How to Write an English Essay

How to Write an English Essay

Essay writing is an integral part of any English course, both in high school and college. Sure, writing an English essay may seem quite challenging — after all, you will have to rely on your creativity mostly, not on other people’s research on the subject. Still, if you start early, allow yourself a lot of time in advance and make use of the tips below, you will have a chance to come up with a great English essay. Ready? Let’s get started.

PREPARATION STAGE

Jumping straight to writing is not always a good idea. Sometimes, it’s best to pay more attention to the preparation stage and save time on actual writing. Here are some ideas that might prove useful.

Allow yourself some in-advance time

Nothing good has ever been written in ten minutes — and that goes not only for the essay writing process itself. You should allow yourself quite a lot of time not only on writing and proofreading the paper but also on preparing and structuring your thoughts. This is the stage when you brainstorm, look for information already available on the subject, and come up with the most creative ways to convey your meaning.

Write down ideas as they come to you

As you start looking for information, you will get plenty of ideas for your English essay. Write all of them down as they come to you. Remember, your goal here is not to come up with a masterpiece. In fact, you’re not even working on your first draft. You just sketch down the ideas (some of them will not wind up in your paper at all) and get ready for the actual writing stage, nothing else.

Pay your closest attention to the thesis

A thesis takes just one or two sentences, but it still represents the essence of your work. This is the main idea you are going to prove/discuss/analyze in your essay, and it is simply essential to get it right. Do not settle for the first thesis statement that comes to mind. Brainstorm several ideas; find at least three or four subjects you would like to explore; perhaps, even look for a way to combine the topics you are passionate about into one compelling thesis statement.

Remember, everything you will write about in your paper has to be directly related to the thesis statement, placed at the end of your introductory paragraph. This statement should reveal the main idea behind your paper in a clear and compressive manner. This is the only way to make sure your reader understands what you are to talk about right from the start. And, of course, you have to phrase it in an intriguing manner so that the reader would actually want to read more.

Work hard on the introduction

A thesis statement may be the most important part of your introduction, but it’s not the only one. As it was already mentioned, a thesis is placed at the end of your introductory paragraph. What do you put in the beginning, then? Normally, you are supposed to introduce (redundant as it may sound) your problem and make the reader interested in the subject you are to explore. Here are some ways to achieve this effect:

  • Start with an anecdote
  • Use an unusual fact or an interesting stat
  • Lead with a new idea or a conception
  • Ask a rhetoric question to challenge the reader and make him think

Sure, the actual approach you choose will mostly depend on the particular type of essay you are working on; however, for an English class, most of these techniques usually work.

Craft a coherent outline

So many students attempt to write an essay without an outline only to regret this decision later. Do not make this mistake and spare just a bit of time on your preparation stage to craft a detailed outline for your English essay. By now, you should already have your thesis and some preliminary research on the subject. So, it’s time to place all of these ideas in the coherent order that will impress the readers and convince them in your point of view.

Writing an outline may seem a waste of time if you already know what you are going to write about. However, the feeling is tricky. In practice, a short but coherent outline saves you a lot of time on writing — simply because it helps you stay focused and prevents a writing block.

WRITING AN ENGLISH ESSAY

Now, that you have your ideas and your outline, you can actually start writing. Here are the main steps for this stage.

Go through all of your notes again

Once again, go through research notes to see if your outline does not leave anything out. Even though an English essay is mostly a creative task, it still has to be backed up by some academic materials previously written on the same subject. So, take a critical look at what you have already gathered. If necessary, add more info to your outline.

Create topic sentences for each paragraph

The first sentence is always the hardest part. What exactly are you to write to hook the reader and make them want to read more? The best tip here would be to avoid any ambiguous phrasing. The first sentence of every new paragraph should introduce clearly what the whole piece is about. Here, it is once again essential to have a proper outline. If you already know exactly what you are to talk about, crafting a topic sentence should not be that difficult. Note, however, that even though a topic sentence should clearly describe the main information in the whole paragraph, it does not necessarily have to reveal every little detail of it. Just think of this part as an informative hook.

Detail and develop your thoughts

More than often, students come up with one or two ideas for an English essay and fill the rest of required volume with meaningless information. This is also called padding in the academe, and it is definitely not a good idea — not only when it comes to English essay, but to any kind of writing in general. Do not forget, your professor has worked with hundreds of students before you; and, consequently, he/she has already read hundreds of essays on this very subject. Don’t think you’re the only one who ever got such a ‘bright’ idea. Most professors, even beginning ones, can see right through padding.

But what do you do if you feel stuck and even your outline does not help? Here are some tips that may help:

  • Come back to the brainstorming stage. Get back to the brainstorming stage and try to broaden your topic or fill in the gaps, if any. You can also try free writing (it helps a lot with the writing block), extra research, or even mind maps — whatever works for you.
  • Join a writing lab. A lot of schools and colleges have writing labs these days, and you might want to consider joining. While all of them function differently, the essence is pretty simple: this is a place for students to collaborate and exchange their ideas on a variety of writing projects. In a writing lab, you can receive valuable feedback on your work and get inspired to push the project forward.
  • Talk to your professor. While your professor may seem like the last resort, you’d be surprised how many of them welcome students’ questions. In any case, it won’t hurt to at least try. This is especially so if your professor has dedicated office hours. It is the best time to consult him/her and try to improve the essay before handing it in.

Use MLA formatting style

Some essays (personal ones, in particular) do not require any external references. Most of them do, however. After all, it would be difficult to imagine an English essay on literature that is not supported by any quotes from the original text.

Most English papers are formatted in MLA (Modern Language Association) style. You should double-check this requirement with your professor just in case, but as a rule, this is the format everyone sticks to. Just like any other academic writing format, it has a few peculiarities. The most important things to remember are:

  • double spacing all through the paper
  • one-inch margins on all sides
  • 12-point font (Times New Roman is the safest choice)
  • no separate title page
  • student and course credentials in the top left corner
  • page numeration in the top right corner
  • separate Works Cited page

Anytime you are about to directly cite some material, you are to frame the citation in quotation marks and refer to the original author in brackets. The reference implies the author’s last name and a page number (if available). So, if you are citing from an in-folio source or from an online periodical that has page numeration, you have to include the page number to your reference. Note that there are NO punctuation marks between the last name and the page number. Like this: (Smith 10). Any punctuation you need in the sentence is preserved and is placed after the reference.

Also, note that your Works Cited page should include author’s name, the title of work you are citing, place and year of publication. You may also want to include more publication info (online or print, page numbers, etc.). However, this is optional, and you can limit yourself to the bare essentials.

Make your conclusion count

A conclusion is a wrapping-up part of your essay, and it should leave a good impression on the reader. Normally, you are supposed to restate the main ideas discussed in your work and prove your thesis statement right.

However, in case of an English essay, you may have to work a little harder than that. As with any other piece of creative writing, you are supposed to build suspense; that is, in your body paragraphs, you have to create an impression that a concluding part is drawing nearer and nearer. If it helps, think of your paper as the kind of inverted pyramid, and you moving down to its concluding peak.

Here are more ideas that will make your conclusion impressive:

  • give an evaluation of the information you presented
  • suggest a possibility for further research on the subject
  • highlight the relevance of your paper

REVISION STAGE

Writing the last sentence in your conclusion does not mean that the work is over, though. You will still have to revise the whole paper; and here are some things to remember on this stage.

Allow yourself a lot of time

Once again, you are to take your time. You cannot just start proofreading the paper right away — you will not notice any typos or logical errors if you do. That is why it is so important to start working on your essay as early as possible. In the ideal world, you should allow at least two days for the revision stage.

Start with the content, not the spelling

When starting to proofread their essay, most students focus on the spelling errors first or, at least, try to edit content and spelling at the same time. This is a faulty approach that might help you improve your paper eventually; but, it will lead to a significant time (and effort) loss. So, the golden rule is to start with the content. Pay special attention to the logic flow. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Are all of your arguments clear?
  • Do you have logic transitions between the paragraphs?
  • Is your phasing easy to follow?
  • Do all of your ideas add up to the thesis statement?
  • Is your wording academically acceptable (no slang, jargon, etc.)?

Ask a friend to go over your paper

It'd be even better if you had someone else to go over your paper. You do not always have to consult a professional proofreader for an English essay, but you can always ask a friend or a group mate for help.

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