How To
18 min

Everything You Need to Know on How to Write an Essay for Beginners

William Ellis

October 3, 2022

No matter what type of essay you’re writing, here are some tips to help you with your writing process, outlining your essay, citing sources, and improving the structure and flow of your essay to produce quality essays.

The essay is one of the most popular forms of writing because it allows for a large amount of information to be conveyed within a set length. Essays are often written in academic writing, although numerous professional and creative applications can also be used.

Writing an essay is a seemingly cut and dry affair. All you do is write down the information you wish to convey, and that’s it. 

Then you’re done, right? 

This is a common misconception that has led to many poorly written essays. A good essay has a level of quality and care that one cannot achieve by merely flying by the seat of their pants.

Here you will learn everything that you need to master good essay writing. This guide will take you from your main idea to an essay in a shorter time, with good writing principles that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

What type of essays are there?

Essays come in all sorts of lengths and styles, while the core function of an essay is to convey information that varies from essay to essay. To practice your creative writing skills, you need to know and understand the differences between each kind of essay, whether it’s a college essay, a research paper for school, or a simple five-paragraph essay.

writing an essay

Source: https://share.getcloudapp.com/NQujrd6D (Jumpstory)

Expository

An expository essay is an essay that presents, or as the name implies, exposes the facts of a topic. With this particular genre of essay, the writer must gather evidence of an idea and then present an argument based on that evidence to the reader. 

The entire point is to build a case that the reader can follow. If you cannot sway them to your argument entirely, then you must at least convince them that your argument has merit.

Argumentative

An argumentative essay looks at a topic and then presents a debate that is had about that topic. There are many similarities between an expository essay and an argumentative essay. Still, an argumentative essay arguably takes more research and writing to build up a case for one side of the main argument.

This essay type takes an almost entirely logical approach and requires that there be plenty of evidence to back up any claims. It does not typically rely on any emotional factors, taking a “just the facts” approach.

Persuasive

A persuasive essay bears many similarities to an argumentative essay. You must present an essay topic, the debate that surrounds that topic, and then evidence that supports a side in that debate. Where there is a major difference is in the emotional factor.

In a persuasive essay, you still present evidence and logic in your argument. However, you must use the evidence and logic to create an emotional appeal to your reader to sway them to your side of the argument. 

You use the elements that support your side to get the reader to emotionally invest in the validity of your main argument. You play on their sense of logic, outrage, or social concern. In essence, it is your job as the writer to put yourself in your reader’s shoes.

Narrative

A narrative essay works differently from the other prior essays. With a narrative essay, the writer relies on storytelling to prove their point rather than simply laying a debate in its bare form. This much more personal form of writing allows the sort of self-expression and creativity that can really draw a reader into the essay's main point.

Being able to easily hook the reader also permits the writer to focus more on the actual flow of the essay and not so much on the story.

This means you’ll need to treat the essay almost like an actual story with a gripping, opening introductory paragraph, a plot of sorts in the body paragraphs, and a compelling conclusion. 

While not necessary, the writer can also feel free to use the first-person pronoun “I” in this format. You don’t want to overdo it, but a few cases are not frowned upon.

Reflective

A reflective essay is far more personal because it requires the writer to reflect on their own life. In a reflective essay, the writer reflects on their own life experiences and then uses those experiences to illustrate the overall point of the essay. A narrative essay may focus on a singular event or time, but a reflective essay has more to say about the writer themselves.

Often you will find that it is high school students who are on the verge of graduation that most often write reflective essays, typically written as assignments. This gives them a chance to look back on what they have learned, how they have grown as both people and as students, and how they plan to use those experiences in their future.

Literary

The first thing you need to know about a literary essay is that it’s meant to examine a piece of literature you’ve read. While centered around a thesis statement, you can treat it like a science experiment. Your thesis statement is like a hypothesis you’ll present to your reader. 

You will then attempt to substantiate your claim by finding ideas that support and bolster your thesis statement. These can be specific quotes or more general happenings in the piece of literature you are analyzing.

Each supportive body paragraph should use specific examples that support your thesis statement and explain why this statement is true. It’s important to not wander into a tangent and to stay on point. 

Also, be sure to wrap everything up with a neat conclusion. This should restate your thesis statement and then gloss over your key points.

Informative

An informative essay is a relatively simple affair. The goal is to educate the reader on a given subject. You provide them with all they need to know to have a firm grasp on the topic so they can form their own opinion. 

It needs to be stressed that with an informative essay, you are not trying to put forth your own opinion or argument.

Opinion

An opinion essay seems like a straightforward idea, and it mostly is. It is an essay in which the writer gives their opinion on a subject. However, it is required that the writer explain their opinion so that the reader has an insight into their internal logic. 

The writer does not necessarily have to convince the reader that the writer’s opinion is correct, but they do have to make the reader understand the writer's point of view.

Compare and contrast

A compare and contrast essay is interesting because it takes two subjects and seeks to highlight what makes them both different and similar. 

This can be a somewhat tricky form of essay to write because the point that the essay seeks to make requires comparing the two different subjects.

Critical

A critical essay is one in which the writer seeks to critique a work, be it a piece of writing, film, music, or other work. 

The goal is to go beyond a simple “like or didn’t like” mentality and to truly analyze, evaluate, and interpret the work. The objective is for a thorough analysis of the work and to give the reader an informed opinion.

Personal

As implied by the name, a personal essay requires the writer to convey a lesson or idea they learned through personal experience. 

This can involve different writing styles, but the style you pick should feel authentic to you. The reader should leave the essay feeling they have learned something important about you.

Cause and effect

A cause and effect essay is a seemingly straightforward style of article. You take a subject or an event, relay information about the circumstances that created the subject, and explain the consequences.

The structure of a cause and effect essay usually follows an intro, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph typically covers a cause and effect, or the cause or effect, along with their solutions.

Synthesis

A synthesis essay is an essay in which you form a debate. You must endeavor to illustrate each side of the argument and then compile evidence that supports both sides of this argument. 

The reader must come away with an understanding of both sides of the argument. You must then highlight how the evidence laid out supports your thesis.

College admissions

An admissions essay is usually at least 300-400 words but no more than 650 words that you write to a college, highlighting why you not only deserve to go to that school, but what makes you a good fit for that college. An admissions essay needs to highlight your academic achievements and who you are as a person and how you are aligned with that college’s values.

You can choose to write about a failure or mistake you’ve made in your life, and what you’ve learned from it, challenges you’ve faced that you’ve overcome, certain life events or topics that have made you who you are, personal accomplishments you’ve made and how, or any other personal topics that showcase yourself and why you belong at their school.

Scholarship

The value of a scholarship, particularly in lower-income households, cannot be overstated. Writing a scholarship essay to apply for a scholarship requires that the writer highlight what sets them apart from others who may be writing. 

Having top-notch grades is nice, but it is not necessarily the be-all-end-all it once was. You need to highlight the things that make you more deserving beyond academic achievements.

Now that you know the different types of essays, let’s dive into the essay writing process. 

What is the process of writing an essay?

Writing an essay is more complicated than simply sitting down and writing one’s opinion. There are crucial steps that need to be taken to ensure that the essay you write connects with the reader. If you want to create an essay that feels complete and informative, here are the steps you need to take.

Choose your essay type

Before you start trying to write anything, you need to figure out just what type of essay you wish to write. The type of essay that you write should be something that excites you as a writer. If you find that one type of essay does not excite you, then you need to rule out using that type (unless that essay type is your assignment, of course). 

The goal should be to both educate and enthrall your reader. If what you are writing bores you, it will bore them.                     

Start brainstorming topics

Just as your essay type is incredibly important, you must also be sure to pick a topic you feel you can passionately write about for long periods. If you are working on an academic essay assignment, you need to find an angle on what you have been assigned that you find fascinating.

If you have been told to write on any topic of your choosing, you should choose a subject that is compelling to you. Try to find a topic that you have an interesting angle on.

Do your research

research and organize your ideas into an outline

It can be argued that doing your research correctly is even more important than writing an essay. People today often assume that research is little more than a quick search on Google or reading a Wikipedia entry. 

This could not be further from the truth. 

You need to look at verified, credible sources for your research, and you must be able to cite those sources within your essay. Wikipedia should never be a source you cite in your research, but it can be a starting point to find other trustworthy sources. Be thorough in your research, and you will be thorough in your writing.

Determine your thesis

When you have a topic picked that you feel you have a thorough understanding of, the time comes for you to determine your thesis. To do this, you need to reflect on the topic that you have studied and consider things about the topic that you may not have considered before your studying. You may have an opinion you did not have before on the subject. 

This opinion, particularly a strong one, should be your thesis. Once you have determined your thesis, you should learn how to write your thesis statement

Outline your essay

You do not want to simply start writing out your essay. You need a blueprint that will enable you to best lay out your information and your main points as you start researching and gathering ideas. 

This is where your outline comes in.

With a proper outline, you can lay out your points in a structured manner to help you determine the best approach to the actual writing. An outline does not have to be the fully written text, but merely serves as the basis for your essay’s structure.

You may wonder how to write an essay outline and what steps you should avoid. The truth is that there is no singular correct way to do an outline. Find the process that you feel will help collect and streamline your writing and benefit the information you are trying to convey to the reader.

 

Write your first draft

Once you have completed your outline, you are ready to write your first draft. One of the worst mistakes you can make when writing your first draft is trying to make it perfect on your first attempt. This fallacy will lead to you micromanaging yourself, making corrections before you are even done writing, and ultimately doubting the quality of your writing.

You need to see your first draft through to completion with the help of your outline. Allow yourself to write whatever you feel is best. If you find you are making mistakes, do not worry. The time for correction comes later. The first draft is all about getting everything onto the page.

 

Proofread and make revisions

proofread when writing an essay

Once you have your first draft completed the time has come to proofread it for any grammatical or spelling mistakes. Such mistakes are the easiest things to correct in a first draft.

After you have made the necessary corrections to grammar and spelling, you need to begin to revise your first draft. This is your chance to polish your writing and put it into a more presentable form to the reader. Revise your work as often as necessary until you feel that it is as polished and presentable as you can make it.

Use grammar tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to help catch grammar mistakes you may gloss over as you read. 

Better yet, have someone else read through your essay and give feedback on anything confusing or mistakes you have made. It’s always best to have another set of eyes on your essay writing before handing it in.

Essay structure

Good essays need to follow a good structure. Freewriting has its place in some writing genres, but never when you are trying to write an essay. Here are the elements of a well-structured essay.

essay structure

Source

Introduction

Your essay needs to start with writing a great essay introduction for your reader. The introduction should give your reader what they need to know about the topic at hand so that they are not lost when they read the remainder of the essay. 

The introduction should treat the reader as a newcomer to the topic at hand without insulting their intelligence. You want to hook your reader within the intro, provide them with context on the topic, and deliver your thesis statement to give them a clear picture of what your essay is all about.

Body paragraphs

The body of your essay is where the bulk of the information will be contained. In the body, you will find all the evidence supporting your thesis statement.

Each body paragraph should start with a topic sentence, which is the main idea of that paragraph, followed by supporting information that backs up that topic sentence and, ultimately, your thesis statement.

Finish each body paragraph with a concluding sentence that flows into the next paragraph, starting with another topic sentence, followed by the research and supporting evidence, and wrapped up with another concluding sentence.

There should typically be at least three body paragraphs, all of which are backing up your thesis statement with their own ideas using a topic sentence and supporting points that help transition to the next body paragraph.

Conclusion

Your conclusion is the final paragraph where you tie all the information together and reiterate your thesis to the reader. The best way to write an essay’s conclusion is to restate the key topic points made in your body paragraphs in a succinct but different manner so that it reinforces those points to the reader.

Once you’ve reminded the reader of your thesis statement, summarized the topic sentences, you can wrap up the conclusion with a final sentence that presents a solution or question that leaves the reader intrigued about your topic.

Tips for making your essay amazing

Hook readers with your intro

Your introduction is your chance to really grab your reader. Don’t make the mistake of simply introducing your topic. Use your introduction as a chance to intrigue your reader by asking questions of them, using hyperbole, or even creating shock value. So long as you are truthful to the work you have done, any way that you can hook your reader is fair game.

Have someone else read your essay

During the proofreading and revision process, it is always a good idea to have another person whose opinion you respect and trust to read your essay. Have them look for any parts of your essay where the sentences and paragraphs don’t flow properly or locate redundancies. You might be surprised at what you may miss without another’s input.

Do not write it all at once

If you are under a deadline, it is understandable that you want to try to get through the writing process as quickly as possible, but do not make the mistake of trying to do all your writing in one sitting. Trying to do that will only lead to exhaustion and sloppy mistakes. Take regular breaks so that you can keep yourself refreshed and your writing coherent.

You can try out AI writing tools for free to see how they can help with any type of writing you need to do.

Ensure good flow throughout your essay

Make sure that your essay has a smooth transition from one point to the next. This is why it’s so important to start with an outline that will help to organize your main points and supporting ideas, so when you go to write your essay, you can branch off of one idea that flows into the next effortlessly.

Use AI writing tools

There are many who would balk at the idea of utilizing artificial intelligence for something as personal as writing, but that would be due to a misconception of what AI can offer writers. AI tools are not about taking the work away from the writer. Instead, they are available to help handle the brainstorming side of things.

Utilize grammar and proofreading software

Even the best writers make mistakes when it comes to grammar. It’s not that you don’t know about grammar, but that sometimes your mind and eyes don’t catch the mistakes as you read. This is where using a proofreading tool can help to find those typos before someone else does.

FAQs on writing essays

Why do I need a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is vital to your essay because it creates the basis for your essay’s very existence. It is a sort of anchor point for your reader to grab onto and by the end of your essay, if you have done your job well enough, your essay will support that thesis statement or answer the questions posed by it.

How do I cite sources?

All of your sources should be compiled in a list with corresponding indicators as to where in the body of your essay the references are located using parenthetical citations.

Here is an example of using parenthetical citations in APA style format.

APA style format for citations

Source: https://www.citationmachine.net/apa 

For MLA formatting, you use short, in-text citations that provide enough information to lead you to your Works Cited entries, where the reader can find more information about that source, as you can see in this example.

MLA style format for citations

Source: https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/mlastyle/chapter/two-types-of-citation/ 

How can I improve my essay writing skills?

If you are serious about learning how to write a good essay, then there is only one thing that will help you get better at it: writing more essays. Even if you do not have an assignment, take some of your free time and give yourself a topic to work on.

By going through the full essay writing process on your own time, you will become more invested in developing your skills. As you carry your essays from thesis statement to conclusion, you will find that you get better with each attempt. This will strengthen your skills for when you have to create an essay for class or work.

Final thoughts on essay writing

The essay is arguably the most effective way to communicate large amounts of information within a specific format and writing style. If you take the time to master the format, then you will not only be able to excel in the academic arena, you will have a life skill that you can use at any point in your life.

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