The following is some important general advice on writing good essays. Many of your subjects have essay type questions in the exam which usually carry a high percentage of the overall marks. Regular practice at writing essays as part of your written homework will help you perfect this important skill. The following guidelines are relevant to all year groups but are particularly directed at Leaving Certificate students.
(i) Think carefully about the title – it is a vital part of producing a good essay. Look carefully at each word or phrase in turn. Otherwise you can easily waste a lot of time writing about irrelevant things for which you will get little marks.
(ii) Gather together all the material for your essay.
(iii) Brainstorm – using a rough work piece of paper, jot down any words, phrases, or ideas that you can think of, which relate to the question or essay title. Now number the words or phrases in the order in which you will write about them in your essay.
(iv) Plan – this is of crucial importance. Using the results of your brainstorm, neatly write out the plan of your essay in your copy/answerbook. Decide on the number of paragraphs (5 including introduction and conclusion is the usual) and what points will go into each paragraph. If you tend to write too much, it is at this stage that you need to make tough decisions. You must limit your essay plan to what can be managed in the space (and time) you have. If you tend to write too little, think about giving more attention to how much explaining you must do to get your points across. Include a brief introduction and conclusion in your plan.
(v) Essay – now start the actual essay. In the introduction, briefly, explain what the essay will be about, and the main points you will make.
(vi) Paragraphs – now take each paragraph in turn and, using the words or headings from your plan, construct your sentences to create your content. Paragraphs are clusters of sentences with one main theme.
(vii) Sentences – these can vary a great deal in length. If you need a punchy opening or conclusion, use short sentence. A lot of items of information also suit short sentences. You will tend to need longer sentences when you are explaining and developing a point or argument.
(viii) Flow – make your essay flow by using link words like, ‘but’, ‘then’, ‘so’, ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, etc.
(ix) Signposting – now and again, try to make connections between your paragraphs and the title and between each paragraph. Work to the question in the title at all times and show the reader where you are going.
(x) Examples – use plenty of examples to illustrate your point.
(xi) Conclusion – the conclusion should be a short summary of the main points you have made and, where appropriate, your own personal comment on the topic under discussion.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that most of what you read is written by ‘professionals’. If you are a beginner, then compare yourself to other beginners.
Bear in mind that these are only general guidelines. A History essay is not the same as an English essay. More specific advice will be given by your subject teachers. Plenty of practice in writing essays as part of your written homework will prepare you well for the day of the exam.