Writing an essay: Choosing what to write about exercise

Imagine you are talking with a friend about what to do on a Saturday night. You want to go to the cinema, while your friend wants to go to a restaurant. How would you persuade your friend to do what you want to do?

You would do this by what you say to them. In particular, the reasons you give to support your suggestion.

And it is very similar when writing a good essay. The purpose of an essay is to convince the person reading it to agree with what your opinion is on the topic (or make it difficult for them to disagree with what you are saying). Apart from structuring what you write well and expressing what you write well (the choice of words and sentences you use), one of the most important parts of writing a good essay is choosing what reasons/points you are going to use to support your argument (your opinion on what you are writing the essay on).

In this online exercise, you will learn what you need to do to both quickly and effectively decide what reasons/points to use in any essay that you write.

So now, let's look at what you have to do.

Decide your opinion

The first thing you must do when writing an essay is to decide what your opinion (or what opinion you are going to argue in the essay) is on the topic or question you are writing on. For example, if you were writing an essay on global warming, would you argue it is happening, it isn't happening or that it is unsure.

When you have decided this, you have to start thinking about what reasons/points you can use to support your argument/opinion in the essay. To do this, you need to make of list of all the possible reasons/points you can use. You should not only write down things which support your opinion/argument, but also those which can be used to disagree with it. Doing this is important, because it makes you think about how people can criticise the reasons/points you will make in the essay (but more about that later).

You may find when you are doing this that it is difficult to think of many good things to use to support your opinion/argument you have decided to write the essay on. If this happens, you should change what you are going to argue in the essay. Remember, the main purpose of an essay is not to tell somebody what you believe, but to persuade the person reading it to agree with (or make it difficult for them to disagree with it) with the opinion/argument you've written on the topic in the essay. And to convince/persuade them, you need to use good reasons. If you don't, your essay will fail what it supposed to do.

Choose what reasons you could use

Once you've finally decided what the opinion/argument of your essay is going to be and made a long list of reasons/points to use, you have to decide which of these you are going to use.

The first thing you should do is to remove (cross out) all the reasons from your list which don't support the opinion/argument of your essay. This is easy to do and shouldn't take you more than a couple of minutes.

To show you how easy this is to do, do the below exercise.

Exercise 1

Imagine you have to write an essay on 'Should schools use computers or textbooks for teaching subjects in class?'. The opinion/argument of the essay you are going to write is that schools should use computers for teaching subjects instead of textbooks.

In the below list (on the right) there are 13 reasons that you could use in the essay. You now have to decide which 6 of these reasons you can use to support your opinion/argument in the essay. Move each of these over to the box on the left by dragging and dropping with either your mouse or finger (on touch screen devices).

To check if you are right, press the 'Check answers' button at the bottom of the box.

Please note: This exercise (and the one below it) doesn't work on versions 8 or 7 of the Internet Explorer browser.

The points you can write about in the essay are:

Using computer software is a lot more expensive than textbooks.

Textbooks have been used successfully to teach subjects for hundreds of years.

Computer software helps monitor students progress better. Which makes it easier to correct problems.

Computer software is more difficult for students to use than textbooks.

Using computers is important for the students to find jobs in the future.

Computer software encourages students to learn.

Textbooks encourage students to learn.

Using computer software in classes will improve the students' computer skills.

Using computer software makes it more difficult for teachers to control the class.

Students will misuse the computers and use them for the internet and to talk to their friends.

Using computers all day will damage the eyes of students.

It is more difficult for students to cheat using computer software.

With computer software, students don't have to carry around a lot of textbooks.


Now that you understand how to choose good reasons to use in an essay, practise doing it yourself by coming up with 3 good reasons to use in an essay on 'Is global warming damaging the planet?'.