There is a very definite style to good essay writing. A three-part division of an essay into introduction, main body, and conclusion is always useful. Introductions and conclusions are important and indeed necessary, but try to avoid boring introductions that merely define what the title is all about. The introduction should show that you know what you are going to write about without actually saying what your answer is; you can let your argument develop over the course of the essay. The main body is where you set out your main claims, and the evidence that you can put forward in support of these arguments. Use evidence wherever possible, so that your arguments are seen to be based on solid empirical foundations – avoid making wild assertions that seem fanciful, or far-fetched.
Conclusions are critical, but can’t afford to be merely summaries of what you’ve said. A very definite skill in the conclusion is letting the reader know that you have understood substantially more material than the question asks. For instance in a rather dry assessment of the atmospheric dynamics of climate change, you could add at the very end the extremely unpredictable problem of the political context of decision making on carbon emissions. The key skill in essay writing is learning to engage the reader’s attention, while also being able to demonstrate the extent of your knowledge about the subject.
When it comes to essays and exam questions, the kinds of things we ask follow standard forms. If we break down typical questions, most will have one or more “key words” that indicate which organisational pattern you should use in your answer. The six most common organisational patterns for essay writing are as follows:
- cause and effect
- process analysis
These are widely recognized, and generic; some are of rather more relevance for Geography undergraduates than others, but all have parallels with questions with which students will be confronted at one time or another.