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How to Write an Essay

Written by tutor Sarah J.

Writing is a process, and you must begin by asking why you are writing in the first place. When you are constructing the rest of the piece, it is important to know if you are comparing, contrasting, explaining, or arguing a point of view. So, you should begin with your "author's purpose." This purpose is summed up in your thesis statement. A good thesis statement serves as a compass; it must be specific enough to address the prompt and broad enough to include multiple components.

You often find yourself in two contexts when writing an essay: a timed writing or an extended assignment. When you are asked to create a five paragraph essay in a timed setting, it is essential to prewrite or brainstorm. Whether you have 25 minutes or an hour, three to five minutes of prewriting will help to organize the essay thoughtfully. And there is no wrong way to brainstorm. Maps, lists, drawings, words, phrases, everything related to the prompt that comes to mind in the first few minutes should be written down. Then you can begin to group related information together; these groups become the body paragraphs.

When you are given an extended essay assignment, brainstorming is still an important part of the process. However, editing is the ongoing brainstorming process. When you have the luxury of time, you should expect to write two or three drafts. The drafting process is an opportunity to constantly improve on the expression of your ideas. Often times we believe "editing" is simply looking for missed punctuation or incorrectly spelled words. Those measures are important (you should have a proofreading guide on hand when creating an essay), but editing is truly mid-essay brainstorming. The best thing to do if you don't have a professional editor around to help is to ask someone you trust to read your essay and ask he or she to indicate any areas that require more thorough description or greater clarity. Ask if there are any parts that they don't understand. Remember your reader is not in your head; work on being as specific as possible in your descriptions.

In general, five paragraph essays have a structure. The first and last paragraphs consist of the introduction and conclusion respectively, and the three body paragraphs expand upon the thesis statement. But the opening paragraph itself has a structure. You can think of the opening as an inverted triangle ? The beginning of the paragraph is general. Here is where you use the quote, the question, the saying or the anecdote to open the essay. Like the inverted triangle, you narrow as you work toward the bottom of the paragraph. The tip of the triangle is where we put your plan for the rest of the essay: your thesis statement or path.

The value of prewriting is apparent when you write the body paragraphs. Each paragraph should examine one aspect of the thesis statement, but if pulled away from the essay, it should be able to stand on its own. It should be organized like the essay itself with a main idea and supporting details. Additionally, when you stitch each of the body paragraphs together, transitions are important. Transitions indicate to the reader that a shift is taking place, and they help with organization and demonstrate how each of the topic paragraphs relates to the thesis. When it comes to the final paragraph, always remember your reader as you finish up your essay. Often times, we don't always know how to write the concluding paragraph. This is the chance to sum everything up for your reader. If you want an organizational pattern, think of the triangle right side up. Begin with a summation of your thesis; finish with the different components you covered in the body.

The most important thing to keep in mind is: writing is a process. Don't be hard on yourself. Like any other assembly process, constructing an essay requires certain ordered steps to insure a satisfactory finished product. Writing an essay requires thoughtful planning and organization. Remember these basic steps when creating an essay: determine the kind of essay (expository, argumentative, persuasive), take a few minutes to brainstorm many, varied, and unusual ideas related to the topic, and develop your ideas from prewriting into a thesis statement, a path for the rest of the essay.

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