Hey Colts, why not polish up your essay writing skills in 2016?
In this issue, IB HL English Student Mabon Foo will teach you how to write an essay that will get you a 7 in IB!
How to Write an Essay
By: Mabon Foo
*This is just a guideline outlining the method that I use to write essays. Always follow the teacher’s instructions.
** My credentials: I am in IB History HL 12. That’s basically all that needs to be said.
Some Key Ideas
Five Paragraph Structure – Most topics can be tackled well with an intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion, but this is not set in stone. An additional paragraph may be needed if there is a large amount of material to work with, or perhaps the question is better addressed with two body paragraphs.
Identification of Main Arguments – The thesis should be elaborated by identifying clear arguments that support it. Usually, to fit the five paragraph structure, three arguments are identified, but if one of them is used as a counter/alternate perspective, this leaves two. Each one should be able to stand on its own, and the strongest argument (the one you are most confident in) should supersede the others. For example, for an essay on the causes of the French Revolution, the thesis could be that social causes of the revolution played the largest role, and the arguments could divide these social causes into the effects on the peasant and the middle class/bourgeoisie. The counter argument could then be that economic problems caused the revolution and not social grievances.
Focus and Structure – The essay should flow logically and not consist of scattershot ideas. Creating an outline before writing the actual essay is highly encouraged. Remember to make the scope of your essay narrow enough so that the reader is not overwhelmed by a multitude of different arguments, while also sufficiently broad for effective analysis.
Balance between description and analysis – The heart of an essay is the analysis and defense of the thesis. Simply describing events and paraphrasing them is not enough for a successful essay, but description is still necessary to support the analysis. Your analysis should always be backed by appropriate evidence, otherwise it lacks validity.
Language and Style – Do not use colloquial language/slang, and avoid contractions (don’t, won’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t) Always be assertive; even if you are allowed to write in first person avoid phrases such as: I believe… In my opinion… I feel like… Large amounts of adjectives and adverbs dilute the strength of your analysis and cause it to become more descriptive. Avoid transitions such as firstly… secondly… thirdly… (gives the impression that you are listing rather than analyzing), and be wary of beginning your conclusion with: In conclusion… (I usually use Overall… or All in all… or As a whole…)
Always Always Always double space – This has two benefits, first, it allows you to cross words out and write on the line above (I do that frequently in my writing), secondly, it allows the teacher/whoever is marking it more room to annotate and provide feedback.
Analysis of different perspectives – It is helpful (especially in IB) to identify and assess additional perspectives. This comes in the form of a counter argument. I usually place it in the first or second body paragraph so that it can be rebutted (explain why your perspective is superior or more preferable) in the following paragraph. The counter argument doesn’t always have to be directly in opposition to your thesis, but it should present a different point of view.
Intro: Don’t spend too much time on perfecting the introduction. A weak introduction is better than a weak main argument.
Hook – Draw the reader’s attention in. It should be confident and declarative for a good first impression. Optional if stated by the teacher or if time is an issue.
Thesis – This is the centerpiece of your essay. It should be succinct and answer the question/ address the guiding topic directly. Writing it out in full while writing your outline will help you refine it before you begin writing the actual essay.
Synopsis of Arguments – Optional but useful to give an idea of how you will defend your thesis. It should include the three main arguments of your essay in brief, no need for evidence or analysis at this stage.
Contextualization – How does your thesis affect the topic as a whole? (for English, this could mean the historical/cultural background of a novel) Think about what you’ve learned in the unit. Again, optional, but demonstrates awareness beyond just the question itself.
Body 1 (Argument 1): This is where the actual analysis begins and where the ‘meat’ of the essay lies.
Main Argument – This is where you begin to elaborate on your thesis. The first argument is usually your strongest and most pertinent to the topic. Focus on analysis and expansion, and avoid veering off topic; make sure the thesis remains relevant throughout.
Evidence – Used to support your argument with concrete, tangible facts. (quotations, events, policies, situations)
Implication – How is the evidence related to the argument? Show that your evidence effectively supports your argument by discussing its impact.
Sub-argument – It is useful to break up one argument into multiple parts each supported by their own evidence. (e.g. Character A is characterized by the author as being A, B and C, the main argument can focus on A, and the sub-arguments can focus on B and C, with evidence from the novel/play for each character trait) Usually one sub argument is enough for a sufficient analysis, but more can be helpful if one argument is especially broad.
Mini-conclusion – If needed, this can be used to aid the transition to the next paragraph and tie together all the sub-arguments along with the main argument. Referencing your thesis is always a good way to refocus the essay and provide a clear flow.
Body 2 (Counter): This and Body 1 can switch places, thus allowing the rebuttal to factor into the main argument of Body 1 instead of Body 3.
Counter Argument – Transition to your counter with phrases such as: an alternate perspective… an additional view… this is opposed by… Analyze your counter argument like your main arguments but do not directly reference the main arguments, wait until the rebuttal to do that.
Sub-argument – The counter argument is usually shorter than the main arguments and there is usually no need for too many sub-arguments. Do not let the counter argument overshadow your main arguments, remember, you are defending your thesis.
Body 3 (Argument 2): Usually the second main argument is complimentary to the first main argument but they should not be too similar.
Main Argument – Transition away from the counter with: this is refuted by… this perspective is opposed by… If the counter is already refuted, use conventional transitions like furthermore… As well… Additionally… Likewise… Prove the validity of your thesis against the counter argument using your main argument. After the rebuttal is complete, proceed with analysis of the main argument.
Conclusion: The conclusion should consist of a synopsis of your main arguments, like stated in the introduction, and a paraphrasing of the thesis (put it in your own words rather than basing it off of the question/guiding topic). The contextualization mentioned in the Introduction can be reintroduced, but be careful not to bring up new ideas.
Read it over: During the actual writing, it is easy to get tunnel vision and avoid looking at your essay from the perspective of the reader. By double checking your essay, you can catch misspellings, grammatical errors, change words around, perhaps even add and remove small sections. (This is why double spacing is especially helpful; you can put an upwards arrow between two words and write on the line above)