Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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Top tips for writing better essays
An essay is a short piece of non-fiction about a particular topic. It’s a common assignment in school and university, so you’ve probably already written a few. Essays can take many different forms. Narrative essays tell a story, while persuasive essays make an argument. Exploratory essays pursue an idea. No matter what kind of essay you’re writing, the principles below will help you connect with your readers.
1 Know your purpose
If you’re writing in response to an assignment, make sure you understand what you are being asked to write about. If you’re writing for another reason, it’s just as important to understand your goals. Whether you want to share information or an experience or get readers to change their minds, your purpose will determine the choices you make in your essay.
2 Understand your audience
The more you know about who will be reading your essay, the better. Readers who are experts on your topic will already have some background knowledge. Readers who are your age will be familiar with the same films and songs you’re likely to mention. The less you know about your audience, the more you’ll need to define your terms and provide context for your examples.
3 Brainstorm about your topic
Jot down everything you can think of related to the subject you’re going to write about. Some people make lists, while others draw diagrams or maps. The point is to quickly note lots of ideas in order to get started. If you don’t have any ideas, open a newspaper, turn on the television, or just look around. Chances are you’ll see something that suggests a topic.
4 Decide on a thesis
Your thesis is the claim you’re going to make about your topic. Consult the notes you made when you brainstormed to figure out what you want to say. Turn that idea into a complete sentence that makes a claim and includes your explanation or reason for that claim. Be prepared to change your thesis a bit as you work out your reasons and ideas.
5 Develop your essay
Now that you have a thesis, you need evidence to support your claim. Start by listing your reasons for believing what you do. Research what you need to; statistics and quotations will help you make your point. Personal stories also make good, unique examples that no one else could provide.
6 Create an essay structure
Organize your essay according to your purpose. If you’re writing a narrative, you’ll probably arrange your material in chronological order. Consider using flashbacks to create tension. For an argument, you might list your reasons in order of importance. Every essay has a beginning, middle, and end, but not every essay requires a formal introduction or conclusion.
Read more about structuring your writing.
7 Connect your ideas
Readers need a road map through your essay. Employ transitions to help them move from one idea to the next. Transitions are often individual words such as ‘then’, ‘but’, or ‘therefore’. Also, consider headings and repetition, devices that can also create good transitions.
Read more about cohesion in writing.
8 Choose memorable language
Use concrete, specific words. Write about a ‘bird’ and your reader won’t know whether it’s large, small, friendly, mean, or if it can even fly. Write about a ‘red tailed hawk’ and your reader will have a clear picture. Concrete words help the reader better understand what you want to communicate.
Read more about word choice.
9 Invent a strong title
People are busy and nobody has to read your essay. Write a title that makes them want to read it. You can get readers’ attention with an intriguing question or clever phrase, but make sure your title clearly conveys your essay topic. A simple subtitle will help you do this. Your title should also be searchable, since so many publications now appear online.
10 Edit and proofread your essay
Carefully check your work for errors. First, read your essay aloud. If anything sounds awkward, revise until you like the way it sounds. Second, make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all correct. When you think your essay is perfect, have a friend check it again.
Read more aboutwriting essays.
Back to Top writing tips.
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