The process of writing an essay

STAY AHEAD 10th November 2012
The process of writing an essay
‘Writing an essay does not simply ‘happen’
on a particular day. Effectively, you start the
writing process as soon as you begin to study
the topic of your next essay.’
Northedge 2005: 297
Sara Steinke
Aims of the session
• Cottrell's ‘seven-point procedure for writing
assignments’ and Northedge’s 8 ‘Stages in the essay
writing process’
• Analysing the question
• Writing introductory, main body and concluding
• Importance of grade content editing and proof
• Using feedback to improve your essay writing skills
and grade
Consider the following
Imagine you have an essay due in
two weeks’ time.
How would you set about the task
of writing the essay?
Stages of essay writing
Cottrell 2008: 176-177
1. Clarify task
2. Collect and record
7. Final draft
6. Work on your first draft
3. Organise and plan
4. Engage, reflect and
5. Write an outline and first draft
Stages of essay writing
Northedge 2005: 297
1. Thinking about the essay title
8. Reviewing and polishing
2. Planning the writing
3. Studying the course
7. Drafting an answer
4. Taking stock before you
start writing
6. Organising your material
5. Getting ideas written down
Consider the following
What are the advantages of
adopting a systematic approach
towards your essay writing?
What are the pitfalls of not
following a systematic approach
towards your essay writing?
Analysing the question
Essay questions can be
broken down into:
• Its topic
• Any restriction/
expansion to the topic
• The aspect/angle you
are asked to consider
• Instructions you need
to follow
An analysis of the
changes in US policy
towards China
during the 1970s.
An analysis of the
changes in US policy
towards China
during the 1970s.
Writing introductory paragraphs
• State title of essay in first line/link to question
• Explain the title/why the question is
important/establish the field/give background
information/state aim of the essay
• Outline approach to the essay/Thesis
• Narrow the field/particular focus/outline
• Outline structure of essay
Writing main body paragraphs
Topic (first)sentence: main idea of the paragraph
Supporting sentence: gives details about/
explains topic sentence
Concluding (last) sentence: repeats the main
idea/gives final comment about topic
Writing concluding paragraphs
• Summarise main arguments/themes
• State general conclusions
• Make it clear why conclusions are significant
• Refer back to question/directly answer it
• Make recommendations or suggest way
forward/further research
• Do not present new material/ideas in your
Content edit/proof read
 Have you answered the
question title?
 Have you used relevant
 Do you show a good grasp
of the ideas?
 Have you presented a
coherent argument?
 Is the essay written in an
objective, analytical way,
with appropriate use of
illustration and evidence?
 Is the essay clearly written
and well presented?
Consider the following
What do you think is missing from
Cottrell’s and Northedge’s stages of
the essay writing process?
Feedback from tutor on your essay
Using feedback to improve your essay
writing skills and grade
Read through work and lecturer’s comment
Check you understand lecturer’s comments
Make list of major issues and minor errors
Compare with comments/lists from previous essays
- Which comments appear more than once?
- Which issues have you improved?
1. Number issues in order of priority
2. Act on them!
Recap of the session
• Ensure you adopt a systematic approach to your
essay writing process - involves good time
• Pick your chosen question to bits - offers clues to
how you should answer the question
• Learn how to write introductory, main body and
concluding paragraphs
• Remember to content edit/proof read your essay
• Act upon feedback from your lecturers - a key way to
improve your grade

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