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How to Write an Essay

Encourage students to follow the step-by-step directions for writing an essay.
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How to Write an Essay

Establish Your Topic

  1. Your teacher may assign you a topic or ask you to choose from among a few topics. The assignment may contain certain key words that will suggest the content and structure of your essay. For example, you may be asked to

    • Analyze

    • Argue

    • Compare and contrast

    • Describe

    • Discuss

    • Summarize

    If you do not understand what you are being asked to do, check with your teacher.

  2. You may be asked to find a topic on your own. Most people find this difficult. Give yourself plenty of time to think about what you'd like to do. Trying to answer questions you have about a particular subject may lead you to a good paper idea.

    • What subject(s) are you interested in?

    • What interests you most about a particular subject?

    • Is there anything you wonder about or are puzzled about with regard to that subject?

  3. Be sure your topic is narrow enough so that you can write about it in detail in the number of pages that you are allowed. For example, say you are asked to write a 1-page essay about someone in your family. Since you only have a limited number of pages, you may want to focus on one particular characteristic of that person, or one particular incident from that person's life, rather than trying to write about that person's entire life. Having a narrow focus will help you write a more interesting paper.

    • Too general: My sister.

    • Revised: My sister is my best friend.

    Similarly, you may be asked to write a 5-page paper about volcanoes. Again, since you only have a limited number of pages, you may choose to focus on one particular volcano or one particular eruption, rather than trying to talk about volcanoes in general.

    • Too general: Volcanoes of the world.

    • Revised: The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991.

  4. One method for narrowing down your topic is called brainstorming. Brainstorming is a useful way to let ideas you didn't know you had come to the surface.

  5. Sit down with a pencil and paper, or at your computer, and write whatever comes into your head about your topic, no matter how confused or disorganized.

  6. Keep writing for a short but specific amount of time, say 3–5 minutes. Don't stop to change what you've written or to correct spelling or grammar errors.

  7. After a few minutes, read through what you have written. You will probably throw out most of it, but some of what you've written may give you an idea you can develop.

  8. Do some more brainstorming and see what else you can come up with.

Organize Your Ideas

Develop an outline to organize your ideas. An outline shows your main ideas and the order in which you are going to write about them.

Click here to see some sample outlines.

  1. Write down all the main ideas.

  2. List the subordinate ideas below the main ideas.

  3. Avoid any repetition of ideas.