Writing an essay may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Like with everything else, the more practise you get, the easier it will become. Now, that doesn’t mean just writing anything down (though this can be a first step) and calling it an essay. To give relevant examples, this post will be structured like a five-paragraph essay and will draw examples from itself to reinforce topics covered. To be able to write a good essay, students need to understand its structure, complete the research needed and understand the process to writing an essay.
First, the structure of the essay should be understood (for the purposes of this post, we will cover the standard high school five paragraph essay). An essay consists of three sections which consist of five paragraphs. The first section is the introduction where you give a brief overview of what your essay will cover. Essays generally start broad (“Writing an essay may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.”) and get more specific towards the end. The end of the introduction is usually the thesis statement which gives the reader the specific topic that you will explore in your essay (for this post, the thesis statement is “To be able to write a good essay, students need to understand its structure, complete the research needed and understand the process to writing an essay.”). After completing the introduction, it is time to work on the body paragraphs. This is where you present your ideas and knowledge. The body paragraphs are your stage to teach your reader something, persuade them of something or analyze your topic. It is helpful to use transition words (first, next, then, etc.) between your body paragraphs and within them to let your readers know that you are moving on to another concept/focus. Then, your concluding paragraph should be used as a way to remind your reader what they have read and why your ideas about the topic are correct. Be careful not to introduce any new ideas in your introduction and to never end on a quotation. Making these mistakes can cause your reader to think that you did not pay enough attention to your writing (in the case of introducing new ideas) or that you do not have enough to say, so you are ending on someone else’s words. If you remember or figure out something interesting that you would like to say while writing your conclusion, go back to your body paragraphs and add it. By understanding the different parts of an essay, it is much less daunting than to just start writing.
Next, in order to be able to write about something, you must understand it. If you do not understand your topic, it will be very clear to your readers, no matter how well you write. An essay about a book or story you have not read will not be very informative and can become more like a summary than an essay. Websites that give you the broad points of a book/story will not provide the level of detail that most teachers would like to see in high school essays. For example, the general story of Hansel and Gretel is widely known, but many details are not commonly presented. For example, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned on the second attempt (the first was not successful as Hansel used small stones to mark their path), the siblings follow a white bird to the witch’s house and, when defeating the witch, they find chests of pearls and jewels which they take back to their father’s house (while carried across a river on the back of a white duck). By just knowing the general events, you miss out on providing details that high school teachers want to see. Another important point is that you should be taking notes while reading/researching. These notes will allow you to see where there is something interesting to discuss. For the above example, you might be able to discuss the irony of a white bird taking them to the witch’s house and a white duck taking them back to their father’s house, or you might be able to make a case for the importance of knowing what something is (an unidentified white bird vs. a white duck). In any case, you need to have a solid understanding of your topic to write an essay.
Notice how this post is structured and has three sections which consist of five paragraphs.
Most people look at writing an essay as a straight line: you start at the brainstorm, introduction, move into the body paragraphs, write your conclusion and edit. It is very rarely like this. Writing an essay is more of a winding path. We’ve found that it might be easier to write the brainstorm first, then the body paragraphs, complete the conclusion and circle back to the introduction. For example, some students, edit while they are writing (while perfectly acceptable, there should also be a final round of editing when the essay is written). Some aspects need to happen before others (you cannot write an essay without a thesis statement). The brainstorm/your research notes will help you to come up with a thesis statement and this will help you to write an organized essay. The research notes will help you support your ideas in the body paragraphs which, in turn, support your thesis statement. As mentioned previously, if you remember something interesting you wanted to add while writing the conclusion, go back to your body paragraphs and add it making sure it flows nicely. By “flowing nicely,” we mean that it makes sense to have that section there. For example, with Hansel and Gretel, if Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm forgot to include the section with the description of the witch’s house and went back later it would not make sense to add it while the children are heading home. It really doesn’t matter which order you use (excluding some points covered) as long as all parts are present and utilized in the best possible way. Ultimately, it will be up to you to figure out which route works best for you.
We did not set out to write the only true guide to writing an essay – this was never the intension. It was more to show that writing an essay does not have to be this impossible task. The insight of the structure of the essay and what belongs where, an understanding of the research/reading needed, and the often-indirect route are necessary aspects of writing an essay. Going through the process many times will give you an understanding of the method that works best for you and may even be able to do more things at once (e.g., start on a working thesis while still reading). As with many skills, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
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