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The Big Mac Method for Writing Essays

1. Overview
Writing an essay is like eating a hamburger.

Main Point

+ Relevance

• You bite into the top bun first which is the main point linked to the topic.
• Next you reach the meaty filling, which is the evidence or examples used to back up
your main point.
• Finally you bite into the bottom bun which is the explanation of the relevance of your
evidence to your main point.

• Each paragraph in your essay is like the Big Mac.
• The essay overall is an extra large Bic Mac.

 the introduction and conclusion are the buns holding together your argument.
 the other paragraphs are the meat of your argument, seasoned by details and

This method of approaching the writing of paragraphs is also known as the SEE

S = Statement of your main point using key words from the topic (a topic sentence).

E = Evidence and Examples such as details, statistics, facts, quotes and references.

E = Explanation, Elaboration and discussion of how the evidence supports your main

Another way of looking at this is the LEER method, usually required for year 12 and 13,
so that the argument is more analytical.

L = Lead statement making a point relevant to key words in the topic.

E = Evidence and Examples

E = Explanation, Elaboration and discussion of the evidence.

R = Relevance of these to the overall argument, therefore a more analytical discussion.

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2. A Good Essay Structure

• Is made easier by prior planning

• Makes it clear how you are going to address the question, where you are going and
• Sets out your main ideas clearly
• Makes it clear how the main ideas relate to each other
• Takes the reader through your answer in a logical, progressive way
• Helps the reader to remember what you have said
• Organises groups of related information in paragraphs
• Uses connecting words and phrases to relate each point/idea to earlier and later

A Model Essay Structure


• Explain how you interpret the question set using a clear statement of opinion
• Define or explain key terms if necessary
• Identify the issues that you are going to explore with a brief summary of the main
points in your argument

Argument/Main Body

Contains the points outlined in your introduction, divided into paragraphs:

• Paragraph 1

o Covers the first thing you said you would address.

o The first sentence (the topic sentence) introduces the main idea of the
o Other sentences develop the topic.
o Include relevant examples, details, evidence, quotations, references.

• Paragraph 2 and other paragraphs

o The first sentence links the paragraph to the previous paragraph then
introduces the main idea of the paragraph.

• Further paragraphs link back to the main opinion and/or argument in the

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The Conclusion

• State your general conclusions in terms of the main points made

• Make it clear why those conclusions are important or significant to the topic
• Do not introduce new material
• In the last sentence, sum up your argument very briefly, linking it to the topic
• Set the issues in a broader perspective/wider context

3. Analysing the Essay Topic

• Read the question several times.

• Underline the key words that tell you what approach to take, such as: discuss,
compare, evaluate, show how.
• Highlight key words relating to the subject matter.
• Note any terms that you need to define.
• Write the question out in your own words.
• In your introduction say how you interpret the question (e.g. by rephrasing in your
own words)
• In your conclusion, refer back to the question; show the reader that you are still
answering the set question.

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4. Instructional Words in Essay Topics

You might find that title you have been given does not contain any of these words. You
will have to look carefully at the way the question is phrased, along with any
accompanying guidance as to what is expected, to establish what sort of approach is

Account for: Give reasons for; explain why something happens.

Analyse: Break up into parts; investigate.

Comment on: Identify and write abut the main issues; give your reactions based on
what you’ve read or studied in class. Avoid just personal opinion.

Compare: Look for the similarities and differences between two things. Show the
relevance or consequences of these. Conclude which is preferable if necessary.

Contrast: Bring out the differences between two items or arguments. Show whether
the differences are significant. Give reasons why one is preferable if necessary.

Critically evaluate: Weigh arguments for and against something, assessing the
strength of the evidence on both sides. Use criteria to guide your assessment of which
opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.

Define: Give the exact meaning of. Where relevant, show you understand how the
definition may be problematic.

Describe: Give the main characteristics or features of something, or outline the main

Discuss: Investigate or examine by argument; sift and debate; give reasons for and
against; examine the implications.

Distinguish between: Bring out the differences between.

Evaluate: Assess and give your judgement about the merit, importance or usefulness of
something. Back your judgement with evidence.

Examine: Look closely into something.

Explain: Make clear why something happens, or is the way it is; interpret and account
for; give reasons for.

Explore: Examine thoroughly; consider from a variety of viewpoints.

Illustrate: Make something clear and explicit, giving examples of evidence.

Interpret: Show the meaning and relevance of data or other material presented.

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Justify: Give evidence which supports an argument or idea; show why a decision or
conclusions were made; answer the main objections which might be made.

Narrate: Outline what happened.

Outline: Give the main points/features/general principles; show the main structure and
relationships; omit details and examples.

Relate: a. Narrate. b. Show similarities and connections between.

State: Give the main features briefly and clearly.

Summarise: Draw out the main points only; omit details and examples.

To what extent: Consider how far something is true, or contributes to a final outcome.
Consider also ways in which it is not true. Argue a case with evidence to show the
degree to which you agree with the statement.

Trace: Follow the development or history of an event or process.

5. Linking Words Used in Essays

Sometimes it is difficult to think of different words to use to link, expand or list points in
an essay. Try to learn different words that can be used to link ideas other than ‘and’ and
‘therefore’. The table below shows common linking words and different ways of saying

at the same
HOWEVER although despite nonetheless though
ALSO in addition besides similarly as well as
namely for instance such as including in particular
on the in
OTHER alternatively although rather
contrary comparison
to look at
IN OTHER in view of this in that with this in
WORDS this another case mind
NEXT additionally also another secondly finally
it can be because of
THEREFORE as a result so then
seen this

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on the to
CONCLUSIO to sum up overall thus
whole summarise

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Other Useful Linking Words and Phrases

To indicate a contrast:
however on the other alternatively in contrast instead
conversely On the In fact rather in comparison
another but better still worst still
despite this In spite of nevertheless notwithstanding

for all that yet Although all the same

To provide an illustration

for example that is that is to say for instance

in other words namely such as as follows

typical of this as such a typical/particular/key

including especially not least in particular

chiefly mainly most importantly

To extend a point
similarly equally likewise too also

furthermore indeed in the same way

besides above all as well in addition

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To show cause and effect/conclusion:

so therefore accordingly thus hence

as a result resulting from this as a

ce of this
in this/that case consequently because of this
this/that conveys
for this reason owing to the fact

it follows that this suggests that accepting

in conclusion it might be this implies to
concluded from this conclude

To show the next step:

first(ly) to in the
second(ly) begin/start first/second
with place
first and first and
foremost most
another then after next afterwards third

finally ultimately lastly last but not


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6. Tips for Planning Your Essay

A Planning Acronym

• Always plan before writing. Use a mind-map, spider diagram, bullet points or
brainstorm the ideas.

P - Plan and Prepare the ideas that link to key ideas.

L - Link the ideas by sorting them into the order you want to use.

A - Arrange and Annotate the ideas with details and evidence.

N - Nut out the introduction and overall development of the ideas.

Make an outline plan

• Keep the question in sight.

• Try using a visual mind-map or spider diagram to brainstorm relevant points – both
what you know and what you need to find out.

The Planning Process

• Once you have brainstormed or jotted down a number of ideas and points that
spring to mind, your next task is to work on these key ideas using some of the
following techniques:

Spidergram These visual models offer a

Linear Model way of organising and seeing

Cluster Model your ideas

Keyhole Model

Experiment and see which of these techniques suits you best.

1) The Spidergram is useful as a mapping technique. It’s simple but not sequential.
2) The Linear model is more sequential (in that you can trace through and order
your ideas in a more progressive, logical way).
3) Cluster models can be varied greatly according to length and type of essay, or
number of paragraphs required. They also have the advantage of encouraging
you to write your actual topic sentences and quotes/evidence and to supply the
paragraph linking words.

If you find essay writing difficult, you should spend much more time on planning and the
planning process so that you master the format and structure.

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Mapping samples
Sample topic: Discuss your views on whether censorship is necessary.

These visual models offer an easy way of organising and ‘seeing’ your ideas.

Linear model

Individual right to parental increased violence need for stricter etc.

choose responsibility in in society linked to laws to stop
1) censorship case of children violence on film pornography
impinges on 1) better to be 1) crimes against 1) debases women
those rights open women and 2) often warped
2) adults able to 2) parents role to children view of gender
value own educate 2) incidence of roles
decisions increased
3) who can say what violent acts in
is appropriate children –
various studies

violence on film
- links to violence in children
stricter laws - links to violence against
- how to enforce them women
- increased social violence individual rights
- individual should be able to
violence on TV - infringement of human rights
- desensitises people - arrogant and high-handed
- should be censored Censorship

spread of pornography on the

society’s role to decide increase underground
- who can say what should - debases women
be seen - encourages depravity
- who should say what is - mostly violence against
acceptable women and children

parental responsibility
- to control children’s viewing
- denial of parents’ rights protection for vulnerable
otherwise - those who are too
young to decide
- warped views

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Topic Introduction

link word link word link word link word

Topic Sentence Topic Sentence Topic Sentence Topic Sentence Topic Sentence

example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation

example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation

example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation example/quotation


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Keyhole Essay

choose the most appropriate essay topic

plan the points you wish to write about
write your introductory paragraph
list the main points you will discuss in each section (paragraph)
find evidence which supports each point
write your conclusion



Point 1.
Point 2.
Point 3.
Point 4.

Point 1.
Evidence a.
Evidence b.

Point 2.
Evidence a.
Evidence b.

Point 3.
Evidence a.
Evidence b.

Point 4.
Evidence a.
Evidence b.
Conclusion : Point 1. Point 2.
Point 3. Point 4.
Choose one of these models and use it to plan an essay.

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The Structure

1) Introduction The opening paragraph - should use the key words of the topic

• defines topic - should show an understanding of the

key words
• states direction- make a general response to the topic/give an overview of the
main ideas you will cover to support your line of argument
- should only be 3 – 4 sentences long

2) The Main Body  contains several paragraphs,

sequentially organised
 contains the main arguments in
Topic sentence
your essay
paragraph1  each main idea should be
link contained in a separate paragraph
Topic sentence  this main idea should be expressed
paragraph 2 in the topic sentence in each
Topic sentence  the rest of the paragraph should
elaborate, explain, develop and
paragraph 3 illustrate the key idea through
link offering of examples as evidence
Topic sentence  each paragraph should link the
paragraph 4 next to give the reader a sense of
link your essay developing.
Topic sentence
paragraph 5 …

7. Examples From Student Essays

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A. Here is an example from a Year 13 Geography essay.

Topic: How does the process of tourism development operate in New Zealand?

Key Words: Process

Tourism development
New Zealand

Instructional Words: How ……. Operates

Sample Flow – Chart for Planning

Diagram Showing a Simplified

Process of Tourism Development

Natural & cultural attractions Demand from Supply of

e.g. tourists to visit the infrastructure and
attractions services

geysers & bath houses

investment and
economic growth

Growth and Development of

supply elements
accommodation amenities
attractions activities

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Bullet Points developed from the flow chart to use for paragraphs

• Natural and cultural setting in Rotorua – main point.

 Examples of Rainbow/Fairy Springs

 Whakarewarewa
 Waimangu Valley

Discuss how these were developed.

• Surge in ‘domestic’ demand from tourists – main point.

 need for accommodation and better roads

 government funding to improve road, amenities and infrastructure

Discuss how this came about.

• Changing market – increase in international tourists and more youthful travellers.

 upgrading of older developments needed

 supply of other activities developed
 more infrastructure

• Economy and politics influence tourism.

 Political redevelopment by Rotorua Regional Council of Amorangi Museum

and Blue Baths.
 Asian downturn and exchange rates affect spending (economy).

• Growth and development of tourism wanes over time(conclusion).

Sample Paragraph

Main Point: The fourth phase of tourism development in Rotorua has been
characterized by diversification and the upgrading of older developments.
Evidence: Changing market demand from more free and independent travellers and
youthful adventure tourists has led to the supply of activities such as lugeing, rafting,
zorbing and 4-W-D adventures which have become attractions in their own right.
Explanation and evidence: The agrodome is another major attraction that represents
diversification and was developed in the area because of the already high visitor
More evidence and explanation: A wider range of accommodation such as
backpackers, homestays and luxury lodges has also been developed as entrepreneurs
seek to cater for particular niche markets.

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B. Samples of paragraphs from a range of subjects

Year 11 Geography

Topic: Describe migration movements within New Zealand’s Population and the
issues it raises

Introductory Paragraph
This highlights all the points that will be discussed in the essay.

Instructional Word: Describe (supply the main characteristics)

Key Words: Migration movements

New Zealand’s population
Issues raised

• Read the paragraph and write on a piece of refill the sentences that relate to
each of the key words.

• Has the student followed the instruction to ‘describe’? How do you know?

Migration is the movement of people. In New Zealand, the population distribution

is constantly changing as people move from place to place. New Zealanders are
very mobile people with over 30 percent of the population shifting residence
between each census. There are three main types of migration within New
Zealand, northward drift, rural to urban drift and migration within cities. People
make these types of moves for many reasons, which are referred to as push and
pull factors. These factors will also be outlined in this essay along with the
various issues that arise when people follow a migration trend.

Year 11 English

Topic: Explain how the main idea of the text was conveyed by characters and or

Paragraph from the body of the essay

Instructional Word: Explain (make clear why something happens; give reasons
for; interpret)

Key Words: main idea


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Read the paragraph below and write on a piece of refill the sentences and/or phrases
that show:
a) The main point that links to the topic
b) Explanation and discussion of the point
c) Evidence/details/quotes to support it
d) Further discussion of the relevance of the details that link to the topic
e) Identify phrases that link to the key words: characters/main idea/events

Harper Lee uses events as well as characters to develop the theme of courage. When
Atticus is appointed to defend a black man against a rape charge, it requires a lot of
courage for him to see it through. Before and throughout the trial, Atticus receives racist
abuse from neighbours, townspeople and even members of his extended family. He
explains his decision to defend Tom Robinson by saying to his family, “I wanted you t o
see what real courage was… It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but
you begin anyway, and see it through no matter what.” Real courage is doing what you
know to be morally right – whether you win or not.

Year 12 and 13 Exemplars

Year 12 Classical Studies

Topic: Examine how Homer portrays the relationship between gods and men in ‘The

Paragraph one immediately after the introduction

Instructional Word: Examine (look closely at the issue)

Key Words: relationship – gods and men -The Odyssey.

Read the paragraph below and write on a piece of refill the sentences and phrases that
a) The main point that links to the topic
b) Explanation and discussion of the point
c) Evidence used to support the point
d) Further discussion of the relevance of both the evidence and other explanations
to the lead (main) point being made

[Tip: Relevance statements often start with ‘This Shows’ or “This is because’ or ‘This
conveys’ or ‘This implies’]

We can see the role these Gods played in human life in the opening scene of The
Odyssey. The Olympic Gods have met at Mount Olympus, and are discussing the fate
of the mortal Odysseus. From this we instantly gather that the Gods have complete
control over every man on Earth. Athene, daughter of Zeus, is a great supporter of
Odysseus, and feels he should be sent back to his native land. This is because at the
Battle of Troy, Odysseus did not sack Troy upon victory, therefore Athene believes he is
noble and worthy of the God’s help. This shows that even though the Gods control
human lives at will, men like Odysseus can earn divine favour by acts of honour and
courage. This is how the reciprocal nature of the relationship between Gods and
humans is shown in Homer’s tale.

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Year 13 History

Topic: Describe the place of popular religion in the lives of ordinary people in early
modern England. Evaluate the extent to which popular beliefs and practices became
more or less important in the lives of people between 1558 and 1667.

This is an essay with two aspects to cover.

Aspect 1

Instructional Word: describe (list the main characteristics)

Key Words: popular religion

ordinary people
early modern England

Analyse the following paragraph using the same questions set for the year 12 example
on page 16.

Popular religion was a set of popular beliefs that the majority of the people believed in.
It consisted of a belief in Catholic rituals and festivals, witchcraft, astrology and magic
charms. It was based on superstition and was concerned with the dangers of day-to-
day life and its popularity changed as time did. In Elizabeth’s reign, the 1559
Elizabethan Settlement did little to suppress the people’s popular beliefs and practices.
In James’ reign most people maintained their popular beliefs and Charles I’s sumptuous
Armenian church encouraged ritual and ceremony. The Interregnum in 1649 saw harsh
Puritanical reign and when Charles II came to power in 1660, they welcomed the official
state religion of Protestantism with open arms.

Aspect 2

Instructional Word: evaluate (assess and give your judgement about the meant of
something; support your judgement with evidence).

Key Words: popular beliefs and practices -became more or less important (judge this)
–focus on dates between 1558 and 1667.

Analyse the following paragraph using the same questions set for the year 12 example
on page 16.

Historians’ views differ greatly over the extent to which popular beliefs and practices
became more or less important in the lives of people during Charles I’s reign. Charles
introduced the Church of Laud, and Armenian church that was very similar to the
traditional Catholic churches of days gone by. Some historians thus argue that Charles
helped maintain popular beliefs through the ornate decoration and ceremony that came
with this church. Other historians, however, claim that the population disliked the
Armenian church as they had already shed many of their popular beliefs.

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Year 13 Business Studies

Topic: Discuss how businesses in your country might be influenced by government


Instructional Words: discuss how (investigate or examine by argument; give reasons

for and against, examine the implications)

Key Words: businesses

Influenced by government intervention

Analyse the following paragraph using the same questions set for the year 12 example
on page 16.

Government spending also affects businesses. If the government increases spending

on education, the demand for educational supplies will increase, increasing the revenue
of businesses in that market. Government training programmes benefit businesses as
more skilled workers means the business may not have to run its own training
programmes. A skilled worker force may increase productivity and therefore profitability.
The government’s unemployment policy also affects business. If governments
decrease the incentives to stay out of work, unemployment will decrease. With a large
pool of skilled worker available, businesses will not have to increase pay incentives to
recruit employees and retain current employees. Businesses may not be forced to
decline expansion opportunities due to head count issues (Microsoft). Businesses
requiring a large pool of unskilled workers may be able to keep their pay rates to a
minimum but still be above unemployment benefits.

Other tasks to do

• Find examples of linking words used in the samples.

• Plan your own paragraphs using the Big Mac / SEE / LEER methods.
• Check that your paragraphs focus on the topic and key words.
• Write practice paragraphs, then full essays based on topics from past papers.
• Practice! Practice! Practice!

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