How to Write an Essay
There are many kinds of essays, and many ways to write them, but most
of those belong to the field of literature rather than exposition and do
not concern us here. The following hints have shown themselves useful and
effective in many contexts over the years.
- An essay has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In the beginning ("introduction") you state the central idea
of the essay. In the middle ("body") you produce the evidence
which supports the central idea. In the end ("conclusion") you
explain how you have demonstrated the central idea. In other words, first
you say what you are going to say, then you say it, then you say what you
- An essay presents an argument. This does
not mean that you are necessarily contradicting anyone. What it does mean
is that the essay has a central idea which
you are trying to demonstrate, and that central idea should be
supported by the presentation of evidence in a logical order, such
that the conclusion which you want the reader to draw follows naturally
from the premises you have laid out.
In setting out your evidence, you should
relevant facts and
them to each other and to the central argument.
But be aware: simply stringing facts together or making assertions in random
order is not adequate for an essay, even if you have a lot of them. An
essay has to say something meaningful and consistent about the subject.
- Know what you intend to say before you start
to write. It is impossible to structure an argument coherently if
you are making it up as you go along, and if you change the direction of
your essay halfway through, your introduction will have no connection to
the conclusion. If circumstances permit (for example, on a paper or take-home
exam), you may find that writing an outline first helps organize your thoughts
and keeps you on track.
- Don't stop when you finish the first draft
of a paper or take-home exam. Most people don't get it completely right
the first time around. Revising and editing are important! Always check
for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and logical coherence.