How to Write an Essay in 6 Simple Steps

Published 2/27/2013

When you get an assignment to write an essay, it’s important to understand that inspiration alone does not guarantee success, and that’s not only because inspiration is not available on demand! Having a rich imagination also does not ensure your success in writing an effective essay, even if you’re the next Shakespeare (which you probably are not).

The good news, however, is that even without a strong imagination or a rush of inspiration, you can still write an excellent essay and get a very high grade. How?

By using standard patterns and best practices, as we outline below, you can be sure that your essay will be great and that you’ll be rewarded accordingly. Scholarly essay assignments are designed to test your ability to express yourself coherently as well as to follow the rules of writing, rather than your writing talent.

Below, we’ll outline the rules in an easy-to-follow manner, which breaks successful essay writing into six steps to help you simplify and streamline your writing process. Here we go!

1. Choose Your Essay Type and Essay Topic

The first thing you’ll want to do is to focus on one type of essay. There are many commonly used types of essays like “Cause and effect”, “Classification and division”, “Compare and contrast”, “Descriptive”, “Narrative”, “Argumentative”, etc. Often, your teacher will instruct you to write a specific type of essay, but if the assignment doesn’t specify, then choosing the right type of essay to write will greatly impact the rest of your work.

Once you start writing one kind of essay, you might not be able to change it without complete re-writing of your essay, so take your time in the beginning, and be sure to choose the most suitable type of essay for your assignment.

Now, at the beginning is also the time to choose a topic for your essay. Choosing an appropriate topic isn’t always easy, but it’s a critical phase if you want to write an essay well. On one hand, your essay topic should be compatible with the type of essay you’ve chosen, and on the other hand it will be worth while to choose something that you are interested in. Writing on an interesting topic will be more interesting for you, and more likely to help you get a good grade.

If you don’t have a good idea for your essay topic right away you can find a list of topic suggestions based on your essay type on many different sites. Here are some of our favorites:

100 Argument or Position Essay Topics

100 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

100 Cause and Effect Essay Topics

Even if you don’t find a topic that interests you on one of those sites, those lists provide some good topic examples that can help you to invent a topic of your own.

2. Choose Essay Structure Pattern

Each type of essay has several standard structure patterns. The essay structure you’ve selected will determine the order of the paragraphs in your essay and their content.

For example, there are three simple patterns for an argumentative essay. They are called “Pro-Con Pattern”, “Con-Pro Pattern” and “3-Con Pattern” which are recommended for short school essays. In addition, there are two more complicated patterns called “Claim/Counterclaim Pattern” and “Alternating Pattern” which are recommended for advanced school and college essays (see the article “How to Write an Argumentative Essay on any Topic” for more information).

Depending on the specifics of your assignment, you should choose an appropriate pattern and then stick to it while you write your essay.

3. Outline the Essay

If you’re thinking of skipping this step because you don’t know what essay outlining is or you want to save time, think again!

How many times were you stuck on the first paragraph, not knowing what to write? It was because you started writing before thinking through what you want to write. This process of thinking through what you want to write is called “outlining”, and it’s the best way to write a top-notch paper, fast.

When writing your essay outline, you should plan your essay paragraph by paragraph, starting with the essay introduction and strong thesis statement all the way to the essay’s conclusion, according to your chosen essay pattern. A solid outline will make the writing of your essay quicker, easier, and more pleasant.

For more information and to see some good outline samples with explanations, take a look at some of our favorite links:

Types of Outlines and Samples

Writing an Outline

Sample Essay Outlines

4. Write that Essay!

You’ve chosen your essay type and topic, selected your pattern, and written an outline? Great! Now you can focus on writing the essay text itself. You’ll have a much easier time since your outline is ready and you know exactly what you want to write in each paragraph.

Start by writing out each point from your outline, one at a time. If you did your essay outlining well, it will produce a well written essay easily.

If you need to change something in your outline because you found a better way to make your point, go ahead and do it. Just remember to use the updated outline in your writing.

5. Formatting Style and References

It’s not the most fun part of essay writing, but making sure to cite your sources properly is an important part of crafting the perfect essay. Your essay has to comply with MLA, APA or Chicago/Turabian standard, depend on your assignment. If you’re not sure which style to use, you can click here for a list by topic, or ask your teacher for guidance.

Whatever standard you choose will include detailed requirements for formatting and layout for the first page (and a cover page if needed) and the rest of your essay, use of footnotes or endnotes, guidelines to abbreviations, short and long quotations borrowed from secondary sources, and more.

Here are some helpful guides:

MLA Formatting and Style Guide

MLA Documentation Guide

APA Formatting and Style Guide

APA Documentation Guide

Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition

Chicago/Turabian Documentation Style

There are about sixty different types of sources, from the Bible up to e-mail, and citations for each one of them must be formatted according to strict rules which are hard to memorize.

Fortunately, we are living in the age of the Internet where you can easily find a number of excellent free online bibliography and citation tools like BibMe, Citation Machine or EasyBib and we warmly recommend using them to save time and make sure to avoid mistakes.

6. Finalize Your Work

This last step is important to make sure your work is as strong as you want it to be and help you get the best possible grade.This step consists of proofreading your essay to make sure everything is correct--no spelling mistakes or grammar errors. You’ll be amazed how much this improves your essay quality, as you’re able to correct common mistakes such as mixing up your/you’re, their/there, or other common errors.

Read and reread your essay to make sure that there are no vague or incomplete phrases in it.

Use a spell checker, too. You wouldn’t want to work hard on your essay only to lose points on a grammar or spelling mistake!

If all the above recommendations seem you to be too simple, remember: lots of students get significantly reduced grades because they didn’t take the time to properly check their work after writing their essays and before submitting them.

Now you are ready to submit your work and get your well-deserved high grade!

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