The essay is a staple of academic writing. Being short and versatile, it accommodates writing on almost any subject in a variety of situations. However, such versatility can quickly become a downside since it doesn't provide newbie students with a clearly defined format. Lack of limitations can be its own challenge, especially when you are yet mastering the skill of eloquent writing.
With this post, we attempt to give a roadmap for high school students and college freshmen to writing the most common types of essays.
Table of contents:
- Tips on writing an essay of a specific type
- Tips for essay writing for a particular occasion
Tips on Writing an Essay of a Specific Type
First of all, an essay as a genre is defined by expressing the writer's individual perspective on the subject. Further, essays are divided into formal and informal subclasses. Informal essays center on creative self-expression and personal taste, lack clearly determined structure and possess certain cordiality of manner. A formal essay expresses the author's take on a serious matter, has the purpose of influencing the reader's opinion, and is organized logically to achieve this.
While you might be tasked with writing an informal piece for creative writing classes, the overwhelming majority of essays you will pen for college are formal. Within the formal essay subclass, there are further distinctions by the type of writing. Let's now look closer at some of the most common types (along with essay writing tips for each of them).
Tips for writing an argumentative essay
An argumentative essay makes a claim and uses evidence to support it. This is the classical 5-paragraph essay that uses an introduction to make a claim and outline the arguments used to defend it, 3 body paragraphs to concentrate on 3 main points of defense, and a conclusion to cement the claim as proven. To make sure your argumentative essay hits the target, rely on these tips:
1. Choose the most fitting model
There are three models that help you deliver your point across. Use them depending on the topic you are addressing, the setting, and your intended audience.
- The classical type (or Aristotelian) is the most popular. It is direct and even aggressive, builds upon your existing authority on the subject, and uses rhetorical triangle (ethos, pathos, and logos) to appeal to your audience's morals, feelings, and reason. It focuses on proof and refutation. This type fits best for defending a strong position.
- Rogerian type (or common-ground argument) is the most diplomatic. It focuses on reconciling differences and finding a compromise by stating the understanding of opposing views and highlighting the benefits of accepting your position. This type fits best to address polarizing, sensitive issues, especially if your opponents hold a stronger position than you.
- Toulmin type is the most measured and logical. It focuses on facts and evidence, balancing them with acknowledgment of arguments' limits. This type fits best for scholarly disputes when you address fellow researchers on a scientific matter.
2. Research thoroughly
Evidence is the centerpiece of an argumentative essay, regardless of the chosen model. That is why you should never skimp on time to prepare the evidentiary foundation for your essay. Relevant, up-to-date statistics, facts, figures – these are the bricks to build an argument.
3. Keep your tone neutral
Even if you feel strongly about the matter you discuss, an argumentative essay warrants objectivity and leveled dispassionate tone. Better leave out emotive lexis, rhetorical questions, and direct appeals to your public. Use third-person language.
Tips for writing a persuasive essay
A persuasive essay is very similar to an argumentative one. However, it allows more freedom of expression. It is based less on hard evidence and more on the writer's craft of persuasion. Here are some tips for writing essay that changes people's minds:
1. Appeal to your audience's emotions
A persuasive argument should operate facts, statistical data, and expert opinions. However, for a greater impact of your ideas, you can also use emotive language and anecdotes to elicit emotional response and sympathy. You also can address your audience directly using first- and second-person vocabulary and modal verbs (should, ought to, must), etc.
2. Avoid logical fallacies
In the attempt to persuade your audience, it's too easy to cross the line into manipulating facts. Hasty generalizations, ad hominem attacks, post hoc ergo propter hoc, circular arguments, ad populum emotional appeals, genetic fallacy, and other errors in reasoning undermine your position instead of making it stronger. Study these types of fallacies to avoid them and point them out in the statements of your opponents.
3. Use rhetorical devices
Although some degree of rhetorical ornaments exists in any type of essay, persuasive writing gains the most from them. Use personification, metaphors, similes, rhetorical questions, parallelism, triplets, and other devices that amplify the impact of your words.
4. Take time to understand your opponents
Often students assume their audience is of one mind with them about the issue. They write as if they expect cheers of approval and nodding. However, an audience like this would not need persuading. To convince those who disagree with you, research their arguments, their reasoning, and their values. If you cannot summarize your opponent's beliefs in such a respectful way as to make them say, "Yes, that's what I stand for," then you have no business arguing with them.
Tips for writing a narrative essay
A narrative essay is a story, an account of the event, a characterization of a person, or a description of an object or place that centers on one overarching theme (motif). In structure, it is a classical 5-paragraph piece usually based on personal experience rather than fiction. A narrative essay should demonstrate your ability to construct a coherent story and tell it entertainingly, with a satisfying pace and inventively used language. Here are the creative writing essay tips to make a compelling narrative:
1. Use structure is an expressive means
Most often stories are told chronologically, along the dramatic arc: exposition -> rising action -> climax -> falling action -> resolution. However, each story has its own inner logic, so you may use flashbacks or flash-forwards to build up the tension towards the climax. Think about the films you like and how they are told. Use the same montage techniques for your essay.
2. Show don't tell
To make your writing stronger, select vivid details that convey feelings rather than name them. Use all five senses to transport your reader into the story: paint the picture with colors, use alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia to convey sounds, describe textures, smells and tastes. Compare the two passages:
A police car passes by, accompanied by the sound of sirens.
Blue lights flash, dashing through the night and wailing.
Which one is more impactful?
3. Start with the "why"
The entire essay is a vehicle for conveying one crucial message. Decide what you want to tell before you start writing. Why should people hear this story? Your message doesn't have to be profound. For example, you want to tell a funny story to make them laugh. That's a legit answer to the "why." However, you need to know this answer beforehand to construct your narrative effectively, set everything up for a satisfying payoff, and select details to amplify the comedic effect.
Tips for writing an explanatory essay
An explanatory essay (also an expository essay) is an academic essay that aims to explain a theory, a process, a concept, expound on the idea, or show how something works. It does not argue a point, just gives a comprehensive view of its subject. Subgenres of explanatory essay include analysis, definition, cause and effect, compare and contrast, and other types. This genre is usually assigned to evaluate your knowledge of the subject and the skills you've learned during a course.
For example, a rhetorical analysis essay where you explain how the analyzed text is constructed, why it works the way it does, what makes it impactful, etc., also belongs to the expository genre. It might be used for classroom evaluation after you've completed a course on rhetoric. Here is what you should remember when writing an expository essay:
1. Define the scope appropriately
In the expository writing, you fill the shoes of the instructor. Your role is to explain something to a reader as if they had no prior knowledge of the subject. Think a textbook or an encyclopedia entry. To give a comprehensive, albeit generalized, view of the subject, you must first define the scope of your explanation. Otherwise, its volume will get out of hand, and your essay will end up fragmented, unnecessary detailed in some places while having gaps in others.
2. Outline following 5-paragraph structure
This type of essay commands careful planning like no other. You should produce a clearly defined thesis statement in the first paragraph and give an overview of the issues you will cover in the main body. This should be followed by body paragraphs, each starting with a topical sentence and providing evidential support and examples. Make sure transitions between paragraphs are logical and hold your essay together as a coherent argument. In the concluding section, readdress your thesis statement in light of the presented argument.
3. Don't be afraid to sprinkle in some creativity
Although the nature of an expository essay is quite formulaic, you shouldn't be afraid to add your personality to your writing. You want this essay to be memorable, as well as informative. Use metaphors to illustrate your points, start your essay with an attention-grabbing hook sentence, end with a question to provoke thoughts, etc.
Tips for Essay Writing for a Particular Occasion
Some essays on this list you will have to write only once. Some (like scholarship essays) will probably be a recurring task. However, they are all united by several essential characteristics:
- you have one attempt
- a lot hinges on the result
- people assessing your essay don't know you personally, so all they judge is the text
This high-stakes situation is often stressful for young people. The only way to cope with your anxiety is to practice. Although you only have one shot, you can build your skills towards it and feel confident in the moment. Here are some tips to writing a good essay for a particular situation.
Tips for writing a personal essay for admission
A college application essay is probably the most anxiety-inducing piece of writing you will have to do. Young people start pondering over what to write about months before application season starts. The creative process does take time, but don't dwell on it for too long. Here are quick tips to put you on the right track:
1. Demonstrate authentic self
Admission is a human process. Although your scores, grades, and other numbers hold importance, colleges focus on the personalities of those they admit no less than on their achievements. Your personal essay is exactly where you should demonstrate your unique qualities as a human being and build a connection with your reader. Look for something that makes you who you are, what your friends value most about you, what you are proud of.
2. Keep it relevant
As much as you are proud of your triumph at the spelling bee at middle school, this story is probably too way back. Look for something more up-to-date. Remember, it doesn't have to tell about your most significant moments. It should give an insight into your personality. Even detailing your typical day or grocery shopping with your family can demonstrate your qualities, from self-management to a sense of humor. Decide which key characteristics you wish to convey and build your story around them.
3. Look at how your essay fits with the entire application
Don't waste your personal essay to recount the information that can be found elsewhere. Your academic achievements, athletic trophies, and extracurriculars are already present on your application. Moreover, many colleges ask you to write a set of school-specific supplements where they ask you question like "what inspires you?", "who is the most influential person in your life?" and "why have you chosen this major?" Your personal essay must add something about you that is yet missing from your application. Look at all the data you are going to submit. How can you make the picture fuller?
Tips on writing a college essay supplement ("Why this college" essay)
"Why us?" is one of the most popular prompts on writing supplements. On the surface, its purpose is to demonstrate your interest. However, it also serves to show through specific details why you are the perfect fit for the school and make your case as a candidate more compelling. Here are some essential tips on writing college essay supplement:
1. Take time to research
One of the most common mistakes students make in this type of essay is being too general. They list the things their target school is famous for (reputation, ranking, location) and parrot the language of college brochures. Instead, they should present concrete personal reasons for their choice. For example, you should research specific programs, activities, courses, and campus facilities that interest you. In your essay, match them with your intellectual curiosities and plans for the future. Find the syllabus and specify which course you find inspiring and would take if you were admitted. Read reviews by experts and students to get a sense of the campus vibe. All the time you spend researching will pay off tenfold in the unique and to-the-point answer.
2. Demonstrate interest
A campus visit is a win-win for many reasons. First of all, you get to see the environment that will become your home away from home for at least four years. Feel the atmosphere, see the students, and assess how appealing it is for you in reality.
Second, you will see specific things you like and, therefore, mention with genuine enthusiasm in your essay. Third, you will demonstrate your interest. Even though campus visits aren't always possible, there are other ways to show your commitment. Take a virtual campus tour, get in touch with alumni or current students, and talk to your local representative to learn more and signal you are serious about this school.
3. Be specific
Don't just use emotional language to talk about your school. Flattery is something they hear often enough. They know they are awesome. Plus, being sincere but vague isn't going to help you demonstrate your fit. Telling that you dreamed about this school since you were ten or that the campus "just feels right" says nothing about you. Give specific details and examples to demonstrate connections between you and the school. Think of "us" in the "why us" as "you + the school." Show why you are destined to be together.
ACT essay writing tips
ACT is a widespread standardized "college readiness" exam with an optional Writing Test that measures skills of planning and composing a short essay. If you decided to write this section of the test, here are a few tips:
1. Carefully read and assess prompt material
This is a synthesis essay that you have to prepare and write in 40 minutes. Test-takers are given three different perspectives on a broad social issue, which they must analyze and discuss. As a result, writers must provide a unified and coherent view on the issue and express their own opinion. Your opinion may coincide with any of the prompt's perspectives fully or partially, or you may provide an entirely different point of view. The stand you take does not influence your grade. What is being assessed is your ability to organize your ideas into a written argument and support them with evidence and examples. That is why it is crucial to take your time, analyze the perspectives, generate your own ideas, and develop an argument.
2. Stay current on important issues
The best way to prepare yourself for writing an ACT essay is reading and watching the news, listening to expert analyses, participating in discussions, and developing critical thinking. The highest scores on this test are given to essays that demonstrate insight, nuance, and precision. These require some previous familiarity with the subject matter and are unlikely to develop in under 40 minutes.
3. Practice timed writing
Another critical skill to practice is writing on a time limit. Time pressure is a significant stress factor, so the more familiar you are with the conditions, the more confident you will be during the test. Moreover, you will know how to plan, write, and edit, as well as how much time each stage normally takes you to complete. This is an essential competence for tests and examinations and the college future in general.
SAT essay writing tips
The optional SAT essay was discontinued and will no longer be offered as a part of SAT examination after June 2021. However, you can still write it this year or access it in select states through the SAT School Day program. If you decided to go for it, here is what you should remember:
1. Plan your time carefully
The test is timed. You will have 50 minutes to read a passage between 650 and 750 words and respond to it. Although it's 25 minutes more than the old SAT, the time pressure is still there, so plan carefully. Don't rush into writing. Take your time carefully reading the prompt and taking in the passage you were given for analysis.
2. It's about analysis more than about argument
Previously, you would be asked to agree or disagree with the position that the author is expressing. However, now, you don't have to take sides. The main goal of this essay is to assess your ability to analyze text. You will have to explain how evidence, reasoning, stylistic and persuasive elements are used in the passage and to what effect. You don't need any background knowledge on the topic that the author argues about. If you do have some information, be careful – the point is not to share your expertise or refute the author's arguments but to critically analyze the text.
3. Show off different dimensions of your linguistic prowess
The rubrics include your reading score, analysis score, and writing score – each given 4 points maximum. The three scores aren't added together, highlighting the independent importance of each skill. Remember to present textual evidence and demonstrate your familiarity with the text. Employ well-chosen quotations to support your claims about the author's reasoning and persuasive methods. Finally, make sure your own text is structured, clear, flows logically from one idea to another, and your words are used with precision.
Scholarship essay writing tips
Some students rely on scholarships to fund their education, so writing essays becomes as routine as a full-time job for them. However, to persuade the selection board that you are the one they seek, you must showcase your unique voice. Here are some college essay writing tips that will help you to make the right impression:
1. Read the prompt very carefully and stick to it
Scholarship essay prompts can be vague or very specific. In any case, take the time to understand the prompt and don't deviate from the topic – even to show off your exceptional knowledge or skills. First, the prompt was given for a reason, and it probably has everything to do with the cause and values of the foundation that grants this scholarship. Second, your ability to address highly specific topics is also being assessed – not only your overall writing prowess and qualifications.
2. Turn the prompt into a question
If the prompt isn't given in the form of a question, rephrase it to pose a question and answer it. For example, I had to write my paper on a prompt that looked as follows: "Describe an ideal leader in the 21st century." However, what they were asking was, "What kind of leader are you? Which leadership qualities do you aspire to embody?"
If the prompt is lengthy, take time to identify key themes, such as "environment" and "individual impact" or "leadership" and "serving the community" before eliciting the final question.
3. Respect the word limit
Edit your essay to fit the word count. This is non-negotiable. Members of the selection board have hundreds of applications to go through. By sticking to the specified limit, your show respect for their time. Plus, conciseness is another thing that is being assessed here. This doesn't mean that you must compress everything down to a bullet-point list. Making your essay entertaining with a strong opening hook, eloquence, and individual style is in your interest. Make it memorable, as well as informative. This is a tricky balancing act to pull off, but it tips the odds in your favor when done right.