General Essay Writing Tips
Despite the fact that, as Shakespeare said, "the pen is mightier than the sword," the pen itself is not enough to make an effective writer. In fact, though we may all like to think of ourselves as the next Shakespeare, inspiration alone is not the key to effective essay writing. You see, the conventions of English essays are more formulaic than you might think – and, in many ways, it can be as simple as counting to five.
The Five Paragraph Essay
Though more advanced academic papers are a category all their own, the basic high school or college essay has the following standardized, five paragraph structure:
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Paragraph 2: Body 1
Paragraph 3: Body 2
Paragraph 4: Body 3
Paragraph 5: Conclusion
Though it may seem formulaic – and, well, it is - the idea behind this structure is to make it easier for the reader to navigate the ideas put forth in an essay. You see, if your essay has the same structure as every other one, any reader should be able to quickly and easily find the information most relevant to them.
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The principle purpose of the introduction is to present your position (this is also known as the "thesis" or "argument") on the issue at hand but effective introductory paragraphs are so much more than that. Before you even get to this thesis statement, for example, the essay should begin with a "hook" that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read on. Examples of effective hooks include relevant quotations ("no man is an island") or surprising statistics ("three out of four doctors report that…").
Only then, with the reader’s attention "hooked," should you move on to the thesis. The thesis should be a clear, one-sentence explanation of your position that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about which side you are on from the beginning of your essay.
Following the thesis, you should provide a mini-outline which previews the examples you will use to support your thesis in the rest of the essay. Not only does this tell the reader what to expect in the paragraphs to come but it also gives them a clearer understanding of what the essay is about.
Finally, designing the last sentence in this way has the added benefit of seamlessly moving the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper. In this way we can see that the basic introduction does not need to be much more than three or four sentences in length. If yours is much longer you might want to consider editing it down a bit!
Here, by way of example, is an introductory paragraph to an essay in response to the following question:
"Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions?"
"No man is an island" and, as such, he is constantly shaped and influenced by his experiences. People learn by doing and, accordingly, learn considerably more from their mistakes than their success. For proof of this, consider examples from both science and everyday experience.
DO – Pay Attention to Your Introductory Paragraph
Because this is the first paragraph of your essay it is your opportunity to give the reader the best first impression possible. The introductory paragraph not only gives the reader an idea of what you will talk about but also shows them how you will talk about it. Put a disproportionate amount of effort into this – more than the 20% a simple calculation would suggest – and you will be rewarded accordingly.
DO NOT – Use Passive Voice or I/My
Active voice, wherein the subjects direct actions rather than let the actions "happen to" them – "he scored a 97%" instead of "he was given a 97%" – is a much more powerful and attention-grabbing way to write. At the same time, unless it is a personal narrative, avoid personal pronouns like I, My, or Me. Try instead to be more general and you will have your reader hooked.
The Body Paragraphs
The middle paragraphs of the essay are collectively known as the body paragraphs and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the examples that support your thesis.
For the first body paragraph you should use your strongest argument or most significant example unless some other more obvious beginning point (as in the case of chronological explanations) is required. The first sentence of this paragraph should be the topic sentence of the paragraph that directly relates to the examples listed in the mini-outline of introductory paragraph.
A one sentence body paragraph that simply cites the example of "George Washington" or "LeBron James" is not enough, however. No, following this an effective essay will follow up on this topic sentence by explaining to the reader, in detail, who or what an example is and, more importantly, why that example is relevant.
Even the most famous examples need context. For example, George Washington’s life was extremely complex – by using him as an example, do you intend to refer to his honesty, bravery, or maybe even his wooden teeth? The reader needs to know this and it is your job as the writer to paint the appropriate picture for them. To do this, it is a good idea to provide the reader with five or six relevant facts about the life (in general) or event (in particular) you believe most clearly illustrates your point.
Having done that, you then need to explain exactly why this example proves your thesis. The importance of this step cannot be understated (although it clearly can be underlined); this is, after all, the whole reason you are providing the example in the first place. Seal the deal by directly stating why this example is relevant.
Here is an example of a body paragraph to continue the essay begun above:
Take, by way of example, Thomas Edison. The famed American inventor rose to prominence in the late 19th century because of his successes, yes, but even he felt that these successes were the result of his many failures. He did not succeed in his work on one of his most famous inventions, the lightbulb, on his first try nor even on his hundred and first try. In fact, it took him more than 1,000 attempts to make the first incandescent bulb but, along the way, he learned quite a deal. As he himself said, "I did not fail a thousand times but instead succeeded in finding a thousand ways it would not work." Thus Edison demonstrated both in thought and action how instructive mistakes can be.
DO – Tie Things Together
The first sentence – the topic sentence - of your body paragraphs needs to have a lot individual pieces to be truly effective. Not only should it open with a transition that signals the change from one idea to the next but also it should (ideally) also have a common thread which ties all of the body paragraphs together. For example, if you used "first" in the first body paragraph then you should used "secondly" in the second or "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" accordingly.
DO NOT – Be Too General
Examples should be relevant to the thesis and so should the explanatory details you provide for them. It can be hard to summarize the full richness of a given example in just a few lines so make them count. If you are trying to explain why George Washington is a great example of a strong leader, for instance, his childhood adventure with the cherry tree (though interesting in another essay) should probably be skipped over.
A Word on Transitions
You may have noticed that, though the above paragraph aligns pretty closely with the provided outline, there is one large exception: the first few words. These words are example of a transitional phrase – others include "furthermore," "moreover," but also "by contrast" and "on the other hand" – and are the hallmark of good writing.
Transitional phrases are useful for showing the reader where one section ends and another begins. It may be helpful to see them as the written equivalent of the kinds of spoken cues used in formal speeches that signal the end of one set of ideas and the beginning of another. In essence, they lead the reader from one section of the paragraph of another.
To further illustrate this, consider the second body paragraph of our example essay:
In a similar way, we are all like Edison in our own way. Whenever we learn a new skill - be it riding a bike, driving a car, or cooking a cake - we learn from our mistakes. Few, if any, are ready to go from training wheels to a marathon in a single day but these early experiences (these so-called mistakes) can help us improve our performance over time. You cannot make a cake without breaking a few eggs and, likewise, we learn by doing and doing inevitably means making mistakes.
Hopefully this example not only provides another example of an effective body paragraph but also illustrates how transitional phrases can be used to distinguish between them.
Although the conclusion paragraph comes at the end of your essay it should not be seen as an afterthought. As the final paragraph is represents your last chance to make your case and, as such, should follow an extremely rigid format.
One way to think of the conclusion is, paradoxically, as a second introduction because it does in fact contain many of the same features. While it does not need to be too long – four well-crafted sentence should be enough – it can make or break and essay.
Effective conclusions open with a concluding transition ("in conclusion," "in the end," etc.) and an allusion to the "hook" used in the introductory paragraph. After that you should immediately provide a restatement of your thesis statement.
This should be the fourth or fifth time you have repeated your thesis so while you should use a variety of word choice in the body paragraphs it is a acceptable idea to use some (but not all) of the original language you used in the introduction. This echoing effect not only reinforces your argument but also ties it nicely to the second key element of the conclusion: a brief (two or three words is enough) review of the three main points from the body of the paper.
Having done all of that, the final element – and final sentence in your essay – should be a "global statement" or "call to action" that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end.
In the end, then, one thing is clear: mistakes do far more to help us learn and improve than successes. As examples from both science and everyday experience can attest, if we treat each mistake not as a misstep but as a learning experience the possibilities for self-improvement are limitless.
DO – Be Powerful
The conclusion paragraph can be a difficult paragraph to write effectively but, as it is your last chance to convince or otherwise impress the reader, it is worth investing some time in. Take this opportunity to restate your thesis with confidence; if you present your argument as "obvious" then the reader might just do the same.
DO NOT – Copy the First Paragraph
Although you can reuse the same key words in the conclusion as you did in the introduction, try not to copy whole phrases word for word. Instead, try to use this last paragraph to really show your skills as a writer by being as artful in your rephrasing as possible.
Taken together, then, the overall structure of a five paragraph essay should look something like this:
- An attention-grabbing "hook"
- A thesis statement
- A preview of the three subtopics you will discuss in the body paragraphs.
First Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the first subtopic and opens with a transition
- Supporting details or examples
- An explanation of how this example proves your thesis
Second Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the second subtopic and opens with a transition
- Supporting details or examples
- An explanation of how this example proves your thesis
Third Body Paragraph
- Topic sentence which states the third subtopic and opens with a transition
- Supporting details or examples
- An explanation of how this example proves your thesis
- Concluding Transition, Reverse "hook," and restatement of thesis.
- Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.
- Global statement or call to action.
More tips to make your essay shine
Although it may seem like a waste of time – especially during exams where time is tight – it is almost always better to brainstorm a bit before beginning your essay. This should enable you to find the best supporting ideas – rather than simply the first ones that come to mind – and position them in your essay accordingly.
Your best supporting idea – the one that most strongly makes your case and, simultaneously, about which you have the most knowledge – should go first. Even the best-written essays can fail because of ineffectively placed arguments.
Aim for Variety
Sentences and vocabulary of varying complexity are one of the hallmarks of effective writing. When you are writing, try to avoid using the same words and phrases over and over again. You don’t have to be a walking thesaurus but a little variance can make the same idea sparkle.
If you are asked about "money," you could try "wealth" or "riches." At the same time, avoid beginning sentences the dull pattern of "subject + verb + direct object." Although examples of this are harder to give, consider our writing throughout this article as one big example of sentence structure variety.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
In the end, though, remember that good writing does not happen by accident. Although we have endeavored to explain everything that goes into effective essay writing in as clear and concise a way as possible, it is much easier in theory than it is in practice.
As a result, we recommend that you practice writing sample essays on various topics. Even if they are not masterpieces at first, a bit of regular practice will soon change that – and make you better prepared when it comes to the real thing.
Now that you’ve learned how to write an effective essay, check out our Sample Essays so you can see how they are done in practice.
Essay Writing Center
The main question of all students who have to write a reflective or personal essay is whether it is possible to come up with such type of academic paper without sounding too egotistical. From one side, it might seem that there is nothing easier than writing about yourself. From time to time, even personal essays should stick to specific rules. For instance, the writing style is an obligatory condition.
In this article, I will try to reveal the basics of writing an essay about yourself so that you may use these tips in your academic life.
Tricks and Tips on How to Write a Personal Essay
We have gathered several life hints that can help every student to prepare for writing an essay on yourself. First of all, you should try to focus on your personal life experience. People would like to learn about the things you have gone through instead of some imaginative things.
Second, you should describe an experience which is related to your education. Describing your first wedding ceremony or gig with the music band is not the best idea. It is better to dedicate time to the things you've learned from school, college, or other educational institutions. If you have a specific person who inspired you to enter target college or work in the certain field, reflect this role model.
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Even though the essay about you should be focused on your name and deeds, do not start writing with the trivial phrases introducing yourself. It is still better to put an intriguing question which requires an answer in the end or begin with an interesting fact/quote/joke.
Third, let your family read the final draft once you are finished with your writing. Sometimes, you know yourself worse than people around you so that you can trust them.
Finally, try to avoid sensitive subjects like:
- Political situation
- Race and nationality
- Income level
How Do You Start an Essay about Yourself
As a rule, an essay about yourself contains up to 400 words. Although you can think that there is no specific topic for such type of paper, sometimes tutors assign particular subjects to discuss.
For example, you may be asked to write where you picture yourself in five or more years. It is your chance to prove that high school or even college education is not enough.
You should start telling personal things. However, use the great words you know to explain why you deserve the place in the target educational institution or company. Avoid making up a story; you should be as sincere as possible. Come up with the story describing the challenges you faced as a surgeon's assistant. Tell about the personal struggles you have gone through to accomplish your internship as a bank cashier. Provide the background of your sports achievements.
However, whatever you decide to recall, make sure it has a connection with your future profession. You can include an interesting part related to your hobbies, but don't go much into details.
On the whole, make sure to highlight your:
- Educational background
- Work background
- Skills and knowledge
- Life goals
For the affordable price, you can get an eye-catching introduction of any reflective essay.
10 Simple Tips on How to Write a Personal Essay
- Choosing the best topic
Go to the section with great topic ideas to discover new and time-tested examples.
- Formatting your paper
When writing an essay on yourself, you don't need to add abstract or reference page. The structure of personal statement is much easier. At the same time, you have to mind your:
- Its size
In other words, a paper dedicated to your life should look accurate and structured.
- Manage your time
Any academic paper has a deadline. A paper describing yourself has a strict deadline as well. It is better to start writing as soon as you are assigned the task. Thus, you will have more time to proofread and edit your draft. By the way, you should involve several drafts.
- Get your family involved
No, I am not telling you to use your family members as writing guides or something. It is better to get professional writing assistance from the corresponding service. I mean that recalling the stories related to your family or personal experience is a good way to appeal to the heart of your readers. You may share a story of your family member who used to cope with the serious disease. When you work on the paper about yourself, it is important to stay sincere and honest. So, if you have some really good life stories to share, feel free to do it.
- Find inspiration
If you have no idea what an essay depicting your person should include, you may get inspired by another person. It's okay if you don't have a rich experience or amazing story to share with your audience. Find people who were once students like you or describe the fate of your friends. You may also find ideas from the:
- Internet blogs
- Social networks
Find more inspiration after reading these ways to make your college essay great!
- Focus on the needs of university
If you are writing a paper about yourself as a part of your admission, describe your personal skills and university goals equally. Give them an overall idea of what you can do well, and describe how you can contribute your knowledge to the prosperity of that particular college or university. In order to sound less egotistical in the essay about yourself, please look through this advice.
- Avoid using complex words
Don't type the words you don't know - your Word will most probably fix all your grammar mistakes, but you need to know what every word means when you use it in the essay about yourself. Choose synonyms to make your text richer, but replace difficult terms with simpler words.
- It's all about great introduction
Forget about general phrases like "My name is..." or "Everybody loves.." When you compose an essay about your life, you don't have to sound trivial. Use statistics and interesting facts to begin your paper. Various quotations might also work. It's just important to choose citations that are related to your story somehow. You may read more about composing powerful introduction and other parts of this article.
- Keep away from sensitive subjects
Writing a paper that reflects yourself should not hurt the feelings of other students, tutors, or people around. The worst topics you might find for your personal paper involve gender, racial, political, and religious issues. It is recommended to make your essay more positive even if you prefer to recall a hard time of your life.
- Always revise the paper and double-check the grammar
A finished draft is only half the battle. Download grammar checker or use online checkers to have a text free of grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. You should also get anti-plagiarism software to find out whether your content is 100% original.
College Essay Examples about Yourself
We have discussed so far how to start a essay about yourself and the overall structure recommendations. Here we go with the top topic ideas for the personal essay. If you want to avoid difficult argumentative essay topics, you may find some great ideas on this blog. Choose one of them:
- My early days at school
- How I survived my college years
- My first work experience
- Looking through the mirror
- How my friends influenced my interests
- The art of telling lies
- Learning English (a good topic for international students)
- The impact of my brother on my life
You can search for more topic examples as well as personal essay samples here.
One more thing: in case you still have some doubts regarding the quality of your paper, you may contact a professional online writing service and order a full job written from scratch.
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