Multiple-choice and problem-solving questions on exams are not the only methods by which you are tested as a college student. You also must know how to write essays, because professors frequently assign them. Some universities require essays as part of the admissions process. There also may be opportunities for you to enter essay contests in your field of study.
Though the task may seem daunting, composing an essay is an easily learned skill. It can be broken down into a series of steps, which makes the process more understandable.
1. Do Your Research
After determining the subject of your essay, the first step is to compile the information you need to write it. Do this with an understanding of the types of material, and the sources of information, that will be deemed acceptable. For example, a professor may not want you to cite user-generated websites.
Conduct web searches of various combinations of words and phrases related to your topic. Check academic data bases, look through your textbooks and other class materials, and go to the college library.
2. Analyze the Information
Carefully consider arguments posed in essays that others have written about your topic. Writers who agree with your point of view will give you ideas about how to craft your essay. Those with contrary opinions also are of value, because they challenge you to defend your notions. Keep an open mind as you learn new perspectives on your subject matter. In the process of reading other essays, you also will develop a better sense of how to write one. Study the style of writing and how the information is presented.
If there are professors or graduate students on campus willing to share their insights, schedule interviews with them. As you make notes during your research, begin to organize the information in subtopics or categories. This will help later, when you create an outline for the essay.
3. Determine a Thesis
An essay is constructed around a central thesis, or proposition. The document makes a claim and provides information to support it. To determine your thesis, you must begin by sorting through all the data and opinions collected in your research. Look at the claims you think you wish to make, as well as propositions posed by others in their essays. Consider the evidence, ensuring that it supports the claims.
Jot down key points. Make lists. Use whatever technique you find helpful in organizing your thoughts. Think long and hard about what you really want to say. This will help you identify the thesis and the points you need to make in support of it. Your essay must be unique, reflecting not only your point of view but also your voice.
4. Make an Outline
You are now ready to create an outline. Organize your arguments and supporting information in sections. Determine the order in which the elements should be presented, to ensure a logical flow of text that the reader will find easy to follow and comprehend. Make lists of the material you wish to include in the various sections.
5. Compose the Essay
Come up with a title that states the main point and catches the reader’s attention. Compose an introduction that defines the subject, provides your thesis statement, and gives an overview of how the essay supports the thesis. Some introductions are constructed by describing a problem and then suggesting solutions. You want to make your subject matter sounds interesting, so people are compelled to continue reading.
Section by section, turn your notes and lists into prose by creating sentences and paragraphs. An essay section typically features a topic sentence stating a proposition, followed by bullet points of details supporting the claim.
Finish your essay with a conclusion. It should summarize the material you have presented and restate your thesis. Suggest the significance of your conclusions, and how readers can use the information to better understand the topic. The final sentence should emphasize the essential idea that you are trying to communicate.
The length of essay requested by the professor will help you figure out how many details, and the number of arguments, to include. However, in your first draft, do not worry about being concise. Write down everything that you think you may want to use. Essays generally are expected to be in third-person, rather than first- or second-person, form. Learn the difference between active and passive voice, as many professors prefer the former.
6. Proofread and Edit
Your first draft may be wordy and unorganized. But don’t get discouraged. It’s all part of the process. Your next chore is to go back through the essay, rewriting passages to make them clearer. See that paragraphs follow one another in a logical fashion, and that essay sections flow in a sensible way that consistently supports your thesis. Eliminate redundant statements and unnecessary words. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Go through the essay several times, on different days. You will find that you are able to improve your work with each edit. Read the essay out loud to test how it sounds, and read it to someone else to get their feedback.
If your idea for a thesis is sound, and you follow the steps outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to creating a strong essay. Do not be intimidated by the prospect of having to write such a document. It really is not that hard to do, if you work hard and take it a step at a time.