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How to Write an Essay

A woman in front of laptop writing in a notebook the steps for writing a research paper.

Does the thought of writing an essay make you groan? An essay can seem like a daunting assignment if writing isn't a strength for you. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) writing coaches Beth MorganJohn BakerMeagan Campbell and Kayleigh Michael gave tips on how to write an essay.

Steps In Writing A Research Paper

If you need research paper writing help, following these techniques and tips will help you along the way.

Before You Write Your Essay

Beth MorganChoose a topic. Getting started can be difficult, but you can’t move forward in writing your essay without a clear idea of what you’ll be discussing. How do you find a good topic for an essay?

Baker said, “To find a good topic, don’t start with what you know; instead, start with what you would like to know. Use your essay to learn something new.”

Campbell suggests finding an angle for your essay that fascinates you. “A topic that holds personal interest for the writer will always be easier to write about,” she said.

Take time to research and think. You have your topic. Now what? “We have students visit us at this stage very often,” Michael said. “Even then, the topic is often not narrowed down enough yet.”

You should also ask questions while doing your research, and include viewpoints that may contradict your own ideas on the subject. “Don’t pressure yourself to have all the answers before you even begin,” she said.

Establish a plan. “I recommend making a list of the major ideas to be presented in the paper and decide the most effective order to present them,” Campbell said. “Then, for each of those points, jot down the evidence you will be using to support your claim."

"Check out your outline. Does the paper move logically from one major point to the next? Will you have enough evidence for each point? Does this plan support your thesis or intended message of the piece?” she said. "Identify your gaps in logic before attacking the actual writing.”

Trust the process. “Writing is a process,” Morgan said. “It starts with brainstorming and pre-writing, then drafting and receiving feedback and finally revising and proofreading.”

John BakerMorgan wanted to remind students the first draft is supposed to be rough. “Allow yourself the freedom to write a messy first draft,” she said. "Afterward, you can revise your paper into a polished, clearly understood final paper.”

Structuring Your Essay

Stick to the basics. “Always have an introduction, a body and a conclusion by the time you are done,” Baker said. “The introduction introduces your main idea, your key points and your purpose for writing. The body develops the key points one at a time, often one key point per paragraph. The conclusion ties everything together and provides closure.”

Michael wanted students to remember to state their thesis. ”I’ve seen too many papers that go on for pages without one,” she said.

How To Write a Research Paper

Research. Morgan said you should enjoy the research process and allow yourself to follow interesting trails. “Research is all about gathering sources, learning from them, and allowing them to shape your essay.”

Be sure to write down all your quotes and sources, and visit the library, whether in person or online.

Outlining. “There are no hard and fast rules to outlining. Choose a method that works for you, whether it’s drawing a bubble diagram, making a chart or writing a traditional numeric outline,” Morgan said.

No matter how you outline, your thesis statement needs to be front and center.

Introduction and conclusion. “Introductions provide context for your reader and introduce the reason why you’re writing,” Morgan said.

As for the conclusion, Morgan said you should leave your reader knowing why they care about your topic. “This is your chance to leave a lasting impression.”

Kayleigh MichaelBaker compared writing an essay to a court trial.

“You are the defense attorney. Your thesis is the defendant, and your readers are the jury. The introduction is your opening statement, the essay’s body is the evidence and testimony and the conclusion is your closing statement,” he said.

Essay Writing Tips To Remember

Cite your work. “Remember that anytime you are using information that wasn’t created by your brain, you must give credit,” Campbell said. “The consequences of plagiarism can be very severe, from academic penalties to criminal charges.”

Remember your tone and purpose. “You’re never just reporting information from your research, or the textbook back to your professor – you’re analyzing sources in order to deepen your understanding, synthesizing your sources’ ideas and then conveying your perspective on the topic,” Morgan said.

Do what works for you. Try a new research or outlining style if the way you’re currently doing things doesn’t amount to success. “If you have a process that works for you, keep on doing it,” Michael said.

Don’t compare yourself to others. “Comparison kills creativity,” Morgan said. “The other students haven’t had your life experiences. They don’t have your perspective on the world. In the end, only you can write your essay. Your voice is important, and others want to hear your thoughts.”

Meagan Campbell'Can You Help Me Write An Essay?'

For some students, writing is a struggle – but it comes down to more than just being a good writer. “The reason why we hate writing essays often stems out of fear: fear that we’re not good enough writers, fear that our ideas aren’t deep enough, or fear that we’re doing things wrong,” Morgan said.

“But being a learner means trying out new things. No one expects us to get something right the first time we do it. When we face our fears and tell ourselves, it’s okay to make mistakes, that’s when we’re truly free to learn,” she said. “Writing is a skill, just like everything else – it gets better with practice.”

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on Twitter @AshDWallis.


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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.