An essay is a "short formal piece of writing..dealing with a single subject". It is typically written to try to persuade the reader using selected research evidence

Generally, there are two types of essays - formal and informal. The UPSC Civil Services Examination (CSE) asks for a formal essay. Formal essays can be defined by the latter definition: they deal with a problem or difficulty (poverty, faith, abortion, war, climate change, education reform, and many others) with a view to finding a solution or a way forward to it. 

Students often ignore the ‘Essay portion’ in civil services preparation. They focus mainly on GS-1, 2, 3, 4 but hardly they have a dedicated strategy  for preparation of essays. But it is a very important portion which cannot be ignored.  It carries 250 important marks.

Essay writing for UPSC Civil Services Examination

  • For the UPSC CSE essay paper, two essays have to be written under 3 hours in the 1000-1200 word limit. Every essay carries one hundred twenty five marks for a total of 250.
  • The essay paper is subdivided into two sections – A and B, each carrying options of 4 essay topics every, and the aspirant has to pick only 1 essay from each part. 
  • Aspirants are ‘expected to keep their thoughts closely to the subject and arrange their ideas accordingly. It further states that credit will be given for effective and coherent expression’.

Few misunderstandings about the Essay paper:

  • One needs a very good command over English. (It’s not the case, only average level of English command is sufficient)
  • You do not need to prepare separately for essays. Your GS preparation is sufficient. (Writing an essay is different than writing GS answers)
  • Essay marks cannot be improved. (They can be improved with practice)

Beginning Essay Writing

Practice makes the man perfect and woman too! But before starting essay writing, you need to understand the structure of an essay.

Basic structure of an essay

In general, an academic essay has three parts:

  1. An introduction that gives the reader an idea of what they are about to learn and presents an argument in the form of a thesis statement.
  2. A body, or middle section, that provides evidence used to prove and persuade the reader to accept the writer's particular point of view.
  3. A conclusion that summarizes the content and findings of the essay.

Keywords of the essay syllabus

  • 'closely': Stick to the topic of the essay you have chosen, as far as possible. A major deviation from the topic will not be tolerated.
  • 'arrange': The essay must be in a structured form. So the candidate has to prepare a structure before actually writing the essay.
  • 'orderly': The concepts and arguments written in the essay must flow sequentially.
  • 'concise': The matter discussed in the essay must be precise and to the point. Clarity of ideas in a precise manner is needed.
  • 'effective': Every point of the essay has to deliver an impact. Use simple language. Avoid poetic/elaborate language.
  • 'coherent': Your each sentence should systematize into one coherent body of knowledge. They should be logical and consistent with the main idea of the essay.


How to approach an essay?

  • Topic selection

    • You should choose that topic about which you have a comprehensive understanding. Choose a comfortable topic. Do not go for unconventional topics simply to be different from the crowd. You can end up losing marks.
    • For example, in CSE 201, the topic asked was— Rise of Artificial Intelligence: the threat of jobless future or better job opportunities through reskilling and upskilling
    • Here the central idea is the Rise of Artificial Intelligence. The aspirant is supposed to explore those dimensions of artificial intelligence which have relevance for jobs. Do not digress from the main idea. You can add a few complimentary ideas like effects of artificial intelligence on society at large.
    • Understand the topic rightly
    • Many people just jump on writing on seeing their favorite topic. Take your time. Read again. UPSC is focusing more on philosophical topics recently. These topics can confuse you. Philosophical topics cover all the aspects of society and mankind. So critically analyze the topic before writing.
  • Brainstorming ideas 

  • Once you have selected the topic, you need to generate ideas to get the fodder material to be written in the essay. Following are the steps you can take:
  • Ideally, for CSE that time limit works out to about 25 minutes per essay. 
  • Look for the keywords in the topic. Suppose the topic is ‘Wisdom finds truth’. The keywords here are wisdom and truth.
  • Inquire about how the keywords have evolved in past, present and future. This will give you the framework of your essay.
  • There are some checks which should be followed. These are Social, Economic, Political, Cultural, Legal, International, and Individual. Think on these points related to the topic.


  • Structure of the essay

    • Now you have gathered the fodder information. You need to frame this info in a structured way. A good structure will seamlessly convey your story to the examiner. Following things must be focused on while writing your essay:
    • Make an outline: How your essay will flow. Imagine your essay to be a smooth river. It should flow. There should not be any jump like Brahmaputra! You can write about the topic’s past in the beginning of the essay. Then you can move to discuss the current issues. At the end you should provide the ‘Way forward’. You can make other outlines of your choice. 
    • Sub parts of essay: Divide your essay in sub-parts and paragraphs.
  • Now you can start writing the essay. You can devote 20 minutes to brainstorming on the essay. Devote 1.5 hours for essay writing. Keep a few minutes for revising your essay. For revising read the essay and underline important words or phrases. 

Elements of the essay


How to prepare for an essay?

  • Focus on newspapers’ editorials. Keep noting good lines or examples.
  • Prepare for social issues like women, health, education, technology. Have ready-made fodder material for social issues. Refer to previous year essay UPSC papers. 
  • Try to write 8-10 essays. Get them evaluated by teachers, or experienced friends. Improve upon their suggestions.
  • You can also keep a collection of quotes or and citable anecdotes from the distinguished persons’ lives to be used while writing the essay.