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Writing an Essay

How to make writing funBeginning before high school, students are required to write essays.  Granted, these assignments begin on a relatively simplistic level, but by the time one reaches his/her last years of high school, essays become more complex in nature.  Throughout college, the sophistication and expectations climb, reaching a pinnacle in graduate school.  The one constant throughout all of essay and essay paper writing, however, is organization, and that organization remains critical to the success of any writing project. For purposes of this piece, which will provide essay writing help to the reader, essay writing will be divided into two large categories – those essays which require little to no research and those that are essentially essay papers, requiring research on an assigned or chosen topic.

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Writing Essays that Require Little to No Research

These essays are typically assigned as exercises in themselves, usually in English classes, or in other classes, when students are asked to reflect in some way on a topic of study.  For example, in an English class, a student may be asked to choose a topic for a descriptive essay or to write an original narrative, or story.  In biology class, that same student may be asked to write an opinion piece on the ethics of bio-genetic engineering.

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Essays of this type fall into several categories:

  1. Descriptive:  Describing a person, a thing, or an event will require careful thought and the use of figurative language, in order to make the description interesting.  What are the most important features of what you are describing and how can you give the reader a vivid picture?  Consider these two sentences.  “The legs of a tyrannosaurus rex were huge,” or “Huge masses of rippled muscles, incased in gray skin, supported the tyrannosaurus rex.”
  2. Explanatory:  Explaining anything requires both organization and detail.  Think of an explanation as you would the directions for assembling something or for a complex recipe.  To get a clear understanding, the reader must have all of the information.
  3. Narration:  Telling a story can be fun, especially when the writer is creative and can appeal to the emotions of the reader.  The critical factor in a narrative is maintaining the interest of the reader.
  4. Comparison/Contrast:  Again, this type of essay requires solid organization and probably a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram, before any writing begins.
  5. Persuasive:  Everyone has opinions.  The point of a persuasive essay is to convince the reader that one’s opinion is right.  For this, the writer must have valid and solid points to support his/her opinion.  Occasionally, this type of essay may require factual data that must be researched, because an opinion without fact to back it up is not an educated one and bears no weight.
  6. Response or Critique:  Often, a student will be asked to respond to something read or viewed, and/or to critique a speech, a piece of literature, or multimedia presentation.  This necessarily involves one’s opinion, but supporting detail is required to support that opinion. For example, if one were to be asked to characterize Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, one would see many strengths and flaws, all of which would be supported by her actions and words in the book or movie.

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The Process for Writing an Essay with Little or No Research Involved

Any type of essay requires 5 steps which, if followed carefully, will result in an academically-sound piece that receives an excellent grade.

  1. Pre-Writing Activities.  This critical first step amounts to “brainstorming” all of the thoughts and ideas you have about a topic.  Listing them as they come to mind is important, because you want every possible thought to get consideration.  Once these are listed, a sifting process occurs, during which you combine related thoughts, discard those that seem unimportant or irrelevant, and list, in order of importance, the thoughts you have kept.  It will be important to organize these thoughts into at least three categories, so that the body of your essay will have at least three paragraphs.
  2. Organize your categories.  Again, the most important points should be first.  Creating an outline or a simple graphic will help you stay on track when you write.
  3. Write your first draft.  During this draft, write the body paragraphs first.  Once you have done that, you can work on your introduction and conclusion.  The introduction should grab the reader’s attention quickly and tell the reader what you plan to tell him/her.  The introduction should contain your thesis statement.  The conclusion should wrap up what you have told the reader and, occasionally, spur that reader on to some type of action or additional thought.  Consider these two sample introductions:

    We are all slaves without realizing it!  Each and every day, Americans are subjected to a barrage of advertising on television, radio, billboards, computers, and printed material that arrives in the mailbox without request.  We are told how to live virtually every aspect of our lives, from what to eat, to how to dress, to what products will make us healthy, happy, wise, and totally desirable.  How did this happen to a people that value its independence and freedom?

    Advertising is an everyday experience for Americans.  We are all subjected to it through every type of media, and it is only getting worse as we continue to access these media outlets throughout our days.  This essay will provide a brief background in the history of advertising and explain how it has become such a fixture in our lives.

    Clearly, the first example is by far the better introduction.  It is intriguing and informs the reader of the content of the essay in a motivational manner.

  4. Revise your rough draft.  Read your essay first for overall coherence and fluency.  Read it a second time for grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Are the sentences varied in length?  Have you placed punctuation, etc. properly?  Any word processing program should find most errors for you, so pay careful attention to the suggestions that are given.
  5. Write your final draft.  Once completed, have someone else read the essay, so that you get an objective opinion on its fluency and overall effectiveness.

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Essay Writing Help When Research is Involved

The research essay is much more complex than the basic one, will naturally be lengthier, and will certainly involve a much more involved process.  Many times the topic will be assigned, but, more often, a student will be allowed options of choice within a general category.  If one is taking a course in the Civil War, for example, there may be an assignment to choose some aspect of that war and produce a research work.  While the basic plan for creating such a work is similar to writing an essay, the research component adds a great deal of time and requires much more organization.  Steps in this process are as follows:

  1. The topic must be narrowed to one that will fit the parameters of the length and breadth requirements.  A research paper that is to be 8-10 pages in length, for example, will not include all of the battles of the Civil War.  The topic is much too broad.  One would have to pick one or two decisive battles on which to focus.
  2. Conduct your research.  A basic research essay will probably require 5-8 resources; lengthier more sophisticated works will require much more.  A review of literature for a dissertation, for example, may include up to 100 resources.  Select resources carefully, according to the instructor’s requirements.  Often, there will be a limit on the use of internet resources, and books and journal articles will have to be obtained at a brick and mortar library.
  3. The traditional method of using note cards for research is still the best way to gather information and to maintain a record of the source information (author, title, page number, etc.). It is a good idea to have a preliminary idea of the sub-topics you will cover, so that the note cards can be titled according to the sub-topic into which they fit.
  4. Once the research is complete, the critical task of organizing that research begins.  All cards relating to one sub-topic should be placed together.  Once you have organized the information in this way, you are ready to prepare an outline.
  5. The outline becomes your map for writing, so be certain that you have included all of the important sub-topics and that they are in an order that will bring fluency to your paper.  Sometimes the order may be chronological; sometimes the order will be based on aspects of the topic, usually organized from most to least important.  If one were to write a paper on the causes of the civil War, for example, the most important would be the obvious ideological divide of states’ rights vs. federal power; slavery would be next, followed by serious differences in economic, social, and cultural aspects of the North and the South.
  6. Once you have your outline, writing your rough draft should be quite easy.  It is important that, in this production, you make note of the sources of all information you include.  This will be critical for correct in-text and end-of-text notes that must give credit to those resources.
  7. Reviewing and revising your rough draft can be a lengthy process, but review and revise you must!  No instructor wants to struggle to read a paper that is dis-organized or replete with grammatical and sentence structure errors\, and your grade will suffer mightily.
  8. Writing the final draft.  Now you are ready for the final production, and it is at this point that you will compose your introductions and conclusions.  Remember that the introduction must grab the reader’s attention and, as well, contain your thesis statement.
  9. Formatting:  Your instructor/professor has no doubt given you the format requirements – APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc.  If you are unsure about any formatting specific, the Internet has loads of free sources that will provide examples of these specifics.  The point is, you want your submitted paper to be exactly as your instructor demands.  Be certain that all types of resources are cited exactly as the required format style requires.
  10. A Final Check: It is always a good idea to have another person read your paper.  They can comment on coherency, fluency, and organization of the content or data, and do so objectively.  Often, the creator of a research paper is too close to see flaws that might lower a grade.  

Writing is an integral part of academic studies.  The further you go in your educational career, the more writing you will be asked to do, and good writers will tell you that mastery of this critical skill comes only with practice. Do not be discouraged if your initial written assignments do not merit superior grades from instructors/professors.  You will learn from these early struggles and emerge as a master researcher and writer! 

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