How to Write an Essay

Essay Writing Shouldn’t Be Hard

Raji Ayinla
Mar 20, 2020 · 16 min read

Once upon a time, I didn’t know how to write an essay. When I’d submit an essay, the best grade I’d expect to get was a B.

After a while, I realized my poor essay grades had nothing to do with bad writing ability. My problem was that I didn’t really know what an academic essay was.

I’d try to be overly creative rather than focusing on being informative in my essays. I didn’t think like an academic.

Part of being a good academic essay writer is acting like a well-read professor; you’ve got to collect facts like one.

Once I figured out how to conduct research and properly structure an essay, I was able to churn out essays that were getting me A’s and A+’s.

Here’s the kicker: my results can totally be replicated if you learn what an academic essay is and how to write one.

To help you out, I’ve come up with a complete guide that will teach you everything there is to know about what it takes to write a stellar essay.

What’s An Academic Essay?

An academic essay is a form of writing that seeks to give the author’s opinion on a particular subject. Usually formal, academic essays are characterized by systemic discourse on a central point of view backed up by concrete information.

Types of Academic Essays

There are many types of academic essays. Most of them are subcategories of others. The three most common kinds of essay you will see in academic writing are:

  • Expository Essays
  • Compare and Contrast Essays
  • Persuasive Essays

Understanding the features of each of these essays helps you achieve one of the vital aspects of excellent essay writing: essay structure. Here’s an overview of each of them.

Expository essays

An expository essay covers a broader scope compared to other types of essays. In a nutshell, you present a balanced analysis of a topic using facts like statistics and examples to give a fair review of the subject you are writing on.

Expository essays branch out into different types of essays.

Cause and Effect Essays

In a cause and effect essay, you have to show how things, events, and subjects relate to one another.

Basic Explanation Essays

A basic explanation essay is also known as a process essay where you provide a step-by-step interpretation or guide of a process or topic.

Close Reading/ Definition Essays

A definition essay requires you to offer a detailed and deeper meaning of a subject, tracing origins, associations, and perceptions. The idea is to perform a close-reading of the text that allows you to write a well-informed response.

Critical Analysis Essays

In this type of expository essay, you have to critique a subject, like a theme or a political position, etc.

Compare and Contrast Essays

As the name suggests, these essays involve finding similarities and differences between various issues, subjects, events, and even people. While this is the basic structure of the essay, the essence is to formulate a meaningful argument. The first step is to demonstrate why the two subjects are being compared and what is to be gained by the comparison.

Writing a great compare and contrast essay requires a deep understanding of both sides. This will allow you to analyze and identify the points of similarities and differences that will advance your theme.

Persuasive Essays

A persuasive essay may be technically straightforward compared to the others above, but in terms of objective or purpose, it is easily the most challenging.

That’s because the author of a persuasive essay has to convince the reader of her viewpoint and have the reader take her side.

It is sometimes compared to an argumentative essay, but a persuasive essay goes one step further, focusing more on the strengths of the author’s arguments and refuting any counterarguments that may be raised.

Persuasive essays are best implemented when you can hook the reader, concisely convey your point of view, and show that you can raise and refute other points of view. This gives the reader the impression that you’re an authority on the topic.

These are the essays that used to give me the most trouble, because I’d pretend that I was in a court of law arguing a case. While this may seem like a good metaphor for persuasive writing, don’t get carried away by providing your own opinions. No one’s asking you to be Shakespeare. You have to use solid facts to back up everything you write. That’s what your professor or teacher would want. That’s what we all want at the end of the day.

What you should know before writing your essay

While there are several types of essays, the process of writing them are similar. Writing a great essay requires adequate preparation. Here is an overview of the techniques to employ when writing an essay.

Do your research

All essays require plenty of research. Sometimes the research materials are given to you in the form of a book. Other times, you have to find them online. Either way, knowing what to look for and how to look for it will help you become a better essay writer.

Here’s a site that teaches you how to closely read literary text: Close Reading

Here’s a site that shows you how to search databases for articles: Lib Guides

This site lists helpful databases if you’re looking for good research materials: Research Databases

Understand your audience

Some students mistakenly believe that the person assessing them is their audience, a mistake I made when I used to get bad essay grades.

In most cases, you will be writing to a general audience. You have to pretend, that you’re a master of your field.

The key is to use the topic given to get an idea of the audience you’ll be writing towards. If you’re writing a book report, imagine that you want to persuade a book club as to why, for example, Prospero’s magic is an allegory for slavery. These people want to be able to check your work so that they can counter argue. The book becomes a sort of Bible, where interpretation matters. You can’t just make stuff up and hope that your audience will believe it. You have to cite where you’re getting this information.

Sometimes, it can be hard to anticipate counter viewpoints. But if you want to get over the hump, you have to think a few steps ahead. The easiest way to do this is to imagine yourself as the potential audience for the topic. Then, try to answer the most important questions the audience member might have.

If you practice this technique often enough, you’ll find fewer question marks on your paper.

Use relevant vocabulary

Your vocabulary plays an important role, one that’s easy to overlook. It’s not about merely filling your essay with jargon and big words. The idea is to find words that allow you to avoid writing sentences that you can say in a word or two.

Using a thesaurus is fine, just be careful how you use it. Here are some points to consider:

  • Be careful with using synonyms interchangeably, since meaning can change depending on the context.
  • Every word should advance your cause, not act as a cover up for your lack of mastery on the subject. No filler.
  • Even the most knowledgeable audience appreciates an essay that minimizes jargon.

Quote from credible sources

You need hard evidence to write an essay. That means quoting from primary sources or from experts. Think about it like this: if person A quoted Bob the Butcher regarding astrophysics and person B quoted Neil deGrasse Tyson, who would you be more inclined to listen to?

It’s important to include sources that go against your argument to create a back and forth dialogue. Adding opposing views and shutting them down with supporting evidence is a great way to earn brownie points. You should try stay out of the argument as much as you can. Rather than injecting your own opinion, you can write, “Qualified expert would probably respond by saying X, because Y(Y being a quote or some other evidence suggesting the opposite viewpoint).”

If you’re at this level, you’re basically a puppet master. Your teacher will start throwing points your way just for understanding the material. Like a fanfiction writer, you’ve become so obsessed with the work of experts that you can start to imagine how they may react to a certain issue.

A note on citation:

Citing is something we can’t ignore, even though we want to. The focus on this article is on helping you write an article that kicks butt. Still, I’ve left you some resources that will make citation a breeze.

  1. BibMe
  2. EasyBib
  3. Citation Machine
  4. MLA Style Guide
  5. APA Style Guide
  6. Chicago Style Guide

Formulate your main argument

Your whole essay rests on your main point. When the reader goes through the essay, they should be able to relate the intermediate points to the main point.

In essay writing, the main point is known as the thesis. It shouldn’t be confused with the topic. Think of the topic as a broad subject like math. Then think of a thesis as a statement about that topic, like “math sucks.”

Since it is your essay’s anchor, spend time formulating it after you’ve done your research.

My “math sucks” example was a half-joke; your thesis shouldn’t be a fact. It should be slightly controversial. It should spark a debate.

Pick an angle you can further expand and support in the different arguments. The criticism of my “math sucks” thesis is that it’s too subjective.

A Thesis statement shouldn’t be controversial for the sake of being controversial. It should also be specific so that you don’t have to write a dissertation just to prove your point.

Structure, structure, structure

Learning how to structure essays allowed me to write essays that practically wrote themselves.

Generally, essays follow much of the same structure as written prose where you have the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

How you structure all these “pillars” won’t vary much from essay to essay. It’s the content within the introduction and body that will differ depending on the essay.

When I outline, I draw out the basic skeleton of the intro, body, and conclusion. Then, I divide the body into points I want to elaborate on. That’s one paragraph per point.

What I’ve found to be particularly useful is including quotes directly into the outline with page numbers. That saves me the trouble of having to fish through text later on.

Below is a basic example of an outline for a personal statement that I wrote for my dad.

The example above is good for a basic breakdown of my outlining process.

Below is a more advanced outline. I’ll show you an excerpt.

Part 2

The anatomy of an essay

Now that we know the different essay types and the general techniques needed to write one, let’s walk through what it’s like actually writing an essay.

The essay writing process follows the following format:


Everything begins with a topic. You may get the topic from a prompt, or you may get the chance to pick one on your own.

Choosing your own topic can be both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, that means picking a topic you’re passionate about. On the other hand, you might choose a topic that’s not worth writing a paper about. So, choose wisely

compare and contrast

Blogging vs. online journalism

expository essay

Stretch marks

persuasive essay topic

Whether procrastination has any benefit


A successful essay relies on orderly thoughts. That’s why structure is so important. And, as you saw earlier, an outline is all about structure. It’s okay if the outline changes as you write your essay, at least you have a working format.

At this point, you can pick whether you want a rigid format or a more flexible one which also depends on the kind of essay you are writing. Again, you can always change the format later should need arise.

You have two main options for structuring your outline: a diagram or a list.

To use the diagram option, place the subject in the center of the paper and either circle it or enclose it in a rectangle. Off this topic, create about five branches which will cover the main points of the essay. From these points, you can have sub-points which further expound on the main ideas.

Cause and effect essays and comparative essays are best outlined with diagrams.

If you choose to work with a list outline, then have the topic on top and proceed to create a bulleted list of the main ideas.

Below each, leave some space for the points to cover under each argument. You can intersperse these points with sources.


In a few lines, the thesis should lay out the scope of the essay and what it will entail. You derive the thesis statement from the topic and the main ideas you have sketched out in the outline.

compare and contrast essay

This essay seeks to demonstrate that while blogging and online journalism share similarities, they are different professions and ways to share information.

expository essay

Instead of going for expensive solutions which may not work, this essay will look at practical ways of getting rid of stretch marks using methods like ingesting hyaluronic acid capsules, applying a sugar scrub, increasing consumption of vitamin A, and applying coconut oil and using Aloe Vera.

persuasive essay

Procrastination is not a character flaw but a mental resource.


The introduction should hook the reader. There are several options to use when looking capture attention including the following.

1. Shocking information — You can open your introduction with startling details to make the reader be alarmed and attach importance to what you have to say. However, the information you use has to be valid and verifiable. It may even be information the reader perhaps already knows, but you give it a sense of urgency. Still, the statement has to be a clear illustration of what you have to say, and you should follow up with a sentence or two elaborating on it.

2. Anecdote — A simple story can also serve the purpose because it gives a different perspective and makes your essay relatable. If you choose the anecdote option, keep it simple and to the point and be sure it is relevant to your position. For these reasons, the use of an anecdote is the most challenging of options. A simpler way to use it will be tying it to a relevant quote and giving a background of the quote.

3. Dialogue — Using a conversation has quite a dramatic effect of making someone notice your introduction. You do not even need to identify the speakers, but the dialogue which should not go past three exchanges has to be understood by the reader. As always, relevancy is essential here. A conversation offers ample space to create the debate or different viewpoints you want to address in the essay.

4. Summary Information — Using a summary of the essay for the introduction provides a straightforward way of writing an introduction. All you have to do is give an overview of the essay with each subsequent line being more specific until you get to the thesis statement.

The thesis will come as the last sentence in the introduction. Regardless of the way you decide to style your start, remember to make it short and relevant to the thesis.

compare and contrast

The internet revolutionized journalism. The model where a reporter or correspondent would only write for print publications such as magazines and newspapers is non-existent. News articles nowadays appear in websites as they do in print publications. In some instances, traditional print publications have closed up and have adopted a fully online model. This transition has redefined the title and publishing domain of journalists, and it has also clashed with the emergence of another actor in the sphere of information dissemination, the blogger. This essay seeks to demonstrate that while blogging and online journalism share similarities, they are different professions and ways to share information.

expository essay

“How to get rid of stretch marks” receives 49,500 searches a month on Google. There’s a ready market of skin care products ready to meet the needs of unsatisfied customers. A recent study by Transparency Market Research projects the skin care industry to be worth 1.99 billion dollars by 2025. Instead of going for expensive solutions which may not work, this essay will look at practical ways of getting rid of stretch marks using methods like ingesting hyaluronic acid capsules, applying a sugar scrub, increasing consumption of vitamin A, and applying coconut oil and using Aloe Vera.

persuasive essay

Most people have procrastinated at least once in their life. Given the resulting disappointment and frustrations it causes to multiple parties, procrastination is easily dismissed as a character flaw; procrastination is not a character flaw, but a trait that can be beneficial in every day life.


The central part of your essay is the body. It is where you present all of your main ideas.

Each of the main ideas in the outline you created stands alone in their paragraph. The first paragraph should carry your strongest argument. Consider it as the second anchor after your thesis statement.

The first sentence of every paragraph should be a topic sentence. The topic sentence should address the main idea. The subsequent sentences should then elaborate on the idea with examples. This structure will be the same one used by the rest of the paragraphs in the body.

compare and contrast

Comparing online journalism and blogging, one discovers several similarities. First, they all rely on writing, and this is usually done on a website platform. In general, bloggers and journalists are skilled writers who are well versed in the subjects they are writing on or have the requisite research skills to get the right information. Online journalism and blogging also require a more than passive knowledge on how digital media works including aspects like search engine optimization and the relevancy of mobile platforms. Often, bloggers and online journalists are compensated for their work, or they own the platforms they write on getting revenue from other streams like advertising.

expository essay

Increasing vitamin A consumption to get rid of stretch may seem like overstating its importance, but in reality, this is an effective home solution. As the reputable health online magazine Healthline notes, “Simply using a topical extract of vitamin A, or taking vitamin A orally, can contribute to your skin’s health and overall appearance.” Vitamin A is a retinoid which is a group of nutrients that have the effect of making the skin look smoother and softer. It explains why vitamin A is found in many topical creams. Therefore increasing your intake of the vitamin either topically or orally will lead to noticeable changes in your stretch marks over time.

persuasive essay

Several arguments support and prove the position stated in the thesis. Firstly, procrastination acts like an index or marker. On the one hand, it can help you identify your main priorities. No one frets over small tasks or puts off simple things like the dusting off a table. Whatever makes you shirk whether it is writing a report, attending to a pressing matter, an important call to be made, the more you put it off, the more likely it will be your main priority. On the other hand, the delays may be an indication that you are pushing yourself too hard and your body needs a break. This latter explanation would be the reason why despite all your efforts and preparation you cannot get the task done.


This is the final piece of the puzzle. It’s always good to close well. The conclusion should not have new information you have not raised elsewhere.You should also try not to copy/paste your introduction. For example, if you’re writing a persuasive piece, the conclusion is your opportunity to drive home your most important arguments.

Tip: “In conclusion” is not exactly a professional way to end your essay. Try to find another way to naturally transition into your closing statements.

compare and contrast

Online journalism and blogging may appear similar at a cursory glance thanks to the few similarities they share. However, they remain different practices, even though online journalists can and usually do engage in blogging. Distinct differences such as training, ethics they adhere to, objectivity and the process followed ensure these two cannot be considered as the same thing. As such, readers have to practice extra care to ensure they do not take everything on the internet as journalistic or even objective and factual.

expository essay

The practical solutions discussed above including the use of a sugar scrub, Aloe Vera, coconut oil, intake of hyaluronic acid capsules and vitamin A consumption are readily available. They have also been proven effective and are generally safe compared to most other cosmetic products which are more expensive. You may need to consult with your physician in case you have any allergies or reaction to the natural ingredients.

persuasive essay

As illustrated, procrastination does not have to be a bad thing, and it is not a flaw in character. Unlike the negative reputation it has been associated with including being branded as laziness, it is a standard psychological mechanism. It serves the purpose of slowing you down, and if you embrace it, this will allow you to sort out your priorities, give your body a rest or gather all the information needed to make a decision.

Final Words

If you’re going to remember anything from this article, remember the importance of outlining.

You don’t have to be an excellent writer to draft good outlines. Once you’ve got your outline down, you’ll notice a marked improvement in essays.

I’ve left an infographic for you to pin up, just in case you need a bit of inspiration. Don’t forget to share this content with anyone who needs help improving their essays!

Check out my stories on Open Manual

Other articles you might like:

His&Her Story

Read stories featuring perspectives that are often shut out from the media

Raji Ayinla

Written by

Legal Assistant at Cervantes Law; Online Editor of New England Law Review; JD candidate 2022; Owner of; email queries to

His&Her Story

Read stories featuring perspectives that are often shut out from the media

Raji Ayinla

Written by

Legal Assistant at Cervantes Law; Online Editor of New England Law Review; JD candidate 2022; Owner of; email queries to

His&Her Story

Read stories featuring perspectives that are often shut out from the media

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store