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Old Friday, July 08, 2011
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Default scheme for your essay

1Define the context. If the essay is assigned, certain parameters will usually be defined for you, such as the length of the essay, format of the title page, and the intended audience (e.g. your teacher, an admissions committee, a cheating website) and what length is appropriate. No matter what, if you're given directions, follow them. A brilliant essay might still fail to get its point across if it doesn't follow the rules. Remember, the main point is what you should concentrate on. Stick to the question key words throughout your essay. If the question is given and it asks you to describe for example an important character in a novel, you must always refrain from saying an 'interesting character' or 'admirable character'. Stick to the words of the question.
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2 Choose a topic.Choose a topic. Often this will be decided for you, but if not, try to choose something you're interested in or, better yet, passionate about. It will make the essay easier to write. On the other hand you could choose a stand you disagree with because it will allow you to see flaws in your argument more easily. You can also think of your thesis statement at this point, but it shouldn't be set in stone since it may be elaborated or changed as you do your research in the next step. A thesis statement is what your essay is attempting to explain and prove. Make sure your thesis statement explains everything you will talk about in the essay. It should also be no longer than 1 sentence. You can brainstorm a few different thesis statements and use them to guide your research. Some examples:


I deserve this scholarship because I am going to give back to the community.
Crop failure is directly caused by lack of fertility in soils, not by drought.
Charles Dickens' Hard Times is a social criticism of utilitarianism
Making people take tests before they're allowed to keep pets would decriminalize society in many ways.

3Gather your information. Whether it's personal observations or scientific facts, you'll need evidence to back up your thesis statement. Take detailed notes, keeping track of which facts come from which sources. As you're researching your topic, don't ignore facts and claims that seem to disprove your thesis statement. A good essayist includes the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid.


Going with the example about crop failure above, what if you find a research study with graphs showing that every time there's a drought, there are more crop failures? Maybe all those crop failures occurred on farms that had poor soils, and unless the condition of the soils can be provided, the crop failures can't be attributed solely to drought.

4Plan your essay. This is the time to solidify your thesis statement. Look over all of your research and notes: Can you observe any patterns or observations? Try making a mind map to organize your thoughts. Maybe you started out wanting to show how you'd give back to the community, but now you see a better point would be that you're a good role model for others like yourself. Let the evidence speak for itself. If you don't have enough information to demonstrate anything, you may need to do more research or modify your thesis statement (or even your topic). If you have enough material to sustain a thesis statement, however, make an outline to organize your research with headings and sub-headings.
5Write the body of your essay first. Identify three or more points that support and/or explain your thesis statement. Each point should be supported by specific evidence, examples or arguments. In shorter essays, such as a five-paragraph essay, each point should be supported by a single paragraph; but in longer essays, an entire page or more might be required to demonstrate a single point. Use your outline as a guide, presenting the information in full sentences that flow logically from one to the next. After you write out all of your points, arrange the points themselves so that they flow logically from one to the next.


Be careful about generalizing. Statements such as "_____ is the most important problem facing the world today," can cause your reader to dismiss your position out of hand if he/she disagrees with you. On the other hand, "_____ is one of the most important problems facing the world today," is at least a bit harder to argue with.
Be careful not to use 'I statements' such as "I think this..." For most essay topics, your opinions will not be persuasive. Use evidence instead. In college and university, some professors in Liberal Arts or Humanity disciplines (English, History, Sociology, Political Science, etc) do not mind or even encourage their students to use the discursive "I." Some professors argue that it gives the writer ownership over their arguments. Check with your teacher or professor about this. For the most part, however, using the third person is the conventional method.
Unless you are writing a personal opinion piece, you should not need to use the personal pronouns "I" , "you" or "we", nor "my", "your" or "our". If you can't rephrase the statement to remove the first-person pronoun, then you probably don't have enough information to back up your point. E.g. Instead of writing, "I found Frum to be conservatively-biased", show why your statement is true: "Clearly, Frum is conservatively-biased when he writes...".
Note that some writers find the first person useful; however it is not generally recommended that those without significant experience use it.

6Conclude your essay. Summarize your points and suggest ways in which your conclusion can be thought of in a larger sense. What are the implications of your thesis statement being true? What's the next step? What questions remain unanswered? This is not the place to introduce any new information that supports your thesis--you should only be "repackaging" what you already discussed, using a broader perspective.
7Write the introduction. Now that you've written the body and the conclusion, you're in the best position to tell the reader what they're getting into. Explain your thesis statement, and how you're going to affirm it, without being too specific. Do not use obvious expressions such as, "This essay is about..." or "The topic of this essay is..." or "I will now show that...". One approach is to begin with a general statement, then follow it with a question or problem, then with your thesis statement, and a brief overview of your points.


Example: Every year, thousands of animals end up in shelters, unwanted and sometimes abused. This not only causes suffering to the animals, but it also costs local governments millions of dollars. Is there any way that this can be prevented? One proposed solution is to require pet-owners to become educated before they can buy a pet. While many people may resist this requirement, it may be more readily accepted if the benefits are clearly shown to outweigh the costs.
For longer essays, it's useful to follow the "inverted pyramid" whereby you start off with a very broad description of your topic and gradually narrow it down to your specific thesis statement. This is the typical structure of a "literature review" in a scientific paper and may constitute up to half, sometimes more, of your essay.

8Read through your essay. For now, don't worry about typos or grammatical errors; underline them so you can go back and fix them later. Go from start to finish to see how your essay flows. Does each sentence lead smoothly to the next? Does each paragraph flow logically to the next? Each statement should be connected or related somehow to the one before it, not thrown randomly together. There are many ways to transition from one idea to the next:


one happens before or after the other:I first started to realize that I was in the minority when I was in middle school...My realization was confirmed when I proceeded to high school.
one elaborates on the other:Plants need water to survive...A plant's ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
one contrasts with the other: Vegetarians argue that land is unnecessarily wasted by feeding animals to be eaten as food...Opponents argue that land being used for grazing would not be able to be used to create any other kind of food.
one is caused or affected by the other: I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college...I am inspired to continue my family's progress through the generations.
one is similar to the other: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment...Local food is believed to achieve the same goals.

9Revise, revise, revise! Writing the paper the first time is not the most important part of writing an essayŚrevision is! Sometimes the paper you write is not the essay you originally planned. It is difficult to accomplish all that one sets out to in a paper, and sometimes you may find that your ideas about your subject have changed as you've been writing. Make sure you're happy with the way your paper presents its points. Don't like it? Re-arrange it (that's one of the great things about writing with a word processor; it's easy to do things like this). Once you're happy with the body, make sure the conclusion and introduction (in that order) still match it AND match the way you see your topic now. If not, rewrite them to fit the essay you did write (not the one you started out to write) and the way you see your topic now.
10Proofread. Now check for spelling and/or grammatical errors. If using a word processor's spell checker, remember that it only checks to see if a word is misspelled. For example, if you meant to use the word "write" and instead used "writ" the spell checker will pass it without noticing, since 'writ' is an actual word.


Pick out any repetitive words. Vary your language with the help of a thesaurus. Consult a dictionary to make sure that you're using the synonym adversely.
Avoid using colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations, such as don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, could've, or haven't. Use formal English: do not, cannot, will not, should not, could have, have not. Your essay should have a serious tone, even if written in a light or lyrical style.
Use English punctuation correctly. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes, or commas. Avoid using exclamation points to emphasize your statements.
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