How to write an Essay

The Essay. It's the staple of a student's writing life. If you can master the structure and major elements, you'll have no problem producing effective essays throughout your academic life, and beyond.

What is an essay?

According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), "essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition."

An essay consists of three core elements: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction should include a clearly stated thesis statement, around which the entire essay will be based.

How to begin

The best way to start is by drafting an outline. Think of it as the skeleton of your essay, which you can then flesh out with the supporting facts you gathered in your research.

Once you have an idea of what your essay will look like, you're ready to begin writing.

"State your thesis in a sentence or two," says The Harvard College Writing Center, "then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim."

As you continue to develop your essay, take care to link your ideas cohesively, but don't force transitions between unrelated concepts. Take your time explaining each idea and supporting it before moving on to the next. You can always trim unnecessary words, sentences, and even paragraphs after the first draft is complete.

How to finish

When you're ready to state your conclusion, remember to frame it around your thesis statement. Have confidence in your argument

A second opinion

Reading essays from respected writers is a great way to prepare to write your own, but keep in mind that no two essays are—or should be—exactly the same. So how do you know if your essay is a success?

According to Purdue's OWL, an effective essay "requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner."

Harvard's Writing Center states that "writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader."

You won't fully know if your essay makes sense to readers until someone reads it! Have someone you trust read your work and let you know if they find anything confusing. A second set of eyes always helps to highlight things you may have missed.

Still stuck?

Check out these resources:

Harvard College Writing Center: Comprehensive essay writing guide

More on essay structure, including tips about how to "map" an essay, and common pitfalls to avoid

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Essay Writing

The Art of Transitioning

Complete English Grammar Rules is available for purchase as Paperback and Kindle eBook.
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