How to Write a Good Essay: Basic Practices, Guidelines, and Examples

April 3, 2016Diana Lengerson

bigstock-Energy-Saving-Light-Bulb-36816896While a thorough understanding at the prompt in a well thought out plan are critical to a high-scoring essay, writing the essay is clearly the most important step. After all, you only get credit for what you write down. The worst mistake you can make is to change your mind after you’ve already written a significant portion of the essay. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the first two steps of the Kaplan method: prompt and plan.

Once you start writing you should be confident and the content and direction. After you’ve decided which position you can better support, you need to write a strong thesis statement; this is the foundation for your essay. Graders will expect you to spend the following paragraphs supporting your thesis as effectively as possible. Remember you’re writing a persuasive essay, see your thesis statement should take aside.

Consider this assignment question: are people who offer advice usually wrong? how might you answer this question? It’s extremely important to word your thesis clearly so the reader knows without a doubt the position you’re supporting. Pick a side that you can provide the most examples and evidence for; for instance you can answer the question this way: “while advice is usually given in good faith, those who offered are usually wrong” or like this “since advice givers are experienced individuals the advice they give is usually right”. We’ll talk about the types of support evidence you should use later on, but these examples should play a big role in your answer to the prompt question.

Let’s dissect the first pieces. “While advice is usually given in good faith, those who offered are usually wrong.”  This is a great thesis statement, it clearly outlines the direction of the rest of the essay. Notice that the suspect ends by claiming that advice isn’t wrong because people are just plain evil. Rather it’s wrong in spite event advice givers good intentions. Foreshadowing how you’re going to develop your essay, by including reasons for your position, is an especially effective method.

Let’s review one more negative answer before we move on to the affirmative case. “No I don’t think people should be giving advice.” What do you notice about this thesis statement? Does it seem strong? That’s right this is a very poor thesis. For one, it doesn’t answer the question it simply states the opinion of the author.

Two key principles to write excellent pieces are clarity and completeness. In other words, make sure you’re clear on your position and that you completely answer the assignment question.

Now let’s examine some affirmative answers. In the original guess answer, the thesis sentence included a pivotal reason for the decision. “Since advice givers are experienced individuals, the advice they give is usually right.” Can you tell what may follow in the body paragraphs? The rest of the first paragraph will introduce the relevant examples of mature experienced advice givers and the rest of the essay will develop an elaborate on these examples.

Let’s work through one more: “Though it is a largely prosaic affair, advice-giving can be helpful on many occasions, but it has a lot of negative consequences.” What’s wrong with this sentence? There are actually a number of things wrong with that. Remember the two principles to have a strong thesis: clarity and completeness. This sentence violates both principles. First it’s grammatically awkward and unclear; second it’s incomplete because it doesn’t clarify whether the reader agrees or disagrees with the prompt. Always be clear about which position you’re supporting, don’t leave the grader unsure about where you’re going with your essay. The mark of a good thesis statement is its ability to foreshadow the rest of the essay, in other words, the grader should know what your whole essay will be about just by reading your thesis. Make sure it’s clear and complete.

Here’s an example answering the questions above. “Since advice givers are experienced individuals, the advice they gave is usually right. I wisely sought and followed my older brother’s guidance about the college process – having successfully navigated it himself, he was in the best position to help me. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln selected and sought counsel from cabinet members with differing political opinions so that he could have a wide range of perspective in his government. Because they were not biased towards his political agenda, their input helped Lincoln better serve his constituents.”

Now that you’ve decided on your position and thesis, let’s move to the body paragraphs. First, each body paragraph must have a topic sentence. This is a many thesis for its respective paragraph. You are introducing the content for each paragraph. Let’s look at the topic sentence of the first paragraph. “I received a useful suggestions from my brother about the college application process in choosing schools.” Remember topic sentences are only as good as the content up their respective paragraphs. A strong topic sentence means nothing if the information contained in that paragraph doesn’t add further information. The rest of the paragraph develops what’s being introduced through a topic sentence.

Now start the second paragraph with a strong topic sentence. “Just like the advice I received from my brother, the advice that Abraham Lincoln received from many of his political rivals proved helpful.” The transitional phrase “just like the advice I received from my brother” indicates that the rest of the paragraph will not only refer back to the thesis, but also to the first paragraph. These topic sentences are strong examples let’s see what not to do. “One time my brother gave me advice.” What’s wrong with this sentence? Right, it doesn’t explain what the paragraph is going to be about, it also doesn’t contain any kind of transition word, and it’s not specific. Avoid vague language!

Remember the topic sentence should include very useful information about the paragraph; it’s the most important part of the each paragraph. Use it wisely so that the grader consolidate the flow of your argument, don’t forget your transitional phrases!

The body paragraph should follow a similar formula: first introduce your example, then explain your example, and finally relate your example back to the thesis. Follow the steps each time you begin a new paragraph and remember you need a new paragraph whenever you change topics. Don’t include more than one theme in a paragraph, it confuses your reader and thuss lowers your grade.

The key tips for writing the body paragraphs, according to the team at, are as following:

– First use correct standard English, avoid slang and text message abbreviations.

– The rules tested in the writing multiple-choice sections apply equally to the essay. While minor errors won’t hurt a strong essay, strive to make as few as possible.

– Stick to your plan even if you change your mind midway through, complete the essay you plan to write. Remember, organization counts.

– Start a new paragraph for each new topic or idea. Generously use transition words like “then”, “next”, “after”, “for example”, and “on the other hand”. They’ll help the grader follow your argument.

– Right on every line, You won’t have space to waste, avoid wide margins.

– Consider printing if your handwriting is hard to read. The grader can’t score what he or she can’t decipher.

– If you find yourself running out of time calmly wrap up your essay; it’s better to complete clearly what you’ve started then to rush to get everything done.

Craft an effective conclusion! If you can, summarize your examples and short phrases, enclose the essay by strongly supporting your position. Let’s look at a particularly persuasive concluding paragraph and examine its strong points. “My personal experience and historical evidence show that maturity and expertise enable one to provide effective guidance. The advice I received from my brother was very helpful. His personal experience helped him identify with my situation and his input was invaluable. As a result, I have more direction and confidence navigating this particularly difficult process. Likewise the counsel that President Lincoln received from his closest advisers, was exceptionally useful – he led the country through one of the most difficult periods in its history. Therefore advice givers are not usually wrong or factually misguided. In fact, the input that they provide often eliminates the complexities and solutions of a difficult situation.”

The first few sentences restate that thesis in the evidence used in the essay. The following sentences contain concrete language and reiterate the examples used; finally the rest at the conclusion reaffirms that the thesis.

A good tip is to conclude broadly, use the final sentence to summarize not only your examples, but also the overall position you’ve outlined in the essay. In this final sentence go on the offensive to conclude the essay. You’ve argue that advice givers are not usually wrong and that in fact they are usually helpful and informative.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of a strongly written concluding paragraph; is the last thing the grader reads before assessing your essay.

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