When you think essay writing, you probably think English, ideas, written pros, literature… nothing particularly, well, concrete.
You probably don’t think science, structure, precision. But you need to.
It doesn’t matter what your essay is about, or what subject it’s for, every essay you write at high school should be approached in a ‘scientific’ way.
By ‘scientific’, what we really mean is, formulaic.
Every essay you write needs to have structure (i.e. paragraphs). Every paragraph needs to have its own internal structure. Every paragraph needs to make its own point and make it clearly, and every point of each paragraph needs to be backed up by ‘evidence’ (facts, examples, statistics, etc).
It doesn’t matter if your essay is on a high level philosophical theory or Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion — both of those essays, and every one in between, needs to be approached in a systemic and structured fashion.
Why this is so important to the success of your essays
The point of an essay is to inform the reader about a particular subject or topic, and to do so in a persuasive manner that is logical and easy to read. (We’ve discussed this somewhat recently in this article.)
It doesn’t matter what your essay is about, it should always strive to achieve these goals. And even when your essay is on a traditionally ‘artsy’ topic, achieving these goals will always require forethought and purposeful execution.
When you write an essay without thinking about its structure, it’s like you’re making a speech to a room full of people without any notes and without having done any preparation. The result is likely to be a bit of an awkward mess.
Like any good speech, when you’re writing an essay, you’re taking the reader on a journey, and you want that journey to be as smooth and obstacle-free as possible. You want them to understand what the purpose of the trip is and where it is that you’re going.
How do you make sure your essay has bullet proof structure
There are TWO THINGS you need to do to approach every essay you write with scientific precision.
Firstly, you need to make Essay Plans, and secondly, every paragraph of every essay you write needs to follow the S.E.X.I. structure.
Let’s start with Essay Plans.
Essay Plans are your solution for making sure that your essay reaches all of the goals described above.
Writing an essay straight off the cuff without any forethought is a hard ask, especially when you’re in the pressure cooker environment of an exam room!
Remember, your essay needs to make clear points in a logical manner and be written in a way that makes it easy for the reader (i.e. examiner!) to read. This will be much, MUCH easier to do if you make prepare a quick Essay Plan in advance of writing the actual essay.
What is an Essay Plan exactly?
Essentially, it’s a quick outline of the essay you’re about to write.
If you’re really short on time, it doesn’t need to consist of more than jotting down what the point of each paragraph is going to be about. This will prevent you from embarking on your essay, getting half way though (or even finishing it!), only to realize that you’ve forgotten to include a really important point.
And what is S.E.X.I.?
Making a ‘proper’ Essay Plan involves understanding S.E.X.I., so before we look at Essay Plans more closely, let’s go over what S.E.X.I. is.
S.E.X.I. describes the structure every paragraph of your essay needs to have.
It stands for:
Let’s look at each element more closely.
Statement: Every paragraph of your essay should start with a sentence that tells the reader what that paragraph is going to be about. It’s a set-up sentence for the rest of the paragraph, and sometimes referred to as a ‘topic sentence’.
For example, in a hypothetical History essay about communism causing global conflict in the 20th century, one of your paragraphs might start off with this Statement: Global conflict caused by communism in the 20th century is further illustrated through the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI.
This opening statement of the paragraph clearly lets the reader know, in one sentence, that that paragraph is going to be about the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI, and how this relationship illustrates how communism caused global conflict.
Explanation: This is bulk of your essay paragraph. In probably 3–5 sentences, you need to explain the point that you’ve told the reader you’re going to make in your Statement. So in our hypothetical History essay, the Explanation part of the paragraph is you explaining how and why the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI contributed to causing global conflict.
Example: In S.E.X.I, ‘example’ is meant very broadly. Every point you make in an essay needs to be backed up with some kind of evidence. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a science essay or an essay for an ‘Arts’ subject — in the academic world — you can’t assert something without providing justification for it.
What type of ‘example’ (or evidence) is appropriate for each of your essay paragraphs will depend on the propositions (points) you are asserting. The most appropriate type of ‘example’ might be a fact, a statistic, an event, a person — basically anything that constitutes evidence of the point you are making.
Back to our hypothetical History essay, one example you might use to illustrate the point that the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI contributed to causing global conflict, is the Treaty of Berlin (under which both countries agreed to remain neutral if the other were attacked). Explaining what the Treaty of Berlin was, and how it (at least indirectly) contributed to causing global conflict, would be a great factual example of how the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI contributed to causing global conflict.
Now, it doesn’t matter if you have no clue what the Treaty of Berlin was or if you’re not even studying History. The important thing is that you can see how you could use this historical document as an example to back up the proposition that the Soviet Union’s relationship with Germany after WWI contributed to causing global conflict.
How exactly you incorporate the ‘example’ or ‘examples’ that you use to justify the point of each paragraph is up to you, and will depend on what’s appropriate for each paragraph.
It might make sense to ‘sprinkle’ your example or examples throughout the paragraph, or it might make sense to include a couple of justifying facts nearer the end of the paragraph. Like in our hypothetical History essay, the ‘example’ might be inextricably linked to the entire paragraph, so that your explanation and the example are discussed at the same time.
The takeaway point is that you can’t make statements in an essay without any justification. If you do, it sounds like you’re just making things up, and this isn’t going to be good enough to get a good grade for your essay.
Importance:This is the cherry on top of each essay paragraph. A top grade essay will not only explain its points clearly and provide examples to back up every point, it will also inform the reader why the point being made in each paragraph is important or significant.
This is your chance to demonstrate to the reader that you have critically thought about your essay topic and really understand it. You might do this by making an insightful comment at the end of a paragraph that informs the reader of the greater significance of the point you’ve made in that paragraph, or how that point relates to the overall topic of the essay.
The takeaway point for ‘Importance’ is to understand that you will really impress the reader (i.e. examiner!) if you demonstrate that you have thought about the essay topic yourself, and that you have something unique, original, or insightful to say about the topic.
The link between Essay Plans and S.E.X.I.
Now you understand what S.E.X.I. is, we can wrap up what an awesome Essay Plan looks like.
An Essay Plan that will make writing your essay a breeze (well, more of a breeze), will outline not just the point you want to make in each paragraph, but each element of S.E.X.I. for each paragraph.
Take a look at this example Essay Plan. It’s for a hypothetical essay on the ‘setting’ of the film The Matrix.
You can see that we have jotted down the gist of each element of S.E.X.I. for each paragraph.
We cannot recommend making Essay Plans like this strongly enough. It might sound like an extra hassle on top of writing the actual essay, but once you get used to making Essay Plans they should only take a few minutes to reel off, and they mean that all you have to do to write the actual essay is expand each bullet point of your Essay Plan.
Essay Plans give your essay immediate structure, and they give every paragraph fantastic structure too. They really are amazing!
The combination of an Essay Plan and S.E.X.I. will bring scientific-level precision to every essay you write, which is going to make your essays clear, logical, persuasive, and easy to read. What more could you ask for?!
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