How to Write An Essay

How to Write An Essay
Getting Started
The first thing you'll want to do is to create a new FreeMind file for your essay. Select File->New on the menu, and a blank file will appear.
Next, click in the centre of the map, and replace the text there with the essay title you have chosen. It's good to have the question you're answering before you the whole time, so you can immediately see how your ideas relate to it.
You're now ready to start work on the essay.
The process of research
If a question is worth asking at all (and be generous to your teachers, and assume that their question is!), then it's not going to have the kind of answer that you can just make up on the spot. It will require research.
Research requires both finding things out about the world, and hard thinking.
FreeMind helps you with both aspects of research. FreeMind helps you to capture all the new information you need for your essay, and also to order your thoughts.
FreeMind does this by facilitating:
Taking Notes
Sifting and Organising Your Ideas
Making an outline
When you've made your outline you can
Print your map
Export to your wordprocessor
Make a presentation
Planning an Essay
Brainstorming is a way of trying to geting all your ideas about a topic down on paper as quickly as possible.
The key to successful brainstorming is to let everything come out -- don't worry if it sounds goofy or dumb, just put it down! There'll be plenty of time for editing later.
To brainstorm with FreeMind, you'll need knowledge of two keys, plus your imagination.
Pressing Enter adds another idea at the same level you currently are at.
Pressing Insert adds another idea as a subidea of the one you've currently selected.
(The imagination you'll have to supply yourself!)
Taking Notes
Different people take notes in different ways. Whichever way you take notes, you should find FreeMind helpful.
One good way of using FreeMind is to add one node per book or article you read. Name the node a short version of the article title.
Then add your notes on the article as a node note. To insert a note, go to the View menu, and select "Show Note Window". You can then add your notes below.
The Notes WIndow can get in the way (particularly if you have a small screen). So you may find it helpful to hide it after you've added your note, by selecting "Show Note Window" again from the menu.
Don't forget to take full references for all the quotations you use.
FreeMind can also do some clever things with web links and email addresses.
If you're researching on the web, then FreeMind can automatically link your note to the web page you're writing about.
Make your note, then select ->Insert->Hyperlink (Text Field) from the menu.
A dialog box will appear. Type (or cut and paste) the web address ino the box, and select OK.
Here's an example hyperlink!
You can also make links to files on your own computer. To do this select ->Insert->Hyperlink (File Chooser) from the menu.
To link a node to an email address, select ->Insert->Hyperink (Text Field) from the menu. Type "mailto: " plus the person's email address.
Here's an example email address!
Sifting and organising your ideas
After you've done a bit of brainstorming, and have written all the ideas you can think of, it's time to start sorting your ideas out.
You may well find that you've surprised yourself in the brainstorming process, and that you've come up with ideas that you didn't think you believed. Well done if you've managed to surprise yourself!
The next thing to do is to take a step back and just look at the different ideas you've come up with. What central themes do you notice? Which ideas seem to be more fundamental, and which less important?
After you've looked at your map for a bit, it's time to start rearranging your ideas. You can either rearrage your ideas by dragging and dropping them, or with the cursor keys. (CTRL + UP and CTRL DOWN move an idea up or down; CTRL LEFT and CTRL RIGHT move it left or right)
The first think to do is to move all the ideas together that seem to belong together. Are there duplications? Could some ideas usefully be combined? Could some ideas be usefully split?
To split an idea, select it, type backspace (the editor appears), then select "split" and then okay.
You should carry on sifting and organising till you feel that you know what the main point is that you want to make in the essay.
When you've done this, save a NEW copy of your map. We'll use this to make the outline of the argument for your essay. (It's a good idea to save a copy under a different name before you make major changes -- this way you can always go back.) To do this, go to File, and then Save As on the menu, and call the new one it something like "Essay_Outline v1".
Now you know what your main point is, you can write an outline of the argument of the essay.
The point of producing an outline is to work out how you will argue for your essay's main claim.
The first thing to do is to change the text of the central node to your main claim. (Tip: a quick way to go to the central node is to press Escape)
The next thing to do is to look at the material you've collected, and divide it into the following categories.
Background material you need to understand the main claim.
This will form your introduction.
Reasons in favour of the main claim.
These will form the core of your agrument.
Reasons against the main claim.
These are objections you will need to take into account.
Things which are irrelevant to whether or not the main claim is true.
You should cut these to a separate file.
You should end up with something like this:
Open source software is superior to closed source software.
Introductory material
Define Open Source
Define Closed Source.
Brief History of Linux, and of Free Software Foundation
Arguments in favour
Open Source is More Efficient
Open Source Is More Innovative
Sharing Sotware is Good
Arguments Against
Open Source is Communist
Open Source Destroys the Ability to Make Money Frm Software
Open Source Software Is Hard To Use
Taking account of objections
Now you can be pretty sure that someone who thinks that closed source software is superior to open source software will have already heard of your arguments in favour, and might have some objections or counter-arguments to them.
So you also need to think about the objections someone might have to your arguments in favour of your main point.
For example, many people dispute that open source software is more innovative.
And you also need to think about how you would respond to the arguments against your main point.
Add your responses to these potential objections into your outline.
From Outline to Finished Work
Writing the outline of your essay is the hard part. Once you have a good outline, it's much easier to write a good essay or a good presentation.
You'll probably find it easier to to the actual writing of the essay in your wordprocessor.
Exporting your outline to your Wordprocessor
FreeMind currently exports much better to OpenOffice than to Microsoft Word. So if you don't yet have OpenOffice, it's well worth downloading it (it's free).
But if you don't want to use OpenOffice, you can export your map to HTML, and then load this into Microsoft Word.
Once you've finished your outline, you're ready to export.
You should be aware of the difference that folding makes.
Nodes which are visible will come out as numbered headings, whilst nodes which are hidden come out as bullet points.
So take a minute to fold and unfold the nodes how you want them before you export.
For a normal length essay, you will probably only want two levels of headings showing.
Export to OpenOffice by selecting File, then Export, then As OpenOffice Writer Document from the menu.
Note: FreeMind does not (yet) have a spell checker. So you'll probably want to spell check the document before you do anything else.
Once you've got your outline into OpenOffice, you can write the rest of the essay in your wordprocessor as normal.
Making a presentation
FreeMind also provides a good way of outlining PowerPoint presentations.
You'll need OpenOffice again.
Follow the instructions above to export your outline to OpenOffice.
Once you have the outine in OpenOffice, select (from OpenOffice!) File, then Send to, then AutoAbstract to Presentation.
This automatically creates a PowerPoint presentation from your outline.
I've found that setting "Included Outline Levels" to 2, and "Subpoints per level" to 5 gives the best results.
Things to check before you submit your essay
(This advice doesn't tell you anything about how to use FreeMind, but it may help you get a better mark in your essay!)
Does my essay have a main claim?
Does my main claim provide a full answer the question that I have been asked?
Have I made it obvious what my main claim is?
Do I have an argument for my main claim?
Is my argument for my main claim sound?
Do I have an introduction which provides an overview of the structure of my argument?
What reasons might a reasonable person have for doubting my main claim?
Have I responded to these reasons for doubting my main claim in a convincing way?
Is there any material in my essay which might seem irrelevant to establishing my main point?
Have I fully acknowledged all my sources, and marked all quotations as quotations?
About this map
Version 0.1, Jan 2 2008
James Wilson
Notes on this map
Another way of asking this question is can you sum up in a sentence what the main point is that your essay is making?) If you don't have a main claim (or don't know what your main claim is!), then your essay will not get a good mark. You are assessed on the quality of the argument you put forward for your main claim, and in order to be able to do this we (and you) need to know what your main claim is.
You must be honest with yourself at this point: if you suspect that you haven't fully answered the question, then you must either (a) revise your answer so that you do have a full answer to the question, or (b) provide an argument for why it is that the angle you want to bring to the question is legitimate (for example, explain why it is legitimate to focus on just one aspect of the question).
You should state what your main claim is in at least two places, first in the introduction, and second in the conclusion. (The bits in between should be devoted to arguing for your main claim).
What reasons have you put forward as to why a reasonable (but sceptical) person should accept that your main claim is true? If you don't have any reasons (but merely a gut intuition) then you need to go back and revise, and find some arguments.
To be convincing, you might show that the doubts, while reasonable, are not well founded; or you could make your main claim more specific or nuanced in deference to them.
If there is, then either delete this material, or explain why this material is after all relevant.
If not then you are guilty of plagiarism. This is a serious offence, and you are likely to fail your course.
You should also make sure that the main point you're making in the essay provides a full answer to the question you have been asked, or you will probably be marked down for irrelevance.