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How to Write a Perfect Essay: An Essay Writing Tutorial

This advice fits most research essays, argumentative essays, descriptive essays, compare and contrast essays, or expository essays, but it won’t fit so well to personal essays or narrative essays.

Choosing your Essay’s Topic and Approach

The first thing you need to do when writing an essay is figure out what you’re talking about. You should choose one topic or subject for your essay. It should be something you know about (information), and something you care about (opinion). Having the right information and a clear opinion about your subject is the key to a great essay.

Your topic may be very interesting, but you also have to say something about it. Let’s say for example that I choose “gun control.” A paper on the topic of gun control isn’t specific enough. What about gun control? You need to choose a focus (sometimes called an approach), that narrows down the topic of your essay. I could choose “The effects of gun control on small town relationships,” or “Gun control’s failure: Continuing inner-city shootings.”

Now that you have a topic and an approach (what is it, and what are you going to say about it), you can write a main claim or thesis statement.

Thesis Statement: What is Your Essay About and What will it Do?

Your thesis statement is a one-sentence summary of your entire paper. It should include your topic, your approach, and also your opinion. Readers want to know how you feel and what you think – they want to know why you’re bothering to write this essay, and why they should give a darn about your topic. Your paper should convince the reader that you’re right on some topic, that your opinion is valid. Your opinion doesn’t have to be stated directly, in fact please don’t use the novice method of announcing the parts of your essay with phrases like, “My paper is about…, I feel that…,”. Your opinion will be obvious from the tone of your paper.

Let’s say my topic of my essay is “gun control in Taiwan” and my approach is “the effects of gun control laws on violent crime.” You still don’t know, what about the effects of gun control laws on violent crime? Are they good or bad? Do they work or don’t they? As soon as you state that gun control laws on violent are (+/- adj.), you are already giving your opinion. You could call this your assertion. It’s OK to give your opinion – your paper should be saying something, convincing the reader that you’re right on some topic. However, be careful to support with facts and evidence.

Tips for writing a good thesis: avoid generalizations or vague statements like many people feel…, I want to give my opinion about…,

A good thesis should be crisp, clear and to the point.
“Gun control laws are a major factor in making Taiwan the world’s safest country.”
“Taiwan’s strict gun control makes violent crime very rare.”
“Taiwan’s gun control plan could have a positive effect on American gun policies.”

But enough about thesis statements, it’s time to learn…

How To Start Writing a Great Essay

Now that we’re actually ready to write our paper, we need to consider our readers. Yes, actual people (or at least your teacher) will be reading your essay. Luckily, people are simple-minded and can be influenced by your masterful writing techniques. Tips to keep in mind:

Readers get bored easily. Keep them engaged with questions, images, stories and quotes.
Readers are lazy. Don’t make them struggle to understand what you’re trying to say. Keep it simple, and stick to the following organization tips…

Write a Title that Will Grab’em by the Throat

Your title is the first thing your reader sees. It is your calling card, your billboard, your advertisement. It needs to stand out from the stack. You need a title that is witty, challenging or innovative enough to get your reader’s attention. If you can capture your reader’s attention in the title, you’ll keep it while you read their essay. And even if your essay is garbage, a great title will make them remember you.

A title should make some reference to your topic, claim and approach. In literature, most students will analyze a novel from the perspective of some philosopher, so titles are inevitably, “A Marxist Reading of Moby Dick” or “A Freudian Interpretation of Harry Potter.”

Write an Introduction to Seize their Imagination

The introduction is more than your chance to make a good impression on your reader – it is a chance to stir up their emotions. Getting an emotional response, through anecdotes, quotations, questions, facts or statistics, will help focus their attention. If you don’t get their interest until halfway through, they’ll have to go back and re-read the stuff they weren’t really paying attention to.

Don’t forget to include your thesis. You also need one or two transition statements that connect your “hook” with your main claim. If you choose, you can also insert a brief sentence that will describe your method or process – for example, if you will support your thesis with three supporting points, you can mention those in the introduction. This is sometimes called an “essay map”.

Example 1:
Title: Want to Live? Move to Taiwan!

Introduction: An emotional mother leans over the body of her son, trying to stop the gush of blood from the gun wound in his chest. He is just one of the 32,000 teenagers that will be shot this year in gun-related violence. Politicians are constantly seeking ways to control violent crimes, but how far away will they look for answers? In the mission to make America safe from gun-related violence, policy makers could take a page from the strict anti-gun policies in Taiwan. As a country with one of the world’s lowest rates of gun-related crime, Taiwan’s gun control plan should be in inspiration to American gun laws.

Example 2:
Title: Hamburgers Destroy the World

Introduction: Want to continue breathing? It’s simple – stop eating beef! 89% of the world’s oxygen supply comes from South American rainforests. Although there are several causes of rain forest depletion, you’ve probably personally contributed to the worst one: cattle farms. The US consumption of beef is a major factor in rain forest depletion.

A Great Body will Leave Them Satisfied

A typical essay will have about 3 or more paragraphs between the introduction and the conclusion. This is called “the body”. It is where you provide the evidence to support your thesis. Each paragraph will begin with a Topic Sentence which states the main supporting point of the paragraph, and the rest of the paragraph will be filled with supporting details, examples and facts.

Every paragraph should be making just one point. Make your point, support it with examples, facts, details and data, then move on.

Your body will look something like this:
1st paragraph: Topic Sentence (first supporting point of main claim)
Supporting details, examples, facts.

2nd paragraph: Topic Sentence (first supporting point of main claim)
Supporting details, examples, facts.

3rd paragraph: Topic Sentence (first supporting point of main claim)
Supporting details, examples, facts.

Of course, while this advice fits most research essays, argumentative essays, descriptive essays,
compare and contrast essays, or expository essays, it won’t fit so well to personal essays or narrative essays. However, these laws are universal:

Every paragraph should only have one idea.
Every paragraph should be related to the essay’s theme or main topic.

The Conclusion

The conclusion makes final comments and brings the paper to a close. Some common techniques are restating main points, asking a question, suggesting a solution, making a recommendation, or making a prediction. Generally, stick to the topic and end strongly by reasserting your main claim.

You’re Not Finished Yet! Double Checking Your Essay

Here’s a checklist you should read before turning in your paper:
Does the title of the essay give readers a good idea of what the essay is about?
Does the introduction create interest in the topic for readers?
Does the introduction state the main idea and the focus of the essay in a clear thesis statement?
Does the first (second, third) supporting paragraph have a topic sentence that clearly states the first (second, third) main supporting point?
Does every sentence in that paragraph support the topic sentence?
Have irrelevant sentences been eliminated so that the paragraph has a single focus?
Are the sentences in the paragraph arranged in a logical order?
Are there transitions in the paragraph to guide the reader from one idea to the next?
Do the supporting paragraphs provide adequate support and enough specific information to develop and prove the thesis of the essay?
Are the supporting paragraphs arranged in a logical order? Does the conclusion summarize the main ideas of the essay?

If the answer to any of the questions is “not yet,” go back and try to improve your essay. (Karen Blanchard, Ready to Write More)

Editing your Essay

Microsoft Word is getting better at catching spelling and grammar mistakes. Take advantage of it. Other good writing programs include Stylewriter (which helps you to make cleaner, simpler writing, highly recommended for most topic-based essays) and Whitesmoke (which helps you trade ordinary words into nicer ones, good for narrative, descriptive or personal essays)

If you need help editing your essay, let us help! We offer quality copy editing and proofreading services.

Good Luck with your Writing!

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