Essay Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the stages of the essay development process. Back to Student Resources

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Planning for length

You can decide how much you are going to write before you even start writing. Let’s imagine you’ve just got your essay title and the word limit is 2000 words. You know you’ve got to write an introduction and a conclusion. You should allow yourself at least 150 words for each and then tell yourself that those 300 words can’t be used for anything else. That leaves you 1700 words for the main body of your essay. Making this decision about words before you even start writing will help you avoid a common problem: finding you’ve written 2000 words and haven’t started answering the question.

Planning for content

Now look at your title again: are there any obvious instructions or divisions that can help you divide your 1700 words further? Imagine your essay title is ‘Discuss the themes of love and power in two of the Shakespeare plays studied this semester’. This is giving you a clear message about planning and structure. Your tutor expects to see a balanced discussion of two plays with similar amounts of writing on each – not two and a half pages on Antony and Cleopatra and half a page on Macbeth. So you can divide your 1700 words into 850 words per play.

Planning on the computer

Once you’ve made this decision about dividing up your 2000 words you need to stick to it. A good way is to have separate documents on your computer. (This section assumes you write all your essays on a computer.) Let’s imagine you are writing the Shakespeare essay. Make a new folder and call it ‘(Title of your essay)’. In that folder make four documents: Introduction, Play One and Play Two and Conclusion. In the header of the Introduction type your essay title and then the words ‘introduction – 150 words only’. In the header of the Conclusion type your essay title and then the words ‘conclusion – 150 words only’. In the header of Play One type your essay title and then the words ‘play one – 800 words only’. Repeat this process for your Play Two document. You will see that I’ve reduced the amount of words for each play. This is because you will need to allow yourself a few words to link the separate documents when you put everything together.