How to Write a Good Essay: A Step by Step Guide to Acing Your Paper
So you need to learn how to write a good essay. This may seem like a pretty intimidating task, but it’s really not that bad when you take the time to know and understand what you’re doing.
A standard essay has a lot of working parts. There’s the formatting, thesis statement, writing structure, grammar and punctuation, and much more. It can seem overwhelming when you think about how many elements you need to remember. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. With the right advice, you can get ahead and make sure that you turn in a paper that will blow your professor’s mind and get you the grade you need to ace your class.
Ready to learn how to write a good essay? We’ll walk you through it, from beginning to end. With our help, you can learn and understand exactly what goes into an A+ essay. Let’s start at the beginning.
Types of Essays and Papers
First, it’s good to take a look at the different types of essays that you could be writing. Each type of essay will have different requirements or formats that you should follow in order to complete the best work possible.
Here are some of the more common essay assignments you may need to write during your time at school:
● Argumentative Essay: This type of essay will present an argument to the reader and provide solid evidence as to why they should agree with your stance.
● Research Essay: A research essay takes an in-depth look at a specific topic using lots of reliable and academic sources, facts, and other data. It’s similar to the expository essay below.
● Expository Essay: This type of essay is used to explain something without taking a particular stance. When writing this paper, assume that you are writing for an audience that knows nothing about the topic and provide them with facts and data.
● Compare/Contrast Essay: With a compare/contrast essay, you are taking two things and analyzing them to showcase their similarities and differences.
● Personal or Reflective Essay: Generally, this type of essay doesn’t always follow typical format and can make use of first-person voice to reflect on your thoughts and experiences about something specific.
● Literature Review: A literature review essentially provides an overview of the literature and research that has already been done about a particular topic.
● Book Review: A book review essay is done to provide a critical analysis about a book or other piece of literature. It generally includes a summary and assessment.
How to Start an Essay
If you’re not overly familiar with how to write a good essay, it can be tricky to know where to start. This is the point where most people sit down, stare at a blank document, and start to get stressed. Don’t let yourself get stressed out before you’ve even done anything.
Every good essay starts with a topic and a plan. Begin by determining which type of essay you’re going to write. This helps you pick the right topic. For example, if you’re writing an argumentative essay, you want to make sure that you choose a topic you have an opinion about and can argue one way or another. If you’re writing a research paper, you want to make sure you choose a topic that you can find a lot of academic research about.
So, with that being said, it’s time to choose your topic.
Choosing the Right Topic For Your Paper
Choose your topic wisely. A good topic makes a big difference when it comes to your paper. It’s what drives all of your research, defines your writing, and keeps people interested – including yourself. Do you really want to spend the next few weeks writing about some topic you couldn’t care less about? Probably not. Don’t make things harder on yourself. Put some thought into this portion of your paper, or you’ll really regret it when you sit down to write.
It Should Be Interesting to You
You’re going to be doing a lot of reading and writing about this topic, so you should always choose something you’re interested in wherever possible. Sometimes you’re given your topic and don’t have a choice, but you can still spin it so that it’s something that interests you. This is incredibly important. You’re going to be sifting through academic journals and dedicating a lot of your time becoming an expert in this topic. Make sure you’re not going to get bored.
Being interested in the topic also helps you write content that really engages your reader and hooks them right away. When you’re excited about something, you want to show all of the facts and present the best argument about that topic. If you aren’t interested in what you’re writing about, how can you sell that topic to your reader?
Do the Research First
Start with some research. Don’t make a decision until you’ve been able to take a look at what’s out there and how much research you’re actually going to find about it. Often, doing initial research helps you notice and identify any trends in this topic and if there are certain research questions that come up more than others. For example, you may find that there’s a certain question or issue that keeps popping up when you’re doing the initial research. If you keep seeing those patterns, this can guide you because it may be something you want to look into.
Start Broad, Then Narrow It Down
Your topic should be something that you can narrow down to one statement or argument. Start with a broad topic that you know you want to write about (or that you have to write about as per your teacher’s request). Then, think about smaller topics within that broad argument, and figure out how you want to get specific. Find your niche and go with it.
You can’t simply take a broad topic and write about it. This is not the best way to learn how to write a good essay. You’ll find way too much research to actually make a point about something, and your essay will just be filled with generic information. This makes it really hard to find the focus of your paper, which will score you a lower grade.
For example, a topic about World War II would be really broad for one essay. Instead, you could narrow that topic down to one specific topic about World War II. So, if you’re writing an argumentative essay, you could choose the topic “why aerial warfare during World War II changed modern warfare” or “contributions by women during World War II.”
However, be cautious about being too narrow with your topic. Make sure you can still find enough relevant information before you start writing. And don’t worry – you can always adjust your thesis statement after you start writing. In fact, this happens to the best of the best more often than you can imagine. It’s all part of the writing process.
Crafting the Perfect Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement is the most important part of your essay. It’s the argument or statement that will guide the rest of your paper. You will be using your thesis statement to structure your entire paper, guide your research and determine what points you should include, and to formulate your overall argument that indicates your knowledge and opinions on the subject.
A thesis statement is basically your answer to a research question. Think about what you want to answer within your paper. This question could be something basic, such as “why were William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets important to the English language?” Once you have your question, think about your answer, and put it into a sentence. So, for this particular question, your thesis statement could look something like this:
William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were important to the English language because they developed many words and terms still used today, he was the first writer to use modern prose, and he set a precedent that today’s playwrights still follow.
Now, this is still a broad thesis statement because you could fill up pages and pages about each of those arguments. But you can see the idea of how we are trying to narrow down your thesis and formulate arguments that answer the research question you’ve selected. Don’t be afraid to continue narrowing down your thesis and refining it until you’ve hit something perfectly narrow.
A thesis statement should also act as an outline for your paper, which tells your readers what you’re going to present to them and how you will be organizing that argument. It is not uncommon to see thesis statements that state outright what the paper is aiming to do. For example, you could use a thesis statement that looks like this:
This research paper will examine the contributions William Shakespeare made to the English language by analyzing his use of modern prose in three of his plays: Richard III, Hamlet, and Titus Andronicus.
Generally, your thesis should be a maximum of one to two sentences. If you can’t explain your argument or the purpose of your paper within two sentences, you need to narrow it down further or find another way to describe what you’re thinking.
Decide On the Right Essay Format to Use, Then Make an Outline
Once you’ve decided on your perfect thesis statement, you can start to plan out how your essay will be structured in a nice outline. Some professors will ask you to provide your outline before you start the research paper as an initial assignment. However, even if your professor doesn’t ask for this, you should still make sure you always use an outline to help yourself as you write.
This is one of the biggest secrets when learning how to write a good essay. A good outline always gives you something to follow and helps you stay on track without getting sidetracked. Once you do a couple papers using an outline, you won’t want to write one without an outline again.
The Importance of an Essay Outline
Making an outline to follow for your essay can be a major help when it comes to your research and writing. It will help you stay on track, and guide you as you begin to write your paper, ensuring that you stay organized and follow your thesis statement. A structured essay outline also helps you understand what you need to write about and where you should look for sources and information. Then, you can stay on track and make sure you are only looking for information that helps your paper without getting distracted by unnecessary details that don’t matter to your paper.
Your outline should, of course, follow the specific format for your essay. The professor of your course will have likely provided you with essay assignment instructions, which sometimes include the format you should be using. Determining which essay format to follow comes down to two main factors: the type of essay you’re writing, and the referencing style you’re using. Sometimes your professor will tell you which style guide to follow, while others will give you the choice.
Standard Essay Format: Building a Tasty Burger
Most essays follow the standard format of an introduction, body paragraphs for each argument or statement, and a conclusion. You will often see this type of essay format being described as the Hamburger Outline. That’s because the meat, cheese, and toppings (your body paragraphs and the bulk of your argument) are in the middle, while the buns hold it together and round it out (your introduction and conclusion). This also goes for each individual paragraph: each point needs a topic sentence and a conclusion sentence to round it out, just like burger buns.
Here’s a basic outline you should follow according to the standard burger outline:
1. Introduction Paragraph
a. The first sentence should be catchy and attention-grabbing.
b. Then, introduce the topic and provide some basic background about what you’re going to be covering.
c. The last line should be your thesis statement.
2. Body Paragraph 1: First Argument or Point
a. Start with a topic sentence introducing the point you’ll be making in that paragraph.
b. Use evidence and sources to make your points.
c. Write a transition sentence that concludes your argument and leads into the next paragraph.
3. Body Paragraph 2: Second Argument or Point
a. Start with the topic sentence introducing your point and arguments.
b. Use evidence and sources to make your points.
c. Add the transition sentence to lead into the next paragraph.
4. Body Paragraph 3: Third Argument or Point
a. Start with your topic sentence.
b. Add your evidence.
c. Conclude with your transition sentence.
5. Conclusion Paragraph
a. Restate your thesis statement (not word for word, though).
b. Summarize your arguments and provide further questions/thoughts, or relate your arguments to a greater context.
Specific Essay Formats For Different Types of Papers
If you’re writing a specific type of essay, your paper structure might look slightly different than the standard burger format. However, they’re all going to follow the basic concept of the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
For example, argumentative essays look a little different. Argumentative essay format generally contains a section where objections or opposing viewpoints are expressed and rebutted. You want to make sure this comes after your main arguments and before your conclusion. Some argumentative essays also include a section for rebuttal after each main argument, showcasing that you have acknowledged both sides of the story.
How to Write a Good Essay Using the Proper Referencing Styles
It’s important that you properly use the specified referencing style in your paper. You could lose marks simply for not following these guidelines. These are lost marks that could easily be avoided if you check the online referencing guides and take the time to follow the right instructions set out by each style manual.
There are usually three main types of referencing styles used to write most academic papers. They are MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian. If your program is more specialized, you may find that you are required to use other types of citation, such as ASA or Harvard. However, these three are the most common styles you will encounter and you will likely use at least one of them throughout your time in school.
Modern Language Association (MLA) citation is a general format typically used in the humanities. A typical in-text citation using MLA contains the author’s last name and the page number. Here is an example (with a completely fabricated fact):
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is commonly associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the subsequent execution of Henry Garnet for crimes of treason (Hudson 22).
When using MLA, your sources will be listed at the end of the paper in a separate Works Cited page. For a full guide on MLA citations and references, visit our handy MLA citation guide. However, to give you some idea, a typical MLA Works Cited entry for a book looks like this:
Hudson, Mila. A Global Guide to Shakespeare. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Papers using MLA citation style do not require a title page and usually just have the student’s name, the professor’s name, class title, and date in the upper left corner, with the title centered on the next line. Page numbers are in the top right corner with the student’s last name and the page number.
American Psychological Association (APA) is commonly used for papers within the social science and behavioral science fields. It’s a little more tricky than MLA because there are some specifics you need to follow. In-text citations include the author’s last name, date of publication, and page number. They look like this:
One study found that one in four Americans are diagnosed with ADHD (Ingers, 2004, p. 324).
Sources are listed at the end of the paper on a separate References page. Generally, titles are written in sentence form (with capitals only for proper nouns and at the beginning). A typical reference for an academic journal would look like this:
Ingers, E. (2004). ADHD clinical trial studies in small town America: Finding solutions for young children.
The Journal of Social Science Research, 14(3), pp. 296-340.
Your paper should include a title page with the name of the paper centered on the page, then the institution name and the student’s name on their own lines approximately two to three lines below the title. Page numbers are in the top right corner, with the title of the paper in all capitals on the top left of the page. The title page is structured slightly different – in front of the title, it should state “running head:” and continue with the title.
Here is an in-depth guide on how to cite specific sources in APA, including some examples if you’re not sure about what you’re doing.
Chicago/Turabian citation is a very common citation style for history papers, but is also used for fine arts and business related subjects. It uses the footnotes-bibliography format. This consists of footnotes at the bottom of each page with a short form reference, with a full bibliography at the end of the paper. Your first footnote from a specific source will be a full version, slightly modified from the bibliography, and then any footnotes following would be shortened.
Here is an example using a completely made up source from a peer-reviewed journal. The in-text citation would include the sentence followed by the footnote number.
First Footnote: John Hughes, “Kamikaze Fighters in World War II,” The Journal of War History 22, no. 1 (March 2002): 68.
Subsequent Footnotes: Hughes, “Kamikaze Fighters,” 68.
Hughes, John. “Kamikaze Fighters in World War II.” The Journal of War History 22, no. 1 (March 2002):
Papers using the Chicago style citation generally include a title page, with the title of the paper centered in the middle, and then the student’s name, the professor’s name, class title, and date on their own lines a few spaces down from the title.
Don’t Overlook the Introduction
The introduction of your paper is extremely important. When learning how to write a good essay, think about it from the perspective of the reader. One of the first things you’ll notice is the introduction. This is where you’re going to hook your reader and write something catchy that makes them want to keep reading. You have to give your reader enough information to understand what you’re getting at, without spilling the arguments and evidence you’re going to use in the body of the paper. Essentially, you’re explaining to your reader why it’s worth it for them to read the rest of your paper.
Start with your first sentence. Think of something that will make someone become unable to resist reading to find out more. You should avoid using cliches when you’re trying to think of something catchy. This can be hard because we’re so used to seeing those cliches in other areas of our lives, but they really have no place in a paper and often professors will dock you for being unoriginal.
When writing the rest of the introduction, start broad and then narrow down until you come to your thesis statement. It’s best to write with the assumption that your audience doesn’t know much about the topic. Give your audience a bit of context as to what you’re going to talk about so that they have enough background information to understand the points you’re making. For example, if you’re writing a paper about one of the characters in a book, give the audience a small summary about the book and the author.
If you need to, leave your introduction and write it after you’ve written the rest of the paper, or at least some of the main body paragraphs. Sometimes you need a little bit of context from the rest of the paper to understand what you need to be telling your reader, so it can be helpful to do this afterward.
All essays, regardless of format, should be separated into different body paragraphs for each main point you’re making. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that introduces the specific point you’ll be making in that paragraph. This is almost like a mini thesis statement introducing that specific detail. At the end of each body paragraph, you should have a concluding sentence that acts as a transition to the next paragraph, whether that’s a new topic point or your conclusion.
Basically, you want to follow the same structure you would use for your introduction. Start broad, and then narrow it down until you’ve included the details and evidence to argue your point. Use as many citations from sources as you need to prove your point, but always make sure that you explain yourself and justify why that information is relevant. You need to be able to contextualize your sources and show that you have a broader understanding of the subject at hand.
There are two main styles when incorporating research and sources into your body paragraphs: induction and deduction. When using induction, you are taking specific details and information and forming a general conclusion. With deduction, you’re doing the opposite. You take general information and details, and narrow down a specific conclusion about those details. Induction is based on facts and logistics, while deduction is based on reasoning.
So, for example, if you are using induction to show that Macbeth is not a qualified leader in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you’d prove this by showcasing how many people died under his watch and how many enemies he created. On the other hand, if you are using deduction to prove that Macbeth is not a worthy leader, you could argue that good leaders don’t kill kings and show remorse for others. Therefore, since Macbeth does not show qualities of a good leader, he is not one himself.
Nailing Your Conclusion
The conclusion is where you’re going to sum up everything. This is where you take your paper, package all the information, and put a nice bow on top to present it.
All conclusions should begin with a sentence re-stating your thesis statement from the introduction. This should be the same points, but paraphrased in a new way. After that, restate some of the general information that takes you back to your original points. Don’t start introducing new ideas and concepts. If you haven’t already talked about it in the paper, don’t mention it now. This is a summary.
A good conclusion provides the reader with something to think about. Think of this like the “so what?” portion of the essay. Why should your reader even care about what you have to say? Why are you talking about this? This is where it’s a good idea to relate your information to the current day or explain why it’s a significant subject to talk about now. For example, if you’re writing that paper about aerial fighting in World War II, talk about why this is relevant for us to talk about today. You could do so by mentioning the way our modern wars are fought from the skies and that aerial warfare paved the way for nuclear weapons, which changed the game for everyone.
Lastly, your final sentence should leave an impression on your reader while concluding everything in your paper. Be sure to go out with a bang!
Reliable Research is Key
With most good essays, research will be key. Sometimes you’ll have a specific number of sources you need to use to hit minimum requirements for your paper. Other times, it’ll be up to you and what you find in your research.
You will have already done a little bit of initial research when deciding on your topic and thesis statement, so now you can expand on that. Don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons. Check books, browse academic journals, and even ask your local librarian if you need to.
If you really want to know how to write a good essay, pay attention to your sources. The strongest essays are backed up with a good variety of primary and secondary sources, with only reliable and credible information. Here is a breakdown of the main types of sources you may use when writing essays.
Use Academic, Peer Reviewed Sources
Preferably, unless your teacher has specified otherwise, you want to use reliable sources from your school’s library or online academic database. These should always be peer reviewed. You can find this in the journal’s guidelines, the specific article details, or by filtering for peer reviewed articles when searching your online library.
Stay away from Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias. Professors hate these because they aren’t factual or peer reviewed and often can be edited by just about anyone.
Books are great too, but sometimes they can be risky because many people write them with bias about a certain subject or topic. When using books, you need to be sure that you are using something that is published by a historian, a professor, or another expert in the field. However, this depends on the subject of your paper. If you’re writing about a certain event in history and you’d like to use a book written by a firsthand witness, use quotes from their book sparingly to emphasize your point.
There are two main types of academic sources that could be included in your paper: primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources are those mentioned above – anything that is peer reviewed or written from the perspective of someone providing an analysis of an event or other subject.
Primary sources are generally firsthand accounts or documents from a specific event or time. They are commonly used in history and the humanities, but could apply to many other types of essays.
Some common types of primary sources include:
● Diary entries
● Government documents (such as the U.S. Constitution)
● Newspaper articles or advertisements from the time period
● Manuscripts or plays
● Other correspondence, such as ship’s logs
● Journal articles that provide new research conclusions or results
Finding primary sources can be difficult, but many of these documents are available online. For history papers, try the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. If you’re looking for old government documents from a particular time period, you can try your country’s National Archives. Your school’s library should also have its own collection available for you to use.
How to Write a Good Essay Title For Your Paper
Of course, your paper will need a catchy and awesome title. It’s best to save this step for last, when you’re done writing your essay. If you have a working title at the beginning, that’s great. But go back to this at the end, when all of the details are fresh in your mind and you know exactly what the content of the essay includes.
A good title should be interesting, unique, original, and relate directly to your thesis. Yes, that seems like a lot for one title. But it’s an important part of getting your reader’s attention and telling them what you’re going to be talking about. It will establish the tone, the context, and the premise of the paper.
So, how do we decide this title? Don’t be afraid to get creative. Write out a bunch of options and see which one catches your eye. The more you draft, the easier it is to find something that works. You can even ask a friend or classmate to take a look at giving you feedback on which title they like best. When in doubt, use a how or why question.
More Essay Writing Tips to Follow as You Go
As with many other things in life, writing an essay has its fair share of tips and tricks that many writers develop over the years. Some of these seem basic, but they’re easy to overlook when you’re worried about getting everything done right. Here are some additional essay writing tips to improve your writing that could help you learn how to write a good essay.
● Don’t use a first person voice, EVER, unless your teacher has specifically requested it or you are writing a personal/reflective essay.
● Avoid contractions or casual language.
● Always proofread and edit your work. Re-read the paper and check for clarity issues, smoothness, and flow.
● Be open to feedback from peers. This is how you learn and grow.
● Read all of the instructions carefully. Your professors are expecting you to follow directions and are grading you based on these expectations.
● Slow down, don’t rush, and give yourself time. It’s easy to miss details when you’re pushing yourself to go faster.
● Avoid run on sentences.
● Keep it consistent. Make sure you’re using the same tense throughout the paper, and that you’re sticking to one style of spelling. For example, don’t start an essay in American spelling and then finish it in British spelling.
● Don’t stress yourself out! Take breaks and reward yourself for a job well done.
Still Can’t Figure Out How to Write an Essay? Get Essay Writing Help From Homework Help Global When You Need It
All of this seems like a whole lot of information to take in. When it comes to writing essays and getting ahead in school, it never hurts to ask for help. Sometimes you just don’t have time to balance a social life or a part time job and the amount of schoolwork that keeps piling up. If you’re fading under stress and piles of work, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional who can help.
For starters, take a look at Episode 57 of The Homework Help Show, where we go over how to write a good essay. Our host, Cath Anne, goes over some awesome tips and tricks that can help you feel more comfortable with your assignments. If you still feel a little lost, consider looking into a professional custom essay writing service.
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