In this part of our Guide, we will give you actionable steps for writing an essay response for any question you might be asked from scratch without breaking a sweat!
In Part 6 of our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English we’ll give you a step-by-step process for producing those strong essay responses you’ve been struggling to write. Knowing how to write an essay is one of the most important skills you will need to master as an English Student.
But first, we need to discuss what essays are and how they should work.
Essays are a means for individuals to convey detailed ideas to others. Essays usually convey a particular perspective on the issue or idea being discussed. Because of how human beings process information, we tend to apply universal conventions and structures to essays – as we do to speeches – so that our audience can understand and retain the ideas and arguments they contain.
Essays can sometimes feel like vague tasks. Comments like “you haven’t answered the question” can be demoralising.
By far the most common issue in essays is using evidence effectively. They list rather than developing an argument!
Students struggle because:
Before you begin to write your essay, you need to complete the following checklist:
But how do you do that? You should read Part 2 of this Guide: How to read and Analyse Texts if you are unsure.
Once you’ve done that, you need to know how to write an essay to refine your ideas. But how do you actually do that? Before we show you how to write an essay you need to know how it should work and what it’s different parts are.
There are three main parts to an essay:
The flowchart below illustrates the different components that are necessary for a Band 6 Essay:
Now you have visualised this structure, let’s discuss the various parts involved:
1. Introduction – Outlines your argument.
It has 2 parts:
2. Body – A series of paragraphs that substantiate the argument presented in the introduction.
It has three important parts:
3. Conclusion – A summary of your argument.
You need to be succinct yet comprehensive when concluding your essay. To do this, you need these three parts:
It helps readers follow your argument. When you employ an essay structure that uses a thesis statement, topic sentences, linking statements, and a conclusion you guide the reader through your argument. This is a very important thing to do as it allows them to follow along with your ideas and thought processes. This is a process of using signposting and framing. So let’s see what that entails and how it works:
Essays and speeches require you to introduce your ideas/themes so the audience knows what things are going to be discussed in your arguments.
Your introductions and conclusions are framing devices. Foreshadowing your argument with an introduction and reminding the reader of your ideas with your conclusion provides readers with a clear understanding of what you have argued.
Topic sentences are signposts that work in conjunction with introductions and conclusions to guide a reader through your argument. They say to the reader, “Remember that idea from the introduction? We’re going to discuss it in detail in this paragraph.” The other signposting device is the linking statement at the end of the body paragraph. This will connect your argument back to the rest of the essay and make the connection clear to your reader.
Repetition helps convince an audience of your position. As humans, we don’t retain as much information as we think we do. Repeating ideas, and reinforcing how your examples relate to your overall thesis, will help your audience follow your argument and retain key ideas like those stated in your topic sentences and theses.
We use evidence to support our points. Audiences are sceptical, evidence allows us to give a practical demonstration of why our argument is correct. This will support our point and reinforce our key ideas and theses. Matrix English students learn how to use T.E.E.L structures to produce insightful essays.
Summaries remind audiences of the arguments they’ve been exposed to. Thus, your conclusion helps them retain the key ideas and convince them of your position.
Now you understand how essays and signposting work, it’s time to take you through the step-by-step process for writing an essay to ace English like Matrix students do.
An essay needs to take all of a student’s ideas and study notes and translate them into a logical and well-structured response that shows the reader your understanding and perspective of the text. There’s a step-by-step process for doing this effectively, let’s have a look at it. Below is the process for writing an essay at home or in class:
You can see that this process is different to what you need to do in an exam. In an exam time constraints mean that you must begin with the introduction and work forwards to your conclusion. However, when you are developing your ideas, writing practice essays, or producing a longer essay as an assignment, you will plan your introduction and refine your body paragraphs before crafting the perfect introduction for your argument. In light of this difference, we will address exam essay technique after this step-by-step process.
Planning an essay is a step-by-step process. Students need to think things through before they put pen to paper. Having thorough study notes is crucial to this. Let’s consider what this process involves:
Once you’ve done the unpacking, you are ready to plan things fully. Use this as an opportunity to brainstorm and choose relevant examples, you must also think about the structure you will use for your response.
Now that we’re ready to write, let’s look at how to write the essay.
Now you’ve planned everything in terms of ideas and examples, you must make a decision about what process you will follow to write your essay – do you begin with body paragraphs or the introduction? Then you need to decide on your essay scaffold. Let’s start by considering your approach.
Strategies for writing a practice essay
There are two different ways to go about producing a practice essay or take-home assessment. Begin with the body paragraphs or write from introduction through to conclusion. You will probably find it easier to begin with body paragraphs when you are developing your ideas and analysis and practising your writing.
When you are more confident, you may start writing from introduction through to conclusion. This is something you must practise if you want to be prepared for essays in exams.
What are these strategies:
Strategy 1: Begin with body paragraphs and topic sentences
Some students find it easier to flesh out the arguments around specific ideas first. This is a useful method for students who aren’t sure of how their ideas might fit together, or who struggle writing conclusions. This method requires students to:
Strategy 2: Start from the introduction and write through to the conclusion
Some students are able to write from an introduction and develop their ideas directly into body paragraphs. This is a skill all students need to have for exams. But not everybody can produce their first drafts this way.
Often, students need to develop their individual ideas to see how they fit together.
The first method is fine for writing practice essays or “take-home” assessments. But in exams, you should only use the second method (you don’t want to run out of time without an introduction or a conclusion).
As this is a practise essay, we’ll begin with the body paragraphs. We’ll discuss exam essays after we’ve worked through this step-by-step process. But first, before we continue with continue with Step 3, we need to understand what an essay scaffold is and the differences between integrated and divided structure are.
Let’s have quick look.
When you plan an essay, you must think about how you will scaffold it. Let’s look at some of the options you have.
An important consideration for writing essays is the scaffold. When we talk about scaffolds, we mean the order in which themes or texts are discussed in an essay. Different Modules will require different approaches. A Module that requires you to compare multiple texts will need a type of scaffold that allows you to efficiently contrast and compare ideas rather than just the texts.
Let’s look at the difference between integrated and divided paragraphs.
One of the important questions students will need to answer is:
‘do I write a divided or integrated response?’
The two common scaffolds for the HSC are integrated or divided:
Integrated paragraphs discuss multiple texts around one theme in a paragraph.
Divided paragraphs discuss one text and at least one theme in a paragraph.
Neither scaffold is “better” than the other, they both work and in the HSC, markers must treat both the same. You will not lose marks for using an integrated response or a divided response. You will only be marked on how well you use the scaffold. Matrix English students get detailed qualitative feedback that will help them choose the right scaffold for their assessments. Getting the scaffold right for your abilities and the content you are producing is important.
Below are a couple of single text scaffolds you might use:
Below are some different comparative essay scaffolds that you can use to structure your essays:
Once you have decided which scaffold will best suit your response, you are ready to start composing the body paragraphs.
Now you are ready to start writing. You have your ideas, your thesis, and your examples. So, let’s start putting it together.
First, let’s think about the structure of a body paragraph. The following diagram visualises the structure of a body paragraph:
A body paragraph has 3 key components:
How do I write a Topic Sentence?
The topic sentence introduces your body paragraph. It must introduce the theme or idea for the paragraph and connect it to the broader argument in the essay. Thus, it is very important that you get it right. This can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be.
So, how do you write a good one? Let’s see:
Now you’ve got your topic sentence, you need to validate it by supporting it with evidence. So, where should you start with this?
In order to demonstrate how to write a body paragraph, let’s consider a student who is writing an essay on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for Module A: Narratives that Shaped the World. We’ll look at their notes and then a paragraph they’ve produced, before walking you through how to use evidence. Let’s go!
The table below is a sample taken from their notes:
|Table: Study notes for Year 11 Module A: The Crucible|
Connection to Module
|“If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back!”
[DANFORTH seems unsteady.]
|Abigail responds to the accusation that she has had an affair with Proctor by refusing to answer Danforth’s question: is this accusation true?
Her imperative Tone is important because she is challenging the power of Danforth, the most important and powerful man in Salem.
The stage direction indicates that she has power of Danforth. Not only has she protected her self-interest, she has manipulated Danforth.
|Miller contrasts the collapse of the community in Salem with the HUAC trials. He focuses on the inversion of power occurring in the court.
It is ironic that Abigail, a young girl, has the power to manipulate the Deputy Governor of the Province. Witness collusion with McCarthy led the HUAC trials.
She is an example of an individual that had a profound effect on her town and the fledgling United States.
She is a pivotal figure in a narrative that shapes how we view partisan politics and pogroms.
|“You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!”
|Proctor is heartbroken and angry that Elizabeth has been arrested and has lied to protect him.
Elizabeth’s lie is tragically ironic: he was relying on her to maintain her integrity to save them all.
Proctor Blames Abigail for Elizabeth’s arrest and potential execution and those of the other townsfolk.
|Miller depicts the corruption of HUAC. Proctor is representative of individuals who fought stood against the trials.
It is ironic that Proctor, a predominantly moral man, is bought down by a lie and his adultery. The personal has been unduly politicised similar to how witnesses were convicted for being gay, not merely communist.
She is an example of how personal transgressions were persecuted by McCarthy and the Salem trials to remove opponents to the continued trials.
Proctor has since become a symbol of heroism and political martyrdom.
In their table, the student has broken down their examples by character, themes, technique, effect, and connection to the module. This is important for when students write T.E.E.L paragraphs. This allows them to easily transform their notes into part of an argument. For example, they have all the necessary information ready to incorporate into a T.E.E.L paragraph. Let’s see what that paragraph looks like:
A sample T.E.E.L paragraph
Miller represents how the HUAC trials turned citizens against one another in The Crucible. He uses the Salem Witch Trials as an historical allegory. In Salem, the young girls who were the cause of the accusations of witchcraft quickly turned on the other townsfolk, inverting the power structure of the town. Similarly, in the HUAC trials witnesses colluding with McCarthy often led the trials and dictated who would be tried and what the charges are. Miller represent this absurd power dynamic with Abigail’s imperative assertion that “If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back!” The stage direction “[DANFORTH seems unsteady,]” reveals the power Abigail has over the leading authority in New England. In contrast, Proctor – a moral man – is incriminated by his wife’s desire to protect him through lying. Proctor’s exclamatory metaphor accusing the judges of “pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!” depicts his righteous anger at the personal being politicised. In The Crucible, Miller is capturing the injustice of the HUAC trials where liars and criminals were able to accuse and destroy innocent individuals for being gay – a political and social witch-hunt that became known as the Lavender Scare – if it couldn’t be proven they were communists.
This is a detailed paragraph, so how has the student gone from their notes to a complex response? Let’s see the steps that Matrix English Students are taught to follow when using evidence in a T.E.E.L structure.
Evidence supports your arguments and demonstrates your logic to the reader. This means that your evidence must be relevant to your argument and be explained clearly. Using the following checklist will ensure this:
Now, you’ve got your head around using evidence for the body paragraph, we should quickly discuss addressing the Module and using your supplementary material.
It is not enough to pay lip service to the Module in the introduction and conclusion, you need to discuss it in a sustained manner throughout your response. To do this, you must:
Module B for Year 11s and 12 and Extension English require students to consider the perspectives of others in their writing. Some assessment tasks for other units might require students to read a critical interpretation of their text and discuss it in relation to their own perspective of the text. When doing this, there are some important rules to remember:
Using supplementary material and critical perspectives in essays, especially during exams, is a skill. Matrix students get detailed explanations of how to do this in the Matrix Theory books. The best way to perfect your use of critical perspectives is to write practice essays incorporating them and seeking feedback on your efforts.
If you would like a more detailed explanation of writing body paragraphs, read our posts:
Now that we’ve got our body paragraphs down we need to look at how to write introductions.
Introductions are very important because they are the first and last words that your marker read. First impressions and final impressions matter, so it is very important to get them right! So, we need to know what an introduction needs to do.
An essay introduction must do a few different things:
Don’t worry, it may sound like a lot, but it isn’t really. Let’s have a look at some of the practical steps that Year 11 Matrix English students learn in class.
A good approach is to break the four purposes of an introduction into a series of questions you should ask yourself:
Initially, it may be easier for you to write your body paragraphs first and then use them to produce your first introduction. This is because:
If you would like more information on writing introductions, you should read our detailed blog posts:
Remeber, your conclusion needs to recap your ideas and thesis. You also need to leave a lasting impression on your reader. Conclusion are actually these easiest part of the essay to write.
So, what does writing a conclusion involve? Let’s take a look:
You should only write your conclusion after you have produced the rest of your essay. Often the hardest part is knowing how to finish the conclusion.
The thesis (1.) and thematic framework (2.) need only be reworded from the introduction, but your concluding statement (3.) needs to do something new. The final statement needs to explain the connection of your argument to the module and what YOU have taken away from the study of the module.
It is worthwhile being succinct and honest about your experience of studying the unit, rather than making a hyperbolic statement about human experience (sometimes known as a “pop-outro”). To give you a sense of what this means, consider these Module A concluding statements:
The first statement tells the marker nothing about what the student has taken learned from the module. The statement it makes only partially relates to the module, and it is not original – many students will write something similar.
The second statement gives a personal insight into the student’s experience of reading The Crucible and studying Module A: Narratives that Shaped the World. This second statement is what your markers are looking for!
The best way to get good at writing introductions and conclusions is to practice writing them to a variety of questions. You don’t always have to write the whole essay, but you can (it’s the best practice for writing Band 6 essays)!
If you are still struggling with how to write your conclusion, take the time to read through our detailed blog post Essay Writing Part 5: How to Write a Conclusion.
You can find all of those essay writing blog posts here:
Now that we’ve looked at the basics of how to write an essay, we need to consider the exam essay. It’s one thing to take your time crafting an essay over a couple of hours or days, but an entirely different experience to write one in under 40 minutes. It’s now time to see what that involves and how it differs from the process above.
The most common form of assessment for Stage 6 English is the in-class essay or HSC essay. (You will have to sit at least 6 essays in Year 12!) Let’s have a look at some stratagems for preparing for these assessments.
Markers must assess the following criteria:
It is imperative that you keep these aims in mind at all times when you are writing your essay. Matrix students are taught how to address these criteria in their responses. You must ensure that you demonstrate a skilful ability to answer each of the seven criteria above.
It’s tempting to memorise an essay for an exam. Don’t. It’s a risky strategy and assessors are increasingly asking more complex and specific questions to catch out students who try and game the system like this. This is especially true in the HSC, where the questions are becoming more focused and thematically specific to weed out students who engage in this practice.
Instead, you want to study your texts in a holistic manner that allows you to respond to a wide range of questions. Let’s have a look at some of the tips that Matrix students receive:
This is what to do to prepare, but what do you do during the exam? Let’s see.
Gameday has arrived. You sit in the classroom and wait for your teacher to say: “You may open your paper!” But what do you do after that?
Here is a step-by-step guide:
One of the most difficult parts of dealing with exams is responding to what the questions ask of you. Exams are stressful, and dealing with a potentially unknown quantity can add to the anxiety. But there are some strategies to take the sting out of this. Let’s see what they are:
Let’s have a look at an example question for Module A – Narratives that Shaped the World.
“Storytelling is core to human identity. Individuals test their perceptions of the world against those experienced vicariously through texts.”
To what extent do you agree with this statement? Discuss with detailed reference to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
This question is drawing on the language of the module. The relevant key phrases from the module are:
To answer this question, you will need to address these aspects of the module.
One way of interpreting this statement is that:
Now we need to develop this into a thesis statement by combining these concepts into a couple of sentences that answer the question and discuss The Crucible. That could look like this:
“Storytelling allows composers to consider and criticise contemporary events for audiences by appropriating narratives from human history. Miller compels audiences to experience oppression through his dramatic interrogation of the growing tyranny of McCarthyism in the 1950s as he reimagines the historical narrative of the Salem Witch Trials.”
Once you’ve written an essay, you will need to edit it. In the next post, we’ll have a look at how to proof and edit your work in detail.
Get step-by-step guidance on how to write Band 6 essays in our Year 11 Holiday Essay Writing course
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