Know exactly what you
want to say before you start writing. This means planning your answer in
advance. Perverse as it may seem, out of the exam hall it is probably
best to begin by writing your conclusion first. This will force you to
answer the question set (see ATBQ below) and reduce the argument of your
essay to its essential factors. In your plan try to identify the 4-6 big
points that you are going to make, this is what is meant by ‘analysis’.
In making one big point you are showing the links that exist between
lots of small points. You are showing how and why certain factors are
more important than others. In short, all good essays have a clear
direction - they are headed somewhere - if you know where you are going
it is easier to get there.
that are worth asking are never easy to answer. The answer is never
‘yes’ or ‘no’ but always somewhere in between. ‘To what extent do you
agree…’, ‘How far do you accept…’, ‘How significant…’, ‘Examine’ and
‘Discuss’ all imply that a debate is expected. Although it is probably
best to be clear about which side of the debate you are on, it is always
essential to show that you are aware that there are two sides to the
debate. Even if you are convinced that the policies of Austria-Hungary
were largely responsible for the outbreak of WWI, it is important that
you show an awareness that not all historians agree with you.
Importantly, your line of argument (thesis) must be supported by a
justification of why you favour it; again this is what is meant by
‘analysis’. A good essay plan is often drawn up as a table with two
columns; factors that agree and disagree with the assumption or
statement in the question.
never ask you to ‘write all you can remember about subject X as recorded
in certain pages of your notes’. You can only score marks if you are
being relevant, so take your time, before plunging into the writing, to
think clearly about the meaning of the essay title (see Plan above).
Each paragraph should make a clear contribution to answering the
question set and the first sentence of each paragraph (the big ‘point’
see PEE below) should address the question directly.
Do not simply start
your essay; spend time on writing a well-crafted introduction. You do
not need to set the scene or provide an historical context. Particularly
in examination you won’t have time for that. You simply need to do two
things: i) Answer the question i.e. state your conclusion ii) Explain in
brief how you will arrive at that conclusion. The second of these will
see you outline (or signpost) the ‘big points’ that you identified in
the planning of your essay. Having read your introduction the reader
should have a very clear mental map (hence ‘signposts’) of what you are
going to argue and how you are going to develop it in the remaining
paragraphs of the essay. This is what examiners mean when they say an
essay is coherent. It helps if from the very beginning the reader can
see how the various bits are linked together.
If you have planned
the essay well and written a good clear introduction the rest of the
essay should just fall into place. Each paragraph should start with a
big ‘point’ that you made in your introduction. Then you will need to
explain this big point, possibly by breaking it down into a series of
smaller points. Finally your paragraph should be well supported by
evidence or facts from the historical record. If you are arguing that
Russia was relatively developed before the First World War you must
provide some evidence to back the statement up e.g. statistics showing
increased levels of manufacturing production. Obviously this is where
the extent of your reading and research is revealed. If you have read
the same books as everyone else then your essay will not stand out (and
vice versa). The best paragraphs may also PEE(L) with a last sentence
that links to the next stage of your argument in the paragraph below.
I appreciate I have
said nothing about a conclusion. If the essay is good enough the
conclusion should be clear right the way through the essay. A simple
recap of your main points should suffice. The examiner will have awarded
your ‘A’ grade a long-time before he reads your last paragraph.