How to Write an Essay
Essays can range from being five paragraphs to twenty pages or more, covering any topic,
whether it's what you learned from your dog, or why societies become hierarchies. What
all essays have in common, however, is that they must stay true to the roots of the word
"essay" which derives from the French infinitive essayer, meaning "to try" or "to attempt".
An essay is essentially your attempt to explain your point of view, and a skillfully
written essay is clear, illuminating and informative.
1. Define the context. If the essay is assigned, certain parameters will usually be defined
for you, such as the length of the essay, format of the title page, and the intended
audience (e.g. your teacher, an admissions committee). and what length is appropriate.
No matter what, if you're given directions, follow them. A brilliant essay might still
fail to get its point across if it doesn't follow the rules.
2. Choose a topic. Often this will be decided for you, but if not, try to choose something
you're interested in or, better yet, passionate about. It will make the essay easier to
write. You can also think of your thesis statement at this point, but it shouldn't be set
in stone since it may be elaborated or changed as you do your research in the next step.
A thesis statement is what your essay is attempting to explain and prove. You can brainstorm
a few different thesis statements and use them to guide your research. Some examples:
• I deserve this scholarship because I am going to give back to the community.
• Crop failure is directly caused by lack of fertility in soils, not by drought.
• Making people take tests before they're allowed to keep pets would benefit society in many ways.
3. Gather your information. Whether it's personal observations or scientific facts,
you'll need evidence to back up your thesis statement. Take detailed notes, keeping track
of which facts come from which sources. As you're researching your topic, don't ignore
facts and claims that seem to disprove your thesis statement. A good essayist includes
the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid.
• Going with the example about crop failure above, what if you find a research
study with graphs showing that every time there's a drought, there are more crop failures?
Maybe all those crop failures occurred on farms that had poor soils, and unless the
condition of the soils can be provided, the crop failures can't be attributed solely to drought.
4. Plan your essay. This is the time to solidify your thesis statement. Look over
all of your research and notes: Can you observe any patterns or observations? Try making
a mind map to organize your thoughts. Maybe you started out wanting to show how you'd
give back to the community, but now you see a better point would be that you're a good
role model for others like yourself. Let the evidence speak for itself. If you don't have
enough information to demonstrate anything, you may need to do more research or modify
your thesis statement (or even your topic). If you have enough material to sustain a thesis
statement, however, make an outline to organize your research with headings and sub-headings.