Learn how to write an essay with these easy-to-follow tips.
The Myth of Essay Writing
For many people, the prospect of writing an essay is unnecessarily daunting and unpleasant. This is largely a result of the misconception that one's ideas need to be fully formed before even beginning the essay writing process, before even putting pen to paper.
The Reality of Essay Writing
In reality, most of your ideas develop during the essay writing process. Through the stages of brainstorming, drafting, and revising, you can explore your thoughts, discover the ideas you want to communicate, and work out the best way to express them.
If you relax and allow yourself the freedom to spend time exploring and articulating your ideas, you'll find that there are few activities more liberating and rewarding than the process of writing an essay.
The Basic Steps of the Writing Process
Whether you desire to write a narrative essay about a personal experience, a literary analysis of a story, an argumentative essay supporting a particular idea or point of view, or any other possible type of essay, the steps of the essay writing process are basically the same.
- Choose your topic. In some circumstances, especially when you are given a particular essay writing assignment, your topic may be provided for you. In other cases, you may have the flexibility to choose the topic you would most enjoy to explore and write about.
- Think about your purpose of your essay. Understanding the purpose of your writing can help you develop the necessary content and structure for your essay. For example, if your purpose is to write a personal narrative, this purpose reveals that you should think about the order in which you describe the experience and, therefore, the order in which you present your paragraphs. This purpose also suggests that you should use detailed and vivid language to guide your reader through the description of your experience.
- Use free-writing and brainstorming to explore your topic. Before you worry too much about developing a clean and orderly essay, spend some time exploring your topic and ideas. Free-writing is a great way to get started. Take out a blank piece of paper and write whatever comes to your mind related to your topic. Don't worry if the ideas sound unclear or unconvincing. Also, don't worry about your grammar or sentence structure. This technique is simply to help stimulate your ideas. You'll probably be surprised at what you discover through this practice.
- Plan an outline of the general structure and content of your essay. After you have spent a good deal of time brainstorming and free-writing, consider the ideas you've discovered so far and start to develop a general outline for your essay. Keep your outline as clear and direct as possible. Try to start with the main idea you will present in your introduction. Then list the most important ideas you want to present in the body paragraphs of your essay. Under each point, provide any specific information you will use to develop the point.
- Write your first draft. Using your outline as a guide, draft your essay. Although you could try to draft each part of the essay, the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion, you should also feel free to draft whichever part of the essay you feel most capable of handling first. You might want to write the body paragraphs first, for example, to help you get a better understanding of how to articulate your main idea in the introduction. At this stage of your writing process, try to remain flexible and relaxed. Do not put too much pressure on yourself to write the perfect essay on the first try. Remember that even at this stage, you might discover new ideas that work better than the ideas you explored previously.
- Take a break. It's often very helpful to spend some time away from your writing. The time away allows you regain a clear and objective perspective. It's also incredibly helpful to get another person's opinion about what you've written. Ask a friend, a family member, or even your teacher to read over your draft. When your reader offers you feedback, do not take his or her comments personally. In the end, any comments will help see your writing through another person's eyes and gain a better understanding of what you've actually written.
- Reread and revise your essay. Try to allow quite a bit of time for the revising phase of your writing process. In general, you should write at least two to four drafts of your essay before you arrive at your final version. When revising, read through your draft and think about whether your writing meets the requirements of your purpose and assignment. Think about which aspects of your essay are working well and which other aspects are in need of improvement. Don't hesitate to make large changes in your writing. The more open you remain to changes, the more likely it is that your essay will continue to develop and thrive.
- Get an outside opinion. Before arriving at your final draft, consider asking a number of people to read and offer feedback about your essay. If you have specific questions or concerns, feel free to ask your readers to focus on those issues. However, it's often most helpful to let your readers respond freely to what you've written.
- Add the finishing touches. Take another honest look at your essay, and considering your own concerns and the feedback from readers, spend time identifying any weaknesses and then revising the material. At this stage of the process, you should also pay close attention to your spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and choice of words. To help you identify such problems, read the essay aloud to yourself, sentence by sentence.