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How to Write an Essay

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In this introductory article, we will consider an overview of college essay writing and briefly outline some of the topics that are dealt with in greater depth in other articles. We start by looking at the defining attributes of the genre and then touch on a number of themes including planning, topics, essay outlines, format and structure.

What is an Essay?

Most students and a fair share of teachers merely think of them as an assessment task and define them by the parameters of each academic format. This is not all they are and furthermore, thinking about them like this limits our appreciation of them. If you want to become a better writer, I hope this article will encourage you to consider how useful and relevant this style of writing has become.

Essay Definition

Essays pre-date the printing press and were one of the earliest popular genres after the emergence of mass printing. They are a style of writing, next to novels and poetry, by which authors articulate an idea. That is really all there is to it. You can weave complex ideas through the narrative of a novel or illustrate them through poetry. However, essays are where we get straight into the bare bones of explaining ideas.

More are being written in current times than ever before; they are all over the internet. Most blog articles serve as examples, and most of the popular YouTube videos are written like informal essays which are read by a presenter. You can watch thousands of people on internet videos presenting such works on seemingly infinite topics together with still images, infographics or video clips. On this, and similar platforms, we can observe examples of argumentative, analytical, procedural or almost any other style, with varying degrees of formality.

If you take the time to improve your essay writing skills, it will not only be useful you while you study. To learn how to write a good custom essay you have to build your experience in research and communication. Equally, you need to develop your ability to effectively communicate ideas to your audience: whether they are reading your essay or you are reading it to them on a video or podcast. Writing is a communication skill, for life.

How to Start an Essay

There are some wonderful resources available for people who are not sure where to start. Not least amongst these sources of essay help are those from which you can acquire an essay outline template. A good essay template can make writing an assignment something like a ‘join the dots’ puzzle. Perhaps the greatest power of this tool is that the writer does not need to start from a blank screen and can, instead, start filling in the blanks.

“There’s no starting quite like starting”

Of all the essay writing tips I have learned, my favorite is, “there’s no starting quite like starting.” I often remind myself of this. I will admit that, for me as might be the case for others, starting any major writing project can be daunting. However, I seem to continually rediscover how amazing it is just to get started. I may not be able to visualize the whole project, nor may I be able to write a detailed outline. Nonetheless, once I get started I start to see the problems I must solve, and the project starts to take shape as I find solutions and further explore the topic.

Essay Format V’s Essay Structure

You don’t need to get confused by online guides which seem to use the terms structure and format interchangeably. The difference is very simple. Formats must be followed according to a style guide that prescribes values for things like margin width, indentation, spacing, and referencing style. This is not the same thing as the structure of the essay which is academic and organized to present your writing in a logical order.

For example, a student might be asked to prepare a five paragraph paper according to the Harvard style guide. The ‘five paragraph’ request is a prescription of a structure. This is a basic structure which has, at least, three paragraphs in which an argument or analysis is made, preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion. The criterion that the paper is written according to the Harvard style guide will inform the formatting of the paper.

How to Cite my Essay: Referencing According to an Essay Format

While essay formatting deals with many page formatting details, the vast majority of discussion on formatting is related to referencing. The style guide the writer follows will outline the universal format by which citations will be cited and recorded. As we have discussed in another article in greater detail, there are a lot of reasons to properly cite your work; not least is the need to give your reader the opportunity to access the sources from which you drew your ideas and arguments. The writer needs to familiarize themselves with the format of the style they are using and list information about the sources they have used accordingly.

Read more: How to Reference your Essay

Common Essay Types

This is not completely uniform across all schools and universities. Nonetheless, there are some basic types that are very common. It is immeasurably useful to have a clear understanding of what are asked to produce so that you can satisfy the requirements simply and completely.

Essay Types Chart

Argumentative essay

Argumentative writing starts from a thesis and breaks the issue down in a logical way through the body while supporting the thesis with evidence from cited work. This is very similar to the expository essay. Although, when one is asked to write in an argumentative style, the request is usually for a major work which draws from a broader research effort. Expository essays, or expositions can be as short as in-class tasks.

Read more: How to Write an Argumentative Essay

Persuasive Essay

For the most part, persuasive writing is structurally the same thing as argumentative. The reason why this alternative descriptor is used is that it carries with it a lower expectation of burden of proof. The writer of a persuasive piece may appeal to ‘pathos’, or make emotional pleas. On the other hand, it is expected that an argumentative paper should be grounded more firmly in ‘logos’, or logic. The argumentative writing draws from knowledge and evidence to make a case while persuasive writing might draw from notions of character, ethics and goodness.

Read more: How to Write a Persuasive Essay

Compare and Contrast Essay

This is quite different. It is used to pit two ideas or things against each other by looking at the things they have in common, comparing and those properties that set them apart, contrasting. There are many ways to structure it logically, and the structure really should be determined by the nature of the subjects. For example, the writer could organize the essay point by point or elaborate on one subject completely and then the other followed by a paragraph or two discussing them in a reflection of each other.

Read more: How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Cause and Effect Essay

A cause and effect essay is written to explain the flow of consequence from the various factors that interact together to their result. A high-quality response to the task will not assume that a correlation exists between the cause and effect but will go further in an attempt to prove that there is a causal relationship.

Read more: How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay

5-Paragraph Essay

A five paragraph essay is a structural descriptor more than a separate genre of writing an essay. When taken literally, a 5 paragraph essay has five paragraphs: three body paragraphs preceded by an introductory paragraph and followed by a conclusion. However, it is also often used as a structural description, and it may not be referring to 5 paragraphs literally but just referring to short essays in which a similar structure is applied.

Read more: How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay

Descriptive Essay

Descriptive writing explains something rather than attempt to posit an argument. It could be something dry and intellectual, like an idea or theoretical model, or it might be something from the physical world. For undergraduate and high school students, this task is usually an exercise in communication, and the writer can employ techniques more often associated with creative writing. The goal is to create a clear and vivid picture of the object or idea in the mind of the reader.

Read more: How to Write a Descriptive Essay

Narrative Essay

Sometimes a story, or narrative, is the best way to illustrate an idea and writing that makes use of this device is a narrative essay. The writer is welcome to use the first person pronouns and write about themselves, although this is not required unless specifically requested. It must still have a thesis. Otherwise, it is not an essay. The story should help to illustrate an idea in the way that work cited from published work might support an argument.

Read more: How to Write a Narrative Essay

Informative Essay

This might seem very similar to an expository essay. However, an exposition is more closely related to argumentative writing. Informative writing does not need to be so deeply researched or make such a strong point as an expository or informative paper. Procedural essays are one example but, so also is a lot of the content on the internet. Informative, like descriptive essays, explain but don’t explore.

Read more: How to Write an Informative Essay

Analytical Essay

An analytical essay often comes in the form of the more specific literary analysis. However, any work, such as a film, painting, architectural design or even a computer game, could be the subject of an analytical essay. It is important, however, when writing the analysis, to have some point you are trying to make. The story in a narrative essay is a device, as is, to some extent the subject of the analysis. It is this point that creates the difference between a review and an analytical essay.

Read more: How to Write an Analytical Essay

Application Essays and The Common Application Essay

If you want to pick up some great tips on how to write a good essay that will boost your chances at being accepted into the college of your choice, we offer a lot of help on this site. When you write your essay for college admission, you want to make yourself stand out. Usually, a college essay will be written in response to one of a number of prompts. This is exactly how it works when a student submits an application through The Common Application. The Common App essay gives you the opportunity to write one application essay and be considered by more than 700 universities. The Common App Essay prompts are changed from year to year but will always give you the opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills while you share with them something about yourself.

Related:: How to Write a College Application Essay

Scholarship Essay

Care must be taken to read the instructions for application carefully. Many undergraduate scholarships funds ask for writing which is similar to that written to apply for admission into a university. However, there are many very specific scholarships that require the applicant to demonstrate how their demographic or work fits the unique parameters of the scholarship.

Read more: How to Write a Scholarship Essay

Essay Topics

The more practice you get at writing, the easier it becomes to think of good essay ideas. If you are stumped, and you can’t think of anything, try getting onto the internet to read what opinionated people are saying publicly. Find forums and blogs where people discuss issues from your field and consider what you agree with and what you do not. Attempt to allow some of the enthusiasm other people have for the field you are researching to rub off on you.

Related: How to Choose Essay Topics

Instead of arguing with someone in a comment section. Try researching their argument, find the background information that informs or illustrates your point of view and write a rational response to the issues. Perhaps you will compare and contrast their ideas with yours, maybe you’ll take an analytical approach, or you could forward a properly argumentative piece of work. It doesn’t even matter if the original commenter is not interested in reading your carefully written response. You are on your way to being able to organize your thinking and communicate like an essayist and what’s more, you are learning how to use conflict and contrast to feed the creativity you need to think of topics.

Essay Prompts

Prompts are the topics your assessors give you to get you started on your task. They can be in the form of a thesis to argue, a reference to data to analyze, or a pair of ideas about which to write a compare and contrast response. Some students may find them restrictive if they already have a lot of ideas about what to write. However, most of us appreciate being given a nudge in some direction. It is in this direction that our lecturers want us to study to become more familiar with the literature, so we need to stay on track.

When you are given a prompt, keep your response focused. Don’t just start from the prompt and then stray in any direction. The prompt is more than a starting nudge. Focus on the curiosity of the prompt and make every word you write count toward servicing that curiosity.

How to Write an Essay Outline

I am going to let you in on a secret about writing essay outlines. I do not always write them before I start everything else. I always write an outline, but I don’t always know what my completed project will look like before I get started. Furthermore, I am often keen to get started with the writing, knowing that it is easier to change everything than to start from scratch. An outline will always help you get better marks, but I do not believe it is necessary to follow the common writing guides which suggest that finishing the outline before you write, is as important as having a building plan before commencing construction. If you can write your outline before you write the body, it will save you time.

Your outline can be written while you undertake the whole project and both can evolve as your work takes shape. The outline reads like an essay map even if it is not a pre-written plan but a metric of how your structure progresses logically. It offers a brief account of the content and quick notes about how this content relates to the topic or prompt. It can serve as a measure of how well you are keeping to the topic. Even if you are not writing it before you begin the essay, still doing so helps you get better results, every time. The most important thing is to get started so don’t get stuck trying to imagine how everything will take shape just because someone told you to write the outline before you begin.

Essay Introductions and Conclusions

It is only in very rare cases now that I would start writing an introduction before I have finished writing the first draft of the main body. A lot of writing guides will suggest the most obvious path and tell you to write your introduction first and then ask that you follow the introduction as you run through the arguments in the essay body. However, I believe that this is the role of the outline and that the introduction is more similar to a table of contents which is written after the book has been written. I would proof-read my document, and then I would write a paragraph which I think is the most succinct and useful introduction to the main body, such as it is when finished.

Similarly, I suggest writing a conclusion after the introduction has been written. This gives you the opportunity to write a conclusion that reminds the reader of the agenda set by the introduction and reiterates how the main body’s arguments and evidence achieved the goals of the introduction. It is not exactly, “say what you will say, say it, and then say what was said.” I am not claiming that the essay conclusion should be a copy of the introduction but that they work together.

The arguments are laid out in the main body according to the progression of logic we map in the outline. We then write an introduction to state our goals and foreshadow the progression of logic which will follow. Finally, we write a conclusion which states how our arguments given worked together to achieve the goals we stated in the introduction.

A Catchy Essay Hook

The ‘hook’ can be more than just the witty one-liner in the topic sentence. When you have written the main body, and you are now thinking about how to wrap it all together with a neat introduction and conclusion, think the message of your essay as a whole; your ‘hook’ is like the ribbon you put around the wrapped up present. Is there some idea that can lead to your analysis or argument well, or colorfully illustrate the question you are attempting to answer? It is great if you can think of a hook and allow this idea to filter through the title, the introduction paragraph and into the way, your frame the progression of logic and conclude your argument. The hook is like the riff in that song that gets stuck in your head. Similarly, it is advantages if this hook can resonate through your work to be something that makes your ideas and progression of thought memorable. It starts with an attention-grabbing question or provocative statement to constitute your title, but it works best when you follow through with this idea rather than let it stand alone.

Read more: How to Write a Hook for an Essay

Proofread and check

A writer can put a great deal of work into research, outlines and planning and then writing and still cheat themselves of the reward they deserve by not checking their work. I strongly recommend going further than proofreading and reading your work aloud. It is so important to check your work because you have invested too much into getting your marks than to just lose them on spelling, grammar, typing mistakes and forgotten half sentences.

step by step guide writing an essay

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