How to Write Better Essays

Mark Gardner |
Editor's Note:  Mark Gardner, NBCT, is a high school English teacher in southwest Washington state working in a hybrid role that also allows him to work on professional development experiences for teachers. The views expressed in this blog are his own.
Research is a crucial part of any essay. Make sure to read a wide range of essays, from your peers and academics. Taking notes helps you to remember key points and arguments, so don’t be afraid of using note cards or a project management app.

Reading also helps you to build a strong vocabulary. Try to learn a few new words every day and incorporate them into your writing.

1. Start with a Thesis Statement

A good thesis statement should make a clear picture of your argument. For argumentative essays, this will be your central point that you’ll aim to persuade the reader to agree with by the end of your essay.

For informational essays, it will describe a certain topic. Your initial thesis, often called a “working” one, should be developed early in the writing process as you choose your topic and research it.

It should also be debatable, meaning that it should be something some people might argue against. A good thesis statement also grabs a reader’s attention in some way, whether by telling a story, citing a startling statistic, pointing out a misperception, providing and discussing an interesting quote, etc. It should also be specific and not overly broad.

2. Write a Strong Introductory Paragraph

Once you have a strong introduction, it's time to start building the body of your essay. The body of your essay should develop and elaborate on your argument and provide a clear path for the reader to follow. It should also be structured in paragraphs, which helps to keep your writing organized and easy to read.

The last section of your essay is the conclusion. This is where you summarize your main points and argue how they connect to your thesis statement. It is also a chance to highlight any important information that may have been missed from your introduction and re-state your thesis statement in a different way. A good conclusion will also include a little bit of background on your topic, such as "how did Braille change the lives of blind people?" or something along those lines.

3. Create Topic Sentences

A topic sentence introduces a paragraph's main point and signals to the reader what the paragraph will discuss. It can be in the form of a simple statement or a complex sentence.

Some topic sentences are also transitional and use conjunctive adverbs (for example, however, on the other hand, likewise) to emphasize contrast or complexity. These are called pivot topic sentences, and they are best used when the essay discusses a change in subject or approach.

Another way to make a topic sentence is to ask a question, such as "How does Vermeer's image strengthen his claim about social hierarchy?" or "Why does this unchanging hierarchy persist?" Questions are a powerful tool for creating engaging and intriguing topic sentences. They are especially useful for introducing argumentative essays.

4. Structure Your Paragraphs

Paragraphs are the building blocks of an essay. They help you to organise your ideas and present them in a logical order. Each paragraph should develop ONE main idea through a series of sentences that are linked to it. This main idea is usually introduced in the first sentence of the paragraph and called the topic sentence.

The rest of the paragraph should provide evidence to support your argument. This can include quotes and paraphrases, facts (such as statistics or findings from studies), descriptions of your own experiences, and text citations.

Ideally, the last sentence in the paragraph should explain how your evidence supports your main point and help the reader understand it. This process is repeated throughout the body of the paragraph until all points/examples have been explained and linked to the main idea of the paragraph.

5. Write a Strong Conclusion

A strong conclusion wraps up your essay and ties everything together. It should leave readers with a sense of closure and also suggest broader implications for your argument.

Avoid introducing new ideas or evidence in your conclusion. Using phrases like, "in summary," or, "in conclusion," in your conclusion is not only boring, but it can confuse readers. Also, don't add in new points that weren't discussed anywhere else in the essay; this is just rambling and won't help your essay.

You only have one chance to make a good impression on your reader with your essay, so make sure your final point is clear, thought-provoking and powerful. Then your essay will be a success! 2016 by Academic Mindset. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article without written permission is strictly prohibited.