Most students can agree that long essays are overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start. Is your topic too broad? Do you have enough sources? Many students will try to put off writing these essays in order to avoid the stress that comes with them. Here, I’m going to give you some detailed steps to writing a long essay so you can tackle your next big assignment with less stress.
1. Pick a Topic
Here, the right amount of specificity is key. It is important to have a topic that is specific enough that finding sources is relatively easy, but broad enough that you can write many pages about it. As an example, I wrote a 12-page paper on the effect of World War II on the rights of women in American society. Had I selected a more vague topic like “American Women in the 1930s and 1940s”, it would have been a far more difficult essay to write.
2. Start Your Research
This part could take anywhere from hours to days. Background research is vital for the formulation of your thesis. Through background research, you can make connections between sources and discern which sources are most valuable to your topic.
3. Write a Thesis
A thesis statement shapes the entirety of your essay. Theses should be specific and outline the argument you will try to make in the paper. In a long essay, the thesis should be in the first or second paragraph. Make sure that you are able to answer the “so what?” question about your thesis (i.e. explain why the question you wish to address is important).
4. Finish Your Research
Based on your thesis, continue doing research, now with a focus on sources that support the thesis statement you have developed. Sites like JSTOR and Google Scholar are great places to find academic sources. Make sure that the sources you find support and develop your thesis statement.
5. Make an Outline
It is important to have a method for organizing your long essay. An outline is a great way to organize your thoughts — I plan our everything into a chart like this:
The more detailed your outline is, the easier it will be to flesh it out into a full-fledged essay by drawing connections between concepts and going into more in-depth analyses of your evidence. As you write and gather more evidence, your thesis statement may change — and that’s okay! Thesis statements are not set in stone; they are meant to change as the paper develops.
6. Proofread and Edit
When you proofread, try reading your paper out loud (no matter how silly you feel). This technique will help you catch awkward phrasing and grammatical errors. While proofreading, make notes about potential edits. After proofreading, put those edits into action!
These steps will help you reduce stress when presented with the task of writing a long essay. Good luck!