How to write a good essay?

This article may have to do more particularly with the question: How to write a good UPSC essay?*

Yet, any person who wants to write a good essay will find it useful.

Why is a candidate expected to write essays in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination (CSE)? Why was essay introduced in the UPSC CSE, known as the mother of all written examinations?

As per the report that suggested essays as part of CSE Mains Examination, the candidates writing the examination are expected to possess:

  1. linguistic skill;
  2. capacity for comprehension;
  3. ability for critical analysis;
  4. capacity for integrated thinking;
  5. assimilation of ideas; and
  6. clarity of expression.

These are what UPSC is looking from a candidate and his/her essay- whether he/she possesses these attributes.

Further, in the UPSC CSE (Mains) syllabus for the essay part, it says:

Candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.

This short three-sentences syllabus tells how one should write UPSC essays. Let’s look closely at what the syllabus is saying:

  1. There will be multiple topics.
  2. The candidates are expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay.
  3. The candidates should arrange their ideas in orderly fashion.
  4. Concise writing.
  5. Effective and exact expression.

Now, what is demanded in a UPSC essay can be summed up as follows:

A candidate writing a UPSC essay should possess at least the first set of six qualities and it is desirable that the essays are written in a well-structured manner (more or less in the way as provided in the syllabus).


Introduction, Content, and Conclusion

An essay should include an introduction, the main body/content, and a conclusion. How to write these parts of an essay?

An introduction should give a crux of the whole body. It should be able to tell the reader what he is going to find in the whole essay. An introduction of an essay may be started with suitable quotes or with raising the right questions. Ideally, it should be written in one paragraph.

Writing the main body/content of the essay is all about rich content, arrangement of ideas, and choice of words. Taking cue from what UPSC demands, the main content of the essay should reflect the comprehensive, integrated and critical thinking of the writer. This means, while writing an essay, one should be writing about the subject from various perspectives and one should provide a critical analysis of the topic/subject. One should do so by looking at the subject from political, social, economic, cultural, technological, administrative perspectives. One should be able to assimilate these ideas and express with clarity. The content of the essay should be close to the subject of the essay. The ideas should be arranged in orderly fashion. And, effective and exact expression is very important. And, always keep in mind that the first six set of qualities mentioned in the first section of this article and the UPSC syllabus on essay should be the guiding principles when attempting to write UPSC essays.

The conclusion of an essay is also very important. A conclusion should be visionary, optimistic, practical. It should provide a ray of hope, a positive ending. One should never introduce a new idea here. One may take a position on the issue in the conclusion. However, it should always be balanced and optimistic.

Other than the above central requirements of an essay, one must also keep in mind few general things while writing an essay. One should always use formal languages and avoid unparliamentary languages. Use titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms. etc. while mentioning the names of prominent figures. It is also advisable that one should avoid using confusing languages. Instead, use simple, easily understandable language. Make the essay easily readable and understandable. Also, the tone and temper of the language of the essay should not be radical or extreme.

A person writing UPSC essays should keep in his/her mind the Constitution of India, the preamble, human rights, ideals of freedom struggle such as democracy, equality, justice, liberty etc. It should be clearly reflected in the essay that the person writing it has empathy for the downtrodden and marginalised sections of the society. Being pro-poor, pro-women, pro-children, pro-differently-able etc. are signs of having empathy!

Make the essay connected from one paragraph to the immediate following paragraph. Each paragraph should ideally have one idea. By the end of one idea, build the background for the next idea. There should be a flow in the essay and that’s what UPSC means by the arrangement of ideas in an orderly fashion.

You may or may not use subheadings; it’s clearly upto you.

Finally, few things one should be familiar with or do to produce a good essay for UPSC:

  • Constitution of India (the preamble being very important);
  • Ideals of India’s freedom struggle;
  • Human Rights;
  • Writings of prominent personalities such as Amartya Sen, Abdul Kalam etc.
  • Highlights of Global Reports such as World Development Report, World Happiness Report etc.
  • Keep updated with current socio-economic and political developments.
  • Know some quotes of say Buddha, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.
  • Wide reading of any area of literature is always useful.
  • Practice previous years’s questions.

*I am writing this article after watching a VisionIAS workshop on the art of essay writing. It’s very helpful and you can watch it too on YouTube.

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