9 steps for writing a great essay

By Taylor Craig
02/11/2016
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I bet some people become dentists just to avoid having to write essays. Essays and research papers can invoke massive amounts of stress and anxiety. So can dentists. But no matter what classes you take in high school or college, you're going to have to write an essay at some point. Whether you love or hate them, following these nine steps can improve your essays, reduce your stress, and possibly save you from an expensive dentist degree.

1. Analyze the essay prompt

The most important step in writing an essay or research paper is to fully comprehend the essay question. An essay can be wonderfully articulated and thought out, but will still result in a poor grade if it doesn’t adequately answer the prompt provided. Break the prompt down into two parts.

  1. What is the prompt directly asking?
    • What is the essay topic?
    • What research do I need to do to fully understand the topic?
    • How long does the essay need to be?
  2. What is the prompt indirectly asking?
    • Is the prompt asking for my opinion, the opinion of credible scholarly sources, or facts?
    • How can I relate this essay topic to what we have covered in class?

Once these questions have been answered, you can begin constructing your essay.

2. Create a thesis statement

Start your essay with a thesis statement that will guide your entire paper. Based on the prompt, what do you want to argue in your essay? Your thesis statement should be concise, but incorporate all the main points you'd like to address in your paper. Continually refer to your thesis statement when writing your essay and make sure to never stray from your main points. A good thesis statement can be the difference between an A and a B.

3. Make an outline

Use an outline to plan out your essay/research paper before writing it. Working from your thesis statement, plot out how you want your paper to flow and what information you want to include. This will make writing the full draft of your paper much easier

4. Begin with the body, not the introduction

Don't start with the introduction. The introduction is where some students struggle the most, so to avoid getting bogged down, create the introduction later. This will allow you to fully form your thoughts and ideas and come back and integrate the main ideas into your introduction.

5. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence

Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence, which expresses the main idea of the paragraph. Each paragraph should contain quotes or contextual information to defend your topic sentence and thesis statement.

6. Use credible sources

Quotes and contextual information are important for establishing credibility and supporting your argument, so make sure that the quotes and information are coming from credible scholarly sources. Examples of scholarly sources include academic journals, peer-reviewed articles, textbooks, books by accredited authors, and NPR articles. Examples of unacceptable scholarly sources are magazine articles, open forum submissions, encyclopedia entries, and unverified online sources. If you’re looking for credible sources to use within your essay, check out Google Scholar.

7. Don't fake it

Teachers aren’t dumb. They know when you don’t fully understand the essay topic and when you’re rambling to make it longer. Don’t use fluff to bulk up your essay.  Instead, make sure that every sentence adds substance to your work. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, cut it out. Most teachers would rather have a well-written essay that doesn’t quite meet the length requirement than a paper that meets the requirement, but is 80 percent fluff.

8. Conclude your essay

Your conclusion should always begin by restating your thesis statement. This is your chance to tie all of your main points together and go out with a bang. A good conclusion will address the main arguments of each body paragraph in a succinct way and thoroughly prove your thesis statement.

9. Proofread, then proofread again

Reviewing is critical to composing a great essay. Some teachers won't even finish reading essays if they're not grammatically sound or riddled with spelling errors. Here are a few ways to make your essay/research paper more academically acceptable and better overall.

  • Take out all conjunctions (aren’t, don’t, couldn’t, etc.). This will make your paper longer and is more appropriate for academic writing.
  • Print out your paper, read it, and mark it up. You will notice more errors when reading it this way than on a computer screen.
  • Have friends or parents read it. A second set of eyes can catch any mistakes you missed.
  • Read it out loud. This will help with grammar mistakes. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.

Essays and research papers can be a challenge for writers of all skill levels, but these writing tips can make the process a little easier and a lot less daunting.

Use your writing skills to apply for scholarships. Check out our Scholarship Match to find scholarships that are write for you.

About the author


Taylor CraigTaylor is a senior at
Tarleton State University. She is a member of the Presidential Honors Program and the president of the Tarleton Scholars Society. She is majoring in communications, with an emphasis in communicating in relationships, and a minor in psychology. She loves Jesus, wears too much flannel, and is obsessed with The Lord of the Rings.

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