May 4, 2016 Blog
Writing an essay is a difficult process. It’s not easy to come up with an original, distinctive argument, and to sustain that argument over the course of a lengthy essay. To make that process easier, we’ve put together a two part series on how to write an essay. In this first part, we’ve broken up the initial idea-generating phase of essay-writing into three steps.
The hardest part of writing an English essay is coming up with an idea. After you’ve read the book or books that you’ll be writing about, it’s best to spend some time letting your thoughts flow freely, taking note of every idea that comes to you, without the pressure of worrying whether or not your ideas are perfect. The point of this exercise is to rid yourself of any inhibitions. Eventually the right idea will come to you, and you can focus your thought process after that.
An efficient way of taking down your ideas in this initial phase is to create a mind map. A mind map is a visual diagram of a group of ideas structured around a central subject. Jot down every idea that about your subject that comes to you, regardless of whether you think your ideas are original or not. The point is that you let your mind flow freely, so that eventually a good idea will emerge. Once you’ve jotted down thoughts, look at the ways in which each idea on the page connects with the others. It’s through these connections that you’re likely to find an original idea that can be drawn out into a clear and distinctive argument that will provide the basis of your essay.
Here’s an example of a mind map, courtesy of a blog called IQ Matrix, using William Shakespeare’s Richard III as an example.
Once you feel like you’ve come up with an idea for your essay, try to talk it out with a friend. This will help you to refine your thoughts and gain a clearer sense of what exactly you’re trying to say. Talking through your ideas is a good way of avoiding writer’s block, that feeling when you’re staring at a blank page and can’t come up with anything to write. When you’re talking in a conversation with someone you’re comfortable with, you’re less likely to have that hesitation about putting your ideas forward.
Try to talk to someone who has some interest in the subject of your book, or in literature in general. This way they’re more likely to bring enthusiasm to the conversation that will point you in the right direction. Ideally, this conversation will help you to recognize the areas where your argument is strongest, and the areas where your argument doesn’t make sense to someone else. It’s better to figure this out at the beginning, rather than toiling away for hours at an aspect of your argument that ultimately won’t be clear in the final version.
A good method for ensuring that you’re writing an effective essay is asking yourself if the points in your essay could be argued against. If you can anticipate and defend the counterarguments that would be made against your argument, your essay is bound to be a lot stronger. A strong essay is a well-argued essay.
Now that we’ve gone over how to generate ideas for an essay, it’s time to figure out how to structure these ideas. Next, check out Part 2 of our essay writing tips, How to Structure your Essay with the Hamburger Model.
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