Writing the body of an essay
You can work through the body in three main stages:
- Create an outline of what you want to say and in what order.
- Write a first draft to get your main ideas down on paper.
- Write a second draft to clarify your arguments and make sure everything fits together.
This article gives you some practical tips for how to approach each stage.
Start with an outline
Before you start, make a rough outline that sketches out the main points you want to make and the order you’ll make them in. This can help you remember how each part of the essay should relate to the other parts.
However, remember that the outline isn’t set in stone – don’t be afraid to change the organization if necessary. Work on an essay’s structure begins before you start writing, but it continues as you write, and goes on even after you’ve finished writing the first draft.
While you’re writing a certain section, if you come up with an idea for something elsewhere in the essay, take a few moments to add to your outline or make notes on your organizational plans.
Write the first draft
Your goals in the first draft are to turn your rough ideas into workable arguments, add detail to those arguments, and get a sense of what the final product will actually look like.
Start wherever you want
Many writers do not begin writing at the introduction, or even the early body paragraphs. Start writing your essay where it seems most natural for you to do so.
Some writers might prefer to start with the easiest section to write, while others prefer to get the most difficult section out of the way first. Think about what material you need to clarify for yourself, and consider beginning there.
Tackle one idea at a time
Each paragraph should aim to focus on one central idea, giving evidence, explanation, and arguments that relate to that idea.
At the start of each paragraph, write a topic sentence that expresses the main point. Then elaborate and expand on the topic sentence in the rest of the paragraph.
When you’ve said everything you have to say about the idea, move onto a new paragraph.
Keep your argument flexible
You may realize as you write that some of your ideas don’t work as well as you thought they would. Don’t give up on them too easily, but be prepared to change or abandon sections if you realize they don’t make sense.
You’ll probably also come up with new ideas that you’d not yet thought of when writing the outline. Note these ideas down and incorporate them into the essay if there’s a logical place for them.
If you’re stuck on one section, move on to another part of the essay and come back to it later.
Don’t delete content
If you begin to dislike a certain section or even the whole essay, don’t scrap it in fit of rage!
If something really isn’t working, you can paste it into a separate document, but keep what you have, even if you don’t plan on using it. You may find that it contains or inspires new ideas that you can use later.
Note your sources
Students often make work for themselves by forgetting to keep track of sources when writing drafts.
You can also use a citation generator to save a list of your sources and copy-and-paste citations when you need them.
When you’re writing a first draft, it’s important not to get slowed down by small details. Get your ideas down on paper now and perfect them later. If you’re unsatisfied with a word, sentence, or argument, flag it in the draft and revisit it later.
When you finish the first draft, you will know which sections and paragraphs work and which might need to be changed. It doesn’t make sense to spend time polishing something you might later cut out or revise.
Write the second draft
Working on the second draft means assessing what you’ve got and rewriting it when necessary. You’ll likely end up cutting some parts of the essay and adding new ones.
Check your ideas against your thesis
Everything you write should be driven by your thesis. Looking at each piece of information or argumentation, ask yourself:
- Does the reader need to know this in order to understand or accept my thesis?
- Does this give evidence for my thesis?
- Does this explain the reasoning behind my thesis?
- Does this show something about the consequences or importance of my thesis?
If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, reconsider whether it’s relevant enough to include.
If your essay has gone in a different direction than you originally planned, you might have to rework your thesis statement to more accurately reflect the argument you’ve made.
Watch out for weak points
Be critical of your arguments, and identify any potential weak points:
- Unjustified assumptions: Can you be confident that your reader shares or will accept your assumptions, or do they need to be spelled out?
- Lack of evidence: Do you make claims without backing them up?
- Logical inconsistencies: Do any of your points contradict each other?
- Uncertainty: Are there points where you’re unsure about your own claims or where you don’t sound confident in what you’re saying?
Fixing these issues might require some more research to clarify your position and give convincing evidence for it.
Check the organization
When you’re happy with all the main parts of your essay, take another look at the overall shape of it. You want to make sure that everything proceeds in a logical order without unnecessary repetition.
Try listing only the topic sentence of each paragraph and reading them in order. Are any of the topic sentences too similar? Each paragraph should discuss something different; if two paragraphs are about the same topic, they must approach it in different ways, and these differences should be made clear in the topic sentences.
Does the order of information make sense? Looking at only topic sentences lets you see at a glance the route your paper takes from start to finish, allowing you to spot organizational errors more easily.
Draw clear connections between your ideas
Finally, you should assess how your ideas fit together both within and between paragraphs. The connections might be clear to you, but you need to make sure they’ll also be clear to your reader.
Within each paragraph, does each sentence follow logically from the one before it? If not, you might need to add new sentences to make the connections clear. Try using transition words to clarify what you want to say.
Between one paragraph and the next, is it clear how your points relate to one another? If you are moving onto an entirely new topic, consider starting the paragraph with a transition sentence that moves from the previous topic and shows how it relates to the new one.