IAS ALSIAS ALS

How to Write a Good Essay

In everyday life we observe people discussing and debating on various issues. In doing so they try to outwit others. But when it comes to writing most of us grow cold. For instance, the issue of terrorism and its threat to world place is such a relevant and significant issue that everbody has some or the other opinion on the same. But if one is told to put his ideas on paper, it becomes a daunting task. Why is that so? Is that because writing not only requires analytical thinking, but also a good command over language, skills to put things systematically and cogently on paper as also to maintain focus on the issue. However, essay writing is somewhat different from other kinds of writing since the topic is given only in a capsuled form. It's upto the author to understand its relevance and significance. The candidate is expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay, to arrange his ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit is given for effective and exact expression. This may seem to be an insurmountable obstacle, but once you learn 'the tricks of the trade', writing essays becomes not only easier, but also worth enjoying.

So, what are those 'tricks of the trade'? Well, these are not something that you learn by listening or reading. It's something like swimming. Unless you jump into the water you cannot learn to swim. But, of course, you must know the basic principles and the rules of the game, so that you conform to the expectations.

Now, when you are told to write an essay and are given a number of topics, your mind is filled with a myriad number of questions. Some of these are:

Which topic to choose?
How to start and what to start with?
What could be an impressive beginning?
Should one begin with a quotation?
What should be the length of the essay?
How to conclude the essay?
How can one show a balance of judgement and yet express one's opinion?
Can one use a quotation in a language different from the medium of the essay?
Can one illustrate in point-form?
Can one criticise the government and its policies?
Should one use sub-titles? and, so on ....

Although there cannot be any fixed way of writing an essay, certainly there are some essential elements which make an essay a good one. Now that you know the important elements that make an essay (whatever be the topic) a good piece of writing, come to the more practical aspects of the exercise one by one:

Choosing a Topic

Choosing the right topic from amongst a number of topics is very crucial. Topics could be political, economic, social, scientific and so on... Now, the first consideration should be your area of interest. If you are interested in political issues, prefer that one. If in social or scientific issues, choose a topic from that area. Don't reject a particular topic on the ground that you don't have the facts ready. In fact, most of the topics are such that you won't be having much factual knowledge about them. What the examiner expects from you is not a plethora of facts, but a keen insight into the topic. Your sole criteria behind choosing a particular topic should be your ability to think, link and come up with new ideas. So, think before rejecting a particular topic. The topic on which you are giving up may be the best for you to write upon! Take extreme care, for this could make a difference of a whopping 30 to 40 marks. Topic selection should take a maximum of 10 minutes.

What all to Write: Brain storming is the key

Brainstorming is an important skill that you must acquire. It's a prerequisite to lateral thinking; i.e. thinking of various things simultaneously. It promotes creativity and innovation. We human beings tend to think sequentially. By doing so, we restrict our creativity. We must, therefore, aquire the art of lateral, non-sequential thinking. First of all, this requires a good understanding of the topic. Dwell on the topic that you have chosen and, till the time you grasp it fully. Get into the shoes of the examiner and ask yourself why the particular topic has been given? Understand its context and concerns. Now, start writing down any key words or phrases associated with the topic that come to your mind. Don't try to channelise the flow of ideas. Let your thinking go wild. Jot down even the weirdest of ideas. Keep thinking fast and don't get stuck-up anywhere. At this stage, don't classify or systematise your points. Put them on paper randomly as they flow in. This exercise should take around 40-50 minutes.

Classification and Systema-tisation of Random Jottings

After you have generated sufficient number of ideas, start linking your random thoughts, classify them in different groups. For instance, take the topic "Global Peace". After brainstorming and random jotting, the points for example, could be classified under the following groups:

Threats to Global Peace
Meaning of Global Peace
Why peace is necessary?
What has been done?
India's role in Global Peace
Context (Recent Terrorist attacks worldwide)
What more needs to be done for sustainable peace etc.

Now, arrange the groups in an orderly fashion so that there is logical progression of ideas and each paragraph is linked to the preceding and the following paragraphs, viz

Meaning of Global Peace
Why peace is necessary?
Threats to Global Peace
What has been done?
India's role in Global Peace
Context (Recent Terrorist attacks worldwide)
What more needs to be done for sustainable peace etc.

Having completed the most important exercise, you can set aside 2 hours for actual writing, for you not only have to write, but also to revise your essay to check spelling and grammatical errors.

But, please hold on…! You are yet to think over another extremely important part of the entire exercise, i.e. the introductory and the concluding remarks. (Yes, concluding note also so that you must know the direction in which you are taking your essay). It is like while rowing a boat you must know the destination and also the direction of it, lest you will get swayed away by the stream.

Introductory Note

First impression often turns out to be the last. Give your essay a logical introduction. You can begin with a question, quotation or an exclamatory remark. The introduction should arrest the examiner's attention and give him a fair amount of idea about the essay's focus. The introduction should set the pace and flag off the discussion. It should arouse the examiner's curiosity. It could be in the nature of a definition, an explanation or a summary. For instance, you may consider the following introductory note on "Global Ecological Imbalance"— "In primitive societies man-man and man-nature interaction was limited and man lived in perfect harmony with nature. But now with the ever expanding population, rising consumerism and over exploitation of natural resources the population resource imbalance has acquired global dimensions leading to ecological imbalances. …"

Concluding Remark

All is well that ends well thus goes the saying. The concluding remark should be really powerful and effective. It should give a sense of completion and leave the examiner satisfied. In fact, it can turn the tables and make up for the deficiency in the body of the essay. Remember, conclusion is not the summary of the essay. So, do not repeat your ideas. The conclusion should be visionary and futuristic. It should bring the essay to its logical end. It could be in the form of a recommendation or suggestion. For instance, you may consider the following concluding remark on "Global Ecological Imbalance"—"It is his 'development' and his 'poverty' which are two greatest polluters. We need to emphasise on renewable resources, eco-friendly techniques and conservation of energy. It is still possible to keep our earth green, and the sky blue but what we need is to acquire a new vision and rethinking that we are not 'polluters', 'predators', and 'consumers', but 'protectors' 'producers' and 'caretakers'."

Body Paragraphs

The body could be in the nature of an expansion of the introduction. The first body paragraph should emerge seamlessly out of the introductory note. Thereafter, every subsequent paragraph should flow out of the preceding one. The body should be complete in itself. It should cover all important angles and dimensions. There should be prioritisation of topics. The focus should be more on analysis than on facts and the facts that are presented should support the analysis. Clarity and precision must also be ensured.

Language of the Essay

Since ideas are expressed through language, it plays a vital role in an essay or for that matter in any piece of writing. The language must be such that the examiner finds it crisp, smooth and easy-flowing. Therefore, the language of the essay should be simple (and not simplistic) yet polished, powerful and effective. Choice of words, diction, phrases, idioms etc. should be appropriate so that there is complete clarity in meaning. Ideas and sentences must not be repeated. Language should be firm, authoritative and assertive. And, overall, it should be pleasing and appropriate.

Presentation

Last but not the least, it is the presentation of your essay, writE-up or article which in the first instance makes it attractive or unattractive, easy or painful reading. Your essay, therefore, must exude neatness, legibility and visibility of your ideas, points or illustrations. You can underline certain vital points or quotations to draw the examiners attention. Also, be careful about the punctuation marks. Always remember, 200 marks is not too small to be neglected. It proves to be a big boost to place you in the topper's list.