High school students are frequently tasked with writing essays, which also play a big role in the college admissions process. But they’re not alone: professionals taking exams like the IELTS or LSATs also need to know how to write clear, concise, and persuasive essays.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a wordsmith, you don’t have to be intimidated by essays and writing assignments. When you learn the basic steps and the most common structures, you will find that it becomes easier to write down your thoughts on any given subject.
What Are the Different Types of Essays?
Essays can come in many different forms. The most common types include the following:
- Narrative Essay: The narrative essay shares information in the form of a story and from a clearly defined point of view.
- Expository Essay: This type of essay explains, illustrates, or clarifies a topic. This also includes instructional pieces with step-by-step directions.
- Descriptive Essay: Descriptive essays do exactly what their name implies: they describe an event, phenomenon, or any other subject in detail.
- Persuasive Essay: This type of essay aims to convince the audience to adapt a certain perspective or idea.
- Compare and Contrast Essay: This type of writing pinpoints how similar or different two or more things are from one another.
- Problem-Solution Essay: This essay highlights an issue, influences the reader to care about it, suggests a solution, and tackles possible objections.
How Do You Begin an Essay?
Nothing is more daunting for a writer than staring at a blank page. This is why you need to have an action plan for starting your essay.
1. Decide on your essay type and topic.
Sometimes, you will already have an assigned essay type or topic, so that will save you one step. If these were not assigned to you, you have to think of possible topics that you can write on. This will also help determine the type of essay you will be writing.
Some questions you can ask yourself to find a good topic include:
- What is something I’m passionate about?
- What is one thought or idea I want to share?
- Is there any misconception I want to correct?
- What is the best way to present this topic of information (with regard to the types of essays)?
2. Brainstorm and research the topic you’ve chosen.
Once you’ve chosen your topic, brainstorm all the different supporting ideas that you can talk about for the topic. Start with the basic facts about your idea, asking questions such as what, where, who, when, why, and how.
You can use the Mind Map method to brainstorm connecting ideas, or you can also just jot down bullet points as you encounter them in your research.
If your topic calls for it and if time allows, you may want to consider conducting quick interviews with experts on the subject. These will serve as a primary source for your essay.
3. Develop your thesis statement.
After you have brainstormed and researched, write down your thesis statement. A thesis statement consists of one or two sentences that sum up the primary subject or argument of your essay.
Generally, the thesis statement will present your main topic while also expressing what position you hold regarding the subject.
4. Write your outline.
Once you have your thesis statement, you can start to prepare your outline. Many people skip the outline process, thinking it’s a waste of time.
But really, an outline can help you organize your thoughts before you start writing and actually save you time, since you’ll avoid beating around the bush or jumping from one idea to another without a clear direction.
One common structure for an essay is the Five-Paragraph Essay, with the following parts:
- Introduction with thesis statement
- Main Point #1
- Main Point #2
- Main Point #3
Although this structure is made up of five paragraphs, we can easily use the same model and make it into a Five-Part Essay Structure. This means that we will stay within the pattern, but each main point may have more than one paragraph.
When you write your outline, make sure that each paragraph has only one main point. Jumbling too many points in one paragraph tends to confuse your reader. Also, make sure that your main points are all relevant to your thesis statement.
5. Start writing.
Using your outline, you can now begin writing your essay. Some writers choose to write their paragraphs in order, beginning with the hook. The hook is the first few lines in your essay that will grab the readers’ attention.
If you can write the hook right away, well and good. If not, don’t worry, you can always come back to it after you write the body of your essay. Here are some more helpful tips for writing the body of your essay:
- Elaborate on each of your main ideas with at least one paragraph each. If your main ideas will require more than one paragraph each, feel free to write more.
- For anything point that takes up two paragraphs or more, it helps to have a brief introductory paragraph.
- Stay as concise as possible.
- Include anecdotal examples if it will help you make your point more clear.
- If you are writing a formal academic essay, avoid using first-person pronouns.
6. Pay attention to how you cite references.
In ancient Greece, using other people’s ideas was seen as the mark of a smart person. But in this day and age, plagiarism is a serious offense, so you need to be careful when citing other people’s work.
To avoid plagiarism, be sure to paraphrase any ideas you collect from your research instead of copying them word for word. If you do use them as is, put them in quotes.
Next, use the proper citations. Plagiarism does not only constitute copying the idea verbatim, but you also have to reference the source of the idea itself, if possible. Depending on your teacher’s preferences, you can use the APA in-text citation style or the MLA style.
7. Edit your work.
After you write your first draft, refine and proofread your work to make sure you fix all grammatical and spelling errors. You can use a tool like Grammarly when you do this to have fresh “eyes” looking at your work, but don’t rely solely on software—always review your work at least once yourself or have another (human) do it!
When editing, pay attention to the words you use: remove all unnecessary words and work on using strong verbs in place of weak ones.
Also, fact check all the information you have in your essay, especially when citing other sources.
Tips for Writing Essays
If you keep these tips in mind, writing an essay will soon become much easier for you and you’ll see your writing (of all kinds) start to improve.
Keep practicing and you will find that it’s much easier to get your thoughts on paper and present a coherent piece for your readers.
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