How to approach writing an essay for the first time

Writing an essay can be a daunting and overwhelming task, especially if you’re a new college student. You might feel pressure to perform at your best and find you cannot fully express yourself in written form. Rest assured that even the most well-versed writers feel overwhelmed when staring at a blank page, but they know a few tricks that budding students don’t know.

writing an essay

This article will discuss simple exercises to approach writing your first essay and get you from preliminary research to the final draft.

Preliminary Writing

Before you begin writing the first draft of an essay, it’s necessary to hash out all of your ideas and answer important questions. Preliminary writing exercises will help get your gears turning. 

  1. Gather your project documents to complete your essay, including any materials the teacher has given you.
  2. Grab a pen and paper, along with your laptop. Writing with pen on paper taps into the power of your creativity more so than typing on a keyboard.
  3. Make a list of unanswered questions you need to research.
  4. Gather all research into one long, organized document, including all sources and citations.
  5. Free write for ten minutes.

It’s important not to skip the free writing task. This is where the magic happens. Set your timer for ten minutes, put your pen on the page or fingers on the keyboard, and do not stop writing for ten minutes. Don’t stop to think, “I don’t know what to write”. Instead, simply note, “I don’t know what to write.” This exercise is about freeing the brain, which will help you get out of a perfectionist mindset and conquer the task of your first essay.

Building the Bones of Your Essay

writing an essay

The Thesis Statement

All essays pose a thesis statement. A thesis statement is your reason for writing the essay. Purdue Owl suggests posing specific questions to yourself about your essay so you know where you are going and what you are trying to say. On the topic of “dorm food,” Purdue Owl asks,

  • Do you want the reader to pity you because of the intolerable food you have to eat there?
  • Do you want to analyze large-scale institutional cooking?
  • Do you want to compare Purdue’s dorm food to that served at Indiana University?

Knowing your objective is crucial to writing an effective thesis statement. 

Organizational Methods

Your free writing is done at this point, your gears are turning, and you’ve established a thesis statement. You are ready to start outlining your essay, leading to a cohesive conclusion. 

There are many essay forms you might be asked to write in. The four main essay types are:

  • Argumentative 
  • Expository 
  • Narrative 
  • Descriptive 

Each essay form contains specific requirements that must be addressed in the outline. Most essays are a form of informative writing, meaning that they are not opinion based but rather the culmination of research and fact-checking. 

The most fundamental and versatile essay outline is the five-paragraph essay. The five-paragraph essay allows for format modification to fit your essay style. The following outlines the five-paragraph essay:

  1. Introduction of thesis
  2. Three body paragraphs
    1. Topic sentence
    2. Supporting ideas
    3. Conclusion
  3. Conclusion

Each body paragraph must present a topic sentence supporting the idea and a conclusion that connects to your thesis statement. This is the most fundamental essay outline because it’s easy to understand.

Bringing it All Together

After you have established an outline and filled it in with your ideas, all there is left to do is write! Remember, you are trying to convince your reader of your thesis by providing research-based evidence throughout your essay. We call evidence “sources”. There is often a mandatory number of sources you must provide for each essay you are assigned, and more is not necessarily better. However, quality sources you understand well are better and will improve your grade.

It takes many tries to get to a final draft, but with each draft you create, you are learning and getting better at essay writing! 

How to approach writing an essay for the first time 1

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