The word essay is derived from the French verb “essayer” meaning “to try” or “to attempt”. In an essay, the author gives their reflections or personal point of view on a certain subject in an attempt to inform, persuade or entertain the reader. As a student, you may be required to write an essay as an assignment or for university admission, or you could decide to enter an essay competition. There are different types of essays, with the most common being descriptive essays, narrative essays, expository essays, personal and persuasive essays. Essay writing helps you develop crucial transferable skills that will come in handy in your professional life, e.g. critical thinking, presentation of ideas, coherent sentence structuring among others. In this guide on how to write an essay we are going to explore how to write a winning essay.
How to Write an Essay: Understand the Essay Question
The first step to composing a great essay is to have a clear and thorough understanding of what the essay requires. This means analyzing the topic and understanding the key words of the essay question. To comprehend the question:
- Highlight the keywords of the essay question
- Confirm the meaning of these words from a dictionary
For instance if the question is “Describe the effects of standardization on consumer safety”, you might want to highlight and ascertain the meaning of the keywords as follows:
Describe the effects of standardization on consumer safety.
This will give you a clue on few fronts:
- What kind of research do you need? E.g. if the question says “discuss”, that means present arguments for and against an issue, in which case you will need to research for information supporting each sides of the argument.
- Who is the likely audience of the essay?
- How will the audience influence or affect your literary style?
- What type of essay are you writing? Argumentative Essay?
How to Write an Essay: Research on the Essay Topic
Even before putting pen to paper, it is a good idea to get a broad grasp or knowledge base concerning the topic. Start light, and then dig deeper as you get more familiar with the material. When researching, search the internet to acclimatize yourself with the very basic ideas of the topic. (Wikipedia is a good site to acquire broad-based knowledge, but do not cite it or other open web sources. This is because the authenticity of sources of information in such sites is questionable). As you delve deeper, explore scholarly articles on the issue. If you are relying on online research, utilize academic databases such as Google Scholar and JSTOR.
Useful Tips on how to Search for Essay Topic
- Read through your handout notes for relevant background information
- Use the internet to familiarize yourself with the subject material
- Visit your school or local library to read books on the subject matter. Use indices or the list of chapters to find the relevant chapter(s) in books
- Note down quotes from influential thinkers in the field (However do not overuse these as it may be a bit of an overkill. You also want to preserve your own voice)
- Follow a “little from a lot’’ approach, i.e. gather information from many sources as opposed to a lot of information from few sources.
- Refer to many sources to give your essay a balanced view
- Find out the current developments concerning the issue
How to Write an Essay: Brainstorming
At this point, you should have a command of the topic and thus the ability to generate your own ideas. Brainstorming is coming up with original ideas or solutions to a problem. It is a simple technique of gathering your thoughts and working out what you have conceptualized up to this point. Remember your paper must illuminate on the topic from a previously unexplored point of view. Check out these stages on how to brainstorm effectively.
Listing of ideas in essay writing
Write down any idea you can think of. Even ideas that sound stupid may later prove useful. (Use pen and paper or a separate Word document)
Evaluating your essay ideas
- Ask yourself questions about the issue and answer them
- Generate alternative solutions or specific courses of action that you think would be embraced to solve the issue
Scrutinizing of your essay ideas
- Critically examine the ideas. Which ideas do you think are best suited to solve the issue?
- Highlight these ideas
- Using this criteria: “Specific, Balanced, Realistic, Lasting, Fair” , evaluate these ideas
- Spin these ideas into your essay as practicable solutions
While writing my Essay; How do I Write my Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is an assertion at the introductory stage of your essay that expresses the focus of the essay. It is a strong statement that announces your standpoint on the issue. A thesis is part of your introductory paragraph and is often preceded by the opening statement. It is like the map that guides the reader through the uncharted seas that is your essay.
What Should a good Essay Thesis Statement Have?
Your Essay Thesis Statement Should be Arguable
Your thesis statement must express something that would leave room for agreement or alternate viewpoints. It must be debatable. It is never a fact. For example: Inarguable: “Exercise and a healthy diet are necessary for optimum health.” (Who could refute this? This is not very debatable; it is more like a fact.) Arguable: “Technology has done more harm than good to society and the environment”. (This is subject to debate because many people would not necessarily agree with it. It would make a good thesis statement)
Your Essay Thesis Statement Should be Unambiguous/Precise
Avoid over-generalization. Do not use vague words like good, suitable interesting etc. For example: Coordinating public-transit systems with train travel would be good for American cities. (So what? It does not answer the question “How” or “Why”)
Your Essay Thesis Statement Should be Cohesive
Make your statement coherent by using connecting words such as although, actually, as a result of, etc. Example: “Although Western media depicts Africa as a continent ravaged by war, Africa is actually a fairly peaceful continent.”
When writing my Essay; how do I Create an Essay Outline?
An outline is the design or “blueprint”, which is like a map that is going to direct you as you write your essay. An outline helps you avoid unnecessary material that you will ultimately need to be expunged from the body later. An outline guides you in the writing process and allows you to concentrate on producing quality prose. Do you want to constantly pause in the middle of the process to recollect your thoughts, or will you focus your energies on good vocabulary and literary style? Luckily, well show you to create an outline. There are many ways of constructing an outline but they follow the same formula.
What should an Essay Outline Comprise?
The essay title
An introduction: which consists of an opening sentence(s), a sentence or a couple of sentences building up to the thesis statement, and finally t
he thesis statement.
Paragraphs: which consist of a topic sentence, followed by supporting sentences to back up the topic sentence.
When creating an outline, remember to keep it brief and to the point. When describing a point, keep it short but phrase it in a way that you can understand. Example: If your topic sentence in a paragraph is parents should allow children to keep pets because it helps them learn the values of responsibility and commitment, you could say, “Parents should let children keep pets – responsibility/commitment”.
A Sample Essay Outline
a.) An opening sentence
b.) Sentences leading up to thesis statement
c.) Thesis statement
a.) Paragraph #1
-Main idea i.e. the topic sentence
-Supporting sentences for the main idea
b.) Paragraph #2
-Main idea i.e. the topic sentence
-Supporting sentences for the main idea
c.) Paragraph #3
-Main idea i.e. the topic sentence
-Supporting sentences for the main idea
a.) Opening sentence
b.) A reworking of your thesis
c.) Sentence(s) building up to the end (optional)
d.) Closing sentence
When writing my Essay; how do I write the Essay Introduction?
A good introduction captures the imagination of the reader. Your first goal in the introduction is to grab their attention. Such an introduction should have the effect of delighting, intriguing or even shocking the reader.
How to create attention grabbing Essay Introduction
Use of Surprising statistics or facts in Essay Writing
E.g., 40% of food is wasted in the United States every year.
Remember, this information must not be a wild guess or fiction but rather accurate and verifiable information. It does not necessarily have to be news to the reader, but it serves as a focus point on your argument.
Use of A Paradox in essay writing
E.g., The African continent is endowed with large quantities of natural resources like diamonds, gold, petroleum, cocoa beans, oil and gas deposits, yet it is also the continent with the lowest per capita GDP.
Use of an Anecdote in essay writing
i.e. a short nonfiction story. E.g. when writing a personal or narrative essay.
Use of A rhetorical or thought provoking question in essay writing
e.g., Is strategic patience really a good policy when dealing with aggressive foreign countries?
Use of A Metaphor in essay writing
E.g., The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, but the huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor is the blot of ink on the textbook.
When writing my Essay; how do I write the Essay Paragraphs?
Paragraphs are the building blocks of your essay. They make up the biggest chunk of your essay and hence support your argument. Every new paragraph encompasses a new idea and therefore each paragraph should have a unique focus to it.
An Essay Paragraph Should Comprises
A Topic Sentence in essay paragraph
The first sentence of your paragraph, which not only orientates the reader with the idea of the paragraph but also keeps you, the writer, on track. Example: The discovering of the moon paved way to new inventions. This is a good topic sentence because it allows you to illustrate inventions that were made courtesy of the moon being discovered. In addition, it gives the reader an idea of what to expect next.
An Elaboration in essay paragraph
Support the topic sentence with evidence and examples. Evidence is proof in form of statistics, a study, etc. Transitioning from one paragraph to another should appear natural and seamless. Use transition words such as “another” , “likewise”, ”by the same token” , “ moreover” , “additionally”, “however” , “nevertheless” etc. to switch from one paragraph to another.
For example: “Another factor contributing to crime in America is substance abuse…”
“Additionally, lack of clarity in candidates’ policies leads to low voter turnout…”
“Moreover, lack of collateral prevents many small businesses from accessing loans…”
When writing an Essay; How do I write the Essay Conclusion?
A conclusion is the culmination of your essay. This part takes it home for your reader. The conclusion is no place to introduce new ideas or evidence. In writing a conclusion, reflect on this query: “So what?” Why should the reader care about your argument? How can you convince or persuade them to adopt your point of view? Any conclusion must reference your thesis statement – you are reminding the reader of the main argument of your essay. Render your conclusion with confidence – avoid using phrases such as “I think”, “I am of the opinion that”, “At least that’s what I think” etc., as these poke holes in your credibility. Also avoid such phrases as “to conclude”, “to summarize”, “in conclusion” as these are cliché and redundant.
A good Essay Conclusion Should Have:
- Rearticulates the thesis statement
- Creatively summarizes arguments presented in the essay
- Recommends a solution that could fill the gap in the issue being addressed
- Is authoritative and resolute, as opposed to weak or apologetic
- Leaves the reader with something to think about (a take home message)
- Provides a sense of closure for the essay
How to Write an Essay: Referencing and Citation
Your essay inevitably stands on the shoulders of giants. Your ideas and thoughts are borrowed from other researchers or scholars. This is known as citing.
Guidelines used when Citing Sources in Essay Writing
Quoting Guidelines in essay writing
This is when you borrow from an author word for word. Only quote if the phrase is catchy, or if you feel it is the best rendering of your intended point. Always signal the entry of a quotation, as illustrated below. Example: “It was Nelson Mandela who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Mixed quoting Guidelines in essay writing
This is when you paraphrase (paraphrasing is discussed below) part of an original quote but “quote” the rest. Example: “Nelson Mandela reminded us of the impact of education as being “the most powerful weapon” in changing the world.
Paraphrasing Guidelines in essay writing
Paraphrasing involves using original language and literary style to communicate the same message as somebody else. Do not just use synonyms to paraphrase. Example: “Nelson Mandela knew the indispensability of education in any society. According to him, it was the single most effective way in making a universal difference.”
Referencing allows you to acknowledge the sources of your citation, in addition to granting the reader access to further information on the presented facts. Additionally, referencing provides proof of your research and, importantly, helps you ward off accusations of plagiarism. Plagiarism is using other people’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. A serious academic and professional offence, it could get your work cancelled, or you could receive worse penalties. Your lecturer or school will specify the referencing style required for your essay.
How to Write an Essay: Revising Your Essay
After you are done drafting your essay, the next step is to review it. Take a day off before revisiting your essay so you can look at it from a renewed perspective.
Follow these steps to polish up your essay
Wording in your Essay
Avoid clichés: Clichés are words or phrases that have been used to the point of losing their original effect. E.g. “when all is said and done”, “avoid it like the plague” “for all intents and purposes” etc. Omit needless words from your draft: Example: Instead of saying, “Before Matt left the country to move abroad, he was working at McDonalds.” Say, “Before Matt left the country for abroad, he worked at McDonalds”
Use gender-neutral language in essay writing
Avoid using words that denote feminine or masculine bias. Example: fireman, waiter/waitress, mankind etc. Instead, say: firefighter, table attendant, humanity etc. Also, avoid the use of third person pronouns i.e. “him/her”
Grammar in essay writing
Reread your essay to check sentence structure, spellings (or misspellings thereof), and punctuation. Make sure transitioning from one idea to another or paragraph to another sound effortless and natural. Refrain from using first person phrases i.e. “In my opinion”, “I really think” etc. as they only serve to weaken your arguments. Make sure you have provided all supporting evidence to your arguments. Provide a list of references for your citations.
Now, you are done with your essay. Congratulations!
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References used to write this article
The following resources were consulted when writing this article:
bd.eduweb.hhs.nl/How to Write an Essay