The Basics of Effective Essay Writingby Becton Loveless
As you progress through school, you'll be required to write essays. And the farther along in school you get, the more complex and demanding the essays will become. It's important that you learn early on how to write effective essays that communicate clearly and accomplish specific objectives.
An essay is a written composition where you express a specific idea and then support it with facts, statements, analysis and explanations. The basic format for an essay is known as the five paragraph essay – but an essay may have as many paragraphs as needed. A five paragraph essay contains five paragraphs. However, the essay itself consists of three sections: an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
Below we'll explore the basics of writing an essay.
Select a TopicWhen you first start writing essays in school, it's not uncommon to have a topic assigned to you. However, as you progress in grade level, you'll increasingly be given the opportunity to choose the topic of your essays. When selecting a topic for your essay, you'll want to make sure your topic supports the type of paper you're expected to write. If you're expected to produce a paper that is a general overview, then a general topic will suffice. However, if you're expected to write a specific analysis, then you're topic should be fairly specific.
For example, lets assume the objective of your essay is to write an overview. Then the topic "RUSSIA" would be suitable. However, if the objective or your essay is to write a specific analysis, then "RUSSIA" would be far too general a topic. You'll need to narrow down your topic to something like "Russian Politics: Past, Present and Future" or "Racial Diversity in the Former USSR".
If you're expected to choose your own topic, then the first step is to define the purpose of your essay. Is your purpose to persuade? To explain how to accomplish something? Or to education about a person, place, thing or idea? The topic you choose needs to support the purpose of your essay.
The purpose of your essay is defined by the type of paper you're writing. There are three basic types of essay papers:
- Analytical - An analytical essay paper breaks down an idea or issue into its its key components. It evaluates the issue or idea by presenting analysis of the breakdown and/or components to the the reader.
- Expository - Also known as explanatory essays, expositories provide explanations of something.
- Argumentative - These type of essays, also known as persuasive essays, make a specific claim about a topic and then provide evidence and arguments to support the claim. The claim set forth in argumentative (persuasive) essays may be an opinion, an evaluation, an interpretation, cause-effect statement or a policy proposal. The purpose of argumentative essays is to convince or persuade the reader that a claim is valid.
Once you have defined the purpose of your essay, it's time to brainstorm. Don't choose just one topic right of the bat. Take some time to consider, contrast and weight your options. Get out a piece of paper and make a list of all the different topics that fit the purpose of your essay. Once they're all down on paper, start by eliminating those topics that are difficult or not as relevant as others topics. Also, get rid of those topics that are too challenging or that you're just not that interested in. Pretty soon you will have whittled your list down to just a few topics and then you can make a final choice.
Organize Your Ideas Using a Diagram or OutlineSome students get scared to start writing. They want to make sure they have all their thoughts organized in their head before they put anything down on paper. Creating a diagram or outline allows you to put pen to paper and start organizing your ideas. Don't worry or agonize over organization at this point, just create a moderately organized format for your information.
Whether you use a diagram or outline doesn't really matter. Some people prefer and work better with the flowing structure of a diagram. Others like the rigid and logical structure of an outline. Don't fret, once you get started, you can always change formats if the format you chose isn't working out for you.
The following are useful steps for developing a diagram to organize ideas for your essay.
- Get started by drawing a circle in the middle of a paper just big enough to write in.
- Inside your circle, write your essay topic.
- Now draw three or four lines out from your circle.
- At the end of each of lines, draw another circle just slightly smaller than the circle in the middle of the page.
- In each smaller circle, write a main idea about your topic, or point you want to make. If this is persuasive (argumentative) essay, then write down your arguments. If the object of the essay is to explain a process (expository), then write down a step in each circle. If your essay is intended to be informative or explain (analytical), write the major categories into which information can be divided.
- Now draw three more lines out from each circle containing a main idea.
- At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle.
- Finally, in each of these circles write down facts or information that help support the main idea.
The following are useful steps for developing an outline to organize ideas for your essay.
- Take a page of paper and write your topic at the top.
- Now, down the left side of the page, under the topic, write Roman numerals I, II, and III, sequentially.
- Next to each Roman numeral, write the main points, or ideas, about your essay topic. If this is persuasive essay, write your arguments. If this an essay to inform, write the major categories into which information will be divided. If the purpose of your essay is to explain a process, write down each step of the process.
- Next, under each Roman numeral, write A, B, and C down the left hand side of the page.
- Finally, next to each letter, under each Roman numeral, write the information and/or facts that support the main point or idea.
Develop a Thesis StatementOnce you have an idea for the basic structure of your essay, and what information you're going to present in your essay, it's time to develop your thesis statement. A thesis statement states or outlines what you intend to prove in your essay. A good thesis statement should be clear, concise, specific, and takes a position.
The word "thesis" just sounds intimidating to most students, but a thesis is actually quite simple. A thesis statement (1) tells the reader what the essay is about and (2) what points you'll be making. If you've already selected an essay topic, and developed an outline or diagram, you now can decide what points you want to communicate through your essay.
A thesis statement has two key components. The first component is the topic, and the second is the point(s) of the essay. The following is an example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
The life of a child raised in Pena Blanca is characterized by little playing, a lot of hard work and extreme poverty.
An example of an analytical thesis statement:
An analysis of the loan application process for citizens of third world countries reveals one major obstacle: applicants must already have money in order to qualify for a loan.
An example of an argumentative (persuasive) thesis statement:
Instead of sending tax money overseas to buoy struggling governments and economies, U.S. residents should be offered tax incentives for donating to companies that provide micro loans directly to the citizens of third world countries.
Once you're done developing a thesis statement that supports the type of essay your writing and the purpose of the essay, you're ready to get started on your introduction.
IntroductionThe introduction is the first paragraph of the essay. It introduces the reader to the idea that the essay will address. It is also intended to capture the reader's attention and interest. The first sentence of the introduction paragraph should be as captivating and interesting as possible. The sentences that follow should clarify your opening statement. Conclude the introduction paragraph with your thesis statement.
BodyThe body of your essay is where you explain, describe or argue the topic you've chosen. Each of the main ideas you included in your outline or diagram will become of the body paragraphs. If you wrote down four main ideas in your outline or diagram, then you'll have four body paragraphs.
Each paragraph will address one main idea that supports the thesis statement. The first paragraph of the body should put forth your strongest argument to support your thesis. Start the paragraph out by stating the supporting idea. Then follow up with additional sentences that contain supporting information, facts, evidence or examples – as shown in your diagram or outline. The concluding sentence should sum up what you've discussed in the paragraph.
The second body paragraph will follow the same format as the first body paragraph. This paragraph should put forth your second strongest argument supporting your thesis statement. Likewise, the third and fourth body paragraphs, like the first and second, will contain your third and fourth strongest arguments supporting your thesis statement. Again, the last sentence of both the third and fourth paragraphs should sum up what you've discussed in each paragraph and indicate to the reader that the paragraph contains the final supporting argument.
ConclusionThe final paragraph of the essay provides the conclusion. This paragraph should should restate your thesis statement using slightly different wording than employed in your introduction. The paragraph should summarize the arguments presented in the body of the essay. The last sentence in the conclusion paragraph should communicate that your essay has come to and end. Your concluding paragraph should communicate to the reader that you're confident that you've proven the idea as set forth in your thesis statement.
Having the ability to write effective essays will become increasingly important as you progress through high school and into college. If you'll internalize the format presented above, you'll develop the ability to write clear and compelling essays.
What is the Five Paragraph Essay?
The five paragraph essay is one of the most common ways to organize a paper. It is a style of argumentative essay that allows the author to make a claim then provide several examples in support of it. It is a common organizational structure for essays and papers in high school and in many undergraduate college courses. As the most fundamental of argumentative structures, the five-paragraph essay is important to master before attempting more complex argumentative structures.
The five paragraph essay is an effective way to organize a paper where you need to show multiple examples to support an argument or claim. Using this format, you have a main idea (often called a thesis statement or, simply, an opinion) with evidence that supports that idea. The five paragraph essay format is for an argument that has supportive evidence, but doesn’t necessarily require a consideration of other conflicting claims.
When Do I Use the Five Paragraph Essay?
The five paragraph essay is most useful when making a brief argument or when exploring an interpretation of something at a relatively superficial level. Five-paragraph essays, by virtue of their name, are typically only about five paragraphs (they don’t have to be, though) and, as such, don’t tend to offer much supporting evidence.
The five paragraph essay is great for basic essays where you just need to make sure you’re staying on point and organized. They’re often easy to write and they’re easy for readers to follow. If you’re new at essay writing or you don’t feel strong in writing essays, this format is a surefire way to make your writing still sound strong, even if it’s simple.
The Five Paragraph essay allows room for the author to present reasoning for the claims made in the essay, but does not usually guarantee room for rebuttals or much explanation of complex claims made within the essay. With that in mind, it is best used when the paper or information needs to be brief, or if there is not enough time to really delve into a topic.
How Does the Five Paragraph Essay Work?
When writing in the five paragraph format, you must focus on the topic and your argument. The goal is to clearly state and explain your side of the argument through use of clear evidence. The five paragraph essay may be formatted something like this:
- Introduction: The introduction states a topic and an argument about that topic, which would be labeled the thesis statement. (The thesis statement is the central argument, upon which all evidence should support.) The introduction will then state three or more main ideas that support the thesis statement. These three main ideas are the crux of the next three paragraphs/sections in the essay.
- Body Paragraph #1: The first body paragraph should explain the strongest idea that supports your thesis. The paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that introduces the idea, then show the key evidence that supports the idea of the paragraph and explain why the evidence is relevant to the idea of the paragraph and to the main claim (thesis statement) of the essay.
- Body Paragraph #2: The second body paragraph provides the second piece of evidence or support that you mentioned in the introduction. Like the first body paragraph, the second body paragraph should include a topic sentence to introduce the idea, followed by evidence and interpretation as support for it.
- Body Paragraph #3: The third body paragraph should explain the third piece of evidence or support of your thesis statement. This paragraph should be formatted like the previous two body paragraphs.
- Conclusion: The conclusion is expands upon the main idea of the thesis statement by combining the ideas from your paragraphs to find meaning in the paper. The conclusion includes a brief summary of the ideas in the paper and how they support your thesis and a cohesive ending to the essay.
As for length, the introduction and conclusion should be shorter than the body paragraphs, and the body paragraphs should generally be around the same length. While the document is called a “five-paragraph” essay, it can be longer than five paragraphs. The idea is that you have an intro, three supporting pieces of evidence, and a conclusion, making it essentially five components. If each section of the body requires more than one paragraph, that’s okay.
You can have a bit of leeway in how you organize the body paragraphs and the support that they provide, as well as exactly what is included in each of the paragraphs.
Example of the Five Paragraph Essay
Imagine you are writing an essay about how it is important for children to read books at an early age. Your goal here would be to provide strong evidence about the importance for children to read books.
Introduction: In the intro, you would state the topic, your argument, and your three supporting ideas. It would read something like this:
As society increasingly encourages children to view television shows and play on tablets, it is important that they still maintain the age-old practice of learning to read books. While not all children will learn to read at the same pace or even enjoy reading at the same level, it’s important to encourage reading frequent and often. In this essay, I will show how reading teaches children to be more inquisitive; how it helps them develop other skills like math and memorization; and how it helps them to be more social as they grow older.
Body Paragraph #1: This paragraph then explains how reading teaches children to be inquisitive, citing sources and evidence that this is the case.
Body Paragraph #2: This paragraph then moves into the second supporting argument named in the intro, using evidence to suggest how reading at a young age helps children to be more inquisitive.
Body Paragraph #3: This paragraph then moves in the final supporting argument named in the intro, providing evidence and sources about how reading at a young age helps children to learn other skills.
Conclusion: The conclusion pulls all three arguments together, equally supporting your overarching thesis that children need to be taught to read at a young age.