Most people think of an essay as a written document, and it is certainly that. But the word “essay” can also be used as a verb that means, “to make an effort or attempt,” or “to try.” It can also mean “to put to the test.” What you’re doing when you write an essay is making an informed attempt to get a point across.
Essays tend to be short – under 1,000 words usually. They are written from the point of view of the author, though they may be written in first person or third. Essays include observations, arguments, and logical progressions. Though high school students are sometimes asked to write essays, people who attend college or university will become most well acquainted with the form.
If you are given instructions for writing an essay, be sure you follow them. If your instructor asks for 500 words on the effect of the Teapot Dome Scandal on the Harding presidential administration, don’t turn in 750 words on oil drilling on public lands in the 1920s. Once you have your topic, give your essay a title. It should be concise, clear, and informative. Your reader should look at your title and know what he or she is about to learn.
Next, consider your audience. Are you writing for a survey class in American History, or are you writing for graduate students in a class on pre-World War II political campaigns? The more specialized the audience, the more specialized your essay should be.
Before pouring out your thoughts onto the page, make a brief outline. It can be as simple as three to five points that you want to address in your essay. Outlines are different for different people. Some people do fine with a few points scribbled on a piece of scratch paper, while others want a neat, ordered list with specific headings sub-headings. Do what works for you.
Introduce your essay with a paragraph that starts with a broad statement of the topic, and end your introductory paragraph with a clear thesis statement that states specifically what your essay is about. Use the space between those two sentences to logically progress from your broad statement to your thesis statement. Try to make this paragraph 100 to 150 words long.
Give each of your three to five main points a paragraph of 100 to 200 words. Try not to repeat statements from one point to the next. All your main points should relate to your thesis statement in a logical way. After you have written a paragraph addressing each of your points, it’s time to write your conclusion.
Write your concluding paragraph by taking your introductory paragraph and “turning it upside down.” Start with a recap of your thesis statement, then write a few sentences very briefly recapping your major points and leading to a final sentence that is broad and that ends your essay similarly to how the essay’s very first sentence began it. Before turning in an essay, wait a while (overnight is best), correct, edit, and reword any awkward sentences.
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