The following are some useful tips for writing a short essay:
- It is important to make a distinction between an essay paper and various types of reports. A report has the objective of conveying information while an essay is thesis-based and puts forward supporting evidence that can be opposed or disputed. Summarizing what you have covered in class is not sufficient in essay writing. Rather, you should respond in a critical manner to a particular issue that arose in discussion or in reading material.
- An essay’s topic and its thesis should be highly focused. The essays assigned in many classes are short so there is only room for precise and highly focused thesis statements. The following thesis example is not satisfactory: “Technological advances are more harmful than beneficial.” A thesis needs to be a lot narrower and more specific if it is to work. This example is much better: “Recent advancements in the field of psychopharmacology are likely to be more harmful than beneficial.” The more specific a thesis is, the more supporting evidence you will need to provide. Think how difficult it would be to support the following thesis: “All technologies are evil.”
- Try to develop a controversial thesis. There is little value in trying to defend a thesis if it does not provide some scope for disagreement. Look at this example: “A lot of US citizens now reside in suburban areas.” This option does not provide much to go on. Now look at the next example: “Since the 1970s, a lot of African-American citizens have become middle-class suburban residents.” This has both a statistical and historical element. Therefore, there is more material to work on.
- Make sure your argument is strong. In other words, ensure your premise is more agreeable to readers than your conclusion and that both mesh together in a manner that makes readers agree with your views.
- Think about any objections or opposition you may encounter. Arguments are only as good as their strongest counter-arguments. Think of one forceful objection that might arise and examine its underlying reasons. Consider any opposition fairly and develop a good, well-reasoned response. Ignoring counter-arguments can impact your credibility in a negative way or, worse still, may cause your views to be totally rejected.
- It is important you are concise. Do not make your introduction too wordy or your conclusion too repetitive. Make your point quickly and concisely.
- Gear your writing towards a general readership. Assume readers are fairly well educated people with little knowledge of your course content. This should help you decide how much explanation and clarification you need to provide.
- Document everything! When you use any external sources – quotes or paraphrasing – it is crucial that everything is documented. This should be done in an accepted academic format, which usually means indicating source materials in parenthesis, as footnotes, or as endnotes.
You should additionally attach an explanatory note to any referenced sources or facts that are not commonly known about. Sometimes, tutors do not have a preference about which format you should use but, as a general rule, you should use a particular style consistently.