Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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You may ask yourself, how do I work this?
(Yes, thanks to David Byrne and the Talking Heads for my opening line.)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked this question more than once in my lifetime.
I’m sure you’ve asked this question many times, too. For example, how do I change my ringtone? How do I sign up for fall classes? Or how to I pick a topic for my process essay?
It’s the simple “How do I…” or “How to…” statement that is the basic premise of a process essay. In a nutshell, a process essay tells readers how to do something. (In a way, this blog post is an informal process essay, too! Whoa!)
Keep reading to learn more, as this post explains the basics of a process essay and lists 15 process essay topics to get you started.
Process Essay Basics
As the title of the essay implies, a process essay tells readers how to do something and is essentially a step-by-step essay that explains a process.
But remember, a process essay is not a set of instructions.
You’re writing an essay, so write in essay format and choose a somewhat simple process. Don’t choose a topic that is so complex that you’d need to write an instruction manual to fully explain the process.
This also means that you shouldn’t number each step and you will need to use appropriate transitions to link each step. While it’s tempting (and certainly much easier) to simply link each step with “..and then you do this” “and then you do that”, don’t because that makes for boring reading.
Time is also an important element when writing a process essay. I don’t mean the time you spend writing the essay. I mean the time it will take your audience to complete the process you’re explaining. So help your readers by being specific about how long it will take.
Not quite sure how to link ideas or which time cues might help readers? You might try a few of these transitions:
- First, second, etc. (Be careful about using these, as you don’t want to use them in place of numbering.)
- Before this, before
- At the same time, simultaneously, during
- After a few minutes, after a few hours, after 24 hours
- Finally, last, lastly
Now that you have a better understanding of what makes a good process essay let’s move on to finding a topic for your paper. (See what I did there by using a transition?)
15 Process Essay Topics That Make Sense
Check out this list of process essay topics to help inspire your next writing masterpiece.
Write a process to explain how to:
1. Change Facebook privacy settings
Just about everyone could use some help changing privacy settings on Facebook. This type of process essay can easily slip into a set of directions though, so find a clever or humorous way to tell readers how to change their settings (without making them want to pull out their hair).
2. Make a good first impression
There are two key points in life where people are eager to make a good first impression: a job interview and a first date. Of course, your explanation of how to speak, act, and dress will be different for each scenario, so don’t try to write a general essay about making a good impression in every situation. Pick a specific scenario and go with it.
3. Master Call of Duty (or another video game)
If you’re a hard-core gamer, beating Call of Duty might be your life’s mission. If you want to help others complete their missions, you might write about mastering the game or simply making it through a particularly difficult section of the game.
4. Teach someone how to text
Granted, most people today already know how to text, but do you know anyone in your life, such as your great-grandmother or your four-year-old brother, who doesn’t understand texting?
Choose your words carefully. Technology can be difficult to understand, especially if you use too many terms that may be unfamiliar to your audience.
5. Train your dog to sit (or do another trick)
I’ve tried to train my dog, and he still ignores me. Part of your process for training a dog might include a few examples of what not to do. This would certainly help people like me who haven’t been able to teach their old dogs any new tricks!
6. Use Foursquare (or other social media) to meet people in your area
This essay might be less about how to actually use the app and more about how to use the technology to your advantage. How can the technology help you meet people, and why is meeting people in this way a good idea?
7. Draw a cow
When explaining how to draw an image, it’s a good idea to provide a few sketches to help readers see what you’re explaining.
Of course, you can tell someone how to draw another object, but I think it would be more fun to explain how to draw a cow. Besides, who wouldn’t want to learn to draw an awesome looking cow like the one I’ve included below?
Mouldy Sponge (www.sketchport.com )
8. Set up a good online dating profile
What makes an online profile good? That’s a tricky question.
Everyone is looking for different characteristics and personality traits in a partner, so your task in this process essay is to determine what type of person you’d like to attract and then explain to readers how to attract that person. If you’re a dog person, for instance, and want to avoid cat people, it’s probably a good idea to state that in your profile.
9. Shoot a perfect free throw
The first consideration when explaining how to shoot a perfect free throw is the experience level of your audience.
Is your audience a group of basketball players who would just like a few extra pointers on how to improve their game? Or, is your audience made of people who have never picked up a basketball and don’t even know what a free throw is?
Your audience will determine the language you use and what information you’ll include.
10.Take an amazing selfie
If you’ve ever taken a bad selfie and promptly deleted it before it ever made it to social media, then you know what not to do when taking a selfie.
So what makes a good selfie? Is it your smile, your pose, the people you’re with, or the background image? How do you combine these elements to take a selfie worthy of envy?
11. Use Etsy to start a small business
Have you started selling your handmade products on Etsy? Have you made enough money to consider quitting your other part-time job? If so, try sharing your knowledge, your experiences, and your secrets to success.
12. Bathe a cat
I don’t know how many of you have ever been able to successfully bathe a cat, but if you’re one of the select few, why not explain to your readers how it’s done!
13. Survive another boring English class
Let’s face it, lectures can be b-o-r-i-n-g. You can only listen to a professor ramble on about symbolism and metaphor for so long. So how do you get through the lecture? Try offering some practical tips on how to take notes or how to engage in the material.
You might also try writing a more lighthearted piece, explaining the importance of how quality doodling can help students stay awake.
14. Look like a fashionista
If you have the gift of style, and think those around you could use a little advice, help them out by explaining what they need to do to look fabulous, such as a hip new haircut, a fabulous new pair of shoes, or a make-under.
15. Change the oil in your car
This step-by-step process can be a challenge because it lends itself to a set of instructions. Resist the temptation to write instructions. Instead, try mixing in practical advice, tips on what not to do, and perhaps even a few funny stories about your own mistakes.
Quick Tips on Choosing a Topic and Writing a Process Essay
As you finalize your topic choice, be sure to choose a process you’ve completed many times and that you can explain to someone else.
Need more ideas? Check out these example process essays.
If you don’t know a lot about the topic and want to research the process, you’ll learn something new, but this might not be the easiest path to writing the essay. If you haven’t already mastered the process, it will be hard to learn and write all at once.
You might even want to complete the process a few times before you begin writing to help you remember the order of steps and which steps are most important.
Finally, here’s an important tip for after you’ve written your essay.
Read your draft and follow your own advice. See if you can actually complete the process by following your step-by-step explanation. (Of course, this won’t work for every process essay, as you can’t exactly train your dog in an afternoon, but it certainly works for essays that focus on quick processes like changing Facebook settings or taking a good selfie.)
If you’re trying to complete the process by reading your own paper, but find you are having trouble, your readers will have trouble too. This means you’ll need to do some revision.
Know who else can help you with revision? A Kibin editor. Don’t hesitate to get some extra help to make your paper stand out!
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