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UPSC Essay Syllabus 2023

UPSC Essay Syllabus:

candidates are expected to ‘keep closely to the subject’ of the essay and arrange their ideas in an ‘orderly fashion’. Credit will be given for ‘effective and exact expression’.


Term / PointExplanation (Condensed)Example (Using provided essay topics)What Needs To Be Done (Condensed)
‘Keep closely to the subject’Your essay must stick to the topic at hand without digressing into unrelated information.For “Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence”, your essay should revolve around how forests demonstrate economic excellence, such as sustainable forestry, ecosystem services, bioeconomy, etc. Discussing economic excellence of an unrelated subject like urban economy would be off the topic.Always ensure that every point, argument, or example directly contributes to the main theme of your essay.
‘Arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion’The essay must have a clear structure and logical progression of ideas.In the essay “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, start by explaining the statement, then illustrate the influence of poets on societal values and changes, their role as unacknowledged legislators with historical and contemporary examples, and finally conclude with an analysis of the statement’s relevance today.Before writing, make an outline to structure your ideas logically and coherently, leading towards a strong conclusion.
‘Effective and exact expression’Your writing must be precise and impactful with clear, strong sentences.For “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is for”, instead of using vague language like ‘A ship is kind of designed for the purpose of exploring the vast ocean, not really to just stay docked’, use precise and impactful language such as ‘A ship is built for navigating the vast expanse of the sea, not for idling in the harbor.’Regularly improve your vocabulary and strive to express complex ideas in a clear and concise manner, ensuring the use of impactful language.
Clarity in ContentYour thoughts and ideas should be easily understood by the reader.In “You cannot step twice in the same river”, rather than using convoluted language like ‘The fundamental nature of the river, in terms of its inherent fluidity, precludes the possibility of a repeated, identical experience’, express the idea more simply as ‘A river’s constant flow means it’s never exactly the same, so each experience is unique.’Use clear, straightforward language that gets your point across directly and unambiguously, ensuring the logical progression of your arguments.
Depth in ContentProvide comprehensive and insightful coverage of your topic.For “History is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man”, delve into the progression of scientific thought, its triumphs over romanticism throughout history, the reasons and implications for this, and the balancing act between scientific and romantic perspectives in contemporary society.Carry out thorough research on your topic, to understand different facets and viewpoints, providing insightful analysis and commentary in your writing.
Diversity in ContentCover various aspects of a topic, integrating different perspectives.In “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”, consider different aspects like crisis management, proactive vs. reactive approaches, personal growth, economic policies, etc., illustrating the wide applicability of this adage.Approach your topic from various angles and consider different perspectives, striving for a comprehensive and balanced discussion in your essay.
Prescriptive ValuesInclude moral, ethical, or value-based perspectives in your writing.In “Just because you have a choice, it does not mean that any of them has to be right”, reflect on the ethical dilemmas, the concept of moral relativism, societal 

Basics of essay paper:

  1. Essay Significance: Worth 250 marks – can significantly impact your score.
  2. Generalist Approach: It’s about broad understanding and communication, not specialist knowledge.
  3. Time Management: Crucial for success – practice writing within time constraints.
  4. Prepared Content: Beneficial, but ensure it’s adaptable to different topics.
  5. Address Weaknesses: Important to improve areas like grammar, spelling, or handwriting.
  • Grammar/Spelling: Yes, they matter for clear communication.
  • Handwriting: Legibility is key – poor handwriting could affect readability.


  1. Choosing a Topic:
  • Pick a topic you’re knowledgeable about and interested in.
  • Ensure it’s a topic you can write extensively and insightfully on.
  • Consider a topic with potential for a diverse range of arguments.
  1. Interpreting the Topic:
  • Understand exactly what the topic is asking for – look for keywords and phrases.
  • Consider different perspectives of the topic to gain a comprehensive understanding.
  • Research the topic to ensure you’re well-informed about all aspects.
  1. Structure of the Essay:
  • Introduction: Present your topic and thesis statement.
  • Body: Develop your arguments and provide supporting evidence.
  • Conclusion: Recap your main points and provide a final thought or implication.

How to Choose a topic

  1. Choosing a Topic:
  • Adequate Content: Select a topic on which you have sufficient knowledge to write a comprehensive essay.
  • Risk and Returns: Avoid choosing a difficult topic just to stand out. Common topics are less risky and ensure average returns, while difficult topics pose high risks with uncertain returns.
  • Broad/General Topics: These are preferable as they make it easier to generate extensive content.
  • Discuss Both Sides: Opt for a topic that allows you to present balanced viewpoints. This approach not only broadens your essay content but also demonstrates your ability to consider multiple perspectives.
  1. Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence: This topic calls for a deep understanding of ecological economics, sustainable development, and environmental studies. If you are well-versed in these areas, this could be a great choice. The broad scope allows for a rich, diverse discussion.
  2. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world: This topic requires a strong understanding of literature, societal impact of poetry, and its intersection with politics and societal norms. If you are comfortable discussing the role of literature and art in society, this topic could be an excellent choice.
  3. History is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man: If you have a solid understanding of the history of scientific and romantic (artistic, emotional, intuitive) thought and their influence over time, this could be a compelling topic. It requires a deep dive into intellectual history and philosophy.
  4. A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ship is for: This topic is a metaphorical statement that can be interpreted in many ways, relating to risk, purpose, exploration, comfort zones, etc. It is a broad topic that could apply to various areas, from personal growth to political policies.
  5. Interpreting the Topic:
  • Understand the Topic and its Demands: Carefully read the topic and ensure you comprehend its demands accurately. Identify the underlying theme, the perspectives it implies, and the kind of discussion it’s asking for.
  • Create the Skeletal Structure of Your Essay: This step involves:
  • Identifying Key Terms: Spot the important words or phrases in the topic that hold the essence of what needs to be addressed. These will guide the direction of your essay.
  • Developing Linkages Between Terms: Determine how these key terms relate to each other within the context of the topic. This will provide a framework for your arguments and help maintain the coherence of your essay.

For example, in the topic “Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence”, the key terms might be “forests”, “case studies”, and “economic excellence”. You would then develop linkages between these terms, such as how forests (through sustainable use, ecosystem services, etc.) can serve as case studies illustrating economic excellence.

2A. Interpreting the Topic Correctly:

  • Rephrase the Topic as a Question: This technique can help you better understand the demand of the topic. For example, “Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence” could be rephrased as “How can forests serve as the best case studies for economic excellence?”.
  • Agreement/Disagreement: Determine whether you agree or disagree with the proposed question.
  • If you agree or disagree, ensure you have compelling arguments to support your stance.
  • If the topic is informative, aim to discuss it from various perspectives.

Dimensions to Explore in an Informative Topic:

Depending on the subject of your essay, you might explore the topic through different dimensions, such as:

  • Social
  • Diplomatic
  • Technological
  • Political
  • Humanitarian
  • Philosophical
  • Economic
  • Medical
  • Environmental
  • Historical
  • Cultural
  • Ethical

Here’s an example of how to interpret these topics:

TopicRephrased as a QuestionPotential StancePossible Dimensions to Explore
Forests are the best case studies for economic excellenceHow can forests serve as the best case studies for economic excellence?Informative topic: Discuss how forests can be case studies for economic excellence.Economic, Environmental, Social, Political, Historical
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the worldHow do poets act as the unacknowledged legislators of the world?Informative topic: Discuss how poets influence societal norms and politics.Cultural, Social, Philosophical, Political, Historical
History is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic manHow is history a series of victories for the scientific man over the romantic man?Agreement/Disagreement: Agree or disagree with the idea that history favors scientific achievement over romantic (artistic/emotional) thought.Historical, Philosophical, Cultural, Social, Technological
A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ship is forWhat does it mean that a ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what a ship is for?Informative topic: Discuss the metaphor of a ship in harbour as it applies to various areas.Philosophical, Social, Cultural, Ethical, Historical

2B. Creating the Skeletal Structure of Your Essay:

  • Identify Key Terms: Read the topic thoroughly and highlight the important terms or phrases that encapsulate the essence of what you’re asked to discuss.
  • Understand Linkages: Determine how the key terms are connected within the context of the topic. Understanding these linkages will guide your arguments and maintain the coherence of your essay.
  • Create a Checklist: Formulate a list of the points your essay must address, based on the key terms and their linkages.

This would help you differentiate between a substandard and a good essay:

  • A substandard essay merely provides information on the terms, with weak or absent linkages.
  • A good essay, on the other hand:
  • Explains the key terms in detail.
  • Elucidates the connections between these terms.
  • Elaborates on these connections, supporting them with relevant evidence.

Here’s how you might create a skeletal structure for these essay topics:

TopicKey TermsLinkagesChecklist
Forests are the best case studies for economic excellenceForests, case studies, economic excellenceForests as a means to study economic excellenceExplanation of terms; Economic value of forests; Case study analysis; Evidence supporting the claim
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the worldPoets, unacknowledged, legislators, worldRole of poets in shaping societal norms and perspectivesExplanation of terms; Role of poets in society; Influence of poetry on legislation and social norms; Evidence supporting the claim
History is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic manHistory, victories, scientific man, romantic manThe perceived dominance of scientific achievements over romantic thought in historyExplanation of terms; Instances of scientific victories in history; Impact on the “romantic man”; Evidence supporting the claim
A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ship is forShip, harbour, safe, purposeThe idea of safety versus fulfilling purpose (taking risks)Explanation of terms; Exploration of the metaphor; Application in various contexts (personal, societal, etc.); Evidence supporting the claim

Here’s a concise way to represent your provided essay structure in table format:

Introduction150 – 180 wordsTo demonstrate a clear understanding of the topic, present an outline of your approach, and generate interest in the essay.
Body Paragraphs (5 paragraphs)150 – 180 words per paragraphTo provide unique perspectives on the topic and construct persuasive arguments to support your viewpoint.
Conclusion100 – 120 wordsTo reinforce your views on the topic and leave a lasting impression.
Total1000 – 1200 words

here’s how to write an effective introduction for your essay:

Capture the Reader’s AttentionYour introduction should immediately grab the reader’s interest. This can be achieved through a compelling anecdote, an apt quote, relevant statistics, or an element of surprise, sorrow, joy, humor, etc.
Set ExpectationsMake sure the introduction provides an overview of what the reader can expect from the rest of the essay. This includes your perspective on the topic, the main arguments you’ll be making, and the areas you’ll be exploring.
Use Topic as Last LineEnding your introduction with the essay topic can have a powerful impact, highlighting your understanding of the topic and setting the stage for your argument.

here’s how to effectively write a conclusion for your essay:

Reinforce the TopicYour conclusion should provide a final, strong emphasis on the topic. It should summarise your argument, reiterating the main points you have made throughout the essay.
Use Effective ToolsA poignant quote, a fitting anecdote, or a thought-provoking question can make your conclusion more impactful. These tools can help to emphasize your argument and leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Use Topic as Last LineJust like in the introduction, ending your conclusion with the essay topic can create a powerful impact. It can tie your arguments together, bringing a sense of completeness and closure to your essay.

ESSAY PAPER – UPSC Civil Services Mains – 2022

Section A

1. Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence

2. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world

3. History is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man

4. A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ship is for

Section B

5. The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining

6. You cannot step twice in the same river

7. A smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities

8. Just because you have a choice, it does not mean that any of them has to be right.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls in UPSC Civil Services Exam Essay Writing

Avoid One-Dimensional Approach:

  • Essays should be expansive and multi-dimensional, not overly focused on one aspect like history or politics.

Don’t Deviate from the Topic:

  • Even if passionate about a topic, always write what is asked, not just what you know or feel.
  • Regularly check if your essay is aligned with the question to prevent steering away from the topic.

Avoid Abstract Topics if Not Comfortable:

  • If uncomfortable with abstract philosophical topics, it’s best to avoid such questions.
  • Selecting an unpopular topic just for the sake of it can be unwise.

Understand Technical Terms:

  • If the question contains a technical term, ensure you understand it correctly before writing.
  • Misunderstanding can lead to generic writing, affecting your score.

Avoid Extreme or Unpopular Opinions:

  • When taking a stance on an issue, avoid extreme or highly unpopular views to minimize risk.
  • Present arguments for both sides, and conclude on a balanced note.

No Ranting:

  • Present both positive and negative aspects of a topic, even if you have a personal bias.
  • The essay should end on a balanced note.

Equal Time Investment:

  • Both essays carry equal marks, so invest equal time in each.
  • Avoid dedicating disproportionate time to one essay at the expense of the other.

Effective Paragraph Transition Techniques in Essay Writing

1. Link Sentences:

  • Description: Conclude the paragraph with a sentence that prepares the reader for the next topic.
  • Example: If you’re discussing the impact of climate change on the global economy, you could end with, “Beyond the economic disruption, climate change poses significant threats to global health.” The following paragraph could then dive into the health consequences of climate change.

2. Transitional Questions:

  • Description: Guide your reader to the next topic by posing a question at the end of a paragraph.
  • Example: After discussing the economic impacts of climate change, you could ask, “While the economic implications are considerable, how is climate change influencing global health?” The next paragraph would then unpack this question.

3. Signaling Shifts at the Start of a New Paragraph:

  • Description: Begin the new paragraph with a word or phrase that signals a transition to a new subtopic.
  • Example: In an essay on Climate Change, if you’ve discussed its economic impact, the next paragraph can start with, “In addition to its economic effects, climate change also profoundly impacts global health…” This prepares the reader for a shift in the discussion towards health-related consequences of climate change.

Implementing these transition techniques helps to maintain a logical flow in your essay, making it easier for the reader to follow your argument.

Previous Years Essay Topics: (2015-2022):

Philosophical Essay Topics:

  1. Ethics and Virtues:
    • Lending hands to someone is better than giving a dole.
    • Need brings greed, if greed increases it spoils breed.
    • Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.
    • A good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
    • Courage to accept and dedication to improve are two keys to success.
    • Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
  2. Reflection on Life and Humanity:
    • Quick but steady wins the race.
    • Customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life.
    • ‘The past’ is a permanent dimension of human consciousness and values.
    • A people that values its privileges above its principles loses both.
    • Reality does not confirm to the ideal, but confirms it.
    • Wisdom finds truth.
    • Values are not what humanity is, but what humanity ought to be.
    • Life is a long journey between human being and being humane.
    • Mindful manifesto is the catalyst to a tranquil self.
    • The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
  3. Perception and Self-Reflection:
    • Your perception of me is a reflection of you; my reaction to you is an awareness of me.
    • History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.
    • You cannot step twice in the same river.
    • A smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities.
    • Just because you have a choice, it does not mean that any of them has to be right.
  4. Knowledge and Learning:
    • Character of an institution is reflected in its leader.
    • What is research, but a blind date with knowledge!
    • There are better practices to “best practices”.
    • Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil.
  5. Morality and Ethics:
    • Best for an individual is not necessarily best for society.
    • Ships do not sink because of water around them, ships sink because of water that gets into them.
  6. Reflection on Reality:
    • The real is rational and the rational is real.
  7. Gender and Society:
    • Hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
  8. Irony and Paradox:
    • The process of self-discovery has now been technologically outsourced.

Socio-Economic Essay Topics:

  1. Economic Growth and Inequality:
    • Crisis faced in India – moral or economic.
    • Can capitalism bring inclusive growth?
    • Near jobless growth in India: An anomaly or an outcome of economic reforms.
    • Digital economy: A leveller or a source of economic inequality.
  2. Development and Sustainability:
    • If development is not engendered, it is endangered.
    • Innovation is the key determinant of economic growth and social welfare.
    • Impact of the new economic measures on fiscal ties between the union and states in India.
    • Farming has lost the ability to be a source of subsistence for the majority of farmers in India.
    • Neglect of primary health care and education in India are reasons for its backwardness.
    • Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.
  3. Social Justice and Prosperity:
    • There can be no social justice without economic prosperity, but economic prosperity without social justice is meaningless.

Women issues:

  • Patriarchy is the least noticed yet the most significant structure of social inequality.
  • Fulfillment of ‘new woman’ in India is a myth.

Science and Tech:

  1. Technology cannot replace manpower.
  2. Cyberspace and internet: Blessing or curse to the human civilization in the long run.
  3. Alternative technologies for a climate change resilient India.
  4. Rise of Artificial Intelligence: the threat of jobless future or better job opportunities through reskilling and upskilling.
  5. Technology as the silent factor in international relations.


  1. Alternative technologies for a climate change resilient India.
  2. Forests are the best case studies for economic excellence.

International Relations:

  1. Has the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) lost its relevance in a multipolar world?
  2. South Asian societies are woven not around the state, but around their plural cultures and plural identities.
  3. Technology as the silent factor in international relations.

Polity and Governance:

  1. Cooperative federalism: Myth or reality.
  2. Water disputes between States in federal India.
  3. We may brave human laws but cannot resist natural laws.
  4. Impact of the new economic measures on fiscal ties between the union and states in India.
  5. Management of Indian border disputes – a complex task.

List of quotes:

1. Democracy and Politics

  1. “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” – Abraham Lincoln
  2. “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” – Abraham Lincoln
  3. “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” – George Bernard Shaw
  4. “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Indira Gandhi
  5. “Democracy means nothing if people are not able to work the democracy for the common good.” – Chandra Bhushan

2. Environment and Sustainability

  1. “The Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth.” – Marlee Matlin
  2. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb
  3. “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  4. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum
  5. “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” – Marshall McLuhan

3. Education and Knowledge

  1. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
  2. “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” – Aristotle
  3. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats
  4. “Education is the best friend. An educated person is respected everywhere.” – Chanakya
  5. “Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect.” – A.P.J Abdul Kalam

4. Women Empowerment

  1. “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” – Kofi Annan
  2. “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman.” – Melinda Gates
  3. “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” – Margaret Thatcher
  4. “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  5. “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” – John F. Kennedy

5. Ethics and Morality

  1. “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus
  2. “The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  3. “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
  4. “The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  5. “Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.” – Mahatma Gandhi

6. Technology and Progress

  1. “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” – Christian Lous Lange
  2. “The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” – Edward Teller
  3. “Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” – Arthur Schlesinger
  4. “For me, there are two types of people: the young and the experienced.” – A.P.J Abdul Kalam
  5. “The human spirit must prevail over technology.” – Albert Einstein

7. Social Issues and Equality

  1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  2. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  3. “Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” – Pope John Paul II
  4. “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  5. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Conclusion Phrases and Quotes for Essay Writing:

  1. “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth alone triumphs) – Mundaka Upanishad
  2. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The world is one family) – Maha Upanishad
  3. “Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah” (Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions) – Rigveda
  4. “Ahimsa paramo dharmah” (Non-violence is the highest duty) – Mahabharata
  5. “Tamso ma jyotirgamaya” (Lead me from darkness to light) – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
  6. “Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah” (May all be happy) – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
  7. “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free” – Rabindranath Tagore
  8. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  9. “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln
  10. “Unity in diversity is India’s strength. There is simplicity in every Indian. There is unity in every corner of India. This is our strength.” – Narendra Modi
  11. “Dream, dream, dream. Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action.” – A.P.J Abdul Kalam
  12. “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” – Swami Vivekananda
  13. “The future depends on what we do in the present.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  14. “To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal.” – A.P.J Abdul Kalam
  15. “The biggest guru-mantra is: Never share your secrets with anybody. It will destroy you.” – Chanakya
  16. “Change is the law of the universe. You can be a millionaire, or a pauper in an instant.” – Bhagavad Gita
  17. “Every act is righteous which is performed with the knowledge of our duty, without attachment.” – Bhagavad Gita
  18. “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  19. “Whatever happened, happened for the good. Whatever is happening, is happening for the good. Whatever will happen, will also happen for the good.” – Bhagavad Gita
  20. “We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.” – Swami Vivekananda

March 2024