How to Write an Essay

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So you’ve finished writing your essay. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief, close down your computer, and head out to celebrate with friends, right? Right! But after you’ve enjoyed that movie or milkshake, take a few more minutes to give your paper a final look before you hand it in. Doing so could help you avoid critical errors or weak organization that could eat away at your grade.

Guide Overview

1. Reread the assignment

It’s easy to get carried away when writing an essay. You’ve had an idea that you’re excited about, the words start to flow, and soon you’re congratulating yourself on a job well done. However, while being grabbed by an idea is great, writing in the throes of inspiration can also mean mistakes. These could include not actually answering the question or interpreting the essay prompt properly, including information that isn’t relevant to the prompt, or being so focused on getting it done that you don’t include enough content to support your argument fully.

Make sure to check your essay against the original assignment and ask yourself: Does my paper truly and completely answer this question?

2. Perfect the pacing

Getting the pacing wrong could mean an essay that’s rambling, disjointed, lacking in essential detail, or just not engaging. Check that your paper is properly paced and book-ended by a clear introduction and conclusion.

As a general guide, the introduction and conclusion should each form around a fifth of your essay, with the essay body making up three-fifths. Check that your word count roughly fits these margins to get a perfectly paced essay. If it doesn’t, consider whether a section has too much detail or not enough. In the case of a long introduction, for example, is all of the information necessary? If so, should some of it be in the first paragraph of the paper body instead? A simple edit is often all that’s needed to correct pacing problems, resulting in an essay that flows much better.

3. Correct simple mistakes

Thoroughly proofreading can help ensure your essay is free of grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes you might have missed the first time. Nothing’s worse than losing points for small errors! So take the time to reread your essay with fresh eyes, or ask a friend or writing tutor to take a pass.

Citations can be the trickiest part of formatting. Make sure you’re citing in the correct style for your subject. If you’re unsure, ask your teacher, professor or TA. MLA style (Modern Language Association) and APA style (American Psychological Association) are among the most popular styles, with the former favored by humanities subjects and the latter favored by science subjects. Formatting guidelines for APA, MLA and Chicago style format can be found online, if your teacher doesn’t provide them.

4. Avoid plagiarism

It’s vital that any material you quote or paraphrase within your essay be properly referenced using the required citation format. Failure to reference your sources, even unintentionally, amounts to plagiarism, which can lead to a failing grade or an even more severe sanction from your school. When you check your essay, remember that even ideas that you haven’t directly quoted need to be referenced.

Look back through your source material or your notes as you check your essay. This will enable you to clearly see if you’ve used any material unintentionally, without referencing the source.

Actually creating the citations for a works cited page (or an annotated bibliography) should be the easy part. After you’ve verified the correct citation style for your class, make sure you have all the required information, then feed that information into the EasyBib citation generator. You’ll also need to create in text citations that correlate to the full citations listed on your works cited page.

5. Learn for next time

Hopefully, the above final checking process should result in a good grade. But whatever the outcome, use it as an opportunity to gather feedback and make improvements on your next essay. If you’re disappointed with your grade, or don’t understand the feedback your teacher has given you (or if they haven’t given any), don’t be afraid to approach them to discuss where you went wrong and how you can prevent losing points in the future.


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