Ace Your Papers: Essay Writing 101
Whether you’re currently in high school, a student in college, or working your way through university, essay writing is a seemingly unavoidable task and is an incredibly common assignment demand throughout varying levels of education. This is typically because the skills required to develop an excellently executed paper are known to enhance your intellectual development and are skills that will help you succeed even once you are out of school.
The essay writing process can be broken down into three main categories (which we will be breaking down even further into subcategories). These three key aspects include:
Brainstorm what your topic and/or argument is, choose a writing style, collect your supportive data and sources through research, structure your paper by creating an outline and develop your thesis.
Break down your paper by the introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion. The introduction is for introducing your topic to the reader and to clearly articulate your argument/thesis and how you plan on proving it. The body paragraphs are where your points are being proven and evidence is being provided to back up your thesis. Restate your argument in the conclusion and relate it back to everything mentioned in the body paragraphs.
Check your grammar and spelling as well as the cohesiveness between paragraphs, make sure you are following a proper format and are organizing your points accordingly.
Now that we’ve established the main factors required to produce a paper, let’s break them down further and discuss what is needed to create a great paper!
When it comes to preparation, there are multiple steps you will need to take to ensure you are setting yourself up for success. These steps include:
1. Understanding The Assignment
Once you've been given your essay assignment, take the time to fully comprehend what is being asked of you by your teacher or professor. Review and re-read the assignment instructions and determine what the purpose or goal is of the paper and what kind of essay you are being asked to write. There are multiple essay styles, some of which include persuasive, compare and contrast, descriptive, and the list goes on. Make sure you understand each of these aspects and if you have any lingering uncertainties, plan to ask your teacher for clarification before beginning.
2. Determining The Topic
Oftentimes, teachers will assign a paper with a designated topic you must discuss i.e., "discuss the similarities and differences in the two plays 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear' written by William Shakespeare". In this case, there is little to no wiggle room regarding the direction of your paper. However, if you are given more freedom surrounding the topic, such as "discuss a monumental moment in Canadian history", it is a good idea to take the time to brainstorm a topic you are already familiar with and will hold your interest.
3. Developing A Thesis Statement
The thesis is the focal point of your essay, therefore it must be perfectly clear what your position is and what you will be arguing. Continuing with the monumental moment in Canadian history topic, an example of a thesis could be "women gaining the right to vote in 1916 is one of the most monumental moments in Canadian history due to the shift it created in gender equality, gender norms and how women were perceived in society". This thesis shows the reader exactly what the paper is going to be about and the stance that has been taken on the topic.
4. Doing Your Research
With any good paper comes strong research to back it up. Teachers will usually let you know how many and what kind of sources you are required to include in your paper. Whether your teacher is permitting the use of online articles or is only allowing scholarly academic journals, and whether they are asking for 2 sources or 6, it is imperative that you actually read and review your sources to ensure they are a good match for your paper and will be able to back up the claims you are making. Once again using the Canadian history example, if your thesis claims that women being allowed to vote affected gender equality, gender norms and how society viewed women, find multiple sources that share the same claims and give examples. Your sources are the backbone of your essay and they will determine how strong your paper is so be sure to allocate an adequate amount of time to this portion.
5. Creating An Outline
Map out the structure of your essay to give you a general idea of the template you will be following once you actually begin writing. For instance, our thesis makes three claims regarding women gaining the right to vote, so it would be a good idea to dedicate three individual paragraphs to discuss and prove these statements. This will help keep your ideas clear and distinct as well as keep you on the right track throughout your essay writing.
Writing The Paper
The first sentence can be one of the most difficult to write. Avoid over-generalized statements, instead opt for a topic specific opening line that will grab the reader's attention while also informing them about the subject they will be reading about. After you have introduced your topic, state your thesis and explain the sources you will be using to prove it. For instance "women gaining the right to vote in 1916 is one of the most monumental moments in Canadian history due to the shift it created in gender equality, gender norms and how women were perceived in society. This will be discussed using the critical lens offered by Jane Doe in her academic journal "Ace Your Paper: Essay Writing 101" where she discusses the ripple effects caused by this movement." This introduces the sources to your reader and creates a more cohesive paper overall.
2. Body Paragraphs
Structure is incredibly important in essays, that is why paragraphs are used to organize thoughts and ideas. Each paragraph should be centered around one main point where you can expand on your idea and utilize your sources to prove your thesis. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence to transition from the previous one and to introduce the idea that will be discussed in the new paragraph. Be sure to fully explain every single in-text quote you include as evidence to explain how it correlates to your thesis and always cite in accordance with the citation style being utilized.
The conclusion is just as important as any other part as it ties your paper together and leaves the reader with a strong final impression. A good conclusion reflects on the claims made, returns to the thesis, ties together your main points, and shows why your arguments matter. Be sure to avoid adding any new ideas or information at this point, the conclusion is simply wrapping up what has already been stated in a cohesive and thought-provoking manner.
Revise Your Work
Unfortunately this step is often skipped over or forgotten about but, it can actually make the biggest difference for your paper and grade if done correctly and attentively! Rubrics and other marking tools utilized by teachers almost always have a section dedicated to the grammar, spelling and overall organization of your paper.
This means even if you have developed a great thesis, done adequate research, and proven your point by connecting your sources, a chunk of your grade percentage will take a hit if you overlook the importance of this category. Do yourself and your hard work justice by taking the time to revise your work to ensure you're not handing in a paper filled with small, completely avoidable mistakes.
Many teachers and professors will actually provide you with the rubric they will be using to grade your paper, so make sure to use that to your full advantage! If not, here is a simple checklist you can go over to make sure your essay is A+ worthy.
My essay has an interesting and informative title.
My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information.
My introduction contains my thesis statement and clearly states the topic, position and focus of the essay.
My essay has clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.
I introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence.
Each paragraph has a single focus and clear connection to the thesis.
My conclusion draws on each paragraph-specific idea and connects each argument together in a way that supports my thesis statement.
I have utilized quotes from my researched sources to help me prove my thesis.
I have fully explained the purpose of including each quote and have made it clear how it relates to the thesis statement.
I have properly cited all in-text quotes and/or pieces of information I got from another source using the chosen citation style.
I have included a reference and/or works cited page at the end of my essay where I have properly formatted each source using the chosen citation style.
I have followed the requirements of this essay assignment (word count, topic, number of sources needed, etc.).
I have followed all formatting guidelines (font style & size, page numbering, citation style, line spacing, etc.).
We hope these steps and tips provide you with some additional clarity and confidence that you can apply next time you’re assigned a paper!