Ernest Hemingway is thought to have said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Writing may have come easy for the famous novelist, but for most of us, it’s anything but effortless. Most students admit that they struggle with writing — especially when it comes to how to write an essay.
But there’s good news—
The steps for writing an essay aren’t as difficult as they might seem. If you need to master writing an essay but aren’t sure where to start, keep reading. We’ll go through the essay writing process step-by-step so you can follow along.
Keep reading below to learn how to write a good essay for college, high school, and more!
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Here’s how to write an essay sure to get you an A+ grade:
1. Do Some Preliminary Research
We’ve all been there: staring at a blank page or blinking cursor, unable to think of what to write, with an increasing sense of panic. And, it’ll happen throughout your life, from writing a cover letter for a job to preparing detailed reports at work.
Writer’s block isn’t a writing problem. It’s a thinking problem. If you don’t know what to write, it’s because you don’t know what you want to say.
Great essays come from a genuine interest in the topic. At first blush, you might not feel a compelling personal interest in this year’s Shakespeare play, your modern history unit, or any essay topic that you’ve been assigned. However, when you find a personal angle on your topic, you’ll have lots to say.
Why did Prospero whip up a storm? Would you have chosen to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Do some preliminary research to get familiar with your topic and discover an aspect of it that interests you.
Even if your topic seems dry at first, there’s a way to connect with it. Once you do that, you’ll have lots to write about.
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2. Write Your Thesis Statement
A “thesis statement” is the point that your essay is trying to make. Also called your “topic sentence,” it’s simply what you are writing your essay about. Everything else in your essay will support it, which is why it’s crucial to write it before you write anything else.
Whatever you call it, it’s a crucial step in the essay writing process because it anchors your whole essay. A clear thesis example summarizes your topic and the position you will take on it.
Imagine that you have been assigned to write an essay on the topic, “Should animals be used for research?” You might choose to present a topic sentence like:
- Animals should never be used for research.
- It is always acceptable to use animals for research.
- Animals should only be used for research if they do not experience unnecessary pain.
Whatever your thesis statement is, it should be clear, concise, and unambiguous. It’s a single-sentence summary of your entire essay. Later, you’ll expand on these words in the rest of your academic paper by providing evidence, examples, and supporting citations.
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3. Build an Essay Outline
So far, you’ve decided what you will write your essay about and what position you’ll take.
Does that mean you’re ready to start writing?
Not quite yet.
Think of essay writing as building a house. You wouldn’t begin building a house by constructing each room separately. Instead, you’d start by laying the foundation and building a framework, and only then adding details to the interior.
Your topic sentence is your foundation. Next, build your framework. In essay writing, that’s called an outline.
An outline lets you plan out your essay content and the point of your essay before you write. Your outline should look something like this:
- Thesis statement
- Introduce main points
- Main point 1
- Main point 2
- Main point 3
- Restate thesis statement
- Summarize main points
Of course, you can have as many main points and sub-points as you need to get your message across, especially when writing research papers or an academic essay.
This might seem like a lot of work before you begin the actual writing process. However, putting in all this work up front eliminates confusion and hassle later on. It’s like a road map that will keep you on track as you write your essay.
Match the Essay Prompt
Wireframing your essay is the right time to go back to your essay assignment and double-check the requirements, such as:
- Word count
- Special instructions
- Research requirements
Plan your outline to match these requirements.
For instance, your assignment might be to write a 1,000-word essay that includes at least four research sources.
You could plan to write three main point sections with 250 words each, plus an introduction and conclusion of about 175 words. You can use one research source for every main point, plus one to add an interesting fact to your introduction.
Or, maybe one of your main sections has several sub-points which will eat up more than their fair share of the word count. You could plan to give 500 words and at least two sources to that section. This leaves 200 words for your other two main sections and a brief 50-word introduction and conclusion.
Of course, your outline isn’t set in stone. You can play around with the structure and word count later on. However, giving yourself a clear structure before you start writing will keep your essay flowing and prevent writer’s block later on.
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4. Write Your Body Paragraphs
You’ve done your research and planned out your essay.
Now it’s time to get down to business and actually write an essay.
Use your outline as a guide to writing your body paragraphs. This will keep your ideas on track and help you meet your word count target.
Write your Main Sections Before Your Introduction
Since your introduction comes first, you might assume that the best place to begin writing your essay.
However, there’s a better way. Start by writing your body paragraphs first, then go back and write your introduction and conclusion.
Why write in this order?
As you write, you might develop your main points in different ways than you expect. If you write your introduction first and then move on to your body paragraphs, you run the risk of having to re-write your introduction if your ideas change.
Even though your introduction comes first, write it later. It will save you work and help make your essay more effective. (This also happens to be one of our favorite resume tips!)
One Idea Per Paragraph
Each main point or sub-point can have as many paragraphs as it needs to communicate your point. However, squeezing too many ideas into one paragraph makes your essay hard to follow. On the other hand, stretching one idea out over many paragraphs is bad form as well.
To keep your train of thought as clear as possible, a good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to one idea per paragraph. This keeps each piece of writing easy for your reader to follow, whether it’s an expository essay, argumentative essay, or any other type of essay.
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5. Write an Attention-Grabbing Introduction
Your introduction should include three things:
- A hook to grab your reader’s attention
- Your thesis statement
- A summary of your main points
A great “hook” grabs your reader’s attention from the beginning. Avoid generic introductions like these examples:
- The Merchant of Venice is a play about…
- World War Two started because…
Instead, begin with an idea, statistic, or quotation that makes your reader want to know more.
Transition to your thesis statement and summarize your main points. This sets the direction for your essay and tells your reader what to expect.
6. Write an Applause-Worthy Conclusion
Your conclusion has three jobs to do:
- Restate your thesis statement
- Summarize your main points
- End with a strong concluding statement
Like the introduction, your conclusion wraps up by reminding your reader what your topic statement is and how your main points support that idea. Present a concise version of your supporting arguments if you think it’ll be helpful for “scanner” type readers.
Finally, end strong with a punchy statement that impresses your reader.
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7. Edit, Edit, Edit
You’ve completed the first draft of your essay!
However, your work isn’t done yet. The first draft is also called the “rough draft,” and it needs a little more polish before it’s ready to earn you that A.
Ernest Hemingway said, “The only real writing is rewriting.” That means the editing process is just as important as getting your first draft down, if not more so. Once your first draft is complete, take another look at your essay and see what needs to be changed.
Keep in mind that at this stage you aren’t looking for grammar errors and typos — that’s called proofreading, and it comes later.
Right now, look for structural changes that will make your essay more readable, such as:
- Changing the order of your essay sections
- Changing your choice of words
- Improving your arguments or examples of evidence
- Clarifying your ideas and points
- Changing the focus or tone of your essay
- Making sure the tone is consistent throughout your essay
Let’s take a look at a few common areas of difficulty in the editing stage.
Stuffing your essay with puffy filler phrases doesn’t make it better.
Cluttering up your essay with impressive-sounding jargon makes it more difficult to read without improving the real quality of your writing.
One of our best essay tips for you is that using phrases like “at this point in time” instead of “now” doesn’t get you closer to that A grade.
On the other hand, you don’t want your essay to sound conversational; using a casual tone doesn’t do justice to the work you’ve put into your writing project.
To hit the right middle ground, read your essay out loud. Make note of any sections or words that sound either stuffily formal or overly casual. Your finished product should sound easy to understand, but still professional and confident.
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Flow of Ideas
As you read your rough draft, it should have the same structure as the academic essay outline that you made. Now is the time to see if that structure needs to change.
Your ideas should build on one another and flow in a logical sequence; for example, solid evidence should immediately follow any argument you are trying to make. The essay should still be neatly organized in main points, sub-points, and paragraphs.
Don’t forget to use transitional words to help your reader understand how your ideas relate to one another. “First,” “second,” “third,” “therefore,” “however,” and “on the other hand” tell your reader how your ideas connect with one another. They make the sentences of your essay more reader-friendly.
Get Feedback After Essay Writing
While research shows that your writing skills improve if you get feedback on your assignment, most essay writing assignments don’t give you the opportunity to get feedback and then improve your work.
Even if you can’t get feedback from your professor or teacher before you submit your essay, you can still get valuable feedback from other sources. Contact your university or high school’s writing center to get extra help for your essay.
Is no writing center available? No problem. Try exchanging your essay with another student in the class to give constructive criticism on each other’s work. (This is a great way to make friends on campus, too.) A good idea is to ask them after if the body paragraphs support your thesis and if there’s anything else a reader needs to know to make it more relevant or convincing.
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8. Format Your Sources
Formatting your research sources is one of the last steps of writing an essay. That way, you’ll already have added all your sources and won’t get stuck re-formatting your in-text citation.
Make sure you use the right style guide to format your sources. Liberal arts (including high school and university English classes) mostly require MLA format; sciences, like psychology, tend to use APA formatting.
No step-by-step instructions for writing an essay could be complete without the final step: proofreading.
No matter what you’re writing — from your dream job resume to a work email — proofreading counts. Little grammar mistakes can make an otherwise amazing essay look sloppy and unfinished.
Using a spellchecker will help you catch some grammar and spelling errors, but not all. You should still read through your essay carefully to catch common grammar errors and spelling mistakes. Afterwards, ask a friend, roommate, or family member to proofread again.
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Master the Steps for Writing an Essay
Students struggle with how to write essays because there are so many steps to think about.
Whether you’re applying for a scholarship or aiming for a first-class grade, hopefully this article has presented the key points and steps for writing an essay in a way that will help you approach the essay writing process and subject confidently.
We hope you found our guide on how to make a good essay easy to follow and helpful! If you have any other essay writing tips or questions about writing essays, let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!