How to write an essay

There are many types of essays and papers you can write as a student. The content and length of an essay varies depending on your level, subject of study, and specific course requirements.

However, most academic essays share the same goal. They aim to persuade readers of a position or perspective through informed arguments, which are based on evidence, analysis and interpretation.

Furthermore, every essay has an introduction, body and conclusion that always do more or less the same things.

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.

1. Preparation2. Writing3. Revision
  1. Understand the assignment
  2. Understand your audience
  3. Choose a topic
  4. Conduct preliminary research
  5. Develop a thesis statement
  6. Create an outline
  1. Write the introduction
  2. Outline your arguments and provide evidence
  3. Write the conclusion
  1. Evaluate the organization
  2. Review the content of each paragraph
  3. Proofread for language errors
  4. Check for plagiarism

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.

Paragraph structure

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 smooth transitions 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.

Example paragraph

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).

See the full essay example

Conclusion of an essay

The conclusion is the final section of an essay or paper. It takes up around 10–20% of your essay. 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…”

Checklist: How to write an essay

How to write an essay

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