The first thing you need to know about an academic essay is that it is different from a motivation letter. The main goal of a motivation letter (also known as the Statement of Purpose) is to convey information to the selection committee about you as a person and a student, describe your academic achievements and goals. Simply put, a motivation letter is a letter about you.
As for the academic essay, this is a letter from you. It should reveal your thinking, analysis and reasoning skills in relation to the main idea. Therefore, the approach to writing an essay is very different from a motivational letter, although they have some similarities.
Samples of academic essays for university admission
The topic can be pre-determined by the university. For example, "Is brainstorming a fairly effective method of solving problems today?" In other cases, the university only sets the line of reasoning in a particular area: “In your opinion, which school of management has more potential?”. The third option — you choose the main topic for a given subject at your own discretion. In this case, remember that it is important to take the topic that you can logically explore the best.
Mistakes in choosing the topic of an academic essay
Common knowledge. What would you think when you read 6 pages with the argument of the thesis “man descended from a monkey”? Of course, if you find revolutionary evidence of the theory of evolution, this is fine, but in this case it is no longer an essay, but a whole scientific work.
A controversial topic. Do not touch on topics that are not accepted for discussion: religion, politics, personal preferences, etc. The point is not that you should show your indifference, but that your opinion may not align with the opinion of a member of the committee. Even if such questions genuinely interest you, keep them for future research – an introductory essay is not the best place for them. If you absolutely have to cover such topics, try to stay as unbiased as possible and put your personal agenda aside.
Defining the style of an academic essay
Often, in the very setup of the topic proposed by the university, there are clues to help you understand what style your academic essay should have. For example, the following keywords can be met:
Describe. In this case, you need to systematically write about facts, events or processes, highlighting the important parts. When describing something, you are not required to explain the essence of the phenomenon, interpret it or express your attitude towards it.
Explain.This will already require an analysis of the topic, and not just its description or generalization. Key questions are “Why?” and How?". They will become your assistants in the explanation of causal relationships.
Argue. If you are asked to argue something, then the main content of the essay should be the consistent argumentation of your opinion with the help of examples and facts. Also, do not forget to show your awareness of the opposite point of view.
Discuss.Your task will be to describe and interpret the point of view, backing it up with facts and evidence, necessarily taken from third-party sources.
Critique.Your main goal will be to critically approach the topic at hand. It is important to balance both positive and negative points. Try to be objective.
Сompare and contrast.When you are asked to compare something, it is necessary to find and compare the similarities and differences between two ideas, events or interpretations.
As a rule, the structure includes four main parts: introduction, thesis, argumentation and conclusion. In fact, the thesis is the main idea of the work, therefore, it can be located even after the arguments, but in this case it will be a part of the conclusion. If you already have an opinion on the topic, start with a thesis, and then give arguments. The main thing here is the flow and consistency of the text. If you use excerpts from other people's works or quotes from books, indicate it in the reference section. Break the text into paragraphs according to your train of thought — the argument should be divided into several parts.
Advice from the first step of writing a motivation letter will be useful here as well. Your first task when writing any interesting text is to create a "hook", i.e. a certain sentence that can arouse the reader’s interest and is directly related to the main topic. Be original, but don't overdo it. Find what characterizes your thesis or the problem more accurately, for example, the opinion of a well-known specialist in this field or a seemingly unremarkable fact that suits your thesis in the best possible way. It is not mandatory to start work like this — you can also find your hook during the writing of the main part, but in the final version of the text its use in the introduction is extremely desirable.
Develop the idea, so that gradually from the hook you can transition to the main part of your work. In a few words, describe the problem posed, but avoid fillers — everything you write here should directly affect your thesis.
The main mistakes in the introduction
Tackling a subject from afar. You can start with anything, whether it be facts, a quote, a question or an anecdote from life. However, whatever you choose, the introduction should be directly related to the topic of the essay. Do not try to cover the entire history of the issue “From the very beginning of civilization ...” or make it general-to-specific (if the topic of the essay is the crisis in Europe due to coronavirus, a long preamble on the essence of the economy is unlikely to be relevant). It is not necessary to beat around the bush for a long time.
Cliches. Most of the applicants use shocking facts from the press, the “rules of life” of famous people or rather flat jokes — inspirational quotes of Steve Jobs will make the members of the admissions committee roll their eyes by now, so they are unlikely to pay attention to another such entry.
Dryness. Remember, your task is to attract and retain the reader’s attention throughout the text, and if a dry enumeration of facts begins in the introduction, even if there is a hook, the interest of the commission will fade away even before the main part of the essay even starts.
Inconsistency. Link your thoughts and facts in order to connect the main theme, introduction, and subsequent paragraphs together. Structure the text, do not clutter up the introduction with unnecessary information.
After choosing a topic, the first thing you need to do is to form the thesis. A thesis is neither a proven fact, nor an opinion or the result of an observation. This is also not an argumentation, not a complex of cause-effect relationships and not a description of a certain phenomenon — all of this should come next. A thesis is the main idea of your essay, the main essence of which is contained in several statements.
Imagine the situation: you are sitting with an essay in your hands right in front of a member of the commission, and without reading your work, he asks you the question: "What is the main idea of this work?" So, the thesis is those few statements that can answer this question without further clarifications and elaborations. The presence of the thesis in the text not only helps the reader to understand the meaning of the work, but also helps them to see how much you understood it and how the rest of the text is related to it.
Keep in mind that, as a rule, a topic of an essay represents a controversial question or judgment and does not imply a definitive answer. That is why your task is not to search for an objective solution, which, most likely, simply does not exist, but to set up and argue your point of view.
The main mistakes made in the thesis
Interrogative form. The main task of the thesis is to express your opinion, therefore it is not worth formulating the thesis using an interrogative sentence. By asking a rhetorical question, you run the risk of approaching it too philosophically and ultimately not expressing your opinion. The essay will lose all of its argumentation and become abstract thoughts that have never found an answer. Leave rhetorical questions for another time. Be assertive, but not too radical.
Length. Remember — an important criterion is compliance with the basic canons. The thesis itself, by definition, is a comprehensive, but short statement. Distinguish the conclusion from the arguments and do not stretch the thesis over the whole page.
Uncertainty. Do not use the thesis for polemic — the reader should easily follow the chain of your thoughts and its end. The uncertainty of the thesis only raises additional questions and gives the impression that you simply decided not to bring your idea to the conclusion.
An impossible statement. Try not to appeal to abstract or subjective criteria and concepts that are hard to prove. For example, good and evil, real art and so on. Such a thesis is difficult to objectively prove, which means it will be difficult to come to any specific conclusions.
At its core, argumentation is a persuasion attempt. At this stage, it is necessary to describe the reasons that determined the thesis. Devote a small paragraph to each of them and monitor their completeness, play on their contrasts — try to make each next paragraph different from the previous one without breaking the logical chain. The main criteria that must be observed when constructing your argument: topics, sequence, chronology and contrast. Avoid oversimplified statements: context must be built for each argument. Remember that the thesis can be given at the end of the work, do not focus on a strict sequence of selected parts.
The main mistakes in the argumentation
Repetition. Do not develop the same idea in two paragraphs, this contradicts their isolation. A new paragraph is a new argument.
Extra information. Make sure that all of the sentences are directly related to the main topic. Even if you have an irresistible desire to write an incredibly interesting fact, re-read it several times and consider using it as a “hook”.
Inconsistency. If in the next paragraph you use the link with another argument, make sure that this argument has already been described above. Do not confuse the logical connections with hasty writing.
In the last part of the essay, you need to comprehensively and concisely conclude your thoughts. Summarize the argument, briefly repeat the thesis, if it was at the beginning of the work. Or give a thesis if you decide to place it after the arguments.
The main mistakes in the conclusion
New arguments. The conclusion is not an informative, but a summary part. Do not add new arguments at the end, it is better to add another paragraph to the main part.
Repetition. No need to describe the structure of the written work and literally repeat what was written before — if the reader reached the conclusion, then he had already read it.
Working with sources
If your essay requires a large amount of factual information, you need to work with sources correctly. Do not rush to mindlessly copy information from Wikipedia. If you have to use it, then you’d better go to the links section. It is better to search for the information you need in the scientific literature and original scientific articles. But even in this case, take a critical approach to the information presented, because many books were written dozens or hundreds of years ago and could lose their relevance, and scientific research could be carried out to support already existing confirmation bias, and not to reveal the truth, which in turn makes it subjective and not really scientific.
This article covers only the main points of writing an academic essay. In order to take into account all the subtleties, you can contact us for professional help in preparing an essay, motivational and recommendation letters. We also offer our assistance in submitting digital applications and editing all application documents. Based on our many years of professional experience, we can quickly and efficiently prepare your documents to the university for further 100% admission to a foreign university.