Your overall structure is simple: an introduction, four or five paragraphs, each containing one main point, and finally a conclusion.
The points need to flow in order. When you’ve written your list of points in your plan, think about what order they make most sense in. You need to be able to make a chain, linking each point to the next. Use connectives to link each paragraph to the previous one. In the exam make a quick note of the order you’ve decided on by putting a number next to each point.
Each paragraph needs its own structure, too. You could use P-E-E:
The point you are making.
Evidence - an example of why you are right (such as a quotation or an observation from a specific point in the text).
Explanation - what the quotation or observation means, why it explains your point, and anything else that is interesting about what is happening in the quotation.
To get the highest marks make a further development, linking your point to further evidence that backs up your point, or ending with a link to the next point.
Back to Extended reading index
Writing a Good Essay
Many of my students find writing an essay a daunting task. Getting to grips with a text is one thing, but when you are studying English Language or Literature, you are also required to write about it in a structured and coherent way. Here is a brief, step-by-step guide, on how to approach answering an essay question. I hope you find it helpful.
What is an essay?
- Answering a question
- Putting forward a point of view which is focussed, clear and supported
- Explaining what you think with evidence from the text
Remember, before you begin an essay, you must know your text well.
- Your response to the question
- How you intend to answer
- What your essay is going to say/explore/argue
- State your point of view
- Your interpretation of the text
- Are you aware of different levels of meaning?
Consider: the question, the text and the author
AVOID simplistic and irrelevant value judgments (for example, ‘.... is good...’)
2. Following paragraphs
Develop and support your point of view.
Use your paragraphs to develop your argument using the following method:
Point – make a point/express an opinion relevant to answering the question
Evidence – use quotations and refer to the text to support your view
Explain – discuss this further
- Why is this significant?
- How is it being done (e.g. the poetic/dramatic methods used)?
- What can you say about the language, style or structure?
- Why has the author used those words/expressed an idea in that way?
- How does it affect the reader/audience?
- How does it affect the themes/meaning(s) of the text?
- Complexity – could there be more than one interpretation?
- Does the style alter or develop across the text?
When using PEE, you should:
- Comment on the method used by the author
- Look at the effect of the language used
- Analyse reasons why this might have been done
Always work logically through the text, from beginning to end (this shows that you are also analysing the author’s structure). This will also help give your essay a sense of building up to a conclusion.
AVOID telling the story!
Instead, discuss the ideas or messages ‘behind’ the text. Aim to show how these are created, developed and revealed.
Other things you might want to think about...
- Consider the genre conventions and how these might shape meaning and interpretation
- Consider author’s context
- Consider author’s motivation, intention or purpose
3. Conclusion – summing up
- Tell your reader why you’ve said what you’ve said in your essay
- What are the wider issues raised by your discussion?
- Leave a final impression – give the reader something to think about