Essay writing skills

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Essay writing skills

You have done your reading.

You have made your notes.

You are sat at you desk, and haven't a clue what to do next!

Don't panic! Instead, follow this advice.

Unpack The Question

Pick out key words, events, people and dates to help to focus your answer. For example: to what extent were the rebellions of 1549 examples of local economic uprisings? (incidentally, this should have been done before you did your reading.)


Types of Questions

You need to be aware that there are different types of questions which ask you to do different things. Familiar questions;

"Why", "How" and "Account for" - Give reasons for / explain the methods or processes.

"Compare and Contrast" - Identify both the similarities and differences.

"To what extent" and "Assess the importance of" - Evaluate / judge the amount.


Planning: Introduction

Do not "set the scene". You are not going to tell a story, so don't start with one. Instead introduce the main argument of the answer. Its purpose is to give direction to the essay. Keep it short. Try to start with a quote, be provocative.


Planning: The Discussion

Remember that you need an argument, your essay could begin with "To what extent" or "Assess the importance". Try putting your reasons in a diamond 9.

Copyright S-cool

You must be able to give reasons for your decisions. (There are examples in the various questions sections.)

When planning your paragraphs, try to start with a statement and end with a link back to the question. To help you plan use this table:

Table 1

Or this one:

Table 2


Planning: The Conclusion

This is a very important section. Think of your whole essay as a court case. The prosecution and defense have had their say and now we have the summary. You want to win your case, so sum up all your main points in the light of your evidence.


Make sure that you have included the ideas of at least 2 historians (the more the better). Try to show how they agree or disagree.


Demand a mark scheme from your teacher so you can assess your work properly.


Next time

After it has been marked, make a note of the strengths of this essay and highlight targets for your next essay.

Study the question carefully paying attention to its demands and challenges (unpacking).

Make a brief plan of your proposed answer. Make sure that it is focused on an argument. (Use the points/evidence table shown above.)

Begin with a short introduction. Spend ample time on a strong conclusion.


  • Narratives where you pour out all that you know.
  • Irrelevant information.
  • Empty assertion, points made with no evidence to support them.
  • Repetition.