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Vital Essay Writing Guidelines For Newcomers

Whether it’s your first essay in middle school, high school, or college, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. If it’s two pages or ten, it can seem like an insurmountable task: how to start, what format to use, how to convey your ideas, or even having an idea in the first place are all things you can struggle with! Here are some important tips for writing a successful essay.

  • Read up on your topic. Before you do anything, make sure you know your topic. Go over your notes from class, or re-read parts of the text that are important to your paper. If it’s a research paper, brush up on at least two or three sources before putting pen to paper; it makes things a lot easier when you’re confident in the material you will be writing about!
  • Make an outline. Start with the things you know you want to say in your paper, just to get your creative juices flowing. You can go back and fill in the weaker spots later. Your outline doesn’t have to adhere to the standard Roman numeral outline; it’s for your own use, so do it however you like. Many people like the traditional outline, but if something else works for you, go with that. The outline will help give your paper a skeleton, and help you see where you may need to do more research or more brainstorming.
  • Just start writing. For many people, the best way to start writing is to just start writing! Don’t worry at that moment about structure or adhering to a format; just begin typing and see where your mind takes you. You might just surprise yourself!
  • Make sure you have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction to your paper should give some general background information and give the reader an idea of the subject, time period, and direction of your paper. Don’t use too much background information, just enough to orient the reader. Your body is where the most of your work will take place; it’s where you will discuss the subject at length, using evidence from outside sources or otherwise to support the point you are trying to make. Your conclusion should have a brief summary of the paper, but it should also re-iterate why you wrote the paper. Why was the topic important? Why should someone care about it? End on a strong note; if you can’t imagine your reader leaning back in their seat and saying “wow!” after your last sentence, revisit it and try to make it stronger. It’s always good to end by addressing how the topic of your paper relates to the larger picture of contemporary society.
  • Try using the following formula for your body paragraphs. You should try to make your body paragraphs full of strong sentences supported by facts. A good rule of thumb is the formula of: “Statement. Commentary. Commentary.” In the “statement” sentence, state something important to your paper, whether it’s a fact, a relevant quote, or an idea that ties into your thesis. Follow it with two commentary sentences, where you either provide evidence of the statement, or interpret it for your reader in the larger context of your paper. Here is an example of three sentences that follow this formula:
    • Statement: In the last chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley saves the children by committing a crime, but he does not get persecuted for it.
    • Commentary: This relates to Atticus’ story about not killing mockingbirds because they don’t hurt anyone, they just make beautiful music. Boo Radley is a mockingbird in the sense that he only committed a crime in order to serve the greater good, so it would be cruel to punish him for it.