Need to write an essay? Don’t know where to start? A good place to begin is at the beginning, so let’s first establish what an essay actually is. An essay is defined as a structured piece of writing that expresses an opinion or develops an argument. Before you begin writing, you should understand the type of essay you’re being asked to write.
While essays come in many lengths and styles, there are four main categories that all essays will fall into.
Like the name suggests, an argumentative essay is written to argue or defend a position. They are typically in-depth and cite research that supports assertions made in the text. Argumentative essays are the most common type of essays assigned in advanced composition classes or as capstone projects.
A descriptive essay is structured creative writing that asks you to detail an event, experience, or idea. For example, you may write a descriptive essay on a trip you took to Disney World, or the book you loved most as a child. While descriptive essays may involve the author’s opinion, the main focus is describing the topic in detail using adjectives, metaphor, and simile to paint a vivid picture for the reader.
Expository essays provide a clear, focused, balanced explanation of a topic. Unlike an argumentative essay, expository essays avoid “I” or “you” statements and heavily researched argument or opinion—they simply present the facts in a well-organized way. Essays on tests like the ACT and the GED, as well as many of those assigned in high school English courses, would be considered expository essays.
Narrative essays tell a story. Because a narrative essay pulls from personal experience and not research, it doesn’t strictly follow the thesis—supporting paragraph—conclusion structure found in more traditional essay types. Typically written from the author’s perspective, a narrative essay is often creative and entertaining, but still has a clear structure and theme.
Now that you understand a bit more about the essay types, it’s time to get started on the most important part—actually writing your essay! Essay writing may seem daunting at first, but if you follow these 5 easy steps you’ll have the perfect piece crafted in no time!
No matter what type of essay you’ve been assigned, you usually have some agency over what it is you choose to write about. When choosing a topic, try to pick a subject that is broad enough so you’ll have plenty to discuss, but not so broad that you could write a novel. For example, “Major Organized Religions” would be too vast a subject to examine in a single essay, but “The Three Most Important Jewish Holidays” could easily work in a classic 5 paragraph format. Because writing a good essay can be time consuming and may involve extensive research, it’s also important to choose a topic you have interest in.
You have a topic you like—but what is it you want to say? Rather than just writing down the first thing that comes to mind and hoping for the best, brainstorming ideas is a great way to get all of your thoughts down before you actually begin working on your essay. Jot down any idea that comes to your head about things you’d like to include, such as key points, examples, and illustrations. It’s ok if these thoughts seem disorganized or unrelated at first. Once you’ve written down everything you can possibly think of related to your topic, it’s time for the next step.
From your brainstorm, see if you could spot a strong thesis, or main point you are trying to prove. Choosing a solid thesis is crucial, as your entire essay will be constructed to support it. This will become your first paragraph.
Next, identify three points to back up this thesis. These will become your 3 supporting paragraphs or body paragraphs. Depending on the type of essay you’re writing, the organization of your body paragraphs may change a little.
If your three points build on each other, it is important to arrange them so point one leads to point two, and point two leads to point three.
If you have three arguments that could be arranged in any order, it’s typically best to start with the strongest point first and progress to your weakest point in the final body paragraph.
If you’re writing an essay that involves comparing and contrasting two different views, you have several options for essay organization. You could present your argument first and then the opposing view, or begin with the opposing view and then refute that position. Either way is acceptable as long as you have clear topic sentences that makes it obvious which idea is being discussed.
Finally, think of what you will want to say in the conclusion, which will become your fifth paragraph.
You’ve picked a topic, brainstormed, and organized your thoughts—now it’s time to write your essay!
State your thesis and let the reader know what your three supporting points will be. Three or four sentences should be enough for the introduction—you want to establish a general outline, not give everything away. To finish, end with transitional hook that alerts the reader to what they can expect in the body of the paper.
This should be your strongest argument or point. Include examples, illustrations, or data to support the main topic of the paragraph.
This should be your second strongest argument or point. Include examples, illustrations, or data to support the main topic of the paragraph.
This should be your weakest argument or point. Include examples, illustrations, or data to support the main topic of the paragraph.
The final paragraph of your essay is your conclusion. Restate the thesis, summarize your three points, and make a strong final statement that ties up and closes the essay.
Most great authors just write a book and send it out into the universe, right? Wrong. Revision and editing are crucial steps in writing of any type, but especially when trying to create a strong essay.
You may have read your paper a thousand times, but sometimes it’s good to step back for a bit. Read your paper over after not viewing it for a while so you can see it with fresh eyes. Look for ways you could strengthen your argument or grammar. Check for punctuation and spelling errors you may have missed while writing, and don’t be afraid to re-write parts that aren’t clear or purposeful.
After you’ve made all of the revisions you believe are necessary, have a friend read your essay and give you feedback. Sometimes it can be hard to be objective about your own work, and another pair of eyes can help alert you to issues you may have missed.
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