How to write a good essay?

The very name of the literary form hints at its charm and pitfalls. An essay from the French essai, i.e. an attempt or test, is a form made famous during the late Renaissance and the later Enlightenment. Exceptional philosophers and scientists composed essays as the highest form of intellectual exercise. At a time when the idea of an individual spirit and reason independently exploring the world around was spreading, people such as the French politician and writer Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon (1561–1626) or the Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián (1601 –1658) resorted to the essay to express their ideas and subject them to the critical test of opposing views.

This is where the greatest power of the essay lies – the expression of one’s own opinion and its honest testing in the competition of differing or opposing opinions. To some extent, this is also one of the few fundamental things that unites the different forms of essays that have evolved in different countries and institutions over the last five centuries. English essay, French essay, Japanese zuihitsu, American essay, professional essay… However, for the purposes of the CEMACH competition, you will create a classic essay.


The basic structure of an essay consists of three parts – introduction, main body and conclusion. In a simplified way, the structure can be imagined as two funnels connected in the narrower part by a tube. In the introduction, the theme of the work is explained, i.e. from a general level it goes to a more specific one, which is further developed in the main part. This ultimately results in a conclusion that summarizes the work and brings it back to the general level. An example would be an essay arguing that the original Star Wars trilogy had a major influence on the development of filmmaking. In the introduction, the author explains why, within the framework of the cinematography of the 1970s and 1980s, he was particularly interested in Star Wars and in what ways they specifically influenced his later work, in the main part of the work he presents arguments for his claims and argues with critical opinions, and in the end he summarizes everything with an emphasis on the general effects of Star Wars on contemporary filmmaking.

The title and introduction have three main functions: to explain the choice of topic, to present the main argument of the essay, and to engage. It is necessary not only to choose an attractive topic, but also to interest the reader in style and content so that he has a reason to spend the following moments reading the submitted essay. From the general to the specific – why I chose the topic, what I will deal with next, what is my main argument. The thesis, or the main idea of the work, is often the last sentence of the introduction.

The main body is the actual body of the essay. Here, the author presents individual arguments and evidence for his claim defined in the introductory thesis. This includes examples, similes and metaphors. At the same time, he argues here with opposing opinions and proves – if necessary – their error. Logically, this part is the most extensive.

The conclusion, in our case probably a paragraph or two, is the last and therefore the key part of the essay. Here the initial thesis is summarized as correct and its validity is often generalized. It is possible to offer advice or a probable outlook for the future (“So I believe that power plants using sea currents are effective not only for the Venice area but also for other coastal areas with similar conditions. The next decade will probably witness their spread all over the world.”)

And one more note. I highly recommend coming up with a name for these three parts of the essay other than the introduction, body, and conclusion. The title, of course, must indicate which part is which, but an original so-called intertitle will definitely make the reader more happy.

Before you start writing

Don’t be afraid of the essay. Don’t be put off by the famous names that have tried to get to the bottom of things with his help, or by their popularity in academic or literary circles. Although the essay has its given rules, it is very liberal in terms of styles, arguments and literary devices.

Before you sit down at your desk or computer, reach for classic tools in the form of a pen, pen or pencil and a sheet of paper. Write down the topics that come to your mind. Do a little brainstorming, write, whatever you can think of. Choosing the right topic that will interest you and has a chance to interest readers as well (there is nothing easier than testing the attractiveness of the topic on parents and friends) is the key to success. Why write about racing cars when I’m interested in nature? The magic of passionate (and informed) writing works well for readers, too.

Now it’s time to go to the library or search the Internet. You will probably find dozens, many thousands of pages of text on each topic. But beware of sources on the Internet, anyone can publish their text, but their credibility can be at stake. Books or quality magazines (for the purpose of our topic, for example National Geographic) are more reliable in this regard.

Think about what comes to mind about your chosen topic. The purpose is to narrow down the topic as much as possible. It’s time for another brainstorm. Arguing that flowers are beautiful is not an essay topic. Arguing that orchids, with their magical flower shapes and various intoxicating scents, are the most beautiful is already possible. When you have chosen a topic and formulated your thesis, try it on someone. Is he interested in the argument, does he find it controversial, does he want to know more? Then you have the right thesis!

Own creation – let’s do it!

Everyone has a different way of writing. Someone sits down to write and suddenly writes the entire text, to which he returns later and “cuts” it into the final perfect form. Another writes in stages, because he needs to think carefully about each argument, or find additional information. After years of journalistic practice and writing hundreds of extensive texts, I warmly recommend that you first download enough information sources, or print them out and annotate them while reading, and only then start writing. Of course, with the option to return to the resources for more information at any time.

You have 2,500 to 5,000 characters per essay, i.e. with a standard page of 1,800 characters (including spaces), one and a half to less than three pages of text. That’s not much for an argument-packed and engagingly written text. Therefore, plan well when writing which parts you will give how much space. In general, with such a scope, the introduction and conclusion should not be longer than two, or at most three, paragraphs. The rest is reliably consumed by the main part.

Once you reach the halfway mark, which is about one and one and a half pages, start thinking about moving towards the conclusion. Believe me, shortening a well-written text of your own, which did not fit into the given scope, hurts like cutting off your own limbs. You can avoid this by carefully monitoring the length of the text. In short, once you’re halfway through, it’s time to think about the end.

Styles or how to write it?

There is no one right way to write an essay. The style can be serious-academic, playfully literary, or completely experimental. It’s up to you. Try to write engagingly, smartly, empathetically. When you get it right, you’ll win the reader (and the jury) over to your side. It is true, understandably, that style alone, even if perfect, cannot save a text without good content. Nor that a well-chosen topic written in a stale or boring style will be successful.

Write in the 1st person I-form because the essay is very personal (“I have a strong connection to the cartoon field because…”). It will allow you to have a more intimate, honest statement. Write in the 3rd person Er-form because it is more credible, more academic. (“As is well known, dog lovers tend to…”). It will allow you to present your arguments more seriously. Both are correct, both have their advantages.

The flow of the text is key. Connect the individual paragraphs well. Czech provides us with a rich selection of tools for creating fluent text. Divide the essay into individual paragraphs – monotonous text on the whole page will tire the reader – but always build on the previous one. An essay is like a necklace composed of large beads of individual paragraphs, strung on a single thread of the author’s narrative.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, you might end up with a different conclusion than you expected. But this only proves that you were sincere in your arguments. There is nothing easier than adjusting the main thesis in the introduction.

After all, the introduction is usually written first (although this is not a binding rule either – many authors set their thesis at the beginning, but write the introduction last), but it is usually edited last.

When you finish writing (the first time)

The key is to eliminate grammar and punctuation errors, typos, and other flaws that will annoy and distract readers (and cost you valuable points in this contest). Read your first “rough” text in the comfort of a chair or couch with a red pen in hand. Cross out (preferably all) errors, mark faulty passages, underline unconvincing arguments, check for continuity and good flow of the text.

Sit at the table and correct the shortcomings. Now, according to classic English university tradition, it’s time for second eyes. Don’t give up on this opportunity, you entered the contest with the goal of winning. And the second eyes of a trial reader will help you spot errors that you might not have noticed (Why are you saying this here? There’s a typo here! Attention, there’s another error here. Are you serious?!).

Go back to the table and correct the text again. It should be fine now. Anyway, read it again. Without mistakes? Then it’s perfect!

Strict rules

With increasing demands for quality student work and intellectual property protection, zero tolerance for plagiarism came to Central Europe as well. It is completely inadmissible to copy (that is, to steal the smallest part of someone else’s work)! It is not only against the rules of this competition, but also against all the rules of academic (and human) decency. Especially in an essay that is meant to demonstrate your capacity for independent and distinctive judgment.

Correct work with resources is also part of the assessment. So, if you use, for example, a fact or a set of facts (such as population, data on economic production, etc.), you need to be able to cite it correctly. There is a precisely defined state standard for these purposes. I recommend not using footnotes or references (for such a short text, they will unnecessarily disrupt the flow of the main text), but place them on a separate sheet added to the essay, which will not count towards the total length of the text (and thus will not take up your limited space).

Here are the correct citation formats for each type of source (use both italics and capitals where appropriate):

A)     Quote from the book:

Surname, name. Title of the book. Edition. Place of publication: Publisher’s name, year of publication. Number of pages.

Example: KOSEK, Jiří. Html – tvorba dokonalých stránek: podrobný průvodce. 1. vyd. Praha : Grada, 1998. 291 s.

B)     Journal citation:

Surname, name. The name of the article. Name of the magazine, year of publication, volume, issue, pages from-to.

Example: NOVOTNÝ, Martin. Přistání na Měsíci 1969. National Geographis, 2010, III.ročník, str. 15 – 18.

C)     Internet source citation:

SURNAME, First name (if specified). Page name [online]. Date of publication, date of last revision [cited on]. .

Example: DAVIS, John. Středomořská turistika [online]. 2010, poslední revize 12. 4. 2011 [citováno 27.11. 2011]. <>.

Writing is fun

And that’s really all. We mean, almost. Just two final pieces of advice.

The first one: you’re on your own in this competition. Only five people can win in each category. Talk to your friends about your essay, of course, but don’t forget that in the final assessment, one paper at a time will be discussed and one of the key criteria is originality.

And the second: although you have a lot of studying at school, a lot of friends, sports and other interests, you decided to participate in this competition. Think about it when you feel like putting off writing for another time. A good essay requires time, focus and calmness. Don’t throw away the chance to win just because of cinema, TV or the Internet and postponing your creation to the last minute.