Writing an essay
is no easy task. Even with the best research and planning we can all get stuck staring at that blank piece of paper. Where do you even begin? Often we know what we want to say, we just don't know how. But turning that jumble of ideas into clear paragraphs doesn't have to be difficult. If you're having trouble getting your thought on paper, try following this sentence-by-sentence guide to writing the perfect essay.
How to Write: the Thesis
Taking the time to develop a good thesis is the most important step in the paper writing
process. Having a strong, clear thesis will not only make your paper easy to read - it will also make writing it a whole lot easier. For most papers the thesis should be single sentence that sums up the argument you plan to make in your paper. It should be narrowly focused and, for shorter essays, will often closely follow the structure of the essay. For example, a thesis statement for a paper on Beowulf might read "Beowulf is shown to be the poem's hero because he follows a strict warrior's code of bravery, selflessness, and strength."
A key question to ask about your thesis statement is "is it arguable?" That is, can someone argue against the stance you take in your paper? The thesis statement "Lady Macbeth is a central character in Shakespeare's Macbeth" isn't very good because it's too broad and not really debatable - you won't find many people who think she isn't central to the play. On the other hand, a thesis statement like "Many people claim Lady Macbeth is the villain of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but in fact it is Macbeth himself who is the true evil" gives you something to argue.
Similarly, a persuasive paper with the thesis "we all must work to save the environment" is overly general and not a strong argument. A thesis statement
like "we all must work to minimize our fossil fuel use to prevent the extinction of polar species" will focus your paper and allow you to present an arguable position.
How to Write: an Outline
Making an outline is a great way to organize your thoughts and research and will help make your paper clear and easy to follow. Divide your thoughts into paragraphs that each have a single, cohesive idea. For example, the first paragraph from the above example on Beowulf would address examples of Beowulf's bravery, followed by a paragraph on his selflessness, then one on his strength.
Depending on your thesis you may also want to consider organizing your paper as an argument. For the above example on Lady Macbeth, the first paragraph might present examples of others claiming Lady Macbeth to be the play's villain, then in the second paragraph you would present your evidence to the contrary.
It's up to you how you want to organize your paper, just keep in mind that the organization should be as clear as possible, with each paragraph leading logically to the next - you want the reader to be able to follow the logic of your paper easily without having to jump around or reread.
How to Write: Body Paragraphs
Now you're finally ready to start writing! All that planning and organization can feel like a hassle, but here's where all that work starts to pay off. Even with an outline, though, it can be difficult to know how to structure your body paragraphs. Fortunately, there are a number of methods that can help.
The most basic form for the body of a paper is the 5-sentence Schaffer paragraph
. Start the paragraph with a topic sentence that clearly states that paragraph's main point. Follow the topic with a concrete detail, such as a quote, then provide two sentences of commentary. Finish with a single concluding sentence. More advanced students can expand on this basic outline by using more than one concrete detail or by providing more commentary. Just remember that your commentary should take up at least twice as much space as your quotes: you should spend the majority of your paper explaining your own ideas, not quoting others.
is an easy-to-remember acronym for a paragraph writing strategy that is very similar to the Schaffer paragraph. You can use a sentence for each of the letters, but much like the Schaffer method you can create longer paragraphs by adding more evidence or analysis.
Point - what is the topic of your paragraph?
Evidence - what evidence are you using to back up this claim?
Analysis - provide analysis of your evidence; how does it prove your claim?
Link - how does this paragraph link back to the main argument of your paper?
If you're writing something other than a traditional research paper, you may want to use a different strategy for organizing your paragraphs. A good place to start is the DRAPES method
, which will help you decide what kinds of information you should include in papers like personal or persuasive essays. Start your paragraph with a topic sentence, then follow with one or more of the following devices to make your argument.
Dialogue - provide evidence from an expert source such as a book, historical document, or website articles.
Rhetorical questions - a rhetorical question is a question designed to make the reader think. They're great to use at the beginning and end of essays to grab the reader's interest or leave him with something to mull over once he's done reading. For example, if you're writing an opinion paper on technology, you might start a paragraph by asking "what would life without cars really be like?"
Analogies - analogies compare two or more things and are a great way to make a point in a persuasive or opinion paper. For example, an opinion paper on technology might note that "for most students, going without a cell phone would feel like going without food or water."
Personal experience - your personal experiences can make great evidence in a persuasive paper, but be careful how you use them. If it's a scholarly paper you may need to back up your experiences with other evidence.
Examples - provide examples from the real world to back up your claims.
Statistics - you can give your argument even more weight by providing the reader with reliable statistics.
Using a combination of these tactics will help make your paper persuasive and easy-to-follow.
There are several other acronyms that follow the same general guidelines as DRAPES
and will help you come up with evidence to use in body paragraphs. Choose the option that's easiest for you to remember and use, and, just like with the other methods, remember to include a topic and concluding sentence in the paragraph.
FADQQ - Facts, Anecdote, Description, Question, Quote
FIRES - Facts, Incidents, Reasons, Examples, Statistics
How to Write: the Conclusion
Once the body of your paper is done it's time to write the conclusion. The most important thing to keep in mind when working on your conclusion is that this isn't the place to present new information to the reader - all you want to do is sum up what you're already said. The PRGRQ method will help you find ways to effectively close your paper.
Predict - what will happen next after the events laid out in your paper? If you're writing a persuasive paper, detail what would likely happen if your argument succeeds or fails.
Recommend - what should the reader do with the information in your essay? What actions should they take, or is there someplace else they can learn more?
Generalize - how does your argument apply to other issues?
Restating - restate your thesis and the main ideas of your argument; this is a must in a traditional research paper.
Question - finish with a question for the reader. A good rhetorical question will keep the audience thinking about your paper long after they're done reading.
How to Write: the Introduction
The introduction is often the hardest part of a paper for students to write. However, if you wait until you're done with the rest of the paper, you'll probably find the introduction comes much more easily. Since you've already established everything that will be covered in your paper, you'll know what you need to tell the reader before they get to the meat of your argument. Use the acronym CTPT to make sure you include everything you need in the introduction.
Context - provide background information to the reader. Will you be discussing a particular book or historical time period? Are there any terms or ideas the audience will need to know to understand your work?
Topic - what topic will you covering?
- why are you writing this essay? For a traditional research paper you may want to highlight why this particular topic is interesting; for a persuasive or personal essay
you can discuss why you feel this topic is important.
Thesis - end the introduction with a clear, easy-to-understand thesis. After reading the introduction, the audience should be able to pinpoint your thesis statement and know what you're trying to prove.