Essays are common assignments for high school and college English courses. While writing an essay for an English class can seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be. If you give yourself enough time to plan and develop your essay, you won't have to stress over it.
Part 1 of 4: Get Started
Step 1. Set aside time to write
An essay cannot be written in 10 minutes. It is best to allow ample time to write and review the essay, leaving a time between draft and draft. However, if the delivery date is approaching, you will have to make the best use of the time you have left.
Step 2. Sit down and write
While it's important to prepare to write, after all, you just have to start filling the page. Remember that you can come back and fix something later, as substantial revisions are part of the writing process.
Step 3. Write a tentative thesis
The thesis is one of the most important elements of an essay. A thesis statement summarizes the main argument or stance of the essay in one sentence. It lets readers know what the essay will try to show or prove. Everything in your essay should be connected to your thesis in a direct way.
- Your professor will expect to see a well-crafted thesis at the beginning of the essay. Place your thesis at the end of your first paragraph.
- If you don't understand how to write a thesis, ask your professor for help. This is an important concept that will not stop emerging in other English courses, as well as in any other course where you have to write essays.
Step 4. Develop your introduction
When you already have a thesis, you can build the rest of your introduction around it. If doing the introduction intimidates you, you can also save this step until after you sketch your essay. The best introductions captivate the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. Some effective strategies for making an introduction are:
- Tell a personal anecdote.
- Cite a surprising fact or statistic.
- Disproving a common misconception.
- Challenge the reader to examine their own biases.
Step 5. Make an outline for your essay
An outline can help you develop a basic structure for your essay, and you can also use it when you're ready to write it. Review your invention notes and exercises, and think about how you can organize this information in a sketch. What should go first, second, third, etc.?
- You can create a numbered sketch using a word processor or just put it on paper.
- Don't worry about being too detailed when creating your sketch. Just try to put the basic ideas on paper.
Part 2 of 4: Write your essay
Step 1. Gather all your notes and supplies
Before you start writing, gather all the notes, books, or other materials you will need to answer the essay prompt. Endorsement is essential for an effective English essay, so don't try to write your essay without these materials. If you have time, read your notes before you start.
Make sure you have the sketch on hand as well. You can rely on the sketch you created to help you write your essay. Just try to expand each of the points in your sketch in the order in which you placed them
Step 2. Include topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph
Topic sentences tell readers what a paragraph will be about. Begin each paragraph in an essay with a topic sentence so that your teacher can see your ideas progress clearly and directly.
- Look at the topic sentence as a way to tell readers what you'll be talking about in the rest of the paragraph. You don't have to summarize the entire paragraph in a topic sentence, just provide readers with a taste.
- For example, in a paragraph describing Okonkwo's rise and fall in the novel Everything Falls Apart, you might start with: "Okonkwo starts out as a poor young man but then rises to a position of wealth and status."
Step 3. Develop your ideas as much as possible
Be sure to include as much detail as possible for your answers. Remember that padding (including nonsensical text or using particularly wordy sentences) is not an effective strategy for writing essays, because instructors may notice it. Your teacher has likely read hundreds, if not thousands, of student essays throughout his career, so he will know when an essay has been completed. Fill in your essays with insightful and helpful details instead. If you get stuck, the following are some good strategies to develop your ideas:
- Go back to the invention stage: To develop your ideas as much as possible, try going back to an invention exercise, such as free writing, lists, or groupings. You can also reread your notes and books to see if there is anything you missed or forgot.
- Visit your school's writing lab: If your school has a writing lab, visit it with your essay in hand. You can find a writing lab on most college campuses. Writing labs are free to students and can help you improve your writing at any stage of the process.
- Talk to your teacher: Some teachers will be happy to meet with their students and help them with their essays. If your teacher has regular office hours or allows students to make private appointments, take advantage of this resource. Meet with your instructor and discuss ways you can improve your essay before submitting it.
Step 4. Cite sources using the MLA style
If you use any source in your essay, you will have to cite it using the style that your teacher prefers. The MLA style is the most common citation format used in English courses, so you will need to know how to use it. You will need to provide in-text citations as well as a works cited page at the end.
- An MLA-style works cited page begins on a new page at the end of the essay. On a works cited page, you will need to provide entries for each of the sources you used. These should provide enough information so that the reader can easily locate the source. For example, a works cited page for a book should include the author's last and first name, work title, publication information, year of publication, and format.
- In-text citations (also called "parenthetics") in the MLA style provide readers with the author's last name as well as the page number of the information. An in-text citation is required for any information you quote, summarize, or paraphrase from a source. The in-text citation comes just after the source information and includes the author's last name and page number in parentheses. For example, an in-text quote for a Quote from Everything falls apart would look like this: "… (Achebe 57)".
Step 5. Begin to conclude
The general structure of an essay usually ranges from broad to specific. You can visualize this trend as a kind of inverted pyramid or funnel. By the time you reach the conclusion, you should give the impression that the information in the conclusion is unavoidable. In essence, it is a summary of everything that you have tried to demonstrate in the entire essay. However, the conclusion also has the potential to be used for other purposes. You may well use it to do the following:
- Grade or complicate the information in your essay.
- Suggest the need for further investigation.
- Speculate how the future will change the current situation.
Part 3 of 4: Review the Essay
Step 1. Give yourself plenty of time
Leaving your essay for the last minute is not a good idea. Try to give yourself at least a couple of days to review your work or more if possible. It is important to take a break of between one and two days after finishing it. Then you can go back to it and review it with a fresh perspective.
Step 2. Focus on improving the content of your essay first
Some people only focus on grammar and punctuation when reviewing an essay, but this is less important than its content. Answer the essay question in as much detail as possible. Reread the essay question or homework guidelines and ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I answered the question in a satisfactory way?
- Do I have a clear thesis? Is my thesis the focus of my essay?
- Am I including sufficient support for my argument? Is there anything else you could add?
- Does my essay have a logic? Does one idea follow the next? If not, how could I improve the logic of my essay?
Step 3. Ask a friend to read your essay
Asking a friend or classmate to take a look at your essay can also be helpful. A third party may spot simple errors or notice something else that you may have missed from looking at the document for so long.
- Try swapping your essay with a friend in your class. They can read and comment on each other's essay to make sure both of you have done the best job possible.
- Make sure to exchange essays at least one day before your essay is due so that you have time to correct any mistakes your friend finds.
Step 4. Read your essay out loud
Reading your essay out loud can help you spot simple mistakes that you may not have detected otherwise. Read your essay out loud and have a pencil handy (or prepare to edit on your computer).
As you read, correct any mistakes you find and underline anything you think could be improved, such as adding more details or clarifying the language
Part 4 of 4: Plan the Rehearsal
Step 1. Analyze the topic or question in the essay
Take the time to read the question or guidelines and think about what the assignment asks you to do. You should underline any keywords, such as "describe", "compare", "contrast", "explain", "argue" or "propose". You should also underline any central themes or ideas that the assignment asks you to write about, such as freedom, family, defeat, love, etc.
If you don't understand what an assignment asks you to do, ask your teacher. It is important that you make sure you have a clear idea of what your teacher wants before starting to work on the assignment
Step 2. Take your audience into account
Your teacher is your main audience for the essay, so you will need to consider their needs and expectations before writing. Some basic things that your teacher will need and expect from you can be:
- A detailed answer that satisfies the requirements of the task.
- A clear and straightforward essay that is easy to follow.
- A polished essay with no minor errors such as typos or spelling errors.
Step 3. Think about what you will need to include
After taking your teacher's expectations into account, take some time to think about how you can accomplish these broad goals. Take into account what you will need to include in the essay.
- For example, if you are asked to write about a character in a book, you will need to provide a lot of details about that character. For this you will probably have to reread some passages in the book and recheck your class notes.
- To make sure your essay is easy to follow, you will need to make sure it is in a logical order. You can do this by taking the time to summarize and review your work to see if it makes sense when you're done.
- Having a polished essay will be easier if you start early and give yourself plenty of time to review before having to submit the final draft. If possible, try to finish your first draft about 1 week before your essay is due.
Step 4. Develop your ideas
Invention exercises can help you get details you already know, which can give your essay writing a great jump start. Some useful invention exercises are:
- Free writing: with this exercise, you simply have to write as much as possible without stopping. Even if you can't think of anything to write, write, "I can't think of anything to write," until something else comes to mind. After you finish, read what you have written and underline or highlight any information that may be useful for your essay.
- Make Lists: In this exercise, you need to make a list of all the details and information that are relevant to the assignment of the essay. After you've made a list of everything you can think of, read it and circle the most important information for your essay.
- Grouping: grouping is when ideas are connected using lines and circles on a piece of paper. For example, you can start with the topic written in the center of the page and then branch out from this central focus with other connected ideas. Keep branching and drawing connections until you can't do more.
Step 5. Research your topic if necessary
If you have been asked to do research for your essay, you should also do so before you start writing your draft. Use your library databases and other resources to find the best possible information for your essay.
- Good sources to use for English essays include books, academic journal articles, newspaper articles from trusted sources (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc.), and government or university sponsored websites.
- Many professors include "quality of research" in their grading criteria, so including bad sources, such as blogs and web sources without authors, can result in a poor grade.
- If you are not sure whether a font is of good quality, ask your teacher or librarian.