Writing an Essay

1. Analyze the Question.

Look at the direction words or phrases in the essay title which give you instructions about what you are expected to write. Listed below are some commonly found direction words, with explanation of the action required:

COMPARE
Show the similarities and differences.

CONTRAST
Show only the differences.

CRITICISE
Give your judgment of something, showing its positive and negative points.

DEFINE
Give the formal meaning by distinguishing it from related terms.

DISCUSS
Describe, giving the details, and explaining the positive/negative aspects of the issue.

EVALUATE
Give your opinion, stating the advantages and disadvantages.

EXPLAIN
State the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

IDENTIFY
Define, then show its importance.

RELATE
Show the connections between items/issues, explaining how one affects the other, or is like another.

SUMMARIZE
Condense the points or facts. Omit the details.

TRACE
Show a progression, historical sequence or development.

2. Plan

Brainstorm and chart what you know / you need to know. You might make a map, putting the question in the middle of the map and making ‘spokes’ or ‘rays’ leading from the central hub. These spokes could represent different aspects that are relevant to the question.

Ask yourself questions about issues relating to the essay question. This will help to put you into the right frame of mind for the research in Step Three.

3. Research

This is the step most people think of when they think of "library research." It's a hunt for information in any available form (book, periodical, CD, video, Internet) which is pertinent to the questions identified in step 2.

Your information search should be focused and specific, but pay careful attention to serendipity (finding, by chance, valuable things you weren't even looking for). Keep your mind open to continue learning about your focused topic.

Now is the time to carefully record your sources in the bibliographic format required by your instructor. Every piece of information you collect should have bibliographic information written down before you leave the library. You should also pay attention to the quality of the information you find, especially if you're using information you find on the Internet.

4. Outline your Essay

Ask yourself: What is the major point I would like to get across? What are the most convincing pieces of evidence I have to back up my point? How can I divide these into sub-categories? What are my most intriguing bits of information? How do they relate to each other and to my thesis? In what order would it make the most sense to put these ideas? What is my rationale for putting my ideas in this particular order? Is there another possible order to put these ideas in? Why did I choose this way of organizing my ideas as opposed to another way?

  • Begin your outline by writing your topic at the top of the page.
  • Next, write the Roman numerals I, II, and III, spread apart down the left side of the page.
  • Next to each Roman numeral, write the main ideas that you have about your topic, or the main points that you want to make.
  • If you are trying to persuade, you want to write your best arguments.
  • If you are trying to explain a process, you want to write the steps that should be followed.
    You will probably need to group these into categories.
    you have trouble grouping the steps into categories, try using Beginning, Middle, and End.
  • If you are trying to inform, you want to write the major categories into which your information can be divided.
  • Under each Roman numeral, write A, B, and C down the left side of the page.
  • Next to each letter, write the facts or information that support that main idea.

5. Write the thesis statement

Now that you have decided, at least tentatively, what information you plan to present in your essay, you are ready to write your thesis statement.

The thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about, and what point you, the author, will be making. You must look at your outline and decide what point you will be making. What do the main ideas and supporting ideas that you listed say about your topic? The thesis statement will have two parts: the first part states the topic and the second part states the point of the essay.

Once you have formulated a thesis statement that fits this pattern and with which you are comfortable, you are ready to continue.

6. Write the main part of the essay

In the body of the essay, all the preparation up to this point comes to fruition. The topic you have chosen must now be explained, described, or argued.

Each main idea that you wrote down in your diagram or outline will become one of the body paragraphs. If you had three or four main ideas, you will have three or four body paragraphs.

However, if you have collected a lot of important information about a particular aspect, you might have several paragraphs about one aspect. In this case, the paragraphs will each consist of a subdivision of that aspect.

Try to link each paragraph to the next, so that your writing will flow smoothly. Use transition words and phrases (e.g. however, therefore, also, in addition to, and, on the other hand) to make the transitions between paragraphs.

Each paragraph will have roughly the same structure:

  • Start by writing down one of your main ideas, in sentence form. If your main idea is "reduces freeway congestion," you might say this:Public transportation reduces freeway congestion.
  • Next, write down each of your supporting points for that main idea, but leave four or five lines in between each point.
  • In the space under each point, write down some elaboration for that point. Elaboration can be further description or explanation or discussion.
  • If you wish, include a summary sentence for each paragraph. This is not generally needed, however, and such sentences have a tendency to sound stilted, so be cautious about using them.

Once you have fleshed out each of your body paragraphs, one for each main point, you are ready to continue.

7. Write the Conclusion

  • Do not include any new information or ideas at this stage.
  • Make a reference to the essay question which shows that you have taken the action required.
  • Summarize briefly the main content of the essay.
  • Show your own opinion.

8. Write the Introduction

The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give her an idea of the essay's focus. Begin with an attention grabber.

The attention grabber you use is up to you, but here are some ideas:

  • Startling information --This information must be true and verifiable, and it doesn't need to be totally new to your readers. It could simply be a pertinent fact that explicitly illustrates the point you wish to make. If you use a piece of startling information, follow it with a sentence or two of elaboration.
  • Anecdote -- An anecdote is a story that illustrates a point. Be sure your anecdote is short, to the point, and relevant to your topic. This can be a very effective opener for your essay, but use it carefully.
  • Dialogue -- An appropriate dialogue does not have to identify the speakers, but the reader must understand the point you are trying to convey. Use only two or three exchanges between speakers to make your point. Follow dialogue with a sentence or two of elaboration.
  • Summary Information -- A few sentences explaining your topic in general terms can lead the reader gently to your thesis. Each sentence should become gradually more specific, until you reach your thesis.
  • If the attention grabber was only a sentence or two, add one or two more sentences that will lead the reader from your opening to your thesis statement.
  • Finish the paragraph with your thesis statement.

9. Edit the Essay

Check the following:

Content

  • Is it relevant?
  • Should you have included or omitted anything else?
  • Is it repetitive?
  • Have you referred to, acknowledged and linked sources which you used to support your ideas and arguments?
  • Have you expressed your own viewpoint where required?

Organization

  • Introduction: Is your aim clear and does it show that you have understood the title?
  • Have you explained the sequence you intend to follow?
  • Body (general): Does the body of the essay support the thesis (or aim)?
  • Do the references support your arguments?
  • Body (paragraphs): Does every paragraph relate to the thesis of the essay?
  • Do the paragraphs follow a logical order?
  • Do all paragraphs provide good details, well-chosen examples etc?
  • Are the topic sentences clear?
  • Have you linked the paragraphs by:
  • repeating key words/ideas from the title or thesis
  • referring to words/ideas from the preceding paragraph
  • using ‘transitional’ expressions, e.g. A second example ..., In contrast, ....etc?
  • Conclusion: Does the essay just ‘tail off’?
  • Have you summed up your most important points from the body of your essay?
  • Have you referred back to the essay title and thesis and shown that you have carried out the task in question?

Style

  • Have you written in a fairly formal, not a casual chatty style?

Grammar

  • Allow a couple of extra days for editing; you will be more likely to find mistakes if the essay looks less familiar to you
  • Ask a friend to help you proof-read
  • Be alert for the following:
  • Are the verb tenses and nouns/pronouns consistent? eg The pupils who ................. have ( not has).
  • Is it clear to what/whom pronouns refer? eg The children used books to help them to perform the tasks. They were very active .. The bold word refers to the last thing mentioned in the previous sentence, ie tasks. However, the writer intended it to refer to children, so he/she will need to repeat The children ...
  • Are the sentences varied in length and type?

Punctuation

  • Does the punctuation make the meaning clear?

Spelling

  • Use the word processor's spell checker and check for spelling errors manually

Instructions for the assignment

  • Are your margins correct?
  • Have you titled it as directed?
  • What other information (name, date, etc.) must you include?
  • Did you space your lines correctly?