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.


69 thoughts on “UPSC / IAS Preparation: Improving Essay Writing”

  1. Hi gaurav thanx for this wonderful article…i am a fellow upsc aspirant…it will be really helpful if u could tell me the books and strategy used by you for economics optional …thanks in advance :)


  2. Very Informative!! It gives an idea what upsc is looking for! The most interesting part of this article was “…..then in the introduction part itself, I mentioned that the essay is divided into following sections and these are the sections to come….” Have never thought of writing essays in such a manner.


  3. Hi Gaurav.. Thank you for this article. I am looking for improving my writing skills to increase my marks next. This and other articles are very helpful. I could identify some of the mistakes I did this time. Thaks a lot!!!


  4. Your blog is proving to be a life saver for us aspirants.Your take on caochings is exactly how you feel.The mistakes of dis-continuity in essays has been woth me also and I am working on it.I read your article about GS also.

    Could you please tell me about how important you feel the NCERT books are for prelims as well as mains?


    1. As , Heard from toppers’s talk i found that , NCERT Texts are , Indispensible . This is because they provide a strong Foundation and even good knowledge . . .
      For Prelims ===== 6th-9th NCERTS
      For Mains ===== 10th – 12th NCERTS


  5. Thanks gaurav. I missed selection bcoz of poor essay score. Only 57 marks. Same sc. N tech wala.this year I hv taken coaching from vajiram. Now dey hv told us to approach d essay from a completely different perspective. I.e. dey ask us to write thesis statements. I.e. form 5 6 key points n dey shld bcm ur thesis which u shld elaborate in d essay… But wt puzzles me is dat d teacher told us not to include too many points in essayhe said dnt write each n everything like we normally do… He said essay shld hv a good discussion on few key points only like mk 5 6 key points n discuss each of dem in 200 words each. Essay he said is limited by its topic. Its not an aggregate of points dat matters..its d discussion on even few key points dat matters…I m not sure man about dus strategy…usually ppl tk d route dat u took…discuss as many angles or points as possiblt…hw shld I go about it…I cnt mess my essay dis time….also he has asked us to quote extensively from newspapers…lines of thinkers or reports or articles in hindu etc…is dis all needed?..isnt essay supppsed to be a simple down to earth one?…he alsobsaid dnt write 2000 wrds…just write 1200 to 1500 words but write quality stuff powerful essay…I dnt knw hw to approach d essay.
    plz guide me gaurav.


    1. Hi I also took the coaching for Essay from Vajiram and had the same doubt. I too feel that 1200 words suggested was quite less as either you have to compromise on number of points or on the length of a point. While giving the tests you must have noticed that after doing rough work etc. there is ample time to write an essay of about 2000 words (I completed all 3 tests within 2.5 hours (~1200 words)).
      Also there are few essays uploaded of Nitin Singhania and other toppers on visionias website and after going through them I found out that they covered maximum number of points and the language used was day to day English instead of quoting extensively from Hindu, Andre Beteille, Rajeev Bhargava etc.
      It’s difficult to say actually which approach is correct but seeing Gaurav Sir advice I would stick to it.


      1. yes man..i completed my first essay in 2 hours man…wrote only 1200 words n i got 175 marks…i was shocked…vajiram wala style pta nhi kaam ayega ke nhi…what i will do is that i will join test series for essay at visionias this year..unse clarify krunga…jo feedback milega dat will be folllowed…waise generally gaurav ki approach hi follow krni chahie…essay has to imclude multiple perspectivs…vajiram approach is 2 limited to get a good score…how can we limit an essay like SC n Tech to just 5-6 basic points?…


  6. Hi Gaurav…I have history as my optional and i have no background in it(took it out of interest only)..if you can suggest what should I read for history optional(as I am doing no coaching for it) it would be of great help..ty


  7. The UPSC essay challenge is that if Gaurav bhai writes again he can get for the same essay anywhere between 40-140. My role model Srivatsa krishna, the number one among number ones- got the shock of his life in essay. Please do not follow any one for essay or for that matter any subject blindly.


  8. First of all, congrats for the achievement. Very much thankful for providing us insights into answer writing for upsc. Particularly with regard to essay, the way you compared the previous year essay and this year essay gives us clear picture and provides greater understanding. One request Gaurav, If possible, could you please write complete essay you wrote this year . In the current post, you gave us brief outline.


  9. Awesome. I haven’t attempted mains yet… But my essays usually hit the same way you wrote except the headings and I felt very comfortable in this way. A few people criticized me of writing that way and all this time I was thinking I was very wrong. Thanks a lot for clearing some major doubts :) God bless you !


  10. I really surprised k coaching wale kya kya kh skte h …..apne apne experience share kiye h si dat hum isse sikh ske aur ye bat sbse achi h


  11. Sir i have downloaded evernote and webclipper…but it is not pasting the highlighted text on webpages directly to a file in notebook. i have to give command again and again. and even after giving command it is getting copied to different files. plz help


    1. Aapke pts acche hain magar 1. Aapki dm wale para k pehle opening acchi nahi hai aur impression deti hai ki aap topic samajh hi nahi paaye.. 2. Aapke essay mein continuity nahi hai aap kuch bhi point kahin bhi likh rahe hain… Essay ko padhne mein flow baar baar toot raha hai aur essay padhna ek sirdard banta jaa raha hai



  12. सर, नमस्कार
    आपसे निवेदन है कि अगर आप एक बड़े भाई की तरह मार्गदर्शन और एक मित्र की तरह मेरे निबन्ध का मूल्यांकन कर सके तो मुझे बेहद प्रसन्नता होगी।

    कृपया आपका ईमेल id शेयर करे, ताकि आपको अपना निबन्ध भेज सकूँ।


  13. sir, my optional subject is philosophy. i don’t have proper notes regarding that.if any body have the notes can give me and help me sir.


  14. 1.sir do u know some good ways in which intro para of essay can b written? (ex. define the topic, or ask some questions, or give historical perspective, or contemplate as a philosopher, etc.)?
    2. sir an essay teacher told my friend that in 2nd last para of essay u shud sum up all the facts presented by u. n in conclusion para u shud write some futuristic note. do u agree? how else can u do conclusion? thanx.


  15. Thanks Gaurav for providing this.

    can you provide your answer sheet for essay writing, if u are going to get it. I just want to correlate with u explanation for clear understanding.


  16. Dear Sir,
    I am an aspirant just graduated in electrical engg. I had written an essay for intra college competition but couldn’t succeed.I am uploading that essay. Will please review it and give some suggestions. I am not so confident in essay writing and repeated failures in the college competitions has left me weaker.
    Also, after going through your essay i realised the need for sub-headings.please suggest me.


    “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. ”
    —Mark Twain

    India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich heritage. Yet, the tag of a developing nation has been ascribed to our nation for quite a long period despite the natural and human resources available.
    In my vision, the India I would live in the next decade would be a developed nation. Unlike the discreet development visible now, India would bloom to witness inclusive development regardless of differences in gender, caste, region, religion, community, age, economic and social conditions etc.
    As a fruit grows, ripens, and then subsequently falls to the ground and decays whence a new tree grows maybe mightier than the previous, our India, popular as ‘ The Golden Bird ’ was once the sweetest fruit in the world orchard having witnessed the earliest civilization, our advancement in the domains of medicine, science, architecture, wealth, religion, culture, heritage etc. India, in her last 1000 years history, never invaded another nation but has been invaded innumerable times by the Arabs, Turks, Afghans; ruled by Mughals; colonized by British, Portuguese and French colonial powers which has reduced her to the status of a developing nation. Since the attainment of our independence, we are struggling on our march to progress. Despite the current economic meltdown, India is slowly (current growth rate 4.8%) but nevertheless steadily progressing to shine and bloom again like the new mighty tree.

    I envision India in 2025 as possessing holistic development after accomplishing changes in various fronts. Reverencing the largest democracy, I would like to start my idea of future India with the political system. In the next decade, the over one billion people of India would be satisfied with the administration of the government. Unlike now, people will have utmost faith and reverence in the government and the functioning of the system. The elected representatives would be clean and not tainted and obliged to work for their respective constituencies with integrity. Hooliganism and clout in the elections would be a shameful matter of the past. Elections would be fought with dignity without the use of profanities or exhibition of money as prevalent now. Not only the wealthy and the powerful but man or woman alike from a humble background would also be a statesman. Bills wont keep pending in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for years. After a law is made, its execution would be put into effect quickly and efficiently all over the country. Justice would be provided quickly and cheaply to all those who seek it. Cases of corruption and nepotism would be negligible. The voice of a common man would be heard empathetically. Attempts at divisive politics will be absolutely futile and will not be tolerated at all.

    Next I envision India as the Food Bowl of the world where our farmers would act more like entrepreneurs than mere peasants. Ours is an agriculture prominent nation blessed with the finest arable land and over 60% of our population is indulged in agriculture as their prime occupation. With the proper harnessing of technology, using commercial organic farming techniques, using High Yielding Variety of seeds, planning of scientific fertilizer program, construction of canals, tube wells and ponds; construction and maintenance of automated storage facility and proper marketing etc., we can realize another Green Revolution in our nation. Agricultural produce, both domestic and cash crops, would increase manifolds and the excess food piled up in government run granaries would be distributed among the less privileged sections for free. Proper execution of the loan waiver programs and financial assistance would be there to reach out to our farmers in need and would put an end to alarmingly rising number of farmer suicides.

    Next in the field of manufacturing and technology, India would witness a boom. India is blessed with a plethora of natural minerals like Gold (in Karnataka),Bauxite, Manganese, Limestone and Iron ore (mainly in Jharkhand, Odisha , Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan); Coal(mainly in Jharkhand, Assam, Meghalaya and even in Arunachal Pradesh in small quantity) Natural Gas, Crude oil(in Bombay, Assam) etc. In the next decade I envision India to manufacture and export finished goods to the world market having higher value and not simply raw minerals. We would stop depending on sub-branded foreign goods and combined with human resources and proper technology we would present to the world goods reflecting brand INDIA. Energy farms would be developed to harness the untapped hydro, solar and wind energy present in abundance in our country and would eliminate the problem of electricity shortage and every household will have access to cheap and reliable electricity and the surplus would be exported to the neighboring countries for profit. With advancement in IT services, millions of Indians would get a living and the standard of living of the people would rise. Rather then being the largest importer of arms and warfare machineries, we would be in turn exporting warfare machineries made in India to the world. The rural population would get the right value and the right market, which would make their standard of living at par with the urban population.

    “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”
    —Albert Einstein

    In the field of education and healthcare, massive development would be attained. A number of new institutions would be set up and old institutions would be upgraded to attain the ideal 1:15 teacher – student ratio and 1:1000 doctors – population ratio. Top notch educational facilities right from primary to research level would be provided and instead of our brains leaving abroad for higher studies, we would have an influx of foreign students flocking in to our nation and thus reviving the era of Takshashila and Nalanda.
    Every village of the 6,00,000+ villages in India will all have at least a primary school and a healthcare institute. Government would set up sufficient number of engineering and medical colleges in every state. Sale of engineering/ medical seats would be curbed and criminalized.
    The number of school drop- outs and thus the number of child labours would reach a minimum. Utterly low cost and compulsory education and treatment would be provided to the not so affluent section of the society. The government hospitals would be well equipped and cases of medical negligence would go down immensely. Government will provide massive subsidies for medicines and medicines would available for very low cost making them accessible to the poor. Clean and nutritious food will be provided in the mid- day school programs and food poisoning cases from mid –day meal programs would be a bolt of the past. Free education up to secondary level would be provided to all the girl students and their number in educational institutions would rise exponentially and thus would pave a way for their empowerment in the society. Illiteracy would be eradicated to a major extent and thus would ensure awareness and social security to the massive population. Low-cost high-speed Internet services would be provided to the masses by the government.

    Next, I envision a well-connected India, which would be clean, green and absolutely litter free. Deforestation, haphazard mining, unplanned garbage dumping would be checked. India would largely become a litter free zone as the municipalities would properly collect the public wastes and organic wastes would be used to harness biogas energy and the inorganic ones would be recycled for future use. Cities would be planned meticulously and the drainage systems would be constructed accordingly. Cases of water logging would not be there, especially in the rainy season. Trees would be planted along roadside at regular intervals. Solar cookers would be distributed for free to the village and forest dwellers to reduce their dependence on firewood. Proper treatment of sewage and industrial effluent would be taken up before releasing them directly into water resources. Also, every village, every tehsil and every district would be connected to the rest of the nation and indirectly to the rest of the world via proper road links and communication cables and towers.

    Last and most importantly in the next decade I envision a utopian India where the people as human beings will be developed in the true humanitarian sense. Our culture is very rich in morality and ethics, but these days these are not reflected our practices. A plethora of cases of heinous crimes like rapes, murders, kidnapping, acid attacks, dowry, human trafficking, domestic violence and robbery etc. fill the news headlines on a daily or even alarmingly hourly basis.

    Our culture teaches us the concept of “Atithi Devon Bhaawa” i.e. a guest is equal in respect to god, but even foreign tourists are getting kidnapped, raped and robbed.
    Our culture teaches us “Yatra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devtaa” i.e. god resides there, where woman are worshipped but in present India, a woman is killed for dowry in every 20 minutes, a case of rape is reported every 22 minutes while many cases go unreported specially marital rapes. Even after the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case and the nationwide protests that followed, rape cases have been on the rise. Had the government been not so incompetent and had the convicted been executed, this would not had been the state today.

    The need of the hour is stern and harsh punishment for such heinous crimes, which would send a clear message to the people having criminal mindsets of consequences that would follow, if they dare.

    In 2025, I envision a much safer India for men and women alike. I dream of an India, where taboos like honour killing, female foeticide, child marriages and dowry wont exist. I dream of an India where the statement for rape would be equal as that for murder and marital rapes will be criminalized which is appalling not at present and the mindset of entitlement and entertainment towards women would change.

    Apart from this, on the social front, I dream of a truly secular India where the people are broad-minded in terms of tolerance to others religion and beliefs. The incidents of religious disputes and riots have become a thing of past. The shameful caste system has been abolished to a large extent and there exists peace and harmony between the people of my country.In the next decade, the civilized Indians won’t litter their own country and slum dwellers would be legally relocated. Clean water would flow in the rivers of our nation ironically considered holy in our culture.

    In the next decade, the people of my country would be aware and have realized that population explosion is the root cause of misery and have adopted the concept of “We two, ours two”; and thus the he gap between the rich and poor has been filled to some extent.

    The India as I see in the next decade would be a utopian India, which would be safer, brighter, cleaner and definitely better than the present. India and Indians will be revered worldwide for their true essence of unity in diversity and broad mindset arising from the adaptation of their rich culture. With the hard work of the present generations and with the blessings of our elders, in the next decade India would have joined the ranks of developed nations of the world, ready to launch another Mangalyan farther into the sky.

    Jai Hind !

    “The future depends on what we do in the present” – Mahatma Gandhi


  17. Sir m a working professional as an automatuon engineer .. i work fir around 8 to 10 hours and i also want to clear d exam of ias i ve done b.e. so i want ask u is dre any coaching necesary or i ve to refer standard books for preparation i cn giv nly 6 to 7 hrs is it necesary coz m financially weak i cant leave my job.. suggest sumthing sir hw wud i clear dis..


  18. 1. The national income of a country for a given period is equal to the

    a) total value of goods and services produced by the nationals
    b) sum of total consumption and investment expenditure
    c) sum of personal income of all individuals
    d) money value of final goods and services produced

    Gauravji, as per UPSC Official key the answer is d.

    I am not able to understand why the answer is d and not a.

    It will be very nice of you if you can explain why the answer is d and not a.


    1. Sam ji because a includes intermediate goods as well. Unko include karne se double counting ho jaayegi. Suppose Aap saare wheat se bread banate hain. Bread is final product. Bread ki value mein wheat ki value already included Hai. Yadi AB Aap wheat KO bhi GDP mein include karenge to double counting ho gayi na n GDP overstatement.


        1. Dear sir, after reading your details and achievement i felt proud.I am also serving in defense services, can you guide me to attempt for IAS AND RAS. i show your interview in tv. when you gets top rank in ias so why you choose ips.


  19. Hey Gaurav You are doing a tremendous job.I m an cse aspirant hopefully I will clear the prelims 2014 .I need a advice regarding essay like can we write (we ,us in the essay).for example take this S&T(panacea) essay can we write like this ……..(FOR reaching any conclusion we have to analyze all the points from historical prespective to current perspective)


  20. Dear sir, after reading your details and achievement i felt proud.I am also serving in defense services, can you guide me to attempt for IAS AND RAS. i show your interview in tv. when you gets top rank in ias so why you choose ips.


    1. Good mrning sir ; sir iam studing b pharma but I am intrested in ias given instructions hou to crack this exam and guidence which books I read


  21. Pingback: Essays | lohanjyu
  22. Pingback: Mains 2015

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