Essay writing tips

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  • How to Write an Essay: 10 Easy Steps It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. -- Friedrich Neitzsche Why is writing an essay so frustrating? Learning how to write an essay can be a maddening, exasperating process, but i t doesn't have to be. If you know the steps and understand what to do, writing can be easy and even fun. This site, "How To Write an Essay: 10 Easy Steps," offers a ten -step process that teaches students how to write an essay. Links to the writing steps a re found on the left, and additional writing resources are located across the top. Learning how to write an essay doesn't have to involve so much trial and error. Brief Overview of the 10 Essay Writing Steps Below are brief summaries of each of the ten steps to writing an essay. Select the links for more info on any particular step, or use the blue navigation bar on the left to proceed through the writing steps. How To Write an Essay can be viewed sequentially, as if going through ten sequential steps i n an essay writing process, or can be explored by individual topic. 1. Research : Begin the essay writing process by researching your topic, making yourself an expert. Utilize the intern et, the academic databases, and the library. Take notes and immerse yourself in the words of great thinkers. 2. Analysis : Now that you have a good knowledge base, start analyzing the ar guments of the essays you're reading. Clearly define the claims, write out the reasons, the evidence. Look for weaknesses of logic, and also strengths. Learning how to write an essay begins by learning how to analyze essays written by others. 3. Brainstorming : Your essay will require insight of your own, genuine essay -writing brilliance. Ask yourself a dozen questions and answer them. Meditate with a pen in your hand. Take walks and think and think until you come up with original insights to write about. 4. Thesis : Pick your best idea and pin it down in a clear assertion that you can write your entire essay around. Your thesis is your main point, summed up in a concise sentence that lets the reader know where you're going, and why. It's practically impossible to write a good essay without a clear thesis.
  • 5. Outline : Sketch out your essay before straightway writing it out. Use one -line sentences to describe paragraphs, and bullet points to describe what each paragraph will contain. Play with the essay's order. Map out the structure of your argument, and make sure each paragraph is unified. 6. Introduction : Now sit down and write the essay. The introduction should grab the reader's attention, set up the issue, and lead in to yo ur thesis. Your intro is merely a buildup of the issue, a stage of bringing your reader into the essay's argument. (Note: The title and first paragraph are probably the most important elements in your essay. This is an essay -writing point that doesn't alw ays sink in within the context of the classroom. In the first paragraph you either hook the reader's interest or lose it. Of course your teacher, who's getting paid to teach you how to write an essay, will read the essay you've written regardless, but in t he real world, readers make up their minds about whether or not to read your essay by glancing at the title alone.) 7. Paragraphs : Each individual paragraph should be focused on a sin gle idea that supports your thesis. Begin paragraphs with topic sentences, support assertions with evidence, and expound your ideas in the clearest, most sensible way you can. Speak to your reader as if he or she were sitting in front of you. In other word s, instead of writing the essay, try talking the essay. 8. Conclusion : Gracefully exit your essay by making a quic k wrap -up sentence, and then end on some memorable thought, perhaps a quotation, or an interesting twist of logic, or some call to action. Is there something you want the reader to walk away and do? Let him or her know exactly what. 9. MLA Style : Format your essay according to the correct guidelines for citation. All borrowed ideas and quotations should be correctly cited in the body of your text, followed up with a Works Cited (referen ces) page listing the details of your sources. 10. Language : You're not done writing your essay until you've polished your language by correcting the grammar, making sentences flow, inc oporating rhythm, emphasis, adjusting the formality, giving it a level -headed tone, and making other intuitive edits. Proofread until it reads just how you want it to sound. Writing an essay can be tedious, but you don't want to bungle the hours of concept ual work you've put into writing your essay by leaving a few slippy misppallings and pourly wordedd phrazies.. You're done. Great job. Now move over Ernest Hemingway — a new writer is coming of age! (Of course Hemingway was a fiction writer, not an essay w riter, but he probably knew how to write an essay just as well. ) My Promise: The Rest of This Site Will Really Teach You How To Write an Essay For half a dozen years I've read thousands of college essays and taught students how to write essays, do research , analyze arguments, and so on. I wrote this site in the most basic, practical way possible and made the instruction crystal clear for students and instructors to follow. If you carefully follow the ten steps for writing an essay as outlined on this site — honestly and
  • carefully follow them — you'll learn how to write an essay that is more organized, insightful, and appealing. And you'll probably get an A. Now it's time to really begin. C'mon, it will be fun. I promise to walk you through each step of your writing journey. Step 1: Research Assuming you've been given a topic, or have narrowed it sufficiently down, your first task is to research this topic. You will not be able to write intelligently about a topic you know nothing about. To discover worthwhil e insights, you'll have to do some patient reading. Read light sources, then thorough When you conduct research, move from light to thorough resources to make sure you're moving in the right direction. Begin by doing searches on the Internet about your to pic to familiarize yourself with the basic issues; then move to more thorough research on the Academic Databases; finally, probe the depths of the issue by burying yourself in the library. Make sure that despite beginning on the Internet, you don't simply end there. A research paper using only Internet sources is a weak paper, and puts you at a disadvantage for not utilizing better information from more academic sources. Write down quotations As you read about your topic, keep a piece of paper and pen hand y to write down interesting quotations you find. Make sure you write down the source and transcribe quotations accurately. I recommend handwriting the quotations to ensure that you don't overuse them, because if you have to handwrite the quotations, you'll probably only use quotations sparingly, as you should. On the other hand, if you're cruising through the net, you may just want to cut and paste snippets here and there along with their URLs into a Word file, and then later go back and sift the kernels fr om the chaff. With print sources, you might put a checkmark beside interesting passages. Write questions or other thoughts in the margins as well. If it's a library book, use post -it notes to avoid ruining the book. Whatever your system, be sure to annotat e the text you read. If reading online, see if you can download the document, and then use Word's Reviewing toolbar to add notes or the highlighter tool to highlight key passages. Take a little from a lot You'll need to read widely in order to gather sourc es on your topic. As you integrate research, take a little from a lot -- that is, quote briefly from a wide variety of sources. This is the best advice there is about researching. Too many quotations from one source, however reliable the source, will make your essay seem unoriginal and borrowed. Too few sources and you may come off sounding inexperienced. When you have a lot of small quotations from numerous sources, you will seem -- if not be -- well -read, knowledgeable, and credible as you write about you r topic. If you're having trouble with research, you may want to read this Research FAQ.
  • Step 1a: Researching on the Internet While the Internet should never be your only sourc e of information, it would be ridiculous not to utlize its vast sources of information. You should use the Internet to acquaint yourself with the topic more before you dig into more academic texts. When you search online, remember a few basics: Use a varie ty of search engines The Internet contains some 550 billion web pages. Google is a powerful search engine, but it only reaches about 5 billion of those pages -- less than one percent! When you search the Internet, you should use a handful of different sear ch engines. The Academic Search Engines above (collected mostly from Paula Dragutsky's Searchability ) specialize in delivering material more suitable for college purposes, while the Popular Search En gines help locate information on less academic topics. Whatever your topic, use a variety of search engines from both menus. Once you go beyond Google, you will begin to realize the limitlessness horizons of the Internet. For example, a searchstring on results in hits different from , which also results in different hits on www. and . Try it! Look at the Site's Quality With all the returns from your searches, you'll doubtless pull in a bundle of sites, and like a fisherman on a boat, your job will be to sort through the trash. The degree of professional design and presentation of a site should speak somewhat towards the content. Sites with black backgrounds are usually entertainment sites, while those with white backgrounds are more information based. Sites with colorful and garish backgrounds are probably made by novice designers. Avoid blog pages (online journals). Avoid "free -essay" pages. Avoid pages where there are multiple applets flashing on the screen. Also pay attention to the domain types. You should know that: .com = commercial .org = organization .gov = government .edu = education .net = network The domain type indicates a possible bias toward the information. Obviously an .org site on animal rights is going to be a bit slanted towards one s ide of the issue. And if the sites try to sell you something, like many of the "sponsored listings" that appear on the top of the hits list with search engines, avoid them. Mix up your search words If you're getting too many hits, enter more keywords in t he search box. If you aren't getting enough hits, enter fewer keywords in the searchbox. Also try inputting the same concept but in different words and phrases. Overture has a keyword search suggestion tool that lets you know what the most popular search strings are for the concept you're searching for. Search
  • Engine Watch also has a useful tutorial on how to enter search strings, explaining how to add + and - and quotation marks to get more accurate results. Many search engines have advanced tabs that help you search with more detail. Google, for example, has an advanced search option that greatly increases accuracy of returns, though few use it. Finally, know that some search engines specialize in specific types of content, so if you don't have much success with one search engine, try another. Don't Limit Yourself to the Internet While it 's fun to surf the net and discover new sites with information relevant to your topic, don't limit yourself to the Internet. By and large the Internet, because it is a medium open to publication by all, can contain some pretty sketchy information. If your essay is backed by research from "Steve and Kim's homepage," "Matt's Econ Blog," and "teenstuffonline," your essay won't be as convincing as it would be with more academic journals. Academic journals and books have better research, more thorough treatment of the topics, a more stable existence (they'll still be there in a 10 years), and ultimately more persuasive power. Don't substitute Eddy Smith's "Summer Vacation to the Middle East" for Edward Said's Orientalism. Step 1b: Researching the Academic Databas es The Academic Databases Almost every college subscribes to a list of academic databases where more specialized, academic essays can be found. If you are an AUC student, go to the AUC Library Homepage and choose Electronic Resources to survey the 80+ academic databases that AUC subscribes to. Each of these databases specializes in a different kind of information. For a writing class exploring general research topics, the following four indexes are probably the mo st useful: Academic Search Premier CQ Researcher JSTOR LEXIS -NEXIS Academic Universe (Note that at AUC, in order to search the databases from your home, you will need to request a dial -in account so that you can dial in directly to the AUC server. Otherwise, you must use a campus computer lab to access these datab ases.) Academic Search Premier Academic Search Premier is the most popular student database, and the most costly for schools. It is one of a handful of databases on EBSCO Host. After selecting Academic Search Premier, you will see a screen allowing yo u to specify more databases within EBSCO Host. Depending upon your topic, you may also want to check some of these boxes. On the search query screen on Academic Search Premier, you can control the kind of return hits your search retrieves.
  • On the Advan ced Search tab, you can also search for keywords within a specific publication. This would be helpful if you knew a good journal or magazine, but were unsure of when an article was published on the topic in it. CQ Researcher CQ Researcher is a bit diff erent than other journals. Every two weeks a new issue dedicated solely to one hot, current issue is published. One or two researchers produce all the content, and the articles are mainly informational rather than argumentative, giving readers an overview of the issue, of pro/con debates, a history, a bibliography of sources, and so on. CQ Researcher's bibliography is a great source for finding more sources -- you can plug some of the titles into other academic databases or even the Internet itself and ofte n find the source. Because CQ Researcher is single -authored, you should careful that you do not overquote from it.
  • To cite a source from CQ Researcher , click on the nifty CiteNow! link on the top toolbar of the article and se lect MLA style. JSTOR A more academic journal, JSTOR has its articles stored as .pdf files. These .pds files can sometimes be large and therefore take a long time to download. However, all articles within the JSTOR database are quality academic articles, some perhaps beyond the scope of what you're looking for. To read a .pdf file you must have Adobe Acrobat reader, which you can download for free if your computer doesn't already have it . Before you search on JSTOR , you must first select which journals you want to search in.
  • The most common complaint students have about JSTOR is that the essays are too long and difficult to read. In fact, reading from JSTOR in contrast to the Internet will give you a good feel for the difference between academic and non -academic sources. When you use a source from JSTOR in your essay, your essay will be much more credible and scholarly. LEXIS -NEXIS Academic Universe If you're looking for news articles , LEXIS -NEXIS is the database to search. Keep in mind, though, that news articles aren't usually scholarly articles; they mostly give current information about topics. Some of the longer articles on LEXIS -NEXIS may be more scholarly. You just have to judge by the depth and research in the essay. The LEXIS -NEXIS database seems to contain almost every newspaper in the world. Hence specifying the search queries to get the returns you want can be a bit more complicated than usual. First, select guided Guided Ne ws Search. In the Guided News Search tab (rather than the "Quick News Search" tab) follow the four steps for making a more specific selection. Doing so will yield much better results than simply typing in general keywords into the Quick News Search.
  • Troubleshooting If you're having trouble finding information on one database, try another. Mix up your keywords or use different ones. If you get too many hits, try searching with more specific keywords. If you don't get enough hits, search with a broader set of keywords, or even just one keyword. Finally, remember that you are not limited to these four databases. There are dozens more that the library subscribes to. Scan down the list and see if any others might be useful. These five are perhaps worth ch ecking out: ERIC (EBSCOHost) Oxford English Dictionary Project Muse Sociological Abstracts WorldCat Step 1c: Researching in the Library A common misconception among students is that the library is full of old, out -of-date, musty books -- probably none fr om this century -- and therefore any books found there would be so out of step with the current discussion on the topic that the books, and any effort to retrieve them, would be utterly useless.
  • Fortunately, all libraries have acquisitions departments with specialists from different fields of scholarship who constantly order up -to-date books on the contemporary issues in almost all fields. As a result, most libraries have books on all issues at least within the last ten years or so. So unless you're writing about something totally new, chances are a book has been written on it, and most likely that book is waiting for you in the library. Retrieving books saves energy Another misconception many students have is that even if they were to see a book listed on the electronic catalogs, it would be too much of a hassle to physically go to the library, hike the stairs, take elevators perhaps, wander among the stacks and corridors, skim through eternal Library of Congress call numbers, and so on. While it is true tha t the physical exertion required (i.e., walking) to find the book is more than that required to click a mouse, once you find the book, it requires less energy to progress through the information than it does to fight the endless screens, non -linear progres sions, and specious content on the Internet. In contrast, books are well -organized, logically progressive texts that usually contain abundant research, are written by scholars, and will provide excellent evidence for your essay. The Internet is full of eve rything from porno to CIA reports, and it's all jumbled together like paint splattered on a wall. You'll have to sort through it like a homeless man foraging for food in a dumpster. Think about how nice it would be instead to read a chapter from a book whi le lying in bed. Learn to skim books Because books are so thorough and long (it may have taken the author years to write it, as opposed to an online article, which might have been written in under an hour), you have to learn to skim. Skim the table of cont ents to see if there is a chapter that is relevant. Read the introduction and the first pages of several chapters to see if the information is really what you're looking for. Since you will still need to cite from a variety of sources, don't spend too long immersed in the same book. Take a little information from a lot of different books -- from an author here, an author there. It might be a good idea to photocopy the necessary pages rather than cart around a backpack full of books. Library as sanctuary The more you spend time researching in the library, the more you will come to see what a sanctuary the library can be. The loud, noisy traffic of the streets outside is blocked out as you sit comfortably surrounded by thousands of insightful books on importan t topics throughout the ages. A library can be a sanctuary to you -- a place to study, a place to escape your friends or other obligations, a refuge of peace and quiet. A good library is the heart of any academic institution, and the more time you spend in it, the more it will feel like hallowed ground. One student at New York University even decided to sleep permanently in his university's library (only superficially for financial reasons).
  • Step 2: Analysis As you research your topic, you will naturally b e analyzing the arguments of different authors. In contrast to more popular reading, in the academic world, authors must supply copious amounts of evidence and nuanced reasoning in order persuade other scholars of their ideas. To enter the scholar's "gladi ator arena," you will need to understand the principles of argument. Both analyzing an argument and coming up with your own will require careful thought. Identify the argument An argument consists of two main components: a claim, and reasons for that claim . Neither a claim without reasons, nor reasons without a claim, is an argument. Only when one leverages particular reasons to make a claim from those reasons do we say that an "argument" is taking place. When analyzing an argument of any text, or creating one of your own, first identify the main claim and then locate all the reasons for it. The claim is the controversial, debatable assertion of the essay, while the reasons offer the explanations and evidence of why the claim is true. It is helpful to map t his reasoning out: CLAIM = ________________________________________ Reason 1: ____________________________ Reason 2: ____________________________ Reason 3: ____________________________ Assess the reasoning Once you have the argument mapped out, assess the reasoning. Ask yourself the following questions to help you identify weaknesses of logic: (1.) Is there an alternative explanation that is possible? An alternative explanation i s a different reason for the same claim. Probing the alternative explanations o r reasons for a claim is an excellent way to open up weaknesses in the author's logic. Example: "John was late because he obviously doesn't care about the class." (An alternative explanation for John's lateness could be that he got in a car wreck, and ther efore couldn't make it on time to class, not that he doesn't care about it.) (2.) Is the evidence presented sufficient? Evidence refers to the support given for a claim. This support may be in the form of facts, statistics, authoritative quotations, studi es, observations, experiences, research, or other forms of proof. Example: "John was late because he has Alzheimer's disease, and according to the American Medical Association, Alzheimer's patients frequently forgot who and where they are" (Jones 65). (Th e writer has given evidence in the form of research for his or her reasoning.)
  • (3.) What assumptions do the reasons rest on? An assumption is what one takes for granted to be true, but which actually may not be true. All arguments rest on some common assu mptions. This common ground makes it possible for two people to have a dialogue in the first place, but these assumptions, because they are based on groundless ideas, make for a "sweet spot" of attack in argument. Example: "John was late because his previ ous class is on the far side of campus." (The assumption is that it takes a long time to get from the far side of campus to class. If John walked the same speed as the one presenting the argument, the assumption would be a shared one. However, it may be th e case that John actually walks much faster than assumed, and that he was late for another reason.) (4.) Does the writer commit any logical fallacies? Fallacies are commonly committed errors of reasoning. Being aware of these fallacies will help you see them more abundantly in the texts you read. Although there are probably at least a hundred different fallacies, the following six are the most common: Hasty Generalization Faulty Cause and Effect Fallacy of Authority Slippery Slope Non Sequitar Either/Or Step 3: Brainstorming Find an original idea Brainstorming is the art of thinking critically to discover original, hidden insights about a topic. Assuming you've done a fair amount of research, you should now have a solid base of concepts to play around with for an essay. The task is now to stand on the shoulders of the schola rs you've read and find something original to say about the topic. It is not enough to regurgitate what they have said. You must go beyond them to propose an original idea. Your paper should expose some new idea or insight about the topic, not just be a co llage of other scholars' thoughts and research -- although you will definitely rely upon these scholars as you move toward your point . Use different techniques Since the days of Aristotle, a variety of "invention techniques" or "heuristics" have been use d for coming up with ideas. Depending on your topic, some invention techniques may work better than others. The overall goal when using any method is to discover unique ideas that take you and your reader beyond the obvious. The following wheel briefly des cribes nine of the most common methods for finding ideas. After reading the brief descriptions of each technique, download the Brainstorm Now file (a Word document), and begin bra instorming by answering the questions asked you.
  • Define the problem. Figure out what the problem is. Until you figure this out, your brainstorming won't have any direction or purpose. Ask yourself not only what the problem is, but why it is indeed a pr oblem. A problem for whom? When did it first become a problem? What is the root of the problem? Step 4: Thesis After researching, analyzing, and brainstorm ing, you should have an worthwhile insight to write about. Now it's time to convert that worthwhile insight into a polished thesis statement, which will then guide and shape the rest of the essay.
  • The thesis acts as the main claim of your paper, and typic ally appears near the end of the introduction. Unless you have a compelling reason to relocate the thesis from the traditional place, put it at the end of your introductory paragraph. Readers anticipate and read closely your thesis, and they want to find a polished statement there. The thesis expresses in one concise sentence the point and purpose of your essay. Make it arguable Your thesis must make an arguable assertion. To test whether your assertion is arguable, ask yourself whether it would be possibl e to argue the opposite. If not, then it's not a thesis -- it's more of a fact. For example: Not Arguable: "Computers are becoming an efficient mechanism for managing and transmitting information in large businesses." (Who's going to dispute this? It's not an arguable assertion -- it's a fact.) Arguable: "Heavy use of computers may disrupt family cohesion and increase divorce in society." (This is arguable because many people may not believe it. It would make a good thesis!) Be specific The thesis must als o be specific. Avoid broad, vague generalizations. Your thesis should include detail and specificity, offering the reader the why behind your reasoning. Poor Specificity: "We should not pass the microchip bill." (Hey, not specific enough! It's just a valu e statement and doesn't provide enough reasoning for the reader.) Good Specificity: "Because the microchip insert causes serious health hazards such as cancer and brain tumors to those who use it, the microchip should not be passed." (Now the thesis is mu ch more specific, and the reader gets a clear idea of what the essay is going to be about.) Avoid lists If your thesis consists of a long list of points, your essay will most likely be superficial. Suppose you had six reasons why WebCT should be adopted in college courses. Instead of trying to cover so much ground in your essay, narrow your focus more to give greater depth to fewer ideas, maybe discussing two or three points instead. Long lists result in shallow essays because you don't have space to fully explore an idea. If you don't know what else to say about a point, do more brainstorming and research . Howev er, if you're arguing a longer paper, and really need to cover this much ground, still avoid the list in your thesis -- just give the reader a general idea of your position, without being so specific. Example of a list: "The microchip bill biologically dam ages the health of children, invades the privacy of independent teenagers, increases crime, turns children against their parents, induces a sense of robotry about the individual, and finally, may result in the possible takeover of the government." (Wow, wh at a list! In a 1,000 word essay, each of these topics will only be explored superficially.) Narrower focus: "By surgically inserting circuitry similar to cell phone devices that has been known to cause headaches and fatigue, the microchip biologically end angers the health of children." (I've narrowed my focus to just one point -- health hazards -- instead of the six.
  • Now my job will be to explore this assertion in depth. Academic writing almost always prefers depth over breadth.) Follow an "although . . . actually" format The "although . . . actually" format is one of the most effective ways of finding something original and controversial to say. In effect, you are telling someone that what he or she thought to be previously true really isn't. You're saying , Hey, you thought X? Well, you're wrong. Really, it's Y! Whenever you look beyond the obvious and give readers something new to consider, you're going to get their attention. Nothing works better than this "although . . . actually" format to set you up in delivering an insight. Example: Although it appears that computers may help students learn to write, actually they can become a detriment to the generation of what what creative writers call "flow." Example: Although many people believe that extraterrest ials and crop circles are a figment of the imagination, actually there is strong evidence suggested by collective, distinct anecdotes that alien encounters are real. Example: Although some philosophers profess to lead more pure, thoughtful lives, actually philosophers are no different than other publication -hungry academics. (Note: "actually" isn't always necessary. It is often implied with the clause "although.") Practic e with thesis Step 5: Outline Use an outline to plan Can you imagine a construction manager working on a skyscraper without a set of blueprints? No way! Similarly, writers construct essays using sets of blueprints or outlines to guide them in the writi ng process. Of course writers don't have to use outlines, but the effect is about the same as a construction worker who "freebuilds." Drawing up an outline allows you to think before you write. What use is there in writing the entire paper only to realize that, had you done a little more planning beforehand, you would have organized your essay in an entirely different way? What if you realize later, after free - writing the essay, that you should have omitted some paragraphs, restructured the progression of your logic, and used more examples and other evidence? You can go back and try to insert major revisions into the essay, but the effect may be like trying to add a thicker foundation to a building already constructed. The outline allows you to think befor ehand what you're going to write so that when you do write it, if you've done your planning right, you won't have to do as much rewriting. (You will still, of course, need to revise.) Make your points brief
  • When you construct your outline, keep it brief. T he titles, headings, and points in your outline should be about one line each. Remember that you are only drawing an outline of the forest, not detailing each of the trees. Keep each line under a dozen words. If you can't compress your point into a one -lin er, you probably don't have a clear grasp of what you're trying to say. When you describe the point of each paragraph, phrase the point in a mini -claim. If the point of a paragraph is that soft drugs should be legal because they are relatively harmless , d on't just write "soft drugs" as the point of the paragraph in your outline -- it's too brief and vague. Instead, write "drugs should be legal b/c soft drugs are harmlessl." This description is still brief, as it should be (one line or less), but it makes a claim that gives it purpose in the outline. View a sample outline Choose an appropriate arrangement Drawing up an outline allows you to see at a glance how each of the paragraphs fits into the larger picture. When looking at your paragraphs from this perspective, you can easily shift around the order to see how a reorganization might be better. Remember that each paragraph in the essay should support the position or argument of yo ur paper. As you're shifting paragraphs around (maybe like you would a Rubic's cube), you will probably begin to wonder what the best arrangement really is. In general, put what you want the reader to remember either first or last, not in the middle. Studi es in rhetoric have shown the readers remember least what is presented in the middle of an essay. Hence, the middle is where you should probably put your weaker arguments and counterarguments. Some writers urge a climactic arrangement, one that works up t o your strongest point, which is delivered as a kind of grand finale. Another successful arrangement is the inductive argument, in which you build up the evidence first, and then draw conclusions. A problem - solution format involves presenting the problem f irst and then outlining the solution — this works well for some topics because it is a soft version of the scientific method. Whatever your choice, choose an arrangement that presents a clear, logical argument. See an Essay's General Structure (Word .doc) Practice with Outlines Step 6: The Introduction Get the reader's attention The first goal in your introduction is to grab the reader's attention. Wake him or her up and generate some interest about the topic. To grab the reader's attention, you might present . . . an interesting fact a surprising piece of information an exciting quotation an in triguing paradox
  • an explanation of an odd term a short narrative/anecdote (not fiction) a provocative question See an example of an attention -getting introduction. Jump right into the Issue In a short essay (under 1,000 words), a lengthy introduction is hardly needed. After getting the reader's attention, just jump right into the issue and begin directly, perhaps describing a specific, concrete situation -- presumably the context of the probl em you're exploring. Avoid beginning your essay with broad statements or bland generalizations such as "X is becoming an issue . . . " or "Throughout time man has wondered . . . ." Do not begin so broad and general that the first several sentences could fi t nearly any essay in the world. For example: Too General: Crime has been an issue throughout time. More Specific: The question of the severity of punishments for juveniles is an issue that has garnered attention due to the increasing number of juvenile sh ootings in the last several years. Too General: Man has always wondered about the meaning of information. More Specific: The Age of Information brought about through the digital revolution of computers has posed significant questions about the value and wo rth of this information: Does having instant access to every newspaper and journal blog in the world make us more intelligent, value -based people? I like how Michele Montaigne, a sixteenth -century essayist, explains how to write an introduction: "For me, w ho ask only to become wiser, not more learned or eloquent, these logical and Aristotelian arrangements are not to the point. I want a man to begin with the conclusion. I understand well enough what death and pleasure are; let him not waste his time anatomi zing them. I look for good solid reasons from the start, which will instruct me in how to sustain their attack. . . . I do not want a man to use his strength making me attentive and to shout at me fifty times "Or oyez!" in the manner of our heralds. . . . These are so many words lost on me. I come fully prepared from my house; I need no allurement or sauce; I can perfectly well eat my meat quite raw; and instead of whetting my appetite by these preparations and preliminaries, they pall and weary it" ("Of Bo oks"). In other words, don't tire your reader with long introductions that fail to get quickly to the point and issue. Begin with specifics and jump right into the problem or conflict you are addressing. When readers see a good conflict, they are likely t o take an interest in it. Present your thesis The entire introduction should lead toward the presentation of your arguable assertion, or thesis, whereby you take a stand on the issue you are discussing. Deliver your thesis at the end of the introduction so that your reader knows what general position you will take in your essay. You don't need to spell out all the nitty gritty details of your thesis in the introduction, particularly if it would be bulky and unintelligible to the reader who lacks all the e nsuing reference and context, but you should give the reader a good idea of what your argument is. As you do this, avoid saying "I will discuss . . ." or "I intend to argue . . ."
  • Step 7: Paragraphs Choose a singular focus Each paragraph should have a cle ar, singular focus to it. If there is an overriding error students make in writing essays, it is shifting topics within the same paragraph, rather than continuing to develop the same idea they began with. A paragraph is a discrete unit of thought that expa nds one specific idea, not three or four. If you find yourself shifting gears to start a new topic, begin a new paragraph instead. Someone once compared the beginning of a new paragraph to the changing angle of a wall. When the angle of the wall changes, a new wall begins. Let your paragraphs be like that wall: running straight along a certain angle, and beginning anew when the angle changes. Begin with a topic sentence Nothing will help you keep a tighter focus on your paragraphs than topic sentences. A t opic sentence is generally the first sentence of the paragraph, and it describes the claim or point of the paragraph, thus orienting the reader to the purpose of the paragraph. When you use topic sentences, your reader will invariably find it easier to fol low your thoughts and argument. As an example, look at the first sentences of each paragraph on this page. The entire paragraph is focused around the stated topic sentence. Additionally, headings are used to make it even clearer and easier to follow. If yo u're writing a long research essay (10 + pages), you might consider using headings. Develop the idea Invariably students shift topics and lose focus within their paragraphs because they do not know how to adequately develop their ideas. They usually know t he paragraph needs to be longer, but they don't know how to expand their idea to fill that length. Indeed a paragraph should be at least half a page long, but usually no more than one page. How, then, if you don't have enough to say, do you fill that parag raph length? Instead of broadening the focus, which will only be another form of topic shifting, try implementing these techniques for development: illustrate your idea with examples give an authoritative quotation anticipate and respond to counterargument s back your ideas with more evidence offer another perspective to the idea brainstorm more insights about the idea elaborate on causes/effects, definitions, comparison/contrasts Practice with paragraphs
  • Step 8: The Conclusion Recap your main idea If your essay was long and complex, sometimes difficult to follow, in the conclusion you'll want to recap your ideas in a clear, summarizing manner. You want your readers to understand the message you intended to communicate. However, if your essay was short and simple, don't insult your readers by restating at length the ideas they already understand. Strike a balance according to what you feel your readers need. In a sho rt essay (600 words or less), any recapitulation should be brief (about 2 sentences), and rephrased in a fresh way, not just cut and pasted from the thesis. Leave a memorable impression It's not enough just to restate your main ideas -- if you only did tha t and then ended your essay, your conclusion would be flat and boring. You've got to make a graceful exit from your essay by leaving a memorable impression on the reader. You need to say something that will continue to simmer in the reader's minds long aft er he or she has put down your essay. To leave this memorable impression, try . . . giving a thought -provoking quotation describing a powerful image talking about consequences or implications stating what action needs to be done ending on an interesting twist of thought explaining why the topic is important Keep it short Keep your conclusion short, probably ten lines or less, and avoid fluff. You're just trying to make a clever exit, and presumably all the really important points have been made previously in your essay. You should not introduce any totally new ideas in the conclusion; however, you should not merely repeat your thesis either. This situation -- not presenting anything new, and neither just sticking with the old -- at first seems to be a para dox. However, with a little effort, one of the above six methods will usually yield "a quiet zinger," as John Tribble calls it. Examples of Real Conclusions 1. Ending on an image Today, as the phonographs which follow prove, the mystique of the cat is s till very much alive in the Egyptian environment. For after all, should not the cat be important in the Muslim world, as apparently God inspired man to write its name -qi, t, t in Arabic letters -in such a shape that it looks like a cat? --Lorraine Chittock, Cairo Cats 2. Restating the thesis in a fresh way
  • If this book has any future use, it will be as a modest contribution to that challenge, and as a warning: that systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions - mind -forg'd man acles -are all too easily made, applied, and guarded. Above all, I hope to have shown my reader that the answer to Orientalism is not Occidentalism. No former "Oriental" will be comforted by the thought that having been an Oriental himself he is likely -too likely - to study new "Orientals" -or "Occidentals" -of his own making. If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time. Now perhaps more than before. --Orientalism, Edward Said 3. Ending on an image When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly w ith Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several case I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a f ace that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the fa ce of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry -in other words, of a nineteenth -century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all th e smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls. --"Charles Dickens," George Orwell 4. Ending on a quotation A popular tale, which I picked up in Geneva during the last years of World War I, tells of Miguel Servet's reply to the inquisit ors who had condemned him to the stake: "I will burn, but this is a mere event. We shall continue our discussion in eternity." --Jorge Luis Borges, Nonfictions 5. Moving towards the general The practice of rhetoric involves a careful attention to the chara cteristics and preferences of the audience for whom the writer intends the message. Although Syfers' and Limpus' essays might be somewhat out of place for a contemporary audience, in the 1970s they were not. However, as argued throughout this essay, it is Syfers' memorable sarcasm and wit that ultimately win over her audience. Being humorous while also driving home a worthwhile point is a difficult feat to accomplish in writing. Because Syfers accomplishes it so well, she seems to have stepped over the boun daries of time and reached a much larger audience than she may have originally intended. --imitation of a student essay

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