A Quora member had a very good answer. The trick is to use a “standard process”.
I’ll expand upon this with my thoughts as well.
Learning how to do something takes a lot of time. It may take you less time than the next person, but it will still take time. The important thing is to have a plan of action. Planning an essay is easier when you have a word count. For example a 1m500 word essay: 250 words introduction 300 words main point one, 300, main point two, 300 main point three, 100 words either spare or to connect these together before, 250 words conclusion. Simply done you break your essay down into several sections. I actually used a science project I got a good mark for as the basic structure for my essays at masters’ level. The science project was written when I was 14/15 but it had a clear workable structure.
The key points you need to have for a good essay are an introduction and conclusion and the core points/arguments.
I’ll use the example of ‘Who were the Normans?’ as it is a subject I am currently researching.
This has no references usually, well the introduction can if it includes a quote or historical date or study etc., but all in all it should be limited. The introduction is where you say what you are going to be writing about. (see my opening, it’s a quote referencing the author, and then a statement of what I am going to do). Keep it short and to the point.
EXAMPLE: The Normans were a cultural group from what is now northern France. Many think of them as French but they came from Scandinavia. Does this make them French or Viking as an ethnic group, especially during the 1066 invasion of England?
Optional addition Background paragraph/chapter/section:
In a longer essay, or dissertation, you may want to add in some very specific background. For shorter essays this can be placed in the introduction. (that would be the bit above where I say the example I am going to use)
EXAMPLE: The Normans occupied the lands of Normandy in northern France. Rollo their leader was granted this area as a duchy buy the king of the Franks.
Argument/core point 1:
This section should be a third of the main bulk of your essay (see the numbers a gave above for a rough breakdown). This is either your argument for the main question or the main reason for its truth. Use examples to back up your points with references. Also, be very clear when it is your conclusion/idea, or an author’s conclusion/idea. Try to keep on track and don’t include too much dissenting opinion. This should be a fairly main stream argument for the proposal or truth of the original assertion leave the quirky stuff till later (do mention you will be talking about it later though) that you will see in the section a little further down.
EXAMPLE: The Normans were clearly Vikings look where they came from X, Y and Z say this in their books. They spent time fighting the Franks (French) during the Norman expansion (reference A) so how could they be considered French?
Argument/core point 2:
This is exactly the same as your last section apart from being the complete opposite point of view. Again reference works and keep the ideas fairly mainstream. You can hint at which idea you prefer but reinforce that this is the background and arguments of others rather than your ideas (although you should include some). Hint at ideas you have hit on such as the quirky ideas that I mentioned above and will expand upon below.
EXAMPLE: The Normans were clearly French look how long they were in France before 1066 and the amount of intermarriage with the locals (reference B). Look at their use of horses (picture of Bayeux tapestry) the Vikings fought on foot like the Saxons.
Argument/core point section 3:
This section is slightly different. This is almost a mini conclusion. Use this area to talk about the ideas that you have come across that are further out from the main crowd that you should have mentioned above. That would be those quirky ideas I have talked about. You need these to show that you have read around the subject and understand more than the mainstream points. If you throw them out to early then the marker may decide that you are on a rant with lots of bias and that may set them against you causing distrust. This section should have more of your own ideas in. Whilst you will have put in opinions in the above sections this is where you should really shine. Things like picking a badly researched or thought out article and shredding it go in here. You should be hinting at your conclusion near the end of this section.
EXAMPLE: They were neither French nor Viking although the Brythonic settlement of northern France had left a different genetic make-up in the area (reference C). France is often split into north and south with distinctive language change between the two (reference D). They weren’t French because France didn’t exist and they weren’t Vikings as that is a verb and they had stopped Viking. if you look at their genetic make-up they were actually the same as the Saxons so it’s actually a civil war (reference crazy man F).
This should be a rough mirror of the introduction in size and subject. This has no references usually, well the conclusion can do if it includes a quote or historical date or study etc., but all in all it should be limited. The conclusion is where you say what you have written about in the essay and what it means. (see my introduction, it’s a near mirror of this paragraph, and then a statement of what I am have done). Keep it short and to the point. I have now shown you how to plan an essay.
EXAMPLE: We have seen above that there is strong evidence for both sides of this debate. A middle ground is likely the correct interpretation. The Viking raiders under Rollo had had a lot in common with the original Saxon tribes due to the areas they originally migrated from. The Brithonic nature of Brittany which had a large impact upon the growing Normandy would have led to an identity French yet Brithonic in part. If we draw this together it might be suggested that they were none of the above but by the time of 1066 they were a distinct group of people.
Now structuring is only part of the battle. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are also important. The way to do this is to use a product such as http://www.Grammarly.com. Type your practise essays into there or even throw some of your old work in there. This will highlight the areas that you need to improve on. As long as you can write clearly and structure your essay well then you are almost there.
Other considerations: Your subject. Don’t just read the books on the book list. read around the subject. Use connected disciplines. Say you are writing about cafe design perhaps make a point about the growing issue of back pain wand reference a medical journal to support a point about ergonomics of chairs etc. Another consideration is how to write a sentence or paragraph. The structure I used above is very similar to the way in which one would write at any structure level.
I hope that is of use, I had fun writing it!