Essay writing: Three basic steps to a better essay

by on October 9, 2011
in Being a writer

Unless you’re enrolled in a college-level writing course, you won’t get much chance to have fun penning essays after you graduate from high school. Though essays, and essayists, were once literary icons, the art has declined in recent decades. The heyday of the essay saw the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau reinventing the work. While you might not have ambitions to reach their lofty status as a writer, there are steps you can take to make your essays better.

Often people confuse essays and short stories. Essays are not works of fiction. Nor, however, are they totally unbiased facts. If I had to describe them I’d call them “opinionated prose”. The writer draws from facts, but liberally interprets those facts from his or her personal point of view. So the first step (after picking a topic, of course) in writing a good essay is to gather the facts you’ll need to work with. You can use the same sources for research you would for a paper on the subject. You just don’t need to worry as much about citing your sources.

 Next, you’ll need to write the essay in a typical format. In other words, you’ll want an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Since essays can be a page long or sixty pages long, you will have to consult your facts, your feelings and, if being published, your editor’s guidelines when you create the outline you’ll follow. Even with an essay, an outline can help you stay focused and on track. It can be easy to meander off the path if you’re writing about things you care about.

That’s the next step. You need to own the words you are writing. It is “your” essay. You are the writer and the opinions and observations included in its contents should be yours. While you might admire experts in the field of your topic, you shouldn’t quote them unless citing the quotation properly. As a rule, quotes from other sources often feel awkward in a personal piece such as this. Don’t just echo other people’s ideas, express your own. That is what an essay is for.

So, when you want to pen a good essay, you will first research your topic (and don’t omit opposing points of view in your reading!). Then, you will lay out the format in an outline to keep yourself from getting away from your point while you work. Then, finally, you’ll own the piece, making it yours personally. The end result should be a quality work that, while it might not rival Emerson, should prove interesting and informative for your readers.

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