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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How to Write an Essay - Great info!

How to Write an Essay

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Essays can range from being five paragraphs to twenty pages or more, covering any topic, whether it's what you learned from your dog, or why societies become hierarchies. What all essays have in common, however, is that they must stay true to the roots of the word "essay" which derives from the French infinitive essayer, meaning "to try" or "to attempt". An essay is essentially your attempt to explain your point of view, and a skillfully written essay is clear, illuminating and informative.


  1. Define the context. If the essay is assigned, certain parameters will usually be defined for you, such as the length of the essay, format of the title page, and the intended audience (e.g. your teacher, an admissions committee). Otherwise, you need to determine your intended audience, how the essay is going to be presented to them (published in a book or magazine? through a blog?), and what length is appropriate. No matter what, if you're given directions, follow them. A brilliant essay might still fail to get its point across if it doesn't follow the rules.
  2. Choose a topic. Often this will be decided for you, but if not, try to choose something you're interested in or, better yet, passionate about. It will make the essay easier to write. You can also think of your thesis statement at this point, but it shouldn't be set in stone since it may be elaborated or changed as you do your research in the next step. A thesis statement is what your essay is attempting to explain and prove. You can brainstorm a few different thesis statements and use them to guide your research. Some examples:
    • I deserve this scholarship because I am going to give back to the community.
    • Crop failure is directly caused by lack of fertility in soils, not by drought.
    • Making people take tests before they're allowed to keep pets would benefit society in many ways.

  3. Gather your information. Whether it's personal observations or scientific facts, you'll need evidence to back up your thesis statement. Take detailed notes, keeping track of which facts come from which sources. As you're researching your topic, don't ignore facts and claims that seem to disprove your thesis statement. A good essayist includes the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid.
    • Going with the example about crop failure above, what if you find a research study with graphs showing that every time there's a drought, there are more crop failures? Maybe all those crop failures occurred on farms that had poor soils, and unless the condition of the soils can be provided, the crop failures can't be attributed solely to drought.

  4. Plan your essay. This is the time to solidify your thesis statement. Look over all of your research and notes: Can you observe any patterns or observations? Try making a mind map to organize your thoughts. Maybe you started out wanting to show how you'd give back to the community, but now you see a better point would be that you're a good role model for others like yourself. Let the evidence speak for itself. If you don't have enough information to demonstrate anything, you may need to do more research or modify your thesis statement (or even your topic). If you have enough material to sustain a thesis statement, however, make an outline to organize your research with headings and sub-headings.
  5. Write the body of your essay first. Identify three or more points that support and/or explain your thesis statement. Each point should be supported by specific evidence, examples or arguments. In shorter essays, such as a five-paragraph essay, each point should be supported by a single paragraph; but in longer essays, an entire page or more might be required to demonstrate a single point. Use your outline as a guide, presenting the information in full sentences that flow logically from one to the next. After you write out all of your points, arrange the points themselves so that they flow logically from one to the next.
    • Be careful about generalizing. 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 one of the most important problems facing the world today," is at least a bit harder to argue with.
    • Unless you are writing a personal opinion piece, you should not need to use the personal pronouns "I" , "you" or "we", nor "my", "your" or "our". If you can't rephrase the statement to remove the first-person pronoun, then you probably don't have enough information to back up your point. E.g. Instead of writing, "I found Frum to be conservatively-biased", show why your statement is true: "Clearly, Frum is conservatively-biased when he writes...".

  6. Conclude your essay. Summarize your points and suggest ways in which your conclusion can be thought of in a larger sense. What are the implications of your thesis statement being true? What's the next step? What questions remain unanswered? This is not the place to introduce any new information that supports your thesis--you should only be "repackaging" what you already discussed, using a broader perspective.
  7. Write the introduction. Now that you've written the body and the conclusion, you're in the best position to tell the reader what they're getting into. Explain your thesis statement, and how you're going to affirm it, without being too specific. Do not use obvious expressions such as, "This essay is about..." or "The topic of this essay is..." or "I will now show that...". One approach is to begin with a general statement, then follow it with a question or problem, then with your thesis statement, and a brief overview of your points.
    • Example: Every year, thousands of animals end up in shelters, unwanted and sometimes abused. This not only causes suffering to the animals, but it also costs local governments millions of dollars. Is there any way that this can be prevented? One proposed solution is to require pet-owners to become educated before they can buy a pet. While many people may resist this requirement, it may be more readily accepted if the benefits are clearly shown to outweigh the costs.
    • For longer essays, it's useful to follow the "inverted pyramid" whereby you start off with a very broad description of your topic and gradually narrow it down to your specific thesis statement. This is the typical structure of a "literature review" in a scientific paper and may constitute up to half, sometimes more, of your essay.

  8. Read through your essay. For now, don't worry about typos or grammatical errors; underline them so you can go back and fix them later. Go from start to finish to see how your essay flows. Does each sentence lead smoothly to the next? Does each paragraph flow logically to the next? Each statement should be connected or related somehow to the one before it, not thrown randomly together. There are many ways to transition from one idea to the next:
    • one happens before or after the other: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.
    • one elaborates on the other:Plants need water to survive...A plant's ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
    • one contrasts with the other: 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.
    • one is caused or affected by the other: 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.
    • one is similar to the other: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment...Local food is believed to achieve the same goals.

  9. Revise, revise, revise! Writing the paper the first time is not the most important part of writing an essay—revision is! Sometimes the paper you write is not the essay you originally planned. It is difficult to accomplish all that one sets out to in a paper, and sometimes you may find that your ideas about your subject have changed as you've been writing. Make sure you're happy with the way your paper presents its points. Don't like it? Re-arrange it (that's one of the great things about writing with a word processor; it's easy to do things like this). Once you're happy with the body, make sure the conclusion and introduction (in that order) still match it AND match the way you see your topic now. If not, rewrite them to fit the essay you did write (not the one you started out to write) and the way you see your topic now.
  10. Proofread. Now check for spelling and/or grammatical errors. If using a word processor's spell checker, remember that it only checks to see if a word is misspelled. For example, if you meant to use the word "write" and instead used "writ" the spell checker will pass it without noticing, since 'writ' is an actual word.
    • Pick out any repetitive words. Vary your language with the help of a thesaurus. Consult a dictionary to make sure that you're using the synonym correctly.
    • Avoid using colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations, such as don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, could've, or haven't. Use formal English: do not, cannot, will not, should not, could have, have not. Your essay should have a serious tone, even if written in a light or lyrical style.
    • Use English punctuation correctly. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes, or commas. Avoid using exclamation points to emphasize your statements.


  • Have someone read your paper aloud to you or read it aloud to a tape recorder and play it back. Your ears are sometimes better than your eyes at picking up mistakes in language—-after all, they've had more practice.
  • Avoid the following:
    • making columns of point-form lists
    • making a comma-spliced list inside a paragraph
    • using et cetera (etc.); it's a cop-out. When teachers see "etc.", they may interpret it to mean, "and I can’t think of anything else".

  • Refer to all illustrations and diagrams as Figure 1, 2, 3, etc. You can refer to tables and charts as Table 1, 2, 3, etc. or as figures. Photos can be referred to as Photo 1, 2, 3, etc., or as figures. Make sure you do refer to all figures in the text of your essay. A figure should not be included if you do not specifically mention it in the body of the essay or research report.
  • Remember that writing is a skill and, like any other skill, requires practice to become a master of it. One easy way to practice is to read more essays in the style and subjects that you write yours.
  • Essays come in many shapes and sizes. This is a general overview, but you can learn about the expectations associated with various kinds of essays by doing further reading here at wikiHow:


  • Do not get bogged down in writing excessive background information or otherwise rambling off topic; it is considered essay "padding". If it does not relate to your thesis statement, cut it out.
  • Do not plagiarize. Parenthetically reference or footnote all borrowed quotes, facts and ideas that are not your own. Plagiarism is a serious offense in the academic world; students have been expelled from colleges and universities for plagiarizing.

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Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Write an Essay. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.


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