1. Planning. Think ahead clearly, before you begin, about how you want to put your essay together, what you want to say, and the nature of the relevant material. Strict deadlines can tempt you to put something on the page as soon as possible, but thorough planning will save you time by making the writing phase that much smoother.
2. Specifications. Are there any particular specs which must be followed? If so the structure of your essay should reflect the demands of the work. Discursive essays, analytical essays, critical reflections and reports each require different approaches.
3. Editing. Having completed the necessary reading or other research, you must consider carefully what ‘makes the final cut’. Some material will have emerged as centrally important, some useful in support, and some more or less irrelevant. Decide what is in and what is out.
4. Logical argumentation. The external material may already fall into clear relationships, but where does your argument fit in, and how does it progress? More analytical essays will require evidence of logical progression of thought that is internally consistent and responsive to the work of others.
5. Development. Much of the structure of your essay will be determined by the source material and the progression of your own arguments, but it can be necessary to organise these further into a common arc. One example would be to begin with a review of classic texts, move onto an analysis of more recent works, then introduce original reflections and identify interesting new trends.
6. Introduction. Your opening section should outline your intended approach, refer directly to the question or title, and define key terms if necessary. This will set the tone for the entire piece and should be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate a proper engagement will the requirements of the work.
7. Body paragraphs. The main bulk of the text, this is where discussions are given full treatment and arguments can be developed. Aim to give each paragraph a particular direction and purpose, each one building substantially from the last.
8. Topic sentences. In each body paragraph you should aim to clarify as early as possible the line of argument or direction of thought. From here you can move on to referencing source material and developing a convincing analysis.
9. Subheadings. Effective use of subheadings can serve not only to clarify expression, but encourage clarity of thought. Generally subheadings should be used only when specified, but when employing them you can typically reduce the amount of exposition and directly address the designated issues.
10. Conclusion. More than just a restatement of your thoughts and findings, a good conclusion should also aim to synthesise the material and tie the piece together. This gives the reader their final impression of your work, and should be accorded due significance. Above all else, make sure you address the question.