Essay Writing Guide

Essays serve a variety of purposes and can be written in many different styles. For instance, descriptive essays focus on using vivid language to describe a place or experience, whereas research essays document findings about a particular topic. Argumentative or persuasive essays may be based on research or opinion, and attempt to persuade readers towards a certain viewpoint.

Regardless of what type of essay you’re writing, most essays follow a similar organizational format, which includes an introduction (previewing the essay’s topic and what will be covered), a body (that discusses the essay’s main arguments or points), and a conclusion (summarizing the essay’s most important points). These nine steps will help you craft a stellar essay, whether your essay is research-based or persuasive:

#1: Choose Your Topic

Choose a topic that’s interesting to you or that relates to your experience. For instance, if you’re writing a persuasive essay, choose a subject you’re particularly opinionated about. Depending upon your writing instructions, rubric or guidelines, your persuasive topic could relate to politics, public policy, human rights, business ethics and/or healthcare. To learn more about how to choose a writing topic, click here.

#2: Create Your Outline

Next, create your outline, starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion. In the middle, list the subtopics you intend to cover based on your theme. Subtopics may include different aspects of research you found, or they could include key arguments of your persuasive point. If your essay is descriptive, the subtopics of your body may relate to different aspects of what you’re describing. Organize your subtopics in a logical way. If your essay documents a historical timeline, organize your subtopics chronologically. If your essay is research-based or persuasive, organize your themes in a way that makes logical sense.

#3: Research, if Necessary

If your essay requires research and you haven’t yet conducted it, research your topic using keywords and phrases that relate to your essay and subtopics. Depending upon the nature of and type of essay you’re writing, this step can also be done first, as a way of identifying themes that you’ll use to build your outline. Organize your research into key themes using highlighters or word documents to color-code your excerpts and notes. Attach citations to your research for easy reference during organizing and writing.

#4: Organize Your Research or Content into Your Outline

If research was a necessary step, now it’s time to summarize your research according to the theme and paste it into each corresponding subheading, or theme, of your outline. Your summarized research may take the form of quoted excerpts, bullet point lists, or sentences you’ve paraphrased.

If your essay doesn’t require research, jot down key thoughts, phrases and ideas you want to discuss under each subheading of your outline. These will be the building blocks of your writing. They’ll also keep you inspired with thoughts to write about so that writer’s block doesn’t kick in.

#5: Format Your Document

Next, plug your outline into a document that’s correctly formatted according to your citation style, such as APA, MLA or Harvard. Be sure the margins are aligned, pages are numbered and all references you plan to cite are correctly entered into your works cited page.

#6: Begin Writing

Now the fun begins! You have all your building blocks, such as your research and thought-joggers plugged into your outline. This makes the writing process as simple as possible. Follow the prompts on your outline to write from your introduction through the body of your paper and conclusion. Use transitional phrases to link ideas and flow seamlessly between paragraphs.

#7: Edit Your Document

When you’re finished writing, re-read your document to make sure your flow and sentence structure makes sense. Remember, an effective essay follows the introduction-body-conclusion format. Make sure your introduction previews your main points, your body describes them and your conclusion summarizes them in an interesting way. Also be sure that the transitions you use between ideas and paragraphs flow and synthesize your ideas. Then, re-read your essay at least one more time to correct any grammar and spelling errors.

#8: Check Your Citation Style

Double check to make sure all your in-text citations are correctly formatted and match your reference page entries.