Essay writing is not easy – not by a long shot. You may spend years trying to improve this skill without achieving any noticeable results. There are no shortcuts – the only way to get good at it is regular practice and learning from your mistakes. Your first essay does not have to be – and will not be – perfect. The same goes for the tenth and the fiftieth. However, if with every new essay you learn something new, eventually you will reach a stage when you will be proud of your writing.
An essay is defined as a piece of content written about a specific subject, object, or topic,
That said, there is a lot of difference between writing haphazardly, without any definite system, and following a clear-cut plan. If you follow a predetermined procedure, you will be able to produce better-structured, more coherent essays from the get-go, even without a lot of experience. You will be able to learn the trickier aspects of essay writing faster and improve your skills at a greater rate.
10 Steps of Writing an Essay in the English Language
You do not have to invent your own writing procedures – in this article, we will cover 10 steps to writing an essay. Follow them, and a seemingly impossible task will suddenly become much more manageable.
#1 Determine Your Topic
The first step to writing an essay is to decide what you are going to write about. Sometimes students are assigned specific topics by their teachers or professors, but quite often one has at least some degree of freedom at this stage. For example, you may receive a list of topics to choose from or be free to write about whatever you want. Do not take this step lightly – the right choice of topic is a huge factor in your essay’s success. Even if your instructor assigns you a topic, you can sometimes persuade him/her to change the topic for something of your choice – at least if you offer convincing arguments in its favor.
When choosing a topic, strike a balance between making it too narrow and too broad. Consider the word limit and other indications in your writing prompt as your guidelines: try to determine how much space you will need to cover this or that topic. Choose something too broad, and you will not be able to cover it in sufficient detail. Choose something too narrow, and you will have trouble finding relevant sources.
#2 Find and Evaluate Your Sources
At a glance, one may think that the more sources you use in your research, the better. However, not all of them are equal – which is especially important in essay writing, because it is a fairly short assignment, and you can realistically use no more than 6-7 sources. Therefore, you have to choose carefully. The easiest way to determine the quality and reliability of a source is to use a method like CRAAP, evaluating its:
- Currency – how timely is it? Is it outdated?
- Relevance – does it have anything to do with your topic? Is its level appropriate for your audience?
- Authority – who is the author? Is he/she qualified to talk about the topic?
- Accuracy – is the information in the source corroborated by other evidence? Is it verifiable?
- Purpose – why does the source exist? Does the author have an agenda? Is he/she impartial?
#3 Formulate Your Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is the main idea of your essay expressed in a single sentence. It is not the same as the essay’s topic. The topic describes what your essay is about. The thesis statement states what you think on the topic. For example, “Reasons of the Eventual Defeat of France in the Napoleonic Wars” is a topic. A thesis statement for such an essay would be something like “The primary reason of France’s defeat in the Napoleonic Wars was that Napoleon while being a brilliant tactician, was a much less accomplished strategist.”
When writing up your thesis statement, make sure it is:
- Laconic – no more than a single mid-sized sentence;
- To the point – sticks to a single idea;
- Unambiguous – does not allow itself for multiple interpretations.
#4 Prepare an Outline
An outline is a detailed plan of your essay, primarily it’s the main part. Here you write the main points of all paragraphs, specify what sources you are going to cite and where you will do it, what evidence you will introduce to support your ideas, how you will unite parts of the essay into a cohesive whole. If by that point you have already thought about certain sentences (e.g., an effective opening statement), write them down as well.
#5 Write the Main Part
A bit counter-intuitively, it is better to start not with the beginning, but with the main part of the essay. As you start, you do not know yet in what direction your writing will take you, and any introduction you write at this point will almost certainly require rewriting later on.
The main part consists of several (usually three in high school-level essays; college assignments are not limited in that way) paragraphs, each dedicated to an individual point. The structure of a paragraph is uniform:
- A topic sentence – the first sentence of the paragraph that summarizes it. Technically, one should be able to glean the basic contents of your essay by simply reading the first sentences of each paragraph. The rest of the paragraph simply provides support and evidence to back up the topic sentence;
- Supporting sentences. Here you elaborate on what you said in the topic sentence, providing reasoning, evidence, statistics, quotations and supporting your point of view in other ways;
- Transition sentence. You should not simply jump to the next point – instead, you introduce a sentence that provides a smooth transition to the topic of the next paragraph.
#6 Write the Introduction
Now you have enough information to tackle the introduction. Usually, it consists of three parts:
- “Hook.” The first sentence of your essay. As it is what the reader sees first, it should grab his/her attention and encourage him/her to read on. There are many approaches to writing an engaging “hook”: e.g., a controversial statement, an interesting statistic, a reference to an unusual personal experience, etc.;
- Background. Here you provide the context for your essay. Usually, you should provide the bare minimum necessary to understand the rest of the essay, because you do not have that much space, to begin with. Give the necessary background information, mention important academic works dealing with the topic, overview the debatable points, explain terms that may be not widely known;
- Thesis statement. Finish the introduction with the thesis statement you wrote earlier.
#7 Write the Conclusion
Contrary to a widespread misconception, the conclusion is not about simply recounting your introduction. Although you should not introduce any new information at this point, the purpose of the conclusion is not to repeat what you already said, but to sum it all up, tie it together, connect it to your original thesis statement and the broader academic context. Highlight the importance of what you wrote for this area of research as a whole and propose promising venues for further research indicated in your essay. Admit to the limits of your work but do not undermine your arguments.
#8 Consider Other Viewpoints
Not everybody shares your point of view on the subject matter, no matter how persuasive you are. At this point, you should put yourself in the shoes of your prospective opponents and try to shoot holes in your arguments. Ask yourself, what are the weak points of your argumentation? How can an opponent try to refute you? Are there any gaps in your logic? If you find them, address them in respective parts of your essay or add a separate section where you cover all the most important counter-arguments and explain why you believe them to be wrong.
#9 Revise, Edit, Rewrite
If you can afford to take a break from working on your essay, do it – it will help you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. What flaws it has will become much more obvious if you wait a couple of days – but even an hour or two may be beneficial. Do not pay much attention to small things like misspellings, typos, and poor grammar. At this point, you should concentrate on the bigger picture: the overall structure of your essay, its cohesion, the transition between paragraphs and sections, internal logic. Check if you have missed anything. If possible, ask somebody you trust to revise the essay with you – an outsider is more likely to notice mistakes and flaws in your writing than you are.
If you feel that your essay can benefit from it, do not limit yourself to rearranging and correcting the parts that you have already written. If you feel that this or that section does not fit the rest of the essay, remove it completely or rewrite it from scratch. Do not be afraid to redo parts of your work – it may take a bit more time, but will lead to a better grade as a result.
Once you are sure you are not going to make any further significant changes to your essay, it is time to proofread it. If the essay is not too large, for better results you can go over it several times, each time focusing on a specific type of mistakes: e.g., one time for grammar, one time for misspellings, one time for homonyms, and homophones, etc. If you know that you are particularly prone to particular types of mistakes, make a list of them and dedicate a couple of go-overs to them.
There are many tricks that can improve the efficiency of proofreading. For example, you can read your essay aloud, carefully pronouncing each word – it will force you to slow down and pay greater attention to what you read. Another approach is to proofread your essay backward, one sentence at a time – it will force you to focus on smaller units (sentences and words) instead of the text as a whole. Yet another thing you can do is print the essay out and proofread it on paper – by changing the way it looks, you will force yourself to see it in a new light.
If you are specifically looking for a guide to write a customized scholarship essay then we have got you covered as well. Feel free to read my guide on how to write a scholarship essay to maximize your chances of selection.
These steps, when followed carefully, can significantly improve your chances of getting a good grade and increase the speed at which you learn how to write properly. Follow them, and essay writing will no longer pose such a great problem!