Essay writing is just one of those things that everyone knows they need to learn, yet no one seems to have been taught it! So many of my students have never been shown how to write an essay, and I was in the same position myself at school and university — teachers seem to spend all their time teaching you the ideas, without any of the exam technique. Once I taught myself how to write an essay, I noticed my grades shot up massively.

This page gives you an introduction into the basic principles of an essay — this is the form of writing that you will need to master for subjects such as English, History, Sociology, Politics, Law, Business, Economics, Film, Psychology, and possibly also Languages — basically, if you’re studying any Arts or Humanities subject then you really need to know how to write a good essay to get any kind of decent grade on your paper or coursework.

Thanks for reading! If you need more help with essay writing for any subject or level, you can take a look at our full Basic Essay Writing course here.

If you’re curious if there is more to an essay writing, there is! And you can check all of it here.


What is an essay?

In an academic setting, such as a school or university, an essay is a formal piece of writing that is a response to a question. It takes the form of an extended argument (thesis). The word ‘essay’ comes from the French essayer, to try, so you can think of it as trialing an idea.

What is the point of an essay?

Aside from getting a grade, the point of an essay is to try out your idea. The best essays demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the text and also the context (background information which enhances your understanding of the work). So, partly the point of an essay is showing that you’re knowledgeable about your topic and that you have done all the groundwork needed. Most students that want a good grade don’t have trouble with understanding and reading about the text, but they do have trouble with the second part: answering the question. This sounds easy, but often essay questions have questions that require a complicated and developed response.

How do I write an essay?

The essay needs to be structured in three parts:


This is an introduction to your ideas, not an introduction to the text or the background of the text. You have to introduce or explore the ideas of the question. Then, come up with a clear one-sentence direct response. This is called a thesis.


This is the main bulk of your essay. It will contain a minimum of 3 paragraphs. Each paragraph has to be a different point that answers the question. Every paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. This tells you what that paragraph is about.


Nichols has a positive relationship with her mother, though the mother is protective she does also know when to allow her daughter to become independent.


Summarise all your ideas, but don’t include anything new, as you need to finish it soon, not to start all over again. Conclusions are the most important part of an essay, as it is the only chance you will get to get your point across, and answer the given question. Clearly elaborate your thoughts, explain why you think something is the way it is. Provide a balanced viewpoint, properly breakdown each point idea of your paragraph.

What kind of language do I use in an essay?

An essay requires a very specific vocabulary. You need to learn good essay words and phrases along with reading and studying the texts. If you write whatever comes into your head and sound like you are speaking; the quality of your ideas will suffer. You have to demonstrate specific skills such as analysis – and to do these you absolutely have to use the right words and phrases. Develop a FORMAL and ACADEMIC vocabulary using the correct type of phrasing (e.g. transition words) and high-level word choices.


I don’t really know what to say.

This is a common response that I get from my students. If you don’t personally know what to say about the text, it means you need to do more research before you are confident enough to make your own ideas. Read the text again, use revision books and websites to help you get a deeper understanding of the main themes — understand what other people typically say about it. Once you’re more comfortable with the text you will begin to develop your own opinions.

Thanks for reading! If you need more help with essay writing for any subject or level, you can take a look at our full Basic Essay Writing course here.