Before you take the plunge of buying or writing an essay, you should have a good think about the specific topic that you wish to research and eventually write about.

This is not just an exercise in collecting facts, but in developing and showing your skills in the power of reasoning. You can save a lot of time and ultimately frustration by starting this process as early as you can.

Below are some steps that you should consider:-

1. Take note of the key terms of the essay, including terms that name parts of the topic and those that give direction for dealing with the topic. Be observant for the type of words that will define the kind of reasoning you should be using for the essay: how, why, compare, argue, analyse, evaluate, etc and make sure that you fully understand the meaning of these terms.

Compare – means find similarities as well as differences, so therefore you will need to formulate these aspects when constructing your essay or paper. You should consider organising your paper by using these aspects (differences/ similarities) mentioned above as headings.

Argue – (or agree or disagree) is asking you to take a particular stance based on analysis of solid evidence and explain this by clear reasoning. You will need to consider others’ arguments and viewpoints too and defend your own views in comparison.

Analyse – means to look behind the surface structure of your source material, so you are looking at the relationship of parts to the whole. Being able to recognise the relationships (such as cause and effect) is imperative during analysis and so is questioning the validity of the underlying assumptions. ‘How’ and ‘Why’ normally implies an answer that is reached by analysis.

Evaluate stresses the importance of applying your own judgement to the results of your analysis. It will ask for your opinion based on clearly stated evidence and well-defined criteria.

2. Note which methods or concepts the essay topic asks you to use:

– Does the essay topic demand that you go into some type of depth about some material that has already been covered?

– Do you have to argue points with others or explore your own responses?

– Does it suggest that you have to evaluate a model or theory by applying it from an example from material outside of your course?

Whatever the design, an essay expects you to use the concepts of the course and apply different ways of thinking, encouraging you to break new ground (for yourself) in applying the methodology of your course.

3. Generate ideas so that you can choose the direction that your preliminary analysis or research will take. Look for controversy in the material that will help you to find things that are worth discussing. You may also want to look at how other people framed their questions or saw problems to discuss in their work by looking at general reference articles and encyclopaedias.

4. When writing an argumentative essay, try and formulate a preliminary thesis statement at an early stage. That is a statement of your own position within the argument that you are most likely to be interested in. You don’t have to stick to this statement, but it will strengthen your focus on the investigation.

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