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What Makes a Good Essay?

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Over the course of your studies, you have probably been asked to write an essay. So what exactly is an essay? What are its components? How do you write a good one? Read on for some helpful tips!

What is an Essay?
Generally, an essay is a written piece that presents an argument or the unique point of view of the author. They can be either “formal” or “informal.” “Formal” refers to essays that are done for a scholarly or professional purpose.

“Informal” essays, conversely, express personal tastes and interests, and can have an unconventional writing structure. Essays are meant to provide a platform for writers to express their ideas within a specific type of format.

What are the Different Types of Essays?
There are many different types of essays, each with their own individual purpose and method of presenting information to the reader. Here are the most common:

1. Narrative: Usually written about a personal experience, these tell a story to the reader.

2. Argumentative: Requires research on a topic, collection of evidence, and establishing a clear position based on that evidence.

3. Descriptive: The writer must describe an object, person, place, experience, emotion, etc., and is usually granted some stylistic freedom.

4. Expository: Often in a “compare and contrast” format, this also requires an original thesis statement and paragraphs that link back to a central idea.

What Makes a Good Essay?
To construct a well-formed essay, you need to include several different key components. These are vital to ensuring that the reader is convinced of your argument, hooked on your story, or adequately informed on your topic.

Almost all essays should be broken into four parts: Intro, Body, Conclusion, and Citations. Within these four parts, be sure to include the following components:

Introduction
Your introductory paragraph should serve to frame the rest of your paper in the reader’s mind. Think of it like a preview; you want them to move forward from here with a clear understanding of what the central idea of your paper is.

In order to frame the central idea, many essays contain a thesis statement, which is a one or two sentence phrase that captures the theme of the paper. These should be as specific as possible, and should be included as the last part of your intro paragraph.

Example thesis statement:
Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
Body
The body of your essay is where your evidence is presented and/or your point of view is made clear to the reader. Each body paragraph should further the central theme you put forth in your thesis statement.

The body paragraphs should each include a topic sentence that drives the rest of the paragraph, and relates back to the thesis statement. Be sure to include transition sentences between paragraphs to ensure a nice flow to your writing.

Within each paragraph on a specific idea, present any outside evidence that you have used to formulate your idea. Here is where you should be sure to include any necessary in-text citations, whether they be in MLA format, APA format, etc.

Conclusion
Your conclusion paragraph should neatly wrap up all of your ideas and evidence, calling the reader back to your original thesis statement. A good way to conclude your writing is to restate your thesis statement or central idea in a different way, making sure to include the main points you made in your paper.

If you are having trouble formulating your essay’s conclusion, read through your paper and then say to yourself “So what?” This helps to summarize the main idea of your paper in your mind.

Make sure that your reader is left with an impression or something to think about in relation to your topic. This is a hallmark of an effective essay. This is most important in argumentative essays.

Citations
Depending on what citation format your teacher prefers (MLA format, APA format, etc.), you should include a reference list at the end of your essay, which lists the outside sources where you attained information while creating your paper.

The citations in your reference list should include any sources that you have referenced within the body of your essay using in-text or parenthetical citations.

For help with creating citations, check out the citation guides on BibMe here http://playground.bibme.org/citation-guide.

Finally, always remember to proofread your essay before handing it in to your teacher!

Four Steps for STEM Majors to Rock that Next Paper

STEM students everywhere feel the pain of writing assignments. As people who would rather spend their time working with numbers and figures, sitting down to write a paper can seem so tedious and boring. But effective communication is one of the most important skills we can learn in college, as it’ll help us stand out when we express ourselves. STEM students with writing abilities are super valuable!

Even if you are only required to take one writing class, it’s important that you use this opportunity to enhance your skills and build confidence in your own writing. With online tools like the BibMe Plus grammar and plagiarism tool, writing becomes much less intimidating.

While you’re working on your writing, approach the assignment like any other math problem you would tackle. You can work out your writing using four steps: identify the problem, show your work, cut out unnecessary steps, and check your final answer.

1. Identify the problem

The most crucial part of your paper is your argument or the problem to be considered. When thinking through your thesis, go through and review several, peer-reviewed sources. Academic sources can be scary, but they contain the research you need to make your points.

After you’ve done research, craft your thesis statement to capture the essence of the problem. One trick is to rephrase the assignment as a question and then make sure your thesis answers that question. Clearly identify the problem or discussion that is of interest and communicate that you understand the problem from all angles.

Writing your paper will be so much more exciting if you can find a topic that interests you, too. You might even be able to find a subject that relates to science or math in some way.

2.     Show your work

Showing your work means that you provide clear and reasoned evidence as to how you are developing your argument while incorporating outside information. This evidence should come from outside sources and try to show various views of an argument.

This will make the stated claims clear and your writing easy to understand. Clearly point your reader in the correct direction, using logical steps that follow one another.

Also important: cite your sources so others can confirm or read more on the evidence you’ve used. If you don’t know which citation style to use, ask your professor. Commonly used citation styles include MLA format, APA format, and Chicago Manual of Style.

3. Cut out unnecessary steps

It’s tempting but don’t try to impress your teacher by using the biggest words or the longest, most complicated sentences you can think of. This will make the paper hard to follow. Simple and clear is always better, just like when solving an equation.

Even if you have a gigantic assignment, you still have to cut out the fluff. This means actively checking for lengthy or wordy sentences and avoiding passive voice. For example, instead of:

The cake was baked by Mary.

You’d write:

Mary baked the cake.

Writing assignments in college require active voice, which can be a tough transition from the lab reports that require passive constructions. After you’ve written your draft, read it aloud. Listen for passive voice, and circle any words that you’re not quite sure about. After that, cut out any words that are unnecessary and revise until your writing is as clear as you can make it.

4. Check your final answer

Any time you solve a math problem, it is a good idea to check your work to make sure that your answer makes sense. Writing is no different!

Nailing a smooth flow and good writing transitions on the first try can be tough. Try making a flowchart with one-word descriptors of each paragraph, and rearrange them until you find the order that makes the most sense if your organization doesn’t seem right. Your topic sentences should serve as your roadmap, so ensure that these follow each other logically. Reviewing the flow of your argument is always a great last step in writing!

Being a mathematician or a scientist means that you will have to explain your work to the world, and mastering writing is the key to spreading your ideas and your accomplishments. The good thing is that there’s likely no need to drastically change or enhance your writing. Approaching your assignments like any STEM exercise is a great way to make you feel more at ease. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that be from your TA, a tutor, or your campus writing center. Just take the assignment one step at a time.


Trying to remember how linking verbs work? Need a refresher on what is a prepositional phrase? Looking for an interjection to use in your next paper? Check out our BibMe grammar guides for help with the above and more!

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