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Essay writing 101 – how to write an A-grade essay

We take a look at the components that make up all the different types of essay, and go through the tools that you can use to make your essay successful.

How To Write An Essay

Essays are an essential part of education. Whether you’ve been writing them since middle school or you’re gearing up to writing your first essay at university, knowing how to write an essay is an essential skill to have. And it’s not just academic writing – some businesses and companies may require you to write an essay or report. 

If you’ve been tasked with writing an essay, and you’re either feeling a bit out of practice, or you’ve never written one before, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ll take you through everything you need to know about writing an essay. You’ll learn how to structure an essay, how to write an essay plan, and, perhaps most importantly, how to conclude an essay.

We’ll also go through the different types of essay that you might have to write and how you should approach them. 

What is an essay?

Let’s unpick what an essay is, first of all. An essay is a piece of writing where the author proposes an argument, an emotion, or tries to initiate some sort of debate. It’s often used to present the author’s ideas in a non-fictional manner. It can cover basically any topic in the world – from political discourse through to art criticism and everything in between.

Usually, essays are over 500 words minimum, with most of them being around 1,000 to 3,000 words long – though they can end up being a lot longer. The minimum length of the essay is so that the writer has enough time to develop their point and convince the reader of their argument.  

Why do we write essays?

Essays are written for various reasons – from helping others understand the subject matter you’re writing about, to clarifying ideas and information. Developing essay ideas is a great way of getting to the root of the importance of the essay.

Writing an essay will also help your general writing skills, helping you express yourself and your ideas.  Of course, essays aren’t simply limited to academia either. If you feel passionate about something and want to share your opinions on it or disagree with a popular opinion and want to convince others of your view, then why not write an essay.

You may have to write an essay in the workplace too – known professionally as writing a report. Reports are used to show your progress on a certain project to your superiors and peers, and provide any conclusions you may have come up with. 

What are the different types of essays?

As with any form of writing, essays come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Most of the time, you won’t have to worry about what type of essay you need to write, as the assignment will dictate that – for instance, an admissions essay format wouldn’t be the same as a reflective essay. In essence, though, your essay will be either academic, professional, or personal. 

While there are thousands of different types of essay out there, we’ll look at some of the more common types of essay that you’ll come across, and that you’re likely to be assigned to complete. 

Argumentative

An argumentative essay is one of the most important types of essay that you’ll end up writing in school, and in essence, their purpose is to assert or defend a certain position. You’re not just trying to get your reader to agree with you here – you want to argue against any differing viewpoints or opinions, with plenty of counterarguments.

Persuasive

The name is a dead giveaway about what you’re trying to achieve here. You’ll want to try and persuade or convince the reader of a certain point, making it very similar to argumentative essays. However, the end goal of a persuasive essay is to not only present your case, but to also win over the reader too, and persuade them of your point.

Expository

Expository essays are similar to both argumentative and persuasive essays in that they thoroughly explain a certain topic with the aim of expanding the reader’s knowledge and understanding. What makes them different is that you don’t have to express any sort of bias – simply an objectively formed opinion.

Admissions

If you’re applying to a school or university, they might ask you to write an essay about why you’re interested in becoming a student with them. Academic writing in English is essential here, so you know the correct language to use in your essay. These are different from the others thus far, in that you’re basically trying to convince the reader why you want to study.

Compare-and-Contrast

This essay involves you taking two things that seem similar and then go on to prove how they are, in fact, different. You may also take two completely unrelated things and demonstrate to the reader how they’re actually very similar. This type of essay is great when you want to devote equal attention to two opposing things.

Analytical

Similar to an expository essay, an analytical essay basically explains a topic or a subject to the reader in detail. What makes an analytical essay different though, is that you offer up an in-depth analysis of all the merits of the subject matter from an objective standpoint.

Narrative

Narrative essays require you to tell a story to prove your point, specifically using experiences from your own life to make your argument. These are often anecdotal essays or essays that offer up the life story of you, the author. While they follow some of the rules of fiction, they don’t fall into that category. 

The essay writing process – a step-by-step guide

While some people might jump right in and start writing, if you’re looking for tips as to how to write a good essay, then you’ll want to follow a process for your writing. It may not align with your usual writing style, but having a process to follow will help you get your ideas from brain to paper and will keep your thoughts and ideas well organised. 

Knowing what type of essay you’re going to be writing is the first step – the next is the actual process of writing the essay itself. Let’s take a look at each of the different steps. 

Brainstorm

This is the first, and arguably most important step in writing your essay. Based on your main essay question, try and generate as many different ideas as you possibly can – or as many as the allocated time might give you. Later on in the process, if you find that some of your ideas don’t align with your essay planning, then you can set them aside. 

Create an essay outline

Once you’ve got some initial ideas down, organise them into a logical progression. This will help create the outline and the structure of your essay. From here you can consider your objective, or what you want to say in the essay. The next phase of creating your essay outline is to collect resources to back up your ideas. Citations and reconnaissance reading are essential here. 

When you have these additional points ready to go, and your brainstorming ideas have been backed up with citations, reorganise them again into a logical progression. Make sure that your sources are well organised and you know where everything is. The essay outline is effectively the skeleton of the essay, and you’re now ready to build upon it. 

Writing the essay

Now it’s time to roll up those sleeves and put pen to paper, as it were. As soon as you start writing, you’ll quickly find it gets easier as you go along. It’s also worth remembering that this will only be your first draft – you’ll be able to make any revisions and alterations later on if you want to. 

It’s important to follow a rigid essay structure when writing as well. Like with nearly everything to do with writing, it’s very much a beginning-middle-end structure, but rephrased to an introduction-main body-conclusion structure. 

One of the more common essay structures that you could use is the 5-paragraph structure. This requires an introduction, 3 paragraphs of main body writing, and a conclusion. While not necessarily ideal for more complex essays, it’s really well suited to essays that might have a time limit on them.

Let’s go all the things you should include in an essay.

Introduction

This is where you’ll clearly present the topic you’re going to discuss in the essay, emphasising the prominence of the prompt or subject matter. At the end of a good, well-written introduction, the reader should know exactly what your essay is about. 

Keep it short, don’t mince your words, and try not to oversell your topic. Often, it’s good practice to draft the rest of the essay before the introduction, as how you introduce an essay sometimes only becomes apparent once you’ve got some words down already.

Main body copy

Most of your essay will consist of main body copy. This is where you present all the evidence you found in your brainstorming and research, and use it to prove your point and reinforce your standpoint. You’ll want to make sure that you carefully consider your essay outline here, and think about which points will follow on from each other. 

Some arguments will lead on from each other logically, but you should always structure your essay so that it’s comprehensible for the reader. Remember, they don’t know the topic you’re writing about as well as you do. 

Conclusion

Your conclusion will endeavour to wrap up and summarise all the points you’ve made in the essay in the most digestible method possible. It’s good practice to add in a new perspective in your conclusion as well, which might help the reader to understand what you’ve been discussing, but you don’t want to make any overblown statements at this late stage.

The conclusion is largely just a recap that ties up any loose ends and rounds off the essay in a clear and defined way. It can often be good practice to consider your conclusion before you start to write the essay, as you will usually know how you want to conclude before you kick off. Knowing how to conclude an essay is as important as knowing how to start an essay.

Revising the drafts

There aren’t many people out there who submit their first draft of an essay, and you’ll find that nearly every writer will put their essay through a whole series of drafts. There aren’t any set rules about how many drafts you should go through, it’s entirely up to you – but obviously, don’t go too overboard with it.

As you go through your first draft with a fine-tooth comb, you’ll likely spot various nuances and subtleties you missed out on the first time around. You can also take some advice on academic writing here, to make sure that the language you used is appropriate.

Proofreading

When you reckon that you’ve taken the essay through all the necessary drafts and you don’t think you can add anything else, it’s time for proofreading. This is the final bit of polish on an essay, where you’ll go through and correct any misspellings, grammatical errors, or any issues with formatting. 

You can also get someone else to have a look at the essay for you too. All too often, we end up missing the wood for the trees, and can suffer from tunnel vision, so getting a fresh take from someone else can be a really good way of finding out what you need to change and adjust.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article will put you in a much better position to tackling an essay. Whether you’re developing a research project, preparing for the IELTS writing test, or writing at university, knowing how to write an essay is a skill that has many uses.

Understanding the type of essay you’re going to write is definitely the first hurdle. From there, keep the essay checklist in mind – brainstorming, research, structure and spelling and grammar. Harnessing these tools will give you all you need to write a good essay. 

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