How to Write an Essay
Throughout your academic career, you will usually be asked to write an essay. You may work on an assigned essay for class, enter an essay contest or write essays for college admissions. This article will show you the writing and revision processes for all types of essays. Then, it will explore how to write narrative, persuasive and expository essays.
Part One of Five:
Writing Your Essay Edit
Research the topic. Go online, head to the library, or search an academic database or read newspapers. You may ask a reference librarian.
- Know which sources are acceptable to your teacher.
- Does your teacher want a certain number of primary sources and secondary sources?
- Can you use Wikipedia? Wikipedia is often a good starting point for learning about a topic, but many teachers won’t let you cite it because they want you to find more authoritative sources.
- Take detailed notes, keeping track of which facts come from which sources. Write down your sources in the correct citation format so that you don’t have to go back and look them up again later.
- Never ignore facts and claims that seem to disprove your original idea or claim. A good essay writer either includes the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid or alters his or her point of view in light of the evidence.
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Analyze well-written essays. In your research you’ll probably come across really well-written (and not so well-written) arguments about your topic. Do some analysis to see what makes them work.
- What claims does the author make?
- Why do they sound good? Is it the logic, the sources, the writing, the structure? Is it something else?
- What evidence does the author present?
- Why does the evidence sound credible? How does the author present facts, and what is his/her approach to telling a story with facts?
- Is the logic sound or faulty, and why?
- Why is the logic sound? Does the author back up his/her claims with examples that are easy to follow?
Brainstorm your own ideas. Sure, you can use the arguments of others to back up what you want to say. However, you need to come up with your original spin on the topic to make it uniquely yours.
- Make lists of ideas. You can also try mind mapping .
- Take your time. Walk in your neighborhood or local park and think about your topic. Be prepared for ideas to come to you when you least expect them.
Pick your thesis statement.
- Look at the ideas that you generated. Choose one to three of your strongest ideas that support your topic. You should be able to support these ideas with evidence from your research.
- Write a thesis statement that summarizes the ideas that you plan to present. Essentially, let the reader know where you’re going and why.
- A thesis statement should have a narrow focus include both your topic and what you plan to present. For example, “Although Eli Whitney’s cotton gin ushered in a new era of American prosperity, it also widened the gap in suffering for African-American slaves, who would soon be more in demand, and more exploited, than ever.”
- A thesis statement should not ask a question, be written in first person (“I”), roam off-topic or be combative.
Plan your essay . Take the thoughts that you brainstormed and assemble them into an outline. Write a topic sentence for your main ideas. Then, underneath, make bullet points and list your supporting evidence. Generally, you want three arguments or pieces of evidence to support each main idea.
- Topic sentence: “Eli Whitney’s cotton gin made life harder on African American slaves.”
- Ex: “The success of cotton made it harder for slaves to purchase their own freedom.”
- Ex: “Many northern slaves were in danger of being kidnapped and brought down south to work in the cotton fields.”
- Ex: “In 1790, before the cotton gin, slaves in America totaled about 700,000. In 1810, after the cotton gin had been adopted, slaves totaled about 1.2 million, a 70% increase.”
Write the body of your essay. You do want to think about length here; don’t write pages and pages if your teacher wants 5 paragraphs. However, you should freewrite to let your thoughts reveal themselves. You can always make them more concise later.
- Avoid sweeping generalizations. Statements such as “______ is the most important problem facing the world today,” can cause your reader to dismiss your position out of hand if he/she disagrees with you. On the other hand, “______ is a significant global problem” is more accurate.
- Don’t use “I” statements such as “I think.” Likewise, avoid the personal pronouns “you,” “we,” “my,” “your” or “our”. Simply stating your argument with supporting facts makes you sound much more authoritative. Instead of writing, “I found Frum to have a conservative bias,” tell the reader why your statement is true: “Frum displays a conservative bias when he writes. “
Come up with a compelling title and introduction . Your title and introduction make people want to read your essay. If your teacher is the audience, then of course your teacher will read the whole piece. However, if you’re submitting to an essay contest or writing an essay for college admissions, your title and introduction have to hook the reader if you want to meet your objectives.
- Skip obvious expressions such as, “This essay is about, “The topic of this essay is” or “I will now show that”.
- Try the inverted pyramid formula. Start off with a very broad description of your topic and gradually narrow it down to your specific thesis statement. Try to use no more than 3 to 5 sentences for short essays, and no more than 1 page for longer essays.
- Short essay example: Every year, thousands of unwanted and abused animals end up in municipal shelters. Being caged in shelters not only causes animals to suffer but also drains local government budgets. Towns and cities could prevent both animal abuse and government waste by requiring prospective pet owners to go through mandatory education before allowing them to obtain a pet. Although residents may initially resist the requirement, they will soon see that the benefits of mandatory pet owner education far outweigh the costs.”
Conclude your essay . Summarize your points and suggest ways in which your conclusion can be thought of in a larger sense.
- Answer questions like, “What are the implications of your thesis statement being true?” “What’s the next step?” “What questions remain unanswered?”
- Your arguments should draw your reader to a natural, logical conclusion. In a sense, you are repackaging your thesis statement in your concluding paragraph by helping the reader to remember the journey through your essay.
- Nail the last sentence. If your title and first paragraph make the reader want to read your essay, then your last sentence makes the reader remember you. If a gymnast does a great balance beam routine but falls on the landing, then people forget the routine. Gymnasts need to “stick the landing,” and so do essay writers.
Choose a subject for your essay. You’ll be investigating a topic and presenting an argument about the topic based on evidence.
- For example, you could write an expository essay arguing that embryonic stem cell research can lead to cures for spinal cord injuries and illnesses like Parkinson’s or diabetes.
- Expository essays differ from persuasive essays because you aren’t stating an opinion. You’re stating facts that you can back up with research.
Select your strategy and structure . Some common strategies and structures for expository writing include:
- Definitions. Definition essays explain the meaning of terms or concepts.
- Classification. Classification essays organize a topic into groups starting with the most general group and narrowing down to more specific groups.
- Compare and contrast. In this type of essay, you’ll describe either the similarities and differences (or both) between ideas or concepts.
- Cause and effect. These essays explain how topics affect each other and how they are interdependent.
- How-to. How-to essays explain the steps required for completing a task or a procedure with the goal of instructing the reader.
Keep your views unbiased. Expository essays aren’t about opinions. They are about drawing a conclusion based on verifiable evidence.  This means keeping your perspective balanced and focusing on what the facts tell you.
- You might even find that, with new information, you’ll have to revise your essay. If you started out writing about the scarcity of information regarding global warming, but came across a bunch of scientific evidence supporting global warming, you at least have to consider revising what your essay is about.
Use the facts to tell the story. The facts will tell the story itself if you let them. Think like a journalist when writing an expository essay. If you put down all the facts like a reporter, the story should tell itself.
- Don’t mess with structure in expository essays. In narrative essays, you can twist and turn the structure to make the essay more interesting. Be sure that your structure in expository essays is very linear, making it easier to connect the dots.
Tell your story vividly and accurately. A narrative essay recounts an incident that either you or others have experienced. In a narrative essay, you could describe a personal experience in which embryonic stem cell research could have helped you or someone you love conquer a debilitating condition.
Include all of the elements of good storytelling. You’ll need an introduction, setting, plot, characters, climax and conclusion.
- Introduction. The beginning. How are you going to set the story up? Is there something useful or important here that gets mentioned later on?
- Setting. Where the action takes place. What does it look like? Which words can you use to make the reader feel like they are there when they read it?
- Plot. What happens. The meat of the story, the essential action. Why is the story worth telling?
- Characters. Who’s in the story. What does the story tell us about the characters? What do the characters tell us about the story?
- Climax. The suspenseful bit before anything is resolved. Are we left hanging on the edges of our seat? Do we need to know what happens next?
- Conclusion. How everything resolves. What does the story mean in the end? How have things, people, ideas changed now that the end is revealed?
Have a clear point of view. Most narrative essays are written from the author’s point of view, but you can also consider other perspectives as long as your point of view is consistent.
- Utilize the pronoun “I” if you are the narrator. In a narrative essay, you can use first person. However, make sure that you don’t overdo it. In all essays, you sound more authoritative if you state facts or opinions in third person.
Make a point. You’re telling a story, but the purpose of the story is to make a specific point. Introduce your main idea in your thesis statement, and make sure that all of your story elements tie back to your thesis statement.
- What did you learn? How is your essay an exploration of the things that you learned?
- How have you changed? How is the “you” that started the essay different from the “you” now? Related to, but different from, the “what did you learn?” question.
Choose your language carefully. You will use words to evoke emotions in your reader, so choose your words deliberately. 
Welcome to the Purdue OWL
This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6 th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (6 th ed. 2 nd printing).
Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2016-05-13 12:06:24
Please use the example at the bottom of this page to cite the Purdue OWL in APA.
To see a side-by-side comparison of the three most widely used citation styles, including a chart of all APA citation guidelines, see the Citation Style Chart .
General APA Guidelines
Your essay should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. You should use a clear font that is highly readable. APA recommends using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
Include a page header (also known as the “running head “) at the top of every page. To create a page header/running head. insert page numbers flush right. Then type “TITLE OF YOUR PAPER” in the header flush left using all capital letters. The running head is a shortened version of your paper’s title and cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.
Major Paper Sections
Your essay should include four major sections: the Title Page. Abstract. Main Body. and References .
The title page should contain the title of the paper, the author’s name. and the institutional affiliation. Include the page header (described above) flush left with the page number flush right at the top of the page. Please note that on the title page, your page header/running head should look like this:
Running head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
Pages after the title page should have a running head that looks like this:
TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
After consulting with publication specialists at the APA, OWL staff learned that the APA 6th edition, first printing sample papers have incorrect examples of Running heads on pages after the title page. This link will take you to the APA site where you can find a complete list of all the errors in the APA’s 6th edition style guide.
Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.
Beneath the title, type the author’s name. first name, middle initial(s), and last name. Do not use titles (Dr.) or degrees (PhD).
Beneath the author’s name, type the institutional affiliation. which should indicate the location where the author(s) conducted the research.
Image Caption: APA Title Page
Begin a new page. Your abstract page should already include the page header (described above). On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).
Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. You may also include possible implications of your research and future work you see connected with your findings. Your abstract should be a single paragraph double-spaced. Your abstract should be between 150 and 250 words.
You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.
Image Caption: APA Abstract Page
Please see our Sample APA Paper resource to see an example of an APA paper. You may also visit our Additional Resources page for more examples of APA papers.
How to Cite the Purdue OWL in APA
Contributors’ names and the last edited date can be found in the orange boxes at the top of every page on the OWL.
Contributors’ names (Last edited date). Title of resource. Retrieved from http://Web address for OWL resource
Angeli, E. Wagner, J. Lawrick, E. Moore, K. Anderson, M. Soderlund, L. & Brizee, A. (2010, May 5). General format. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
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