Example essay

UPSC CSE: AIR 17 Sarthak Agrawal’s Step-by-Step Strategy for Essays

My key essay tip is to be argumentative and imaginative. An academic essay is formal writing with a clear structure. This is the one document where you will find great advice all over the internet – mostly on university websites – so be sure to read it instead of relying only on typical UPSC resources.

The following approach has worked best for me: start with a story that is relevant to the prompt. Then, state in a few words the “thesis” of your essay – what is the main point you are making? Then support this central thesis with several statements, each supported by strong evidence or reasoning, and occupying a separate paragraph. As you go, deal with the counterclaims. But resist the urge to write an essay like a detective story. This is best practiced when you have spent 10-20 minutes planning and describing what you are going to write.

Ultimately, the key to crafting a strong response is to present an innovative and solid argument – don’t just provide relevant information around the central topic, but take a polished stance and stick to it. For example, if I were to write an essay on the topic “Are We Entering an Era of Globalization,” I wouldn’t just regurgitate data on both sides of the debate. Instead, I would present an incisive and informed opinion backed by evidence and reasoning with the intention of persuading the reader. Remember that variety goes a long way in achieving this goal: avoid repetition and change your sentence length and vocabulary to keep things interesting. It is also helpful to vary the type of evidence you cite. In some places, data and figures are the most appropriate; in others, a vivid example can go a long way in helping you get your point across.

When choosing a topic, first make sure you understand the meaning of each word in the prompt. I would prefer a simple statement to a more convoluted statement so that you have more leeway to experiment. The next thing to ask is if you’ll be able to build a new argument around this prompt. Some topics are more conducive to a descriptive type of response, and others to debate. The latter offers more opportunities to show your critical thinking skills. This is the real ‘intelligence’ essay test, which is why writing them well is a prerequisite for academic success at top universities. When you start out, be sure to introduce the topic and what you understand about it. That way, even if you make a mistake in interpreting the prompt, the reviewer will know up front what you are responding to and could be a little more generous.

I find that the best essays often start and end with a story. My favorite pieces of argument are those in the leaders section of The Economist; they often start with examples to spark the reader’s interest. In a related vein, I spent time thinking about the kind of stories that would line up on different topics instead of memorizing quotes. For example, in a fictitious answer to the topic “Digital infrastructure is the key to future governance ready,” I included a fictitious example of a future secretary of health who can get her department to react quickly to a problem. SARS-like virus in rural Odisha. thanks to a mature National Digital Health Mission.

I took five practical tests before taking the exam; incidentally, none of them were of the “philosophical type” that I was to write in the journal itself. The same advice applies to these kinds of trials as well, except that the evidence here would be real-world examples and logical reasoning instead of data. There are also more possibilities to be creative and critical, which is good for getting higher grades. I think coaching institutes tend to be too preoccupied with the analysis of “social, economic, political, legal, etc.”. angles in an essay, while the essay is argumentative text that provides the means to showcase your creativity. It’s definitely not a test of your memory, vocabulary, or writing, so don’t worry if you fall behind on either (or all).

A word about formatting – start a new paragraph from the middle of the line, leaving an index space at the beginning. Try to relate one sentence to the next using bridge words like however, despite, more, etc. do the same for the paragraphs as it gives the whole room a logical and pleasant flow. Underlining important keywords and phrases is also helpful in grabbing a reviewer’s attention. Keep breaks to a minimum and make sure all paragraphs are of similar length, but these tips are much harder to follow in practice. And it’s good to use the first person (“In this essay, I’m discussing…”). Bureaucrats are taught to be self-effacing and not to present their own front, but when writing an academic essay I think it’s best to lead in first person.

Finally, even reviewers know that handwriting a 1,000 to 1,200 word strong text in an hour and a half that is argumentative and deliciously imaginative enough is devilishly difficult. They will certainly give you a bit of slack as long as your approach is correct. Take advantage of this window and good luck!

(The author is AIR 17 in UPSC Civil Services 2020 and is a researcher at the World Bank)


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