UPSC / IAS Preparation: Improving Essay Writing

Improving Essay Writing
I thought I had written a very good essay last year. Yet, when the marks came, I found out I had got only 80 / 200. Essay, together with GS, had pulled my rank down. So I sat down with my father, spoke to a couple of friends, took everybody’s feedback and concluded that there were 3-4 things I needed to work upon. I tried to improve upon them this year, and thankfully it worked and I got 135 / 250 this time. So in this article, I would just try to list those lessons learnt so that others may take some cues.

Click here for my last year’s essay.

Click here for this year’s essay.

Lesson #1: An essay should be for a general person and not a subject expert
Last year I wrote on the PPP topic which was from my subject area (Economics). So while writing the essay, I put in many higher economics concepts like lemon’s problem, information asymmetry, agent – principle problem. I thought this would give my essay a killer punch. But this didn’t and couldn’t have worked as the persons checking the essay are not economists – they may have other background. So I should have written an essay without the use of any technical concepts and phrases, in simple simple language only. This is what I did this time.

Lesson #2: Points should be covered in sufficient depth
While practicing last year, I used to write in detail about whatever points I was writing. It used to take around 1900 – 2000 words. I used to send my mock essays to my friends for feedback, and a friend wrongly advised me (and I believed him) that I should cut down the length to around 1200 words. I did that in the exam but the result was that I couldn’t cover any of my points in the needed detail. If you look at my past year’s essay, you would find I began a point, wrote one sentence about it and then immediately concluded it. Now I am not saying that 1200 words essays are not good, but just that one should write as much as the proper coverage of points in the essay demands. It may be 1200 or 2000 or 2500, but coverage should be proper. This year I worked on it and covered my points in somewhat greater detail.

Lesson #3: Wide range of points should be covered
Last year, I later realized, I had covered only a narrow range of points and that too from a limited economist’s perspective. I had neglected the social, political, cultural aspects of the problem and as such my essay was not comprehensive. So this year I worked on it and tried to cover S&T issues from as wide angle as possible and as many relevant points as I could think.

Lesson #4: ‘Continuity’ in Essay: Essay Structure
Almost everybody advises us to have continuity between various parts of the essay and make them coherent. Now this is an art and many people are able to accomplish this. But I am not as gifted with arts, so I tried to create at least an ‘appearance’ of continuity this time. I chose a central theme of my essay (that S&T are very important, without them nothing will happen, but they are not the panacea and we need proper policies and administrative framework to reap maximum benefits) and reinforced this theme from the introduction to throughout the essay. For any point I took, be it agriculture or energy or medicine or industry, I kept on reinforcing this point again and again. This gives an impression and also actually lends some continuity to the essay. Second thing I did was to divide my essay into various sections with headings (in bold) for each section and then in the introduction part itself, I mentioned that the essay is divided into following sections and these are the sections to come. All this lends a basic structure to the essay and this basic structure, together with the central theme, provides that needed ‘continuity’ to the essay – at least in the minds of the examiners.

Other things have to be there like a strong opening, use of examples from daily life to drive home a point, good handwriting etc.

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