12 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Academic Essay Writing Skills
Written by Scribendi
Anyone can learn to produce an academic essay if they begin with a few basic essay-writing rules.
An academic essay must be based upon a solid but debatable thesis, supported by relevant and credible evidence, and closed with a succinct and thorough conclusion.
By adhering to the best way to write an essay, you can create valuable, persuasive papers even when you're under a time crunch!
What Makes a Good Essay?
As previously noted, the foundation of any good academic essay is its thesis statement.
Do not confuse your thesis with your opening sentence. There are many good ways to start an essay , but few essays immediately present their main ideas.
After you draft your thesis, you can begin to develop your essay around it. This development will include the main supporting points of your essay, which will scaffold its main body.
Essays also typically include a relevant and compelling introduction and conclusion.
Learn How to Write a Great Thesis Statement .
Understanding How to Write a Good Essay
When writing an academic essay, you must take a number of qualities and characteristics into careful consideration. Focus, development, unity, coherence, and correctness all play critical roles when it comes to distinguishing an exceptional essay from one that is less than perfect.
The following essay-writing tips can help writers organize, format, and support their essays in ways that fit their intended purpose and optimize their overall persuasiveness. Here are 12 essay tips for developing and writing your next academic paper.
1. Know What You Are Going to Write About Before You Start Writing
While untrained writers might just sit down and start typing, educated and experienced writers know that there are many steps to writing an essay.
In short, you should know what you want to say before you type a single word. The easiest way to narrow down a thesis and create a proper argument is to make a basic outline before you begin composing your essay.
Your outline should consist of rough notes that sketch out your introduction (including your thesis), the body of your essay (which should include separate paragraphs that present your main supporting points with plenty of evidence and examples), and your conclusion (which ties everything together and connects the argument back to your thesis).
2. Acquire a Solid Understanding of Basic Grammar, Punctuation, and Style
Before getting into more refined essay-writing techniques, you must have a solid grasp of grammar, punctuation, and style. Without these writing fundamentals, it will be difficult to communicate your ideas effectively and ensure that they are taken seriously.
Grammar basics include subject and verb agreement, correct article and pronoun use, and well-formed sentence structures. Make sure you know the proper uses for the most common forms of punctuation. Be mindful of your comma usage and know when a period is needed.
Finally, voice is tremendously important in academic essay writing. Employ language that is as concise as possible. Avoid transition words that don't add anything to the sentence and unnecessary wordiness that detracts from your argument.
Furthermore, use the active voice instead of the passive whenever possible (e.g., "this study found" instead of "it was found by this study"). This will make your essay's tone clear and direct.
3. Use the Right Vocabulary and Know What the Words You Are Using Actually Mean
How you use language is important, especially in academic essay writing. When writing an academic essay, remember that you are persuading others that you are an expert who argues intelligently about your topic.
Using big words just to sound smart often results in the opposite effect—it is easy to detect when someone is overcompensating in their writing.
If you aren't sure of the exact meaning of a word, you risk using it incorrectly. There's no shame in checking, and it might save you from an embarrassing word misuse later!
Using obscure language can also detract from the clarity of your argument—you should consider this before pulling out a thesaurus to change a perfectly appropriate word to something completely different.
Want to learn more? Read 10 Academic Phrases Your Writing Doesn't Need .
4. Understand the Argument and Critically Analyze the Evidence
While writing a good essay, your main argument should always be at the front of your mind. While it's tempting to go off on a tangent about an interesting side note, doing so makes your writing less concise.
Always question the evidence you include in your essay; ask yourself, "Does this directly support my thesis?" If the answer is "no," then that evidence should probably be excluded.
When you are evaluating evidence, be critical and thorough. You want to use the strongest research to back up your thesis. It is not enough to simply present evidence in support of an argument. A good writer must also explain why the evidence is relevant and supportive.
Everything you include should clearly connect to your topic and argument.
5. Know How to Write a Conclusion That Supports Your Research
One of the most overlooked steps to writing an essay is the conclusion. Your conclusion ties all your research together and proves your thesis. It should not be a restatement of your introduction or a copy-and-paste of your thesis.
A strong conclusion briefly outlines the key evidence discussed in the body of an essay and directly ties it to the thesis to show how the evidence proves or disproves the main argument of your research.
Countless great essays have been written only to be derailed by vague, weakly worded conclusions. Don't let your next essay become one of those.
6. Build a Solid Thesis to Support Your Arguments
A thesis is the main pillar of an essay. By selecting a specific thesis, you'll be able to develop arguments to support your central opinion. Consider writing about a unique experience or your own particular view of a topic .
Your thesis should be clear and logical, but it should also be debatable. Otherwise, it might be difficult to support it with compelling arguments.
7. Develop an Interesting Opening Paragraph to Hook In Readers from the Get-Go
No matter how you begin your essay, you must strive to capture the reader's interest immediately. If your opening paragraph doesn't catch the eye and engage the brain, any attempt at persuasion may end before the essay even starts.
The beginning of your essay is crucial for setting the stage for your thesis.
8. Always Remember to Edit and Proofread Your Essay
Any decent writer will tell you that writing is really rewriting. A good academic essay will inevitably go through multiple drafts as it slowly takes shape. When you arrive at a final draft, you must make sure that it is as close to perfect as possible.
This means subjecting your essay to close and comprehensive editing and proofreading processes. In other words, you must read your paper as many times as necessary to eliminate all grammar/punctuation mistakes and typos.
Here are some common mistakes you should learn to avoid in academic writing.
It is helpful to have a third party review your work. Consider consulting a peer or professional editing service. Keep in mind that professional editors are able to help you identify underdeveloped arguments and unnecessarily wordy language, and provide other feedback.
Get Critical Feedback on Your Writing
Hire an expert academic editor , or get a free sample, 9. when developing your essay's main body, build strong and relevant arguments.
Every sentence in the main body of your paper should explain and support your thesis. When deciding how much evidence to include in an academic essay, a good guideline is to include at least three main supporting arguments.
Those main supporting arguments, in turn, require support in the form of relevant facts, figures, examples, analogies, and observations.
You will need to engage in appropriate research to accomplish this. To organize your research efforts, you may want to develop a list of good research questions .
Learn how to write a research question that will help frame your research.
10. Choose the Format of Your Essay before Writing It
The final shape that your essay takes depends a great deal on what kind of format you use. Popular college essay format types include the Modern Language Association of America ( MLA ), American Psychological Association ( APA ), and Chicago Manual of Style ( Chicago style).
These formats govern everything from capitalization rules to source citation. Often, professors dictate a specific format for your essay. If they do not, you should choose the format that best suits your field.
11. Create Clear Transitions between Your Ideas
Although unnecessary transition words are the enemy of clarity and concision, they can be invaluable tools when it comes to separating and connecting the different sections of your essay.
Not only do they help you express your ideas but they also bring a cohesive structure to your sentences and a pleasant flow to your writing. Just be sure that you are using the right transition words for the right purpose and to the proper effect.
12. Always Include an Organized Reference Page at the End of Your Essay
As a key component of MLA, APA, and Chicago Style formatting, the reference or Works Cited page is an essential part of any academic essay.
Regardless of the format used, the reference page must be well organized and easy to read so that your audience can see exactly where your outside information came from.
To produce a properly formatted reference page, you may have to familiarize yourself with specialized phrases and abbreviations, such as " et al ."
How to Write a Good Hook for an Essay
The key to a good hook is to introduce an unexplored or absorbing line of inquiry in your introduction that addresses the main point of your thesis.
By carefully choosing your language and slowly revealing details, you can build reader anticipation for what follows.
Much like an actual worm-baited fishing hook, a successful hook will lure and capture readers, allowing the writer to "reel them in."
How to Get Better at Writing Essays
You can get better at writing essays the same way that you improve at anything else: practice, practice, practice! However, there are a few ways that you can improve your writing quickly so you can turn in a quality academic essay on time.
In addition to following the 12 essay tips and guidelines above, you can familiarize yourself with a few common practices and structures for essay development.
Great writing techniques for essays include brainstorming and tree diagrams, especially when coming up with a topic for your thesis statement. Becoming familiar with different structures for organizing your essay (order of importance, chronological, etc.) is also extremely helpful.
How to Write a Good Introduction for an Essay
To learn how to write a good essay, you must also learn how to write a good introduction.
Most effective essay introductions begin with relatively broad and general subject matter and then gradually narrow in focus and scope until they arrive at something extremely specific: the thesis. This is why writers tend to place their thesis statements at the very end of their introductory paragraph(s).
Because they are generally broad and often relate only tangentially to an essay's main point, there is virtually no limit on what the beginning of a good introduction can look like. However, writers still tend to rely on somewhat cliché opening sentences, such as quotations and rhetorical questions.
How to Write a Good Conclusion for an Essay
Briefly put, a good conclusion does two things. It wraps up any loose ends and drives home the main point of your essay.
To learn how to write a good conclusion, you will want to ensure that no unanswered questions remain in the reader's mind. A good conclusion will restate the thesis and reinforce the essay's main supporting points.
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"The Complete Beginner's Guide to Academic Writing"
How Academic Writing Differs from Other Forms of Writing
How to Master the 4 Types of Academic Writing
The Complete Beginner's Guide to Academic Writing
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- Academic Skills
- Essay writing
Six top tips for writing a great essay
An essay is used to assess the strength of your critical thinking and your ability to put that thinking into an academic written form. This resource covers some key considerations when writing an essay at university.
While reading a student’s essay, markers will ask themselves questions such as:
- Does this essay directly address the set task?
- Does it present a strong, supported position?
- Does it use relevant sources appropriately?
- Is the expression clear, and the style appropriate?
- Is the essay organised coherently? Is there a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
You can use these questions to reflect on your own writing. Here are six top tips to help you address these criteria.
1. Analyse the question
Student essays are responses to specific questions. As an essay must address the question directly, your first step should be to analyse the question. Make sure you know exactly what is being asked of you.
Generally, essay questions contain three component parts:
- Content terms: Key concepts that are specific to the task
- Limiting terms: The scope that the topic focuses on
- Directive terms: What you need to do in relation to the content, e.g. discuss, analyse, define, compare, evaluate.
Look at the following essay question:
Discuss the importance of light in Gothic architecture.
- Content terms: Gothic architecture
- Limiting terms: the importance of light. If you discussed some other feature of Gothic architecture, for example spires or arches, you would be deviating from what is required. This essay question is limited to a discussion of light. Likewise, it asks you to write about the importance of light – not, for example, to discuss how light enters Gothic churches.
- Directive term: discuss. This term asks you to take a broad approach to the variety of ways in which light may be important for Gothic architecture. You should introduce and consider different ideas and opinions that you have met in academic literature on this topic, citing them appropriately .
For a more complex question, you can highlight the key words and break it down into a series of sub-questions to make sure you answer all parts of the task. Consider the following question (from Arts):
To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?
The key words here are American Revolution and revolution ‘from below’. This is a view that you would need to respond to in this essay. This response must focus on the aims and motivations of working people in the revolution, as stated in the second question.
2. Define your argument
As you plan and prepare to write the essay, you must consider what your argument is going to be. This means taking an informed position or point of view on the topic presented in the question, then defining and presenting a specific argument.
Consider these two argument statements:
The architectural use of light in Gothic cathedrals physically embodied the significance of light in medieval theology.
In the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, light served to accentuate the authority and ritual centrality of the priest.
Statements like these define an essay’s argument. They give coherence by providing an overarching theme and position towards which the entire essay is directed.
3. Use evidence, reasoning and scholarship
To convince your audience of your argument, you must use evidence and reasoning, which involves referring to and evaluating relevant scholarship.
- Evidence provides concrete information to support your claim. It typically consists of specific examples, facts, quotations, statistics and illustrations.
- Reasoning connects the evidence to your argument. Rather than citing evidence like a shopping list, you need to evaluate the evidence and show how it supports your argument.
- Scholarship is used to show how your argument relates to what has been written on the topic (citing specific works). Scholarship can be used as part of your evidence and reasoning to support your argument.
4. Organise a coherent essay
An essay has three basic components - introduction, body and conclusion.
The purpose of an introduction is to introduce your essay. It typically presents information in the following order:
- A general statement about the topic that provides context for your argument
- A thesis statement showing your argument. You can use explicit lead-ins, such as ‘This essay argues that...’
- A ‘road map’ of the essay, telling the reader how it is going to present and develop your argument.
"To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?"
Historians generally concentrate on the twenty-year period between 1763 and 1783 as the period which constitutes the American Revolution [This sentence sets the general context of the period] . However, when considering the involvement of working people, or people from below, in the revolution it is important to make a distinction between the pre-revolutionary period 1763-1774 and the revolutionary period 1774-1788, marked by the establishment of the continental Congress(1) [This sentence defines the key term from below and gives more context to the argument that follows] . This paper will argue that the nature and aims of the actions of working people are difficult to assess as it changed according to each phase [This is the thesis statement] . The pre-revolutionary period was characterised by opposition to Britain’s authority. During this period the aims and actions of the working people were more conservative as they responded to grievances related to taxes and scarce land, issues which directly affected them. However, examination of activities such as the organisation of crowd action and town meetings, pamphlet writing, formal communications to Britain of American grievances and physical action in the streets, demonstrates that their aims and actions became more revolutionary after 1775 [These sentences give the ‘road map’ or overview of the content of the essay] .
The body of the essay develops and elaborates your argument. It does this by presenting a reasoned case supported by evidence from relevant scholarship. Its shape corresponds to the overview that you provided in your introduction.
The body of your essay should be written in paragraphs. Each body paragraph should develop one main idea that supports your argument. To learn how to structure a paragraph, look at the page developing clarity and focus in academic writing .
Your conclusion should not offer any new material. Your evidence and argumentation should have been made clear to the reader in the body of the essay.
Use the conclusion to briefly restate the main argumentative position and provide a short summary of the themes discussed. In addition, also consider telling your reader:
- What the significance of your findings, or the implications of your conclusion, might be
- Whether there are other factors which need to be looked at, but which were outside the scope of the essay
- How your topic links to the wider context (‘bigger picture’) in your discipline.
Do not simply repeat yourself in this section. A conclusion which merely summarises is repetitive and reduces the impact of your paper.
Although, to a large extent, the working class were mainly those in the forefront of crowd action and they also led the revolts against wealthy plantation farmers, the American Revolution was not a class struggle [This is a statement of the concluding position of the essay]. Working people participated because the issues directly affected them – the threat posed by powerful landowners and the tyranny Britain represented. Whereas the aims and actions of the working classes were more concerned with resistance to British rule during the pre-revolutionary period, they became more revolutionary in nature after 1775 when the tension with Britain escalated [These sentences restate the key argument]. With this shift, a change in ideas occurred. In terms of considering the Revolution as a whole range of activities such as organising riots, communicating to Britain, attendance at town hall meetings and pamphlet writing, a difficulty emerges in that all classes were involved. Therefore, it is impossible to assess the extent to which a single group such as working people contributed to the American Revolution [These sentences give final thoughts on the topic].
5. Write clearly
An essay that makes good, evidence-supported points will only receive a high grade if it is written clearly. Clarity is produced through careful revision and editing, which can turn a good essay into an excellent one.
When you edit your essay, try to view it with fresh eyes – almost as if someone else had written it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you clearly stated your argument in your introduction?
- Does the actual structure correspond to the ‘road map’ set out in your introduction?
- Have you clearly indicated how your main points support your argument?
- Have you clearly signposted the transitions between each of your main points for your reader?
- Does each paragraph introduce one main idea?
- Does every sentence in the paragraph support that main idea?
- Does each paragraph display relevant evidence and reasoning?
- Does each paragraph logically follow on from the one before it?
- Is each sentence grammatically complete?
- Is the spelling correct?
- Is the link between sentences clear to your readers?
- Have you avoided redundancy and repetition?
See more about editing on our editing your writing page.
6. Cite sources and evidence
Finally, check your citations to make sure that they are accurate and complete. Some faculties require you to use a specific citation style (e.g. APA) while others may allow you to choose a preferred one. Whatever style you use, you must follow its guidelines correctly and consistently. You can use Recite, the University of Melbourne style guide, to check your citations.
- Germov, J. (2011). Get great marks for your essays, reports and presentations (3rd ed.). NSW: Allen and Unwin.
- Using English for Academic Purposes: A guide for students in Higher Education [online]. Retrieved January 2020 from http://www.uefap.com
- Williams, J.M. & Colomb, G. G. (2010) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. 10th ed. New York: Longman.
* Example introduction and conclusion adapted from a student paper.
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How to Write Better Essays: 5 Concepts to Know
Your teacher hands you a graded essay. What do you look at first? Most college students turn their attention to the letter grade or percentage score. If it’s high, they are happy. If it’s low, they are disappointed. Many students end the review process at this point.
Give your essay extra polish. Our writing suggestions will help you improve. Get Grammarly
What about you? If you want to write better essays, you will need to understand the criteria teachers use to score them.
1 Develop your thesis
A thesis is the essence of your paper—the claim you are making, the point you are trying to prove. All the other paragraphs in your essay will revolve around this one central idea. Your thesis statement consists of the one or two sentences of your introduction that explain what your position on the topic at hand is. Teachers will evaluate all your other paragraphs on how well they relate to this statement. To excel in this area, ask yourself these questions:
Have I clearly introduced my thesis in the introductory paragraphs? Does the body of my essay support my thesis statement? Does my conclusion show how I have proven my thesis?
2 Strong form
A good essay presents thoughts in a logical order. The format should be easy to follow. The introduction should flow naturally to the body paragraphs, and the conclusion should tie everything together. The best way to do this is to lay out the outline of your paper before you begin. After you finish your essay, review the form to see if thoughts progress naturally. You might ask yourself:
Are the paragraphs in a logical order? Are the sentences of each paragraph organized well? Have I grouped similar pieces of information in the same paragraph? Have I included transitions to show how paragraphs connect?
Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing always looks great? Grammarly can save you from misspellings, grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and other writing issues on all your favorite websites.
Just as your clothes express your personality, the style of your essay reveals your writing persona. You demonstrate your fluency by writing precise sentences that vary in form. To illustrate, a child might write robotically: I like to run. I like to play. I like to read, etc. A mature writer uses various types of sentences, idiomatic phrases, and demonstrates knowledge of genre-specific vocabulary. To improve your style, ask yourself:
Will my sentences create an impact on the reader? Have I used various types of sentences (complex and compound)? Have I correctly used topic-specific vocabulary? Does the writing sound like me?
Conventions include spelling, punctuation , sentence structure , and grammar . Having lots of mistakes suggests carelessness and diminishes the credibility of your arguments. If you make too many errors, your writing will be difficult to understand. Wouldn’t it be a shame for a teacher to miss the excellent points you made because of poor grammar? To avoid this, always use proofreading software, such as Grammarly , to weed out the major errors. Follow up with a close reading of your entire paper.
5 Supporting documents and references
Finally, your teacher will examine your resources. Select information from reliable websites, articles, and books. Use quotes and paraphrases to support your ideas, but be sure to credit your sources correctly. Here are some questions to consider:
Have I demonstrated proof of extensive research? Are my main points supported by references, quotes, and paraphrases? Have I used the proper format for my citations —MLA, APA, Chicago?
Do you want to develop your essay-writing skills? Pay attention to the same things your teacher will evaluate. The grades you get on your essays are important, but you can never improve your writing if they are the only things you consider. Focus on improving the overall structure of your essays—the thesis development, form, style, conventions, and support. Learning to master these five elements will cause your scores to soar!
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Master The Art Of Writing An Essay
No matter what you study at university, you will be required to write essays during your time there. Although some people may find writing easier, anyone is capable of penning a brilliant essay. It is a skill like any other and just takes preparation and practice.
In the real world, essay-writing is also an important skill – if you ever need to write a cover letter, professional reports or complete a lengthy application or other such project, some of the skills you learnt writing essays will come in useful time and time again.
We have compiled a few general rules to follow when putting an essay together that should always help steer you in the right direction. Some are stylistic while others are technical, but all are important to bear in mind.
Do the reading
With most subjects, there will be a main textbook that is on your course’s required reading list. It should go without saying that before writing an essay, you should read this or, at the very least, the relevant chapters or sections. However, most courses ask that students read around their subjects. Critical essays or other books from reputable sources (no Wikipedia) provide much-needed alternative opinions and viewpoints that help to broaden your knowledge and inform your own judgements.
Reading around your subject is not only advisable for these reasons; once you try writing an essay, you’ll often find it hard to reach the word count using just one text. There is obviously a limit to how much you can read for each essay, so try and find books you like and that interest you, so reading them doesn’t feel like a chore. Learning should be enjoyable as well as enlightening.
Follow a structure
There are several different ways to structure an essay. You can find and use the way that makes the most sense to you – the important thing is to have a structure. One simple way is to start with an introduction . In this, you set out what the essay is about. An essay isn’t a mystery novel – you don’t need to keep your reader in suspense about what is going to happen. Clearly show you understand the question, that you have considered various points of view supported by relevant texts and then the conclusion that they have led you to.
Next, put forward a thesis . This is your point of view on the subject and should be backed up by other sources. You can use quotations to support your stance and make sure you continue to refer back to the question to drive home your position. You can then start on your antithesis , which is the other side of your argument. This shows you have considered an opposing perspective thoroughly while also making sure your thesis the stronger with a more convincing viewpoint.
You can end with your conclusion , which brings together both sides of the debate and is where you explain your final judgements on the topic. Even if the subject of the essay isn’t phrased as an argument, you can usually find two sides to create a debate. This gives your essay intention and purpose.
Remember to ACE it
The ACE method, which stands for Answer, Cite and Explain, is also to do with structuring your writing. It is a useful technique for making sure your paragraphs are to the point and well-supported. Simply put, you should start by answering the original question or at least a part of it. You should then present evidence to support your answer, either from the original text or a trusted source. Finally, explain how your evidence supports the answer and supply reasons your answer is correct.
At the Ulster University London and Birmingham campuses, ACE also means Academic Community of Excellence. The ACE Team are dedicated academic support tutors who will be happy to go through your essay with you, before, during or after – offering their expertise to help you succeed. Make sure you drop-in or book an appointment with a tutor should you be struggling with your essay.
Don’t fail on a technicality
University essays are formal. There will be a process for submitting them and there are rules that should always be followed.
- Do not plagiarise your work. Copying either from the internet or from a book and passing it off as your own work, even accidentally, is not acceptable. These days, your essays will go through software that can identify plagiarism and your essay will likely be inadmissible.
- Make sure your quotes are clearly attributed in your footnotes and that these are in the style that is used by your university.
- Include a bibliography. This is the list of books, essays or online resources you have used to write your essay. You will lose marks for not including one of these and showing all the sources you have used, which is a shame when you’ve worked hard to produce a great essay.
Check and check again
Reading through an essay once you’ve finished writing it can feel like the very last thing you want to do. You want to be done, press submit and not think about it again. However, this is how errors get overlooked. If you can, print out a copy of your essay and read through it with a pen to make any corrections. Browser extensions like Grammarly can help as you write but you’ll be shocked at how many mistakes you find that it doesn’t pick up on. Your spelling and grammar are the first impression your essay gives. Make sure that impression is a good one.
If you want more information about studying at Ulster University’s London or Birmingham campuses, visit our website: qa.ulster.ac.uk
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- Writing Tips
5 Tips for Improving Your Essay Writing Skills
- 5th November 2021
As a student , essay writing is an integral part of your education. So, how can you improve your essay writing skills? We’ve got five top tips that may help:
- Analyse the essay question so you understand the assignment.
- Write an outline to organize your ideas and prepare your essay.
- Do research to find evidence and sources to support your ideas.
- Use the drafting process to refine your essay before submitting it.
- Get your essay proofread to make sure it is clear and error free.
Read on to learn more about how to improve your essay writing skills.
1. Analyze the Essay Question
The most important step in writing an essay is understanding the assignment. As soon as you have your essay question, then, try to identify the following key words:
- Content words – Content words will tell you what the topic of your essay should be. For instance, in “Discuss the causes of World War II,” the key content words are “causes” and “World War II.”
- Instructional verbs – Instructional verbs will give you a sense of how to approach your essay. There is a big difference, for example, between explaining an idea and analyzing it. Look for what you’re being asked to do in the question, then let this guide your essay writing.
- Limiting words – Limiting words will tell you what to focus on. For example, “In discuss the consequences of the Brexit for trade in the EU,” the phrase “for trade in the EU” limits the scope of the essay question (i.e., while Brexit may have many consequences, the focus here should be trade in the EU).
Try underlining or highlighting these types of words in your essay question.
2. Create an Outline
Another great essay writing skill is to outline your work before you start writing. Most essays will follow a basic format, which you can use to structure an outline:
- An introductory section or paragraph that presents the topic, your thesis statement , and any important background information the reader will need.
- The body paragraphs (or sections), each of which should discuss a single point, example, or idea that supports your main argument.
- A conclusion , where you summarize how your argument supports your thesis.
When planning an essay, then, you can break it down in the way shown above and make notes about what each part will say. Once you are happy with your outline, you can then use this to guide the essay writing process.
3. Use Evidence and Sources Effectively
Having a point you want to argue for or a claim you want to make is fine, but a good essay will also use evidence and sources to support the points it makes.
Once you have worked out a position to argue for, then, do some research to find evidence that supports it. This can include quotations, statistics, and illustrations.
As well as including this evidence in your essay, though, you’ll need to analyze it and show how it support your arguments. Whatever you use, make sure there’s a clear connection between the evidence and the point you’re trying to make.
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In addition, remember to cite your sources properly! You need to show where you’ve found your evidence. This will usually include citing sources in the text of your essay and adding a reference list or bibliography at the end of your document, where you should provide full details of the sources you cited. If you’re not sure how to approach referencing sources, check your style guide or ask your professor.
4. Use the Drafting Process
The biggest mistake people make when writing an essay is to only write it once! Rather, you should always redraft at least once to polish your initial version.
Once you’ve written a draft, then, take a break from it (ideally at least overnight). Then, when you’re ready, go back over your essay and look for ways to improve it. This might be simply checking that you express yourself clearly. But you might also spot ways to strengthen your arguments, such as by adding more evidence.
If you do this at least once, your essay will be far stronger. And there’s always room for further redrafting if you want to be certain your writing is perfect.
5. Have Your Essays Proofread
Okay, strictly speaking this doesn’t quite fall under the category of “essay writing skills” in the same way as the other points here. But one of the smartest things you can do before submitting an essay is have it proofread by an expert.
At Proofed, for example, our academic proofreaders can check your writing to make sure it reads clearly and smoothly, correcting any spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors that slipped through the drafting process. We can even provide feedback on how to improve your academic writing.
If you need help polishing an essay, then, submit it for proofreading today.
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General Essay Writing Tips
Despite the fact that, as Shakespeare said, "the pen is mightier than the sword," the pen itself is not enough to make an effective writer. In fact, though we may all like to think of ourselves as the next Shakespeare, inspiration alone is not the key to effective essay writing. You see, the conventions of English essays are more formulaic than you might think – and, in many ways, it can be as simple as counting to five.
Steps to Writing an Essay
Follow these 7 steps for the best results:
- Read and understand the prompt: Know exactly what is being asked of you. It’s a good idea to dissect the prompt into parts.
- Plan: Brainstorming and organizing your ideas will make your life much easier when you go to write your essay. It’s a good idea to make a web of your ideas and supporting details.
- Use and cite sources: Do your research. Use quotes and paraphrase from your sources, but NEVER plagiarize.
- Write a Draft: Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is always crap.” While the truth behind this statement is debatable, drafts are always a good place to get any of your “crappy” ideas out of the way and are often required by professors and instructors.
- Make a strong thesis: The thesis (main argument) of the essay is the most important thing you’ll write. Make it a strong point.
- Respond to the prompt: Once you have worked out any kinks in your draft, you can start writing the final draft of your essay.
- Proofread: Read your response carefully to make sure that there are no mistakes and that you didn’t miss anything.
Of course, every essay assignment is different and it’s important to be mindful of that. If one of these steps isn’t applicable to the essay you are writing, skip it and move to the next one.
The Five Paragraph Essay
Though more advanced academic papers are a category all their own, the basic high school or college essay has the following standardized, five paragraph structure:
Paragraph 1: Introduction Paragraph 2: Body 1 Paragraph 3: Body 2 Paragraph 4: Body 3 Paragraph 5: Conclusion
Though it may seem formulaic – and, well, it is - the idea behind this structure is to make it easier for the reader to navigate the ideas put forth in an essay. You see, if your essay has the same structure as every other one, any reader should be able to quickly and easily find the information most relevant to them.
The principle purpose of the introduction is to present your position (this is also known as the "thesis" or "argument") on the issue at hand but effective introductory paragraphs are so much more than that. Before you even get to this thesis statement, for example, the essay should begin with a "hook" that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read on. Examples of effective hooks include relevant quotations ("no man is an island") or surprising statistics ("three out of four doctors report that…").
Only then, with the reader’s attention "hooked," should you move on to the thesis. The thesis should be a clear, one-sentence explanation of your position that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about which side you are on from the beginning of your essay.
Following the thesis, you should provide a mini-outline which previews the examples you will use to support your thesis in the rest of the essay. Not only does this tell the reader what to expect in the paragraphs to come but it also gives them a clearer understanding of what the essay is about.
Finally, designing the last sentence in this way has the added benefit of seamlessly moving the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper. In this way we can see that the basic introduction does not need to be much more than three or four sentences in length. If yours is much longer you might want to consider editing it down a bit!
Here, by way of example, is an introductory paragraph to an essay in response to the following question:
"Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions?"
"No man is an island" and, as such, he is constantly shaped and influenced by his experiences. People learn by doing and, accordingly, learn considerably more from their mistakes than their success. For proof of this, consider examples from both science and everyday experience.
The Body Paragraphs
The middle paragraphs of the essay are collectively known as the body paragraphs and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the examples that support your thesis.
For the first body paragraph you should use your strongest argument or most significant example unless some other more obvious beginning point (as in the case of chronological explanations) is required. The first sentence of this paragraph should be the topic sentence of the paragraph that directly relates to the examples listed in the mini-outline of introductory paragraph.
A one sentence body paragraph that simply cites the example of "George Washington" or "LeBron James" is not enough, however. No, following this an effective essay will follow up on this topic sentence by explaining to the reader, in detail, who or what an example is and, more importantly, why that example is relevant.
Even the most famous examples need context. For example, George Washington’s life was extremely complex – by using him as an example, do you intend to refer to his honesty, bravery, or maybe even his wooden teeth? The reader needs to know this and it is your job as the writer to paint the appropriate picture for them. To do this, it is a good idea to provide the reader with five or six relevant facts about the life (in general) or event (in particular) you believe most clearly illustrates your point.
Having done that, you then need to explain exactly why this example proves your thesis . The importance of this step cannot be understated (although it clearly can be underlined); this is, after all, the whole reason you are providing the example in the first place. Seal the deal by directly stating why this example is relevant.
Here is an example of a body paragraph to continue the essay begun above:
Take, by way of example, Thomas Edison. The famed American inventor rose to prominence in the late 19th century because of his successes, yes, but even he felt that these successes were the result of his many failures. He did not succeed in his work on one of his most famous inventions, the lightbulb, on his first try nor even on his hundred and first try. In fact, it took him more than 1,000 attempts to make the first incandescent bulb but, along the way, he learned quite a deal. As he himself said, "I did not fail a thousand times but instead succeeded in finding a thousand ways it would not work." Thus Edison demonstrated both in thought and action how instructive mistakes can be.
A Word on Transitions
You may have noticed that, though the above paragraph aligns pretty closely with the provided outline, there is one large exception: the first few words. These words are example of a transitional phrase – others include "furthermore," "moreover," but also "by contrast" and "on the other hand" – and are the hallmark of good writing.
Transitional phrases are useful for showing the reader where one section ends and another begins. It may be helpful to see them as the written equivalent of the kinds of spoken cues used in formal speeches that signal the end of one set of ideas and the beginning of another. In essence, they lead the reader from one section of the paragraph of another.
To further illustrate this, consider the second body paragraph of our example essay:
In a similar way, we are all like Edison in our own way. Whenever we learn a new skill - be it riding a bike, driving a car, or cooking a cake - we learn from our mistakes. Few, if any, are ready to go from training wheels to a marathon in a single day but these early experiences (these so-called mistakes) can help us improve our performance over time. You cannot make a cake without breaking a few eggs and, likewise, we learn by doing and doing inevitably means making mistakes.
Hopefully this example not only provides another example of an effective body paragraph but also illustrates how transitional phrases can be used to distinguish between them.
Although the conclusion paragraph comes at the end of your essay it should not be seen as an afterthought. As the final paragraph is represents your last chance to make your case and, as such, should follow an extremely rigid format.
One way to think of the conclusion is, paradoxically, as a second introduction because it does in fact contain many of the same features. While it does not need to be too long – four well-crafted sentence should be enough – it can make or break and essay.
Effective conclusions open with a concluding transition ("in conclusion," "in the end," etc.) and an allusion to the "hook" used in the introductory paragraph. After that you should immediately provide a restatement of your thesis statement.
This should be the fourth or fifth time you have repeated your thesis so while you should use a variety of word choice in the body paragraphs it is a acceptable idea to use some (but not all) of the original language you used in the introduction. This echoing effect not only reinforces your argument but also ties it nicely to the second key element of the conclusion: a brief (two or three words is enough) review of the three main points from the body of the paper.
Having done all of that, the final element – and final sentence in your essay – should be a "global statement" or "call to action" that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end.
In the end, then, one thing is clear: mistakes do far more to help us learn and improve than successes. As examples from both science and everyday experience can attest, if we treat each mistake not as a misstep but as a learning experience the possibilities for self-improvement are limitless.
Taken together, then, the overall structure of a five paragraph essay should look something like this:
- An attention-grabbing "hook"
- A thesis statement
- A preview of the three subtopics you will discuss in the body paragraphs.
First Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the first subtopic and opens with a transition
- Supporting details or examples
- An explanation of how this example proves your thesis
Second Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the second subtopic and opens with a transition
Third Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the third subtopic and opens with a transition
- Concluding Transition, Reverse "hook," and restatement of thesis.
- Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.
- Global statement or call to action.
More tips to make your essay shine
Although it may seem like a waste of time – especially during exams where time is tight – it is almost always better to brainstorm a bit before beginning your essay. This should enable you to find the best supporting ideas – rather than simply the first ones that come to mind – and position them in your essay accordingly.
Your best supporting idea – the one that most strongly makes your case and, simultaneously, about which you have the most knowledge – should go first. Even the best-written essays can fail because of ineffectively placed arguments.
Aim for Variety
Sentences and vocabulary of varying complexity are one of the hallmarks of effective writing. When you are writing, try to avoid using the same words and phrases over and over again. You don’t have to be a walking thesaurus but a little variance can make the same idea sparkle.
If you are asked about "money," you could try "wealth" or "riches." At the same time, avoid beginning sentences the dull pattern of "subject + verb + direct object." Although examples of this are harder to give, consider our writing throughout this article as one big example of sentence structure variety.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
In the end, though, remember that good writing does not happen by accident. Although we have endeavored to explain everything that goes into effective essay writing in as clear and concise a way as possible, it is much easier in theory than it is in practice.
As a result, we recommend that you practice writing sample essays on various topics. Even if they are not masterpieces at first, a bit of regular practice will soon change that – and make you better prepared when it comes to the real thing.
General Do's and Don'ts
Do: use transitions to start new thoughts and paragraphs., don’t: start a new thought without a transition or overuse transitions., do: use paragraph structure to organize thoughts and claims., don’t: write one big paragraph without any sort of organization., do: use quotes and paraphrase to back up your claims., don’t: plagiarize., do: use active voice, meaning verbs and action words., don’t: use passive voice or i/my. try to avoid words like “have” or “be”, and never use i or my unless the essay is being written in the narrative form., do: use vivid and descriptive words to bring your essay to life., don’t: misuse words that you don’t know the meaning of., related content:, get the international student newsletter.