The essay-writing process:
See our Super Book: Better Essays and Persuasive Techniques
Step 1: Researching information
Brainstorm the issue by investigating a wide range of sources — traditional (books) and non-traditional (web-based). Be sure to canvass a range of views from all stakeholders. (These are groups that have an interest — either personal or professional — in the issue.) What do the experts say? What are your own observations and experiences?
Step 2: Mapping ideas
Your mind map should identify the problem and include the facts, consequences and solutions. Draw arrows between related ideas or group common points.
Step 3: Analysing and classifying information
After you have brainstormed all components of the issue, you need to put them under the microscope and identify the alternative viewpoints. You need to make sense of them and think about which side is more convincing.
1. Organise “for” and “against” points.
2. Think about your information.
- think about which side has the most convincing evidence;
- think in an independent manner; that is, don’t just follow an opinion because an expert or someone you admire thinks in a certain way;
- think logically and critically; that is, question or test your information. (See pp. 20-22.) What does it suggest? What are the consequences?
3. Which side do you think is more convincing and why? You must be confident that your views are the most logical, sensible and persuasive.
Step 4: Planning and drafting
Take three scraps of paper: group together common ideas and write the related parts or a cluster of ideas on each sheet. Explain and develop each idea.
- organise your points or sheets in order of priority;
- start with your most important reason; and
- choose a convincing point from the opposite side to include in your “rebuttal” paragraph.
Think about the “big picture”: before dealing with the pieces, and getting lost among the details, we need to get a sense of the final puzzle so all the pieces fit together.
Headings: write a heading for each group of ideas. This will help you write the statements.
Step 5: Writing: what is your point of view?
Before starting your essay, write a summary outlining your ideas and reasons. This will encourage you to think about what you want to prove. Be specific and clear. The summary will also help to keep you on track.
Your introduction should not only set the scene and arouse interest in the topic, but must clearly outline your attitude or “main contention” and supporting reasons in order of priority. Where necessary, you should also define any key terms and frame your response around these so that you keep on track.
The main contention is a concise statement summing up your point of view on an issue. Take a stance — it is no use “sitting on the fence”. What is your view on the topic? For example, schools should drug test students. The Government should increase taxes on junk food to subsidise fresh fruit and vegetables.
Be confident and state your opinion clearly and assertively. It is important to pursue your views in a way that allows you to sound mature, intelligent and sensitive.
Your body paragraphs and topic sentences
The body paragraphs should outline your most important reasons in order of priority. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that unifies the paragraph. There should be one main idea in each paragraph.
Topic sentences are statements that become the backbone of your essay and show how you intend to develop your ideas. They answer the question, “What do I want to say regarding the topic?”
You will be expected to follow the TEEL structure in school. TEEL is an acronym relating to the logical sequence of your paragraph according to the following rules: Topic Sentence, Evidence, Explanation, Link.
The topic sentence:
- shows the focus of each paragraph;
- shows how you are interpreting the evidence;
- develops your argument;
- controls the paragraph; and
- gives it unity and order.
You will need to outline your Evidence and Explain and interpret your evidence. What does it say about the topic? How does the evidence support my contention? Make your points and Link them back to your topic sentence.
In a well-written body paragraph, you must ensure that:
- the sentences develop and expand on the topic sentence;
- there is a logical step-by-step progression of ideas; and
- there are no irrelevant or unnecessarily repetitive sentences.
Your discussion should involve a rebuttal. That is, you must find weaknesses in the opponent’s argument and counter-punch. The rebuttal is generally your last body paragraph in your essay.
- Look for your opponent’s errors or blind spots. What facts, surveys and statistics
have been used and how have they been (mis)interpreted?
- Explain your opponents’ weaknesses or shortcomings. This gives
you an opportunity to further strengthen your own views.
- Examine the opponent’s qualifications and motives. Are they likely to gain money or fame from the scheme or proposal? Consider their moral standing and credibility.Are they truthful? Is there evidence of double standards?Do they say one thing and do another?
The concluding paragraph sums up your argument. It should tie together the ideas that were introduced in your introduction and developed in your body paragraphs. It must show how these ideas (causes/reasons/factors) relate to each other and contribute to and reinforce your point of view. If there are two or more parts to the question, be sure to include responses to each part in your conclusion. This gives your essay unity and coherence.
- Keep the structure simple.
- Begin with a link sentence that makes it clear that you are now summing up your main points. Phrases such as “in conclusion”, “finally, it is evident that …” or “to answer the question whether ….” seek to place your conclusion in a context and show that these are your final statements.
- Do not develop any new points.
- Do not include long quotations or simply restate your introduction. You may use a short pithy quote to inject colour into your conclusion, but basically the paragraph should be in your own words.
- Aim for an impact and leave the reader with a sense that your views offer the only course of action. For example, you may forecast future trends and the implications resulting from your discussion. Leave the reader with some food for thought. What might happen in the future?
How can you improve your essay?
Refer Chapters 2 and 3 which cover key strategies that enable you to strengthen your TEEL structure. Specifically, it will help you sharpen your essay by thinking more precisely about the evidence, by making connections between key ideas, and by thinking about your style and the impact of your words.
The following strategies will help you examine your evidence and construct sharper topic sentences.
- Chapter 2: Reasoning strategies: Nowadays, it is easy to cut and paste a range of ideas from digital sources. However, it is important to evaluate the evidence. Does it make sense? What does it prove? Is it relevant? This chapter encourages you to think about a range of information that you may use to prove your point. You must analyse its significance, show connections and draw conclusions. Linking strategies: You must make sure that your essay flows logically, clearly and convincingly. Use keywords and signposts to guide the reader. The sentences in your paragraphs must flow in a logical order; your paragraphs must also be arranged logically so that you can steer readers through your most important points.
See Chapter 2 Reasoning Strategies
- Chapter 3: Persuasive strategies: Consider how you want your readers to think and feel. This chapter introduces you to some common appeals that you may use to influence your reader’s response. Such appeals also help you categorise your information and write sharper topic sentences: Attacking strategies: To counter your opponents’ views, you must be well equipped with a variety of attacking strategies. Which facts have they (conveniently) overlooked or misrepresented? What are their biases? This section shows you how to criticise and isolate them: Stylistic strategies: Your tone, sentence structure, choice of words and pronouns all add to your message. They are part of your personality as a writer and help to influence readers.
Please see our slideshow for an overview:
See Chapter 3 Persuasive Strategies
Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.
Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with B’s and A-minuses.
I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.
Writing an essay? Don’t pull your hair out. Here are 10 tips to write a great essay. Photo by Stuart Pilbrow (Creative Commons)
However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it.
That’s right. Fun.
Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard?
Here are a few reasons:
- You’d rather be scrolling through Facebook.
- You’re trying to write something your teacher or professor will like.
- You’re trying to get an A instead of writing something that’s actually good.
- You want to do the least amount of work possible.
The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external rewards like getting a passing grade or our teacher’s approval. The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.
Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity. What this means practically is that when you’re trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, you’re turning off most of your best resources.
Just stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a “good-enough” essay). Instead, write an interesting essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when you’re finished, go back and edit it until it’s “good” according to your teacher’s standards.
Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you.
I can’t guarantee you’ll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise you’ll have a lot more fun writing.
10 Tips to Writing a Great Essay
Ready to get writing? Here are my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade!
1. Your essay is just a story.
Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas, the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.
That means that the best essays are about surprise, “You probably think it’s one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way.” See tip #3 for more on this.
2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “How can I have the most fun writing this?”
It’s normal to feel unmotivated when writing an essay. I’m a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.
Here’s the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:
How much fun can I have writing this?”
Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun. Here’s another sneaky question to ask yourself when you really don’t want to write:
How can I finish this as quickly as possible?
Give it a try!
3. As you research, ask yourself, “What surprises me about this subject?”
The temptation, when you’re writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read. Don’t do this. Instead, ask yourself, “What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?”
If you can’t think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then you’re not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimmingover with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, “We used to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.”
As you research your essay topic, search for this story of surprise, and don’t start writing until you can find it.
(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)
4. Overwhelmed? Just write five original sentences.
The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences, surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences. Here’s what they might look like:
- Thesis: While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
- Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
- Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
- Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, they will write better essays.
- Conclusion: Writing an essay doesn’t have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.
After you write your five sentences, it’s easy to fill in the paragraphs they will find themselves in.
Now, you give it a shot!
5. Be “source heavy.”
In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful, but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.
As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I just quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasn’t quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.
When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very “source” heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me A’s. Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research well, which some students find easier.
6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.
Introductions are often the hardest part to write because you’re trying to summarize your entire essay before you’ve even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.
7. Most essays answer the question, “What?” Good essays answer the “Why?” The best essays answer the “How?”
If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or you’re struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, “How?” For example:
- How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in The Catcher In the Rye?
- How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
- How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?
If you focus on how, you’ll always have enough to write about.
8. Don’t be afraid to jump around.
Essay writing can be a dance. You don’t have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end. Give yourself the freedom to write as if you’re circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.
9. Here are some words and phrases you don’t want to use.
- You (You’ll notice I use a lot of you’s, which is great for a blog post. However, in an essay, it’s better to omit the second-person.)
- To Be verbs
Don’t have time to edit? Here’s a lightning-quick editing technique.
A note about “I”: Some teachers say you shouldn’t use “I” statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion,” especially in their introductions.
10. It’s okay to use Wikipedia, if…
Wikipedia isn’t just one of the top 5 websites in the world, it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors don’t consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays. However, here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:
- Background research. If you don’t know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
- Find sources. Check the reference section of Wikipedia’s articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and site them.
The thing I regret most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.
The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world don’t have access to. It’s a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I don’t want you to make the mistake of just “getting by” through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.
How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?
All I’m saying is, don’t miss out!
How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay?
Use tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.
When you’re finished, share your five sentences in the comments section.
And remember, have fun!
Free Guide: Want to become a writer? Get our free 10-step guide to becoming a writer here and accomplish your dream today. Click here to download your guide instantly.