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Paul A Callaghan

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How to Write and Structure an Essay for High School
by Paul A Callaghan   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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A simple guide to writing a high school essay.

 So you have an essay to write. Before you tap a key or lift a pen make sure that you read the question. It amazes me how many reasonable essays I have had to fail because the writer does not answer the question. Do you understand what is being asked? Have you picked out the key words in the question? Are you sure that you completely understand what is being asked? Good. Now go back and read the question again. Same ideas coming to you? Maybe you have got it right. Go back and read the question again. Sure now? Good, let us begin.

Structure

Essays are basically formed in three parts: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. That's the order they come in the final draft. But it doesn't have to be the order in which they are written.

The introduction

Imagine you were asked to introduce a person to large group like a conference. You have been asked to speak for a minute or two. Could you do that if you knew nothing about the person? Of course not. It's the same with an essay. How can you possibly introduce something that you haven't written yet? So write your body first. I am assuming here that you have done your research and made your notes already. Leave the introduction until last. The whole purpose of an essay is to refine and articulate your thoughts on a particular subject. The actual writing should reflect your growth of knowledge. That growth can be signalled in your introduction, but only if you write it after the body has been written.

The body

Another of the biggest problems I see with essays is letting the sentences run on. By this I mean sentences that go on and on and never really explain what the writer is talking about although they grasp at various ideas throughout and just seem to wander off the track as if the writer has no control over what is being put on the paper but is simply writing a stream of consciousness because he or she thinks it's a good idea to get as many words on the page as possible.

Look at that last sentence again. Were you were ready to fall asleep before the end of it. I know I was. That's a run on sentence. So what is a good sentence? A sentence is the coherent expression of a single idea. That's it. Just one idea. If you have more than one idea, start a new sentence. As a rough guide try saying the sentence out loud. If you can't do it in one breath, it's too long. As an essayist you need to be clear. And concise.

Groups of related ideas come together to form a paragraph. If you have a change of place or time or character start a new paragraph. If the ideas are not related start a new paragraph. It depends on your required word count and the level of your essay as to how many sentences make up a paragraph. I usually aim for about five or six. But vary it to avoid boredom.

Use SEX for writing your body text. Make a Statement. Explain it. Give an eXample. This way you will have a logical progression through your thoughts.

The conclusion

This is where you get to sum up your wonderful insights into the topic. Make sure that you build on the facts you have stated in your body. Show your increased understanding. Some of this understanding will be different to your original ideas. If it isn't you probably haven't written your essay very well. Or at least haven't thought about it enough.

Editing

This is one of the most important parts of your essay.

Run a spell check but be aware that it will not pick up everything. Words that you have misspelt but have inadvertently spelt as other words will not be noticed. Have a look at a list of commonly confused words such as "accept" and "except". If you have used any of these words check them in a dictionary to make sure you are using the right one.

Put your essay away for a day or two and come back to it. The fresh eyes you bring will be very helpful.

Read your essay out loud. Your ear will be able to hear the errors better than your eyes can see them. Those of us who speak English every day are all experts in the oral language. If it sounds wrong it probably is.

Check for sense. Is what you have written actually what you wanted to say?

Finished editing? Good. Check it again.



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