Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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Being able to write an essay is a vital part of any educational system, but simply listing ideas in a linear fashion may not always be enough. A lot of institutions will require a certain format that your paper must follow; prime examples would be the MLA, the APA, and the Chicago formats. That is precisely what this article is aimed to teach: proper essay formatting, a distinction between MLA format, APA format, and a Chicago style format. The application of these could range from high school to college essays, and they stand as the standard of college essay formatting.
Table Of Contents
Tips for Writing an Academic Paper
There isn’t one proper way of writing a paper, but there are solid guidelines to sustain a consistent workflow. Be it a college application essay, a research paper, informative essay, etc. There is a standard college essay writing format that you should follow. For easier access, the following outline will be divided into steps:
Choose A Good Topic
No matter how many times this is uttered in the classroom, a lot of students still struggle with picking out a good topic. The topic you choose should be specific enough so you can explore it in its entirety and hit your word limit if that’s a variable you worry about. With a good topic that should not be a problem. On the other hand, it should not be so broad that some resources would outweigh the information you could squeeze into one paper. Don’t be too specific or you will find that there is a shortage of information, but don’t be too broad or you will feel overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor for help with your essay writing.
Start research as soon as possible
Before you even begin writing, make sure that you are acquainted with the information that you are working with. Find compelling arguments and counterpoints, trivia, facts, etc. The sky's the limit when it comes to gathering information.
Pick out specific, compelling resources
When you feel acquainted with the subject, you should be able to have a basic conversation on the matter. Pick out resources that have been bookmarked, saved or are very informative and start extracting information. You will need all you can get to put into the citations at the end of your paper. Stash books, websites, articles and have them ready to cite. See if you can subtract or expand your scope of research.
Always have a plan. This might be the most important phase of the process. If you have a strong outline and you have a particular goal in mind, it’ll be easy to refer to it when you might get stuck somewhere in the middle of the paper. And since you have direct links from the research you’ve done beforehand, the progress is guaranteed to be swift. Have a list of keywords if applicable that will surely boost the informational scope. With keywords specific to the subject matter of each section, it should be much easier to identify its direction and possible informational criteria.
Before you jot anything down into the body of your essay, make sure that the outline has enough information to back up whatever statement you choose to explore. Do not be afraid of letting creativity into your paper (within reason, of course) and explore the possibilities. Start with a standard 5 paragraph structure, and the content will come with time.
Before you know it, the draft is done, and it’s ready to be sent out for peer review. Ask a classmate, a relative or even a specialist if they are willing to contribute. Get as much feedback as you possibly can and work on it.
Before handing in the final draft, go over it at least one more time, focusing on smaller mistakes like grammar and punctuation. Make sure that what you wrote follows proper essay structure.
What is an Essay Format: Structure
Be it an academic, informative or a specific extended essay - structure is essential. For example, the IB extended essay has very strict requirements that are followed by an assigned academic style of writing (primarily MLA, APA, or Chicago):
- Title Page
- Abstract: comprised of 3 paragraphs, totaling about 300 words, with 100 words in each.
- Paragraph 1: must include research question, thesis and outline of the essay’s importance.
- Paragraph 2: Key resources, scope and limits of research, etc.
- Paragraph 3: Conclusion that you’ve already reached in your essay.
- Table of Contents (with page numbers)
- Research question
- Works cited (bibliography)
- Research question is required
- Bibliography (Works Cited)
This outline format for an extended essay is a great example to follow when writing a research essay, and sustaining a proper research essay format - especially if it is based on the MLA guidelines. It is vital to remember that the student must keep track of their resources to apply them to each step outlined above easily.
How to Write an Essay in MLA Format
To write an MLA format essay, one must follow a basic set of guidelines and instructions. This is a step by step:
- Font: 12pt Times New Roman
- Double spaced everywhere
- No extra spaces, especially between paragraphs
- Heading: Example of the heading on the first page of the essay (upper left corner)
- Your name (John Smith)
- Teacher’s / Professor’s name (Margot Robbie)
- The class (Depends on course/class)
- Date (20 April 2017)
- Margins: One-inch margin on the top, bottom, left and right.
- Page Numbers: Last name and page number must be put on every page of the essay as a “header”. Otherwise, it would go in place of the text.
- Title: There needs to be a proper essay title format, centered and above the first line of the essay of the same font and size as the essay itself.
- Indentation: Just press tab dude (1/2 inch, just in case)
- Align: Align to the left-hand side, and make sure it is aligned evenly.
It’s important to remember that the essay format of MLA is usually used in humanities, which differs from other types of academic writing that we’ll go into detail later. For now, feast your eyes upon an MLA sample essay format:
Essay in MLA Format Example
MLA vs. APA
Before we move on to the APA essay format, it is important to distinguish the two types of formatting. Let’s go through the similarities first:
- The formatting styles are similar: spacing, citation, indentation.
- All of the information that is used within the essay must be present within the works cited page (in APA, that’s called a reference page)
- Both use the parenthetical citations within the body of the paper, usually to show a certain quote or calculation.
- Citations are listed alphabetically on the works cited / reference page.
What you need to know about the differences is not extensive, thankfully:
- MLA is mostly used in humanities, while APA is focused more on social sciences. The list of sources has a different name (works cited - MLA / references - APA)
- Works cited differ on the way they display the name of the original content (MLA -> Yorke, Thom / APA -> Yorke T.)
- When using an in-text citation, and the author’s name is listed within the sentence, place the page number found at the end: “Yorke believes that Creep was Radiohead’s worst song. (4).” APA, on the other hand, requires that a year is to be inserted: “According to Yorke (2013), Creep was a mess.”
Alright, let’s carry over to the APA specifics.
How to Write an Essay in APA Format
The APA scheme is one of the most common college essay formats, so being familiar with its requirements is crucial. In a basic APA format structure, we can apply a similar list of guidelines as we did in the MLA section:
- Font: 12pt Times New Roman
- Spacing: Double-space that bad boy.
- Margins: One Inch margins on all sides.
- Page Numbers: Insert a header at the top left of every page that includes a shortened title of your essay, below 50 characters including punctuation. Slap a number in there too (top right corner).
- Title Page: Title of the paper, author’s name, institutional affiliation. Additional information may be required, such as course title, instructor name and date.
Note that some teachers and professors maybe have deviations to some of the characteristics that the APA format originally requires, such as those listed above.
The usage of Chicago style is prevalent in academic writing that focuses on the source of origin. This means that precise citations and footnotes are key to a successful paper.
Chicago Style Essay Format
The same bullet point structure can be applied to the Chicago style format.
- Title Page
- Chicago style title page is all about spacing.
- down the page should be the title, with regular text. If longer than one line, double-spaced.
- Next, in the very middle, center your full name.
- Down the page - course number, instructor’s name and the date in separate double-spaced lines.
- Margins: Use one-inch margins apart from the right side.
- Double spaced everywhere.
- No extra spaces, especially between paragraphs.
- Font: Times New Roman is the best choice (12pt)
- Page Numbers
- Last name, page number in the heading of every page on the top right
- Do not number the title page. The first page of text should start with a 2.
- Footnotes: The Chicago Style format requires footnotes on paraphrased or quoted passages.
- Bibliography: The bibliography is very similar to that of MLA. Gather the proper information and input it into a specialized citation site.
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
Ace Tutor, from EssayPro
The article accurately describes each kind of format style and is a great guide to each type of commonly used reference. One thing in particular that I would like to re-emphasize is that an essay without structure is not an essay at all. My advice is to follow your outline incredibly closely. If you have the urge to veer off the topic at some point in the essay, you always have an opportunity to include it in footnotes or endnotes of your essay (and in fact, it will make your work look more professional and well-researched).
Another comment that I’d like to make concerning essay format is that sometimes professors have their desires and preferences. You should always double-check with your instructor on specifics of formatting. Don’t worry about seeming unprofessional; in fact, you will come off as more considerate and attentive. Some referencing styles have small adjustable elements; for example, MLA format doesn’t require a title page, but your professor might want you to include one. If you clarify this with your teacher, then I guarantee they will think higher of you than of your peers.
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