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Essay Writing: Tips on How to Write a Good Essay

By Trung Le
Director and Head Consultant
Adjunct Faculty Member: De Anza College (Cupertino), Diablo Valley College (Pleasant Hill), and San Jose City College

A variety of college courses and timed essay writing exams such as the SAT, GRE, CSU WST and LSAT will require an essay writing component that is usually persuasive or argumentative in nature. Presented here is an explanation on how to write a good essay for your college class or for your next major essay writing exam.

There are five major factors to consider in writing a good essay. The first is creating a paper outline. The second is having a clearly stated thesis statement. The third is proper organization, grammar, and sentence structure. The fourth component is to support your thesis statement with several arguments, and ideally, address some criticisms against your thesis and your response to the criticisms. The fifth is to have a good conclusion to end the essay. Let us explore each essay component in greater detail.

Before you start writing your essay, whether on a timed essay exam like the SAT or a term paper for your class, you should always begin by writing a brief outline. This is important because it will help you to organize your ideas and it will structure your essay. All you have to do is briefly write down your thesis statement, which is your personal argument on the essay topic that was assigned to you. Then briefly write down 3 - 4 reasons to support your thesis. If you have time, you should also write down some criticisms against your thesis. Discussing criticisms may not be possible on a timed essay exam. Your outline should be less than one page long. It is very important to take the first 5 - 10 minutes on a timed essay exam to do this. Doing so will make the whole writing process much more efficient and it will lead to a well organized paper.

The second component in writing a good essay is having a clear and concise thesis statement, which is the main argument of your essay. This argument usually belongs to the author of the essay, but it can also be an argument that is originally from another author that you agree with. Your entire essay is revolved around the thesis statement. The purpose of your essay is to provide supporting reasons to convince the reader that your thesis statement is correct. Failing to have a concise thesis will also lead to an unorganized essay because you will lack focus while writing your essay. Without a clear thesis, your ideas and arguments will be all over the place and your essay will fail to flow in a proper and smooth direction.

A good essay also needs to be well organized. The basic structure of the essay is the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction contains the thesis statement, as mentioned above. The introduction should also contain the purpose of your paper and the order in which you will present your arguments in your essay. For example, you can state, "I will first present three reasons to support my thesis, and then three criticisms against my thesis and my response to these criticisms." The introduction can be written in one or two paragraphs. Do not spend too much time on this, especially on timed essay exams. Be clear and concise and do not bring in irrelevant or unnecessary information.

The bulk of the essay is the body. It contains the arguments, criticisms, and a general discussion of the paper topic. Spend one or two paragraphs to present each argument to support your thesis. Do the same for each criticism against your thesis. How much time you should devote to each argument will depend on the official requirements and the time frame that you have to write the essay. An adequate essay should have at least three or four arguments to support your thesis, and ideally the same number of criticisms. If you are taking the SAT, GRE, CSU WST, or LSAT, your essay should be around 3 - 5 pages in length if it is handwritten. If you are writing a term paper or research paper for a class, your essay should be around 6 - 10 pages long, depending on the official requirements of your instructor. Term papers will require a more detailed explanation of each argument or criticism as well.

A well written essay should contain a proper conclusion. There are many ways to write a conclusion. One way is simply to summarize the main arguments you have already presented throughout the essay. A better way is to discuss why your paper topic is significant and why the reader should be persuaded by your thesis statement. A conclusion is simply a way to wrap up your discussion. Do not end your paper abruptly. Devote one to two paragraphs to do this.

Once you are done writing your essay, proofread your paper to make sure that you have correct spelling, proper sentence structure, and proper grammar. Make sure that you have transition statements. These are statements between paragraphs to introduce the new idea. An example of a transition statement is as follows: "The first reason I am against capital punishment is.." You should spend at least 5 - 10 minutes on timed essay exams to proofread your paper. Proofreading your term paper is a longer process, and ideally, you should have another person read over your paper before you write and turn in the final draft to your instructor. Failing to proofread your essay can result in a failing score on timed essay exams and a letter grade reduction on term papers. For this reason, it is extremely important to proofread your essay if you want to write a good essay.

About T. Le 

Mr. Le is a college philosophy instructor who helps students to achieve academic success and helps them realize their potential in life. He was educated at San Jose State University and at the University of California at Berkeley, and has taught philosophy at San Jose State University, CA, De Anza College in Cupertino, CA, Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA, and San Jose City College, CA. He is the founder of Bay Area College Consulting. 


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