Starting an essay can be challenging, even for experienced writers. Blocking yourself early in the writing process can slow you down and prevent you from writing your essay. However, understanding how to organize your ideas, develop your thesis and introduction, and keep writing can help you finish your essay successfully.
Part 1 of 5: Understand the task
Step 1. Know how to read an essay slogan
Although they vary depending on who wrote them, most essay prompts include similar information. Essay prompts can seem overwhelming at first, especially if they incorporate a lot of information, but knowing what you're looking for can help you figure them out.
- Most slogans start with a little contextual information about the topic of the essay. While this may seem superfluous, read it carefully; it can give you a clue as to how your teacher wants you to pose the essay topic.
- The "task" of the essay command will generally be phrased with active verbs, such as "summarize", "describe", "compare", "contrast", "analyze" or "discuss". These verbs will help you to know what type of essay is asking for the slogan.
- Sometimes the slogan will offer a list of questions or suggestions for further consideration. Please read this section carefully: Sometimes these questions or suggestions can be a way to bring in your own thoughts, but other times you may need to address all of them in your essay.
- Many slogans will conclude with a list of formatting requirements. Common requirements are "12-point font," "double-spaced," and "2.54-cm (1-inch) margins," but other things may be required as well. Make sure to stick to all of these requirements in your final draft! Failure to do so may cost you rehearsal points.
Step 2. Fully understand the rehearsal instruction
Knowing exactly what your teacher expects of you is the first step to starting your essay successfully. You should read the slogan as soon as possible after it is given to you.
- Read the questions or prompts several times. You may want to rewrite the slogan in your own words to make sure you understand it. Paraphrasing it can help you remember and interpret the information more effectively.
- If you can choose from several essay slogans, choose one that you feel most comfortable with or that you think you can write about in more detail.
- Ask if you are confused or unsure about the teacher's expectations.
Step 3. Ask if you can see the grading rubric
Find out if there is a grading rubric for the essay and ask if you can preview it so you can see how your work will be evaluated. This can help you know where to focus most of your time.
Step 4. Think of at least two ideas
If the essay is open ended and you have to choose your own topic entirely, think of several ideas and then choose the one that you think will produce the best essay. It may not be the first idea that comes to mind.
A good essay topic is broad enough that you have enough to say, but not so wide that you can't say anything substantial. An essay on "the impact of Shakespeare" is too broad; you could write a dozen books on that subject. An essay on "Shakespeare's impact on common English phrases" is more limited, but still gives you plenty to consider
Part 2 of 5: Do Prewriting for Your Essay
Step 1. Consider the purpose of your essay
Is it to persuade the reader of something? Is it to convey an experience? Is it to present a critical analysis of a text or an image? Knowing your goal will help you decide how to direct your ideas.
Step 2. Do some prewriting to get the ideas flowing
The best way to start an essay is to let your ideas out in a non-essay format to begin with. Prewriting can take different forms, and you may want to experiment to find the one that helps you the most.
- Free writing, a process where you simply write what you're thinking without worrying about grammar or punctuation or even your central argument, can be a good way to start generating ideas. It can also help you "find" your thesis.
- A simple list may be the only thing you need. Write a list of the subtopics or details that you want to include in the essay.
- A mind map can be a useful prewriting guide for those with visual learning skills. The center of the mind map contains your main argument, or thesis, and other ideas branch out in all directions.
Step 3. Keep your audience in mind
As you write, think about what you would need if you were reading the essay. If it is a history essay, what context would you need on the topic? If it is a narrative essay, what information would you need to make you feel as if you have experienced the event?
Step 4. Understand that prior writing is not perfect
One of the biggest causes of mental block is striving for perfection before you have written a single word. Do not censor yourself when doing the previous writing. Try to avoid negative thoughts like "This doesn't make sense" or "I can't express what I want to say." Just write everything down!
Step 5. Write a traditional sketch
If you've already used one of the pre-writing methods mentioned above, rearrange the content and add details by creating an outline. A traditional sketch is a great format to get your ideas out in detail and organize your entire essay.
- Begin each section of your sketch with the main point. Label each section with a Roman numeral (for example, "I. Puppies are cute").
- Provide at least two subpoints for your main point. Indicate each subpoint with a capital letter (for example, "A. Puppies look cute, B. Puppies act cute").
- Provide at least two details for each subitem. Indicate the details with a number (for example, "A-1. Puppies have sweet faces, 2. Puppies are small and small things are usually cute. B-1. Puppies play and roll around all the time, doing laugh at people, 2. Puppies are very affectionate and lick their owners to show love ").
- Each level of detail should be indented more to the right than the previous level.
Step 6. Read the sketch
Make sure the organization makes sense and rearrange or relocate sections if necessary. Make sure each section has a similar amount of detail, and add details to any sections that need to be developed further.
Part 3 of 5: Developing a Thesis Statement
Step 1. Determine the type of essay you have to write
Your thesis will vary based on whether the essay is analytical, argumentative, or declarative. Thinking about the verbs used in the slogan and the objective of your essay will help you decide which direction to take.
- An argumentative thesis will indicate a position (argument side), in addition to introducing the argument.
- A declarative thesis will introduce what is going to be explained in the essay.
- An analytical thesis will introduce the topic and contextualize the reason for the essay.
Step 2. Understand what a thesis statement has to accomplish
Your thesis statement should provide an answer to the question "So what?" Ask yourself how your argument or analysis contributes to the reader's understanding.
Step 3. Think about what you want to say
Developing your thesis statement is an important part of your essay. If you try to write it before you have thought or researched your topic, you are unlikely to be successful.
- Check your previous writing and try to find relationships between the ideas there.
- Think about your homework and what else you want to say: the thesis statement is likely to fall between these two points.
Step 4. Use a "provisional" thesis statement
If you are having trouble with this step or if you feel that the pressure of having a perfect thesis statement is keeping you from getting started, try using a "tentative" thesis statement. This will allow you to move on without getting too bogged down, knowing that you will come back and change the thesis later.
Step 5. Write the thesis statement
Remember that you can always correct or change the language later, so don't spend too much time worrying about the exact wording.
- Your thesis must answer the question posed in the essay assignment (if any).
- A thesis statement is usually the last sentence of your introduction, but occasionally it can be the first sentence of your essay.
- Don't write your thesis statement as a question.
Step 6. Avoid the "three-pronged" thesis
An example of a typical three-prong thesis might be: "Puppies are good for you because they are cute, affectionate, and cheap." The problem with thesis statements like these is that they can severely restrict the development of your essay. You may feel the need to use just one paragraph to discuss each point rather than develop your ideas as much as necessary.
Part 4 of 5: Write the introduction
Step 1. Consider writing the introduction at the end
If you find that you are getting stuck in the introduction and this is preventing you from writing the rest of your essay, skip it for now. Just write the thesis statement at the top of your essay and start with the body paragraphs of your essay.
- You may find it easier to write your introduction after you finish your essay, after you know what you ended up saying with your essay.
- It is more important to get into a rhythm with your writing than to write each part in the order in which it goes in the essay.
Step 2. Remember the purpose of an introduction
An introduction should state the topic, present the argument, and provide the reader with the context of the essay. Sentences that begin with the conditional "if" in your introduction do not help with any of these goals and are likely to be unnecessary.
Step 3. Write a hook
A hook, often the first sentence in your essay, is a sentence or two that "hooks" or captures the interest of your audience. Commonly used hooks can be good for novice writers, but some college professors believe that certain hooks are overused. Here are a few ideas for hooks:
- A statistic (particularly one that the reader may find surprising) can be a good way to start certain types of essays. Make sure the statistics come from a reliable source, such as one of your school's library databases.
- A personal story or anecdote told in detail can attract the reader. However, it should be relevant to the topic and you will have to explicitly connect it to your thesis statement. This may not be appropriate in a formal rehearsal.
- A quote from a famous person can be a good introduction. However, because this is an overused method, try to turn it around by using a surprise quote, contradicting the quote, or using one in a new context. You will also have to connect it clearly to your thesis.
- Illuminating a puzzling paradox or scenario could lure the reader into questioning something that is normally taken for granted.
- Try to avoid introductions that begin by giving the dictionary definition of a word and explaining it or asking a question.
- Avoid overused and essentially empty phrases such as "since the beginning of time" or "throughout the history of mankind."
Step 4. Make the transition from the hook to the thesis
You will need to write a few sentences that explain the context of the hook and transition to your essay thesis. If the hook is long, like a personal anecdote, this transition can be a phrase like "This experience led me to believe that …". If the hook is shorter, like a statistic, you will likely have to write 3-4 sentences explaining the statistic and preceding your thesis statement.
Part 5 of 5: Write your essay
Step 1. Give yourself time to write
If you wait until the last minute to start your essay, you are likely to feel more stress, and the pressure of writing in a short amount of time can cause you to get stuck. You should also give yourself time to review, so starting early will help you through the entire process.
Step 2. Sit down and write
The best way to write is by writing. Just start putting words on the page and set a writing goal for your work time.
- Setting a time goal (like 2 hours of writing) is often more helpful than a production goal (like 2 pages or 400 words).
- Many people use the "Pomodoro Technique," which involves concentrating without distraction for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break.
Step 3. Keep writing when you feel stuck
Sometimes trying to get a sentence or section "perfect" can prevent you from writing any further.
- If you find that you are stuck on a particular sentence, write a "referring" sentence and move on. A referring sentence might look like this: "[Something about how much I like puppies]".
- You may want to mark the referring sentences with square brackets or by highlighting them in a word processor (or on paper if you're writing a draft by hand).
Step 4. Go back to the referring sentences
When you've finished your first draft, go back to any areas or sentences you missed and try to write them down now. It will be easier to correct your essay if you have already completed these sections.
Pick a topic that interests you if you can. It will be easier to write about something that interests you
- Make sure you take plenty of time to review. This is particularly true if you have multiple reference sentences - don't forget to go back and change them.
- Try not to spend too much time planning. If you plan too much, you may run out of time to write productively.