The Basics of Effective Essay Writingby Becton Loveless
As you progress through school, you'll be required to write essays. And the farther along in school you get, the more complex and demanding the essays will become. It's important that you learn early on how to write effective essays that communicate clearly and accomplish specific objectives.
An essay is a written composition where you express a specific idea and then support it with facts, statements, analysis and explanations. The basic format for an essay is known as the five paragraph essay – but an essay may have as many paragraphs as needed. A five paragraph essay contains five paragraphs. However, the essay itself consists of three sections: an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
Below we'll explore the basics of writing an essay.
Select a TopicWhen you first start writing essays in school, it's not uncommon to have a topic assigned to you. However, as you progress in grade level, you'll increasingly be given the opportunity to choose the topic of your essays. When selecting a topic for your essay, you'll want to make sure your topic supports the type of paper you're expected to write. If you're expected to produce a paper that is a general overview, then a general topic will suffice. However, if you're expected to write a specific analysis, then you're topic should be fairly specific.
For example, lets assume the objective of your essay is to write an overview. Then the topic "RUSSIA" would be suitable. However, if the objective or your essay is to write a specific analysis, then "RUSSIA" would be far too general a topic. You'll need to narrow down your topic to something like "Russian Politics: Past, Present and Future" or "Racial Diversity in the Former USSR".
If you're expected to choose your own topic, then the first step is to define the purpose of your essay. Is your purpose to persuade? To explain how to accomplish something? Or to education about a person, place, thing or idea? The topic you choose needs to support the purpose of your essay.
The purpose of your essay is defined by the type of paper you're writing. There are three basic types of essay papers:
- Analytical - An analytical essay paper breaks down an idea or issue into its its key components. It evaluates the issue or idea by presenting analysis of the breakdown and/or components to the the reader.
- Expository - Also known as explanatory essays, expositories provide explanations of something.
- Argumentative - These type of essays, also known as persuasive essays, make a specific claim about a topic and then provide evidence and arguments to support the claim. The claim set forth in argumentative (persuasive) essays may be an opinion, an evaluation, an interpretation, cause-effect statement or a policy proposal. The purpose of argumentative essays is to convince or persuade the reader that a claim is valid.
Once you have defined the purpose of your essay, it's time to brainstorm. Don't choose just one topic right of the bat. Take some time to consider, contrast and weight your options. Get out a piece of paper and make a list of all the different topics that fit the purpose of your essay. Once they're all down on paper, start by eliminating those topics that are difficult or not as relevant as others topics. Also, get rid of those topics that are too challenging or that you're just not that interested in. Pretty soon you will have whittled your list down to just a few topics and then you can make a final choice.
Organize Your Ideas Using a Diagram or OutlineSome students get scared to start writing. They want to make sure they have all their thoughts organized in their head before they put anything down on paper. Creating a diagram or outline allows you to put pen to paper and start organizing your ideas. Don't worry or agonize over organization at this point, just create a moderately organized format for your information.
Whether you use a diagram or outline doesn't really matter. Some people prefer and work better with the flowing structure of a diagram. Others like the rigid and logical structure of an outline. Don't fret, once you get started, you can always change formats if the format you chose isn't working out for you.
The following are useful steps for developing a diagram to organize ideas for your essay.
- Get started by drawing a circle in the middle of a paper just big enough to write in.
- Inside your circle, write your essay topic.
- Now draw three or four lines out from your circle.
- At the end of each of lines, draw another circle just slightly smaller than the circle in the middle of the page.
- In each smaller circle, write a main idea about your topic, or point you want to make. If this is persuasive (argumentative) essay, then write down your arguments. If the object of the essay is to explain a process (expository), then write down a step in each circle. If your essay is intended to be informative or explain (analytical), write the major categories into which information can be divided.
- Now draw three more lines out from each circle containing a main idea.
- At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle.
- Finally, in each of these circles write down facts or information that help support the main idea.
The following are useful steps for developing an outline to organize ideas for your essay.
- Take a page of paper and write your topic at the top.
- Now, down the left side of the page, under the topic, write Roman numerals I, II, and III, sequentially.
- Next to each Roman numeral, write the main points, or ideas, about your essay topic. If this is persuasive essay, write your arguments. If this an essay to inform, write the major categories into which information will be divided. If the purpose of your essay is to explain a process, write down each step of the process.
- Next, under each Roman numeral, write A, B, and C down the left hand side of the page.
- Finally, next to each letter, under each Roman numeral, write the information and/or facts that support the main point or idea.
Develop a Thesis StatementOnce you have an idea for the basic structure of your essay, and what information you're going to present in your essay, it's time to develop your thesis statement. A thesis statement states or outlines what you intend to prove in your essay. A good thesis statement should be clear, concise, specific, and takes a position.
The word "thesis" just sounds intimidating to most students, but a thesis is actually quite simple. A thesis statement (1) tells the reader what the essay is about and (2) what points you'll be making. If you've already selected an essay topic, and developed an outline or diagram, you now can decide what points you want to communicate through your essay.
A thesis statement has two key components. The first component is the topic, and the second is the point(s) of the essay. The following is an example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
The life of a child raised in Pena Blanca is characterized by little playing, a lot of hard work and extreme poverty.
An example of an analytical thesis statement:
An analysis of the loan application process for citizens of third world countries reveals one major obstacle: applicants must already have money in order to qualify for a loan.
An example of an argumentative (persuasive) thesis statement:
Instead of sending tax money overseas to buoy struggling governments and economies, U.S. residents should be offered tax incentives for donating to companies that provide micro loans directly to the citizens of third world countries.
Once you're done developing a thesis statement that supports the type of essay your writing and the purpose of the essay, you're ready to get started on your introduction.
IntroductionThe introduction is the first paragraph of the essay. It introduces the reader to the idea that the essay will address. It is also intended to capture the reader's attention and interest. The first sentence of the introduction paragraph should be as captivating and interesting as possible. The sentences that follow should clarify your opening statement. Conclude the introduction paragraph with your thesis statement.
BodyThe body of your essay is where you explain, describe or argue the topic you've chosen. Each of the main ideas you included in your outline or diagram will become of the body paragraphs. If you wrote down four main ideas in your outline or diagram, then you'll have four body paragraphs.
Each paragraph will address one main idea that supports the thesis statement. The first paragraph of the body should put forth your strongest argument to support your thesis. Start the paragraph out by stating the supporting idea. Then follow up with additional sentences that contain supporting information, facts, evidence or examples – as shown in your diagram or outline. The concluding sentence should sum up what you've discussed in the paragraph.
The second body paragraph will follow the same format as the first body paragraph. This paragraph should put forth your second strongest argument supporting your thesis statement. Likewise, the third and fourth body paragraphs, like the first and second, will contain your third and fourth strongest arguments supporting your thesis statement. Again, the last sentence of both the third and fourth paragraphs should sum up what you've discussed in each paragraph and indicate to the reader that the paragraph contains the final supporting argument.
ConclusionThe final paragraph of the essay provides the conclusion. This paragraph should should restate your thesis statement using slightly different wording than employed in your introduction. The paragraph should summarize the arguments presented in the body of the essay. The last sentence in the conclusion paragraph should communicate that your essay has come to and end. Your concluding paragraph should communicate to the reader that you're confident that you've proven the idea as set forth in your thesis statement.
Having the ability to write effective essays will become increasingly important as you progress through high school and into college. If you'll internalize the format presented above, you'll develop the ability to write clear and compelling essays.
As content writers, we’re trying to persuade others to see our point of view – to agree with us. Regardless of whether it’s to click on a link or to purchase a product, we want our writing to influence others in a positive manner.
To write in an engaging and persuasive way is an art form – it’s elegant, refined and exercises discernment. And it’s worlds apart from the distasteful, strong-arm tactics employed by spam marketers.
Crafting content that influences isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take a bit of practice. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at five key elements that contribute to successful and persuasive content writing.
1: Be an Expert
Few things are more influential than the opinion of an expert. Why? Because true experts know what they’re talking about. It’s clear in their authenticity and transparency. Experts don’t use fluffy filler material in their persuasive writing, and they don’t try to distract the reader with gimmicks.
If you want to establish yourself as an influencer in your niche, you need to be the premier expert in your field. You don’t need a degree or years of related experience, but you need to demonstrate that you’re a specialist. You want to be so knowledgeable in your particular market that your content is oozing with confidence and certainty.
Note the word specialist. Experts don’t try to cover all the bases, and they don’t pretend to know everything remotely related to their topic. They specialize in one particular aspect or angle, and by sharing their knowledge they become an authority. And authority bestows persuasion.
La Carmina, a very successful travel blogger self-describing her approach as “spooky-cute”, embodies this idea to perfection because her success is not the result of trying to be all things to all travelers. Her advice? “Be niche. Don’t be afraid to focus on a specific topic or audience…” Read more of her suggestions for being a specialist on the Huffington Post.
2: List the Most Important Information First
Writing persuasive copy for web pages is similar to that of writing news articles. That is, the most important information comes first – which is quite different from writing an essay or a short story. Journalists refer to this method as writing in an inverted pyramid, and it starts with the most relevant points which are then followed by related details and background information.
In this manner, you have the opportunity right at the start of your post to motivate your readers to continue on to your benefits, features and call to action.
By highlighting the outcomes that you or your products can provide at the beginning, you’ll give them a clear understanding of the big picture. Don’t wait for the conclusion of your piece to deliver the vision they want, because they’ll be long gone.
Gregory Ciotti at Unbounce gives a great example of this idea in his post on how research can affect the way we write copy. He captures the essence of his entire topic in the second sentence, leaving no doubt in the readers’ mind about whether reading the post will be beneficial or not.
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3: Give Your Readers Reasons WhyWritten or spoken, few words are more persuasive than the word because. In her book Mindfulness, social psychologist Ellen Langer clearly demonstrated that people are more likely to comply to a request if they’re given a reason via the word because. Even if the reason is redundant or doesn’t make sense!
Another persuasive word to work into your copy is imagine – asking your readers to imagine their desired outcome is a safe alternative to asking them to take action. It’s make-believe, so their inner gatekeeper (the voice in our head suspicious of others’ motives) won’t be inclined to object. And getting your prospects to imagine themselves in happy situations is a powerful influencer.
At Enchanting Marketing, Henneke shows us how to master this element with the words ‘because’ and ‘picture’ right in the introduction of her post (picture being a synonym of imagine). She first suggests we may be making a mistake in our web writing, then gets us to picture a client clicking where we want them to and finally shows us ‘why’ we’re making the mistake – with the word because.
You can’t help but continue reading, and for web content, that’s a big deal because, as Henneke says, you are writing for people who probably aren’t going to read what you write. People don’t read articles all the way through online like they do in print.
4: Benefits First, Then Features
This point may seem a bit counterintuitive, but only because you know your products or services so well – still, you need to remember that your prospects don’t. Keep in mind that they’re looking for specific outcomes.
It might help to think of the benefits as the outcome they desire, while the features are part of the solution to their problem. For example, “You can look like a supermodel in two weeks with our Magic Pills – no need for diets or exercise!” The benefit is looking like a supermodel in two weeks. The features are no dieting or exercising.
By succinctly outlining the benefits first, then the features, you’ll generate greater interest in your clients’ minds.
Brian Clark shows us how to successfully highlight benefits, and to differentiate between benefits and features, with the ‘forehead slap test’ in this great post on Copyblogger.
5: Write for Scanners
It’s important to remember that most online consumers are scanners first and readers second. To persuade your prospects actually to read your content, use some of these eye candy elements to draw them into your article:
- Headings and subheads, relevant and on topic
- Bullet lists to highlight benefits and features
- Font variations, bold, italics, and colored links
- Short sentences and short paragraphs, each with one idea only
- Images and infographics
- Memorable captions
Alex Turnbull at Bufferapp expertly includes all five of these elements in his post on research-backed content. You’ll notice that:
- He establishes himself as an expert on writing persuasive content with solid research, and results, to establish his status.
- The most important information is listed first. The graph shows us that a headline that includes research received a +40% increase in click throughs.
- He gives us the reason ‘why’ in a big way – right there in the first sub-header: “why you should write research-backed content”.
- The benefit is shown in a graph demonstrating the increase in click through rates.
- The post is easily scanable. Lots of relevant subheads, graphs, images, bold and colored fonts. And the sentences and paragraphs are short and concise, with a memorable caption: “ROI is about the MECHANIC using the tool.”
With a bit of practice in applying these key elements, you’ll be successful at writing persuasive content that your readers will understand and appreciate – and that’s a winning situation for everyone.
Cari Bennette is an experienced freelance blogger and writing expert at Jet Writers. She loves trying new things in copywriting and widening her area of expertise. Cari will be happy to provide her own tips for crafting better posts, feel free to contact her on Twitter.