1. Unpack key terms in the question

Before delving into the actual essay-writing, take a few minutes to examine the question and dissect it. Single out the key terms in the question and try to unpack them by pinning down a definition for each key term. Once you’ve done that, figure out how you can link and synthesize all of them to come up with your points of argument and points of balance.

This is a critical first step in writing any essay. As soon as you have laid down the above, you can be assured that the structure of your essay will come more readily to you. That way, you wouldn’t encounter long pauses during the writing process trying to figure out your next point. Who would have thought setting aside the first few minutes at the start to do this would in fact save you more time later on while you are writing!

2. Topic sentences are important

First impressions matter, and so do your topic sentences. Topic sentences not only set the tone for the paragraph but can also help you link your paragraph back to the essay question. As such, keep in mind these two important tips while crafting topic sentences:

Your topic sentence should answer the question directly. Try to use keywords from the essay question or paraphrase them to add some variety. This ensures that you’re constantly checking if each paragraph is relevant and answers the given prompt adequately.

In addition, your topic sentence and the final sentence of the paragraph should ideally correspond – this prevents you from making two separate points within one paragraph, or going off on a tangent and not answering the essay question. When in doubt, refer to the essay prompt to check if your paragraph addresses the key points in the question.

3. Choosing examples to support your point

Now that you’ve ensured that your topic sentence answers the question, it’s time to take the next step in the PEEL (Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link) format.

When selecting evidence to support your point, check that these examples are relevant to the topic sentence of your paragraph. Apart from finding suitable examples to prove your point, you might also have to tweak the way these examples are phrased so that they address the essay question directly. Checking that your examples are relevant to your topic sentence helps to ensure that your writing is coherent and addresses the essay prompt.

4. The reader must be able to follow your essay easily

You don’t want to give your reader a hard time when he or she is reading your essay. With that in mind, give your reader an effortless reading experience by making use of signposting language. Examples of signposts include phrases like, ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, ‘next’, ‘finally’ to indicate sequence, and ‘however’, ‘in contrast’, ‘on the other hand’, to signal an opposing viewpoint, and ‘because’, ‘as a result’, ‘therefore’ to suggest causality.

To see how signposting is used in a sample essay, check out our previous post on expository writing.