How to write an essay
An essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an argument or narrative based on evidence, analysis and interpretation.
There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most academic essays share the same goal: They aim to persuade readers of a position or perspective through informed arguments.
To write an essay, there are three stages you need to follow:
- Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
- Writing: Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
- Revision: Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.
Essay writing process
The essay writing process consists of three stages: preparation, writing and revision. These stages apply to every essay or paper. However, the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay – for example a personal statement, statement of purpose, high school essay or graduate school essay.
Introduction of an essay
The introduction is important both to grab the reader’s interest and to inform them of what will be covered in the essay. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text. To learn how to write an essay introduction, start by getting familiar with its most important goals.
1. Hook your reader by piquing interest and curiosity
The first sentence of the introduction should pique the interest of your reader. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be a question, a quote, a surprising statistic, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.
Let’s say you are writing an essay about the development of Braille (the reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). The hook could be something like this:
The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability.
2. Provide background and context on your topic
After you have hooked the reader, it is important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.
3. Define the objective and formulate the thesis statement
Next, you should define your central argument or thesis statement. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. An example of a thesis statement from an essay on Braille could look like this:
The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new; Louis Braille adapted and simplified existing methods to create the first writing system specifically for blind people. But its success depended on acceptance among sighted people before the social status of blindness could truly be transformed, and this process was shaped by broader debates about disabled people’s place in society.
4. Provide a map of the content
Finish the introduction with an overview of your essay’s structure. The overview should provide the reader with a general idea of what each section of your essay explores.
Body of an essay
The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis statement, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its central purpose is to present, interpret and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.
Length of the body text
The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.
To give your essay a clear structure, it is important to make use of paragraphs and headings. This makes the content scannable and easy to digest. Each paragraph should be centered around just one argument or idea.
The purpose of each paragraph is introduced using topic sentences. The topic sentence forms a transition from the previous paragraph and introduces the argument to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.
After the topic sentence, present evidence by providing the reader with data, examples or quotes. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how the paragraph helps develop your overall argument.
Although the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France. This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources. Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted learning Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009). This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods. Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009), realizing that access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss. It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).
Conclusion of an essay
The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text. A strong essay conclusion:
- Draws connections between the arguments made in the essay’s body
- States the outcome of your arguments
- Emphasizes the relevance and significance of the thesis statement for policy, academia or the wider world
- Explores the broader implications and importance of the topic
A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that emphasizes the importance of your work and leaves the reader with a strong final impression.
What not to include in a conclusion
To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid including. The most common mistakes are:
- Including new arguments or evidence
- Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
- Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”