You’ve been assigned an English essay and you’re excited to start writing. You find the topic really interesting, and you’ve got lots of ideas and opinions swirling around in your head. You sit down to write, and it suddenly hits you: You don’t actually know how to write an essay in English.
If you’re wondering how to be good at writing essays, we can help. We’ll take you through some important tips, which are useful for both native speakers and English learners, so you can get focused, organize your ideas and write an awesome, authoritative and error-free English essay—it’s not as complicated as you might think!
- Brainstorm ideas
- Come up with a thesis statement
- Make an outline
- Write your essay
- Back up your claims
- Check your work
1. Brainstorm ideas
Now that you understand the topic, you can start thinking of what you want to say about it. At this stage, anything goes. There are many ways you can brainstorm, but a technique to try is mind mapping. It basically goes like this:
- Write your central idea (the essay question) in the middle of a page (e.g., “What is the importance of exercise?”).
- Draw a branch coming from the central question for each idea connected to it (e.g., three different branches for “healthy body,” “happy” and “brain function”).
- On each branch, draw a sub-branch for every additional detail you think of (the sub-branches attached to “happy” might say “fun,” “endorphins” and “fresh air,” for instance).
- Do the same thing for each idea, drilling down into more specific sub-branches until you’re out of ideas.
- Start grouping similar ideas together, eliminate any weaker ideas, and identify the strongest points to use in your essay.
2. Come up with a thesis statement
After you’ve done some brainstorming, you’ll need to figure out what you want your thesis to be; in other words, what your argument is. Your thesis should be presented as a statement that includes your topic and the purpose of your essay. For example, “The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate that exercise is a crucial part of daily life.”
3. Make an outline
The next step is to create the structure for your essay. At this stage, you can use bullet points and note format. No need to get fancy yet!
- Your first bullet point should contain your thesis (see our “exercise” thesis example above).
- Under that, include a bullet point for each argument you’re going to use to support your thesis statement. Again, using our exercise example, we could have a bullet point for each of the following:
- Maintains your physical health
- Helps brain function
- Makes you happy
This part of your outline will elaborate on each of the points we mentioned above (again, we’re still writing in note form here).
For example, you can expand on the point “Maintains your physical health” by noting down specifically how exercise maintains your physical health. Do the same for all of your arguments. At the writing stage, these will form the body paragraphs of your essay.
The outline of your conclusion should remind the reader of your thesis (in different words). Here, you can also include your final thoughts on the topic and invite the reader to do more research on the subject.
4. Write your essay
Now that you’ve got your outline, it’s time to start writing your essay. Build out your introduction, body and conclusion into full sentences and paragraphs using the points you noted above.
At this point, you should also include a hook: a way of getting the reader’s attention. Your hook will be at the very beginning of your essay and can take many different forms; for example, it could be a famous quote, a question, a compelling statistic or a controversial statement.
Make sure to use effective essay words throughout. These will help you highlight and organize your introduction, supporting statements, connected ideas, counterarguments and conclusion.
5. Back up your claims
Whenever you make a statement in your essay, you should have a source to back it up. This is especially important if you’re making claims like “Most people in North America are overweight” — is this true? Do you have a statistic to support your claim? How many is “most”? Ensure that the source you cite is credible (that is to say, not a personal blog or a Wikipedia page).
6. Check your work
Once you’ve written your essay from introduction to conclusion, go back and read it again to make sure it flows well and makes sense. Ask someone else to read it so you can get their feedback on things like tone, clarity and even correct use of punctuation. Finally, run it through a grammar-checking tool. Even if you think you’re a perfect English grammarian, mistakes happen: There’s always the chance you’ve made a typo or two. Once you’re confident your essay is error-free, it’s finally time to turn it in!
Set yourself up for success with our writing tips for essays
Follow the steps we’ve covered above — from brainstorming to proofreading and everything in between — and you’ll be on the right path to successful essay writing in English. And the more you write, the more skilled and confident you’ll be.
Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.