Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Education

How to write a good essay… and win prizes

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 01 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:0211408
  1. Sabina Dosani, locum specialist registrar in psychiatry1
  1. 1London

Sabina Dosani explains how and why medical students should write essays

Why should medical students worry about writing essays? Surely they don't need to write essays--or do they? At medical school you will probably write dissertations, elective reports, and essays at the end of special study modules. Examinations for intercalated degrees often include essays, especially in more “arty” subjects such as history of medicine and anthropology. Like driving a car, essay writing is a skill for life. You need good essay skills for some Royal College membership examinations, higher degrees, and, perhaps most significantly in the days of student hardship, to win prizes.

Prizes look good on a curriculum vitae. Winning a prize gives confidence, a sense of achievement, and may even get you that special job. Prize money is an added incentive. Look on notice boards or ask senior tutors for details of essay prizes.

Just like making pots

This article suggests how you might write an essay and debunks some common myths. One myth is that good essay writers are inspired and scribble strong and sassy sentences. In reality, essay writing is more like making a clay pot. If you did pottery at school, you'll be familiar with pot making stages and can skip to the next section. For those who studied ancient Greek instead, here's a summary. Before designing the pot, you need to consider the pot's use and who will buy it. Then you can make the pot. Choose the clay, cut off the amount needed, prepare the clay, knead it, shape it, reshape it, fire it, …

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