So your teacher has informed you that a three page paper "On Romeo and Juliet" is due Friday. It is now Thursday night and you haven't even begun. You have no idea where to start.
Writing an "A" essay, easily and quickly, is all about asking the right questions. If your teacher has given you a fairly broad assignment, like the one above, the first rule you need understand is that summaries will no longer cut it. Teachers and professors don't want to see that you understand the plot of a story. That was your 4th grade teacher. High school and college is more about analyzing themes (big picture ideas from a story that are applicable to real life) and an author's literary merit (as in, what kind of techniques are used to accomplish the goal).
When tackling a generic essay assignment, the best place to begin is to create a theme statement. This is a one sentence statement that explains something the author is trying to convey about life, the world, humanity, or something else, through the story. Asking and answering the right questions will guide you into writing a proper theme statement, which can then become a great thesis statement (you know, that magical sentence in your introduction that defines your entire essay).
Yeah, great, I get that. But how do I start?
The most successful essays are well planned. Essays that go off the point with lots of extra detail will get poor marks.
Stick to the question
Underline key words in the essay title so you really understand the question being asked. It’s not about writing all you know about a topic.
Words like ‘discuss’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘evaluate’, ‘account for’ are used as ways to direct your answer; make sure you know what they mean.
Other questions may start with ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘when’.
Write a plan
Brainstorm your ideas on the essay topic to get started. Spider diagrams are good for this.
Plan the structure of the essay by numbering each of your ideas in order of importance. At this stage you may wish to leave some of them out or develop others by breaking them into sub points. Redo your original spider diagram as necessary.
You may have to present your argument for the essay under broad themes like ‘economic’, ‘social’, ‘political’ or ‘religious’ reasons. Make sure you understand which theme suits each of your points, then group your all points on the same theme in order of importance into a separate paragraph.
Writing the essay
Your essay must have an introduction. State the main points you will discuss in order to support your answer to the question set in the title of the essay.
2. Development of your argument
After the introduction add further paragraphs to build your argument, make the most important points first. Remember the way these points are ordered makes your argument clearer to the reader.
Start a new paragraph for each new important point and any linked points that relate to the question. You may include quotations from other historians and refer to primary sources (such as you can find on this website) to support a particular point.
Make sure your essay makes chronological sense. Try to present any factual points in date order.
Avoid telling the story of what happened. If you refer to an important historical event, you must make a point or comment about it. This will stop your essay from becoming a simple narrative and it shows you are trying to analyse events rather than just describe them.
Aim for five to seven paragraphs, depending on the essay and level of course you are following.
Sum up the main points and briefly restate your argument.
Re-read your work, check for spelling errors, and redraft if necessary.