If you hate writing term papers, or do poorly writing them, and are looking for some essay writing tips, you’re reading in the right place. This guide can help you get on track to getting your paper written and getting a better grade. Using the I.D.E.A. model to outline your work before you write, you can start strong and finish stronger if you nail your thesis.
Before we get into models and your thesis, let’s get some obvious stuff out-of-the-way. First, put aside the thought that the paper will write itself. Truly— not happening. Start early and get the pain over as fast as possible. Getting a first draft done early gives you time to polish or get a draft review by your instructor. (Some instructors have required draft reviews to force procrastinators to do what they should.)
It should be obvious, but give yourself time. If you are always trying to blast out a paper at the last moment, that’s one of the reasons you are not getting full marks. If you are under the delusion that you do your best work under pressure. I will counter that notion with the fact that in thirty plus years I’ve never seen it to actually be true. People make mistakes, to catch all of them requires the necessary time to carefully review and fix them. Going fast means making more errors, not less.
The Prompt / Assignment
Before a single word is typed or even one thought cogitated, know exactly what it is you are being asked to write. This is the absolutely most crucial part of writing an essay. The most carefully crafted words in the universe won’t make the grade if you write something that isn’t what the instructor asked for. When it comes to the specifics of the assignment, do not be shy if you have even the tiniest doubt. Ask the instructor to clarify. Keep asking, persist until there is absolutely no doubt as to what he / she is looking for. This is the worst time to guess, or get some other student’s interpretation. An inaccurate understanding of the instructions will have you wasting time on what will likely be a terrible result. Do this as early as is feasible, preferably when the instructor is already talking about the work to be done. Be brave, have them clarify anything that is the least bit ambiguous. Not just for yourself but for every other classmate too shy to speak up and grill the instructor. Be persistent until you are certain that you and the instructor understand one another.
While you are digging for the specifics, make sure you understand all the requirements of the prompt. Ninety percent of bad grades is simple failure to follow instructions. The prompt will usually contain a minimum length, and often a maximum page count. Sometimes the type of essay will be designated. Common types are: analysis essays (research), argumentative (pros/cons), persuasive, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, and narrative/descriptive. If one of these types is called for, be sure to familiarize yourself with that structure first. Writing in one of these formats is beyond the scope of this tips guide. If the paper is a research paper, you may be required to use a particular style. The most common styles are MLA and APA, but Turabian, Chicago, and AMA (medical) also exist. The style designates the cosmetic qualities of what you write, headers, margins, footers, and citations. For most research papers, doing the style wrong is a significant chunk of the grade, do not overlook the style requirements. It may be pedantic and stupid, but failure to get even one space right will often cost you a full letter grade. This is not a joke. Especially nowadays when there are online format tools that will lay out the bibliography or foot notes per the style guide specifications.
I’ve had you grilling the instructor for specifics, while you are doing that make sure to get them to give you examples of the topics that they feel are appropriate. Aside from doing the prompt wrong, the next biggest point of failure is a poor choice of topic. If all you have is three pages, starting a dissertation on the events of the civil war probably isn’t going to work out so well. However, picking a single battle in the war, might. If you are at all unsure whether a topic might be too broad or narrow for the assignment, run it past the instructor. Again, I will emphasize, do this early.
With assignment details completely and unambiguously clear, it’s time to plan your paper. Note, I say plan your paper, not write it. Planning first alleviates some points of failure in your execution.
Planning Your Paper
People make out writing to be hard. All those damn words. Let me dramatically over simplify the whole idea of an essay for you. At its core, an essay has an introduction, a discussion, and a conclusion. That’s it. Another way to describe it: tell us what you’re going to talk about, talk about it, then tell us what we talked about. Seems childishly simple, right? Yes! If you keep it minimized in your mind, negative psychology won’t get in your way!
So, with my encouragements complete, let’s talk planning. Even if all you have to write is five paragraphs, the method I will outline for you will always help. Each chunk of your essay should follow a model, and the name should help you remember, the I.D.E.A model; introduction, description, emphasis, and assertion:
The model above will be used to write a kind of outline. I used this method when writing essays during exams. You set down the skeleton. The introductory sentence. Your thesis and points. You can write this out by hand or simply do it as single lines in a document.
The first and most important thing for you to craft is your thesis statement (or primary assertion). A well thought out thesis will also contain your “talking points”. Think of the thesis and points as the spine of your essay, it supports and holds everything else together.
A good thesis has three traits: it is specific, favors a position, and it either makes claims or provides support. The simplest way to create one is to pose it as a formula. The most generic formula is: [statement][supporting point 1] [supporting point 2] [supporting point 3]. Example thesis: Will Greenway’s articles are great because they are informative, easy to understand, and humorous.
The word ‘because’ is the key word in the example thesis. When you make a statement or an assertion, you have to justify your statement with the logic (or persuasive) elements you deem to be convincing. This simple format works for most of the paper types, with small variations for the topic being explored:
Simple types will work for a large number of shorter papers. There are times when the discussion requires a bit more elaboration or sophistication (nuances). In that case, the thesis may have the points up front, or in the middle, with the primary assertion or “claim” at the end. Sometimes you have too many points to stuff into the thesis and have to make more “generalized” support. The examples below have the support filled in to give you a better feel for how they are worded.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of thesis models. I find if you search for that one simple assertion, the rest of paper becomes far easier to write. The big part is deciding what it is you want to say. Keep it simple. Three points is a magic number. If you have to write a larger essay you generally end up breaking it into sections, each with its own thesis and points.
Once you have your thesis constructed you can build an outline like this. I did one on my favorite drink (I made up stuff for this article). You will note that outline is almost an essay by itself.
As a reminder, everything in that essay was completely made up! However, as you can see just by writing one sentence for each line of the model gives you a great starting point. To make a more balanced essay you would probably provide details of competing products, comparing and contrasting, or using additional factual arguments.
The main thing here is to start with a skeleton like this one. It can even be smaller, just your thesis, points and topic sentences. Typically, it’s getting started that blocks most people. With this method, if you come up with a strong thesis and points, the rest of the paper is a lot easier. It takes a little practice to write introduction sentences that flow well into the description and elaboration. My technique is start with some kind of general statement that I can bring around to the topic at hand. If that’s not your style, just back up a bit from the topic and start with its history or things related to the subject material.
Like any other task of size or complexity, breaking it down into parts makes it easier to manage. This is especially true of writing of all kinds. In the case of essays, it’s first knowing the topic and developing a thesis and points. While the rest isn’t necessarily easy, it does make what you have to do easier to focus on and complete. By creating an I.D.E.A outline your essay is near to complete before you’ve even started writing. Getting from that skeleton to a fleshed out great scoring essay is just a matter of execution, drafts, and practice. Give it a try.