Tips For Writing an Essay: Beyond The Basics

By: L.A.Parker and Alex Huffman

One of the most difficult things to do is write an essay. Even after you have prepared in advance, the most difficult part of writing an essay is the actual writing. It’s a  grueling process that most of us would rather skip and watch Adventure Time instead. Here’s some tips to hopefully make the writing process easier.

The Basics

1. Read the Material

This is obvious, but reading the actual book, short story, or assignment is generally the best place to start. Chapter/plot summaries and character lists are not enough to write a good (and by good we mean analytical) essay. By high school and college, teachers don’t want to read a summary of a book they’ve already read. They want to hear what the student has to say about it or how they analyze the assigned prompt. If the material is difficult to understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Chances are half the class is equally lost. If you’re too shy to ask questions during class, ask your teacher or professor before or afterwards. If that doesn’t work, type your question into an online search engine. Not everyone who starts reading The Scarlet Letter “gets it” immediately. Let’s face it, a lot of these books were written a long time ago and people just don’t talk like that anymore. So don’t be ashamed if you don’t understand What Thou Dost Read. Ask questions, keep up with the reading, use the internet as backup, and one day we might be able to comprehend the Canterbury Tales without crying or pounding our heads against a wall.

2. Stick With Parts of The Story That Interest You

As you read the source material, jot down notes about the parts you like or hate– anything that catches your attention. When writing the essay, use topics, quotes, and a thesis that keeps you interested. It’s really easy for professors to spot where you got bored and started to ramble in order to fill up space. If you were assigned a prompt to follow, approach the question from different angles  until you find ideas you want to discuss (so long as you stay on topic and answer the prompt).  Try to stay away from areas of the source material that you found most difficult to understand.

3. Don’t Overthink It!

Some assignments, if not most, are more daunting than they really are. Sitting down and actually writing is the best place to start. If the essay doesn’t seem to be any good then you can always start over at any time.

Beyond The Basics

1. What Are You Writing About?

Before you sit down and actually start writing, think about what you want to write about. Whether or not you were issued a prompt, it’s important to know what it is you want to focus on in your actual essay. Just think of a sentence or two that  summarizes what you want to say. After that, those sentences can develop into your thesis statement. Does the source material have a reoccurring theme? Do certain characters stand out? Do they do something meaningful that can relate to the prompt? Think of these things while you decide on what you want to say. Once you sit down with something in mind, you will be less likely to ramble and more likely to write a cohesive paper.

2. If You Need Quotes, Find Them First

Before you start writing your actual essay and after you have thought of what to write about, go through the material and find some quotes that support your thesis. If you look for these first, you’ll be able to write your essay faster and more concisely.

3. Put Your Quotes in Some Sort of Order

You’ve already come up with a thesis at this point, you have the quotes, now you just need to decide where you want to place them in paper. Do certain quotes coincide with each other? Does one quote’s idea lead to another? Does the order you place them work concerning your thesis? After you have asked yourself these questions, number the quotes in the order you want them to appear in the paper. That way you’ll know what to talk about in each paragraph and what you can work toward as your paper develops.

4. What Do You Want To Say in Each Paragraph?

You have a thesis and you have evidence. Now you decide what you want to say in each paragraph. You don’t have to write out the paragraphs yet, but now would be a good time to come up with an outline.

For Example:



Paragraph One

What is the subject of paragraph one?

How does it relate to the thesis?

What evidence do you have to prove it?

How does it relate to the next paragraph?

Paragraph Two

What is the subject of paragraph two?

How does it relate to the thesis?

What evidence do you have to prove it?

How does it relate to the next paragraph?



What is your thesis?

How does all of the material you talked about prove your thesis?

5. Write Your Paper

Once you’ve got an outline, the essay shouldn’t be difficult to write. You already have a thesis, you have evidence, and you have an ordered outline with all of the information on it. The only thing left to do is write it out and put some transition sentences in there. When you are done, take a break! Walk away from your essay and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Re-reading your work with fresh eyes will help you to spot mistakes and any misspellings, grammatical errors. Reading it aloud will help make sure your sentences flow. If everything is good, write a Works Cited page and turn it in. However, keep in mind that it might be a good idea to have someone else read it before the due date. That way, they can catch anything that you might have missed. If there are some points you left out or maybe they are looking for something else to be mentioned, the best person to ask is your teacher.If your teacher is willing to read a paper before you have to turn it in, take advantage of that opportunity.  If they spot anything, go back over your work and improve it.

Happy Paper Writing!


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