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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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The Seven Essay Writing Rules
Essays have different rules than do stories, letters, poems, or journal writing. Essays respond to a writing prompt or writing topic. The writer is required to develop a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then follow with at least two body paragraphs which address the thesis statement, then end with a concluding paragraph.
The Common Core Writing Standards divides essays into argumentative and informational/explanatory. Argumentative essays argue a position or point of view; informational/ explanatory essays explain and analyze. Each of these types of essays focuses on the subject of the writing prompt and follows the following essay writing rules.
Keep in mind that essays are a very formal type of writing. Although they may certainly express opinions, essays present evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Think of presenting evidence in an essay as an attorney would present evidence in a court of law. All of the traditional rituals have to be followed. The attorney (writer) has introductory remarks (introductory paragraph) in which a verdict (think thesis statement) is stated. Next, the attorney (writer) presents the main points of the case and the evidence that supports them (body paragraphs). Finally, the attorney (writer) presents the closing arguments (conclusion paragraph).
Here are the seven essay writing rules:
1. Write in complete sentences. Intentional fragments, such as “Right?” don’t belong in essays.
2. Write in third person. Talk about the subject of the essay. Don’t personalize with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t talk to the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. The essay is to be objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Rid essays of “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”
3. Do not abbreviate. Abbreviations are informal and serve as short-cuts, so they don’t belong in essays. So write United States , not U.S. in essays.
4. Do not use slang, such as kids . Use official, or formal, words, such as children .
5. Do not use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “do not” rather than “don’t.”
6. Do not use figures of speech. Be direct and precise in essay writing. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He let the cat out of the bag.” Instead, say “He shared a secret.”
7. Do not over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs : is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.
TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE
The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.
Writing essay , essay program , essay rules , essay strategies , essay worksheets , five paragraph essay , Mark Pennington , Teaching Essay Strategies , writing rules
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13 Rules for Writing Good Essays
To write a good essay, you have to make your message clear..
Posted March 7, 2018 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
To write a good university essay you have to make your message clear. This means organizing your key points, supporting them with a series of evidence-based arguments, and wrapping it all up at the end so the reader knows what they've learned. To do this well, you need to take the reader's perspective. If you can see what might trip them up as they read your work, then you can avoid pitfalls that will confuse or bore them. Here are some tips to help you avoid the easy pitfalls. Once understood, these rules can be broken. But if you're unclear on how to approach your writing, these tips can help.
1. Your opening paragraph should clearly describe what you are going to discuss in the essay. These three things are vital: What’s the thesis (or problem), why is it important, and how are you going to address it? If you have each of those items in your opening paragraph your reader will know what they are reading, why they are reading it, and what they can expect to get out of it.
2. Organize the essay so that it covers a set list of subtopics that each support your main thesis. If it's a long essay, you should break it up into sections with headings that focus on specific subtopics. Introduce these topics in the opening paragraph of the essay (see 1 above). Overall, you want to organize information so it is easy to understand and remember.
3. Start paragraphs with opening sentences that explain what the paragraph is going to say. Then write sentences that follow one from the other and are easy to read. Avoid paragraphs that are too long, that read like lists, or that have no main thesis. Summarize complex paragraphs with concise sentences that explain what the paragraph said.
4. Create transitions between paragraphs so that one paragraph follows from the next. You are trying to make it all easy to understand for your reader. The more organized your writing, the more clearly you will understand and communicate your own ideas.
5. Make your sentences work. Avoid long sentences. When in doubt, break long sentences into smaller sentences. Avoid sentences that are repetitive and don't provide new information. Throw away weak and empty sentences ("Angioplasty is an important procedure." "Emotions are a central element in people's lives."). Sentences also need to be crystal clear. You can check for clarity by making sure they read well. Read them out loud to yourself or have someone else read them out loud to you.
6. Explain novel terms (jargon) when you introduce them . Don’t assume your reader knows what terms mean. Avoid jargon except where it communicates key concepts. Imagine the reader knows less about the topic than you do.
7. In science writing, you can use synonyms for key concepts only when you are first explaining them. After that, use the same word every time to refer to the idea. For example, you might want to write, 'affect,' and then 'emotions,' and then 'feelings.' If you use different words every time you refer to an idea, your reader will get confused. Define a term and then use it consistently.
8. Be careful when you use words like ‘this’ or ‘that’ or ‘their’ or ‘those’ or 'these' or 'they.' These words are often not as tightly connected to what they reference as you think. Check every one of them and see if you can rewrite it more clearly. When you use *these* words carelessly, your reader will need to think more to understand what you are referring to. *That* will break the flow and make it harder to understand what you're actually try to say. *They* (the readers) won't know who you're referring to. By simply stating what you are referring to specifically, you make your writing clear. It is better to be repetitive than unclear.
9. Use concrete information. Concrete information is powerful, is appealing, it is easier to understand, and it sticks in people's memory . Concrete information includes things like examples, statistics, quotes, facts, and other details. The more sentences that go by without communicating new concrete information or ideas that develop your thesis, the more likely your reader is to get bored .
10. If you have an interesting idea, check to see if someone else has already had it. If they have, cite them. Chances are someone has at least hinted at your clever insight, and you can use them as a springboard to say something even more interesting. This will demonstrate scholarship and an understanding of the broader context.
11. Make sure everything is relevant. Don’t include random facts that are not relevant. Don't include extra words that you don't need ("actually," "very," "in many ways," "the fact that"). Don't include paragraphs that have lots of cool facts if they aren't related to your central thesis. These slow down your reader and confuse them because they expect to hear content that is related to your theme. After you write a first draft (where you are just trying to get ideas down on paper), see what you can cut out to focus your argument on what matters.
12. The very best essays provide their own critique. End with something like this before the final summary: Provide criticism of your key point (appropriately referenced). Then provide criticism of the criticizer that you referenced (with another reference). If you can do this well, then in most instances you will have demonstrated thorough understanding of the issues. After this, provide your conclusion.
13. In the conclusion, take a position, make a prediction, or propose some future actions (an experiment, an implication, a new question to be addressed, etc). Summarize your thesis and the evidence you’ve provided in a concise way without being wishy-washy.
You might also be interested in my top 10 job interview tips or top 10 science-based study skills.
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Essay Writing: Essay Writing Basics
- Essay Writing Basics
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- Structuring the 5-Paragraph Essay
Basic Essay Format
Please Note : These guidelines are general suggestions. When in doubt, please refer to your assignment for specifics.
Most essays consist of three parts:
- the introduction (one paragraph);
- the body (usually at least three paragraphs); and
- the conclusion (one paragraph).
Minimum of 5 paragraphs total
Standard Parts of an Essay
Introduction paragraph (including the thesis statement ).
Begin your paper by introducing your topic.
Parts of an Introduction paragraph:
- “I danced so much at my birthday party, my feet are killing me!”
- “The surprise birthday party my friends gave me was amazing.”
- “I was so glad that the party remained a secret, my friends from the old neighborhood were there, and most surprisingly, I didn’t know I could still dance so much.”
Be sure your Introduction makes a clear, general point, which you can then back up with specifics as you lead to your Thesis Statement.
The final sentence in your Introduction paragraph should be your Thesis Statement: a single, clear and concise sentence stating your essay’s main idea or argument .
According to Denis Johnson of the Rasmussen College Library , you should t hink of a thesis statement as one complete sentence that expresses your position or tells your story in a nutshell .
The Thesis Statement should always take a stand and justify further discussion .
3 or More Body Paragraphs (and using Transitions )
Now use the Body of your essay to support the main points you presented in your Thesis Statement. Develop each point using one or more paragraphs, and support each point with specific details . Your details may come from research or from your direct experience. Refer to your assignment for required supporting documentation (APA citations.) Your own analysis and discussion of your topic should serve to tie your narrative together, and draw conclusions that support your thesis.
Use effective Transition words and phrases to give your paper “flow,” to connect your ideas and move from one supporting statement to another.
- “The surprise party my friends had for me was a great reminder of the good old days. It was a wonderful surprise seeing old friends again and have fun like we did when we were younger. My feet will never be the same again.”
Use your conclusion to restate and consolidate all the main points of your essay. You should first restate your Thesis Statement (using slightly different phrasing this time). Give closure to your essay by resolving any outstanding points, and by leaving your readers with a final thought regarding the future or long-term implications of your argument. Your Conclusion is not the place to introduce new ideas or topics that did not appear earlier in your paper.
Don’t forget to cite each source of any information that you used - using In-Text Citations throughout your paper, and a References page at the end. Use these LibGuides to help you with your In-Text Citations and your References page.
(Sample Essay excerpts and instructions, thanks to Professor Deborah Ashby: Monroe College, Department of Social Sciences)
A Monroe College Research Guide
THIS RESEARCH OR "LIBGUIDE" WAS PRODUCED BY THE LIBRARIANS OF MONROE COLLEGE
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The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples
An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.
There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.
The essay writing process consists of three main stages:
- Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
- Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
- Revision: Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.
Table of contents
Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.
The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .
For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.
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Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:
- Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
- Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
- Do your research: Read primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
- Come up with a thesis: The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
- Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.
The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.
1. Hook your reader
The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.
Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.
2. Provide background on your topic
Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.
3. Present the thesis statement
Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:
As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.
4. Map the structure
In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.
The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Write your essay introduction
The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.
Length of the body text
The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.
To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.
That idea is introduced in a topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.
After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.
Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.
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The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :
- Returns to your thesis
- Ties together your main points
- Shows why your argument matters
A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.
What not to include in a conclusion
To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:
- Including new arguments or evidence
- Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
- Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”
Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.
Write your essay conclusion
My essay follows the requirements of the assignment (topic and length ).
My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information on the topic.
My introduction contains a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay.
I use paragraphs to structure the essay.
I use topic sentences to introduce each paragraph.
Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement.
I make clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.
My conclusion doesn’t just repeat my points, but draws connections between arguments.
I don’t introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion.
I have given an in-text citation for every quote or piece of information I got from another source.
I have included a reference page at the end of my essay, listing full details of all my sources.
My citations and references are correctly formatted according to the required citation style .
My essay has an interesting and informative title.
I have followed all formatting guidelines (e.g. font, page numbers, line spacing).
Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.
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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.
In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.
Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
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Six top tips for writing a great essay
An essay is used to assess the strength of your critical thinking and your ability to put that thinking into an academic written form. This resource covers some key considerations when writing an essay at university.
While reading a student’s essay, markers will ask themselves questions such as:
- Does this essay directly address the set task?
- Does it present a strong, supported position?
- Does it use relevant sources appropriately?
- Is the expression clear, and the style appropriate?
- Is the essay organised coherently? Is there a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
You can use these questions to reflect on your own writing. Here are six top tips to help you address these criteria.
1. Analyse the question
Student essays are responses to specific questions. As an essay must address the question directly, your first step should be to analyse the question. Make sure you know exactly what is being asked of you.
Generally, essay questions contain three component parts:
- Content terms: Key concepts that are specific to the task
- Limiting terms: The scope that the topic focuses on
- Directive terms: What you need to do in relation to the content, e.g. discuss, analyse, define, compare, evaluate.
Look at the following essay question:
Discuss the importance of light in Gothic architecture.
- Content terms: Gothic architecture
- Limiting terms: the importance of light. If you discussed some other feature of Gothic architecture, for example spires or arches, you would be deviating from what is required. This essay question is limited to a discussion of light. Likewise, it asks you to write about the importance of light – not, for example, to discuss how light enters Gothic churches.
- Directive term: discuss. This term asks you to take a broad approach to the variety of ways in which light may be important for Gothic architecture. You should introduce and consider different ideas and opinions that you have met in academic literature on this topic, citing them appropriately .
For a more complex question, you can highlight the key words and break it down into a series of sub-questions to make sure you answer all parts of the task. Consider the following question (from Arts):
To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?
The key words here are American Revolution and revolution ‘from below’. This is a view that you would need to respond to in this essay. This response must focus on the aims and motivations of working people in the revolution, as stated in the second question.
2. Define your argument
As you plan and prepare to write the essay, you must consider what your argument is going to be. This means taking an informed position or point of view on the topic presented in the question, then defining and presenting a specific argument.
Consider these two argument statements:
The architectural use of light in Gothic cathedrals physically embodied the significance of light in medieval theology.
In the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, light served to accentuate the authority and ritual centrality of the priest.
Statements like these define an essay’s argument. They give coherence by providing an overarching theme and position towards which the entire essay is directed.
3. Use evidence, reasoning and scholarship
To convince your audience of your argument, you must use evidence and reasoning, which involves referring to and evaluating relevant scholarship.
- Evidence provides concrete information to support your claim. It typically consists of specific examples, facts, quotations, statistics and illustrations.
- Reasoning connects the evidence to your argument. Rather than citing evidence like a shopping list, you need to evaluate the evidence and show how it supports your argument.
- Scholarship is used to show how your argument relates to what has been written on the topic (citing specific works). Scholarship can be used as part of your evidence and reasoning to support your argument.
4. Organise a coherent essay
An essay has three basic components - introduction, body and conclusion.
The purpose of an introduction is to introduce your essay. It typically presents information in the following order:
- A general statement about the topic that provides context for your argument
- A thesis statement showing your argument. You can use explicit lead-ins, such as ‘This essay argues that...’
- A ‘road map’ of the essay, telling the reader how it is going to present and develop your argument.
"To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?"
Historians generally concentrate on the twenty-year period between 1763 and 1783 as the period which constitutes the American Revolution [This sentence sets the general context of the period] . However, when considering the involvement of working people, or people from below, in the revolution it is important to make a distinction between the pre-revolutionary period 1763-1774 and the revolutionary period 1774-1788, marked by the establishment of the continental Congress(1) [This sentence defines the key term from below and gives more context to the argument that follows] . This paper will argue that the nature and aims of the actions of working people are difficult to assess as it changed according to each phase [This is the thesis statement] . The pre-revolutionary period was characterised by opposition to Britain’s authority. During this period the aims and actions of the working people were more conservative as they responded to grievances related to taxes and scarce land, issues which directly affected them. However, examination of activities such as the organisation of crowd action and town meetings, pamphlet writing, formal communications to Britain of American grievances and physical action in the streets, demonstrates that their aims and actions became more revolutionary after 1775 [These sentences give the ‘road map’ or overview of the content of the essay] .
The body of the essay develops and elaborates your argument. It does this by presenting a reasoned case supported by evidence from relevant scholarship. Its shape corresponds to the overview that you provided in your introduction.
The body of your essay should be written in paragraphs. Each body paragraph should develop one main idea that supports your argument. To learn how to structure a paragraph, look at the page developing clarity and focus in academic writing .
Your conclusion should not offer any new material. Your evidence and argumentation should have been made clear to the reader in the body of the essay.
Use the conclusion to briefly restate the main argumentative position and provide a short summary of the themes discussed. In addition, also consider telling your reader:
- What the significance of your findings, or the implications of your conclusion, might be
- Whether there are other factors which need to be looked at, but which were outside the scope of the essay
- How your topic links to the wider context (‘bigger picture’) in your discipline.
Do not simply repeat yourself in this section. A conclusion which merely summarises is repetitive and reduces the impact of your paper.
Although, to a large extent, the working class were mainly those in the forefront of crowd action and they also led the revolts against wealthy plantation farmers, the American Revolution was not a class struggle [This is a statement of the concluding position of the essay]. Working people participated because the issues directly affected them – the threat posed by powerful landowners and the tyranny Britain represented. Whereas the aims and actions of the working classes were more concerned with resistance to British rule during the pre-revolutionary period, they became more revolutionary in nature after 1775 when the tension with Britain escalated [These sentences restate the key argument]. With this shift, a change in ideas occurred. In terms of considering the Revolution as a whole range of activities such as organising riots, communicating to Britain, attendance at town hall meetings and pamphlet writing, a difficulty emerges in that all classes were involved. Therefore, it is impossible to assess the extent to which a single group such as working people contributed to the American Revolution [These sentences give final thoughts on the topic].
5. Write clearly
An essay that makes good, evidence-supported points will only receive a high grade if it is written clearly. Clarity is produced through careful revision and editing, which can turn a good essay into an excellent one.
When you edit your essay, try to view it with fresh eyes – almost as if someone else had written it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you clearly stated your argument in your introduction?
- Does the actual structure correspond to the ‘road map’ set out in your introduction?
- Have you clearly indicated how your main points support your argument?
- Have you clearly signposted the transitions between each of your main points for your reader?
- Does each paragraph introduce one main idea?
- Does every sentence in the paragraph support that main idea?
- Does each paragraph display relevant evidence and reasoning?
- Does each paragraph logically follow on from the one before it?
- Is each sentence grammatically complete?
- Is the spelling correct?
- Is the link between sentences clear to your readers?
- Have you avoided redundancy and repetition?
See more about editing on our editing your writing page.
6. Cite sources and evidence
Finally, check your citations to make sure that they are accurate and complete. Some faculties require you to use a specific citation style (e.g. APA) while others may allow you to choose a preferred one. Whatever style you use, you must follow its guidelines correctly and consistently. You can use Recite, the University of Melbourne style guide, to check your citations.
- Germov, J. (2011). Get great marks for your essays, reports and presentations (3rd ed.). NSW: Allen and Unwin.
- Using English for Academic Purposes: A guide for students in Higher Education [online]. Retrieved January 2020 from http://www.uefap.com
- Williams, J.M. & Colomb, G. G. (2010) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. 10th ed. New York: Longman.
* Example introduction and conclusion adapted from a student paper.
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11 Rules for Essay Paragraph Structure (with Examples)
How do you structure a paragraph in an essay?
If you’re like the majority of my students, you might be getting your basic essay paragraph structure wrong and getting lower grades than you could!
In this article, I outline the 11 key steps to writing a perfect paragraph. But, this isn’t your normal ‘how to write an essay’ article. Rather, I’ll try to give you some insight into exactly what teachers look out for when they’re grading essays and figuring out what grade to give them.
You can navigate each issue below, or scroll down to read them all:
1. Paragraphs must be at least four sentences long 2. But, at most seven sentences long 3. Your paragraph must be Left-Aligned 4. You need a topic sentence 5 . Next, you need an explanation sentence 6. You need to include an example 7. You need to include citations 8. All paragraphs need to be relevant to the marking criteria 9. Only include one key idea per paragraph 10. Keep sentences short 11. Keep quotes short
Paragraph structure is one of the most important elements of getting essay writing right .
As I cover in my Ultimate Guide to Writing an Essay Plan , paragraphs are the heart and soul of your essay.
However, I find most of my students have either:
- forgotten how to write paragraphs properly,
- gotten lazy, or
- never learned it in the first place!
Paragraphs in essay writing are different from paragraphs in other written genres .
In fact, the paragraphs that you are reading now would not help your grades in an essay.
That’s because I’m writing in journalistic style, where paragraph conventions are vastly different.
For those of you coming from journalism or creative writing, you might find you need to re-learn paragraph writing if you want to write well-structured essay paragraphs to get top grades.
Below are eleven reasons your paragraphs are losing marks, and what to do about it!
Essay Paragraph Structure Rules
1. your paragraphs must be at least 4 sentences long.
In journalism and blog writing, a one-sentence paragraph is great. It’s short, to-the-point, and helps guide your reader. For essay paragraph structure, one-sentence paragraphs suck.
A one-sentence essay paragraph sends an instant signal to your teacher that you don’t have much to say on an issue.
A short paragraph signifies that you know something – but not much about it. A one-sentence paragraph lacks detail, depth and insight.
Many students come to me and ask, “what does ‘add depth’ mean?” It’s one of the most common pieces of feedback you’ll see written on the margins of your essay.
Personally, I think ‘add depth’ is bad feedback because it’s a short and vague comment. But, here’s what it means: You’ve not explained your point enough!
If you’re writing one-, two- or three-sentence essay paragraphs, you’re costing yourself marks.
Always aim for at least four sentences per paragraph in your essays.
This doesn’t mean that you should add ‘fluff’ or ‘padding’ sentences.
Make sure you don’t:
a) repeat what you said in different words, or b) write something just because you need another sentence in there.
But, you need to do some research and find something insightful to add to that two-sentence paragraph if you want to ace your essay.
Check out Points 5 and 6 for some advice on what to add to that short paragraph to add ‘depth’ to your paragraph and start moving to the top of the class.
- How to Make an Essay Longer
- How to Make an Essay Shorter
2. Your Paragraphs must not be more than 7 Sentences Long
Okay, so I just told you to aim for at least four sentences per paragraph. So, what’s the longest your paragraph should be?
Seven sentences. That’s a maximum.
So, here’s the rule:
Between four and seven sentences is the sweet spot that you need to aim for in every single paragraph.
Here’s why your paragraphs shouldn’t be longer than seven sentences:
1. It shows you can organize your thoughts. You need to show your teacher that you’ve broken up your key ideas into manageable segments of text (see point 10)
2. It makes your work easier to read. You need your writing to be easily readable to make it easy for your teacher to give you good grades. Make your essay easy to read and you’ll get higher marks every time.
One of the most important ways you can make your work easier to read is by writing paragraphs that are less than six sentences long.
3. It prevents teacher frustration. Teachers are just like you. When they see a big block of text their eyes glaze over. They get frustrated, lost, their mind wanders … and you lose marks.
To prevent teacher frustration, you need to ensure there’s plenty of white space in your essay. It’s about showing them that the piece is clearly structured into one key idea per ‘chunk’ of text.
Often, you might find that your writing contains tautologies and other turns of phrase that can be shortened for clarity.
3. Your Paragraph must be Left-Aligned
Turn off ‘Justified’ text and: Never. Turn. It. On. Again.
Justified text is where the words are stretched out to make the paragraph look like a square. It turns the writing into a block. Don’t do it. You will lose marks, I promise you! Win the psychological game with your teacher: left-align your text.
A good essay paragraph is never ‘justified’.
I’m going to repeat this, because it’s important: to prevent your essay from looking like a big block of muddy, hard-to-read text align your text to the left margin only.
You want white space on your page – and lots of it. White space helps your reader scan through your work. It also prevents it from looking like big blocks of text.
You want your reader reading vertically as much as possible: scanning, browsing, and quickly looking through for evidence you’ve engaged with the big ideas.
The justified text doesn’t help you do that. Justified text makes your writing look like a big, lumpy block of text that your reader doesn’t want to read.
What’s wrong with Center-Aligned Text?
While I’m at it, never, ever, center-align your text either. Center-aligned text is impossible to skim-read. Your teacher wants to be able to quickly scan down the left margin to get the headline information in your paragraph.
Not many people center-align text, but it’s worth repeating: never, ever center-align your essays.
Don’t annoy your reader. Left align your text.
4. Your paragraphs must have a Topic Sentence
The first sentence of an essay paragraph is called the topic sentence. This is one of the most important sentences in the correct essay paragraph structure style.
The topic sentence should convey exactly what key idea you’re going to cover in your paragraph.
Too often, students don’t let their reader know what the key idea of the paragraph is until several sentences in.
You must show what the paragraph is about in the first sentence.
You never, ever want to keep your reader in suspense. Essays are not like creative writing. Tell them straight away what the paragraph is about. In fact, if you can, do it in the first half of the first sentence .
I’ll remind you again: make it easy to grade your work. Your teacher is reading through your work trying to determine what grade to give you. They’re probably going to mark 20 assignments in one sitting. They have no interest in storytelling or creativity. They just want to know how much you know! State what the paragraph is about immediately and move on.
Suggested: Best Words to Start a Paragraph
Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing a Topic Sentence If your paragraph is about how climate change is endangering polar bears, say it immediately : “Climate change is endangering polar bears.” should be your first sentence in your paragraph. Take a look at first sentence of each of the four paragraphs above this one. You can see from the first sentence of each paragraph that the paragraphs discuss:
When editing your work, read each paragraph and try to distil what the one key idea is in your paragraph. Ensure that this key idea is mentioned in the first sentence .
(Note: if there’s more than one key idea in the paragraph, you may have a problem. See Point 9 below .)
The topic sentence is the most important sentence for getting your essay paragraph structure right. So, get your topic sentences right and you’re on the right track to a good essay paragraph.
5. You need an Explanation Sentence
All topic sentences need a follow-up explanation. The very first point on this page was that too often students write paragraphs that are too short. To add what is called ‘depth’ to a paragraph, you can come up with two types of follow-up sentences: explanations and examples.
Let’s take explanation sentences first.
Explanation sentences give additional detail. They often provide one of the following services:
Let’s go back to our example of a paragraph on Climate change endangering polar bears. If your topic sentence is “Climate change is endangering polar bears.”, then your follow-up explanation sentence is likely to explain how, why, where, or when. You could say:
Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing Explanation Sentences 1. How: “The warming atmosphere is melting the polar ice caps.” 2. Why: “The polar bears’ habitats are shrinking every single year.” 3. Where: “This is happening in the Antarctic ice caps near Greenland.” 4. When: “Scientists first noticed the ice caps were shrinking in 1978.”
You don’t have to provide all four of these options each time.
But, if you’re struggling to think of what to add to your paragraph to add depth, consider one of these four options for a good quality explanation sentence.
>>>RELATED ARTICLE: SHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS IN ESSAYS ?
6. Your need to Include an Example
Examples matter! They add detail. They also help to show that you genuinely understand the issue. They show that you don’t just understand a concept in the abstract; you also understand how things work in real life.
Example sentences have the added benefit of personalising an issue. For example, after saying “Polar bears’ habitats are shrinking”, you could note specific habitats, facts and figures, or even a specific story about a bear who was impacted.
Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing an ‘Example’ Sentence “For example, 770,000 square miles of Arctic Sea Ice has melted in the past four decades, leading Polar Bear populations to dwindle ( National Geographic, 2018 )
In fact, one of the most effective politicians of our times – Barrack Obama – was an expert at this technique. He would often provide examples of people who got sick because they didn’t have healthcare to sell Obamacare.
What effect did this have? It showed the real-world impact of his ideas. It humanised him, and got him elected president – twice!
Be like Obama. Provide examples. Often.
7. All Paragraphs need Citations
Provide a reference to an academic source in every single body paragraph in the essay. The only two paragraphs where you don’t need a reference is the introduction and conclusion .
Let me repeat: Paragraphs need at least one reference to a quality scholarly source .
Let me go even further:
Students who get the best marks provide two references to two different academic sources in every paragraph.
Two references in a paragraph show you’ve read widely, cross-checked your sources, and given the paragraph real thought.
It’s really important that these references link to academic sources, not random websites, blogs or YouTube videos. Check out our Seven Best types of Sources to Cite in Essays post to get advice on what sources to cite. Number 6 w ill surprise you!
Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: In-Text Referencing in Paragraphs Usually, in-text referencing takes the format: (Author, YEAR), but check your school’s referencing formatting requirements carefully. The ‘Author’ section is the author’s last name only. Not their initials. Not their first name. Just their last name . My name is Chris Drew. First name Chris, last name Drew. If you were going to reference an academic article I wrote in 2019, you would reference it like this: (Drew, 2019).
Where do you place those two references?
Place the first reference at the end of the first half of the paragraph. Place the second reference at the end of the second half of the paragraph.
This spreads the references out and makes it look like all the points throughout the paragraph are backed up by your sources. The goal is to make it look like you’ve reference regularly when your teacher scans through your work.
Remember, teachers can look out for signposts that indicate you’ve followed academic conventions and mentioned the right key ideas.
Spreading your referencing through the paragraph helps to make it look like you’ve followed the academic convention of referencing sources regularly.
Here are some examples of how to reference twice in a paragraph:
- If your paragraph was six sentences long, you would place your first reference at the end of the third sentence and your second reference at the end of the sixth sentence.
- If your paragraph was five sentences long, I would recommend placing one at the end of the second sentence and one at the end of the fifth sentence.
You’ve just read one of the key secrets to winning top marks.
8. Every Paragraph must be relevant to the Marking Criteria
Every paragraph must win you marks. When you’re editing your work, check through the piece to see if every paragraph is relevant to the marking criteria.
For the British: In the British university system (I’m including Australia and New Zealand here – I’ve taught at universities in all three countries), you’ll usually have a ‘marking criteria’. It’s usually a list of between two and six key learning outcomes your teacher needs to use to come up with your score. Sometimes it’s called a:
- Marking criteria
- Marking rubric
- (Key) learning outcome
- Indicative content
Check your assignment guidance to see if this is present. If so, use this list of learning outcomes to guide what you write. If your paragraphs are irrelevant to these key points, delete the paragraph .
Paragraphs that don’t link to the marking criteria are pointless. They won’t win you marks.
For the Americans: If you don’t have a marking criteria / rubric / outcomes list, you’ll need to stick closely to the essay question or topic. This goes out to those of you in the North American system. North America (including USA and Canada here) is often less structured and the professor might just give you a topic to base your essay on.
If all you’ve got is the essay question / topic, go through each paragraph and make sure each paragraph is relevant to the topic.
For example, if your essay question / topic is on “The Effects of Climate Change on Polar Bears”,
- Don’t talk about anything that doesn’t have some connection to climate change and polar bears;
- Don’t talk about the environmental impact of oil spills in the Gulf of Carpentaria;
- Don’t talk about black bear habitats in British Columbia.
- Do talk about the effects of climate change on polar bears (and relevant related topics) in every single paragraph .
You may think ‘stay relevant’ is obvious advice, but at least 20% of all essays I mark go off on tangents and waste words.
Stay on topic in Every. Single. Paragraph. If you want to learn more about how to stay on topic, check out our essay planning guide .
9. Only have one Key Idea per Paragraph
One key idea for each paragraph. One key idea for each paragraph. One key idea for each paragraph.
Too often, a student starts a paragraph talking about one thing and ends it talking about something totally different. Don’t be that student.
To ensure you’re focussing on one key idea in your paragraph, make sure you know what that key idea is. It should be mentioned in your topic sentence (see Point 3 ). Every other sentence in the paragraph adds depth to that one key idea.
If you’ve got sentences in your paragraph that are not relevant to the key idea in the paragraph, they don’t fit. They belong in another paragraph.
Go through all your paragraphs when editing your work and check to see if you’ve veered away from your paragraph’s key idea. If so, you might have two or even three key ideas in the one paragraph.
You’re going to have to get those additional key ideas, rip them out, and give them paragraphs of their own.
If you have more than one key idea in a paragraph you will lose marks. I promise you that.
The paragraphs will be too hard to read, your reader will get bogged down reading rather than scanning, and you’ll have lost grades.
10. Keep Sentences Short
If a sentence is too long it gets confusing. When the sentence is confusing, your reader will stop reading your work. They will stop reading the paragraph and move to the next one. They’ll have given up on your paragraph.
Short, snappy sentences are best.
Shorter sentences are easier to read and they make more sense. Too often, students think they have to use big, long, academic words to get the best marks. Wrong. Aim for clarity in every sentence in the paragraph. Your teacher will thank you for it.
The students who get the best marks write clear, short sentences.
When editing your draft, go through your essay and see if you can shorten your longest five sentences.
(To learn more about how to write the best quality sentences, see our page on Seven ways to Write Amazing Sentences .)
11. Keep Quotes Short
Eighty percent of university teachers hate quotes. That’s not an official figure. It’s my guestimate based on my many interactions in faculty lounges. Twenty percent don’t mind them, but chances are your teacher is one of the eight out of ten who hate quotes.
Teachers tend to be turned off by quotes because it makes it look like you don’t know how to say something on your own words.
Now that I’ve warned you, here’s how to use quotes properly:
Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: How To Use Quotes in University-Level Essay Paragraphs 1. Your quote should be less than one sentence long. 2. Your quote should be less than one sentence long. 3. You should never start a sentence with a quote. 4. You should never end a paragraph with a quote. 5 . You should never use more than five quotes per essay. 6. Your quote should never be longer than one line in a paragraph.
The minute your teacher sees that your quote takes up a large chunk of your paragraph, you’ll have lost marks.
Your teacher will circle the quote, write a snarky comment in the margin, and not even bother to give you points for the key idea in the paragraph.
Avoid quotes, but if you really want to use them, follow those five rules above.
I’ve also provided additional pages outlining Seven tips on how to use Quotes if you want to delve deeper into how, when and where to use quotes in essays. Be warned: quoting in essays is harder than you thought.
Follow the advice above and you’ll be well on your way to getting top marks at university.
Writing essay paragraphs that are well structured takes time and practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself and keep on trying!
Below is a summary of our 11 key mistakes for structuring essay paragraphs and tips on how to avoid them.
I’ve also provided an easy-to-share infographic below that you can share on your favorite social networking site. Please share it if this article has helped you out!
11 Biggest Essay Paragraph Structure Mistakes you’re probably Making
1. Your paragraphs are too short 2. Your paragraphs are too long 3. Your paragraph alignment is ‘Justified’ 4. Your paragraphs are missing a topic sentence 5 . Your paragraphs are missing an explanation sentence 6. Your paragraphs are missing an example 7. Your paragraphs are missing references 8. Your paragraphs are not relevant to the marking criteria 9. You’re trying to fit too many ideas into the one paragraph 10. Your sentences are too long 11. Your quotes are too long
Chris Drew (PhD)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 102 Examples of Social Norms (List)
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 15 Social Environment Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 15 Selective Perception Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ Field Observation (Research Method): Definition and Examples
4 thoughts on “11 Rules for Essay Paragraph Structure (with Examples)”
Hello there. I noticed that throughout this article on Essay Writing, you keep on saying that the teacher won’t have time to go through the entire essay. Don’t you think this is a bit discouraging that with all the hard work and time put into your writing, to know that the teacher will not read through the entire paper?
Thanks so much for your comment! I love to hear from readers on their thoughts.
Yes, I agree that it’s incredibly disheartening.
But, I also think students would appreciate hearing the truth.
Behind closed doors many / most university teachers are very open about the fact they ‘only have time to skim-read papers’. They regularly bring this up during heated faculty meetings about contract negotiations! I.e. in one university I worked at, we were allocated 45 minutes per 10,000 words – that’s just over 4 minutes per 1,000 word essay, and that’d include writing the feedback, too!
If students know the truth, they can better write their essays in a way that will get across the key points even from a ‘skim-read’.
I hope to write candidly on this website – i.e. some of this info will never be written on university blogs because universities want to hide these unfortunate truths from students.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
This is wonderful and helpful, all I say is thank you very much. Because I learned a lot from this site, own by chris thank you Sir.
Thank you. This helped a lot.
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General Rules for Writing an Essay
Updated on Mar 18, 2019 by Guest Authors
Essays are a big part of any student’s life. Whether you like it or not, you will have to write some essays at one point. In fact, writing an essay might help you win a contest or even a scholarship, so it is important that you learn the convention of essays.
Here are some elementary things that you should know about essay before you begin writing one. These tips should help you write a proper essay that respects all the rules.
Make sure that you have all the necessary parts
All essays have the exact same structure. The first paragraph will need to contain the introduction, the next three paragraphs should represent the body of the text, and the final paragraph is supposed to be the conclusion. The number of paragraphs can be larger or smaller, depending on how big your essay should be.
Nevertheless, it is vital that you follow this structure, although it might begin to appear repetitive at one point. Each part of the essay has a specific role and you should not forget any of them.
The introduction is the first part of an essay and it is the one that introduces your subject and presents your stance on it. It is also called an “argument” which means that you will have to explain what led to the decision of writing about that topic.
The introduction should also capture the interest of the readers, so make sure that it is interesting enough so that no one will get bored while reading it. The final sentence should be the one that connects the introduction to the body.
The body can have more paragraphs, and it is up to you to decide how many you need in order to cover the subject. Each paragraph should have solid arguments and you should be able to convince the readers. Don’t forget to offer relevant examples so that you can illustrate your ideas in a better way.
Since you will have more paragraphs, make sure that you transition smoothly from one to another. You might need to use certain phrases, such as “furthermore”, or “moreover” in order to add more supporting arguments.
This is the final part of your essay so it might be more important than you think since it represents the last impression of the reader. The conclusion should sum up your essay and it should be long enough to cover all the important points.
You can also use transitions such as “in conclusion”, or “to sum up”, and then continue by restating your original argument from the introduction.
These tips should help you structure an essay correctly. For more help, you can always choose an essay writer that is willing to help you with your essay. However, you should remember that you should only use such methods if you have no other option. In other situations, it is important that you make an effort on your own.
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General Essay Writing Tips
Despite the fact that, as Shakespeare said, "the pen is mightier than the sword," the pen itself is not enough to make an effective writer. In fact, though we may all like to think of ourselves as the next Shakespeare, inspiration alone is not the key to effective essay writing. You see, the conventions of English essays are more formulaic than you might think – and, in many ways, it can be as simple as counting to five.
Steps to Writing an Essay
Follow these 7 steps for the best results:
- Read and understand the prompt: Know exactly what is being asked of you. It’s a good idea to dissect the prompt into parts.
- Plan: Brainstorming and organizing your ideas will make your life much easier when you go to write your essay. It’s a good idea to make a web of your ideas and supporting details.
- Use and cite sources: Do your research. Use quotes and paraphrase from your sources, but NEVER plagiarize.
- Write a Draft: Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is always crap.” While the truth behind this statement is debatable, drafts are always a good place to get any of your “crappy” ideas out of the way and are often required by professors and instructors.
- Make a strong thesis: The thesis (main argument) of the essay is the most important thing you’ll write. Make it a strong point.
- Respond to the prompt: Once you have worked out any kinks in your draft, you can start writing the final draft of your essay.
- Proofread: Read your response carefully to make sure that there are no mistakes and that you didn’t miss anything.
Of course, every essay assignment is different and it’s important to be mindful of that. If one of these steps isn’t applicable to the essay you are writing, skip it and move to the next one.
The Five Paragraph Essay
Though more advanced academic papers are a category all their own, the basic high school or college essay has the following standardized, five paragraph structure:
Paragraph 1: Introduction Paragraph 2: Body 1 Paragraph 3: Body 2 Paragraph 4: Body 3 Paragraph 5: Conclusion
Though it may seem formulaic – and, well, it is - the idea behind this structure is to make it easier for the reader to navigate the ideas put forth in an essay. You see, if your essay has the same structure as every other one, any reader should be able to quickly and easily find the information most relevant to them.
The principle purpose of the introduction is to present your position (this is also known as the "thesis" or "argument") on the issue at hand but effective introductory paragraphs are so much more than that. Before you even get to this thesis statement, for example, the essay should begin with a "hook" that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read on. Examples of effective hooks include relevant quotations ("no man is an island") or surprising statistics ("three out of four doctors report that…").
Only then, with the reader’s attention "hooked," should you move on to the thesis. The thesis should be a clear, one-sentence explanation of your position that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about which side you are on from the beginning of your essay.
Following the thesis, you should provide a mini-outline which previews the examples you will use to support your thesis in the rest of the essay. Not only does this tell the reader what to expect in the paragraphs to come but it also gives them a clearer understanding of what the essay is about.
Finally, designing the last sentence in this way has the added benefit of seamlessly moving the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper. In this way we can see that the basic introduction does not need to be much more than three or four sentences in length. If yours is much longer you might want to consider editing it down a bit!
Here, by way of example, is an introductory paragraph to an essay in response to the following question:
"Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions?"
"No man is an island" and, as such, he is constantly shaped and influenced by his experiences. People learn by doing and, accordingly, learn considerably more from their mistakes than their success. For proof of this, consider examples from both science and everyday experience.
The Body Paragraphs
The middle paragraphs of the essay are collectively known as the body paragraphs and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the examples that support your thesis.
For the first body paragraph you should use your strongest argument or most significant example unless some other more obvious beginning point (as in the case of chronological explanations) is required. The first sentence of this paragraph should be the topic sentence of the paragraph that directly relates to the examples listed in the mini-outline of introductory paragraph.
A one sentence body paragraph that simply cites the example of "George Washington" or "LeBron James" is not enough, however. No, following this an effective essay will follow up on this topic sentence by explaining to the reader, in detail, who or what an example is and, more importantly, why that example is relevant.
Even the most famous examples need context. For example, George Washington’s life was extremely complex – by using him as an example, do you intend to refer to his honesty, bravery, or maybe even his wooden teeth? The reader needs to know this and it is your job as the writer to paint the appropriate picture for them. To do this, it is a good idea to provide the reader with five or six relevant facts about the life (in general) or event (in particular) you believe most clearly illustrates your point.
Having done that, you then need to explain exactly why this example proves your thesis . The importance of this step cannot be understated (although it clearly can be underlined); this is, after all, the whole reason you are providing the example in the first place. Seal the deal by directly stating why this example is relevant.
Here is an example of a body paragraph to continue the essay begun above:
Take, by way of example, Thomas Edison. The famed American inventor rose to prominence in the late 19th century because of his successes, yes, but even he felt that these successes were the result of his many failures. He did not succeed in his work on one of his most famous inventions, the lightbulb, on his first try nor even on his hundred and first try. In fact, it took him more than 1,000 attempts to make the first incandescent bulb but, along the way, he learned quite a deal. As he himself said, "I did not fail a thousand times but instead succeeded in finding a thousand ways it would not work." Thus Edison demonstrated both in thought and action how instructive mistakes can be.
A Word on Transitions
You may have noticed that, though the above paragraph aligns pretty closely with the provided outline, there is one large exception: the first few words. These words are example of a transitional phrase – others include "furthermore," "moreover," but also "by contrast" and "on the other hand" – and are the hallmark of good writing.
Transitional phrases are useful for showing the reader where one section ends and another begins. It may be helpful to see them as the written equivalent of the kinds of spoken cues used in formal speeches that signal the end of one set of ideas and the beginning of another. In essence, they lead the reader from one section of the paragraph of another.
To further illustrate this, consider the second body paragraph of our example essay:
In a similar way, we are all like Edison in our own way. Whenever we learn a new skill - be it riding a bike, driving a car, or cooking a cake - we learn from our mistakes. Few, if any, are ready to go from training wheels to a marathon in a single day but these early experiences (these so-called mistakes) can help us improve our performance over time. You cannot make a cake without breaking a few eggs and, likewise, we learn by doing and doing inevitably means making mistakes.
Hopefully this example not only provides another example of an effective body paragraph but also illustrates how transitional phrases can be used to distinguish between them.
Although the conclusion paragraph comes at the end of your essay it should not be seen as an afterthought. As the final paragraph is represents your last chance to make your case and, as such, should follow an extremely rigid format.
One way to think of the conclusion is, paradoxically, as a second introduction because it does in fact contain many of the same features. While it does not need to be too long – four well-crafted sentence should be enough – it can make or break and essay.
Effective conclusions open with a concluding transition ("in conclusion," "in the end," etc.) and an allusion to the "hook" used in the introductory paragraph. After that you should immediately provide a restatement of your thesis statement.
This should be the fourth or fifth time you have repeated your thesis so while you should use a variety of word choice in the body paragraphs it is a acceptable idea to use some (but not all) of the original language you used in the introduction. This echoing effect not only reinforces your argument but also ties it nicely to the second key element of the conclusion: a brief (two or three words is enough) review of the three main points from the body of the paper.
Having done all of that, the final element – and final sentence in your essay – should be a "global statement" or "call to action" that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end.
In the end, then, one thing is clear: mistakes do far more to help us learn and improve than successes. As examples from both science and everyday experience can attest, if we treat each mistake not as a misstep but as a learning experience the possibilities for self-improvement are limitless.
Taken together, then, the overall structure of a five paragraph essay should look something like this:
- An attention-grabbing "hook"
- A thesis statement
- A preview of the three subtopics you will discuss in the body paragraphs.
First Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the first subtopic and opens with a transition
- Supporting details or examples
- An explanation of how this example proves your thesis
Second Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the second subtopic and opens with a transition
Third Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the third subtopic and opens with a transition
- Concluding Transition, Reverse "hook," and restatement of thesis.
- Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.
- Global statement or call to action.
More tips to make your essay shine
Although it may seem like a waste of time – especially during exams where time is tight – it is almost always better to brainstorm a bit before beginning your essay. This should enable you to find the best supporting ideas – rather than simply the first ones that come to mind – and position them in your essay accordingly.
Your best supporting idea – the one that most strongly makes your case and, simultaneously, about which you have the most knowledge – should go first. Even the best-written essays can fail because of ineffectively placed arguments.
Aim for Variety
Sentences and vocabulary of varying complexity are one of the hallmarks of effective writing. When you are writing, try to avoid using the same words and phrases over and over again. You don’t have to be a walking thesaurus but a little variance can make the same idea sparkle.
If you are asked about "money," you could try "wealth" or "riches." At the same time, avoid beginning sentences the dull pattern of "subject + verb + direct object." Although examples of this are harder to give, consider our writing throughout this article as one big example of sentence structure variety.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
In the end, though, remember that good writing does not happen by accident. Although we have endeavored to explain everything that goes into effective essay writing in as clear and concise a way as possible, it is much easier in theory than it is in practice.
As a result, we recommend that you practice writing sample essays on various topics. Even if they are not masterpieces at first, a bit of regular practice will soon change that – and make you better prepared when it comes to the real thing.
General Do's and Don'ts
Do: use transitions to start new thoughts and paragraphs., don’t: start a new thought without a transition or overuse transitions., do: use paragraph structure to organize thoughts and claims., don’t: write one big paragraph without any sort of organization., do: use quotes and paraphrase to back up your claims., don’t: plagiarize., do: use active voice, meaning verbs and action words., don’t: use passive voice or i/my. try to avoid words like “have” or “be”, and never use i or my unless the essay is being written in the narrative form., do: use vivid and descriptive words to bring your essay to life., don’t: misuse words that you don’t know the meaning of., related content:, get the international student newsletter.