Starting your Essay from Scratch: Notes on the Writing Process

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Practical step-by-step for students to follow

Any student can confirm that the most complicated part of the writing process is the beginning. The major difficulty about writing an essay is that it requires a great deal of creative input, which is definitely harder than just processing already existing information for a research paper. Writing an essay implies a certain degree of commitment because you’re expected to speak your mind and represent your own opinion.

All it takes to turn a challenging task of writing an essay into an enjoyable experience is having an effective writing process.

If you think about it, any task seems ten times more difficult if you don’t know how to approach it. Learning to know how to do something will help you focus, get rid of anxiety, and perform much better whatever you do. While preparing to write an essay from scratch, it is important to know what to expect and exact steps you need to take.

Here you’ll learn how to organize your writing process and make it easy instead of challenging.

Know Your Task

As Sun Tzu’s The Art of War says, “Know your enemy.” Before reviewing the writing process, let’s take a closer look at what we’re dealing with. As a rule, an essay is defined as a piece of writing that focuses on a single subject and has a set of coherent arguments that support a certain idea. Essays can be formal and informal, vary in length, and generally be about any topic.

The first step in your writing process is knowing what you’re expected to do. Read your guidelines and determine whether you are expected to write a formal or informal essay.

In case if your task is to write a formal essay:

  • you’re supposed to use only the third person
  • avoid talking about personal experience
  • maintain academic tone

In case if you need to write an informal essay:

  • your task is to express your point of view
  • you can use a conversational style
  • you can speak directly to the reader (use the first person)
  • refer to your personal experience

The most amazing essay will be graded low if it doesn’t comply with task requirements, so knowing your task is the first and foremost step in the writing process.

Do Your Research and Make Notes

There’s no way around it: preliminary research is an absolute must. It is essential to know what you’re about to talk in the essay, otherwise, you’ll feel like you can’t make a point and support your view. Even if you’re required to write an informal essay, adding facts from credible sources will help you provide strong arguments to support your opinion.

Here are some examples of credible sources where you can search for evidence:

  • Articles from peer-reviewed sources (try Google Scholar)
  • Textbooks
  • Government websites (gov domain)
  • International organizations websites (e.g. World Bank, IMF, Greenpeace)
  • News articles (e.g. The New York Times, Fortune, CNN)

To use your time effectively, make notes every time you read something relevant to your essay topic and indicate the source right away. This will help you pick useful sources that might later end up in your bibliography.

Develop the Main Idea and Create an Outline

After doing your research you’ll be able to formulate the main idea of your essay. The main idea will reflect your key thought about the topic of the essay. During essay writing, the main idea will become a thesis statement. Write it down and build your outline around it.

Researching the essay topic will help you figure out what to write about in the essay and how to structure it. Consider an outline as a backbone of your essay — it will capture the key ideas and arguments in the essay. In addition, having an outline will make you see a piece of work already done, which is encouraging and motivating. You can make your outline as detailed as you need to, the most important goal here is to create a logical structure of your future essay and organize your thoughts.

Compose Your Paper

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Here’s a guideline for writing each part of the paper, including introduction, body, and conclusion.

Introduction

Despite that introduction comes first in your paper and should take around 10% of the paper length, it is best to write it last. Think about your essay as a person: the more you know the person, the easier it is for you to introduce them to someone. Either way, make sure to include the following:

  • Hook — attention-grabbing first sentence or two of your introduction. You can start with a quote, an interesting fact, or a question to engage readers
  • Brief introduction of your topic — let readers know what you’ll talk about in your essay
  • Thesis statement — a sentence that reflects the main idea
  • Transitional hook — the last sentence in an introduction that smoothly connects introduction and body of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

The body of the essay is where you discuss the topic in detail, using evidence and presenting your own stance on the subject. The number of body paragraphs depends on essay length, while the following guideline will be useful regardless:

  • If possible, devote each body paragraph to a specific sub-topic or argument. You’ll find it easier to structure the essay this way
  • Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that reveals what the paragraph is about
  • Make body paragraphs similar in length — this trick that’ll help you make the essay look more neat and professional
  • Finish each body paragraph with a transition sentence that will tie all paragraphs logically together

Conclusion

Similarly to an introduction, conclusion typically shouldn’t take more than 10% of the essay word count. In conclusion make sure to:

  • Summarize the key points of the essay instead of repeating them
  • Avoid introducing new ideas or facts
  • Restate your thesis statement. Think how your thesis statement in perspective of all arguments you’ve presented in body paragraphs — do they support your main idea or not? Answer this question in your conclusion

Tips and Tricks: How to Cut Corners

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While writing an essay from scratch, you can use these tips and tricks to save time and effort:

  • While writing every body paragraph, return to your thesis statement and make sure the evidence aligns with the main idea
  • Acknowledge arguments that contradict your main idea and then prove them wrong — this trick makes for an excellent essay
  • Cite your sources in the essay to demonstrate your hard work researching evidence and facts as well as academic integrity
  • Proofread your paper only after you’re fully done with it, otherwise, it’s just a waste of time
  • Take a 10-minute break every hour to clear your head
  • If you run into a writer’s block, don’t waste time waiting for the inspiration to return. Instead, take a walk, make coffee, or call a friend — changing focus will help your brain “restart” and come up with new ideas

Surely, the more you’ll write, the more likely you’ll be to develop your own writing process that works best for you. It is true that practice makes perfect, but essay writing isn’t rocket science for you to gain excellence through many struggles. This practical guideline proves that it’s easier than it seems once you know what to do.

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