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How to Write an Essay: Student’s Guide to Crafting an Excellent Paper

The word “essay” comes from the Old French “essai,” which means “trial, test of quality.” Referring initially to the test of an idea explored in a short piece of writing, this meaning is still very apt. Essays are used to test students’ knowledge of the subject, their logic, critical thinking, ability to build arguments and defend their opinion, as well as their writing skills at large.

This guide covers the basic rules of essay-writing, describes the process step-by-step, and gives straightforward, actionable tips to anyone willing to improve their essay writing skills.

How to Plan Your Essay

The first step to a coherent and compelling paper is making an outline. Of course, depending on the type of essay, the exact number of paragraphs and their functions will vary. However, the basic plan will always include the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Introduction and conclusion usually take one paragraph each in a classical 5-paragraph essay, with 3 sections reserved for the main body. If the paper is longer, allot about 15-20% of it to the introduction, the same to the conclusion, and about 60-70% to the main part.

The introduction will present your topic and your take on it expressed as a thesis statement. In the conclusion, you will sum up all that has been said in the body of your essay and reaffirm the thesis.

However, the exact structure of the body will depend on whether you are writing an opinion, analytical, expository, or persuasive piece. For example, suppose you analyze a short story. In that case, you can summarize the plot in the first paragraph, analyze themes and problems explored in this work in the second paragraph, and look at the use of literary devices in the third. Whereas for an argumentative essay, this could go like this:

  • Paragraph #1: State of the problem
  • Paragraph #2: Proof of your thesis
  • Paragraph #3: Rebuttal of opposing arguments

However, there is no one cookie-cutter “how to write an argumentative essay” recipe that could work for all cases. The best way to learn is by studying the examples of the different essays written on similar topics. Online libraries like WePapers and other websites that give access to 100% free essays are of great help to students. Especially now, when campus resources might not be readily available due to lingering restrictions or elective distance learning.

For other writing and editing apps and websites, check out this guide. You might find a couple of your new favorites to add to your essay writing toolbox.

How to Write an Essay Fast

While on the topic of tools, a word about paper writing services. They are a great resource for newbie essay writers who are yet unfamiliar with the format, as well as for international students grappling with academic English. Being an affordable alternative to private tutoring, reputable websites like PaperHelp and WriteMyEssays cost only a fraction of what an individual tutoring session would set you back. Meanwhile, they prepare customized samples of excellent quality and learning value, precisely following your instructions.

Students who are skilled at writing but pressed for time can also benefit from paper writing services. For example, you can outline the essay you envisioned and outsource the tedious writing to an expert. This way, you will meet all the deadlines even if your study-life balance is a bit off. Alternatively, you can send your rough drafts for editing, which also saves a lot of time and money. Find more information and detailed essay writing services reviews here to choose one that better suits your needs.

Now, let’s get to the writing. For the sake of consistency, we will study each part of the essay in the order they are read by your intended audience. However, you don’t have to follow this exact order when you write. In fact, any pro essay writer will tell you that you should start with the main body and only then move on to writing the introduction and conclusion.

How to Write a Title in an Essay

Let’s spare a thought for your essay’s title. It’s the first thing your readers see, so it must be catchy to get their attention. However, it must also be informative and not misleading. Don’t promise ultimate solutions or “complete information” on the subject if you know your text does deliver on the promise. For example, if you are tasked to write an informative essay about choosing student accommodations, promising that you will tell “Everything to Know About Life in the Dorm” is a bit clickbaity. “Basic Guidelines for Choosing Room and Board as a New Student” is a more honest option that will likely live up to your readers’ expectations.

However, most students have a vice-versa problem. They undersell their texts and use generic titles, labeling their essays “Physics Paper #3” or repeating the prompt “Analysis Paper on Mark Twain.” Such a title is a missed opportunity. Here are the rules that will help you come up with the title that sparks your audience’s curiosity and prepares them for the actual content of your paper. A good title serves several purposes:

  • It teases the content
  • It catches attention
  • It reflects the overall tone and the slant of your essay
  • It contains keywords that make library and computer search easier

One of the strategies to write a compelling title is to ask a question that your text answers using words like What, Who, When, Where, Why, How, Is, Does, Will, etc. For example, Do Mandatory Uniforms Lead to Better Academic Outcomes? or What Can We Learn About Human Condition from World War I?

Another way to develop a catchy title is to think of the quotes, songs, book or movie titles, or familiar sayings that might fit your essay. Change one word in it, turning it into a clever pun or giving it an ironic spin, for example, Between the Cup and the Lip, a GPA May Slip.

Finally, go minimalistic with one or two-word titles. This works best for personal essays and narratives. Those titles can have tension and conflict in them, too! For example, A Fateful Shoe or Strange Kin.

How to Write a Good Hook for an Essay

A good hook is another underused device that college essay writers could’ve benefitted from. Yes, your instructor has to read your paper to mark it anyway, so catching their interest is not as crucial for you as for the novelist, for example. However, you do want your grade to be high. So why not make the grading person happy by writing an enjoyable paper to read? Here are the most popular and effective strategies for creating a magnetic first sentence for your text:

  • Bold claim

Sometimes the most effective way to start your essay is to take the bull by the horns. Go straight to business by making your main claim your hook. For example, “Plastic is killing humanity.”

  • Rhetorical question

This is a classic hook known since the orations of antiquity. Granted, it is not as effective in catching your reader’s interest as it is for monopolizing the attention of the live audience. Still, it can work, especially for persuasive essays. For example, “When was the last time you helped someone?”

  • Surprising fact

This hook is great for informative essays since it informs and engages at the same time. If you came across a piece of statistics or evidence that wowed you during your research, why not tease it to your readers? For example, “The dead will outnumber the living on Facebook within the next fifty years.”

  • Promise of benefit

Sell your text. Why should the reader proceed? Live presenters and advertisers use this technique successfully, but essay writers mostly ignore it – and that’s a shame. For example, promise your readers: “This essay will change how you see your morning coffee forever,” and their attention is guaranteed!

  • Personal anecdote

A personal anecdote makes a good hook for an essay since our brains are hardwired to like stories. An emotional tale builds connection and trust between you and your audience. However, make sure your anecdote is relevant to the essay’s topic.

How to Write an Essay Introduction

Your intro sets the scene and prepares your reader for what you have to say. Despite it being the first part of your essay, the introduction is better left for later as you write. Return to it when the entire piece is ready, or at least the body of paragraphs is drafted. An introduction usually consists of the following components:

  • A hook sentence (to secure the attention)
  • An overview of the problem (introduction of your topic)
  • A thesis statement (what you actually want to say about your topic)

The way you introduce your topic depends on the type of your essay. For example, an informative essay’s introduction can contain definitions of key concepts explored and a summary of the key points it sets off to cover. An analytical essay might give a piece of background information about the work you are going to analyze. A research paper usually proves the topic’s significance in the introduction, relates the subject’s history, and defines the gap in the knowledge the paper will address.

However, it’s important to remember that your introduction should be brief and snappy. Limit the background information to key points.

How to Write a Body for an Essay

As with the introduction, the main body’s exact structure depends on the essay’s type. However, there are some general rules for making it readable and compelling.

  • Arrange paragraphs to serve your purpose

If you are writing an argumentative or persuasive essay, your purpose is to convince the reader. In that case, plan your argument by moving from the least important to the most important issue, building up toward your main point. If your task is an expository piece, first give your readers a general idea of your subject and then detail it following either chronological or hierarchical order.

  • Structure your paragraphs

Each paragraph should only deal with one idea. It should be stated at the beginning, in the topic sentence. Then, expand on your point, explaining it in detail. In the following sentence, provide evidence to back up your claim. Finally, give examples to give more meaning to your point and encapsulate it in a relatable, vivid form.

  • Use transition words for better flow

You can use transition words to order paragraphs, put an emphasis on a statement, summarize your point, explain it, or contrast it with another. Although the main force tying all your sections together should be inner logic, transition words improve the readability of your text, making it more comfortable and predictable for your readers.

How to Write a Conclusion for an Essay

Before you start writing your conclusion, make sure you’ve said everything you have to say in the main body. No new information should be given in the conclusion – that’s the golden rule. An exception can be made for a relevant quote (to end on a thought-provoking note). You might also incorporate the ending of the anecdote you have started in the introduction – as a framing device to add a bit of dramatic tension. However, no new arguments or evidence should be added. That said, here are the main rules to writing an effective conclusion:

  • Summarize your main points

An effective conclusion should synthesize all the arguments, pulling them together in one comprehensive picture and leaving your reader with a clear impression of your main point.

  • Restate your thesis

Call back to your thesis statement and reaffirm it in the light of the evidence given within the body of your essay. Make it clear that it has been proven – leave no doubt whatsoever.

  • End strong

You can give alternative points of view on the subject in your essay and provide an overview of the opposing arguments. The conclusion, however, is not the place to do it. Your conclusion must reiterate and reinforce your main point decisively. Don’t undermine your argument by giving way and admitting that your central claim is “only your opinion” and there is “more than one way to look at the problem.”

  • Remember your purpose

The exact last words of your conclusion depend on the type of your essay. It can be a rhetorical question, a quote, or a parting joke – but it must serve the primary purpose. For example, urge people to take action, learn more about the topic, or accept your point of view.

Now you are ready to write an excellent essay. Remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new techniques and writing tools to improve your craft, and use expert help when you feel stuck or overwhelmed.

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