The Top 5 Essay Writing Tips
In this article, we are going to explore the five most important elements of writing great essays. These essay writing tips for students are provided for teachers to master the craft of essay writing in the classroom. At the end of the article, we will show you the best collection of essay writing prompts to put these into action.
Writing essays is a craft and, as with any craft, the skills of good essay writing are to be honed over time.
In this article, we will take a look at the top 5 fundamental essay writing tips to produce well-written essays. For students to become adept in these areas will require teachers to offer lots of reinforcement and opportunities to practice the suggestions below.
The fundamentals listed below are general enough to apply to a wide variety of essay types.
Before beginning to write, students must clearly identify the purpose of their writing. So, let’s start by taking a look at the different types of essays students may be asked to write along with some advice for students to follow while writing them.
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Essential Essay Writing Tip: # 1 Identify the Type of Essay
Before a student begins to respond to an essay prompt, they must understand the broad features that characterize the various types of essay they may be asked to write.
Most essays fall into one of four genres. Let’s take a look at some of the main features of each of these:
● Narrative Essays
Essentially, a narrative essay is a storytelling from a specific point of view, most often from the writers. Usually, the events will be based on real-life experiences. To effectively convey the inner and outer action of the narrative, it is important that students create as vivid a telling as possible through packing their story with sensory detail.
As narrative essays normally focus on real-life events told from the writer’s own POV, they are usually written in the first person. The use of lots of first-person pronouns (I, me, my etc) helps to draw the reader into the experience recounted.
Though real-life does not always lend itself to perfectly crafted plotlines, narrative essays should still work toward a well-crafted conclusion, often in the form of a personal statement.
Other characteristic features of a narrative essay may include the use of conflict and dialogue to drive the narrative.
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● Descriptive Essays
A descriptive essay, true to its name, focuses on describing something, whether an experience, an event, a sensation, an emotion, a person, a place, or an object etc.
While it has many things in common with a narrative essay, such as its focus on the personal and use of sensory detail, there are some fundamental differences. While narrative essays are largely concerned with telling a story, descriptive essays are more akin to painting a picture in words.
Despite this preoccupation with description, essays of this type shouldn’t be clinical deconstructions of things into the adjectives that describe them. A good descriptive essay will be evocative and have an emotional appeal to the reader.
While narrative essays are focused on action and tend to naturally organize themselves around a ‘plot’ of sorts, the descriptive essay demands a different means of organization than chronology.
Encourage students to think of a means of organization for their descriptive essays. Anything reasonable will do,such as organizing it from various perspectives or through the use of the different senses.
The expository essay comes in many forms such as the ‘How To’ essay, the Compare & Contrast’, and the ‘Cause and Effect’ essay. Though there are clear differences between these types, all expository essays endeavor to provide the reader with a balanced analysis of a given subject.
Unlike the narrative and the descriptive essay, personal feelings don’t apply here. Expository essays are not generally written in the first person and the writer doesn’t reveal their own feelings on the topic.
This form of essay is used to explain a topic and often uses facts, statistics and examples to achieve this.
Also known as an argumentative essay, the aim of this type of essay is to convince the reader of the validity of the writer’s point of view on a topic.
As with expository essays, the persuasive essay is also concerned with facts and logic, but usually as supporting evidence for the opinions of the writer.
When writing a persuasive essay, be sure to encourage students to present their arguments supported by evidence. Though they will be expressing an opinion in these essays, this does not mean they will ignore the other side of the argument.
These should be touched on too, but there should be no doubt left in the reader’s mind on the writer’s opinion on the matter and why they think that way.
Regardless of your essay type, purpose or audience research and understanding of your topic are invaluable.
Be sure to take a look at our guide on effective research strategies for students to understand how to research your essay effectively, and efficiently.
Essential Essay Writing Tip: #2 Keep the Essay Focused
It’s important that students avoid the ‘essay vomit’ phenomenon. Be sure they understand that writing an essay is not about regurgitating everything they know about a given topic.
Students must keep the essay focused on the specifics of the question or essay prompt. To help maintain that keen focus on the task at hand, students should be encouraged to:
- Read through essay prompt several times before beginning
- Underline keywords and important phrases
- Paraphrase the prompt to ensure full comprehension
- Respond directly to the prompt
- Refer back to the prompt throughout the writing process
- Use transitions to connect points
After a close examination of the essay prompt, it should be apparent which type of essay the student is being asked to compose.
Once the student has identified the correct genre (narrative, descriptive, expository, persuasive), they will then need to accurately identify the type of question they are being asked. This will help determine the approach the student takes in their essay.
There are a number of types of essay questions and students should learn to identify each of these in turn. In these different types of questions, students will be asked to:
- Compare and contrast
- Construct an argument
- Synthesize viewpoints
- Evaluate arguments
Students will need plenty of practice looking at various essay type questions to determine first the essay genre, and then the type of question being asked.
Sometimes it will be immediately obvious from reading the question which type of question it is, while at other times things will be more nuanced. Remember: practice makes perfect!
A helpful exercise to give students the opportunity to practice is to gather up a list of essay questions covering a range of genres from past exam papers.
Then, divide students into groups and have them sort the questions into the categories above according to question type.
After identifying the correct approach to their essay prompt, students should begin to plan their responses.
This will help them to ensure they cover all their main points while sticking closely to the question. It will also help them to complete their work within a given time limit where the essay is timed.
Essential Essay Writing Tip: #3 Write for your audience
Just as we identified the importance of genre and type of question before beginning to respond to an essay prompt, students must identify their audience before writing with that audience in mind.
To do this, students must know who their audience is, understand what it is they are looking for, and tailor their essays accordingly.
Students can begin the process of identifying their audience by asking the following questions:
- Who is the reader and what is their perspective? Are they a peer, a teacher, an examiner, an employer or potential employer?
- What level of knowledge do they have?
- What impression do you want to leave the reader with? what do you want the reader to take away?
Knowing who the intended audience greatly informs the writer’s approach in writing the essay.
For example, if the student is writing an essay for an examiner, then they are writing to demonstrate they have successfully learned the material on a particular course.
Writing an essay for a younger audience, such as their peers, for example, may mean using simpler language and assuming a lack of prior knowledge of the topic by the reader.
Here, rather than writing to ‘show off’, as with an examiner as the audience, the focus may be on writing to inform.
The audience that a student is writing for will have a great impact on the essay’s tone too. For example, if the student is writing an essay for a teacher, they’ll want to adopt a more formal tone usually avoiding things like contractions and slang.
Writing for an audience of peers will usually demand a more casual, less formal approach.
Essential Essay Writing Tip: #4 Get to the Point
Essay writing should be concise and to the point. Students should avoid using 5 words where 2 words will suffice.
It is a common mistake, especially when engaged in long form writing, to be needlessly long-winded.
Encourage your students to be direct and to the point. Challenge them to trim the fat in their writing by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases. This is important not just in the editing process, but at the composition stage too.
Two other quick tips to help students make their point clearly and concisely:
● Use the Active Voice
The active voice is more direct and engages the reader more effectively than the passive voice. Encourage students to avoid using the helping verb. For example, instead of writing: ‘She is explaining the process’, students should write: ‘She explains the process’.
● Break Complex Ideas Down into Shorter Sentences
Students are particularly prone to straying off point when writing about complex ideas. A helpful rule here is that when expressing a complex idea, students should break it down into several short sentences. This helps keep the writing direct and focused and much clearer for the reader.
Essential Essay Writing Tip: #5 Edit and Proofread
This article is about the fundamentals of essay writing and nothing is more fundamental to good writing, essays or otherwise, than developing an effective editing and proofreading process.
Sometimes students are confused about the difference between editing and proofreading. While there are many types of editing, in this context we are referring to revising an essay with a view to checking its structure and organization, readability, tone, content, and consistency.
When we refer to proofreading, we are referring to a final quick check on the essay’s spelling, grammar, and typos.
The editing process may differ between individual writers, as we all develop our own preferences over the years. However, for students, it is best to outline the essential common elements to include. They can later work these into a personalized systematic approach to an editing process that works best for them.
The editing process offers student writers a final opportunity to ensure that they have adequately responded to the essay prompt. Revisiting the introduction and conclusion will allow the writer to check whether the core issues have been adequately addressed.
A scan through the body paragraphs will provide an opportunity to look more closely at the content of the arguments made. Are they made in a coherent manner? Do the order of the arguments as presented in the essay follow a logical progression? Are the arguments supported by appropriate evidence?
When reading through the text they have written, students should keep a merciless eye out for superfluous words. This isn’t whimsical flights of purple prose we’re talking here.
Essays should be laser-focused and lean as a greyhound. Empty words and hackneyed phrases must be ruthlessly eliminated.
Explain to students that one particularly effective way to edit and proofread is to read back their own work out loud.
We read aloud at a much slower pace than we do when reading silently. This affords students the time and space to pay closer attention to what has been written.
Reading aloud also gives students the chance to ‘listen’ to how their sentences are punctuated, giving opportunities to correct mistakes.
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A Place for Practice
As we’ve seen, writing essays can be a very complex business. However, with focused practice on the fundamentals, any student writer can make significant progress in their writing ability.
As can be seen from the tips in this article and related articles on this site, technical skills are certainly important for students to write well. However, creating a classroom culture that encourages students to experiment with their voice and style is paramount too.
Encourage students to take risks in their writing. They should understand that there is no failure here. There is only success or an opportunity for learning.
This is the surest way to make progress in the craft of essay writing.
ESSAY WRITING CHECKLISTS AND RUBRICS FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS
WHERE CAN I FIND A COMPLETE UNIT OF WORK ON HOW TO WRITE ESSAYS?
We pride ourselves on being the web’s best resource for teaching students and teachers how to write essays. We value the fact you have taken the time to read our comprehensive guides to understand the fundamentals of writing skills.
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If you are time-poor and looking for an in-depth solution that encompasses all of the concepts outlined here I strongly recommend taking a look at our “Persuasive, Arguments, Expository & Discussion Writing (A Complete guide)”
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Within this unit, you will find over 60 pages of engaging and innovative teaching ideas.
The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book the Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.