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Summary

This essay tutorial has outlined a general approach to essay writing, the stages of which are summarised below. As you look over the diagram and read the accompanying commentary, think about the way you presently go about writing and whether there is anything in the suggested approach that you could usefully adopt. Use the links on the left to revisit relevant sections in the tutorial.

General approach to essay writing

Commentary

You will notice that the approach is divided into two broad phases - researching and drafting.

Researching

In the researching phase, you should begin by carefully analysing the essay topic to be sure you understand exactly what you are required to do (Interpreting an essay topic). Next, we suggest you spend some time thinking about the topic area and try to draft a very provisional plan for the essay (Developing a provisional essay plan). Your thinking and planning around the topic will then assist you in working out what types of readings will be relevant to the task (Selecting relevant readings). When you are engaging with reading material for the essay, we suggest that you adopt a critical approach and also attempt to record key ideas in your own words (Taking notes from texts).

The various stages in the researching phase will tend to be of a cyclical nature - that is, your reading will help you to develop your plan, which in turn will point you in the direction of additional readings, leading to further refinement of the plan.

Drafting

After you feel you have done adequate research, you will be ready to move on to the drafting phase (Drafting the essay). We have suggested that you begin by drafting an introduction and then outlining the essay's subsequent sections.

The tutorial provides some guidance for the remaining stages of the drafting process. Revisit the following sections for help: Analysing citations, The conclusion, Essay references. The following points are also worth keeping in mind:

  1. It is advisable during the drafting phase to refer back regularly to the essay topic to ensure that you are on track and to make sure that you have not embarked on a task that is different from the one prescribed.
  2. Although the researching and drafting phases are shown separately in the diagram, these processes are never entirely independent. While you are drafting your essay, you will probably need to refer back to some of the references you read during the research phase; you may also need to seek out additional references to cover gaps that emerge in your draft.
  3. Ideally, after the first draft has been completed, you will leave the essay to lie for several days. The benefit of having a break is that when you pick it up again you will have established just a little 'distance' from your work. This will enable you to view your work more from the perspective of a reader, which will make it easier for you to pick up on any problems in it (e.g., ideas that are poorly expressed, sections that do not follow on clearly from preceding ones, grammatical errors, etc).
  4. When you are doing a final review of your work prior to submitting it, read it aloud to yourself. You will find that your ear is more efficient at picking up problems in your writing than your eyes.

Finally keep in mind that essay writing should never be regarded as a mere sequence of skills to be mastered. Your success as a writer will be determined ultimately by what you say to your reader: that is whether your writing is able to present an informed and coherent account of your subject matter. This requires a good deal of intensive reading, drafting and redrafting, and above all a good deal of hard thinking.

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