Essay writing for when you have something better to do
There's not many students that enjoy essay writing. So anything that speeds up the process is sure to be welcome. This guide walks you through writing a basic essay the fast way. How fast? This depends a lot on your topic - if you've been asked to compare and contrast the attachment of the forelimb and the hindlimb to the axial skeleton in domestic animals, this isn't going to work for you. But if you've been asked, for example, to write a persuasive, argumentative or critical essay on a topic of your choice, with a bit of practice you could be out-the-door-and-down-the-pub-in-an-hour. Let's get started.
Wikipedia gets a lot of bad press in the academic community because anyone can contribute to it, so it's not all that accurate. Actually, as an academic myself, I'd highly recommend it as a starting point. So to start, go and search for your topic and make sure there's a good amount of information on there. If not, pick another topic. For an example topic, we're going to use 'Should abortion be illegal?'.
2. Reach a conclusion
Decide now which way you're going to argue in your essay. Remember, the goal here is to finish as fast as possible, so don't ponder on it too long, you're not going to be put on the stand for what you write. For our example, we'll say yes, it should be illegal, past 20 weeks. That's a pretty easy argument to make (going for the easy argument will help you write the essay quicker). To keep you focused it's helpful if you have this conclusion written out and in sight at all times, and as you write the rest of the essay, keep looking at it and asking yourself why what you're writing is relevant.
3. Write the essay body
Forget sweating over the introduction, start with the meat. Looking at Wikipedia, pick out all the info you use that is PRO the conclusion you've decided on. List them.
- Abortion in the developed world is among the safest procedure in medicine.
- Over a third of pregnancies are unintended.
- In the US 4.1% of abortions are performed at 16-20 weeks and 1.4% at 21+ weeks.
- There are good reasons to perform an abortion on an unwanted pregnancy (see 'personal and social factors') ...
and so on. Each of these facts comes with a source. It's your job now to go and check out that source and decide if it is credible or not. If not, you can go hunting on the web for another more reliable source for your fact. For sensitive topics like these, be aware of the credibility of activist organisations who may present research or data in a biased way.
Now, using the source material you've found, flesh out the list into paragraphs. Don't worry about what order they go in, just write out complete paragraphs that make sense and are relevant to your topic. Keep returning to your essay question and keep in mind how you will tie the point you are making back to your intended conclusion. For example, through the additional sources you've just checked out (no doubt you will have landed on Wikipedia's 'preterm birth' page), you'll now know that the fetus can survive from 21 weeks. So you might write:
"In the States alone, 4.1% of abortions are performed at 16-20 weeks, with a further 1.4% performed at 21+ weeks. Since the fetus can survive from 21 weeks, this means that abortions are being performed on fetuses that could live independent of the mother".
Once you've fleshed out the paragraphs, rearrange them into a coherent argument and add in linking words and phrases to connect them. Here are some useful connective words:
whoever whatever if meanwhile moreover nonetheless for while when as therefore however so and with although besides but since consequently furthermore henceforward until yet alternatively notwithstanding whereas then because whenever after nevertheless
If you were rearranging the example essay, you'd probably start with all the good reasons for keeping abortion legal some of the time, i.e. the unwanted pregnancies and social reasons such as lack of finances to raise a child well. Then you'd move onto the reasons for making abortion illegal at other times, such as the fact that the fetus can survive from 21 weeks.
If you're answering in a way that's not qualified - i.e. you've decided yes, it should be all-out illegal, you'll need to find arguments AGAINST your decided conclusion, and counter them, to make your essay balanced. For example, if you are 100% against abortion, you could write about the personal and social reasons people cite for having an abortion, but then explain why these are not good reasons (you will probably be arguing pro-life here).
Try and limit your arguments to reason and logic - moral or religious views don't make good arguments because everyone's are different and therefore to argue something should be a certain way just because God says so isn't very convincing for those who don't share your religious beliefs. In our example, the fact that a fetus is a person is not a good reason to make abortion illegal (look up: Speciesism). Stronger arguments can be made by looking at e.g. what differentiates us from animals and why we deserve to live, e.g. self-awareness, and potential - be careful though, there are lots of interesting counter arguments to this, such as animals that show signs of self-awareness, and what to do with people in a persistent vegetative state! Your arguments don't always have to be conclusive and without challenge - you can state their weaknesses.
5. Write the essay conclusion
In the essay conclusion you summarise your strongest arguments. You don't add any new material. The easiest way to write the conclusion is to go back through your essay and create a list of your main points (much like the list you started with). Then write something like,
"Conclusively, abortion should be illegal, but from 20 weeks..."
Go on to list your main points why this is the case. Now stop. Don't worry about finishing off your conclusion, we'll come back to it.
6. Write the essay introduction
The introduction sets the scene. It spells out what you're going to do. It offers a little background into your topic. Because you're writing this (nearly) last, it's a very easy write.
Explain your topic. For our example topic, Wikipedia offers this sentence that would make a great opening paragraph:
"Induced abortion has long been the source of considerable debate, controversy, and activism. An individual's position concerning the complex ethical, moral, philosophical, biological, and legal issues which surround abortion is often related to his or her value system. Opinions of abortion may be described as being a combination of beliefs about abortion's morality the proper extent of governmental authority in public policy; and on the rights and responsibilities of the woman seeking to have an abortion. Religious ethics also has an influence on both personal opinion and the greater debate over abortion".
However, you can't just copy it. You can't even copy it and reference it back to Wikipedia. What you can do is completely reword it, taking just the meaning behind each sentence and making it your own.
Once you've opened the essay, you need to explain what you're going to do and what you'll prove. If you were given your essay question and it includes any instruction words - for example, discuss, compare and contrast, analyse - take a cue from those.
"This essay will discuss whether abortion should be illegal or not, and if so, from what stage of pregnancy. It will show that abortion should be illegal from 20 weeks because a fetus can survive from this age and there is nothing to differentiate between the fetus inside the womb that can survive independent of its mother, and the same fetus outside of the womb".
7. Back to your essay conclusion
Time for a quick revisit to see if there's anything else you want to include, having written your introduction. See if there's anything you can tie together. For example, if you mentioned morality in your introduction, you could note in your conclusion that there is no need to resort to contentious moral arguments on this issue as many do, since the issue can be argued by reason and logic. You could note this after you summarise a good example of reason or logic that supports your stance.
8. Spit and polish
Go back and reread the whole essay, out loud. As you go, try and think of any arguments your reader might make when going through your essay. The final spit and polish should ensure:
- All facts are supported by credible (reliable) sources.
- Spelling and grammar is correct.
- The essay flows well - i.e. paragraphs are linked.
- The essay gives a strong answer to the question set, and backs up that answer.
- Any material from other sources is referenced to those sources.
- If you've been set a word count for you essay, you haven't gone over that word count.
At the end of the essay include a list of references or a bibliography. References are the exact sources you cite in your essay. If you have done quite a bit of reading that influenced your essay but you didn't quote from it directly, you should instead include a bibliography. Both look the same, the difference is simply that the bibliography can include sources that you didn't directly cite in your essay.