How to Write an Essay Following a Prompt

The most important aspect of writing a successful essay that follows a prompt is to fully understand what the prompt is asking you to do. The prompt tells you how the essay should be written and what is expected of you as the writer. For example, a prompt might ask you to put forth an argument, explain or describe a phenomenon or narrate a story.

Understand the Prompt

The essay prompt contains instructions for the kind of essay that you are asked to write. While carefully reading the prompt, you should pay close attention to any particular tips or supporting details that it contains. You might even find it helpful to underline key verbs that tell you what specific topics your essay should cover. These details hold the key to fully comprehending instructions and developing ideas for your essay.

Paraphrase the Prompt

In order to fully understand what the prompt is asking you to do, you should paraphrase the prompt, or put it in your own words. The essay prompt may identify your goal in the essay by stating it directly (e.g., evaluate, analyze, compare), or it may identify the type of essay that you are being asked to write (e.g., explanatory, analytical, comparison). In either case, make sure that you rewrite the prompt in your own words so that you fully understand the goals of the essay. This way you will be able to write a unified and coherent essay that follows the prompt.

Identify Essay Goals and Type

The essay prompt might ask you to write an explanatory or descriptive essay, or ask you to explain an idea or describe a concept. If the essay prompt asks you to analyze something, then it is asking you to write an analytical essay; if it asks you to summarize something, then it is asking you to write a summary essay. Two other main types of essays are the comparison essay, which asks you to compare and contrast two or more topics, and the argumentative essay, which asks you to put forth and justify a position or claim.

Organize and Write Your Essay

Once you understand what the essay prompt is asking you do and know the goals of the essay, you are ready to organize and write your essay. Your essay should have three main sections: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction should introduce the topic and main idea of your essay by addressing the goals that the prompt instructed you to achieve. The body paragraphs of the essay should support the main idea with appropriate evidence (a requirement often mentioned in the prompt). Finally, the conclusion should contain a brief summary of your essay.

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