How to Compose a Good Essay
From writing a personal narrative to composing a response to an AP essay question, developing a well-organized essay is a vital skill for both high school and college students. Supporting a central claim with strong reasoning and evidence through writing can help you think more critically, use language creatively and communicate better in academic and professional environments. Awareness of purpose, solid supporting examples and strategic paragraph construction can help you write an essay that has an impact on readers and boosts your grade.
Understand the Prompt
Instructors grade essays according to how well you respond to the task given in the assignment prompt. Before you start writing, read the question several times to make sure you know what it's asking you to do. Key words can often provide clues to the essay's purpose; for example, "analyze" means you'll be investigating the causes and reasons for the topic; "compare" points to finding similarities between two topics; and "discuss" entails examining and evaluating both sides of an issue. Try underlining the key words in the prompt as a reminder of your essay's purpose.
Craft a Specific Thesis Statement
The keystone of your essay, your thesis statement, gives an overview of the paper's main ideas and introduces the question it seeks to answer. This statement of the essay's central focus needs to be clear, detailed and specific. For example, "People should adopt rescue animals" might be a good place to start, but it's too vague to carry audiences' interests through the rest of the paper. A better thesis might give specific examples of how this problem will be addressed: "Adopting a rescue animal is more cost effective, supports the protection of abandoned pets and saves the life of an animal in need."
Give Readers a Road Map
Most essay assignments for college or standardized tests require at least three paragraphs of discussion that build on each other as you respond to the prompt. The Harvard College Writing Center suggests structuring your body paragraphs by stating the main point of each; providing solid, credible evidence for your position; and discussing why this idea is significant to your thesis. As you write, try using transitions to link your points together. Words and phrases like "similarly," "because of this," "nevertheless" and "meanwhile" not only signal to readers that you're moving to another idea but also create a relationship to what you've already discussed.
Revisit Your Central Claim
The easiest way to conclude an essay is by simply reiterating your thesis statement and main points. In some cases, this approach is appropriate, such as when you're dealing with a complex subject or are pressed for time in an AP exam. Still, your instructor is likely to want you to dig deeper and find a way to illustrate the relevance of your topic. Try crafting your conclusion by answering the question "So what?" Detail the significance of the topic and why audiences need to know about it. If you're writing an essay for AP History, for example, you might relate the events you've described to a similar modern-day event or historical trend.
- University of New England Academic Skills Office: Analyzing the Question
- University of Wisconsin Colleges Online Writing Lab: Thesis Statements
- Harvard College Writing Center: Essay Structure
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Transitional Devices
- University of Wisconsin Colleges Online Writing Lab: Conclusions
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.