The Fundamentals of Writing Award-Winning Essays

We live in an era where industry experts and institutions are not only interested in spurring the personal development of undergraduate students, but also in hearing their views on important matters. One of the ways this is done is through essay competitions.

There are several essay competitions out there that students can get involved in. The best thing about doing this is that not only do you get to research and write on topical issues, but there are more often than not, cash prizes for the winners.

Although these writing opportunities are ones which law students can take advantage of, there are often problems encountered by law students. These problems include the inability to make proper research, inability to connect ideas, paragraphing, not being able to distinguish your essay, among several others. However, while it may be said that no one holds the exact key to writing an award-winning essay, it goes without saying that there are certain fundamentals which need to be learnt if you are to produce one. What then determines if you win is your mastery of these fundamentals.

Research Skills

If you intend to write an award-winning essay, then you must have very good research skills. Research is to writing what oxygen is to the human body – it gives life. What research does is to augment the level of knowledge and exposure you have on a particular subject matter. It moves you from the green area to a somewhat authoritative arena. Your examiners, when marking the entries for the competition, are not looking for surface-level analysis of the topic, neither are they interested in reading the very set of things that hit your mind when you see the topic. What they are looking out for is an advanced and deeper level of thinking, and this comes down to the quality of research that has been carried out.

In doing proper research, you have to learn how to use your search engines well. This will prevent a situation whereby you access and perhaps regurgitate the same information as almost every other person who enters the competition.

You have to do a personal analysis of the topic first. It is during this process that you highlight why the topic deserves to be written on, the factors that have brought the society to that point, the effects of the subject matter in consideration and then you can list out possible solutions on the way forward. For instance, assuming you are asked to write on “Creative solutions to the problem of unemployment in Nigeria,” instead of rushing to Google and searching on creative solutions to the problem of unemployment in Nigeria, what you would do is first of all, break up the topic into the sub-topics listed above and then proceed to Google these sub-topics, which in this instance may be, “causes of unemployment in Nigeria.” This way, you have a clear view of the problem thereby making it easier to get the solution. Essentially, knowing what to research is fundamental to carrying out quality research in the first place. It not only helps you to narrow down your research, but it also gives you a proper understanding of what you are writing on.


When you have analysed the topic and you have done your research, the next step in the process is writing. This is where paragraphing and arrangement of ideas set in.

At some point, you must have heard some definitions of a paragraph. Several times, paragraphs are defined with regards to length. Some would say a particular number of sentences make up a paragraph while others may argue that it may be as long as half a page.

However, when writing today, all those definitions are mere technicalities that you hardly need to bother with. The true idea of a paragraph is embedded in the idea it carries and more importantly,  the logical progression and coherence of that idea.

Paragraphs are to essays what building blocks are to a building – they provide support. They give meaning to your sentences and also give it a structure that helps your readers understand.

When you look at your paragraph, see it as a guide which you can use to lead your readers by the hand. Having a sound knowledge of paragraphing is, in fact, half of writing an essay. This is because no matter the number of documents you have consumed while doing your research or the ideas you have acquired while brainstorming, if you do not know how to pass it onto your readers effectively, they will not be able to properly receive it. After all, if you do not give them, how will they take it?

In constructing your paragraph, a topic sentence is the first building block. And more often than not, a topic sentence works the way I started this paragraph itself – by introducing the concept that you intend to talk about. The idea of topic sentence emanated from how human psychology works. Once we see something, it becomes easier to identify with it going further. Topic sentence helps eliminate the burden of the reader wondering what the writer is talking about and instead informs you of what the writer intends to discuss.

The secret to having a sound paragraph is to make sure there is an “unfolding”. Unfolding is the sequence you get when you know your paragraph is moving in ascension – introduction, explanation, solution, and conclusion. Let us assume we are writing a paragraph to solve a problem. Start your paragraph with an introduction of the problem otherwise known as the topic sentence, then move to an explanation of the problem. It is during the explanation that you discuss what has led to the problem, the effects of the problem and why the problem needs to be solved. Following this, you list the solutions you have brought and discuss they will be implemented. Then, you conclude your paragraph. The essence of this conclusion just like the topic sentence is to enable the examiner immediately connect with your topic sentence.

Finally, use nice paragraph starters and proper transitioning words. Ensure that your paragraph does not just contain independent sentences or sentences that stand as though they are fighting one another. Create a very beautiful nexus between your sentences such that the flow of your paragraph becomes effortless and this is only possible when you have transitioning words in your paragraph. By doing all we have discussed, you would have created a nicely sandwiched essay for your examiner. And trust me, you don’t taste a nice sandwich and not nod your head in praise and satisfaction.

Habeeb Asudemade is a 400L law student and an award-winning writer with interests in Law, Leadership, Business and Community Service. He is a 2019 Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) scholar who has interned with corporate law firms in Nigeria.

In 2018, he was selected to represent his University at the Impact Africa Intercontinental British Parliamentary Debate Championship in Kumasi, Ghana where the University placed first runner-up. Also, in 2019, he was selected to represent his University at the John H Jackson European Law Students Association Moot Court Competition on World Trade Organization Law in Nairobi, Kenya.

He is also a co-founder and business development head of Tell! – a content development company and an alumnus of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program.


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