Essay Writing Tips

What is an academic essay?

Academic essays are thesis-driven papers.

This means that each time you sit down to write an essay, you should be writing with the goal of proving a specific point.

It’s not enough to have a focused sense of your topic. You also need to have a focused sense of what you want to persuade the reader to believe.

  • Your aim can be to argue for an interpretation of a work of literature.
    • (But your aim shouldn’t be to merely describe a book.)
  • Your aim can be to explain why one point of view is more compelling than an alternative point of view.
    • (But your aim shouldn’t be to merely explain two different points of view.)
  • Your aim can be mainly to inform the reader, but this information should serve a larger purpose such as a call to action or an argument as to why the topic is important.

In short, there must be a point.

Academic essays are also written in distinct sections:

  • Introduction (with Thesis)
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
Side-Note: Essays versus Reports
In a majority of your classes, you will be asked to write essays, which means that you will compose an argument.

It’s the argumentative element that separates an essay from a report. Reports do not require argument and often simply “report” information.

When you are selecting a topic and writing an essay, make sure to ask yourself if you are arguing a point. Avoid writing papers that are purely informational. Instead, use information to support a point.

Key Ideas & Tips for Essay Writing

Related Composition Tips

The Role of Information in Academic Essays

Academic essays are rooted in argument. This is a key idea to understand.

While you will often be asked to gather information and present that information in your essays, it’s important to realize that the information itself is not the point.

Learn more about this important distinction.


Research Basics & Strategies

Research and academic writing are intertwined. The term research is fairly easy to grasp, but that doesn’t mean everyone shows up on day with with a good sense of how to approach the task of doing research for an essay.

Here are some tips and strategies for engaging in the research process that will help to ensure successful results.


Avoiding Plagiarism

Academic writing actively encourages the use of citations in student papers. And acting on this expectation, many students have been shocked to find their essays marked with the word, “plagiarism,” when all they did was pull material from research sources like their teacher instructed.

Plagiarism takes a variety of forms, but essentially it boils down to a lack of honesty and transparency. If you are drawing ideas and quotations from a specific research source, you have to mention that this is the case. You have to say, “I did not come up with this myself. I got this material from a research source.” The typical way to do that in academic writing is to cite your sources.

If you draw material from an outside source and do not change the language of that material in any way, place it inside quotations and indicate the source with a signal phrase.

If you draw material from an outside source and re-write the material so that it has now been rendered in your own words, you still need to indicate the original source of the ideas you have drawn from your research. Paraphrased citations still need to provide attribution to the source where the idea/information is coming from. 

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