The Easy Way To Write Social Science Essays
I have written this guide based on my own experience of writing essays at university. It covers the basics of from how to get started to structuring your essays.
Choosing the right Question
For most assignments you get to choose which question to answer, now this might sound obvious but pick one that you either know the most about or one that interests you the most. Its hard enough writing essays but if its on something you know nothing about or have no interest in what so ever then its going to be 10 times more difficult to do.
Interpreting the Question
Belive it or not there is no right or wrong answer to most social science essay questions, they are not set for you to go and find the definitive truth to some age old question. They are set to test your understanding of a subject and how well you can put forward an argument for and against something.
For example for the module American Political Ideals, I chose the question 'Does Free Speech override Demand to Ban Hate Speech' now the lecturer wasn't interested in me finding the definitive answer to this, she just wanted to see the arguments for and against and my understanding of the subject.
Don't be afraid of putting across your own ideas and points of view. Lecturers want to see that you've thought about the question, and if you back up your arguments with sources and references and explain what has made you think the way you do, you'll be on your way to getting higher marks.
Write out the essay question in full, then write down your initial thoughts on the subject. You can either do it as a list or bubble chart, do it any way you want to as long as you get your thoughts down on paper.
Then leave it for a couple of days, if ideas come to mind then write them down, but don't force yourself to think about it. Try and speak to other people about the subject, you'll be amazed how differently people can think about the same thing. This should give you some idea of how to structure, or at least think about your argument.
Then see if theres any videos in the uni library, or if there are any documentaries or films you can buy or download off the internet- seeing something visual can help your brain visualise what you are trying to say.
Doing an essay plan
Once you've started to formulate your own ideas you can do an essay plan. Write two headings on top of some paper, For and Against and write the arguments for and against in the columns. Based on this, you can now decide what sources you need to start looking at.
Although this may seem backwards, you're better off thinking about what the answer may be before you start. If you start looking at sources before you have any idea of what you're going to write about, you will find yourself looking through loads of information that will not only be useless to your essay, but may sidetrack and confuse you. You're better off starting with a rough idea and doing focused research rather than just trying to look through everything before you know what you're looking for.
Try and use as many sources as possible. Use books that you're lecturer has mentioned, and ones they haven't to show you've done your own research. Also use periodicals, journals, videos, magazines, newspapers and the internet. Although the internet is a wonderful source of information, make sure the information you use comes from a reliable source. One of my lecturers told me that you can never have enough references so look for them in as many places as you can to give your essays rich and varied content.
Writing your Essay
Once you have research your question, write out each of your points in seperate paragraphs, then look at how you can structure your argument based in these points.
Tell the reader what the essay is about (how you have interpreted the question) and sum up what you'll be looking at (how you will be answering the question). You need to do this to guide them through your work so they know what to expect and why. I find it helpful to write the introduction after the essay.
Remember an essay isn't a novel, you don't need big build ups, you need to get to the point quickly and explain what you mean, don't leave them to guess what you're trying to say.
Essays that get the most marks are ones that explore the strengths and weaknesses of your arguments, this adds more credibility to your work.
Each argument or idea should be split into seperate paragraphs laid out as follows;-
- Explain the individual argument or point based on your own interpretation
- Back up your argument with referenced sources
- Explain the strengths and weaknesses of the argument(s)
Write each of your points in this way until you have finished.
In the conclusion summaries what you have already told the reader, and what your final thoughts are based on the arguments in the essay. You should never introduce any new ideas in the conclusion.
Don't forget to include a bibliography of your sources. The layout of this this may vary between institutions, so check with your ui how they want you to do it.
- Please remember that this is just a guide on how I personally tackled my essays. I would recommend getting a book on how to write essays just to give you more in depth knowledge on how to write them. For example some questions may be asking for a definitive answer so its very important that you analyse the question first and there are some excellent books that go into this in more detail.
- If you're in the first year, ask your lecturer if they will look over your essay plan before you start. Most are happy to, and if you do this in the first year your standard of essay writing is going to be much better in the second and third years when the marks really count. Remember to always ask for feedback after getting your assignment to help you improve on the next one.
- Remember, you're all paying tuition fees now so the thought of coming out of uni with a poor degree and loads of debt should be more terrifying than looking like a swot! So get pestering your tutors to help you out, after all, they all work for you now.