An essay is a "short formal piece of writing..dealing with a single subject" ("Essay," 2001).
Derived from the French word "essai" meaning "experiment" or "attempt," an essay is typically written to try to persuade the reader using selected research evidence ("Essay," 1997).
Students are often required to write essays as course assignments in college-level programs in order to develop many important skills, such as:
- close reading
- critical thinking, analysis and interpretation
- persuasion and argumentation
- integration of research sources through summary, paraphrase and quotation
- communicating with clarity and conciseness
There are several different essay genres, which influences the content and structure. In general, an academic essay has three parts:
(1) An introduction that gives the reader an idea of what they are about to learn and presents an argument in the form of a thesis statement
(2) A body, or middle section, that provides evidence used to prove and persuade the reader to accept the writer's particular point of view
(3) A conclusion that summarizes the content and findings of the essay
Do you know how to make the task of writing more manageable by following the 3 steps of successful writing? Do you prewrite, write, and rewrite so your writing is the best it can be?
The process of writing is no easy feat. Whether the writing is for academic or professional ambitions, writers of all ages face the same challenges: coming up with ideas, creating content, addressing and adequately informing about the topic at hand, incorporating research and facts for validity, presenting the information in an organized format, and polishing the final presentation with regards to word choice, spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. Making matters worse, most writers try to accomplish all of the above at once, aiming to get the writing over with as quickly as possible.
As a result of this pressure, many writers find themselves staring at a blank screen, unsure of where to start, and even if a good start is managed, road blocks pop up around every corner as the mind strains over what to write next and how to write it. A common remark: “I know what I want to say, but I just don’t know how to write it.”
The solution is simple: breaking the writing process into three different phases (prewriting, writing, and rewriting) allows the writer to focus on one aspect at a time. This leads to successful writing, and in the long run, actually saves time— and stress!
Step 1: Prewriting:
Writing should start with thinking about the topic and purpose of your writing. Once that is established, brainstorm by informally jotting down ideas that pop into your head. This helps with deciding what you choose to write about. Brainstorm after you have read over the project’s guidelines several times to fully understand the assignment.
Next, begin prewriting. Identify your thesis (main idea) and make sure all of your content relates to and/ or supports your thesis so you stay focused and on topic. Whether you choose to prewrite by making a list, developing an outline, filling in boxes, creating a web, or coming up with your own prewriting strategy is up to you. Identify the parts of your piece (paragraphs and/ or sections) and what your goal is in each. This will focus and arrange your writing, breaking the task down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
If you are writing an assignment from a teacher or boss, as you prewrite, keep reviewing what they have identified as the goal(s) and crucial elements of the project. Is there a project description, scoring rubric, or particular end result you are supposed to achieve? If yes, make sure you accomplish this in your prewriting phase. If your prewriting addresses all of the project’s demands, your writing will be successful!
Finally, complete your prewriting by adding notes regarding support, research, facts, and/ or details for each section. What are you planning to write and get across in each part of the piece? The topic sentence of each paragraph should be in line with your thesis. How much a writer decides to include here is personal preference. Write as much as you consider necessary to feel like you know your content and the purpose of each section or paragraph. First understanding what you are writing helps you write!
Unfortunately, many writers skip the prewriting step entirely. They try to come up with their organization, ideas, and information all at once while writing their content, and this clogs the brain with too many tasks at one time. Prewriting frees the mind so it can focus on the writing process all by itself.
Step 2: Writing:
Here is where you are ready to actually write your piece using formal sentences and paragraphs. Follow your prewriting and make sure you accomplish the goal of each section or paragraph. Use your prewriting as a checklist, and further develop your ideas and content as you write. Be sure to write using proper sentence and paragraph structures and use transitions for flow. Think about what you are writing and if it makes sense. Expand upon and explain your thoughts clearly and thoroughly so the reader knows exactly what you mean; never assume the reader knows what you are presenting. Insert your research, support, facts, and details (with citations, if necessary) to accomplish your goal. Get it all down on paper, from introduction to conclusion. At this point, just get the content down, as when you get to the rewriting part of the process, you can perfect how it reads.
Step 3: Rewriting:
If possible, take a break before completing this final step of the writing process so you can approach it with fresh eyes and a clear mind. First, read through with a focus on your content. Does it achieve your goal and maintain a focus? Have you properly executed the MLA style or another style required for research citations and format? Purdue Online Writing Lab (click here to visit Purdue OWL) is an excellent online resource for writing strategies, as well as properly formatting, citing research, and proofreading.
Rewrite, edit, and delete content as necessary, then read through it again to check your organization, transitions, word choice, and sentence and paragraph structure. Make sure it flows and is easy to read. Finally, proofread for punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage errors. If you can, have another person proofread it a final time.
You are finally finished! Follow these three steps consistently every time you write, and in no time, your writing will improve. In fact, you may even begin to enjoy it, and the process will become quicker and quicker over time. The more you stick with this process, the easier it will become.
All About Writing’s one-on-one, personalized writing tutoring sessions help students effectively master each step of the writing process, from their initial brainstorming of ideas and organizing their thoughts to writing and polishing their final copy. Conquering the mechanics of the writing process empowers creativity; it allows students to focus on formulating their content and expressing their ideas rather than being sidetracked by the task of writing itself. Instead of evoking struggles and anxiety, writing becomes enjoyable.
Learn more about All About Writing and owner Christa Riddle at www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com. Remember, with All About Writing, writing help is just a call or click away! We can help you improve your writing skills, no matter what your age or the purpose of your writing!
-by Christa Riddle