How to Write an Essay Following a Prompt
Even though there are times when an instructor will assign an essay and empower you to construct your own unique argument, it is also common for an instructor to present you with a prompt that your essay must focus on. Despite the fact that you still have some degree of freedom in terms of how you may interpret the prompt, there are several key factors to keep in mind when writing a guided essay. By analyzing these key factors, you will be able to not only present an argument, but create an essay that is interesting, effective and successful.
When an instructor provides you with a prompt that your essay must be based on, you need to start by finding the index. The index is the focus of the prompt on the most fundamental level. Many instructors will provide a prompt in the form of a quote. In this case, it is important to analyze the quote, searching for what it is about, who it may be directed toward and whether or not it applies to a particular text assigned by your instructor.
Even if the quote is only a few sentences long, take your time analyzing it. If you dismiss the prompt or jump to a conclusion that is misguided, the basis for your paper and focus argument may be fundamentally flawed. When providing a prompt, some instructors present questions along with a quote. In this case, take time to answer the questions as they apply to the quote and the goals of the course as a whole.
Once you’ve spent time interpreting the assigned prompt, your next step should be to form a thesis statement with the index in mind. Your thesis statement serves as the central focus and position of your essay. It should be an idea or argument that you can take an opinionated stance on. You should be able to clearly explain how the assigned prompt relates to the thesis statement. If you have difficulty putting the relationship of the thesis and prompt into words, rework the thesis until the connection is clear.
After you have constructed a solid thesis formed a clear argument, the body of your essay should be used to offer specific claims that support your position. For example, if you are asked to take a position on the effectiveness of certain themes in a piece of literature, support your perspective with examples directly from the text. After you write a rough draft, read through the essay again. If you find that your claims deviate from either the thesis or the original prompt, you may need to re-examine and rewrite some sections to ensure that your writing stays focused.
In order for your essay to be successful, it is essential that all claims and evidence you present work together. It is not wrong for you go in your own direction, this is what makes your essay unique, but your claims should build off one another, and should be connected by smooth transitions and a direction that keeps the essay as a whole in mind. To round out your argument, include a final section that briefly restates your position and how each claim supports it.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.