that you’ll steer off topic, reducing your chances of getting a first.”
Some essay topics are extremely specialist, or maybe its just a new area of research—you’ll find that there’s very little literature for such topics and unless your plan is to conduct your own primary research, you might want to avoid these. Remember that first class essays must demonstrate methodological rigorousness.
Step 3: Understand the question
Being well-informed about the marking criteria for your essay is an essential starting point for inching towards a first, however this is of no use if you don’t understand your essay question. This sounds very basic, yet one of the main reasons that students perform badly in essays is that they simply don’t understand the question being posed.
Essay questions are usually posed using ‘directive words’ such as ‘critically analyse,’ ‘outline’ and so on; try to familiarise yourself with these so that you know exactly what the essay question is asking you to do. For example, think carefully about the following questions:
For example, ‘Assess the suitability of the UK government’s PREVENT anti-radicalisation policy for curbing home-grown terrorism in the UK’. ‘Assess’ always means that you must adopt a critical approach. For this particular example question, you should first outline the main features of the PREVENT policy and then, clearly, and devoid of bias, evaluate the extent to which it can effectively tackle the issue of home grown terrorism in the UK. In your evaluation, consider any viewpoints that are contradictory to yours as it demonstrates the critical engagement required of a first-class essay.
For example, ‘Discuss the role of migration policy in shaping the outcome of the Brexit vote’. ‘Discuss’ is a very tricky directive word, as it is vague and requires you to think deeply about the exact question being posed. In this question, you are simply being asked to determine the role that migration policy played in influencing the Brexit vote. Did it play a role at all? If it did, in what way? Ensure that you back your position with evidence.
There are many other directive words that feature in essays and it’s a good idea to understand these thoroughly, as answering an essay question wrongly will certainly decrease your chances of gaining a first. Clarify with your tutor if you have any hesitations or if you have any difficulties in getting a grasp of the question. Also, ensure that you do not try to rephrase or twist the question into one that you want to answer – if you’re not answering the question that’s being asked, it will critically impact your score.
Step 4: Quality of sources and referencing system
Now that you have properly understood your essay question, it is essential that you read widely on the subject, while remaining focused on the specific topic at hand. A first-class essay should demonstrate a good awareness of the available literature on the essay subject and it’s always a good idea to show that you are conversant with both the theoretical and empirical literature if applicable. Textbooks are a great source, however journal articles provide the added benefit of being a good source for more current research because of the frequency with which they are published.
A first-class essay will demonstrate a balance between the use of both sources, however remember to check your marking criteria to ascertain the requirements. In all cases, a first-class essay will usually incorporate the robust use of academic as opposed to online sources from unverified outlets. In this age of technology, it is very easy to run quick searches on the Internet when in need of information, however be mindful that not all information online is reliable. As a rule of thumb, ensure that your sources are from reputable academic scholars and databases, or where necessary, you may need to include some primary research of your own. Credibility is key for ensuring that your essay appears well-researched, methodologically robust and scholarly.
Also, remember that your essay question may be accompanied by a recommended reading list. This is often a great starting point for researching your question and it’s always a good idea to make use of this. Your reading list may however come under various categories:
- Essential reading – For some essay questions, all students are required to make use of specific books that are essential for completing the course or module. If a particular source has been categorised as essential, ensure that you use it, as failure to do so will lose you marks, reducing your chances of getting a first.
- Further reading – Sources recommended for further reading should usually be used as a starting point for wider reading on your essay subject. They are often a good source for gaining insight on alternative perspectives on your essay, so while it is not essential that you use them, they may prove to be very useful. Remember that sources provided for further reading may be very general and won’t necessarily apply to your essay topic, so it’s a good idea to narrow down your options as the scope of your answer becomes clearer.
Step 5: Depth of knowledge
This point is similar to the last, however here, the emphasis is on knowledge as opposed to the quality of sources used. It’s all well and good to have a great collection of sources for your essay, but markers want to also see that have you read these sources thoroughly and not superficially. They will want to ensure that you have a very advanced, nuanced and thorough understanding of your essay’s subject matter. First-class essays will not merely regurgitate the arguments available in the literature; they will engage critically with various viewpoints and will demonstrate that they are well aware of any key debates or conceptual challenges concerning the essay subject.
Read widely and selectively but refrain from putting everything you know or every interesting piece of information that you come across into your essay. Always return to the question that the essay is asking and filter through the information you have collected by focusing on the data that is most relevant to what you are writing about.
Step 6: Frame your argument coherently
After going through the available literature concerning your essay subject, it’s likely that you’ll form an opinion of your own based on the research available. Remember to keep the essay question in mind so that you can tailor your viewpoints and arguments to answering this. Present one idea at a time in a structured and coherent manner. This helps to build up your argument and will allow the marker to gain insight into your thought process and thus, your reasoning and logical thinking skills. A first-class essay will demonstrate a high level of reasoning and logical thinking skills, and reading widely about your subject is very important for achieving this as it helps you to form your own coherent opinions about a topic.
“To achieve a first-class essay, it’s important that you situate your arguments within the available literature, or within a theoretical or conceptual framework.”
Remember to keep the opinions of other scholars in mind, as this shows that you have done your research and that you are critically engaging with the question. A first-class essay is not descriptive and rather, is critical and well-focused. A descriptive essay will merely summarise and/or describe the key arguments of the essay, but a first-class essay will reflect on the available data by criticising or defending it.
In a first-class essay, you might also want show that you are aware of any opposing views to your key arguments, and then you can argue why you still stand by your viewpoint. This shows a high level of reflection and it also indicates that you have done a lot of background research. To achieve a first class, it is important that you situate your arguments within the available literature, or within a theoretical or conceptual framework. Remember that an essay is an academic piece of writing and not an opinion piece. A first-class essay will demonstrate your viewpoint clearly in the context of a theoretical or conceptual foundation.
Step 7: Structure carefully
Having a well-thought-out essay structure is important for presenting your argument logically and in a linear manner. Ensure that you present your argument in a step-by-step manner so that the marker can follow your logic easily. A first-class essay will have a clear structure including the introduction, body and conclusion, but there are further points to consider if you are aiming for a first. Read on to find out more about this:
The introduction of your essay should provide some brief background context for your paper and should further state its research aims and questions. You should explicitly state the focus of your essay in your introduction if you are aiming for a first. A first-class essay will also include a thesis statement that explains the main argument that the paper will make. It is important to remember that an introduction should be concise and straight to the point; there is no need to provide a lot of detail about your research – just give a summary of what to expect in the essay. Remember that this includes providing details about how the remainder of the essay will be structured. Signposting in this way will show linear progression in your work and will further enable the marker to follow your work logically.
The next section of your essay is the body and this contains several paragraphs that help to advance your arguments. This is essentially where you answer your essay question in detail. There are no rules to the number of paragraphs that you should include in your essay but as a rule of thumb, ensure that that they are not too lengthy. Also, it might be worth keeping your discussion to one point or argument per paragraph as it helps to achieve a very focused and coherent essay. Each paragraph should begin with an introductory sentence that summarises the point or argument to be conveyed within it. This means that the number of paragraphs that feature in the body of your essay will be largely influenced by your arguments and key points. In general terms, the body of your essay should answer the research questions posed at the beginning of your essay and if it does not do this, you might want to revise it so that it’s more focused. This will significantly improve your chances of being awarded a first.
The conclusion of your essay should present a summary of your paper’s key findings; however a first-class paper will also discuss the implications of the research findings or arguments for the broader literature. This demonstrates that you have critically engaged with the research subject; it shows that not only are you familiar with the published research in your field, but that you are also aware of how your paper fits within the general research community. This point is especially significant if your essay has made use of primary research to address the question. Also, provide some recommendations for future research if you feel that there are any gaps in the literature that your essay doesn’t quite address yet because of various limitations. Explain why this gap remains and state how future researchers can contribute to closing it. This demonstrates a high level of critical engagement with your research, too.
Step 8: Clarity and style
Now that you have the basic structure of your essay in place, it’s worth emphasising that your writing style is fundamental to achieving a first-class grade. A first-class essay makes use of a writing style that engages the reader, that uses appropriate technical terms (to demonstrate knowledge of the subject) and that makes use of appropriate academic terminology. Remember that in academic writing, you are expected to use formal as opposed to informal or colloquial language. It may be a good idea to familiarise yourself with reputable journal articles in your field – try to mimic the writing styles you come across and you’ll certainly be on the right path to writing an essay that’s of a high academic standard.
Just for clarity purposes, you’ll find that language in academic papers tends to be very formal, thus words such as ‘argue’, ‘propose’ and ‘posit’ are used to replace the word ‘says’, for example. Reading widely will help you to familiarise yourself with some of these academic terms. Ensure that you write in the third person – using the term ‘this paper’ throughout your essay is a good substitute for using the first person pronoun ‘I’.
A first-class essay will contain a solid argument, a coherent structure, and will also demonstrate a high level of technical knowledge – ensure that you do not forget these points. Ensure that you reference your sources properly in the appropriate academic style and always cross-check with the essay criteria to ensure that you are adhering to university requirements. As a rule of thumb, you should always remember to convey your arguments in a professional and academic voice and ensure that your paper is well-balanced by considering opposing views. Furthermore, ensure that your paragraphs are clearly linked and that your argument shows progression, as you’ll achieve a higher grade for the clarity of your writing style.
Step 9: Proper presentation
Failing to present your essay in an organised and academic manner will certainly hamper your efforts in achieving a first class. Refer to the marking criteria, as it will often clearly indicate instructions for presentation and formatting. There are usually specific instructions for the font size, line spacing and margins that you must use, so be sure to adhere to the requirements to inch closer to achieving a first. Also, while this appears to be an obvious pint, ensure that your work is free of any spelling or grammatical errors.
Step 10: Originality
A first-class essay will demonstrate a high level of originality that is linked with critical reasoning skills. Yes, it’s important to be conversant with the literature, however, you also need to demonstrate your own ability to think both critically and independently. Remember to always have a well-thought-out and original argument. Express your argument formally, concisely and clearly.
It’s important to be confident, as well. You’ll want to demonstrate to the marker that you can express your own opinions clearly and ensure that you back up any new arguments or viewpoints with data or examples. Don’t just make a generalised claim and leave it at that. Again, remember that an essay requires an academic style of writing – it is not an opinion piece.
Keep in mind that originality is key for first-class essays and refrain from simply summarising the arguments that are already available in the literature. You won’t score any extra points by taking this approach.
Now that you are familiar with the steps required to write a first-class essay, we hope that the process of drafting one is much easier than before. Don’t hesitate to get in touch for help if you’re unsure about any points and lastly, good luck! In reading this, you have certainly inched closer to achieving a first on your next essay.