How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps

If you’re searching for information on how to write an essay (and especially how to write a good essay), then you’ve come to the right place. The following article offers some important tips and tricks for writing good college essays that will impress your instructors and make your assignments easier to complete. Be sure to also check out the other resources available on this website, too.

Step One – Determine What Your Instructor Wants

This is the single best piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to do a better job in college and learn how to write an essay. It always surprises me when students skip this essential first step, but it happens – and it happens a lot!

Let’s face it: if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be writing about or what you’re supposed to accomplish in your essay, then you are basically lost at sea. It really is that simple.

But that’s not even the most disappointing part of this baffling situation. What’s worse is your instructor really does tell you exactly how to write an essay that will make him or her very happy. Unless you’re dealing with a really bad instructor (and I mean REALLY bad), then you will not be able to figure this out very quickly at all. It does happen.

So how do you figure out how to write an essay your instructor will like? It’s very simple – look for the basic essay instructions. A writing prompt is a short but informative sheet of paper that explains exactly what you are required to do in the writing assignment. Once you’ve found that sheet and read it through very carefully, you’re ready to move on.

Step Two – Make an Essay Writing Checklist

How to Write an Essay in Five Easy StepsNow here’s my secret advice: rewrite the instructions in checklist format. Most of you will never do this because it does require a little extra effort. Of course, the problem most students have is not doing adequate preparation BEFORE writing their essay. But you’re not like most students because you’re reading about how to write an essay.

If you take the instructor’s writing prompt and break it down into an easy-to-read checklist, you’ll be miles ahead of 95% of the other students. I know this because when I grade college essays, I almost always use a checklist. And guess what? That’s right: my checklist is derived from my assignment handout. Big surprise?

Step Three – Create a Basic Outline for Your Essay

No, no, no! When I say “outline” I am not talking about anything very formal. Simple is best for “how to write an essay” step number three. Here’s an example of an outline for an essay on Beowulf:

Beowulf Essay Outline
-Talk about the history behind the story of Beowulf
-Talk about the important characters in Beowulf
-Talk about how today’s stories are not like Beowulf
-Talk about why Beowulf helps us understand history
-Talk about how Beowulf also helps us understand the present-day

I want you to notice something very important here. The outline above is pretty crummy. Yes, crummy. But that’s not a bad thing because it’s going to help you get started. Watch how we can quickly clean up this outline into something a bit more effective:

Beowulf Essay Outline

  • Discuss history of the Beowulf narrative
  • Contrast Beowulf with contemporary literature
  • Analyze important characters in Beowulf
  • Show how Beowulf provides a window on the past
  • Demonstrate that Beowulf also speaks to the present day

This revised outline is not really much different from the original version; it’s just easier to read and more focused. Now we have something we can work with. Again, notice that when I say “outline” I am not talking about anything all that complicated!

Step Four – Freewrite Each Essay Section

The outline from step three is going to provide a nice skeletal structure for the muscle of our essay. Now we’re ready to really write this essay!

For step four, you simply need to take each section title and do some freewriting to develop the ideas. You can do this in any order, but it’s probably best to complete it in an order that makes sense to you.

Once you’ve finished freewriting each section, you can move on to freewriting an introduction and conclusion. Note: you should NEVER try to write your introduction or your conclusion before writing your essay. This is the classic beginner’s mistake in the “how to write an essay” world.

Step Five – Revise the Essay

Here’s the most important part of the total process. Most students will not make it this far. If you complete steps one through four correctly and thoroughly, you’ll be in the top of your class. But if you also complete step four, you’ll be in the very top of your class. No, I’m not being facetious.

Now that you have taken the time to develop each of the outlined sections by freewriting, you’re going to take your how to write an essay experience one step further and dig in for revision. If you completed step four correctly, you should be left with a bunch of garbled writing. This last step requires that you read through each section of your essay draft very carefully and revise with care.

Proofread for grammar and spelling errors. Edit out any style issues to improve readability. Add more content or explanation where necessary. Change or move sections that don’t make sense or might confuse the readers.

Revision and editing is easily the most overlooked part of essay writing simply because most students don’t allow enough time to do anything more than a quick spell check. If you revise your essay well enough, you’ll have a much more readable piece of work than when you started. Plus, you will be far more likely to demonstrate to your instructor that you really do know how to write an essay.

And there you have it – a simple guide on how to write an essay in five very easy steps. If you’ve made it this far, you are way ahead of the game. Now that you really do know how to write an essay, it’s time to get started!