How to Write an Essay
An essay is a piece of writing about a specific subject that usually puts forth a certain opinion or point of view. Essays are usually short pieces of a few pages in length, but can also be longer depending on the subject.
The overall structure of an essay usually consists of an introductory paragraph presenting the subject and a thesis statement which describes the author's position on the subject. The central part of the essay is arranged to present supporting arguments for the author's position. An essay usually concludes with a final paragraph that summarizes the central argument and draws a final conclusion, often presenting the subject in a new context to give food for thought, or calling for a specific action by the reader. The essay is a very common form of persuasive writing in English, and they are often assigned in schools to give students practice using the structure and to develop critical thinking skills.
Writing a good essay requires some preparation and thought. Here are some steps to lead you through the process of writing a good essay:
Identify a topic. You may have a topic assigned to you, in which case this step is taken care of. If you are choosing your own topic, pick one that you yourself find interesting. It will be easier to form a thesis and supporting arguments if you care about the subject. Your interest will show through in your writing and make your essay more compelling. It will also make writing your essay more enjoyable.
You should also choose a topic that has an adequate amount of information available about it. Narrow topics of a specific interest may be hard to support with research. More general topics will have a good amount of information available and will appeal to a wider number of readers.
Research your topic. Researching your topic is the first crucial step. Your choice of topic will often direct the kind of research you need to do, but look for a wide variety of sources and types of information. You may need to widen or narrow your topic during this stage if you find there is too much or not enough information available.
While performing research it is extremely important to use reliable sources. The Internet is a common research tool, however information found there may be many times removed from its original source and errors or personal opinions can be mixed with fact. Track information back to its source and decide if the source is reliable. Always prefer original sources to second-hand information. Original sources include books, academic journals, official statistics and similar types of information. Blog articles, online forums and opinion articles are not to be considered original sources. Any statements of facts from these secondary sources should be verified before you use them in your own essay.
When you are taking notes from a source, it is very important also to make note of the source so you can correctly cite it in your essay. Using the work of another person without giving credit is considered plagiarism, and is a very serious matter. It is certainly OK to use the research of others and even other essays to support your own essay, but you must make sure your reader knows the source of the material you use. Taking good notes as you gather information will make this easier as you begin to write.
Develop your thesis. Your thesis is what gives your essay its purpose. It is a short statement that tells your reader what it is you want your essay to successfully argue. Your thesis might take one side of a controversial issue, or it might be to propose a specific course of action.
You may already have a thesis in mind before you begin your research, or your research may lead you to lean one way or the other on your topic. At this point, refine your thesis so that it can sustain a full essay.
A thesis should not simply be a statement of fact, but should present a position. For example a statement such as, "College-sponsored sports have risen in popularity in the last five years" would not make a good essay thesis. This is a statement that can easily be proven or disproven with little need for persuading the reader. Better examples are something like, "College sports have become a big business that detract from the educational mission of a school," or "College sports enhance the educational mission of a school." These are statements that present a position on a subject that readers may agree or disagree with.
A thesis should be specific. In an essay, it is better to go into depth about one specific subject than to try to cover several related subjects. Line up several supporting facts from your research that support your thesis. If there are too many facts you may need to revise your thesis so it covers only one element of your topic. You want to keep your readers engaged in your topic and not confuse or bore them by presenting too much information.
Along with your thesis, you should identify a conclusion, a solution, a proposal or a call to action. For example, if your thesis is something like "College sports benefit the schools that sponsor them more than the athletes who take part," you might propose a solution where athletes are allowed to share in the profits from college sports programs. The solution or conclusion should follow logically from your thesis and be supported by your research.
Outline your essay. The next step before you begin to write is to draw up an outline of your essay. An essay should begin with an introduction, which states the topic and presents the thesis in one or two paragraphs, and a conclusion of one or two paragraphs that summarizes and ends the essay with your conclusion or proposal. In between comes your argument based on your research. Each of your major points should have its own section in your outline.
Think about the "shape" you want your essay to take. Identify your strongest argument and decide where to place it within your essay. You may wish to build your essay up to your strongest argument, presenting a dramatic conclusion. Or you may want to present your strongest argument early and then present evidence for it. A third common structure is to present a chain of evidence and conclusions that build upon one another to reach your final conclusion.
It is a good idea to place your most important information either at the beginning or the end of your essay, where it will best grab the attention of your reader. These are the parts of your essay a reader will remember most.
When identifying your arguments, try to anticipate any questions or objections someone who opposes your position might raise. Address these counter arguments positively. Don't simply state the other side's position and then argue that it is wrong. Make your counter argument the main subject and provide your evidence in favor of it.
Write your first draft. With your outline in place, you are ready to start writing. Start with the introduction. You want to grab your reader's attention and make them interested in reading the rest of your essay. You might present an interesting fact from your research, or state a problem in an interesting way, or open with an intriguing question. After getting their attention, explain to your reader what your topic is and conclude your introduction with your thesis.
Next write a paragraph for each of the arguments in your outline. Each subject should get its own paragraph and each paragraph should begin with a sentence that states the topic. Do not shift topics in the middle of a paragraph or include extra information that is not related to the topic sentence.
In your conclusion, begin by briefly summarizing your overall argument and end with your conclusion, solution, proposal or call to action. In presenting your conclusion, point out the importance of your topic by placing it in a larger context or relating it directly to your reader's experience. Don't simply restate your thesis, but give it a fresh twist or present it in a way the reader may not have thought of. Leaving your reader with a surprise or dramatic flourish at the end will increase their interest in your topic and make your writing more persuasive.
Edit. Editing is one of the most important steps in writing a good essay. Check your grammar, spelling and format. Make sure all of your research and quotations are clearly cited. Your teacher may have a specific format to follow in making citations, which you should follow. Remember that using someone else's work without attribution is plagiarism!
Revise. With your editing done, move on to making revisions. Ask if the order of your paragraphs make sense and create a strong, persuasive flow of reasoning. Move paragraphs around if necessary.
Make sure your language is clear and easy to follow. It is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your essay to get feedback on its structure and flow. They may make suggestions for rewriting portions, but always make the actual revisions yourself to avoid plagiarism.
By this point you will have spent a lot of time thinking about and writing your essay and you may not have a fresh perspective. Put the essay away for a day or two and re-read it with a fresh point of view. This can help you see points you may have missed or places where the logic does not flow. Go back and revise as needed.