Essay Writing Tips from an Oxford University Graduate

This short article aims to assist students who are working towards producing high-quality essays, which is one of the most sought-after skills amongst students of all levels. We also have some essay writing hints and tips from Ella, a graduate in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, and is one of Spires online essay tutors.  

Thesis statement

The thesis statement should be the most important argument in your essay, used to answer the question and link together everything you present in your essay. Most essays lack this crucial element. To be able to reduce an argument to one sentence takes practice, but it pays off. It is not necessary at first that your thesis is complicated or elegant, but it will help give you focus so that you remember what you are trying to accomplish in your essay.

Essay Structure

The teaching of essay structure leaves many students adopting a write-down-all-I-know-about-the-topic approach, which produces essays without sustained analysis. However, a well-structured essay that presents less content in a meaningful and persuasive way will be marked higher than an unstructured essay. It is especially useful to be able to write less to get more marks in timed exams, thereby making them more palatable. Essays should include proper paragraphing, punctuation, and grammar as well as a basic structure such as an introduction, body, and conclusion. Explain briefly the issue raised by the question, followed by a statement of what the essay will include, including your thesis statement. In the body of the essay, the first and last sentences of each paragraph can provide structure and flow, and each paragraph should contain only one point, using the PEEL system. To begin with, the point is explained followed by an explanation, such as the importance of the point or the effect that it has. You should also present some evidence to support your claim, such as a quote or an example. And finally, you should tie your point to the question and thesis.

Essay Planning

Another method which is essential to producing a well structured and coherent essay is planning. An essay plan will gather all of the arguments in one place, allowing the identification of the thesis, and an assessment of whether all of the material can be dealt with in the time available. Excess material can either be cut completely, or joined together into groups which will be covered together to make one argument in less detail. The points to make in the essay can also be arranged in a sensible and coherent order, to maximize the persuasiveness of the essay. It is a mistake to think that planning is a waste of time in a timed examination – a well-planned essay is a well-structured one, leading to higher marks. A rule of thumb is to plan for five minutes for an essay writing time of one hour, ten minutes for a writing time of one and a half hours and so on.

Use of language

Clear language also plays a huge part in creating an essay – the foremost goal is to reduce the stress of the examiner. As a happy marker is more generous, the examiner should have a clear understanding of what each paragraph is saying. Make your essay easy to read and coherent with connectives such as therefore, however, and to conclude. Inclusion of a wide vocabulary will ensure that the reader will be engaged and interested in the material presented. 

Diagrams in scientific essays

The use of diagrams and/or flow charts is crucial when writing science essays. The use of diagrams breaks up the body of the text, improving reader interest, and communicating information more clearly and quickly than writing it out longhand, which you no longer have to do.

Productivity when essay writing

The most common error made by writers is concentrating too much on creating the perfect paragraph the first time. Write the poorest paragraph you can for editing later, since it is far easier to edit text than to write it. Stop staring at an empty screen waiting for your inner perfectionist to feel satisfied. 

Additionally, work for short periods of time with rewards in between to boost productivity and effectiveness.

If these basic rules are followed, the essay produced will have a clear direction and make easy reading – improving marks awarded.

Essay Structure advice from Ella, a University of Oxford graduate

“It might sound rather a melodramatic claim, but I feel as though I only truly grasped how to plan and write essays effectively towards the very end of my English degree.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t write essays at all beforehand, but rather that far too much agonising went on. I’d make elaborate spider diagrams; reams of increasingly unintelligible notes; complex colour-coded systems. All of these things were helpful (to varying degrees), but the one key element I was missing was the ability to boil down my argument to a single sentence.

No matter how simplistic or banal this sentence might sound, it really doesn’t matter: it’s a thought experiment, not a mission statement. Next time you’re wading through a plan or staring at a blank page, just try it. The sentence itself doesn’t have to be elegantly crafted, or persuasively forceful: all that can wait. What it does do is focus the mind and force you to remember what exactly you’re trying to cover and communicate.

There’s another lesson to be learnt from this, which is that it is key to not self-edit too much as you go along. Allow yourself to write a dire paragraph or two – you can always revisit them later. The enemy of productivity is perfectionism, and it’s far easier to tweak a block of text than it is to create one from scratch.

I’m certainly not against planning per se; indeed, it’s vital! Just try to be creative and concise in your approach. Write a few key points on post-it notes so that you can rearrange them later (the order they come in doesn’t matter quite as much as you’d think). Suggest some ideas out loud to yourself, just to mix things up. And, above all, take breaks. Do not stare at an empty screen for hours upon hours waiting for your masterpiece to take shape. Work in short, effective bursts and reward yourself for your concentration.”