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How to Write an Essay

Updated on June 29, 2010
Photo by graur razvan ionut
Photo by graur razvan ionut

The minute hand stretches towards a five and a nine. So, the hour hand yawns and reaches for a three; the last three before the sun rubs the sleep out of its eyes and smiles. Students still working on a paper that is due in six hours groggily acknowledge the sun's warning and sip the last of the cold brew sitting near their computer.The sun's intruding light, normally pleasant and welcoming, is cursed during last-minute edits.This morning consists of furious typing and lazy citations; a morning without breakfast and singing birds, and a time to regret procrastination. Ah, the morning of a due date.

I've been in that situation several times, and have become skilled at the night-before-two-page essay. Unfortunately, as I progress in my college career, the essays become longer and the professors become more demanding. Gone are my days of pulling the all-nighters, so I've compiled basic techniques for writing an essay, or even a hub, for those students, writers, and hubbers wanting to avoid those awful mornings after writing all night before a dead-line.

In my experience, as a writing tutor and college student, writing an essay can be a daunting task for folks at all levels of education. I want to make that task easier for every person needing help with their newest writing pursuit.

Pick a topic

Probably the single most important factor of writing an essay is the topic. Why? Because the topic could be the one thing that breaks or makes an essay. I'll explain. I saw many students picking topics that didn't interest them. If the topic chosen feels like work, then it will be work. Instead choose a topic that holds some interest: a hobby, a favorite memory, a future endeavor, or a place. I could always tell when a student and I had found the right topic for them to write about. An excitement or interest would immediately emerge.

Narrow down your topic

Sometimes the toughest part of choosing the topic is following the guidelines of the instructor. The assignment may require to write an essay concerning Politics of the Republican Party. Sheer lack of interest in politics may make choosing a topic difficult for such an assignment. Politics of the Republican Party is broad. Using a few writing techniques to illustrate the scope of the subject and find a topic that is more specific would be beneficial.


Begin with the broad topic, Politics of the Republican Party, and create bubbles that are related. Draw connecting lines between bubbles. Try creating as many different avenues as possible. Using this technique sometimes reveals where an interest may lie and a possible narrowed topic.


I got this technique from a fellow tutor. A lot like clustering, except in a list fashion, this technique is effective. Write the broad topic at the top of a piece of paper and write down everything that relates to that subject. Writing in columns may help distinguish connections. If repeat subjects appear, perhaps that is the topic with the most potential.


A conversation with a friend, tutor, teacher, or a pet may help determine potential topics. For example, I really love the outdoors and grew up in the country. I would consider using this information about myself to find something within Environmental Policy and the Republican Party. I may then find a specific Environmental Policy and discuss in my essay the policy itself, the consequences of implementing the policy, or maybe talk about the person/persons that drafted it. Discussing interests and loves with a third party, even if it's a pet, is a great way to discover new possibilities for topics.

How to go from this point? The best way, I've learned, is to pick the narrowed down topic with the most credible and easily accessible resources.

Photo by Francesco Marino
Photo by Francesco Marino


Finding credible research, information on your topic that a instructor will accept, is half the fun and half the work in writing an essay. Some essays may not require any research to do, but most essays use at least one source. There are two types of sources: Primary and secondary sources. Finding a primary source from a reputable location (a book, journal entry, or interview) is ideal. For my essay on Environmental Policy of the Republican Party, I would find the environmental policy that I want to write my essay about. The actual policy is a primary source. If I couldn't get my hands on the actual policy, I'd use a secondary source. A secondary source could be an article about the policy.


Many writers skip this step. I use a combination of every step in the writing process, and sometimes I use none of them. Of course, with experience, writers develop their own unique writing process.

Timed Writing

For 10 minutes write down everything about the topic. While doing a timed writing, ignore research, notes, or the Internet. Ignore all distractions. Write the whole time and never leave the keyboard or let the pencil leave the paper. The purpose of this exercise is to help get the drafting process started. Sometimes a blank, blinking screen is enough to promote procrastination.


My favorite technique out of all the ones I've used. I love outlines! Outlines help me arrange the information I've gathered into a logical, organized manner. I like to think of an outline as my blueprint for my essay. Outlines don't have to be detailed, though I like to make mine overly detailed to help with the writing process, and are great to see the overall structure of the essay.

Note Cards

I picked up this technique from an instructor. While researching, write down all the tidbits of information on a note card. Number each note card, and on the back of them write down any additional notes that pertain to the essay. Using note cards is great for the writers that like to be more tangible in their pre-drafting. This allows for cards to be moved about for optimal arrangement. Once the cards are arranged, it's easy to have them stacked near the computer while writing.

During the Research process, many students--including myself--tend to print out entire articles of research and simply highlight the good stuff. There isn't anything wrong with this technique, but the temptation to use the material directly in the paper is a real danger. Plagiarism is serious. I'd only suggest this technique if the temptation isn't a threat.


And so the writing begins. In my experience, there are several different ways to approach this stage in writing an essay.

  • Introduction

Many writers begin writing their essay by starting with the introduction. I certainly use this tactic, but don't hesitate to dive right into the body. To structure an effective introduction, it must have three important factors: a hook, which captures your reader's attention; a thesis statement, which describes the scope of your paper in detail; and transition sentences, which support the flow of the paper.

  • Body

When writing a thesis statement, or a good introduction proves difficult, start with writing the body; it's easier to get all of the information required for the content of the essay down in writing first, and then work on the Introduction and conclusion.

Linking paragraphs together creates flow. The body has transition sentences between paragraphs, and paragraphs are structured in a way that focuses on individual subjects within your main topic. A paragraph should never be about both cats and dogs, unless the paragraph is about how they get along. Pulling an idea from the bottom of one paragraph and linking it to the next idea in a sentence at the beginning of the new paragraph is a simple way to create a transition sentence.

  • Conclusion

Ah, the end. It's easy to rush the conclusion. All that time spent on the essay, and it's 5:28 a.m. and class is at 9 a.m.. Yea, don't fall into the end-it-early trap.

The conclusion of an essay is just as important to the document as the introduction. A strong conclusion should have three main ingredients. Always include a brief summary of the journey the readers have endured. Remind them of important issues and topics that are imperative to the message of the essay. After the brief summary, bring in an element from the introduction. Sometimes a re-statement of the thesis statement is used; I avoid this technique because it's common. The idea is to create a full circle effect by showing the reader where they began in the journey. This step doesn't necessarily have to be after the brief summary, but could also be before it. The third main ingredient is a statement of calling. A statement of calling is a "look" into the future or past of the particular subject, or even the essay. Rule of thumb: never introduce a new topic in the conclusion.


The next step after all of the writing is the presentation of the draft. Usually, in academic papers, this will be a formatting type. MLA and APA are the two most common formats.

Thank You Reader

Finally! And with an hour to spare before class. To finish an essay in one night is a challenge, but, not being prepared, not revising the essay, not giving it the attention it deserves, will not help write future 20 page research papers. Enjoy the process, the work, and the essay will benefit.

Writing an essay can be an enjoyable experience, even for non writers. The intimidation of an essay assignment typically comes from not understanding the process. I hope this article has helped you learn more about writing essays. Good luck in your writing journey.

Note: These techniques are also effective for writing research papers.

Do you wait to write your essays the night before it's due?

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    • profile image

      pressurized wall manhattan 6 years ago

      thanks for the idea...

    • Anita_Lumley profile image

      Anita_Lumley 7 years ago from Springfield, MO

      Thank you, Ryan! I hope your students find it useful. Best wishes to you too. :)

    • Ryan Clinton profile image

      Ryan Clinton 7 years ago from

      Yea baby you rock. I will use your outline in my class. Yes art students write and many not so well. This will really help. Best wishes to you and keep on hubbin.

    • Anita_Lumley profile image

      Anita_Lumley 7 years ago from Springfield, MO

      Your welcome! yea, I use these techniques for almost all of my writing, even emails. :)

    • NoRR4Me profile image

      NoRR4Me 7 years ago

      Thanks for a nice hub on how to write an essay. This is good advice on how to write a hub also.