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Brief Guide to Writing an Essay

You will likely be expected to write many different types of essays in your academic career. There are even some professions, such as grant writing, that demand essays to be written constantly.

Basic Types of Essays

One of the first types of essays you will be expected to produce is an “informal” essay. This type of essay comes strictly from your mind. There is no need for citations or sources, and usually the essay will be short, perhaps only a page to a page and a half. You will do these types of essays even in early grade school. Have you ever written a very short story? That is an informal essay. You can have fun with these little essays, and they are often the most enjoyable type to write.

Another type of essay that you will encounter early on in your education is a book report, or “literary” essay. These are also fairly simple. You must read the assigned book, come up with an opening paragraph to explain the concept of the book, use a few paragraphs to comment on the book’s major points, and use a concluding paragraph to give your opinion and leave the reader with a final impression of the book. If you follow the instructions, this essay is not hard to handle. Have you ever been asked to write a small paper on what you did over summer vacation, or perhaps what you want to be when you grow up? Did you know that was actually a type of essay? Yes, it is called a “narrative” essay, and you will write a lot of them on a lot of different subjects. Narrative essays are a slightly difficult name for what you are expected to write. It is always in first person, and you are simply being asked to describe something. It’s not so hard once someone explains it to you.

One type of essay that you will see from time to time is the “compare and contrast” essay. This essay also has a complicated name for what is actually expected of you. You will be given two items, such as two movies or two books, and you will look for what is the same about them, and what is different. It is preferable to pick the same number, usually three, of things that are alike, and things that are different. However, if you can’t do that, it might even make an even more interesting essay. Be sure to stress your opinion strongly, and really emphasize the similarities and differences. You may be asked to write a “persuasive” essay. For this essay, take a point that you feel strongly for or against, and use research to back up your point. You may want to find statistics supporting your idea, or books that use the compare and contrast method. The most important thing is to support your point. Don’t leave readers wondering if the other option could be the better one.

Crafting a Good Essay

Now that the basic types of essays have been covered, we will discuss how to write a good essay. A good essay always starts out following the writing process. The first thing you will want to do is concentrate on the invention of the essay. Review in your mind what kind of essay you are being asked to write. Make sure you aren’t comparing and contrasting when you need to be persuasive. Get a good idea of your topic, and decide where you want it to end. If you are defending a point, defend it all the way through. If there is something you really want to bring out in a book, bring it out from the beginning. Secondly, concentrate on critical reading. If you are doing a literary essay, read the book as though you mean to write a review for a newspaper. Keep an eye out for mistakes and inconsistencies, and don’t pretend to like it if you don’t. For a persuasive essay, read all your material closely. Make sure it comes from good sources, and also make sure it really does defend your point. For a compare and contrast essay, be sure to read or watch each topic very carefully. Don’t try to make a point on an insignificant comment, but base them on clear, strong topics.

The next point is to come up with a thesis statement. This is the basis for the whole essay. Sometimes instructors will have you write it as the first sentence in the paper, but it usually is the last sentence of the opening paragraph. The thesis is your point, your whole opinion, so make sure that everything you write backs it up. A thesis is something that you find interesting, so if you have enough material to back up an opinion that maybe no one else has thought of, don’t be afraid to go for it. An instructor would probably appreciate a different viewpoint now and then. Just be sure to back it up. Some people choose to organize their thoughts by using an outline. Others choose to use note cards. You may be required to use, and turn in, one or both. Write your thesis statement down, and then bring in the information you have collected. A good short essay will have five paragraphs: an opening, three a discussion, and one closing. With a very long essay, you will have to have more paragraphs, but they will still follow that basic organization.

Formatting and Checkup

Now it will be time to type out your essay. Most instructors will expect double spacing and twelve point type font, but be sure to confirm before you start. As you begin to type your ideas, read over your essay. Is there something that you don’t like or doesn’t fit? Go ahead and delete it. You can wait until the essay is done to revise it, or change what you don’t like, but you can also do it while writing. Just make sure that the changes don’t change the point of your essay. Documentation is extremely important. The most common types are MLA and APA, but there are others.

Make sure you know which one to use, and stick with it. Don’t combine different kinds in the same essay. You will likely be asked to use parenthetical documentation. This is simply putting the credit for a quote or statement in parentheses at the end of the given sentence. MLA and APA do this differently, so make sure you are using the right one. If you are asked to use footnotes, you will number the sentences and place the credit for them at the bottom of each page. Most word processors can help you type footnotes. Use the help. Otherwise, your paper can become a mess of incorrect spacing and paragraphing.

When everything is typed up, don’t forget to proofread! Spell and grammar check are good things to have, but they are not perfect. Read through your essay yourself, and make sure everything looks right. If you can, have someone else read it, too. They can see mistakes easier than you can. Follow these rules, and you’ll have a great essay.