Writing an essay may seem like a daunting task. There are so many things to think about before you begin, and you may quickly find yourself procrastinating instead of writing.
This is common among students, freelancers, and even professional writers. But getting your essay done doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, writing it can be a source of pleasure if you know how to do it right.
To make your life (and your assignment) just a bit easier, I put together this list of twenty best essay writing tips. The first part of the article is about the writing process and the second about improving your writing skills in general.
The drama of the essay is the way the public life intersects with my personal and private life. It’s in that intersection that I find the energy of the essay. – Richard Rodríguez
20 Tips for writing a great essay:
The most important tip:
Approach essay-writing as a multi-step process. Break it down into smaller tasks and suddenly it will become much more manageable. It takes a bit of time to master this process, but once you do it a couple of times, it will become almost automatic.
There are also good guides like A Professor’s Guide To Writing Essays which can be very helpful for improving your process.
1. Get your mind in gear – jot down a general idea of what your essay will be about
Staring at a blank page is the scariest part of any writing project. So instead of hoping for the inspiration to come to you, it’s much better to start writing something as soon as you sit down.
Start musing on the general idea and write a paragraph or two to outline the core of your essay. Think about it as a warmup and a way to organize your thoughts before crafting your masterpiece.
2. Collect some good notes and ideas on the subject
It’s so much easier to write when you have all the information at your fingertips. Moreover, doing your research beforehand will allow you to share only the best ideas for your essay.
Once I’ve learned from a legendary copywriter. He actually spent weeks in search of one crucial nugget of knowledge that would make his copy sharp as a razor.
I’m not asking you to go that far, but at least write your main ideas down.
3. Put your notes in a logical order and outline your essay
Once you have 10-20 notes, it’s time to put them in order. What do you want to talk about first? What’s coming after that?
The best way to do that is to assign a number to each idea. It’s best to go from something more general (but attention-grabbing) and then get down to the specifics.
If you’re more visually inclined, you may create a mind map of the ideas you want to broach.
4. Create a structure and format for your essay
A formal essay has three main parts:
- Introduction – here you share the focus of your essay, orientate the reader, outline the scope of what you’re talking about, and state your thesis.
- Body – here you present your arguments, give supportive evidence and sum up each argument with a brief conclusion.
- Conclusion – here you have to sum up your argument and restate your thesis.
If you just respect these parts, you will never go wrong.
The other thing to think about it is the format of the essay. This is important, especially in an academic setting. You need the right font, double spaces, margins, page numbers, and headings.
5. Start writing your essay in a step-by-step fashion
Now that you got over the formalities, it’s time to sit down and write your essay. Again, you can break it down into smaller parts. Attack the introduction first, then get these arguments down one by one and finish up with a conclusion.
Don’t worry about being correct or using the right vocabulary at this point. The main idea is to write it down as fast as possible. Every pro writer will tell you that writing and editing at the same time is nearly impossible.
6. Write down the first draft
Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can be a bit clumsy. Treat it as a rough diamond. First, you need to dig it out of the ground. The polishing phase comes later.
Focus on speed above all else and maybe you’ll reach the flow state. Look at the notes you have and let them guide you through the process.
7. Let the draft alone for a while
When you have your first draft, you can leave it alone for a few minutes or hours (if you have the luxury of time).
To get a better perspective on what you wrote, you first need to distance yourself from your work. When you come back, you’ll see it objectively and you’ll be ready for editing and polishing.
8. Edit your first draft, and create a second one (if needed)
Again, in a college setting, you may need to write the whole thing in one go. But if you have a few days to complete the assignment and you want to write a great essay, this is the way to go.
Now you can obsess over the sentences and make them perfect. Keep your sentences short, make sure they’re crystal clear, and cross out anything that’s not helpful for the reader.
Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world. – Susan Sontag
9. Get some feedback from your peers or an editor
After your second draft is finished, you’ll likely fall in love with your essay and think that Montaigne was an amateur if compared to you.
You’re likely to be wrong. That’s why you need to show your work to someone to give you some feedback. They’ll spot the errors and inconsistencies you didn’t see before.
10. Give your essay a final stamp of approval and publish it
Your work will never be perfect, but it can definitely be good enough to show it to the world. If you’ve gone through the steps described above, you’ll surely be proud of it.
An essay is a conversation with the reader. Spread it as widely as possible – maybe you’ll inspire someone.
I undertake the same project as Montaigne, but with an aim contrary to his own: for he wrote his Essays only for others, and I write my reveries only for myself. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Additional tips for improving your overall essay-writing skills:
11. Learn more about the writing process in general
You should definitely learn how to write well. You can do it by reading numerous online guides, putting your hands on great essay-writing manuals, and memoirs of master writers.
But above all else, you should write as much as possible.
12. Read some of the best essays ever written
I’ve prepared a list of the best essays of all time. If you want to get better, you should definitely read some of the greatest works of the genre. Let them inspire you, and with time, you’ll develop your own style.
13. Improve your vocabulary and use advanced language
Using advanced vocabulary is not about impressing people, but rather about clarifying the meaning you want to convey. Words are tools of your trade. Keep them in good condition.
14. Have deep general knowledge of the world
If you read many books, go to museums, watch amazing movies, travel, and talk with people from different parts of the world, you’ll develop a unique perspective. It will be invaluable for your journey as a writer.
Master essayists often don’t use many notes because their knowledge is so broad, that they can write the whole thing down in one go.
15. Read everything you can
I recommend you participate in my reading challenge and set yourself a goal of reading at least thirty books each year.
Reading some of the best books of all time will allow you to see things from a higher plane. You’ll also develop your own style, just by seeing how other writers are able to bend the language to their will.
16. Conquer the writer’s block
Never wait for inspiration to start writing. That’s not how pros behave.
If you’re suffering from a writer’s block, I highly recommend you read The War of Art. This book will inspire you to approach your work as a craftsperson and then show it to the world.
17. Use the technology to correct and edit your essay
Avoid simple grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes by using apps like Grammarly. You can also put your prose through the Hemingway app which will help you to shorten your sentences and make the whole text more readable.
And if you need quick access to synonyms, definitions, and word-usage, you should probably use OneLook – All-in-one Dictionary.
18. Consider the length of your essay
There’s no strict length rule you have to adhere to. I’ve read powerful essays that were only two or three pages long. Others went on for twelve or twenty pages.
It all depends on what you’re trying to convey and what’s the story you’re telling.
19. Write as much as you can in different formats
I’m sure you’ve heard about the 10.000-hour rule, where you achieve mastery of any skill by laboriously hammering away at it. While there are some shortcuts, nothing beats good old hard work.
Just don’t forget that this rule works under an assumption that you engage in the so-called diligent practice. It means that you’re seriously trying to get better with each try.
20. Avoid procrastination
Jim Rohn once said that “procrastination is a thief of dreams”. It robs you of your potential accomplishments and lowers your self-esteem. Don’t let it get in your way. Try everything you can to conquer it. Fire up your motivation. And just do it.
How did you enjoy these essay writing tips? Which one is your favorite? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.