Writing essays isn’t just for English, many other subjects include essay writing too. The basic principles of essay writing also apply to effective exam technique so it’s vital that your child masters the art of essay writing.

If it’s been a long time since you were writing essays yourself or you’re just not confident on how to help your child write strong essays, here’s our advice on what you should look out for:

  • There should be a clear introduction, signposting what the essay will cover that is directly relevant to the essay question
  • The essay shouldn’t just retell the story of the poem or book being written about
  • Opinions should be backed up with evidence, for example, quotes from the texts being studied
  • Paragraphs should be used to structure the essay, moving logically from one topic to another
  • Understanding of the subject should be demonstrated by use of relevant terminology
  • Sentences should be varied to maintain interest and reinforce points that are made
  • The way the essay is written should assume that the reader has only a basic understanding of the subject so that it is clear and unambiguous
  • A strong conclusion should summarise the main points persuasively

It can be useful to help your child to identify these key points for themselves. You could try an exercise in which you mix up these key points with other incorrect and contradictory points (e.g. statements like ‘there is no need to prove your point when writing essays’). You could create a set of cards from the mixture of statements which you can then ask your child to sort into two piles, verbally justifying their choices.

Practical help with planning essays set for homework or coursework could include using colourful sticky notes to help plan and structure what information needs to go into an essay. Three colours could be used to represent beginning, middle and end and the sticky notes can be repositioned on a large sheet of paper to help with planning a logical structure and flow. Essay planning technique should also be practised as part of revision.

When helping your child with essay writing, emphasise that planning is essential – including in exam conditions. Discourage essay writing that has not been planned first. Effective essay writing is one of the fundamentals to academic success so demystify it for your child and help them work out for themselves what makes a good essay.