Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Perfect Academic Essay

An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or an argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation. The length and content of an essay depend on the subject, level of study, and course requirements. There are different types of essays written by students but most students at the university level write argumentative essays. Essays in this category aim at persuading the reader about a particular position or perspective on a topic. 

The process of writing an essay has three main stages:

  1. Preparation. In the preparation stage, you decide on your topic, do research, and write an outline.  
  2. Writing. Here you set your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the body of your essay, and wrap it up with a conclusion. 
  3. Revision. Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and forming of the essay. 

The table below shows the activities in each stage. 

Define your essay topicDo your research and gather sourcesDevelop a thesis statement.Create an essay outline. Write an introductionWrite your main body and organize it into paragraphs.Write the conclusion.Check the overall organization. Revise the content of each paragraph.Proofread your essay for grammar mistakes.Check your essay for plagiarism. 

In this blog post, we will walk you through what to include in the introduction, body, and conclusion of an academic essay. 

Essay Writing Process

The three stages in the essay writing process apply to all types of essays but the time and effort spent at each stage highly depend on the type of essay, level of study, and the topic.  For instance, when working on a five-paragraph expository essay for high school, you are likely to spend most of your time on the writing stage but when working on a college-level argumentative essay, you are likely to spend more time researching your topic and coming up with an original argument before you start the writing process. 

Preparation Before Writing An Essay

Ensure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it before you start writing your essay. The following key steps will guide you in the preparation process. 

  1. Understand your assignment instructions. What is the purpose of the essay? What is the deadline? How long should the essay be? Do you need any clarification from your teacher or lecturer? 
  2. Analyze the question. Most essays written by students are usually responses to specific questions. The essay must analyze a specific question and why you must start with analyzing the question. Ensure you fully understand what you are expected to do. 
  3. Define the topic. When allowed to choose your own topic ensure you pick something interesting and a topic that you understand. 
  4. Do your research. Research from both primary and secondary sources while taking notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. This is the information you will use as evidence for your points. 
  5. Develop a thesis. The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A thesis statement says what the essay is about. A clear thesis is very important for a focused essay. When writing your essay, you should keep referring to your thesis. 
  6. Create an outline. Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline. This makes it easier for you to start writing and keeps you on track as you continue writing. 

Once you have gathered all the information on what you want to write, how you want to write it, and the evidence you can use in your essay, you can now start writing it. 

Writing The Introduction

The introduction is the first part of your essay and it is the one that sets out the tone for your essay. The introduction should grab the reader’s interest and inform them what to expect in the essay. It generally comprises 10-20% of the total text in the essay. 

1. Hook your reader.

The first sentence in your essay is supposed to awaken the reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is also referred to as the hook as it grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more. You should only move your thesis once you are sure the reader’s attention has been hooked. 

A hook can be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing on the importance of the topic.  

2. Provide background on your topic

Giving context that will help your reader understand your argument is very important. This might require you to provide background information, give an overview of important academic work or debate on the topic, and explain any difficult terms. Do not provide a lot of information in the introduction as the elaboration can be done in the body of your essay. 

3. Present your thesis statement

Your thesis statement is the main point of your essay as it is the central argument you are going to make. It provides focus and signals your position on the topic of research. A thesis statement is usually one or two sentences long. 

For instance, your thesis statement can be “Dogs are descended from wolves”. This can be the basic premise to writing the whole essay remembering that all the points in the essay are supposed to lead back to this one main thesis. 

Please note that it is important to use a broad thesis statement so you can have enough to talk about but it should not be too broad that you can’t be thorough. 

4. Map the structure

When writing a longer essay, you can end the introduction by discussing briefly what will be covered in each part of the essay. This will guide the reader through the structure of your essay. It will also give a preview of how your argument will develop.  

Writing The Body

The body carries the largest part of an essay as this is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. The purpose of the body of an essay is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument. 

1. Length of the body text

The length of the body of your essay depends on the type of essay and the topic. On average, the body of your essay should comprise between 60 and 80% of your essay. For a high school essay, ,this can only be three paragraphs but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8 to 10 pages. 

2. Paragraph structure

It is important to organize your essay into paragraphs to give it a clear structure. Each paragraph should discuss a single point or idea. The main idea is introduced in a topic sentence. The topic sentence is supposed to lead on from the previous paragraph and introduces the point that is supposed to be made in that paragraph. When writing an essay, use transition words to connect sentences in a paragraph to ensure a smooth flow of information. 

Once you have given a topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from the relevant sources. Ensure you interpret and explain the evidence, and explain how it helps develop your overall argument. 

Writing The Conclusion

The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. A conclusion takes up not more than 10 to 15% of the text in an essay. A perfect conclusion does the following. 

  • Points back to your thesis.
  • Ties your main points together.
  • Shows why your argument matters. 

A good conclusion should end with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression. 

What to avoid when writing a conclusion.

There are a few things that should be avoided to make your essay as strong as possible. The following are the most common mistakes made by students when writing a conclusion. 

  • Do not introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion.
  • Do not undermine your arguments (for example, “This is just one approach of many”)
  • Avoid the use of concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…” 

Essay Checklist

The following essay checklist will ensure you have written a perfect essay. 

My essay follows all my assignment instructions (topic and length).My introduction captures the reader’s attention and provides all the necessary background information on the topic. My introduction has a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay. I have used paragraphs to structure the essay. I have used topic sentences to introduce each paragraph. Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement. I have made clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas. My conclusion does not repeat my points but it draws connections between arguments. I did not introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion. I have included an in-text citation for every quote or information from an outside source. I have a reference at the end of my essay with complete details on all my sources. My citation and reference is correctly formatted according to the citation style given in my instructions. My essay has a clear, interesting, and informative title. I have followed all formatting guidelines as per the instructions.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What is an essay?

As essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates. Most students write different types of essays at the high school level to develop their writing skills. Most essays at the college level are argumentative essays. In these types of essays a student is expected to develop a clear thesis on a certain topic and make a case for their position using evidence, analysis, and interpretation. 

2. What is the structure of an essay?

An essay is divided into three main parts as follows:

  • Introduction. This is the part that presents your topic. It also provides a hook, background information, and a thesis statement. 
  • Body. The body contains in-depth analysis and arguments supporting the thesis statement.
  • Conclusion. A conclusion wraps up your ideas as stated in the body. 

The body of an essay is flexible but you should always spend time deciding how you can organize your essay so it serve your ideas well. 

3. What does is an essay introduction

An essay introduction should have the following three parts in this order.

  • An opening hook to capture the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader is supposed to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main argument or idea. 

The length of each part depends on the complexity of the topic and the length of your essay. 

4. What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central idea of your essay or your research paper. Everything else you write on your essay should connect to this key point. 

5. Why do I need a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is important when writing an academic essay or research paper for the following main reasons:

  • It gives the writer a writing direction and focus as it acts as a reference point. 
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point. 

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay might seem unfocused leaving the reader unsure of exactly what the writer is trying to say.  

6. What is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence is a sentence found in each paragraph of an essay that expresses the main point of a paragraph. Everything else in the paragraph should relate to this topic sentence. 

7. When do I need to cite sources?

From college level, all essays, research papers, and other academic texts must be cited properly except exams and in class exercises. Always add a citation when you use quote, paraphrase, or summarize information and ideas from other sources. 

You should also include a reference or bibliography page where you give full source details. The exact format of your citation will depend on the citation style you are requested to use in your assignment instructions. The most commonly uses citation styles include APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard.

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