What are Essays?

People are asked to write essays as a way of responding to one or more questions, often in the form of some sort of assignment. The aim of the writer is usually to persuade their readers about the validity of the way he or she has analyzed, discussed, argued, or explained some topic or other.  

So, what types of essays might you be asked to write if, for example, you are attending a business school? 

A lot of the essay papers you may be asked to complete in a business school are very like the types you might be asked to write on an Arts or Literature course. The process begins with the identification of an issue or problem and then the writer will need to address a question that has been posed concerning the given issue or problem. Therefore, the task ahead of you is to build an argument, to give your own personal perspective in terms of how to address the question, and to support your position. Other types of essays are often different forms of this essay or a report, a “hybrid” type of assignment. A lot of tutors and lecturers give students assignments they call a “report style essay.” If your lecturer hands you this type of assignment, they usually want you to produce a paper in the style of both an essay and a report i.e. with the key characteristics of both. 

How Is an Essay Different from a Report? 

An essay is primarily different from a report in terms of the purpose it serves, the requirements placed on the writer, and the expectations of the reader. An essay is a type of written text you will mainly find in schools and/or universities. Teachers, course leaders, and professors often ask students to write essays to show they understand a particular phenomenon or concept and to demonstrate how well they are able to express their understanding in a well-structured piece of writing. Essays can be described as a method of responding to or addressing a given question. For example, it would be extremely difficult – if not impossible – for an entire group of people to write one essay, while reports are often written by groups. An essay is also different from a report in the way it is organized.  

With essays, it is the writer’s task to build a logical and sound argument as a way of answering a given question. The person who will usually read such an essay is the tutor or lecturer who assigned it. Therefore, that person will be keen to find out how capable you are of constructing a persuasive argument using logic, reasoning, and suitable evidence. You will need to use transition words, phrases or sentences to connect the different parts of your argument. These will summarize the preceding point and introduce the argument’s next point or stage. In your capacity as writer, it is your task to ensure all such transitions are smooth, clear and seamless. It is not possible for readers to read just some pieces of your work to find something out. They will need to read your complete essay to properly understand your argument and how good it is. Certain tutors and lecturers will not want you to divide your essay into sub-headings. Others will encourage or permit a certain amount of sub-headings to show you are dealing with a sub-topic, but your headings should supplement topic sentences rather than replace them.   

By contrast, when writing reports, you need to develop a clear structure with sub-headings to indicate each individual section. Every section of a report has a specific purpose. On occasion, readers might just want to read only a single section of a report. Therefore, every section should have the information that readers would expect to see in that particular section.   

Yet, regardless of the differences mentioned above, there are some similarities between the two documents insofar at least as the content should be based on an analysis of the subject matter and a critical evaluation of the same. You should express yourself in a precise and clear manner and your work should be flawless in terms of its grammar and organization. 

Why do You Get Asked for Essays in a Business School? 

Essays enable tutors and professors to see how well you are able to:  

  • Understand the important questions in your subject area and the purpose of these
  • Undertake a piece of research
  • Critically think about any reading material concerning your subject
  • Tell the difference between sources that are relevant or irrelevant to the assignment’s question
  • Tell the difference between sources that are reliable or unreliable
  • Use suitable evidence from the sources you uncovered to support your essay’s argument
  • Express the different elements of your essay’s argument in a paper that is cohesive and coherent
  • Cite or acknowledge any sources you use in an appropriate manner, both within the text and as end-of-paper reference lists.

Even though it is unlikely, you will be asked to write any (or many) essays in your place of work, being able to express your thoughts in a fluent and logical manner will give you a good base to become competent at writing other types of texts.

How can you begin understanding the question that has been asked of you i.e. what is it you need to do. You first need to ensure you properly understand the question you are attempting to respond to. You may be sure that, the question in an essay assignment will need some level of analysis on your part. Almost every single essay-style question will have its basis in some topic or other. However, that is not to say you should commit all your knowledge on a given topic onto paper. There will be directions in the assignment’s question, and these will determine your approach. 

The list below contains some of the task words that are often found in the directions provided with an assignment.  Some amount of analysis is required for each of these tasks:  

An analysis of something: This means examining any elements that have a bearing on the topic and deciding how these relate to one another.   

Do a comparison: This involves finding likenesses and/or differences between two or more concepts, events, interpretations or ideas. 

You may be asked to contrast something: This task is not dissimilar to “comparing,” although more focus needs to be placed on the topic’s differences. 

Provide a criticism: This requires a discussion on both the strong and weak points of another work with a view to evaluating it in a reasoned manner. 

Provide a definition: This means providing a concise, clear, and authoritative meaning for a given term. 

Hold a discussion: Here, you will need to analyze a topic’s key features and then present a well-reasoned viewpoint with regards to those features. 

Carry out an evaluation: This requires you to examine a number of arguments and arrive at a conclusion about the strong and weak points of each of them. 

There are other “task” words you might find but these will not necessarily require you to do much analysis. Examples of these words are set out below and they usually appear along with one or more of the above words.

Provide a description: This means outlining the key features of something.  

Provide an illustration: This equates to providing examples. 

Provide a summary: This involves outlining the key points related to an event or theory. 

What Structure does an Essay Have? 

Essays differ from reports in that they are not divided into clear sections where each serves a particular purpose. Traditional-style essays do not have any subheadings. Increasingly, these days, tutors and lecturers allow and even encourage students to use a certain level of subheadings to signal a change of topic, but it is best to keep these to a minimum. 

Although it is not necessary to add headings to various sections of your essay, it should have a clearly-defined introductory section, some main body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. What should be in each part is quite clear. 

The Introductory Section 

An introductory section or paragraph is a brief essay condensed into a single paragraph. If your essay is a long one, the introduction might need to be spread over a couple of paragraphs – probably no more than two. You should use this first section to set out the essay’s question for readers, which you can do, for example, by: 

  • Outlining the importance of the essay question
  • Putting a context to your work
  • Expressing a clearly set out viewpoint that directly relates to the essay question
  • Providing a short “roadmap” indicating the sequence or order your ideas will appear in
  • Mentioning the limitations of your work e.g. the places, times or aspects that restrict the subject matter and, perhaps, by providing a definition of any special terms that require explanation. 

The Main Body Paragraphs

The main body of almost every essay is made up of a few paragraphs and within each one, you should: 

  • Focus on just one facet of your response
  • Deal with each point in the same order it is mentioned in the introductory section
  • Start each new paragraph with a topic statement or sentence in which you set out the main point or idea for that paragraph. You should connect this to the previous paragraph or back to the introductory paragraph
  • Provide adequate evidence to support or elaborate on the paragraph’s main point or idea. 

The Concluding Section

This last section is made up of a paragraph or two. Here, your aim should be to:

Sum-up in brief terms your overall answer to the essay question

Make sure everything you present flows logically on from the introductory paragraph (qualifying, perhaps, the position you took at the beginning)

  • Make sure you do not ramble off the point
  • Make sure you do not introduce any fresh information here
  • Suggest – if appropriate – any argument(s) or implication(s) concerning the topic and any recommendations for future investigation. 

What If You Are Asked to Provide a Synopsis 

On occasion, a tutor or professor may ask you to append an approximate 100-word synopsis to your paper. This is likely to only be required in 2,000-word or longer documents. A synopsis in this case is similar to the executive summary you will find in reports. In most cases, you should write this once your essay is complete and place it at the beginning. It should be given a new page and contain a concise overview of your main point(s) or argument(s).  

List of References 

Every source you use or consult in the course of completing an essay should be listed in an end-of-paper reference list, beginning on a new page. You should list sources in alphabetic order under the surname of the author or by institution names. 

How Should Evidence Be Incorporated into an Essay? 

You will need to support any analysis work you do in response to an essay’s question with evidence from respected sources. Generally, evidence can be incorporated into an essay by one of three methods, which are quoting, paraphrasing, and summing-up. You should try to keep quotes to a minimum and use them only when it is essential to include an author’s precise words. Every writer is obliged to credit or acknowledge every source they use either in the form of references within the text or through the use of footnotes. It is permissible to emphasize an author’s name by placing it prominently in a sentence or you can assign less importance to it by placing it in a footnote or within parenthesis and, instead, put more emphasis on the actual evidence. If you refer to Best-Writing-Service.org website, you will find a more detailed guide to “Citing Sources.”    

What Steps Are Involved in Writing an Essay? 

It is not possible to complete an assignment like an essay if you attempt to do everything in one sitting. Start early. The process of writing an essay is a cyclical one. The stages or steps described below tend to follow one another, but in the real world, you may have to return to earlier steps and later repeat these if you are to end up with a worthwhile essay.

  • You must first ensure you fully understand the assignment’s question before you can start answering it
  • Read whatever preliminary materials that you need to
  • Make notes while you read and make a methodical record of source information for your paper’s bibliography
  • Work out what important themes are relevant to the essay question
  • Decide what position you will take in respect of the essay question
  • Create a rough or initial outline upon which you will develop your response
  • Identify additional reading material (sources) and make sure these relate in some way to the answer you intend to provide
  • Organize the source notes you made in accordance with your outline
  • Review these notes and, by now, your outline may need refining to reflect your improved understanding of the topic
  • Start writing the initial draft of your answer as a way of clarifying and fleshing out your response (this is for your eyes only”!)
  • Read back over the draft you have written and make a note of anything you need to change so that your answer is consistent and as powerful as it can be
  • You can now begin writing your next draft, keeping your reader in mind during this round
  • Edit your work for spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Now you are ready to begin writing the final version of your essay according to your instructor’s guidelines on presentation, structure, etc.

What Are the Components of a Successful Assignment? 

Here is what successful essays of this type do:

  • They demonstrate that you clearly understand the assignment’s question
  • They demonstrate your analytical and critical thinking skills
  • The set out a highly-structured and well-reasoned argument
  • Their content always remains relevant to the essay question and never strays into areas that are irrelevant
  • They are written for a course tutor or lecturer, but they should not leave anything unexplained on the assumption that readers will understand the meaning
  • They are based on extensive reading material, which you will have critically evaluated
  • They use sufficient evidence in support of the essay’s argument(s)
  • The style they are written in should be an academic one
  • They acknowledge every source the writer used.  

Does an Exam Essay Differ from an Assignment or Class Essay? 

An exam essay is, for the most part, very likely an assignment or class essay. The following are the primary differences:

  • The introductions in exam essays are very short. The question’s answer, together with an outline for this, should appear in the opening sentences.
  • Although you will always require supporting evidence for any assertion or claim you make, you cannot quote exact sources or page numbers in an exam of the closed book variety.
  • The use of transitions to signal changes in topic are especially useful in this type of essay since they put emphasis on main points i.e. the most important factors.
  • The concluding paragraphs in these essays need only be one or two sentences long and should merely be a restating of the question’s answer

Are there any Cross-Cultural Differences in Terms of What Makes a Successful Essay? 

Various research experts have noted that are some differences in how people from the various cultures approach essay writing, in the same way that people from other cultures approach a whole lot of life’s other matters in a different way. A student who has been able to write successful essays in one culture can sometimes find this difficult in another culture. Scholars have described the style of the English essay as a direct one. So, when someone has learned the art of essay writing in one culture, they may have also learned how to approach essay questions in a slightly different way. 

Checklist for When You Are Writing Essays

You may find the checklist below helpful when you are reviewing your written work. 

The Research Aspects 

Have you done enough research so that you are sure you know the most important facts and different perspectives on your topic?

Have you used a good enough selection of sources (e.g., books, journal and newspaper articles, online resources, etc.)?    

Analyzing the Topic and Developing Your Argument 

Have you covered the key concepts you learnt on your course?

Have you identified all the main issues?

Have you used sufficient supporting sources to back up your argument(s)?

Have you stated your position clearly when answering the essay question?

Have you adequately qualified your specific position by carefully considering all potential opposing arguments?

Will your reader be left feeling you have made a real effort to understand the question and that you have thought long and hard about its various angles and complexities?

Structuring Your Introductory Section 

Does your introductory section include a statement that introduces your topic?

Have you identified the main issue in the introductory section?

Does your introduction demonstrate your stance on the main issue?

Have you given a clear indication – albeit a brief one – as to how you will respond to the essay question?

Have you mentioned the limitations to the scope of your essay?

Have you provided definitions for any special terms that need explaining? 

Structuring Your Main Body Paragraphs

Is the sequence in which you have set out your main body paragraphs logical? (For example, do they follow the same order indicated in your introductory section?) 

Do your body paragraphs focus on just one point or aspect of your essay? 

Have you started each body paragraph with a clear topic statement or sentence that sets out the main idea or point for that paragraph and links it to your entire essay? 

Have you included sufficient evidence in every paragraph to support and/or elaborate on that paragraph’s main idea or point?

Structuring Your Concluding Paragraph 

Have you given a final and conclusive response to the essay question? 

Have you reiterated your stance in a newly worded and perhaps slightly modified way than you did in the introductory section? Have you summarized your main ideas or points in a clear and succinct way? 

Have you provided any final commentary e.g. have you suggested any areas that might be explored in the future or predicted any developments that might happen in the future? 

Are you sure you have not introduced any fresh information in this last section? 

Checking Your Language Usage

Have you double-checked the spelling in your essay? (Not just using the spell checking software on your computer but also by manually proofreading your work) 

Have you double-checked your grammar to ensure it does not contain any common errors e.g. poor sentence structures, mismatched numbers, subject/verb agreements, and so on? 

Is the style you have written in appropriate i.e. is your style sufficiently academic i.e. is it objective and formal but not too journalistic-like or conversational? 

Is Your Referencing Correct? 

Have you acknowledged the ideas, evidence and arguments of other authors within your text e.g. using quotes, paraphrasing, and summing-up? 

Is the format you used for in-text citations correct?  

Have you put quotations in quotation marks? 

Have you paraphrased and summed everything up sufficiently well so that you do not accused of plagiarizing?   

Does your paper include a reference list arranged in alphabetic order under author name and does this start on a new page? 

Have You Adhered to the Formatting Requirements Given to You?

Is your essay neatly typed? What line spacing have you used – double or 1.5 or? 

Have you correctly numbered all your pages? Have you included the cover or title page provided with the instructions? 

Have you checked that your essay is of the correct length?