Essay writing excellence

Essays can be painfully formulaic, or they can blend.

In The Lively Art of Writing, author Lucile Vaughan Payne writes, "At its best, an essay is fact with imagination, knowledge with feeling, never giving itself over wholly to one or the other.

But its purpose is always the same: to express an opinion.

By following a few simple steps, you'll find your essay almost writes itself.

The first thing you must do is think about the purpose of your essay.

Are you trying to sway people on a particular viewpoint, explain how to do something, educate people about a topic, or something else entirely?

Once you've decided on the purpose of your essay, begin brainstorming ideas on what you'd like to discuss.

Next, organize these ideas by creating an outline with topic headings.

Under each heading, write the main ideas you have about the subject or the main points you'd like to make.

To do this, you'll probably need to do a lot of reading and research on the topic.

If you're writing a persuasive essay, you'll need a thesis statement.

The thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about and what point you'll be making.

The first part of your thesis statement introduces the topic.

(For example, Mexico's architecture).

The second part states the point of the essay.

(For example, Mexico's architecture owes much to its Spanish heritage).

Begin by writing out notes for your introduction, but leave writing it until the end.

You may want to start out generally discussing the topic-such as architecture in general or Mexico's Spanish roots-and then gradually hone in on the thesis statement as your introduction's final sentence.

Next, write the body paragraphs.

In the body of the essay, all the research and preparation up to this point comes to fruition.

The topic you've chosen must now be explained, described, or argued.

Each of your main ideas will become one of the body paragraphs.

If you have three or four main ideas, you will have three or four body paragraphs.

Each body paragraph should follow roughly the same structure.

For the persuasive essay, begin the first body paragraph with your most important argument, followed by the supporting material you researched for your outline.

Repeat the process with the following body paragraphs.

You may want to include a summary sentence at the end of each of these paragraphs, but only if it's absolutely necessary for clarification.

Otherwise you're just repeating yourself.

When you've finished with your body paragraphs, write the introduction.

The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give an idea of the essay's focus.

As suggested above, you may want to begin generally discussing your topic and then move to the specific.

Or, you maybe want to begin with an attention grabber.

The attention grabber might be a startling idea but the information must be true and verifiable.

You could also begin your essay with an anecdote, a story which illustrates your point, but make sure it's short and relevant.

Dialogue is another way of starting your essay, but don't make it too long or complicated, just enough to illustrate your point.

For the persuasive essay, all of the above openings should end with your thesis statement.

Finally, write your conclusion, bringing closure to your essay, summing up your main points without being repetitive, and providing a final perspective to your topic.

The best conclusions are short, just three or four strong sentences which don't have to follow any formula.

An anecdote is an effective way to end an essay, as is referring back to the what you wrote about in your introduction-in other words, bringing your essay around full circle.

Laurie has 18 years experience in editing and writing and would love to polish your work so it sings.

She specializes in cutting out the clutter, ensuring that every sentence is clear and necessary, and enjoys tweaking writing so it says what it needs to say.

As a published author with Penguin and Bantam, AND as an editor at a publishing house, Laurie has been on both sides of the business and so understands the need to preserve your style yet make your work professional and error-free.

Laurie is an editor at

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