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Strategy for Essay Writing

The essay paper (200 marks) in the civil services main examination is crucial in determining the final outcome/ selection and ranking. It is critical because it is a compulsory paper and its score is incorporated in computing the total. It is decisive because there is no specialisation in an essay and so no aspirant cannot claim expertise, unlike optional subjects. 

Finally, an essay is a paper, which does not have a reservoir of definitive information as in the case of general studies. All this constitutes a challenge. It is vital to understand that an essay is a reflection of the personality - ideas, views, analysis, assessments and inferences, values, attitude, aptitude, orientation and communication (written) abilities, all the attributes that are wanted by UPSC in an aspirant. 

An essay is considered a complete composition. The essentials of essay writing would be the format (framework, structure), information (content, substance), language (expression, presentation), and logic (analysis and information). 

The conventional design of looking at essay writing in terms of the introduction, body and conclusion is only the format. Although, this is fundamental to essay writing, the concept of an essay is quite intricate. An essay is expected to be a topical text that is self-explanatory and comprehensive, concise, composite and unambiguous, informative and logical. 

For every effective composition one should ideally begin with clarifying the purpose of the composition to oneself. This is true about all written and spoken communication. It's best that this principle be applied to essay writing. Although, the question cues that are recommended at this point may appear archaic, they are useful and often overlooked. At every critical juncture, while writing a topical text all applicable queries must be asked to oneself about the issue in question, e.g. who, what, where, when, why, how? These questions would obtain answers that would make the text organised and accurate and also ensure that no aspect has been omitted. Proficiency in applying this principle, i.e. the appropriate choice of questions, will come with extensive practise, periodic evaluation and critical analysis. 

The format comprises:

  • An impact-oriented thematic introduction containing the core conceptual scheme, the defining criteria, the central idea, etc.
  • A series of paragraphs containing arguments based on information, analysis and systematic inter-connectivity
  • An overall impressive synoptic presentation or an effective conclusion or a final inference.

The introduction is the opening part of the essay and should be confined to a paragraph, especially since, unlike a book; the introduction of an essay is not captioned. The introductory paragraph is expected to introduce the topic, and wherever necessary, explain the central theme or idea, basic or core concepts, and definitional criteria. The introduction should arouse interest and generate curiosity in the mind of the reader, be it an examiner. 

The main text of an essay, after the introductory part is over, essentially is a systematic organisation of information based on a consistent methodology. It deals with the topic and related issues to be addressed, the correlation of facts, figures, ideas, views, concepts; an in-depth, systematic, coherent analysis based on the topic leading to logical inferences; as well as making (if it is required) plausible projections and providing with (if necessary) viable solutions. The text of the composition must develop, support and explain the main ideas stated in your introduction or thesis paragraph. 

As the text draws close to the conclusion, the essay should have reached the stage of 'critical mass', a sort of a climax. The conclusion, a summary, should express the essence of the essay. It should not contain any fresh evidence, facts or figures. 

What to do?

For long-term preparation be regular with any two national newspapers. I would recommend THE HINDU & THE TIMES OF INDIA. The Hindu gives you simple & effective writing style while TOI gives u stylish English & increases your vocabulary. Both are needed to write a good Essay.

Read 2-3 hours every day. Specially focus on the Editorials & other Analytical & Critical articles. Say in Hindu focus on Magazine, Book Review, Literary Review, Business Review, Open Page, 2 page OP-ED Page etc & in The Times of India focus on its Editorial Page. Whenever you encounter a DIFFICULT PHRASE, EDIOM, PART OF SPEECH etc just see the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary or Chambers Dictionary & in a Diary note down that word, its meaning, its usage in sentence etc. This MUST be done within 1-2 minutes. Don’t keep it pending.

Or else one word is lost from your vocabulary. By doing this your VOCABULARY will increase & you will know HOW TO USE THAT WORD IN A DIFFERENT CONTEXT. This is a gradual & continuous process and it will take 12-18 months to make your vocabulary very strong & have command over the language & expressive power.

In addition to newspapers read as many articles from GOOD MAGAZINES as possible. The following magazines can be referred to.

a.       FRONTLINE (Must)
b.      THE ECONOMIC & POLITICAL WEEKLY (Must)
c.       MAINSTREAM (Optional)
d.      WORLD FOCUS (Optional)
e.      THE ECONOMIST (Optional)
f.        TIME or LIFE (If you have access to a good library)

I am not saying that you should try to finish all these magazines in one month. But try to read as many HIGH QUALITY ARTICLES as possible. This will increase the RANGE & VARIETY of your thinking & will make you knowledgeable about the happenings around the world & different streams of thought. (For Example: - What is “Stream of Consciousness”? What is “Theatre of Absurd”? What is “Objective Correlative” in T S Eliot’s poems? What is The Revival Movement? Etc)

Jot down POWERFUL & EFFECTIVE sentences that you come across in a Diary. Any Quotations or Important Sentences said by Intellectuals like Amartya Sen, Manmohan Singh, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Bertrand Russell, Arundhati Roy etc should be noted down.

Revise your Diary in free time many times so that you can remember these quotations, important words, sentences etc & use them at relevant places in your Essay in Mains Exam.

Note: Apart from these things read a lot of NOVELS, POEMS, PLAYS, and SHORT STORIES etc...

I am giving a list of some of the books that I read. You can pick up some of them …

  • R K NARAYAN’S NOVELS (SWAMI & FRIENDS,THE ENGLISH TEACHER,THE GUIDE,THE DARK ROOM,THE BACHELOR OF ARTS,WAITING FOR MAHATMA,THE PAINTER OF SIGNS etc)
  • WAITING FOR GODOT ----- by SAMUEL BECKETT
  • T S ELIOT ----- SELECTED POEMS
  • THE GOLDEN TREASURY
  • WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE ( MACBETH,KING LEAR,TEMPEST … ETC)
  • ENGLISH AUGUST ------ by UPAMANYU CHATTERJEE
  • GEORGE ORWELL ----- THE ANIMAL FARM, 1984
  • BERTRAND RUSSELL ----- SCEPTICAL ESSAYS, PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS, HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  • THE DISCOVERY OF INDIA --- JAWAHARLAL NEHRU
  • THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS ---- ARUNDHATI ROY
  • MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN ---- SALMAN RUSHDIE
  • PLAYS OF HAROLD PINTER or at least know about his works.
  • ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE ---- by GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ
  • NOVELS OF CHARLES DICKENS like GREAT EXPECTATIONS, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, HARD TIMES etc
  • Search TOP 100 NOVELS OF ALL TIME in Google & read some 5-10 novels of any author “WHOM YOU LIKE” …

The basic idea is to make yourself “well-read” & with a COMMAND over ENGLISH … For this READ SOME GOOD QUALITY novels or poems mentioned above or after searching Google (For ex. Best 100 Poems of Twentieth Century, Best 100 Plays of All Time etc. )




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