Does your stomach drop every time you hear the words “writing assignment”? It is quite common for students to stress over writing papers, but once you learn more about how to write an essay, you will find that there is a method to the madness. Keep calm and get good grades, by following these six easy steps to writing an essay.
Step One: Research
Whatever you plan to write about, it is best to do your research before you start writing your essay. If your essay requires you to quote outside sources, gather books or links to reputable websites (hint: not Wikipedia) that you will need in order to complete the assignment. Research your subject thoroughly, so you feel confident asserting your opinions. Give yourself plenty of time to gather information, and get started well before your essay is due.
Step Two: Choose Your Thesis
Now that you are an expert on your subject, what are you interested in writing about? In other words, what is your thesis? The thesis of your essay is a statement of a claim that lets your reader know what your essay is about. Think of your thesis statement as the topic sentence for your whole essay.
Your teacher may have provided some writing prompts as examples or they may have asked you to create your own thesis. If you’re stuck coming up with your own thesis, asking a question about your subject is a great way to find something that interests you.
For example, if you’re writing an essay about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you might ask: Is Hamlet really insane or is he pretending? Come up with a theory that answers your question, and be sure that you can find evidence that supports your claim. Once you’ve done this, congratulations, you’ve come up with your thesis statement!
Step Three: Outline
Before you start writing, make an outline so you have a plan to guide your work. As you start outlining, keep in mind the specifics of the assignment you have been given. If you were assigned a five paragraph essay, make an outline for an essay with one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one final conclusion paragraph. For longer assignments, plan to add more paragraphs or separate sections to your essay.
Start your outline with your thesis statement, a sentence indicating the subject of your essay, at the end of your introductory paragraph. Each paragraph that follows should present a piece of evidence supporting your thesis statement. For example, if you are writing a persuasive five paragraph essay arguing that pizza is the greatest food of all time, you could write one body paragraph on the excellence of cheese, the next body paragraph about the perfection of crust, and the third body paragraph about the importance of sauce.
Step Four: Writing Body Paragraphs
Many students think that they need to write the perfect introductory paragraph before they can get started on an essay, so they end up wasting a lot of time staring at a blank screen. Don’t get caught up in this trap! Dive right into your writing by inserting your thesis statement in place of your first paragraph, write the first body paragraph of your essay and keep on going! You won’t feel the same pressure to start with perfection. Plus, often by the time you have written the body paragraphs of your essay, you have a better sense of what you are really trying to say, which makes writing a great intro even easier.
Be sure to give your paragraphs structure so your writing is clear and stays on topic. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence . Next, give an example, usually a quote from your text or outside source, which supports your topic sentence. Explain what this example means, clarifying any ambiguous or difficult terms that your source may have used. Finally, relate the example you just shared back to your thesis, so your reader understands how this example relates to the broader topic of your essay.
Step Five: Write the Intro and Conclusion
Once you have written the body of your essay, it’s time to take a step back and think about your introduction and conclusion paragraphs. For your introduction, you will want to start with a sentence that draws your reader in and makes them want to know more about what you have to say. A bold question, interesting statistic, or a famous quotation can make for a great compelling opening statement.
Basically, your introductory paragraph should first grab your reader’s attention, then give them a broad overview of your topic, leading to your thesis statement. On the other hand, your conclusion paragraph should do just the opposite. Start with a reiteration of your thesis, move to a summary of what you have covered in your essay, and end with a general statement indicating the significance of your topic in the broader world in general.
Step Six: Revise
Finish writing the bulk of your paper at least one day before it is due. Set your paper aside for a day before revising, so you can look over your work with fresh eyes. Print a copy of your essay and read it aloud, highlighting or making marks on any sentences, words or phrases that don’t seem quite right. Often, you can hear awkward phrasing, overused words, and other mistakes much more easily than you see them when you are reading silently. You will also be able to hear if you’ve written something that just doesn’t make sense.
Now that you’ve identified the problems in your essay, it’s time to fix them. Smooth out awkward or rough sentences so they flow better when read aloud. Use a thesaurus to replace repeated words with synonyms as needed, but don’t overuse big words just to sound “smart”. The best essays rely on clear, concise language that gets your point across simply. If you are not sure if you have used a word correctly, look it up in the dictionary. Take the time to check your spelling and punctuation. Revising and polishing your work can take your grade from a B or a C to an A+.
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Photo by Stuart Pilbrow