Essay Writing: The Ultimate Guide


Introduction

Welcome to your comprehensive Essay Writing learning journey!

Here you will find information related to all the important aspects of essay writing, from choosing a topic to creating an outline and the actual process of writing a top-notch academic essay guaranteed to earn you excellent grades.

Combine the information provided in this guide with practice and you’ll find yourself writing faster and more effectively.

Chapter 1: Essay Writing 101

The term ‘essay’ refers to a short piece of written content representing your version of a story, one side of an argument or describing certain events.

Essays can take different formats and the length usually depends on the specific requirements and instructions of your assignment.  Also, you can be required to write either a formal essay or an informal essay. The latter is more personalized and usually contains personal opinions and the writer’s views on a given subject.

Formal essays on the other hand address serious academic topics and generally require citations and references for all claims made by the writer.

This page focuses on formal academic essays because they are more challenging to write.

Why Is Essay Writing Important?   

Essay writing is one of the skills that each student is required to learn as he/ she advances through school.

An academic essay can serve a number of purposes but basically most essays are meant to test your grammar and understanding of a specific topic.

You can do this by explaining, comparing, and contrasting, illustrating with a literature review or supporting evidence.


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Chapter 2: How to Write an Essay (Basic Structure)

Academic essays may take different formats but the basic structure is usually the same.

And it goes something like this;

Start by Selecting a Topic

Yes, sometimes you’ll be provided with a topic.

However, you can also be asked to choose the topic of your essay, especially if you’re writing a graduate essay.

Most students encounter of two situations that when it comes to choosing an essay topic.

In the first scenario, the student is provided with a list of pre-selected topics from which the student is required to choose.

The downside to the first arrangement is that some students may find the instructor’s list to be limiting; in other words, you may have more interesting topic ideas that are not included in the list.

In such a case, you might find it useful to consult with your instructor and let them know about your proposed topic (s). The worst that can happen is that your instructor will reject your topic proposal meaning that you’d have to work on the topics provided. At the same time, the instructor may like your topic and give you the go-ahead.

The second scenario is whereby the student is provided with an assignment sheet with important details about the essay but with no specific topic defined.

If this is the case ensure that you choose a topic that supports the purpose of your essay and one that is related to the assignment details.

If you ever find yourself in the second scenario then you need to start by defining the purpose of your essay.

For example, it might be that you are required to persuade your readers or you may be asked to explain something specific.

Regardless, it is important to have a definite purpose before you start the essay writing process.

Next, you need to brainstorm and weigh different topic ideas.

Avoid choosing topics right off the bat – take the time to research and understand every aspect of your assignment and come up with a list of topics to choose from.

How to research a topic on the internet   

Online research is an essential aspect of essay writing. But even though everyone knows how to use Google these days, it can be challenging to research a complex topic.

For starters, remember that the amount of research time required for a topic depends on the nature of your assignment details.

Typically, if your research question is complicated then you’ll find yourself spending more time researching the topic.  Also, remember to read thoroughly the assignment details so that you do not end up spending valuable time researching the wrong topic.

Here is a summary of the steps we follow when researching essay topics: 

  • Start by fully understanding what is required. If anything is not clear, do not be afraid to consult your instructor or classmates.
  • Select a topic that you find interesting. Try to be unique and choose trending topics. Also, consult your instructor if you are having difficulties selecting a suitable topic.
  • Break down your assignment into smaller tasks and create a schedule to get everything done. It is okay to research your topic over multiple days.
  • When researching use your school’s library and other reputable online databases to ensure credibility of your arguments.
  • As a rule of thumb, choose only resources that are highly relevant to your topic.
  • Annotate each resource you find useful. Your annotations should cover important details about the source and why it is important for your paper. Remember to choose sources that you are accessible as “full format,” avoid abstracts.
  • Synthesis your main ideas in an outline.

Pro Tip:

Essay Structure

Create an Outline to Organize your Ideas 

Getting started is the scariest part of the writing process because many students feel that they must everything planned out their mind beforehand.

Creating an essay outline helps you organize your ideas so that you have a rough mental image of what your essay should look like.

Understanding the typical essay outline will also go a long way in helping you structure any type of essay and will even improve your grades in the long run.

You might be wondering if there are any differences between MLA and APA outlines.

Well, the simple answer is that there are no major differences in the writing process; however, papers are written in APA format typically use an abstract/executive summary.

Remember MLA is mainly used in social studies while APA is used primarily used in humanities.

How to Write an Essay Outline?

The best way to start outlining your essay is to think of it in the typical college essay format; Introduction >> Body>> Conclusion.

The basic essay structure gives you an excellent foundation to start outlining your ideas.

When writing an outline, do not forget to prioritize your thesis since it is the summary of your entire paper and will guide you through the writing process.  Also it is important to include a catchy introduction when outlining your paper; you can even consider using direct quotes or cite interesting facts to capture your reader’s attention.

Obviously it is impossible to write a conclusion at this stage, still, it helps to note down that your conclusion will contain a summary of the essay. You can also restate your thesis statement, adding recommendations, predictions, and opinions.

What is the General Essay Outline Format?

Cover page

  • Introduction
    • Short description of the entire essay.
    • Background information or problem statement
    • Thesis statement
  • Body paragraph 1
    • Topic sentence
      • Supporting Evidence (Related to thesis statement)
      • Supporting Evidence
    • Body paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence
        • Supporting Evidence
        • Supporting Evidence
      • Body paragraph 3
        • Topic sentence
          • Supporting Evidence (Related to thesis statement)
          • Supporting Evidence
        • Conclusion
          • Short summary of the entire essay.
          • Concluding sentence.

References/ Bibliography

What are topic sentences?

Also known as the focus sentence, a topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph.

Its purpose is to signal to the reader what the paragraph is about.

Topic sentences will also help you make a smooth transition between paragraphs and make the connection between two different points.

The purpose of essay writing is to develop logical arguments.

To be successful, the writer must make the connection between the thesis and body paragraphs. Topic sentences that have a clear connection to the thesis are crucial for this to occur.

In other words, topic sentences direct your readers throughout your essay, helping them make the connection between each argument and the thesis.

The other sentences in a paragraph provide supporting details; they explain the topic sentence.

When writing topic sentences for your essay, remember to think carefully about the supporting details you discuss and avoid introducing new ideas in the same paragraph.

As a rule of thumb, a topic sentence should be general enough to signal to the reader the overall subject in a paragraph.

Still, a topic sentence should offer sufficient details for the reader to understand your main points.


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Essay Definition


Example Essay Outline 

Here are two sample outlines:

essay outline

a) Sample Outline for a persuasive Essay

b) Sample outline for writing a research paper.

Some students might even choose to use a diagram instead of a written outline. Either way, your outline should serve as a blueprint to your finished essay and thus it should contain sufficient information or facts to support the topic.

Develop a Thesis Statement

After determining the basic structure of your essay, it is time to create a thesis statement.

Here is the definition of the term “thesis statement”

Thesis statement Definition

Writing a thesis statement is essentially your way of stating your intentions in the essay.  Remember to make your thesis statement specific, concise and clear in terms of your position.

A thesis statement is your essay writing roadmap in the sense that it lays out your desired direction and helps readers understand what to expect in the rest of the essay.

The use of a one sentence thesis statement is common in humanities and literature, particularly in college and high school.

Here is an example of a thesis statement used in a five paragraph essay.

Pro Tip: When writing your thesis statement avoid using signposting language such as “In this essay…..” or “the aim of this essay is to ….. “ 

Also, remember that all essays consist of several paragraphs that are usually indented (press “TAB” to indent your paragraphs on MS word) to mark the beginning.

Each paragraph must have a topic sentence – topic sentences dictates the focus of each paragraph and highlights the information readers expect to find in a specific paragraph.


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Paragraphs in Essay Writing


Some essays may not necessarily have these three headings, but in most cases, the content presented in each paragraph reflects the basic essay structure.  Because essays are highly flexible, the important thing is to follow your instructions and ensure that you present your ideas in a logical manner, regardless of the structure.

The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay’s structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you’re making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there is no set formulas.

Chapter 3: Types of Essays 

There are four main types of essays:  argumentative, expository, descriptive, and expository.

Here is a detailed description of each type, with examples to help you understand the purpose of each essay type.

Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is a form of expository writing that primarily aims to give the writer a platform to ponder and write about themselves or their experiences.

In other words, a narrative essay is your opportunity to tell a story.

Everyone has some sort of experience or adventure that is firmly lodged within their memories; and certainly, such experiences can have a positive impact only if we have the courage and skills to put them in words.

Narrative essays should be written in the first person and the writer must strive to provide sensory details so as to capture the readers’ attention and get them emotionally invested in the story.

A writer should give precise and vivid descriptions using appropriate verbs. Also, including all the aspects of storytelling make a narrative more interesting.

Pro Tip :

Writing a narrative essay

How to write a narrative essay? (Summary)

Use an informal approach when writing a narrative essay. Include the following elements:
1. Introductory paragraph: Should include a thesis statement.

2. Theme: This is the fundamental idea in a story. In most cases, the theme of a narrative essay deals with topics that are common in human life such as success, failure or courage.

3.  A sequence of events – a plot.
4.. Characters :
5. Place or setting: This is the location where the action in a story takes place.
6. A focal point or climax:
7. A concluding paragraph.
NB: Formal essays such as expository or argumentative usually avoid first person (Me, I, and We); however, first-person is encouraged in narrative essays.

Narrative Essay Example

Sample Narrative Essay

Descriptive Essay

A Descriptive essay is one that describes the characteristics, features or traits of people, animals or objects.

An essay describing an event in detail is also a descriptive essay.

How To write a Descriptive Essay

As a rule of thumb, descriptive essays should be written in a way that involves the readers’, emotions and senses.

You need to provide vivid descriptions that literally make the reader feel like they are witnessing the events; a descriptive essay should present a thing, place, event or person in a manner that makes readers feel as though they are experiencing the event(s) first hand.

When writing a descriptive essay you want to transport your readers to the place or location you are describing.

For example, if you are writing about a party, do not just tell your readers where you hosted the party; instead write about the smells, sounds, and even emotions.

Writing an effective descriptive essay means using words creatively to guide your readers as much as possible. To do this you want to use interesting nouns and strong verbs; avoid using too many adverbs and adjectives.

Also, leave out unnecessary details/ elements and remember, abstract words/ slang will not help you reach through to your readers.

 Descriptive Essay Sample 

Descriptive Essay

Expository Essay

An expository essay examines, discusses, and compares problems.  Unlike descriptive or narrative essays, the purpose of an expository essay is not to tell a story; instead, it explains and informs.

Expository essays usually address topics that some readers may find challenging to grasp but the writer may also report on an event or situation.

How to Write an expository essay

As a rule of thumb, be concise when writing an expository essay and avoid using jargon.

Expository essay

Five Paragraph Structure of an Expository Essay

Sample Expository Essay

Expository Essays

Argumentative Essay

As the name suggests, the purpose of an argumentative essay is to persuade or convince readers to support a certain position.

An argumentative essay is typically stronger when backed by facts, scientific evidence, statistics, or expert opinion.

Your job in an argumentative essay is to convince the reader and make them agree with your point of view.  Therefore, you need to (1) start by stating your thesis (opinion) and 2) give supporting evidence to back up your point of view (3) lastly, you need to argue against the opposing opinion and provide a final verdict in the conclusion.

Your job in an argumentative essay is to convince the reader and make them agree with your point of view. Therefore, you need to (1) start by stating your thesis (opinion) and 2) give supporting evidence to back up your point of view (3) lastly, you need to argue against the opposing opinion and provide a final verdict in the conclusion.
Overall, ensure that your argumentative essay is balanced and this is only possible if you include an opposing opinion (counterargument) and refute it by explaining why it is wrong. Balancing your essay in this way ensures makes it more likely that your readers will agree with your opinion.

What is the structure of an argumentative essay? 

Unlike an expository essay, you have the freedom to choose from a range of formats in an argumentative essay.

However, you should always start your essay with an introductory paragraph to set the tone.

The purpose of the introduction is to introduce your topic (pun intended). This is where you state your claim and provide a succinct thesis statement. The introductory paragraph should also contain any relevant background information that draws the reader in. For example, if you are arguing for a certain theory – ensure you introduce the theory. If your task is to argue against/ for a book- state the author, year, and any other relevant info.

For the body, theorist Stephen Toulmin suggests that an argument can be broken down into grounds and claims.

Like this:

argumentative essay

Typically, an argumentative essay is organized in six paragraphs, beginning with the introductory paragraph, then body paragraphs and lastly, a concluding paragraph.

argumentative essay structure

Sample Argumentative Essay

Argumentative Essay Sample

Chapter 4: Check Spelling and Grammar

Having developed a sustainable outline, it is now time for the actual essay writing process.

In its basic form, an essay should consist of five body paragraphs i.e. introduction paragraph, 3 body paragraphs, and the concluding paragraph.

After composing enough text to support each paragraph, ensure that you proofread your paper and check for grammar mistakes and technical errors.

Remember that most online spell checkers are machines which means that there is always the possibility that some errors will go unnoticed.

Sometimes grammar checkers will suggest synonyms that improve engagement but take the point of our context.

Also, remember to double-check your citations and references to ensure that they conform to the required style.  A common mistake that students make in regards to citation marks is confusing specifically Harvard and APA styles- specifically the use of the comma (,).

Some tips to help you proofread and edit your essay more effectively 

  • Depending on the instructions, ensure that you follow the appropriate punctuation and spelling conventions. This means that your Microsoft language settings should either be American or British.
  • Do not proofread immediately after completing your paper. It is better to leave some time between the two processes (writing and proofreading). By allowing yourself time (24- 48 hrs) to relax the mind you actually increase the chances of spotting more subtle errors that would otherwise go unnoticed.
  • Practice proofreading backward. In other words, read your paper from the end to the beginning, either paragraph by paragraph or sentence to sentence. This way you disrupt the flow of arguments, forcing the brain to spot technical errors in the text.
  • Know which medium brings out the best in you. Some essay writers like to work with printed copies while others find that they are more careful when they edit their paper on a computer. Generally, some errors that might go unnoticed on the computer can easily be spotted when proofreading a printed copy.
  • Some writers have found it useful to change the look of your paper in terms of style, fonts, color, and even spacing. By doing this, you trick your brain into believing that you are working on a different document which gives you a different point of view of the text.
  • Work in a quiet environment. Do not try to edit or proofread your paper in a place full of distractions or while watching Youtube.
  • If you have time to spare, do your proofreading and editing in small blocks of text and time. You might find yourself losing concentration or getting bored if you proofread everything in one go.
  • Prioritize your work if you are working a tight deadline. This means that you need to start with the most important proofreading and editing tasks.

What is the difference between Proofreading and Editing? 

While some people the terms editing and proofreading interchangeably, the two are exactly the same.  More specifically, each focuses on a different stage of the revision process; still, both editing and proofreading require a keen eye, otherwise, the writer runs the risk of leaving some mistakes unchecked.

Editing

In the context of academic writing, editing refers to the practice of preparing your paper for submission (and/ or publication) by modifying, condensing or otherwise correcting it.

You can edit your paper at different stages of the writing process; for example, you can begin editing your paper as soon as you’ve completed the first draft. Professional writers may opt to edit their papers upon completion of the final draft.

Regardless, editing ensures that your paper is well-organized paper is well-organized and that the flow of arguments is logical. 

Here are six of the most common levels of editing in essay writing: 

Content

This is the type of editing that focuses on the materials you’ve actually written. When editing ask yourself the following questions:

Have I covered everything outlined in the assignment details? How accurate are the claims you’ve made in the paper? Are all the arguments sustainable and complete?  Does the essay contain any irrelevant information?

Essay Structure

Does your essay begin with a succinct introduction?  Do you have a clear thesis/ is the thesis statement in its right place i.e. as the last sentence of the first paragraph? Is there a clear connection between your thesis and body paragraphs?  Are your topic sentences clear?  Have you used appropriate transitions between paragraphs?

In-paragraph Structure

Here the sole focus is your body paragraphs. Check for consistency in the use of topic sentences. Ask yourself if each paragraph contains a single idea that connects to your thesis. Also, check for any missing sentences or missing transitions within each paragraph.

Clarity

Clarity is very important in essay writing (and in any other form of writing) because it is the basis on which the reader judges your understanding of the topic.

In other words, it is very unlikely that you’ll get high marks for unclear arguments. In checking for clarity ask yourself the following questions:

Does my essay define all-important and / or unknown terms?

Are all the sentences meaningful?

Have you used vague pronouns such as it without any prior reference?  Does your word choice reflect your point of view accurately?

Stay away from synonyms that you don’t fully understand because their use might distort meaning.

Style

Style is the other level of editing that has the potential to improve your marks considerably. Here are some questions to consider when editing the style of your paper:

Are you using the appropriate tone i.e. is the tone of your essay persuasive, formal, or informal?

(Remember the tone you use depends on the type of essay, for example, a persuasive tone is appropriate for argumentative essays but inappropriate for descriptive essays)

How have you used gendered words such as “she” or “he,”- remember that a word such as Chairman does not necessarily refer to a man. Des your essay contains too many passive words?

Citations

You are likely to lose marks if you cite your sources in the wrong format. Ask yourself the following questions, is my APA/ MLA or Harvard reference page correctly formatted? Have you used quotation marks for direct quotations?  Have you cited all paraphrased material?

 

Chapter 5: Essay Writing Dos and Don’ts 

Do

Start by choosing the purpose of your essay before choosing a topic.

Ensure you can easily access supporting evidence, facts, opinions, and different viewpoints on a topic. Remember, it will be impossible to write anything if there is no information on a topic.

Engage in a brainstorming session to generate more ideas related to your topic.

Find reliable and credible scholarly sources to support the most important points in your paper.

Some of the online databases that you can search to find reliable scholarly sources/ references include; Elsevier, Research Gate, and Google Scholar.

Don’t

Refrain from changing the topic if you find it too challenging or difficult to analyze.

Write using jargon and topics that you think will make you look smart.