Tips for Writing a Great Essay

Work on One Central Idea

Essay writing is a valuable skill. You may be asked to write an essay for a school class, as part of the admission process for college, or for a job application. Or you may just have information to share, a story to tell, or a desire to share your thoughts and insights with readers. But writing an essay is a challenge for many people, so here are some professional tips on how to improve your essay writing ability.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall writers encounter is that they try to say too many things at once. The message they want to convey is diluted, and the essay seems scattered and unfocused. Readers need a clear idea of the point you are trying to make. They want the essay to be laid out in a logical, easy-to-understand sequence. If they cannot follow your train of thought, they’ll get confused and your essay will be ineffective.

The best way to ensure clarity is to focus the essay on one main theme, topic, or central idea. Then let your readers know in the beginning of the essay what that idea is, before you proceed to expand on it for them. It’s also helpful to summarize the main topics covered in the essay at the end, to tie your ideas and points together in a neat, complete fashion.

String Together Your Talking Points

Say, for example, that your essay is about the value of e-books. Let the reader know that’s your main topic by using a relevant title and introductory paragraph. Then dig deeper in the following paragraphs. Maybe you’ll devote one to talking about how important it is to read. Another might explain how convenient e-books are, and another could highlight how inexpensive they are. You could then point out the environmental benefits they offer, since you don’t have to cut down trees to create an e-book. In the last part of the essay you can recap the main points, helping your readers understand how the whole essay drives home the main idea that e-books have multiple kinds of value.

Show, Don’t Tell

Another rule of great writing is to try to show or illustrate what you are saying, instead of just telling readers that they should accept your ideas. Using our e-book essay example, for instance, you could write an essay that basically says “Everyone needs to read e-books because it’s the smart thing to do and is good for the environment.”

But that’s telling, not showing. A more effective approach is to show in specific, measurable ways why it’s smart.

You can do that, for example, by citing statistics or giving concrete examples. For instance, “e-books weigh a fraction of what traditional books weigh and each e-book saves a tree.” Or you could show instead of just telling by saying something like “Picture a book bag with all your favorite books in it. That bag might not hold them all, and if it did it might weigh more than you do. It could break your back.” Everyone can see themselves in that kind of vivid “showing” example.

Then you could complete the idea by saying “but you can carry a whole library in your coat pocket with a small e-reader device.” That’s one example of how writing an essay that shows and doesn’t simply tell is very effective and more engaging for the reader.

Too Much Research is Good

To write a great essay, you need to have something unique to say. If you want to support what you say with solid credibility, it helps to do some research. Then you can share ideas, tips, solutions, or insights that readers may not have heard before, to keep the essay interesting and informative. You can also cite known experts. But that requires that you first do your own digging around to learn more about the essay topic.

Whenever you write a research-based essay, more is better. Gather all of your information and then you can sort through it and prioritize the most valuable parts of it. If you are going to write a one-page essay, a technique that many professional writers use is to first accumulate two or three pages of useful and helpful information. Then as you trim it down and prioritize, it’s easy to come up with one page of great information to distill into a powerful essay.

Use a Simple Outline

That’s much less work than trying to write a whole page when you only have one paragraph’s worth of helpful information and ideas. Before sitting down to write any essay, invest some time and energy in thinking about what you want to say and how you plan to say it. Write an outline with three or four main talking points. Give each of those points a category label, such as “Economic Benefits of E-Books” or “The Value of Reading Books.”

Now all you need to do is to plug pertinent information you’ve accumulated into each related section, under those labels or subheadings. That gives you a very useful outline to follow and will ensure that anyone who reads the essay can follow your talking points, too. Connect each section together to make a smooth, cohesive transition, and your essay is practically finished. Just polish it up, check the grammar and spelling, add a closing summary, and you’re good to go. Use these tips to make the whole essay-writing process easier and more fun for you. The result will be an essay that is also more engaging and interesting for your readers.

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Donalyn Miller

Readers enjoy talking about Books almost as much as they like reading.