Excellence in essays (1/3): On general subjects

Last week when I was haranguing my classmates about my blog, my good friend Shraddha suggested me to make a blog post on “How to write essays” and I remember thinking, ‘Wow. That’s a great idea!” primarily because the board exams are around the corner (All the best for those sitting for the exams!) and currently I am teaching the children how to write essays.

So, I will be making a three-post series on achieving excellence in essays that will deal with writing essays on general subjects, specific subjects (examples in the field of law will be given) and finally dissertations/ summative essays.

Before, we begin, you may want to check out my post on understanding essay words and how to answer them.

And in this post, I will be showing you the process I use myself and teach my children. Be sure to read till the end to find my recommended books and power tips!

So, here is a  step by step procedure on how to approach essays on general subjects (General subjects being either as simple as my pet, ambition in life or some random national issue like eradication of corruption, or other major policy changes)

Know thy topic

This may seem as a pretty obvious step but it is important to know the topic of the essay and understand it.  Such understanding can be easily achieved by asking questions about the topic to yourself. An essay is well-written if it answers all your own doubts.

Make an outline

               While, the students in schools can skip this step considering their essay topics usually have already given outlines, the students preparing for competitive exams can do this by making an outline of the questions formed in the first step.

Power tip: It is a good practice to read essays written by teachers/ professionals and make your outlines based on them. This will help you to practice arranging your thoughts in a logical manner and also, get a grip on the kind of language you are expected to write in exams

Flesh out your outline

               Now that you have made an outline, it is required that you know exactly what you need to write under each outline heading, so take this step to bring clarity to your thoughts and jot details you would like to mention under each paragraph.

Here you can write any specific statistics you may want to use, or a quote you think would be fitting somewhere. For e.g: if you are writing an essay on depleting water resources and you want to cite a fact like – ‘According to the 2015, standing committee report about 89% of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation’ then you can shelve it into say, wasting water.


               While I understand this is oft-repeated and not something you wanted to hear, but here’s the tea – nothing can replace the sweat and tears (both literally and figuratively) you have put into writing essays during your practice exams. And when you have written about 20 essays, you will find that the above steps will come naturally to you.

As promised these are the books I refer to often – Bloomsbury Chronological dictionary of quotations by Edmund Wright, Oxford dictionary of quotation and proverbs, 151 essays by SC Gupta (or any other essay book recommended for Competitive exam preparation), Simple essays by P.K. Banerjee, Primary English essays by Top Publications,  High school essays and letters By Sri Gourgopal Jena, Recommend guides for 6th-10th graders, New age probable essays for college and competitive exams. However you can also refer online sources and other books for help in writing.

Power tips:

  • Keep a few quotations and proverbs handy and sprinkle them in your essay like confetti. Nothing impresses evaluators like a few well-placed verses. (Don’t fuss over it too much though. Give equal importance to other parts of your question paper. A single essay has a lot of marks but it is not the entire paper unless you are a university student, in which get that brain crunching on ‘em quotations.)
  • Whack ‘em with some facts. Even if it is language paper, everyone like numbers and some stats (Because humans love measuring and numbers are integral to understanding measurements). Be sure to remember some basic ones like population, species, no. of states etc., it is not necessary to write exact numbers, if you cant remember it, reduce it to fractions and add words like ‘about’. ‘nearly’, ‘almost’ etc.
  • Read/watch/learn about as many new things as you can because despite all your best efforts a topic might come on which you have not prepared, and in those cases only your might resourcefulness, wide reading and infinite sagacity will save the day! (Rudyard Kipling any one?)

And these are the tools in my essay-writing arsenal. If you know any others, please do help me add it! Until the next post, HAPPY HUSTLIN’ HON!

Categories: study

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