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Writing Essays

Writing an essay can be daunting, even if it is in your native language. To write it in a whole new language can be intimidating but don’t feel overwhelmed. There are tips and tricks you can use to help navigate your way through the essay writing experience.

Firstly, what is an essay? "Essay" is just a term for writing that shows the author’s opinion on a certain subject. Essays can be academic, editorial, or even funny. When it comes to exam essays, it’s important to know what the markers are looking for to help determine how you should compose your writing.

Different types of writing

There are many different types of writing but for the purposes of this blog, we will look at the common writing types that feature in exams.

  1. Descriptive

  2. Story

  3. Argument

Descriptive A descriptive essay is one in which students are asked to describe:

  • A person

  • A place

  • An object

  • An incident

  • An experience

  • A memory

The objective of descriptive essays is to give readers a vivid picture of what you want to tell them. One of the keys to good descriptive essays is vocabulary.

Compare the following examples:

  1. That night, I walked back home after work and slept immediately.

  2. It was a rainy and windy night. I strolled back home after work, fed up with loneliness and tiredness. My body was aching all over and all I could do was stretch and yawn and finally pass out on my warm and cosy bed.

In the first example, you are only reporting to readers a fact. However, in the second example, you are giving readers a picture of the scene and your emotions.

Example topics: A storm in a summer afternoon; the person I respect the most; my favourite movie; a dragon boat race or Hong Kong during the winter.

Story A story is a passage that has a plot. It is usually presented in a more dramatic way in order to tell readers about a chain of events. Very often, the past tense is used. The key to writing good stories is creativity. The climactic part(s) of the story should be interesting. It will even be better if the ending is one which is out of readers’ expectation. A twist.

Vocabulary, metaphors and perspective will also help you in writing stories. You may add in dialogues in the story to make it more exciting.

Structure is also very important. The following is a good structure that you can follow:

  • Beginning / background

  • Development

  • Twist

  • End

Example topics: An adventure story about space exploration; a story about a spooky old house; a story about your neighbour’s dog; a story about your school picnic or a story about winning a marathon.


An argumentative essay is one which students are asked to comment on a certain topic, and to persuade readers to agree with the view of the writer. The most important tips are:

  • Structure

  • Logic

  • Making two-sided arguments (pros and cons)

When considering structure, divide your essay into the following parts:

  1. Cite your stance

  2. Give reasons to support your views

  3. Raise opponents’ views

  4. Refute their views

  5. Reiterate your stance

Here are some useful phrases for writing an argumentative type essay:

  • First of all, let us look at what…means

  • I believe that it is

  • In my view / opinion

  • In order to support my argument

  • I wish to make the following points

  • It may be useful to illustrate the above argument with the following examples

  • The advantages / pros are

  • I am in favour of

  • There is no doubt

  • To take this point further

  • The disadvantages / cons are

  • People may argue that

  • There is no evidence to suggest that

  • I strongly object to

  • I can hardly agree with

  • The benefits outweigh the drawbacks

  • In addition, / furthermore / moreover

  • Considering it from another perspective

  • Necessary evil

  • Devil’s advocate

  • In comparison

  • As an alternative…

Example topics:

Single-sex schools are better than co-educational schools; students in Hong Kong should be given 12 years of free education, rather than 9 years; should secondary school students engage in more extra-curricular activities or focus more in their academic study; should we be allowed to carry guns in Hong Kong? Or to what extend should the use of the internet be limited by law?

Focus Points

Word Count: It is important to remember that most essays will come with a word limit. If you are asked to write “at least 150 words” then make sure you write at least 150 words. The best thing would be to write about 180 words, at most 200 words. If you are asked to write “not more than 150 words”, then don’t write more than 150 words! Planning: Always plan your essay. Use a mind-map. This will help you to write with strong structure. Checking: Always check your writing after you have finished. Tense; agreement; article; spelling; long sentences. Be sure to always:

  • Read the topic, and write what the topic asks for.

  • Write a plan / use a mind map

  • Use shorter sentence structures whenever possible.

  • Write a conclusion or ending no matter how rushed you are.

  • Leave 5 - 10 minutes to check your work

Make sure you never:

  • Stray away from the main theme.

  • Jump into writing immediately.

  • Write long sentences with lots of commas. This is called a ‘running sentence’ and should be avoided. People will easily lose track of what you want to say.

  • End abruptly without a conclusion. Essays without an ending give an unfinished feeling and will be severely penalised.

  • Move on to the next task without checking.

Enjoy the process

Writing essays can be fun if you keep a cool head, follow these tips and enjoy the process.

If you feel you need more help structuring your essays, we have writing composition courses available. For more information on our courses, please call us at +852 2383 0300 or WhatsApp +852 9298 3538. Good luck!


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