Three simple steps to write an essay | Intro to essay writing | English Language eBook

Three simple steps to write an essay | Intro to essay writing | English Language eBook


Interpreting the question asked

The first step in writing an essay does not involve writing at all. Instead you need to read the question and interpret what is being asked. I normally use a pencil to underline the important words in the question. This deconstruction of the question helps you focus on what is required to properly answer what is asked.

For example, the question “Why are schools important to society?”

What are the important words in this question?

That’s right: important, schools and society.

So your essay is NOT going to be what a school is, but rather why it is important to people, the country etc.

Planning the essay

Having analysed your question you now need to plan your essay. This involves some writing, not much though. It is simply you putting down your all your ideas on paper. This is called brainstorming, and it is best done on a Mind Map. A mind map is graphic (picture) diagram where you can write down everything you know about a topic. These “graphic organizers” are great planning tools. Here are two mind maps: The Spider mind map (Figure 1) and the Fishbone diagram (Figure 2).

Figure 1- The Spider Mind Map

We use these mind maps to write down all that we know about the topic. In the Spider Mind Map we brainstorm our ideas and jot them down at the Spider’s legs.

(See how to make a Spider Map in the video tutorial)

Figure 2- The Fishbone Diagram

We use the Fishbone diagram in the same way. The topic is written in the middle of the fish and we write down all our ideas along the fish’s bone.

(See how to make a Fishbone Diagram in the video tutorial)

So let’s think about all the reasons why schools are important to society. What do schools do? They provide us with knowledge; we make lots of friends at school, so that we can get along with all types of people and we get to play sports that make us healthy.

Great, look at that, we have many points that can be put into our essay. The second stage of planning is organizing our points into an essay. An essay has three parts: an introduction, body and conclusion. Let’s look at our graphic organizer, The Essay Planner.

Each paragraph has a specific function in the essay. The first paragraph introduces the topic. This means that it explains the topic so that the reader will know more about the topic (this is what we call defining the topic). You may also want to give a brief background on the topic in the introductory paragraph. In persuasive essays you always give your point of view in the introduction.

The body of the essay is where you place all the points that you brainstorm. Use one paragraph for each new point. Take care to explain each point in detail. Make sure and give examples where necessary. We had come up with a number of points why schools are important to society. Take a look at how these are placed in the planner.

Finally the last paragraph is our conclusion. The conclusion simply recaps what our essay was about and reminds the reader about what topic we looked at. No new points are made in the conclusion.

Writing the Essay - The Essay Planner

This is how an essay planner looks. Look at how each paragraph is laid out. The first paragraph is the introduction, paragraphs two, three and four is our body, where we explain the topic. The last paragraph is our conclusion.

Figure 3- The Essay Planner

Paragraph 1 (Introduction)

Define the topic, that is, say what it is.

Give a brief background on the topic.

In persuasive essays give your point of view on the topic, that is, do you agree with it or not.

Paragraph 2

Point #1- At schools you gain valuable knowledge that may be used in the world of work. For example…

Paragraph 3

Point # 2- In schools you make great friends; friends that you will remain close to for life. This is good for young people as they learn how to get along with others. Explain fully

Paragraph 4

Point # 3- You engage in sports and other extra curricular activities in school. This is beneficial for all of us, as we learn to lead a healthy life and learn how to compete fairly. Explain fully

Paragraph 5 (Conclusion)

Recaps what our essay was about.

As you have seen schools are needed to foster knowledge, build friendships and provide extra-curricular activities.

Writing the Essay

If you take a look at our Essay planner graphic organizer above you will realize that all the details for writing our essay are there. Indeed, our Essay planner is our skeleton for our essay. We use it to build full paragraphs as we compose our essay. Sometimes if you are doing lengthy research papers you may write your essay, then after reading, decide to rewrite it adding more details to it. That’s fine. Writing the perfect essay takes time and is a thorough process.

So that’s how to write an essay. Now it's your turn. Using the three steps you have learnt, write the essay “Why are schools important to society?”

Sample Essay

Question: Why are schools important to society?


Schools are institutions or organizations where mostly young people are educated. Schools play a crucial role in maintaining and developing societies. For hundreds of years schools have benefited society by preparing young people for life. Indeed, without schools society would not function as smoothly as it does. Schools therefore are not only important to society, but are critical to society’s well being.

Schools prepare students for the world of work. It is at school you learn to use language well, study Math and Science and all the other subjects required for entry into the world of work. It is here the foundation necessary for working is built. It is not only academic disciplines that are taught at schools. Students also learn about art, music, wood and metal work and a host of other skills that will benefit them and society when they leave school.

Apart from learning academic and technical subjects at schools young people also learn how to socialize and interact with each other. At schools you make friends, some of whom you will keep for life. You get the practice of dealing with human beings like yourself and acquire valuable social skills needed for peaceful coexistence in today’s world. It is at these institutions you mix with different genders, ethnic and religious groups. You broaden your perspective in life and learn to appreciate other cultures. There is no doubt that at schools you not only develop academically, but also grow emotionally.

Young people are introduced to a number of extra curricular activities at school. From a variety of sports to organizations such as Scouts and Girl’s Guides to Chess and Debating clubs. A number of students discover their true potential or abilities at schools and go on to become professional athletes, skilled chess players or debaters. Engaging in sports teach young people to obey rules of play and develop competitive spirit. It also provides healthy physical activity for children who need it as they mature to adulthood.

There is no doubt that schools are important to society. As you have seen schools are needed to foster knowledge, build friendships and provide extra curricular activities. Without schools society would not progress as it does. Good schools make good societies. Each depends on the other. That is why it is important to invest in these organizations.

Examiner Tips & Common Student Mistakes

It is critical that students go through the three I.P.W. steps. Often students rush through reading the question and don’t analyze exactly what the question requires. This leads to an essay take that is not related to the topic asked. You will not achieve full or maximum marks for your essay if it does not answer the question asked.

Similarly, students often don’t plan their essay. Planning is essential! Once you get in the habit of planning it takes five minutes or less. A good essay takes time; that is why the time given to write an essay ranges between 45 minutes to an hour. Use ALL your time to do a thorough I.P.W. Using Mind maps to brainstorm ideas on paper is good practice and makes it easy for you when it comes to writing the essay.

Essays are normally worth more marks in an exam than short answer or multiple-choice questions. This means that good essays will give you better marks in an exam, giving you a better grade. I often try to get essays done early in an exam. Normally it’s the second question I do in an exam to ensure I get most marks possible. Most exams give you time to read through the questions. By reading the essay questions your subconscious mind begins to think about how to approach it. If writing the essay is the second thing you do in an exam your mind would have started brainstorming the topic without you even knowing it.

If you ever run out of time writing an essay, simply write your points out in one-sentence paragraphs. This will give you some marks. Some marks are better than none.

Now I think you’re ready to write brilliant essays. Remember practice makes perfect. You need to practise writing essays so that you can get better. There’s no time like the present. So lets get started.