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How to write an English essay

Info: 1285 words (5 pages) Study Guide
Published: 13th May 2020

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Writing an English essay can provide a world of topics related to various types of literature or books – everything from poems and stories to novels or genres. You need to verify what niche area your English essay should focus on, but this is often provided for you in the form of an English essay question or statement, along with the recommended books, poems, or authors to focus on within the assignment.

An English essay often requires substantial reading both of the work(s) as well as references that critically analyse that work or author. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to do the reading as well as take notes, reread, and write the English essay. Critical thinking is essential for an English essay as high marks are given to those that illustrate that they did more than regurgitate what was in a book by relating the story; instead they developed reasoning and rationale as to why an author chose a style, format, or theme.

Typically, an English essay uses an MLA or Harvard referencing style. Get to know the required style as this will be your basis for in-text references, your reference page, and for quotes that are used from the literature. Follow a basic essay format as you create an outline, namely introduction, body paragraphs that represent each of the main points listed in your thesis statement, and conclusion. If you are comparing and contrasting to different works or authors, be sure that your outline highlights the specific similarities and differences.

Make sure your writing stays away from retelling the plot or story. Your library and online resource sites like Questia and Google Scholar have numerous critical analysis sources to help you understand how to focus your writing on this area. Carefully proofread and edit your paper for grammar, spelling, and flow a few times before submitting it to make sure you have followed all areas of the assignment and offered a logical argument.

The basis of most academic work is the ability to construct a good essay. Although this sounds obvious, it is a skill which most students need to develop as none of us is born with the natural ability to write an essay, never mind one which will both address a given topic effectively and adequately, support an argument with evidence.

It’s never been more important to know how to write a good English essay. Universities place huge importance on essay writing – some courses are assessed solely on essays – yet these days universities are finding that many new students do not have basic essay writing skills.

In this guide, you can find lots of hints and tips to help you develop your technique and learn how to write great English essays.

1. Preparation

At least half the time you spend on your essay should be preparation. If you are organised and have all your ideas fully formed, the process of writing can be relatively painless.

2. Research

The most important thing for you to do is to get to know the subject matter of your essay. Always keep in mind that what makes a good English essay is a personal response to the subject matter.

3. Know the text

Read the text. While doing so, keep the topic of your essay in mind. Why not stick a few large-print copies of the question/topic in visible places? Then, every time you look up from reading, you can be reminded of it, and so stay focused.

4. Making notes

Some hints:

  • Keep your notes relevant – are they related to the question/topic?
  • Bullet points are a good way to note ideas in few words
  • Get the facts! Without dates, names and theories etc, your essay will be too vague
  • Annotate the text itself – it forces you to continually use the text as a resource
  • The Cornell System is just one technique that can help you produce effective notes – try a few methods until you develop a style that suits you

5. Develop your ideas

The library is an amazing resource for research. How about asking your teacher or professor to suggest some secondary reading? It can be very useful in helping you develop your own opinions. Don’t be afraid to disagree with any critical responses you encounter: It means you are probably on the right track to coming up with an original English essay!

6. Planning

Now you have an understanding of your subject matter and are developing some good ideas, it’s time to let them take shape. The goal of planning is to identify your main and supporting ideas, your reasons for them, and organise them in a logical sequence. You should try as many planning methods as possible and get creative in developing your own technique.

Some good methods:

Rewrite and consolidate ideas
Lets you develop good ideas, reject bad ones and organise your thoughts into an essay structure

Use this method of free writing to suspend your inner critic – you’ll develop some good ideas this way

Mind Mapping
Helps you organise points, sub-points and reasoning

Index cards
Write your ideas on cards/labels you can reorganise easily – start thinking in a less linear way!

7. Writing your essay

Essay structure


This should clearly explain your topic, and introduce your main point. It is probably easier to write this when you have finished the rest of the essay.

Body Text:

The main part of your essay; this is the written version of your plan.


To bring your essay to a close, come back to your main point and reassess it, making appropriate comments.

English Essay Writing Tips

Thanks to your careful planning, writing your English essay shouldn’t be too difficult! Here are a few tips:

  • Support all your ideas with reasoning
  • Make sure everything you write is relevant to the topic/question
  • Double space for ease of reading
  • Indent paragraphs
  • Deal with one point per paragraph
  • Make sure your English is perfect if you want to be taken seriously
  • Use an English grammar guide
  • Get a friend to proofread your work
  • A good general rule is to keep quotations as short as possible, and don’t forget to cite the page number
  • Don’t use quotations and references to prove your opinions – think of them as starting points from which you can form ideas
  • Make a list of all the sources you used. Ask your teacher/professor what reference style they expect – here is one common style:
  • Author’s last name, author’s first name, title, (city of publication: publisher, date of publication)

8 Final thoughts

Don’t forget to proofread your essay! Try reading it aloud or upside-down to avoid scanning past errors.

Remember this above all else: Answer the question, and do not include irrelevant material.

Other English sections:

More how to write guides:

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