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Guide: How to Write a Good Essay

The good news about having to write an essay is that there are some rules applicable to all types of this academic assignment; in other words, be it a persuasive, analysis, expository, or any other essay you need to write, the following guide will help you do it in the best possible way.

Here are some of the key points that you need to keep in mind before you start to write essay.

  1. Any academic writing requires using formal, official language. This means that your writing should be:
    • depersonalized

      This means that you should avoid using personal pronouns (I, us, we, our) and/or providing personal assessments and opinions (if only it is not required for the essay type). Consider that there is a thin line between providing your personal assessments or opinions, and formulating a thesis statement. In the latter, you formulate the main idea/purpose of your essay, which can sometimes match with your personal opinion (e.g. in persuasive or narrative essays); in its turn, personal assessment implies bias.

    • neutral

      If only the type of your academic assignment does not imply appealing to emotions, try to keep your language free of words that can somehow express your attitude to what you are writing about. Avoid slang words, contractions (such as “don’t,” it’s,” and other words that your professors do not use in class).

  2. Almost any essay, regardless of its length, has the same structure. A classic five-paragraph essay consists of an introduction, three main body paragraphs, a conclusion, and a list of references (although, depending on the amount of words required to write, the number of the main body paragraphs can vary).
  3. In their turn, each of the aforementioned “components” of an essay possess their own substructure:
    • introduction

      Usually,introductory paragraphs start with generalized sentences that provide the overall context of what the following writing is going to be about. For example, if you are writing an expository essay about water on Mars, your first sentence could sound something like this: “For centuries, Mars has remained a mystery for astronomers of different countries and epochs.” A reader will immediately understand that the essay is going to be about space, Mars, and/or astronomy, and the word “mystery” hints that you are going to disclose (or at least describe) one of them.

      Next, you should write several sentences (usually, it is two or three) providing background information on the subject that will help your readers understand the overall context. For example, you might want to briefly mention that Mars is a deserted planet with low gravity, and house only a few primitive forms of life. Then you could say that all this is because Mars has little no none liquid water on its surface.

      After you deal with the background, move to your current topic. E.g. “However, recent discoveries of 2014-2015 show that there is not only a lot more liquid water on Mars than it was believed before, but also… (insert whatever you like here). Finally, put this all together in a form of a thesis statement, for example: “In fact, water could be playing a much more significant role in Mars’ geological processes (as well as in life preservation) than it was considered by scientists before.” This last sentence is your thesis statement: you stress the important role of liquid water on Mars, and let your readers understand that this (as well as revealing errors of the previous generations of astronomers and providing new, more accurate data) will be the central topic of your essay.

    • main body paragraphs

      These are somewhat different from the way introductions are written. A main body paragraph should also start with a topic sentence; unlike in the introduction, here you should be specific, stating what the paragraph is going to be about exactly, without any hints or “hooks” to engage a reader. For example, “The most astonishing discovery that has changed many ways we used to think of Mars is how the liquidity of the water on Mars is connected to its seasons.” After a topic sentence, you must provide the actual main argument for the paragraph; something that discloses and unwraps the topic sentence, filling it with details (usually following the “who/what--where/when--why/how scheme). For example, “Albert Zweistein and Stephen Howking, astronomers working at the X observatory in Y, have… (here follows the description of what exactly they did); this means that… (here follows the explanation/interpretation of the discovery, its meaning for science, or the intermediate outcomes). The main argument is then followed by factual data, experimental results, statistics, and other supporting evidence. You can also use a quote to back up your argument. After you have presented everything you have got on this particular argument, finish it with a transition sentence, and move to another paragraph.

    • conclusion

      This part of an essay usually sums up the content of your paper’s main points. In it, you should briefly restate your topic and thesis statement; paraphrase your key arguments (but do not repeat them; you should retell their meaning in simple words); link the arguments to the thesis statement (“...thus, X and Y proves that Z is correct”); provide an afterthought (show how and why the topic is important).

    • the list of references

      Nothing special here. Make sure to check whether your references, in-text citations, and paper formatting match with MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, or Turabian styles (depending on what your discipline is, and what college you attend).

  4. Research is the key to a successful paper and high grades

    Wikipedia is a great thing, but unfortunately it has one huge drawback: it discourages students to do their own research. A lot of papers are being written in the same simple way: find an article on Wikipedia--slightly modify and rephrase it--submit it as your own paper. This is a wrong approach: not just because you take the easiest path, but because you do not learn anything this way. Proper research implies that you use several sources, web and/or printed. However, you should use not just any source you find on the topic, but only credible ones: those that were published in specialized journals on your topic; posted on governmental or educational websites (these are using .gov or .edu in their names, respectively); materials of conferences, summits, presentations on the topic; peer-reviewed articles, and so on. Record and sort out the most important findings, as you will be using them as arguments for your essay. And never forget to cite your sources, otherwise you might be accused of plagiarism.

This is all you need to know about essay writing. The rest is just a simple sequence of steps:

  • Choose your topic. Make sure you narrow it down before researching; it means that you must formulate it in such a way that it is clear what your subject is, and what you are going to do with it (analyze, compare, and contrast, prove or disprove, and so on).
  • Find relevant (and credible!) sources.
  • Conduct research.
  • Based on what you have found, create an outline of your future essay. Figure out which of your findings will serve you as your key arguments and supporting evidence, and allocate them in the text accordingly.
  • Start writing the first draft of your essay. At this point, focus on logical organization and the content. Ignore stylistic, grammatical, and other irrelevant mistakes.
  • Write the final draft. This is where you must edit your paper and correct mistakes, to make it look and sound better.
  • Proofread the whole paper one more time.
  • This is it. The paper is ready to be submitted.

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