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Essay Writing Basics

Essay Writing Basics

Essay writing is a skill that you'll use throughout your academic career. Now that summer's upon us, why not use some of that free time to brush up on your essays and be ready come fall. Here's a handy guide to getting started.

Before you begin, take some time to think about your topic. Read the assignment carefully. Do you know what you're being asked to do? One way to check is to see if you can put the assignment in your own words. Can you say it in a way that makes sense?

Next, think about what the assignment means and what kind of answer you need. Make a list of all the different ways you could answer the question. This is what is known as "brainstorming." From your list, think about which possible answers have the most supporting information you can draw on to write your paper. Some answers will have more than others. Generally speaking, the more information you have to work with the easier it will be to write your essay.

Now that you have your topic and a good idea of what you want to write about, you need to do two more things before you start in on the paper: the thesis and the outline.

A thesis statement is a sentence that tells your readers what your essay will demonstrate or prove. The thesis generally comes in the introduction and explains what your paper is about and indicates how it will be about it. Let's take an example: "Before the American Civil War, industrialization, states' rights, and slavery helped to divide the North from the South." In this thesis, the reader will expect that your essay will be about divisions between North and South and will cover three topics: industrialization, states' rights, and slavery. Your thesis should also indicate the point of your paper and the major ideas in it. Just be careful your thesis doesn't get too long or include too many specifics. Keep it simple but accurate.

The last thing you need to do before you write is to make an outline. Using your thesis statement as a guide, plot out all the major divisions of your paper and the specific facts and arguments you will use to defend it. Let's look at an example using the thesis above:

I. Introduction
II. Industrialization
III. States' Rights
IV. Slavery
V. Conclusion

Now, for each major topic, list the sub-topics you will cover, like this:

II. Industrialization
A. Northern economy based on manufacturing and railroads
B. Southern economy based on agriculture
C. The different systems led to different demands on federal resources

Then, for each sub-topic, list the specific facts you will use to prove your point:

B. Southern economy based on agriculture
1. Plantation system
2. King Cotton
3. Sharecropping

After you complete your outline, you'll have a great roadmap to writing your essay! Now, wasn't that easy?

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