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A Basic Guide to Writing Essays (karma: 14)
By faery_floss Comments: 328, member since Sat Feb 15, 2003
On Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:28 PM
Edited by faery_floss (56794) on 2005-02-23 22:17:30 Sorry...momentary lapse of logical thought or ability to type
Made sticky by MIClogger (28613) on 2005-02-24 20:19:52

Having posted an extraordinarily lengthy reply to a ‘Can you help me make my essay better post’ I suspect this board needs a decent ‘How-to-write-an-essay-if-you-never-have-before-or-just-suck-at-them’ post. I will outline the basics of essay writing, and please add any extra ideas or thoughts, so we can have a better resource on the Homework board for inexperienced or beginner essay writers.

What Essays Are

The word ‘essay’ sounds very scary indeed. It conjures up images of dreadfully long, dreary, pieces of writing about long lost historical figures and musty old books. Not so. The essay form was created by Montaigne (or something similar, French words are hardly my forte) and is a form which explores a single subject in a coherent and clear way. His essays were mostly about life and himself, and he termed them Essais, from the French verb essayer- ‘to try’.

Essentially an essay is a method of writing in a painstakingly clear and logical way. Anybody should be able to pick up an essay, and understand it, with no prior knowledge of the topic. By the first line, they should know exactly what the essay is about, and by the end of the first paragraph, have a very clear idea of what you are going to say. That is why essays are so popular. They are the easiest way to write complex ideas, in a way that most can understand.

The Construction of an Essay

Every essay has three main parts which are:

Introduction. Oddly enough, this is the beginning where you outline a couple of your ideas very briefly, and well... introduce them. Usually just one paragraph long, you want this to have a strong starting sentence about the topic, and then a few sentences outlining your ideas very briefly. Keep it concise, as you don’t need to expand on any of your ideas yet, just outline them. The proper explanation for everything is later. The easiest way for me to start an essay, is to take the topic sentence, whip out a thesaurus and substitute words for their synonyms and then rewrite the sentence in an interesting way. This creates a powerful, direct and generally to the point first line, which is the best way to start.

Body. This is where each of your ideas are properly explained. Generally even the shortest essays have at least three main ideas, each at least one paragraph long. To my way of thinking, every idea should be written in a sort of mini essay format, to make the most sense. This means, you should have a first sentence which explains and introduces the idea nicely. Then a few sentences or more explaining, expanding and proving your point. Lastly a little wrap up sort of sentence to bring all the facets of that particular train of thought together again, and reinforce the meaning. The body is the best place to chuck all your quotes and such, so you can use them as example for why you are right, or why this is, or whatever the purpose of you essay is.

Conclusion. This is where you wrap up the general ideas, repeat some of the major thoughts in the essay, and generally conclude as neatly as possible. Try to have a strong last line. NEVER finish with raising new ideas, or asking more questions. The conclusion is perhaps the most important; it has to reinforce all the ideas strongly and concisely. The conclusion is the last thing the reader will read, so it and especially your last line have to be powerful and to be honest, convince the teacher that you are a highly educated and intelligent individual with brilliant ideas, who deserves an ‘A’. Tough job for what is often just one or maybe two paragraphs long. But don’t freak out too much. Just write a sort of overview of everything, and then do the same as you did for the first line for your last line. Just write something direct and to the point, which sums up the entire essay. Some teachers do not mind, but I was always taught that to start or finish with quotes, or in fact have either often in the introduction or conclusion is wrong. If in doubt, ask the teacher.


The Extra Stuff Which Makes or Breaks Your Essay

If you are writing an essay on Romeo and Juliet, or any other texts quote it. I did an essay on whether Romeo and Juliet were fated to die, or the entire episode was all the character’s fault a couple of years ago. I couldn’t just say, ‘Yes it was all that priest guys fault’ or ‘It was fated, and they were just stuffed from the beginning.’ I would have failed. When I put in ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me, that I should love my hated enemy’ which very roughly translates to ‘How very fateful that I should fall for my greatest enemy’ and said ‘This early foreshadowing proves that the lovers were fated from the start’ or whatever I did do I proved my point of view by referring to the text. Another point is that you are arguing a certain way, and find parts which do not fit your argument, don’t ignore them. The teacher knows the book backwards, and will most likely read quite a few essays arguing against you, using exactly those points to prove you’re wrong. Try to incorporate any points which don’t fit with your argument, but in a way that proves your side is right after all. It’s hard to explain, but basically try to twist arguments against your side, to your side. Also when you quote something, please reference it. This means footnote it. I will give more detail on footnotes later.

Stick to your idea. Don’t ramble. Don’t add padding. If you don’t have enough words, think of new stuff; don’t just write more rehashing already explained points.


I have had this drummed into me, and will attempt to drum it into you, dear reader. WRITE FORMALLY!!!!!!! No caps lock, multiple punctuation marks, numbers should always be written out in the word form, and God forbid if you attempt to put in even a hint of Netspeak. You WILL be hung, drawn and quartered by any sane or even insane teacher for this formidable slight on the English language.

On the same note, never start a sentence with but, maybe, and, etc. Also never write personal pronouns such as I. me, you, etc. FORMAL WRITING!!!!!


The Basics of Quotations and Footnotes

Every quote must be footnoted. This means one of those little numbers and then the lovely little explanation of where it came from down the bottom of the page, or sometimes the end of the essay in miniscule writing. Footnotes generally look a little like this, depending on what method you use: Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting, Wiley Publishing 1973 p.178. They are basically the same as what you write in your bibliography.

Of course if you are quoting the book you are writing the essay on, you can get away with just the page number. If you are using one resource for several quotes in a row, then instead of writing out the footnote every single time, you can just write ibid. This is a mystical Latin word, I’m not totally sure what it means, I suspect just ditto, but it looks posh and is very handy. However ibid is only used if you have two or more footnotes from the exact same source in a row, not if you have different sources in between them, because then they don’t know what you’re ibiding.

Quotations are the reasons for footnotes. Quotes should never be too long, unless you are quoting Shakespeare, who has an annoying tendency to write in blocks. Even so, try not to have too many chunky quotes, even if you are writing about Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be speech.’ or some sonnet. Quotes ought to be about a line long, perhaps two. If you are quoting big chunks, put the ….’s in when there are unimportant bits. This keeps everything compact. Also it is nice to incorporate quotes into sentences, instead of just leaving them on their own. Such as: ‘When soandso says “blablablabla…blablabla…bla” to soandso this highlights their inner frustrations and desperate needs.’ Or whatever. Then chuck your footnote in and you’re done.


Perhaps the best advice ever for writing essays, is: write it, then give it to a parent, teacher, sibling, etc. and get them to criticize it lots and tell you everything that’s wrong. Hand it in afterwards, having fixed everything. This will hurt your ego at first, but never fear it will soon be healed when you receive an ‘A’ and lots of lovely comments about your beautiful essay. :)

12 Replies to A Basic Guide to Writing Essays

re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By ItchyTorsomember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 887, member since Tue Jan 11, 2005
On Thu Feb 24, 2005 12:24 AM
Thank you SO much for taking the time to write that! I have seen waaayyy too many essays here that are in the incorrect format, incomplete, etc. This thread should become a sticky...:)
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By faery_floss Comments: 328, member since Sat Feb 15, 2003
On Thu Feb 24, 2005 10:43 PM
Oh cool! It's stickyfied. I know what you mean about incorrect format! What are their teachers doing? I mean setting essays for people who don't know what an essay even is. Dreadful.
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By PinUpGirlmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 25878, member since Tue Jul 16, 2002
On Mon Feb 28, 2005 09:59 AM
Also, everyone should invest in an MLA handbook. Some high schools require it of their honors or AP students. Almost everyone will need it in college. All the rules for parenthetical citations, works cited, and formatting are in there. It's well worth the money.
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays (karma: 1)
By xo_Lovebug_xo Comments: 58, member since Wed Mar 02, 2005
On Fri Mar 04, 2005 02:43 PM
Thanks! I'll be sure to like, bookmark this page next time I'm given an essay assignment! Never would have thought of that, I'm stupid! I'm more of a math maniac, so this is a HUGE help! Thanks for taking the time to write this!

//Lovebug\\

You've Just Been Stung!
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By pink_starlett Comments: 52, member since Tue Mar 08, 2005
On Tue Mar 15, 2005 01:57 PM
thnx this helped me soooo much i never have time i always have so many essays to write afta dance and always gt stuck you really helped me!
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By emilyjane Comments: 338, member since Sun Jan 16, 2005
On Sun Mar 27, 2005 08:32 PM
Thankyou so so much for this! I have to write my first ever essay as a major Literature assignment on Wednesday and I had no idea what to do at all!

Thanks so much!
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By tutulessmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 5351, member since Fri Mar 26, 2004
On Sat May 21, 2005 08:52 AM
Ibid means "at the same place" (I translated from the german translation hehe) or something similar.

So you were quite right with your guesses :)
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By XxXwoodyXxXmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 1102, member since Fri Mar 11, 2005
On Fri Jun 17, 2005 12:30 PM
thanks for that! i struggle with english and i have to do an essay on romeo and juliet and this has really helped me!! thanks again!!
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By Yvonnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3624, member since Sat Dec 04, 2004
On Wed Sep 12, 2007 07:38 PM
thank you! thank you! thank you! this morning i was assigned my first essay. has to have at least 10 paragraphs and is due in 4 days.

quick question, can you add photographs to a essay in anyway?
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By angelic212 Comments: 76, member since Mon Apr 03, 2006
On Fri Apr 17, 2009 03:45 PM
This is very helpful. im going to save it for when i have to write essays for my other classes.
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By Maggie_May1 Comments: 20, member since Tue Dec 01, 2009
On Tue Dec 01, 2009 02:45 PM
This is extremely helpful! I wish I had this guide when I was writing my papers last term. My school uses a citation guide that is available online, it can be very confusing to follow :( Thanks!
re: A Basic Guide to Writing Essays
By Izzy2009member has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 54, member since Tue Dec 08, 2009
On Fri Jan 15, 2010 08:29 AM
Thanks you really helped!
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