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How to Write a Formal Essay


Writing formal essays tests your ability to conform to a particular style. In formal essay writing, your ability to follow a set structure is as important as the quality and originality of your arguments. The challenge is to follow a rigid structure without making your writing turgid and dull. Write with passion and intelligence and your formal essay will be a joy to read.

Getting Started on Your Essay

Write a thesis statement. Your thesis should state the main point you are arguing in your essay and the main supporting arguments in the order you are going to make them. It should be from one to three sentences long.

Write your body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should discuss one argument you made in your thesis statement in detail. You should provide evidence such as quotations from the text or the opinions of scholars and experts. You may also want to address common counter-arguments and explain why they are incorrect.

Write transitions between your body paragraphs. A transition between two paragraphs takes place either in the last sentence of the first paragraph or the first sentence of the second. It should make the paper flow smoothly, showing how the different points you make are connected.

Write a conclusion. Your conclusion should succinctly summarize the arguments you made in your essay, and relate them to broader issues. For example, if you are analyzing themes in a particular piece of fiction, you can relate those themes to the author, his contemporaries, his time period, or even modern times. This makes the essay feel more significant, since it shows how your topic fits within a wider context.

Write the introduction. The introduction starts off broad and narrows down to the thesis statement, which forms the end of the intro. For example, if you were talking about the Illiad, you might start talking about Classical Greek literature, then talk about Greek epics, then discuss Homer and finally discuss the Illiad. The intro sets the tone of the essay, because it gives the reader context.

Edit the essay for language. A formal essay should use English that is formal, but not stiff. Eliminate slang, conversational tone and idiomatic sayings. Eliminate"you" phrases like "if you think about it." Also, eliminate I expressions like "I will show you," or "I believe that." If you have any doubts about whether or not your language is formal, ask your teacher.

Edit the essay for mechanics. Make sure that your sentences are grammatically correct and correctly punctuated. Make sure that any titles of books you refer to are underlined and that you have written citations for any references. You should have a style sheet which tells you how the teacher wants you to cite your sources.

If you are allowed to, have a friend or relative read your essay. Ask them to look for technical problems, illogical statements and awkward sentences. Sometimes, an outside reader will be able to catch things that the author misses.

Tip
  • It is possible to write the introduction first, but usually it's not the best way to go. It's difficult to write an introduction when you haven't completely worked out what you are introducing (i.e. what the essay is arguing). Don't stress about the language the first time through. Get your points down and make your arguments in a style that feels right to you. Then, come back and rewrite it in more formal language.
Items you will need
Books Paper Pen or pencil Computer
About the Author

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.