How to Write an English Essay


When taking English courses in high school and college, you'll likely be assigned to write essays. While writing an essay for an English class may seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. If you give yourself plenty of time to plan out and develop your essay, however, then you will not have to stress about it.

Part 1
Getting Started

Getting Started on How to Write an English Essay

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You cannot write a quality essay in 10 minutes. It's best to give yourself ample time to write and revise the essay. Try to factor in some time for breaks between drafts as well. If you're approaching a deadline, however, you may need to make the best use of the time you have.

Getting Started on How to Write an English Essay

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While it's important to prepare to write, when it comes down to it, you just have to start putting content on the page. Remember that you can always go back and make improvements later, and that revisions are part of the writing process.

Getting Started on How to Write an English Essay

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Your thesis is one of the most important elements of your essay. A thesis statement summarizes the main argument or position of your essay in one sentence. It lets readers know what the essay will attempt to show or prove. Everything in your essay should be connected to your thesis in a straightforward way.[1] Your instructor will expect to see a well-crafted thesis early on in your essay. Place your thesis at the end of your first paragraph. If you don't understand how to write a thesis, ask your instructor for help. This is an important concept that will keep coming up in courses where you have to write papers.

Getting Started on How to Write an English Essay

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Once you have a compelling thesis statement, craft the rest of your introduction around it. You can also save this step for after you've drafted the body of your essay if you feel intimidated by the introduction. The best introductions "grab" the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. Some effective strategies for creating an introduction include:[2] Telling a personal anecdote Citing a surprising fact or statistic Overturning a common misconception Challenging the reader to examine her own preconceptions

Getting Started on How to Write an English Essay

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Outlining involves developing a basic structure for your essay, which can help you stay on track while writing drafts. Look over your notes and invention exercises and think about how you can organize this information in an outline. Think about what information should come first, second, third, etc.[3] You can create a numbered outline using a word processor or just put it on paper. Don’t worry about being too detailed when you create your outline. Just try to get the major ideas on paper.

Part 2
Drafting the Essay

Drafting the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Before you start to write, gather together all of the notes, books, and other materials that you will need to reference in order to answer the essay prompt effectively. Support is essential for an effective English essay, so do not try to write your essay without these materials. If you have time, read through your notes before you begin. Make sure that you have your outline handy as well. You can build on your outline by expanding on each of the points in the order that they are listed in.

Drafting the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Topic sentences signal to readers what a paragraph will discuss. Start each of your paragraphs with a topic sentence so that your instructor will be able to see that your ideas progress in a clear, direct manner.[4] Think of the topic sentence as a way to tell readers what you'll talk about in the rest of the paragraph. You don’t need to summarize the whole paragraph—just provide readers with a taste. For example, in a paragraph that describes Okonkwo’s rise and fall in Things Fall Apart, you might begin with something like: “Okonkwo starts out as a poor young man, but then rises to a position of wealth and status.”

Drafting the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Make sure that you include as many details as possible throughout your essay. Remember that padding (filling in with meaningless text or using extra wordy sentences) is not an effective strategy for writing essays because instructors can see right through it. Your instructor has probably read hundreds of student essays over their career, so they'll know when an essay has been padded. Fill your essays with details that make your essay useful and insightful instead. If you get stuck, some good strategies for developing your ideas include: Returning to the invention stage. This includes exercises such as freewriting, listing, or clustering. You can also revisit your notes and books to see if there's anything you missed or forgot. Visiting your school’s writing lab. You can find a writing lab on most college campuses. They are free to students and can help you improve your writing at any stage in the writing process. Talking to your instructor. Take advantage of your professor's office hours or one-on-one appointments. Meet with them and discuss ways that you can improve your essay before you hand it in.

Drafting the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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If you use any sources at all in your essay, then you will need to cite them using the style that your instructor prefers. MLA style is the most common citation format used in English courses, so you will need to know how to use it. Provide in-text citations as well as a works cited page at the end. An MLA style works cited page starts on a new page at the end of the essay. Provide entries for each of the sources that you used. These entries should include the information necessary to allow the reader to find the source with ease.[5] MLA style in-text (also called parenthetical) citations provide readers with the author’s last name the page number for the information. It's necessary to include an in-text citation for any information that you quote, summarize, or paraphrase from a source. It comes right after the sourced information, and it includes the author’s last name and page number in parentheses.[6]

Drafting the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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The general structure of an essay usually goes from broad to specific. You could visualize this tendency as an upside-down pyramid or as a funnel. By the time you get to your conclusion, it should feel as though the information in your conclusion is inevitable. It's essentially a recap of everything you've spent your whole essay trying to prove.[7] However, there is also potential to use your conclusion for other purposes. You may find that you want to use your conclusion to: Qualify or complicate the information in your essay Suggest a need for further research Speculate on how the future will change the current situation

Part 3
Revising the Essay

Revising the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Leaving your essay to the last minute is not a good idea. Try to allow yourself at least a couple of days to revise your work. It is important to take a one to two day break from your essay after you have completed it. Then you can come back to it and revise with a fresh perspective.[8]

Revising the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Some people only focus on the grammar and punctuation when revising an essay, but this is less important than the content of your essay. Answer the essay question in as much detail as possible. Reread the essay question or assignment guidelines and ask:[9] Have I answered the question in a satisfactory way? Do I have a clear thesis? Is my thesis the focus of my essay? Do I include adequate support for my argument? Is there anything else I could add? Is there a logic to my essay? Does one idea follow the next? If not, how might I improve the logic of my essay?

Revising the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Having a friend or classmate take a look at your work can be helpful as well. Someone else may catch simple errors or notice something else that you missed because you have been looking at the document so much.[10] Try swapping essays with a friend from class. You can read and comment on each other’s essays to make sure that both of you have done the best work possible. Make sure that you swap papers at least one day before the paper is due so that you will have time to correct any errors that your friend finds.

Revising the Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Reading your essay aloud can help you to catch simple errors that you might not have noticed otherwise.[11] Read your essay out loud slowly and have a pencil nearby (or be prepared to edit on your computer). As you read, correct any errors that you find and make a note of anything that you think could be improved, such as adding more details or clarifying the language.

Part 4
Planning Your Essay

Planning Your Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Take time to read over the essay question or guidelines and think about what the assignment is asking you to do. You should underline any keywords such as describe, compare, contrast, explain, argue, or propose. You should also underline any central themes or ideas that the assignment asks you to discuss such as freedom, family, defeat, love, etc.[12] Always ask your professor if you don't understand the assignment. It's important to have a clear idea of what they want before you start working on the assignment.

Planning Your Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Your instructor is your primary audience for the essay, so you will need to consider your instructor’s needs and expectations before you write.[13] Some basic things that your instructor will need and expect from you may include: A well-detailed answer that satisfies the assignment requirements A clear and direct piece of writing that is easy to follow A polished paper with no minor errors, such as typos or misspellings

Planning Your Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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After considering your instructor’s expectations, take some time to think about how you can accomplish these broad goals. Consider what you will need to include in your essay. For example, if you are tasked with writing about a character in a book, then you will need to provide lots of details about that character. This will probably require rereading some passages of your book as well as revisiting your notes from class.[14] To ensure that your paper is easy to follow, you'll need to make sure that there's a logical order to your essay. Do this by creating an outline and checking your work for logic. Start early and give yourself lots of time for revision. Try to complete your first draft about one week before the paper is due.

Planning Your Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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Invention exercises can help you to draw out details that you already know, which can give you a great jump start on writing your essay. Some useful invention exercises include:[15] Freewriting. Write as much as you can without stopping. If you can’t think of anything, write “I can’t think of anything to write,” until something comes to mind. After you finish, go over what've written and underline or highlight any useful information for your essay. Listing. Make a list of all of the details and information that are relevant to the essay prompt. After you have listed everything that you can think of, read over it and circle the most important information for your essay. Clustering. Write your topic in the middle of the page, then branch out with other connected ideas. Circle the ideas and connect them to the main one with lines. Keep going until you can't do any more.

Planning Your Essay on How to Write an English Essay

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If you have been asked to conduct research for your paper, then you will want to do this before you begin drafting as well.[16] Use your library’s databases and other resources to find the best information possible for your paper. Good sources to use for English essays include books, articles from scholarly journals, articles from trustworthy news sources (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.), and government or university sponsored web pages. Many instructors include “research quality” in their grading criteria, so including poor sources, such as blogs, may result in a poor grade. If you are not sure if a source is of good quality, ask your instructor or a librarian.