How To Write Essays That Get Good Grades


Welcome to the third post from my How To College Better series in which I share tips and tricks to help with surviving college (well, better than I did anyway). If you’re new to the series, here’s what to catch up on:

Unlike my last post, I will not be sharing regrets or what I wish I’d done to make college better. Today, I’ll be sharing a guide on something I was actually amazing at in college: writing killer essays!

It’s a skill I started honing a lifetime ago during Sixth Form and then kept using even before I got to college (I’m a freelancer who sometimes writes essays for people). I’ve been where you are now: looking up how to write a good essay.

You’re in the right place. I’ve looked up tons of how-to-posts and text books on writing amazing essays. All the techniques I learned worked very well for me and that’ s why I’m sharing them with you!

1. Don’t put it off

Damn, I spoke too soon. Despite being consistently great at writing essays, the one thing from this post that I didn’t follow was to do my work on time. Definitely don’t make my mistake. Your life (and essays) will be so much easier if you do the work right away. If you are like this and you have trouble with procrastination, please check out this useful post on how to beat procrastination and get more work done.

2. Know what you’re being asked to do

The first thing you must do before writing an essay is make sure you understand what’s being asked from you. That might sound obvious but I’m not referring to what you have to talk about. I mean what you have to do in your essay.

You might luck out with direct instructions – e.g “Compare and Contrast X and Y” or “Explain why A does B” – but sometimes what the essay is asking for is less obvious.

You’ll have to figure out whether a prompt is asking you to explain, analyse, argue, expound, describe or compare. Once you understand what skill you’re being asked to demonstrate, you can begin tackling it.

3. Brainstorm

The next step is to brainstorm your own ideas based on what you already know about the topic. It’s important to do this because it makes the next (and most annoying) part about this process easier to tackle. If you already have some ideas about what you’ll say in the essay, it will make reading less taxing.

4. Read Widely

Now you’re set for the most involving bit of the essay writing process – researching. There’s no way around this one, I’m afraid.

The first step you should take is to refer to your prescribed and recommended texts. After that, hit up Google (specifically Google Scholar) for additional information. Be sure to note down bits of information relevant to your essay question and definitely annotate and bookmark such texts (so you can refer to them later).

5. Decide what info to use

At this stage, you’ve (hopefully?) reviewed enough information to decide on your most important points. Do this by making note of the recurring ideas among the texts you’ve gone through and your brainstorming session. Prioritise the information you got from the most valuable and credible sources. Some lecturers really like students to make reference to the required/recommended texts so just as a rule, make sure you use 2-3 sources like that. Lastly, take off the flimsiest and weakest ideas from your list.

6. Collect your supporting evidence and citations

With your points set, it’s time to collect some evidence and citations. Organise your points and example plus their sources in a simple table so you don’t have one million tabs open for a 3 page essay. Gather all the information you’ll use into one place and make your life a little easier please.

7. Create your thesis statement

Now that all your information is gathered in one place, it’s time to come up with a thesis statement. What are you trying to say in this essay? What conclusion have you been led to by the points you’ve come up with? What’s your answer to the question?

Three S’s of a thesis statement

Your thesis statement needs to:

  • State your central argument. (“Thesis statement” is just a fancy term for “main point.”)
  • Structure or guide your essay
  • Synthesize your main ideas

8. Make connections

Use your thesis as a guide to make links and connections between your ideas. How are your main points related? Do they paint the same picture or do they seem to contradict each other? No matter what type of essay you’re writing, your job is to present a thoughtful argument or view. Don’t just write about your main points and leave it at that. Make links between your ideas to show the sadist marking your work that you have a deep understanding of the topic.

9. Write your outline

Time to bring all your ideas together. An essay has three basic components (I know you know this already but I’m feeling my Haute brochure fantasy right now):

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

When writing your outline, replace the introduction part above with your thesis statement (write your introduction after the outline).

This is just an skeleton so don’t bring out your bombastic English just yet. You’re simply writing your argument out in a logical way. Don’t worry about citations just yet either. Save that for the final draft. Right now, focus on presenting your ideas, linking them together and drawing your conclusion.

10. Write the damn essay

At this stage you are ready. Write your introduction, body and conclusion.

Good news: the hard work is over. All you have to do now is to expand and strengthen your outline with more detail. (This is the part where you start pulling out your bombastic English).

Not quite sure how to turn your outline into a killer essay? Check out Part 4 of the series and follow my simple step by step guide.

11. Add your bibliography

Once you’re done, add your references. Remember to create your citations using the correct format. PRO TIP: use an online citation machine to create your bibliography manually. It’s one of the tools I recommend for making learning easier in Part One of this series. I always used online bibliography makers because no way was I ever going to learn how to correctly format my citations. Not when I had sleep to catch and TV shows to waste time on.

12. Proofread and proofread and proofread

Read your work out loud to catch all your technical mistakes such as mispellings, grammatical errors, missing punctuation, incomplete sentences, etc.

You should also be reading for consistency in tone and flow within your essay. Did you repeat yourself anywhere? Either delete the repetition or rephrase it. Did you use formal language throughout? If not, you need to amend that, innit bruv?

After you make corrections, read it out loud again to spot anything you might have missed.

Tip: Walk away from the essay for a couple of hours and then re-read it a final time with a fresh set of eyes.

There you have it! 12 straight forward steps to writing essays that get good grades.