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Essay Prewriting Tips - Steps to Take Before You Start Writing Your Essay

Updated on July 9, 2015
Essay prompt
Essay prompt | Source

Step 1 - Read the Prompt/Question

In order to write a good quality essay, you first need to know what you will be writing about.

Read the essay prompt thoroughly. Then, read it again, and another time. Rewrite the prompt in your own words. Split the essay prompt up into different parts, and find out how many answers it is actually looking for. Write all of this down so that you can go back to these parts of the essay prompt.

As you read and re-read your paraphrase of the essay prompt, and the parts that you wrote down, start thinking of some general ideas that you could use to respond to the prompt. Jot these brainstorming ideas down off to the side so that you can use them later.

This first step will not only give you notes to look back on when you begin to write your essay, but it will also help you to start thinking about how you are going to write your essay, before you even start writing it.

Sources | Source

Step 2 - Find Several Credible Sources to Get Your Facts From

Don't underestimate the power of sources in your essay. Even if your assigned essay does not require sources, adding sources will only strengthen your argument.

You can find sources anywhere - on the internet, in the newspaper, in magazines - you name it, and you can find a source there. However, make sure your sources are credible.

If you don't recognize your source, check their sources. If someone else has work with credible sources, then it is highly likely that you can trust their writing.

Get together a group of about five credible sources. You won't need all of them, three tends to be standard, but you need some extras to fall back on in case some sources don't work out.

pick a few quotes that you think you might be able to use from each of your sources. Always quote your sources, and make sure that you understand what the original author's intent was before you use the quotes.


When using quotes, try to keep it to seven words, and make sure you embed your quotes in your text so that they flow naturally.

You don't have to agree with the sources you use. In fact, you can use a quote that you disagree with for the purpose of disagreeing with it in your essay, and quote another source that supports your view.

When you quote sources, include a works cited page at the end of your essay. That way the person who grades your essay can easily find where you found your quotes.

Jotting down response ideas
Jotting down response ideas | Source

Step 3 - Come Up With a Response to the Prompt

This part can be tricky if you don't have much knowledge of the topic. You can't really write an essay about something you know nothing about. Before you even start prewriting for your essay, make sure you know the topic that you will need to cover.

Go back to your notes. Look at the parts of the essay prompt that you wrote down, and your possible responses that you wrote off to the side. See if any of your responses fully address any part of the essay prompt. If you still have parts of the prompt that need a response, use this time to come up with ideas using your sources.

Be sure that your responses fall within the guidelines of the prompt. You don't want your essay to become off topic so that you are no longer addressing the prompt. Make sure every response relates back to the essay prompt.

Thesis Statement

Once you know how you will be answering the prompt in your essay, come up with a one sentence declarative statement that takes a position on the topic, answering all parts of the question so that you broadly cover what each part of your essay will be about.

Your thesis statement will be the driving point for your entire essay. Every paragraph in your essay should relate your thesis statement and strengthen the argument that it presents.

Creating an outline for your essay
Creating an outline for your essay | Source

Step 4 - Structure Your Essay by Making an Outline

Essay structure is important. No one wants to read a paper that is just text straight down to the bottom of the page. What you need to do is structure your essay into paragraphs, each paragraph with a specific purpose.

Use this general essay structure to make a detailed outline for your essays. Using this format, you should rarely run out of things to say or not know how to start your essay.

Paragraph 1 - The Introduction

The first paragraph in your essay should introduce the essay topic. You want your audience see the broad spectrum of the issues that will be presented in the essay.

Start broad, and quickly work your way down to a narrow subject. Address how the specific topic relates to the broader subject.

State your thesis statement. You will typically be safe making your thesis statement the last sentence in your essay's introduction paragraph.

Paragraph 2 - First Body Paragraph

In your essay's first body paragraph, you will address one part of the prompt. Your first sentence, or topic sentence, should be like a mini thesis statement that tells the reader what the entire paragraph is about.

Respond to the specific part of the essay prompt using your knowledge and sources, and then summarize your point in a quick sentence.

Paragraph 3 - Second Body Paragraph

Your essay's second body paragraph is quite similar in structure to your first. Your topic sentence should let the reader know what the rest of the paragraph is about, the middle sentences should respond to the prompt, and your last sentence should recap what the paragraph's main point was.

Many times, depending on the type of essay, the second body paragraph can be used to make a concession and rebuttal. This means that you qualify a quote, saying that its argument is valid in some respect, but use another quote to show that, according to your argument, the second quote is the one you believe to be accurate. In essence, you are explaining the point that the first quote makes, and then crushing its argument with another quote and your commentary.

If you don't need to make a concession and rebuttal, or your essay does not have any more parts to be answered, you can use this paragraph to make a second point about the same part or another part of the prompt.

Paragraph 4 - Third Body Paragraph

Your essay's last body paragraph is the last point you make in your essay.Try to make your last point really drive home your thesis statement. Your reader has been engaged in your body paragraphs, and your writing should still be pointing them back to your thesis statement.

Use the same structure as you used for your essay's first two body paragraphs. Have your topic sentence, make your point, and then sum up the paragraph.

In this paragraph, you may want to discuss how the first two body paragraphs relate to each other and your thesis statement after you make your third point. Often, this paragraph is used to compare two sources in essays that analyze a group of sources.

If you still need to answer more parts of the prompt, feel free to group some responses together into one paragraph if they are related. If you need an extra body paragraph to go into greater detail with your responses, don't be afraid to use it.

Paragraph 5 - Conclusion

In your conclusion paragraph, you want to take your thesis statement and apply it to the broader spectrum of the world.

Restate your thesis statement. Then summarize every point that you make in each of your essay's body paragraphs in a few sentences. Now, take your thesis statement and broaden its horizons. Make a call to action or a declarative statement that relates your thesis statement to the rest of the world, and why it matters to your audience.

Let's see if you were paying attention!

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When preparing to write an essay, you need to do four things:

  1. Read the prompt
  2. Find sources to use in your essay
  3. come up with a response to the prompt
  4. Make an outline for your essay to follow

If you do these things, and practice them, then you are right on track to writing great essays!

Tips | Source


  • Don't rush the essay prewriting process. If you rush this part of your essay, your actual essay will be disorganized and will not reach the level that it could have reached.
  • Make sure you use proper grammar and spelling in your essay. Issues like these can turn an excellent essay into a low quality essay. For example - paragraph indentation.
  • Practice these skills. Without good practice, you cannot write good essays every time. Practice especially comes in handy when you need to do your essay prewriting in five minutes for a timed essay.
  • If you need help, ask for it. The worst thing you can do is fail an assignment when you could have gotten help.
  • never give up. Writing essays can be frustrating at times, and sometimes you just will get tired of it and won't wan to do it anymore. These are the times you really need to persevere so that you can set yourself up with good habits for the future.

Sample Essay

Here I have created a sample essay on the topics that I just covered so that you can see these principles in action.

(as a side note, the HubPages editor does not recognized tabs or extra spaces at the beginning of a line, so indentation is impossible here)



  • Read the prompt
  • Find several sources to use in your essay
  • Come up with a response to the prompt
  • Structure

- Intro - make a statement; broad to specific; thesis

- Body - 3 points; concession/rebuttal, comparison; relate each to thesis

- Conclusion - narrow to broad; restate thesis; summarize essay; declarative statement


Many high school and college level students struggle with some of the work that their teachers have them do. One of the most common skills that is lacking is the skill of essay writing. Learning how to prepare for essays by prewriting is an effective means of developing the essay writing skills of students.

Students need to understand the prompt first, and then start looking for sources related the prompt. Source A says that eading the prompt through several times allows the student to better understand what they must do to "address every part of the question". Once a student understands what they need to talk about in their essay, they can begin finding sources to use to support their commentary. Sources give the essay credibility if they are used properly, and they help the student support their position once they understand the prompt.

Once the student understands the question and has found sources, they need to make a detailed outline for their essay. An outline will set out exactly what it is that the student needs to write about, and where they will be writing it. Without an outline, or just "winging it," as source B would say, the essay will not be as quality of a piece of work as it could be. The outline consists of a title as well as bulleted lists for an introduction paragraph, a thesis statement, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph. In these lists, notes can be written to help develop the structure even further. The outline of an essay provides the essential structure so that the essay can be organized and clear.

The structure for a good essay includes the introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and conclusion paragraph. The introduction should start with a broad perspective and work its way towards the topic of the prompt. Then, the thesis statement will declare the student's response to the prompt and generalize the entire essay. The three body paragraphs should make three points, and possibly compare two other points. The topic sentence of each should tell the reader what the entire paragraph is about, and the last sentence should summarize the paragraph and relate it back to the thesis statement. The student should also use quotes in these paragraphs to support their position. the conclusion paragraph should be the reverse of the introduction paragraph. The paragraph should start with a narrow take on the subject, along with a restatement of the thesis statement to affirm that take. The thesis statement should then be brought out of its confinement to the topic at hand and be applied to the world at large through a final declarative statement. A good essay will follow these structural guidelines.

Understanding the prompt, making an outline, and having good essay structure is essential to every student. If students will practice their essay prewriting skills, they will continually be developing their writing skills and be able to write better essays. Writing is an essential part of human communication, and as people, we need to become better at our writing communication skills alongside our students.

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© 2013 Ryan Askew


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