Essay Writing

Writing your essay

Good essay writing is a key skill for success in both VCE and university. So how do you write a good essay?

What makes a good essay

A good essay answers the question set. It also conforms to the word limits and other directions set by the assignment. A good essay is as concise as possible and avoids irrelevant or extraneous information that distracts from the main argument.

Good essays also indicate the evidence on which any argument and individual points are based and acknowledge the sources of information, if appropriate.

Some students will have a better command of language and a wider vocabulary than others, but that is less important than the ability to get your message across clearly. Use words that you understand and are comfortable with. It is far better to say what you have to say simply than to attempt to dress up your information in flowery prose.

Finally, be sure to edit your work for spelling and typographical mistakes before you hand it in. Sloppy work at this stage detracts from what might otherwise be a good essay.

Follow these simple rules and you will be in a position to produce a good essay.


Analyse and brainstorm the topic

Ask yourself the following:

  • What is the specific topic for this essay?
  • What are the limits of this discussion (e.g. time period, place)?
  • What directions are set (word limit, instructional words like 'discuss' or 'analyse')?

Next, ask what, when, why, where, who, how, to what extent and how significant-type questions about the topic and its various parts. Write these down. This helps you break down the essay question.

Make a preliminary plan

The ideas you generate from the brainstorm will form a preliminary plan, which can direct your research and which you can review after you have completed your research.

Research the topic

Depending on the assignment, you will likely need to research; if so, be sure to write down the bibliographic details of any reference from which you make notes. Note page numbers for direct quotes as well as for information that you have taken from a specific page or pages of a document.

Refine your plan

Having done your reading, you can now review and finalise your plan. Think about the order in which you want to present the ideas. This imposes a structure and a logical progression in your argument.

Essay structure

The introduction is one of the most important parts of an essay, as it provides general introductory statement(s), focuses in on the topic, gives the thesis statement of the essay and outlines what is to come.

The body of the essay contains paragraphs which should include a topic sentence that tells the reader the main idea of the paragraph. Other sentences in the paragraph develop the main idea by giving examples, explaining terms and/or giving more detail. In your paragraphs you will likely need to summarise and paraphrase the ideas, research and arguments of others and cite sources. The order of the ideas in these body paragraphs should reflect the order outlined in the introduction.

The conclusion should summarise the main view (thesis) presented. It should briefly review the ideas covered and could finish off with an overall comment on the topic.

Editing and proofreading

When you have completed your draft essay put it aside for at least a day so you can look at it with 'fresh' eyes. First, ensure each argument develops logically from one idea to another. In a second edit, look at style and expression, particularly choice of vocabulary, construction of sentences and the way ideas are introduced. Proofreading is the final step in the editing process. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. Do NOT rely on the computer spell check as they can miss too many things!

Essay writing - Tips from PASS leaders

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