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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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Master the Five-Paragraph Essay
The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.
Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.
Components of a Good Essay
The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.
Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.
Keys to Introductory Paragraphs
Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.
What Makes a Thesis Statement
The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.
Content of Supporting Paragraphs
Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.
The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.
Concluding Paragraph Tips
Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.
Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.
A Note on Compare and Contrast
Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.
Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?
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Essay structure and planning
Information on how to structure and plan your essay.
What is an essay?
An essay is a focused, academic discussion of a particular question, problem or issue.
Many of you have been writing essays for years, and are probably good at it. That's great, and everything you look at here will build on and develop those skills.
But it's worth asking: are there different things expected of a university essay from those for school, college, or other contexts?
The obvious answer is yes, and it takes time and effort to learn the range of writing skills needed to produce university essays effectively.
There are all sorts of reasons why essays are common forms of assessment. They allow you to explore a problem in-depth, express yourself concisely and precisely, and debate other people's published opinions on a topic.
They're also a good warm-up for traditional forms of academic publication, such as a journal article.
Academic essays usually follow an established organisational structure that helps the writer to express their ideas clearly and the reader to follow the thread of their argument.
An essay's structure is guided by its content and argument so every essay question will pose unique structural challenges.
301 Recommends: Glossary of Instruction Words
Our Essay Structure and Planning workshop will outline how to analyse your essay question, discuss approaches logically structure all your ideas, help you make your introductions and conclusions more effective, and teach how to link your ideas and ensure all essay content flows logically from the introduction. The Putting it into Practise workshop
Have a look at our Glossary of Essay Instruction Words (PDF, 100KB) , or watch this short Study Skills Hacks video on identifying the tasks in a question to help you identify what is required.
Essay writing is a process with many stages, from topic selection, planning and reading around, through to drafting, revising and proofreading.
Breaking the task down and creating a clear plan with milestones and intermediate deadlines will allow you to focus attention more fully on the writing process itself when you put your plan into action either as part of an assignment or an exam.
1. Understand the question
- Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to narrow it down. Explain how and why you have decided to limit it in the introduction to your essay, so the reader knows you appreciate the wider issues, but that you can also be selective.
- If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to and stay within the limits of the question (ie specific dates, texts, or countries).
- What can you infer from the title about the structure of the essay?
2. Brainstorm for ideas
- What you know about the topic – from lectures, reading etc
- What you don't know about the topic, but need to find out to answer the question
- Possible responses or answers to the question – any ideas about your conclusion.
- Consider using a mind map to organise your thoughts…
3. Make a plan
- Planning your essay makes it more likely that you have a coherent argument
- It enables you to work out a logical structure and an endpoint for your argument before you start writing
- It means you don't have to do this type of complex thinking at the same time as trying to find the right words to express your ideas
- It helps you to commit yourself to sticking to the point!
The Hourglass essay
If you're stuck on an overall structure for your essay, try this simple model for organising a typical academic essay. An hourglass essay introduces a broad area, before narrowing the focus towards the specific question that you are answering. It finishes by placing that narrow area back into a wider context.
Introduction: the funnel of the hourglass
Set the scene and lead your reader into your essay by introducing the broad area of interest and then narrowing towards your specific focus:
- Start broad with a hook to catch the reader's attention
- Provide some context for the hook. What does your project add to it?
- Focus on the narrow area of your essay: can you summarise it in a single sentence mission statement?
Body: the stem of the hourglass
The body of your essay should be as narrow and focused as possible. Body paragraphs will take one sub-topic at a time and provide a logical flow of ideas for your reader:
- Start each paragraph with a topic sentence to tell your reader what it will cover
- Fill your paragraph with a range of supporting evidence and examples
- Finish your paragraph with a final wrapping-up sentence to summarise and/or link ahead
Conclusion: the base of the hourglass
Your chance to reinforce your key messages and go out with a bang:
- Revisit your mission statement: how have you addressed it?
- Summarise the main points of your argument or findings
- Finish with a broader scope, explaining how your topic might inform future research or practice, or where gaps remain
301 Recommends: Essay Planning Template
Use this template (google doc) to plan a structure for your essay, paying particular attention to the ways in which you have broken down the topic into sub-themes for your body paragraphs.
Top tips and resources
- Start planning early, leave your plan for a couple of days, and then come back to it. This may give you a fresh perspective.
- It is often easiest to write the introduction last, but when you are planning your essay structure make sure you have your mission statement.
- A good plan will make it much easier to write a good essay. Invest the time in making a plan that works.
- Check what your tutor wants, but it is often best to focus on one element in great detail, rather than discuss several aspects superficially.
- Make sure you allow time to proofread your work before submission!
- Library Research and Critical Thinking - Referencing
- English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC)– Language Resources
- Royal Literary Fund– Writing Essays
- University of Reading– Planning and structuring your essay
- Cottrell, S (2008) The Study Skills Handbook. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan
- Bailey, S (2003) Academic Writing: A Practical Guide for Students. Routledge
- Reading University– Study Resources
- University of Manchester– Academic Phrasebank
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Academic Development Centre
Essay plans, what can an essay plan assess.
Much of what an essay could without the detail and extended timeframe. The plan could be in written form, or diagrammatic as in a simple concept map / spider diagram.
The value of essay plans over essays is that we could require more plans than essays during a module and so cover a wider range of the curriculum. We noted above that one disadvantage of essays is that the strategic students only selecting the classes that cover ‘their chosen topic’. Not so easy to do if they have to plan for several topics ….
The Study Gurus (2018) provide an ‘different’ approach to structuring an essay plan:
Every essay needs an introduction (3-5 sentences), so at the top of your essay plan just jot down introduction or intro, so you remember to write one.
Every essay must be written in paragraphs. Each paragraph should explain one main idea, and needs to have the SEXI structure:
S: A Topic S entence. This tells the reader what the paragraph is going to be about. You only need to write down the jist of the topic sentence for each paragraph in your essay plan.
E: A full E xplanation of the point you’re making in this paragraph. This should make up the bulk of your paragraph. In your essay plan jot down what you’re going to explain.
X: e X amples or justifications that back up what you’ve said in that paragraph. Jot down what examples you’re going to include in your essay plan so you don’t forget to include them in your essay!
I: Why is this point I mportant? A really amazing essay would also explain why this point is important to the essay as a whole. What’s the significance of this point to the essay topic?
Every essay needs a conclusion that briefly summarises what’s been said in the essay. You can just write down conclusion in your plan to make sure you write one.
This is simply used as an example here; you will be advising your students about essays in your discipline and how they should be structured and planned. Once you have established the planning process with them then it can become the assessment task.
Perhaps the strategy could be several plans are submitted and receive feedback and then students select one or more to complete for further grading.
Diversity & inclusion
Little different to full essays.
Plans, like full essays, can be run through plagiarism checkers like Turnitin. It is important not to assume that by asking to see the plan you can guarantee that the essay is the students' own work or that the plan will be the students' own work. Essay mills or cheat sites are perfectly able to provide a plan, and then write an essay to that plan (or vice versa ).
Generative AI is incredibly adept at writing essay plans to prompts, which can include specific instructions (such as SEXI) and feedback on previous work that you or other lecturers may have given. AI can help students to generate and refine ideas, provide examples, summarise the literature and is increasingly sophisticated. AI can provide individuated support to scaffold student thinking and writing, and as part of an iterative and dialogic process can be integrated into student work so seamlessly that students might struggle to identify precisely what is them and what is AI.
Seeing essay plans as a thinking/learning tool - and emphasising the formative function - should minimise anxiety around AI/academic integrity. Framing essay plans as a powerful mechanism to generate productive feedback that will help students do their best work in an essay will promote academic integrity.
(Click here for further guidance on designing for academic integrity .)
Richardson, J.T.E. (2015) Coursework versus examinations in end-of-module assessment: a literature review, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education . 40 (3), 439-455.
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Advice about writing research proposals
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Healey, M. and Jenkins, A. (2009) Developing undergraduate research and inquiry.
Advice on essay planning
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Essay variants: essays only with more focus
- briefing / policy papers
- research proposals
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- essay plans
Laboratory notebooks and reports
- multiple choice questions
Creative / artistic performance
- learning logs
- learning blogs
8+ Essay Plan Templates – Sample, Example
Having a hard time starting your essay plan? We got you covered. The secret to writing a comprehensive and coherent essay is by coming up with a well-structured essay plan . An essay plan allows you to build your essay one idea at a time. Essay plan templates and outline templates showcase what are some of creative and appropriate sections in your essay.You may also see Plan Templates .
- 568+ Plan Templates in Word
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Plan Template Bundle
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Essay Plan Template
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Argumentative Essay Planning Sheet
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What Essay Plan Templates Are in Store for You?
- Argumentative Essay Planning Sheet Template – In writing an argumentative essay, the challenge lies on how you structure the flow of your arguments. Bear in mind that you can’t just merely enumerate your arguments but to lay them out in a logical and systematic manner. By using these template, you can breakdown your arguments into sections with their supporting details.
- Academic Essay Plan Template – This template is a guide in writing an effective essay plan. This will help you know the basic elements of an essay plan and how to effectively convey and write your ideas in the most comprehensible and coherent way. There are also sample thesis statements that you may refer to.
- Discursive Essay Plan Template – This template provides you with suggestions and outline on how to write an essay plan for three different types of discursive essays namely the for and against essays, opinion essays, and essays suggesting solutions to problems. The respective plan templates provide you with writing tips in terms of structure and content.
- Persuasive Plan Template – Persuasive essays can be tricky. Your essay must be convincing enough to persuade your readers to take your side. You need to effectively introduce the issue, clearly state your position, and write your supporting evidences.
Discursive Essay Plan
Persuasive Essay Plan
How to Effectively Map Out Your Essay Plan?
- Come up with a comprehensive and engaging thesis statement. You thesis statement presents the why’s and importance of your essay. It will be the heart of your essay. Your thesis statement will project the scope and limits of your the write-up. As per content, thesis statements are not necessarily long. As much as possible be concise and succinct.
- Provide topic sentences for each paragraph. This is done so as to guide the flow of your sentences. The topic sentence will is either your idea or argument. After that, substantiate your claims by providing your evidences.
- Make a sound conclusion. You also need to plan the structure of your conclusion. You should plan how you’ll manage to reiterate the important points and adding a strong closing sentences or notes to your reader’s in a creative and professional way. Like writing a strategic plan template , essay plan also provides key writing strategies and methods.
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How to plan an essay: Essay Planning
- What's in this guide
- Essay Planning
- Additional resources
How to plan an essay
Essay planning is an important step in academic essay writing.
Effective planning can speed up the essay writing process, and give the essay direction and precision. As you are working through the process of drafting and writing your essay, you can record any changes you make on your essay plan, so that your essay and the plan develop side by side.
One way to start planning an essay is with a ‘box plan’.
First, decide how many stages there are in your argument – how many important points do you want to make? Then divide up a box into an introduction, one body paragraph for each part of your argument, and a conclusion.
Next, figure out how many words per paragraph you will need. This depends on the word count and how many paragraphs you want. Remember you need one paragraph to discuss each main point you are making. The introduction and conclusion are both usually 10% of the word count and what is left is divided into how many body paragraphs you have.
Let's use the following example: Discuss how media can influence children. Use specific examples to support your view.
Next, in each body paragraph box record your main argument, either as a heading or as your topic sentence.
Finally, use dot points to list useful information or ideas from your research notes for each paragraph. Remember to include references so you can cite each idea in your essay.
Remember, a useful document for essay planning is the marking rubric (also known as the marking checklist or marking criteria). This indicates what the lecturer is looking for, and helps you make sure that all the necessary elements are there.
- Essay plan template Use this template to plan your essay. This template also contains a structural plan, along-side the essay plan, to help you organise your paragraphs and keep your arguments cohesive. Sticking to the word limit allocated for each section means your overall word count will remain within the assigned limit for your task.
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- Last Updated: Apr 27, 2023 4:28 PM
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