The essay-writing process:
See our Super Book: Better Essays and Persuasive Techniques
Step 1: Researching information
Brainstorm the issue by investigating a wide range of sources — traditional (books) and non-traditional (web-based). Be sure to canvass a range of views from all stakeholders. (These are groups that have an interest — either personal or professional — in the issue.) What do the experts say? What are your own observations and experiences?
Step 2: Mapping ideas
Your mind map should identify the problem and include the facts, consequences and solutions. Draw arrows between related ideas or group common points.
Step 3: Analysing and classifying information
After you have brainstormed all components of the issue, you need to put them under the microscope and identify the alternative viewpoints. You need to make sense of them and think about which side is more convincing.
1. Organise “for” and “against” points.
2. Think about your information.
- think about which side has the most convincing evidence;
- think in an independent manner; that is, don’t just follow an opinion because an expert or someone you admire thinks in a certain way;
- think logically and critically; that is, question or test your information. (See pp. 20-22.) What does it suggest? What are the consequences?
3. Which side do you think is more convincing and why? You must be confident that your views are the most logical, sensible and persuasive.
Step 4: Planning and drafting
Take three scraps of paper: group together common ideas and write the related parts or a cluster of ideas on each sheet. Explain and develop each idea.
- organise your points or sheets in order of priority;
- start with your most important reason; and
- choose a convincing point from the opposite side to include in your “rebuttal” paragraph.
Think about the “big picture”: before dealing with the pieces, and getting lost among the details, we need to get a sense of the final puzzle so all the pieces fit together.
Headings: write a heading for each group of ideas. This will help you write the statements.
Step 5: Writing: what is your point of view?
Before starting your essay, write a summary outlining your ideas and reasons. This will encourage you to think about what you want to prove. Be specific and clear. The summary will also help to keep you on track.
Your introduction should not only set the scene and arouse interest in the topic, but must clearly outline your attitude or “main contention” and supporting reasons in order of priority. Where necessary, you should also define any key terms and frame your response around these so that you keep on track.
The main contention is a concise statement summing up your point of view on an issue. Take a stance — it is no use “sitting on the fence”. What is your view on the topic? For example, schools should drug test students. The Government should increase taxes on junk food to subsidise fresh fruit and vegetables.
Be confident and state your opinion clearly and assertively. It is important to pursue your views in a way that allows you to sound mature, intelligent and sensitive.
Your body paragraphs and topic sentences
The body paragraphs should outline your most important reasons in order of priority. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that unifies the paragraph. There should be one main idea in each paragraph.
Topic sentences are statements that become the backbone of your essay and show how you intend to develop your ideas. They answer the question, “What do I want to say regarding the topic?”
You will be expected to follow the TEEL structure in school. TEEL is an acronym relating to the logical sequence of your paragraph according to the following rules: Topic Sentence, Evidence, Explanation, Link.
The topic sentence:
- shows the focus of each paragraph;
- shows how you are interpreting the evidence;
- develops your argument;
- controls the paragraph; and
- gives it unity and order.
You will need to outline your Evidence and Explain and interpret your evidence. What does it say about the topic? How does the evidence support my contention? Make your points and Link them back to your topic sentence.
In a well-written body paragraph, you must ensure that:
- the sentences develop and expand on the topic sentence;
- there is a logical step-by-step progression of ideas; and
- there are no irrelevant or unnecessarily repetitive sentences.
Your discussion should involve a rebuttal. That is, you must find weaknesses in the opponent’s argument and counter-punch. The rebuttal is generally your last body paragraph in your essay.
- Look for your opponent’s errors or blind spots. What facts, surveys and statistics
have been used and how have they been (mis)interpreted?
- Explain your opponents’ weaknesses or shortcomings. This gives
you an opportunity to further strengthen your own views.
- Examine the opponent’s qualifications and motives. Are they likely to gain money or fame from the scheme or proposal? Consider their moral standing and credibility.Are they truthful? Is there evidence of double standards?Do they say one thing and do another?
The concluding paragraph sums up your argument. It should tie together the ideas that were introduced in your introduction and developed in your body paragraphs. It must show how these ideas (causes/reasons/factors) relate to each other and contribute to and reinforce your point of view. If there are two or more parts to the question, be sure to include responses to each part in your conclusion. This gives your essay unity and coherence.
- Keep the structure simple.
- Begin with a link sentence that makes it clear that you are now summing up your main points. Phrases such as “in conclusion”, “finally, it is evident that …” or “to answer the question whether ….” seek to place your conclusion in a context and show that these are your final statements.
- Do not develop any new points.
- Do not include long quotations or simply restate your introduction. You may use a short pithy quote to inject colour into your conclusion, but basically the paragraph should be in your own words.
- Aim for an impact and leave the reader with a sense that your views offer the only course of action. For example, you may forecast future trends and the implications resulting from your discussion. Leave the reader with some food for thought. What might happen in the future?
How can you improve your essay?
Refer Chapters 2 and 3 which cover key strategies that enable you to strengthen your TEEL structure. Specifically, it will help you sharpen your essay by thinking more precisely about the evidence, by making connections between key ideas, and by thinking about your style and the impact of your words.
The following strategies will help you examine your evidence and construct sharper topic sentences.
- Chapter 2: Reasoning strategies: Nowadays, it is easy to cut and paste a range of ideas from digital sources. However, it is important to evaluate the evidence. Does it make sense? What does it prove? Is it relevant? This chapter encourages you to think about a range of information that you may use to prove your point. You must analyse its significance, show connections and draw conclusions. Linking strategies: You must make sure that your essay flows logically, clearly and convincingly. Use keywords and signposts to guide the reader. The sentences in your paragraphs must flow in a logical order; your paragraphs must also be arranged logically so that you can steer readers through your most important points.
- Chapter 3: Persuasive strategies: Consider how you want your readers to think and feel. This chapter introduces you to some common appeals that you may use to influence your reader’s response. Such appeals also help you categorise your information and write sharper topic sentences: Attacking strategies: To counter your opponents’ views, you must be well equipped with a variety of attacking strategies. Which facts have they (conveniently) overlooked or misrepresented? What are their biases? This section shows you how to criticise and isolate them: Stylistic strategies: Your tone, sentence structure, choice of words and pronouns all add to your message. They are part of your personality as a writer and help to influence readers.
Please see our slideshow for an overview: