Follow these steps to write a successful essay.
Step 1: Choose a purpose
Which question will you answer with your essay? The question you attempt to answer will determine your purpose.
- What isn’t what it appears to be? Purpose = to inform
- What situation needs to change? Purpose = to persuade
- How have I been wronged? Purpose = to confide
Step 2: Select a role
Decide how you will approach your topic. Will you inform the reader as a pundit or a philosopher? Will you persuade the reader as an enthusiast, a scold, or a Devil’s advocate? Will you confide in the reader as a confidant? Will you entertain the reader with a story as a raconteur? Or will you amuse the reader by informing, persuading or confiding in the reader in an ironic or absurd way as a jester does?
- Pundit: The pundit teaches us something by drawing on his or her knowledge of or expertise on a topic.
- Philosopher: A philosopher searches for knowledge or meaning by asking questions about and proposing solutions to the moral problems of life.
- Enthusiast: The enthusiast stirs up enthusiasm on a topic in the face of apathy or weak support.
- Scold: A scold is a faultfinder. He or she will criticize, reproach, quarrel and complain about someone or something. A scold does so with the hope that criticism will eventually result in reform.
- Devil’s advocate: A Devil’s advocate takes the contrary point of view to anything and everything. By trying to prove the opposite of a widely accepted belief, he or she helps us to re-examine that belief so we might articulate it more clearly, or look on it in a fresh light.
- Confidant: A confidant reveals his or her feelings on a topic. By articulating hidden emotions, we discover that all of our secrets are essentially the same.
- Raconteur: A raconteur tells a story to entertain or inform. He or she personalizes problems making them more accessible to others.
- Jester: A jester makes light of things the world takes seriously. He or she points out the ridiculous to relieve pent up anxiety through laughter.
Step 3: Generate interest in your topic
Select a strategy for generating interest in your topic.
- ask a question
- introduce a surprising fact or statistic
- quote an authority
- share an anecdote
- outline an opposing view
Step 4: Define and limit your topic
Make sure that you define your terms and indicate what is not covered by your topic. This will help to keep your topic focused. For example, “An abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy. It is different from a miscarriage, which is the spontaneous end of a pregnancy before term.”
Step 5: State your thesis
Develop a clear and concise main idea in the form of a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a sentence that identifies the purpose of the essay. It usually appears at the end of the introductory paragraph and serves as the organizing principle of the essay.
Thesis statements can be either strong or weak. A strong thesis statement makes a claim and summarizes support for it: X is Y because A, B, and C; or X should be Y because A, B, and C.
A weak thesis statement is self-conscious in that it makes reference to either the essay in which it appears or to the essayist writing it. Weak theses often follow this formula: In this essay, I will show that X is Y because A, B, and C. Avoid weak thesis statements.
Step 6: Organize your essay
Arrange your body paragraphs so that they develop the topics in the same order as they are outlined in your thesis statement. Arrange your arguments from strongest to weakest or weakest to strongest. Write an outline of your essay to help you arrange and organize your ideas.
Step 7: Develop your paragraphs
Each paragraph should be developed using a single development method. When you change methods, change paragraphs.
- Example: The example method is the simplest method of development. Each sentence provides examples to support the controlling idea in the topic sentence of the paragraph.
- Cause and effect: Like the example method, the topic sentence identifies a cause, and each sentence thereafter provides examples of effects. Alternatively, the topic sentence identifies the result, and each subsequent sentence lists the causes for it.
- Comparison by criterion: A paragraph developed using comparison by criterion involves comparing items one criterion at a time. For example, you might describe the size of item 1 and the size of item 2, shape of item 1 and the shape of item 2, the price of item 1 and the price of item 2, etc.
- Comparison by item: A paragraph developed using comparison by item involves describing item 1 using a variety or criteria, like size, shape, and price, etc., before describing item 2 in terms the same criteria of size, shape, and price, etc.
- Narration: A paragraph developed by narration involves a description of a series of events that happened in the past in the sequence in which they occurred.
- Process analysis: A paragraph developed by process analysis describes a repeatable series of steps using words like first, next, etc.
- Description: When you are writing about an object or scene and want to consider its physical or spatial characteristics, you will want to compose a paragraph of descriptive details. Introduce details in a sequence, moving from top to bottom, left to right, center to periphery, large to small, east to west, and so on. Be systematic.
- Classification: A paragraph developed by classification analyzes the components of an item or an idea.
- Definition: When you develop a paragraph by definition, you will identify a class and then list differentiating characteristics.
Step 8: Build cohesion with transition words
Use the connective words below to show the relationship of ideas from one sentence or paragraph to the next.
- Exemplification: to illustrate, for instance, for example
- Emphasis: in fact, most significantly, specifically, in particular
- Addition: furthermore, moreover, in addition
- Contrast: although, however, even so, nevertheless, conversely, yet
- Qualification: for the most part, generally, often, of course
- Sequence: first, second, third, next, subsequently
- Conclusion: in conclusion, to conclude, finally, to sum up
Step 9: Develop a conclusion
Restate your thesis by rewording or rearranging the words in your thesis. This will remind the reader what you have been trying to achieve. Include a concrete suggestion. What should the reader do now? Finally, make a prediction about the benefits of adopting your proposal. What will happen if enough people accept your point of view? How will things change?