Writing an Essay (4): Style



If you have followed the other sections on Writing an Essay, and the section on  Common Mistakes: Style, you should have a reasonable idea of what is expected. If not, please study those sections after reading this page.

The main thing to grasp about writing an essay is that it is an exercise in formal, objective writing. It is not like a letter to a friend or like a conversation that has simply been written down instead of being spoken.

However, many students make the mistake of thinking that 'formal' means that you have to use a lot of difficult language. Let me repeat here that good essay-writing style is simple, clear and logical.

The problem students often have is in finding the right balance. What type of language is 'formal' and 'objective', and at the same time 'simple' and 'clear'? And what is 'logical' language?

The wisest thing to do would be to read some examples, but this can lead to confusion; professional writers often break the rules that students would do best to follow. Even so, students who read widely are, in general, more likely to write well.

All I can really do here is give some examples of the kinds of  expressions which you may find useful:

Introduction (Formal essay style avoids using 'I', and prefers passives or other impersonal forms. However, many students find such forms difficult to use and, since the use of 'I' is not absolutely wrong, students may find it convenient to use 'I' from time to time, especially in the introduction.)

The purpose of this essay is to enquire into...
In this essay I will show...
This essay sets out to establish...
I would like to discuss this subject from [four] basic points of view
There are [four] main points I would like to discuss
The essay is divided into [four] main sections
First, I would like to present an analysis of...
The opening section deals with...
Secondly, there is a section on...
Then I would like to...
Next, I give some suggestions...
The question of...is debated in the third section
Finally, I will examine...

Main Body (This is where 'logical' language is most important, to give a sense of shape and direction to your work. The phrases to be especially careful with are the once that link, or connect, the ideas you are presenting. What follows is basically a link of 'connectors'. They all have their own grammar and special uses, so please try to use them carefully!)

so/therefore/for this reason/because of this/in these circumstances
because of/due to/as a result of
but/however/on the other hand/nevertheless/even so
in spite of/although/even though
in a sense/up to a point/from one point of view
if/depending on/given that/even if
firstly/secondly/thirdly/next/after that/finally
in addition/also/furthermore
to make things worse/to add to the problem/this was complicated by
rather than/in preference to
whatever/in any case/whether or not
while/meanwhile/along with/at the same time
by comparison/by contrast

Conclusion (After formally presenting the different viewpoints, avoiding 'I' and trying to be as objective as possible, show your conclusions, using 'I' if you wish.)

to sum up
as we have seen
as I have shown
in conclusion
from the foregoing it can be concluded that
it seems to me that

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of expressions that can be used in an essay; I have chosen these because they are phrases which are typically used to highlight your thought processes, to signal to the reader information such as, 'now I am adding to a list of examples', or 'now I am changing the topic', or 'now I am going to say something which disagrees with what went before'.

As you progress in your academic writing you will learn how to signal your thought processes more subtly. An expression like "The purpose of this essay is to..." is a rather basic way of indicating your thesis statement but, at least in the learning stages, it is useful to use expressions like these to signal clearly to the reader what you are doing.

See Common Mistakes: Style for a list of things to avoid in your written work, and make sure that you have thoroughly studied the other sections of Writing an Essay.

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