How to Write a Great Essay
Whether you are still on school or working in an office, chances are you will have to write an informative or persuasive essay at some point in your career. Essay writing is a formulaic and logic approach to presenting facts for an argument. You can write a great essay simply by following some very key points on how to lay out its’ structure.
The structure and logical approach to your essay depends entirely on what information that you are trying to convey. Are you trying to persuasively support an argument? Perhaps you to compare and contrast two things – for example, your company needs to choose new accounting software and you’ve been chosen to research and present your findings (a comparative analysis) in an essay format. Find out what you need and how you want to say it, and then present it cohesively and thoroughly.
Most essays follow a typical structure using a Thesis, then Support, Arguments, and Conclusions. Its okay to follow this type of structure as long as you are able to coherently rationalise all of your points. Your thesis should be an arguable claim. A statement of fact is not a thesis. A statement of fact is, “Pollution is bad for the environment.” A thesis might instead be, “Australia’s environmental efforts should focus less on recycling and more on decreasing the carbon emissions of its citizens, through more stringent regulations on their cars.” A good tip is writing down your original idea, “Pollution is bad for the environment” and work on refining it more thoroughly as you gather support for your essay.
Once you have an idea of your thesis, you can then work on supporting your arguments and claims. You will need to get your readers to ask questions. If there are no questions, then your thesis isn’t yet strong enough. Tailor your essay around these three questions, “What”, “How” and “Why”. These questions are used to map your essay, explain your thesis and conclude the topic.
- What? – What evidence do you have to support your thesis? Your “what” section usually comes after your thesis, and should be after the introduction. It shouldn’t take up the greatest amount of space in your essay though.
- How? – How does your thesis stand up to counter argument? Will your claims still stand? What are the counterpoints and how do you refute them?
- Why? – This is where you state the significance of your thesis. Why does it matter? The “why” usually comes at the end, and answering it fully means that your essay is neatly completed leaving your reader with a more rounded experience.
Many people are also taught the “PEEL” method. The PEEL method is used for making sure that your paragraphs aren’t weak and fragmented. Using a PEEL paragraph means that your essay has greater flow from paragraph to paragraph and that they connect to one another, leading from your introduction and thesis all the way through your support to the conclusion. The PEEL method works by providing a “Point”, “Evidence”, “Explanation” and “Link”.
- Point – This is the topic sentence in your paragraph and should clearly state the point of the paragraph and how it links back to your thesis. Be clear and concise in explaining your idea and wrap it up in a sentence or two.
- Evidence – The evidence should refer to your topic sentence. It should be credible and verifiable. Commonly it will include statistics, study results, or concrete examples. Only in informal writings such as personal essays should you provide personal or anecdotal evidence to support your point.
- Explain – This is where you interpret the evidence and evaluate it in support of your statement. You should be analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence and then make a judgement of what assumption you have derived from your evidence.
- Link – The link sentence isn’t like a hyperlink to more information. It provides a flowing statement that not only links the paragraph to your main thesis and opening statement, but also provides a smooth transition to your next paragraph.
Using these methods, you should be able to construct a great essay that clearly states its points and supports your thesis properly. Try to avoid creating essays that are merely a summary of your topic. Remember, your essay should invite questions and create an argument that is clearly summed up. Don’t fall into the trap of creating lists (using openers such as “also,” “furthermore,” “in addition to”) or creating recipes (“first,” “next,” “then”). These can indicate to the reader that your essay lacks a solid thesis and evidence, or that you have merely copied your source material.
Throughout your time in academic study, you will be asked to write numerous essays. It may be an assigned essay for your HSC English tutoring home work, or to write several essay for college admission. We will show you the writing and revision processes for all types of essay writing needs.
The Process of Writing Your Essay:
First, research the topic. Search the web, visit the library, research an academic database and review newspapers are all good starting points to find information on the topic.
Know which sources are acceptable to your teaching institution.
• Do they want a certain number of primary sources and secondary sources?
• Can you use Wikipedia? Wikipedia is a great starting point for learning about a topic, but many teachers won’t let you cite it because they want you to find more authoritative sources.
• Take detailed notes, keeping track of which facts come from which sources. Write down your sources in the correct citation format so that you don’t have to go back and look them up again later.
• Never ignore facts and claims that seem to disprove your original idea or claim. A good essay writer either includes the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid or alters his or her point of view in light of the evidence.
Analyse well-written essays.
In your research you’ll probably come across really well-written (and not so well-written) arguments about your topic. Do some analysis to see what makes them work.
• What claims does the author make?
Why do they sound good? Is it the logic, the sources, the writing, the structure? Is it something else?
• What evidence does the author present?
Why does the evidence sound credible? How does the author present facts, and what is his/her approach to telling a story with facts?
• Is the logic sound or faulty, and why?
Why is the logic sound? Does the author back up his/her claims with examples that are easy to follow?
Brainstorm your own ideas. Sure, you can use the arguments of others to back up what you want to say. However, you need to come up with your original spin on the topic to make it uniquely yours.
• Make lists of ideas. You can also try mind mapping.
• Take your time. Walk in your neighborhood or local park and think about your topic. Be prepared for ideas to come to you when you least expect them.
Pick your thesis statement.
• Look at the ideas that you generated. Choose one to three of your strongest ideas that support your topic. You should be able to support these ideas with evidence from your research.
• Write a thesis statement that summarizes the ideas that you plan to present. Essentially, let the reader know where you’re going and why.
A thesis statement should have a narrow focus include both your topic and what you plan to present. For example, “Although Eli Whitney’s cotton gin ushered in a new era of American prosperity, it also widened the gap in suffering for African-American slaves, who would soon be more in demand, and more exploited, than ever.”
A thesis statement should not ask a question, be written in first person (“I”), roam off-topic or be combative.
Plan your essay. Take the thoughts that you brainstormed and assemble them into an outline. Write a topic sentence for your main ideas. Then, underneath, make bullet points and list your supporting evidence. Generally, you want three arguments or pieces of evidence to support each main idea.
• Topic sentence: “Eli Whitney’s cotton gin made life harder on African American slaves.”
1. Ex: “The success of cotton made it harder for slaves to purchase their own freedom.”
2. Ex: “Many northern slaves were in danger of being kidnapped and brought down south to work in the cotton fields.”
3. Ex: “In 1790, before the cotton gin, slaves in America totaled about 700,000. In 1810, after the cotton gin had been adopted, slaves totaled about 1.2 million, a 70% increase.”
Write the body of your essay.
You do want to think about length here; don’t write pages and pages if your teacher wants 5 paragraphs. However, you should freewriteto let your thoughts reveal themselves. You can always make them more concise later.
• Avoid sweeping generalizations. Statements such as “______ is the most important problem facing the world today,” can cause your reader to dismiss your position out of hand if he/she disagrees with you. On the other hand, “______ is a significant global problem” is more accurate.
• Don’t use “I” statements such as “I think.” Likewise, avoid the personal pronouns “you,” “we,” “my,” “your” or “our”. Simply stating your argument with supporting facts makes you sound much more authoritative. Instead of writing, “I found Frum to have a conservative bias,” tell the reader why your statement is true: “Frum displays a conservative bias when he writes…”
Come up with a compelling title and introduction. Your title and introduction make people want to read your essay. If your teacher is the audience, then of course your teacher will read the whole piece. However, if you’re submitting to an essay contest or writing an essay for college admissions, your title and introduction have to hook the reader if you want to meet your objectives.
• Skip obvious expressions such as, “This essay is about, “The topic of this essay is” or “I will now show that”.
• Try the inverted pyramid formula. Start off with a very broad description of your topic and gradually narrow it down to your specific thesis statement. Try to use no more than 3 to 5 sentences for short essays, and no more than 1 page for longer essays.
• Short essay example: Every year, thousands of unwanted and abused animals end up in municipal shelters. Being caged in shelters not only causes animals to suffer but also drains local government budgets. Towns and cities could prevent both animal abuse and government waste by requiring prospective pet owners to go through mandatory education before allowing them to obtain a pet. Although residents may initially resist the requirement, they will soon see that the benefits of mandatory pet owner education far outweigh the costs.”
Conclude your essay.
Summarize your points and suggest ways in which your conclusion can be thought of in a larger sense.
• Answer questions like, “What are the implications of your thesis statement being true?” “What’s the next step?” “What questions remain unanswered?”
• Your arguments should draw your reader to a natural, logical conclusion. In a sense, you are repackaging your thesis statement in your concluding paragraph by helping the reader to remember the journey through your essay.
• Nail the last sentence. If your title and first paragraph make the reader want to read your essay, then your last sentence makes the reader remember you. If a gymnast does a great balance beam routine but falls on the landing, then people forget the routine. Gymnasts need to “stick the landing,” and so do essay writers.
Revising Your Essay
1/ Wait a day or so and re-read your essay. Get your essay done a couple of days before the due date so that you have time to go back and revise it to make it polished. Avoid turning in a first draft that you haven’t double-checked for errors.
2/ Correct errors related to grammar, punctuation and spelling. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semicolons, apostrophes or commas. Avoid using exclamation points.
3/ Check your statements.
• Look for mistakes involving than/then, your/you’re, its/it’s, etc. Make sure you know how to use apostrophes correctly.
• Look for mistakes involving general punctuation. Check for run-on sentences, commas and periods inside quotation marks, as well as sparely-used dashes, colons, and semi-colons.
4/ Remove any repetitive or unnecessary words. Vary your language with the help of a thesaurus. Also, consult a dictionary to make sure that you’re using unfamiliar words correctly.
• At the same time, try to keep your language short, sweet, and to the point. A thesaurus is a great tool, but don’t just use big words to sound fancy. The best essays are clear, concise, and easily understood by a wide audience.
• Focus on writing killer verbs for sentences. Verbs communicate the action in a sentence and drive the action. A great verb can be the difference between a bland sentence and a beautiful one.
• Use adjectives lightly. Adjectives are great descriptive words, but when used indiscriminately, they can burden an essay and make it less readable. Try to let the verbs and nouns do most of the heavy lifting before you focus on adjectives.
5/ Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations (e.g., don’t, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, could’ve, or haven’t). Your essay should have a serious tone, even if it’s written in a light or lyrical style.
6/ Analyze how your essay flows. Does each sentence lead smoothly to the next? Does each paragraph flow logically to the next? Good connections will help your ideas to flow:
• When events happen in sequence: I first started to realize that I was in the minority when I was in middle school…My realization was confirmed when I proceeded to high school.
• If sentences elaborate on each other: Plants need water to survive…A plant’s ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
• When an idea contrasts with another idea: Vegetarians argue that land is unnecessarily wasted by feeding animals to be eaten as food…Opponents argue that land being used for grazing would not be able to be used to create any other kind of food.
• If you’re relaying a cause and effect relationship: I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college…I am inspired to continue my family’s progress through the generations.
• When connecting similar ideas: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment . . . local food is believed to achieve the same goals.
7/ Cut information that’s not specifically related to your topic. You don’t want your essay to ramble off-topic. Any information that doesn’t directly or indirectly support your thesis should be cut out.
8/ Have someone read your paper aloud to you, or record yourself reading it aloud and play it back. Your ears are sometimes better than your eyes at picking up mistakes in language. The essay should sound like it has a good flow and understandable words.
9/ Rewrite any problematic body passages. If needed, rearrange sentences and paragraphs into a different order. Make sure that both your conclusion and introduction match the changes that you make to the body.
Writing a Persuasive Essay
1/ Compose your essay with a clear purpose. A persuasive essay is designed to sway the reader to adopt your point of view about a topic. These are good examples of persuasive essay topics you might write about:
• Whether governments should or should not fund embryonic stem cell research.
• Whether love is a virtue or a vice.
• Why Citizen Kane is the best movie of the 20th century.
• Why American citizens should be forced to vote
2/ Write your essay as though you are conducting a debate. When you speak in a debate, you introduce your topic, list your evidence and draw a conclusion for the people who are listening. A persuasive essay has a similar structure.
3/ Collect facts from good sources to justify your opinions. Support your argument with reasoned facts. A well-written essay is great, but a well-argued essay is undeniable.
• In addition to doing research, you can perform empirical experiments including taking surveys, doing interviews or conducting experiments. Survey results or interviews could be great pieces of information to start your essay with.
• Tell a story about the facts. Don’t just list the facts; tell a story! For example: “Since the death penalty has been reinstated, more than 140 inmates on death row have been released after evidence proved them innocent. Ask yourself: How would youlike to be one of those 140 wrongfully-convicted inmates?”
4/ Discuss conflicting opinions. Present the other side of your argument and use logic and facts to show why the other side’s opinion is either inaccurate or not up-to-date.
• For example: “Some people argue that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime. Time after time, evidence has disproved this theory. The death penalty, in fact, does not act as a deterrent to crime: The South accounts for 80% of US executions and has the highest regional murder rate.”
5/ Tie all your ideas together in a gripping conclusion. Be sure to stress your thesis, or what you are arguing for or against, one last time. Use some of the information you have discussed, or a story you’ve saved, to color your conclusion a little bit.
Writing an Expository Essay
1/ Choose a subject for your essay. You’ll be investigating a topic and presenting an argument about the topic based on evidence.
• For example, you could write an expository essay arguing that embryonic stem cell research can lead to cures for spinal cord injuries and illnesses like Parkinson’s or diabetes.
• Expository essays differ from persuasive essays because you aren’t stating an opinion. You’re stating facts that you can back up with research.
2/ Select your strategy and structure.
Some common strategies and structures for expository writing include:
• Definitions. Definition essays explain the meaning of terms or concepts.
• Classification. Classification essays organize a topic into groups starting with the most general group and narrowing down to more specific groups.
• Compare and contrast. In this type of essay, you’ll describe either the similarities and differences (or both) between ideas or concepts.
• Cause and effect. These essays explain how topics affect each other and how they are interdependent.
• How-to. How-to essays explain the steps required for completing a task or a procedure with the goal of instructing the reader.
3/ Keep your views unbiased. Expository essays aren’t about opinions. They are about drawing a conclusion based on verifiable evidence. This means keeping your perspective balanced and focusing on what the facts tell you.
• You might even find that, with new information, you’ll have to revise your essay. If you started out writing about the scarcity of information regarding global warming, but came across a bunch of scientific evidence supporting global warming, you at least have to consider revising what your essay is about.
4/ Use the facts to tell the story. The facts will tell the story itself if you let them. Think like a journalist when writing an expository essay. If you put down all the facts like a reporter, the story should tell itself.
• Don’t mess with structure in expository essays. In narrative essays, you can twist and turn the structure to make the essay more interesting. Be sure that your structure in expository essays is very linear, making it easier to connect the dots.
Write a Narrative Essay
1/ Tell your story vividly and accurately. A narrative essay recounts an incident that either you or others have experienced. In a narrative essay, you could describe a personal experience in which embryonic stem cell research could have helped you or someone you love conquer a debilitating condition.
2/ Include all of the elements of good storytelling. You’ll need an introduction, setting, plot, characters, climax and conclusion.
• Introduction: The beginning. How are you going to set the story up? Is there something useful or important here that gets mentioned later on?
• Setting: Where the action takes place. What does it look like? Which words can you use to make the reader feel like they are there when they read it?
• Plot: What happens. The meat of the story, the essential action. Why is the story worth telling?
• Characters: Who’s in the story. What does the story tell us about the characters? What do the characters tell us about the story?
• Climax: The suspenseful bit before anything is resolved. Are we left hanging on the edges of our seat? Do we need to know what happens next?
• Conclusion: How everything resolves. What does the story mean in the end? How have things, people, ideas changed now that the end is revealed?
3/ Have a clear point of view. Most narrative essays are written from the author’s point of view, but you can also consider other perspectives as long as your point of view is consistent.
• Utilize the pronoun “I” if you are the narrator. In a narrative essay, you can use first person. However, make sure that you don’t overdo it. In all essays, you sound more authoritative if you state facts or opinions in third person.
4/ Make a point. You’re telling a story, but the purpose of the story is to make a specific point. Introduce your main idea in your thesis statement, and make sure that all of your story elements tie back to your thesis statement.
• What did you learn? How is your essay an exploration of the things that you learned?
• How have you changed? How is the “you” that started the essay different from the “you” now? Related to, but different from, the “what did you learn?” question.
5/ Choose your language carefully. You will use words to evoke emotions in your reader, so choose your words deliberately.
The Basics of Effective Essay Writing
As you progress through school, you’ll be required to write essays. And the farther along in school you get, the more complex and demanding the essays will become. It’s important that you learn early on how to write effective essays that communicate clearly and accomplish specific objectives.
An essay is a written composition where you express a specific idea and then support it with facts, statements, analysis and explanations. The basic format for an essay is known as the five paragraph essay, but an essay may have as many paragraphs as needed. A five paragraph essay contains five paragraphs. However, the essay itself consists of three sections: an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
Select a Topic
When you first start writing essays in school, it’s not uncommon to have a topic assigned to you. However, as you progress in grade level, you’ll increasingly be given the opportunity to choose the topic of your essays. When selecting a topic for your essay, you’ll want to make sure your topic supports the type of paper you’re expected to write. If you’re expected to produce a paper that is a general overview, then a general topic will suffice. However, if you’re expected to write a specific analysis, then you’re topic should be fairly specific.
For example, lets assume the objective of your essay is to write an overview. Then the topic “RUSSIA” would be suitable. However, if the objective or your essay is to write a specific analysis, then “RUSSIA” would be far too general a topic. You’ll need to narrow down your topic to something like “Russian Politics: Past, Present and Future” or “Racial Diversity in the Former USSR”.
If you’re expected to choose your own topic, then the first step is to define the purpose of your essay. Is your purpose to persuade? To explain how to accomplish something? Or to education about a person, place, thing or idea? The topic you choose needs to support the purpose of your essay.
The purpose of your essay is defined by the type of paper you’re writing. There are three basic types of essay papers:
• Analytical – An analytical essay paper breaks down an idea or issue into its its key components. It evaluates the issue or idea by presenting analysis of the breakdown and/or components to the the reader.
• Expository – Also known as explanatory essays, expositories provide explanations of something.
• Argumentative – These type of essays, also known as persuasive essays, make a specific claim about a topic and then provide evidence and arguments to support the claim. The claim set forth in argumentative (persuasive) essays may be an opinion, an evaluation, an interpretation, cause-effect statement or a policy proposal. The purpose of argumentative essays is to convince or persuade the reader that a claim is valid.
Once you have defined the purpose of your essay, it’s time to brainstorm. Don’t choose just one topic right of the bat. Take some time to consider, contrast and weight your options. Get out a piece of paper and make a list of all the different topics that fit the purpose of your essay. Once they’re all down on paper, start by eliminating those topics that are difficult or not as relevant as others topics. Also, get rid of those topics that are too challenging or that you’re just not that interested in. Pretty soon you will have whittled your list down to just a few topics and then you can make a final choice.
Organize Your Ideas Using a Diagram or Outline
Some students get scared to start writing. They want to make sure they have all their thoughts organized in their head before they put anything down on paper. Creating a diagram or outline allows you to put pen to paper and start organizing your ideas. Don’t worry or agonize over organization at this point, just create a moderately organized format for your information.
Whether you use a diagram or outline doesn’t really matter. Some people prefer and work better with the flowing structure of a diagram. Others like the rigid and logical structure of an outline. Don’t fret, once you get started, you can always change formats if the format you chose isn’t working out for you.
The following are useful steps for developing a diagram to organize ideas for your essay.
• Get started by drawing a circle in the middle of a paper just big enough to write in.
• Inside your circle, write your essay topic.
• Now draw three or four lines out from your circle.
• At the end of each of lines, draw another circle just slightly smaller than the circle in the middle of the page.
• In each smaller circle, write a main idea about your topic, or point you want to make. If this is persuasive (argumentative) essay, then write down your arguments. If the object of the essay is to explain a process (expository), then write down a step in each circle. If your essay is intended to be informative or explain (analytical), write the major categories into which information can be divided.
• Now draw three more lines out from each circle containing a main idea.
• At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle.
• Finally, in each of these circles write down facts or information that help support the main idea.
The following are useful steps for developing an outline to organize ideas for your essay.
• Take a page of paper and write your topic at the top.
• Now, down the left side of the page, under the topic, write Roman numerals I, II, and III, sequentially.
• Next to each Roman numeral, write the main points, or ideas, about your essay topic. If this is persuasive essay, write your arguments. If this an essay to inform, write the major categories into which information will be divided. If the purpose of your essay is to explain a process, write down each step of the process.
• Next, under each Roman numeral, write A, B, and C down the lefthand side of the page.
• Finally, next to each letter, under each Roman numeral, write the information and/or facts that support the main point or idea.
Develop a Thesis Statement
Once you have an idea for the basic structure of your essay, and what information you’re going to present in your essay, it’s time to develop your thesis statement. A thesis statement states or outlines what you intend to prove in your essay. A good thesis statement should be clear, concise, specific, and takes a position.
The word “thesis” just sounds intimidating to most students, but a thesis is actually quite simple. A thesis statement (1) tells the reader what the essay is about and (2) what points you’ll be making. If you’ve already selected an essay topic, and developed an outline or diagram, you now can decide what points you want to communicate through your essay.
A thesis statement has two key components. The first component is the topic, and the second is the point(s) of the essay. The following is an example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
The life of a child raised in Pena Blanca is characterized by little playing, a lot of hard work and extreme poverty.
An example of an analytical thesis statement:
An analysis of the loan application process for citizens of third world countries reveals one major obstacle: applicants must already have money in order to qualify for a loan.
An example of an argumentative (persuasive) thesis statement:
Instead of sending tax money overseas to bouy struggling governments and economies, U.S. residents should be offered tax incentives for donating to companies that provide microloans directy to the citizens of third world countries.
Once you’re done developing a thesis statement that supports the type of essay your writing and the purpose of the essay, you’re ready to get started on your introduction.
The introduction is the first paragraph of the essay. It introduces the reader to the idea that the essay will address. It is also intended to capture the reader’s attention and interest. The first sentence of the introduction paragraph should be as captivating and interesting as possible. The sentences that follow should clarify your opening statement. Conclude the introduction paragraph with your thesis statement.
The body of your essay is where you explain, describe or argue the topic you’ve chosen. Each of the main ideas you included in your outline or diagram will become of the body paragraphs. If you wrote down four main ideas in your outline or diagram, then you’ll have four body paragraphs.
Each paragraph will address one main idea that supports the thesis statement. The first paragraph of the body should put forth your strongest argument to support your thesis. Start the paragraph out by stating the supporting idea. Then follow up with additional sentences that contain supporting information, facts, evidence or examples – as shown in your diagram or outline. The concluding sentence should sum up what you’ve discussed in the paragraph.
The second body paragraph will follow the same format as the first body paragraph. This paragraph should put forth your second strongest argument supporting your thesis statement. Likewise, the third and fourth body paragraphs, like the first and second, will contain your third and fourth strongest arguments supporting your thesis statement. Again, the last sentence of both the third and fourth paragraphs should sum up what you’ve discussed in each paragraph and indicate to the reader that the paragraph contains the final supporting argument.
The final paragraph of the essay provides the conclusion. This paragraph should should restate your thesis statement using slightly different wording than employed in your introduction. The paragraph should summarize the arguments presented in the body of the essay. The last sentence in the conclusion paragraph should communicate that your essay has come to and end. Your concluding paragraph should communicate to the reader that you’re confident that you’ve proven the idea as set forth in your thesis statement.
Having the ability to write effective essays will become increasingly important as you progress through high school and into college. If you’ll internalize the format presented above, you’ll develop the ability to write clear and compelling essays.
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