How to write an essay
Essay. This is a word nearly every college student despises. When a professor mentions that there will be an essay that is over five pages long, let alone 10 pages long, one cannot help but sigh with disappointment and thoughts of and future stress.
An essay does not have to be this mundane, dreaded process that will stress you out beyond belief. An essay should be a reflection upon the research and existing knowledge that you already possess. If you do enough of them (which you definitely will in college-sorry), you will eventually get to the point when you don't worry about writing a paper because the process has become so fluent.
More times than not, though, students feel they do not have the time to write an essay for every class. On top of that, students have lectures to attend, homework to complete, hours upon hours of reading assignments. Life tends to add to the stress as well. Whether it be part-time or full-time work, children, roommates, spouses, and everyday events that come up, stress is everywhere for a college student.
If you're ready for some tips on how to write like a professional and not have to pull out your hair and stare blankly at the computer screen, then read further. You will surely become a better writer after reading this.
Writing a paper is more than just sitting behind a computer screen and typing away. You must prepare yourself for the tasks at hand. You will want an open mind that is ready to take on the seemingly daunting task that is the "essay."
Relax. It will be okay. Before you can even begin thinking about your essay, do something you enjoy. Whether that be grilling your favorite food, watching a movie with your friends or significant other, taking the Harley out for a spin, or going shopping, do something that will allow you to let loose and relax a little.
You might respond to this advice with, "I don't have time for those things. I have school; I work; I have kids; I have bills. I have no time for fun or relaxation!"
If this is you, then you need to MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. Everyone has at least 10 minutes to listen to some music, watch a funny bit on YouTube, do a few pushups, take a hot shower, or drink your favorite beverage. Nonetheless, a little bit of fun and relaxation goes a long way.
When you are finally sitting down at your desk, make sure you are in a comfortable chair, with plenty of space to place your research, notes, snacks, and beverages. Once your workspace is comfortable and work-ready, you are now prepared to begin the essay writing process.
What exactly is an Essay?
Great question. We write so many of them, yet often we never consider what exactly it is that we are doing. There are several different types of essays, something we will get into later in this publication. For now, however, let's take a good, long look into the basic nature of the beast. Take the walk first; it'll take less time in the end!
The word "essay" comes from the French "essai," which means "an attempt." With essays you are attempting to understand something through writing. The man who first used the word in its modern form, one Michel de Montaigne, published a book full of them. These "essais" were novel in that they did not take a position right off the bat and defend it, as was the expository tradition at the time. Rather, de Montaigne asked questions first and then attempted to solve the problem, supporting his theses and conclusions with as much support as possible.
This method of discovery through writing, which allowed thinkers to consider matters thoroughly before employing them, quickly became popular. For writers and readers alike, a thorough examination of a question appealed to contemporary Socratic and Empirical sensibilities. The essay's undeniable usefulness has brought us to the point where it is now the standard academic paper.
Types of Essays
Before we begin discussing the writing process, there are some key pieces of information that must be obtained. The background information about essays is very important before the techniques to write a better paper are obtained. There are many types of essays that generally take different amounts of time to complete. Here is a list of the most common types of essays. Each one should be written with passion and care, no matter what the criteria is
Here we have distilled the relevant and important information...
The reader should believe or do the following...
Once upon a time, a beautiful princess in a kingdom by the sea...
Apples and Oranges are both fruit; how are they similar? How...
This is your most common type of academic essay, the kind of essay everybody generally thinks about when the word "essay" pops up. The expository format for essays consists of the standard progression of introduction, body, and conclusion. There are, of course, hundreds of variations, but the basic way is very effective and is still the most popular. This type of essay is by far the most commonly written. Inasmuch as this is the case, the instructions laid out in the rest of this paper are intended primarily for expository essays.
Expository essays present information in a way that is not tremendously argumentative. Instead, the writer "exposes" the topic, working with a well-constructed thesis and body to inform the reader with clarity and tact. Expository essays are written from a 3rd person perspective. This is because you want the reader to focus on the topic, not on the writer or themselves, when reading the essay.
The persuasive essay is a horse of a different color. When you write a persuasive essay, your intention must be to completely sway the reader to total acceptance of your point of view, and
All written essays will be read as one of four distinct typesthe reader ought to be made acutely aware of your intentions as well. A great persuasive essay will not only convince the reader of your point; it will actually make the point seem so obvious that the reader ends up kicking himself for not being inherently aware of the point a priori.
Persuasive essays are also called "argumentative" essays, and this alternative name captures quite well the essence of this specific type of writing. With this variety of essay, the whole point is to stay focused on your point of view. In the first paragraph, you must present the controversy in a very clear and obvious fashion, and then present your take on things in a similarly concise and lucid way.
For the body of your persuasive essay, it is very important that you come up with three or four cogent points that support your argument well. Each point ought to be unique to the others, and offer enough material for one or two paragraphs, so that the writer can flesh out his argument with great skill and evidence. It is important in the body of the persuasive essay not to summarize or conclude prematurely. Leave this for the summary and conclusion. Instead, focus on effectively and fully persuading your reader as to the total truth of your argument. Leave no room for doubt, and kill the opposition, because that's what you're supposed to be doing.
The summary and conclusion shouldn't be too drawn out in a persuasive essay. Your point has already been made, and all you want to do at this point is to wrap things up nicely. A very skilled writer will, at this point, reach out to the crestfallen, defeated ex-doubters and invite them into the fold of the righteous. Yes, this all sound ridiculously dramatic. But you want to lay in on heavy when you're making your point in an argumentative essay.
If there were a maligned step-sibling to the other types of essays listed, it would be the narrative variety. Many people will argue that these are not essays at all, just very short stories. These people are wrong. They've probably never heard the correct definition before, and perhaps have not even read a veritable narrative essay before.
Too bad for them. Narrative essays can be very enlightening and entertaining for the reader. A narrative essay is like a very short story, except it is not usually fictitious, is generally - but not always - written from a first person perspective, and focuses on a central point as its thesis.
Looking at the seven support techniques later on in this paper, one could make the argument that narrative essays are nothing more than expository or narrative essays with a didactic tone and a heavy reliance on personal experience as a support technique.
So, at its core, a narrative essay is just a personal story. No big deal. Personal stories are pretty easy to tell, so it stands to reason that writing one of these ought to be easy as well. You've been doing it all your life, right? Yes, well, it is all well and fine to approach your work with a light heart, but you always ought to expect the worst so that you're never disappointed and always pleasantly surprised. Narrative essays have well defined structures, and need to be treated just like any other serious essay, no matter how fluffy they might seem to be.
Unlike other essays, you are actually encouraged to use personal pronouns in these. You are also going to be using all the devices employed in effectively laying out the arc of any story, namely the setting, characters, the plot, climax, and ending. As stated before, what is different between the narrative essay and any other old story is that the narrative essay will be centered on a main point or thesis, which will be presented in the introduction, then harped upon from time to time in the body of the work, and finally revisited in the ending. And unlike other essays, narrative ones are fueled by experiences and actions rather than by opinions and thoughts.
Comparative essays are a distinct subset, easily distinguished by their dialectical form. The name, as with most of these types of essays, defines the category quite well. With comparative essays, you are comparing one thing to another. Sometimes it is a "discussion" piece, where you are weighing the pros and cons of an individual item, and sometimes it is a direct comparison between two items.
The watchword for comparative essays is clarity. You want to make things as clear as a breezy day for the reader. Clearly state first what the items are that are being compared upon, then make clear what the similarities and differences are between them. Thoroughly examining the nuances of relationships between different things is a great way to come up with good writing material quickly
Supporting your Thesis
This is definitely the most important part of the whole process. Once you've come up with your thesis, you are responsible for supporting it. This is the process by which you will flesh out your essay. Try to come up with three or four points which riff off your main thesis. Going with the original, etymological definition of the essay, you want to thoroughly examine your topic. The fun part of writing essays is that you get to learn things for yourself as you write. The ideal essay-writing process is one of active revelation, where you uncover, brush off, and expose cogent points as they dawn upon you.
The alternative is to just sit around and think. It's not necessarily proven scientifically, but centuries of essay writing experience will tell you that this particular process is a unique, slowed-down, and regimented form of active thought. The true outcome of writing an essay is not just the words you print on a few pages of paper. And it's more than the potentially powerful and persuasive points those words make. You actually change your own mind when you write a good essay, which is why it is important that you take the proper steps, and make the whole process one which is positive and which reinforces good behavior.
The Seven Support Techniques
When you are writing an essay, you need a good template. Instead of freely writing and seeing what comes up, it behooves the writer greatly to have a set of tools ready. This way, the paper's architecture will nearly always be assuredly strong.
Here is a list of seven support techniques which can help any writer come up with material that will support his thesis under any circumstances. Remember, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Some of these you will almost always automatically refer to when writing, while others may strike you as novel. It may not be necessary to use all of them in a paper. However, the more support you give your argument - and the more varied your support is in nature - the more likely you will be to put together a great paper. So here they are, the seven support techniques, for your consideration.
One of the strongest techniques for supporting any argument is to offer examples. Any essay worth its salt will include examples as support. Examples would be any real-world instance verifying the truth of your thesis. For instance, if your thesis is that "The Mickey Mouse Club of the 1950's and 60's is a direct precursor to modern zoomorphic role-playing," you could offer as an example an actual account of somebody having worn Mickey Mouse ears as a child and ending up having a successful, fulfilling career as an itinerant mascot when an adult. Please note that this is just an imaginary scenario. As it may be difficult to find legitimate examples for more far-fetched theses, it is wise to construct your thesis with supporting examples already in mind.
Good writing is all about the details. A bit of archaic language here, a stylistic flourish there, a relevant qualification over there, and you're cooking with gas, hombre. Details are very important when you're supporting your argument. Some even argue that they are essential and indispensable. We'll leave this debate up to the bearded men with patches on their elbows, however, and just focus on the proper use of details for your essay.
If you are going to use details to support your thesis, make sure that they are totally relevant and speak to the bigger picture. "Annette Funicello charmed the McCandless family quite a bit on the Adventures in Dairyland serial" may be a valid detail, but it speaks nothing to the thesis at hand. The details that you use must be to the point, very precise, and refer to specific events, rules, quotations, theories, etc. Specificity is the key here. When you try to use general items as details, you will end up being long winded, and will probably need to edit everything except the specifics.
Basic logic is almost like mathematics put into words. With logic, you are taking steps from a situation to an outcome. Logical statements will normally read something like "If X, then Y," or some kind of variation on that theme. "If a child grows up dressing up like Mickey Mouse every week, it stands to reason that this person would have a greater chance of exhibiting recreational zoomorphic behavior as an adult than a person who never participated in such activity as a child." Once again, an imaginary example. Logic used as a support technique must be very solid for it to be truly effective. This is not computer programming, so "fuzzy logic" is frowned upon. But well thought out, sound, even creative reasoning will offer fantastic support for your essay, giving it a timeless, classic tone.
There is not a need to quote Twain or Disraeli or whomever here. Yes, statistics can be misleading and manipulated. At the same time, however, they can offer valuable insights into the matter you wish to support. Of course, finding statistics that relate to your thesis can be a chore sometimes, especially when your subject is more obscure than normal. The internet has greatly increased the public's access to all kinds of random statistics, and their use in academic papers seems to have risen accordingly over the same time period. A good statistical citation is either gathered by the writer himself, or by a reputable organization. So, an excellent use of statistics would read as follows: "A recent survey by Fappingshire College, taken from a sample of 4,000 people, reveals that 58% of adult zoomorphists can trace their fascination with dressing up like animals to early experiences watching The Mickey Mouse Club."
- Supporting Opinion
Your own opinion may inform your thesis heavily, but you must go outside of yourself in order to garner legitimate support for it. A supporting opinion is exactly what your paper needs, sometimes, to make your case completely sound. It is important to remember, however, that the opinion is only as good as the source whence it came. The opinion of a local homeless man makes for good lowball comedy in gonzo "scene" publications, but is not going to do any good for your paper unless your paper is actually about the local homeless situation. Moreover, the opinion needs to relate directly to your thesis. If it seems only a little bit off the mark, you can do a little tweaking, paraphrase, and write a few qualifications that will bring this opinion in line with your own. A great way to ensure outstanding support for your thesis is to construct your thesis around a few solid and related supporting opinions.
- Personal Experience
The relation of a personal experience in an essay can be a powerful tool, but it must be done correctly and sparingly. In narrative essays, of course, your personal experiences will be the crux of the literature. For the most part, though, the first person perspective is frowned upon in formal essays, and can lead to some disapproval from instructors. Personal experiences are best used in essays when other, more common support techniques are not to be found, or conversely as icing on the cake when there is a large amount of support already in place. In order to work as support, they ought to be thoroughly qualified, relevant to the topic, and overwhelmingly convincing. Something like this, for example: "Although few examples come to mind, and statistics are currently lacking, it is this author's experienced opinion that adult zoomorphism is intricately linked to early Mickey Mouse Show viewing. Having been a junior mouseketeer myself for a great deal of late childhood and early adulthood, it is easy to see how the joy of placing the mouse ears on my youthful pate could translate into a lifelong affection for dressing up like an animal."
The last support technique is the trickiest to use effectively. Emotion is generally frowned upon in formal, academic literature (at least it used to be), but it can be the most powerful tool in your arsenal when employed with great skill. Incorrectly used, you are just putting your feelings down on paper willy-nilly, or just lashing out at the readers that "it's just the truth!!" This is emotional writing, not writing with emotion. When you do it correctly, you're speaking to your audience's emotions, and manipulating them, with both your tone and your content. Emotion is best employed as a propaganda technique, going to the minds of the audience through their basic sensibilities. Emotion is indeed a last ditch support technique for academic essays. It's very rare to see this technique being used at all, and it is used effectively on a similar order of rarity.
Essays follow formalized grammatical rules. Any rule that you normally follow in your informal writing ought to be re-examined. For one thing, contractions should be avoided at all costs. Contractions are acceptable neither in academic or professional writing, because they are too informal. "Don't" should be "do not," "shouldn't" ought to read "should not," etc. For American punctuation, there must be two spaces after periods, question marks, and colons. All other punctuation marks should be followed by one space. Above all else, you want to sound professional and knowledgeable.
Not to double-back here, but it is also important to keep in mind that too much rigidity in a paper can make it very boring and stuffy. There is always the option of loosening up a little bit, within reason of course. Everything in moderation, including moderation. This may be a little confusing for those looking for serious guidance... so we will state it in other words: Your writing should be formal without sounding like pharmaceutical literature. You should follow grammatical guidelines for the most part, but a clever bend of the rule every once in a while is not usually frowned upon, and may be a refreshing twist for overburdened professors.
The Structure of the Essay
There is a very standard, regimented structure for academic essays. You start off with the Introduction, normally one or two paragraphs that lead up to the thesis, where you make your primary argument that will drive the rest of the essay. The thesis should be no more than one or two sentences long, packed with meaning, and carefully crafted. After the thesis, you ought to write a couple more sentences in support of your thesis that neatly conclude your introduction.
Then you have the body of the work. Generally the body will consist of three or four items, each one making a separate, compelling argument that ends up supporting the thesis. Before you construct your essay, arrange your supporting items from weakest to strongest... this is the order in which you want to present them in the body of your essay. The reason for this is simple: in order to present a compelling, persuasive body of work, it is important to save the best for last, so that the reader ends his or her reading of the body fully convinced of your position.
Finally, there's the conclusion. This is where you offer any final notes you may have, summarize your arguments and thesis, and make your case one last time. The conclusion is often misconstrued as a reiteration of the thesis. Nothing could be further from the truth. The conclusion is a unique section of the paper, its purpose being to formally and gracefully tie the whole paper together. A good conclusion will send the reader off into the world fully convinced that your position is the right one.
Impressing your Professor
One of the best things anybody can do in any class where essays are involved is to really get to know the professor. A good understanding of what your professor expects in your writing will serve as a compass, leading you through the time consuming writing process steadily and unwaveringly. But how do you acquire this understanding? It is very important that you take advantage of your professor's office hours. If there are no office hours, then try to meet with him or her after class.
Almost universally, your professor will do what he or she can to help you with your writing, offering valuable suggestions for tweaks and edits. Pay close attention to your professor's suggestions, as these are indicative of their overall preferences for written work. Professors love it when students show an interest in their class beyond merely showing up and doing the work. When you show up for office hours it makes them think "hey, this kid really works hard, and really wants a good grade." So beyond being a great way to actually get much needed help, talking to your professor outside of class is likely to affect your grade in a positive way just through psychology.
It is such an effective strategy, in fact, that many students who don't really need help on their essays "play the game" and show up anyway. We'll let you decide whether they're shameless brown-nosers or just savvy grade-hounds. All we know is that they get better grades than those who are "too cool for school." Your professors are generally the altruistic, liberal type, and it gives them warm fuzzies when they think they're guiding and helping students. So take advantage of them by any and all means!
Developing Your Style
Socializing with professors is the easy part, unfortunately. In order to produce a paper that knocks socks off, you are really going to need to work on your style. Style is by far the most important key to good writing overall. Several books have been written as guides to improving writing style, but the standard would have to be "Elements of Style" by William Strunk and E.B. White. This book whittles writing theory and technique down to its basics, and does it in an accessible, charming way.
E.B. White is probably best known for his children's book, Charlotte's Web, which spawned the classic animated film. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, among the heavier, circle of life themes in the book and movie, there is a lesson about writing style to be learned.
Charlotte spends a good deal of time figuring out which words to use. She treads a tricky line, attempting both to describe Wilbur with fidelity, and to make the biggest impact on her audience.
This is exactly what you should be doing as a writer. Each and every word has its own subtle, nuanced meaning, and should be used carefully and wisely. The thesaurus is your friend. You'll find dozens of options and alternatives for bland words, some of which may even inspire a whole new direction for your work. Just be careful to choose ones which won't leave you sounding like a pompous pedant.
If your word selection is the icing on the cake, the flow and feel of your sentences is the cake itself. Laying down this kind of "flow" is somewhat different than imitating Nelly or 2Pac, although the idea is pretty much the same. It is not just what you say that is important. It is how you say it. Moreover, it is how you take those bits of information and string them together. The body of your work should sound nice when read out loud.
A great technique for getting the best flow in your work is to change up the length of your sentences. This can be tricky sometimes. Quite often, the decision to express several thoughts in one sentence divided into clauses, instead of into several smaller sentences, is one based on optimization of style and flow, rather than on mere utility. If you do it right, you can say things with the same degree of clarity, accuracy, and acuity as your peers, but your superior style will garner greater praise and higher grades, merely because it is fun to read.
This is not to say that content is irrelevant. Very few people on earth can write anything extensive or readable based solely on style. Without good content, even the most stylized and polished piece will eventually expose itself for what it is: mellifluous garbage. So do your research! Get it all down on paper in an outline, and then go on figuring out ways to say the same things in more compelling, entertaining ways than everybody else.
Finding a Voice
This falls under the category of "style," but its magnitude of importance warrants a category unto itself. It doesn't require much description, however, because it is pretty much self-explanatory. You want to have a distinct voice in your writing. No matter what the topic is, you are telling a story. Write it like you speak it. Be sure that your word choice reflects your own semantic preferences. Make it entertaining to the reader. A writer's work can sound humorous, serious, or lugubrious without the content being explicitly any one of those things. Do not forget to convey your voice in a way that is readable and grammatically correct. And, while accurately rendered idioms and colloquial witticisms will give your paper that much-sought-after feeling of authentic rusticity, please use them sparingly. Save your comprehensive mastery of dialects and folk-speech for poems, short stories, and novels.
Moving away from your figurative voice, it is now time to talk about your actual voice. Sometimes, not always, you will be asked to make a presentation to accompany your essay. The presentation is often nothing more than an oral rendition of your paper. Sometimes a few tweaks may be necessary in order to make it sound better out loud, but it shouldn't stray too far from the original. The most important thing to keep in mind when you are making a presentation is that you really, really, really need to be prepared. Even the best at this need lots of preparation.
Every step is very important. First of all, make a copy of the paper you have written. Highlight the most important sections or statements. These will be the parts you want to expand upon with visual aids. Normally you will use power point slides to accompany your speech. Make sure your slides are in order. Also, make sure that you know exactly when in the speech to use each slide.
You will need to practice your presentation a few times before the real thing. It helps to be able to practice in front of a live audience, so recruit a friend or family member to listen, and to offer an honest critique. You'll be able to refine the whole presentation, and you'll get the routine down this way as well. Speeches can be nerve-wracking for most people. Maybe you are comfortable in front of crowds. Then again, maybe you are not. It is not really important, as long as you give a convincing and professional presentation. Make sure you are well dressed, clean, and have good posture. You want to be heard when you speak. Enunciate!
Writing an essay can be tricky, but it is by no means impossible. Look at how many millions of people have graduated from college. Every one of those people was required to write an essay at some point, and each one got through the process alive. If you do not wish to experience a Kafka-esque existential crisis every time you write an essay, you should be prepared and start your work early. A little bit at a time is better than all at once.
Nobody expects you to write like George Orwell, but class instructors really do appreciate good literature. If you can be that student who breaks the endless, repetitive, boring monotony that is paper-grading time with a fresh, original essay, you will likely be generously compensated. Everything gets better with practice. The more you write, the more adept you will become. It also helps to expose yourself to as many different types of literature as possible. Mix a little bit of Steven Jay Gould or E.O. Wilson in with your J.K. Rowling and you never know what will pop up. One thing is for sure; it won't be bad.
So good luck and godspeed! And always keep in mind that we at Tutorsville are here for you. If you are lost even after learning and practicing the comprehensive tips we offer in this e-book, then please do not hesitate to contact us about our essay services. We can help you immensely, and our rates are very reasonable. But we commend you for giving it the "old college try," and wish you great success!