Guidelines for writing essays
1. Answer the question. Every essay question raises a particular contentious issue. Do not write anything irrelevant to the given question. This means that you should not write anything that does not contribute towards the development of a position that constitutes a direct response to the specific question. If you include some material (e.g. historical background information) and you cannot explain to yourself how it furthers your overall argument in response to the question, then delete it. If you can justify its inclusion make its relevance explicit to the reader.
2. Write an appropriate introduction. An introduction should raise the question by rephrasing it, explaining it, indicating why it is contentious, and explaining its significance. There should also be a “thesis statement” in response to the question, a brief statement of the position that the essay’s argument is going to confirm.
3. Develop a clear argument throughout the response. The essay should be divided logically into paragraphs, each with a clearly stated topic, but the topic of each paragraph should be explicitly related to the thesis being argued for. This means that the topic of each paragraph needs to be understood and stated in terms of being an integral component of a critical and analytical argument and thus not as a merely descriptive theme. A merely thematic approach to structuring an essay may involve explaining one position in one paragraph and a counter-position in the next, with the essay-author’s evaluation of the two positions in a third paragraph. Such an approach is deficient in that the opposing viewpoints are dealt with in isolation from each other and from the thesis of the essay. If the essay-writer’s evaluation is added on separately to a merely descriptive presentation of the opposing viewpoints, it can appear unjustified and subjective. Ideally, the essay-writer’s evaluation should be developed immanently to the critical presentation of...