Simple Steps to Write a Great Essay

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Some people love writing essays. Some people can pound out an A+ essay without much planning beyond researching the topic itself. Some people are just lucky that way.

But most people could use a little guidance when a teacher or professor assigns a long writing assignment. No matter the topic of your essay, the following steps will provide a framework that will help you get the best grade you can (as long as you’ve done your research, of course).

Take Time to Really Consider Your Topic

There are four main types of essays, but most commonly you’ll be asked to write two of those.

There’s the argumentative, in which you make a claim about your topic and then defend that claim. There’s also the explanatory essay, in which your goal is to…well…explain your topic.

You need to figure out which type of essay you’re supposed to be writing, to find the structure of your work. The assignment itself will often tell you flat-out whether you’re meant to be arguing something or explaining it. If you’re unsure, the best time to ask for clarification from your teacher or professor is now, before you’ve begun drafting your essay.

Once you know whether you’re explaining your topic or making an argument about it you need to give thought to the topic itself. Is there a specific aspect you’re meant to address in an explanatory essay, or the broad subject itself? Is there a particular argument you’re required to make in an argumentative essay, or can you choose which stance you want to take? And if you get to pick, what will your argument be and, perhaps most importantly, why will that be your stance?

Give these questions real thought. Brainstorm them, even take the time to scribble your thoughts on paper. This will be important for the next step.

Outline Your Essay

You’ve got your format and your topic, and a few good ideas of what you want to say. It’s not time to start writing yet, though!

Draft an initial outline for your essay.

You need to do more than address the main points of your topic. This will help guide your research, find the questions you need to answer for yourself to define your explanation or make your argument.

It’s a good idea at this point to also plan how each of your points will flow with the other. Each paragraph in your essay should strengthen your explanation or argument, but each paragraph should also relate or transition smoothly between the one before and the one after it. Setting up this flow is much easier if you begin planning for it now, during the outline phase.

Do Your Research

This doesn’t take much explanation. You’ve got your topic and your plan, now you need the information to put in your essay.

One thing to keep in mind as you research though is not only to note the facts (and how they relate to your argument if you’re writing that type of essay), and your sources so that you can properly cite your work at the end of your essay, but also how the information changes your initial idea. This is important because…

Now It’s Time to Redo Your Outline

You need to double-check that outline you wrote before you started your research. Have you learned anything that changes your argument? Have you discovered any facts that alter your explanation? Go through your outline and update it with your new information before you get drafting.

Finally, Write Your First Draft

You’ve got the basics, the knowledge, and the outline. Actually drafting the essay at this point will be fairly easy—you’ve done the hard work and laid the groundwork, now you get to fill it in and flesh it out.

First drafts are rarely pretty. Take time and be careful, but if it’s not perfect, don’t sweat it yet. Get your essay written, and then take a breather (a day or so if you’ve given yourself plenty of time, or squeeze in fifteen minutes of a brain-break if you waited until your deadline is breathing down your neck).

Now, Fix Your Draft

First drafts are almost never ready to turn in.

Go back through and check for typos and grammatical mistakes. But also double check your structure and flow. Make sure the whole essay is working.

This is a great time to get a second pair of eyes on your essay. Maybe you’re not lucky enough to be one of those people who can instinctively write an A+ essay, but maybe you are lucky enough to be friends with one of those people. Ask them if they’d be willing to look over your work for you, If they have the time.

If you don’t know anyone like that, or if you do but they’re too busy, there are resources online that can help with this step. Some are paid essay checkers, but others (for example, ProWritingAid, among others) can do basic grammar and typo checks for free.

You’re All Done!

Following these steps will help you write the best essay you can. You’ve got the research to do for yourself, and your argument or explanation to work out, but with these steps then whatever the topic or assignment, you’ve got the means to organize your thoughts and polish your work when it’s done.

Now get to your studying!