“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
—Louis L’Amour

Writing an Essay? Here Are 10 Effective Tips

Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.

Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with B’s and A-minuses.

I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.

writing an essay

Writing an essay? Don’t pull your hair out. Here are 10 tips to write a great essay. Photo by Stuart Pilbrow (Creative Commons)

However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it.

That’s right. Fun.

Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard?

Here are a few reasons:

  • You’d rather be scrolling through Facebook.
  • You’re trying to write something your teacher or professor will like.
  • You’re trying to get an A instead of writing something that’s actually good.
  • You want to do the least amount of work possible.

The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external rewards like getting a passing grade or our teacher’s approval. The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.

Why?

Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity. What this means practically is that when you’re trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, you’re turning off most of your best resources.

Just stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a “good-enough” essay). Instead, write an interesting essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when you’re finished, go back and edit it until it’s “good” according to your teacher’s standards.

Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise you’ll have a lot more fun writing.

10 Tips to Writing a Great Essay

Ready to get writing? Here are my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade!

1. Your essay is just a story.

Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas, the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.

That means that the best essays are about surprise, “You probably think it’s one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way.” See tip #3 for more on this.

2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “How can I have the most fun writing this?”

It’s normal to feel unmotivated when writing an essay. I’m a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.

Here’s the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:

How much fun can I have writing this?”

Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun. Here’s another sneaky question to ask yourself when you really don’t want to write:

How can I finish this as quickly as possible?

Give it a try!

3. As you research, ask yourself, “What surprises me about this subject?”

The temptation, when you’re writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read. Don’t do this. Instead, ask yourself, “What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?”

If you can’t think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then you’re not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimming over with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, “We used to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.”

As you research your essay topic, search for this story of surprise, and don’t start writing until you can find it.

(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)

4. Overwhelmed? Just write five original sentences.

The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences, surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences. Here’s what they might look like:

  • Thesis: While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
  • Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
  • Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
  • Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, they will write better essays.
  • Conclusion: Writing an essay doesn’t have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.

After you write your five sentences, it’s easy to fill in the paragraphs they will find themselves in.

Now, you give it a shot!

5. Be “source heavy.”

In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful, but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.

As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I just quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasn’t quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.

When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very “source” heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me A’s. Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research well, which some students find easier.

6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.

Introductions are often the hardest part to write because you’re trying to summarize your entire essay before you’ve even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.

7. Most essays answer the question, “What?” Good essays answer the “Why?” The best essays answer the “How?”

If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or you’re struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, “How?” For example:

  • How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in The Catcher In the Rye?
  • How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
  • How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?

If you focus on how, you’ll always have enough to write about.

8. Don’t be afraid to jump around.

Essay writing can be a dance. You don’t have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end. Give yourself the freedom to write as if you’re circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.

9. Here are some words and phrases you don’t want to use.

  • You (You’ll notice I use a lot of you’s, which is great for a blog post. However, in an essay, it’s better to omit the second-person.)
  • Clichés
  • Some
  • That
  • Things
  • To Be verbs

Don’t have time to edit? Here’s a lightning-quick editing technique.

A note about “I”: Some teachers say you shouldn’t use “I” statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion,” especially in their introductions.

10. It’s okay to use Wikipedia, if…

Wikipedia isn’t just one of the top 5 websites in the world, it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors don’t consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays. However, here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:

  • Background research. If you don’t know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
  • Find sources. Check the reference section of Wikipedia’s articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and site them.

In Conclusion…

The thing I regret  most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.

The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world don’t have access to. It’s a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I don’t want you to make the mistake of just “getting by” through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.

How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?

All I’m saying is, don’t miss out!

More Resources:

How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay?

PRACTICE

Use tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.

When you’re finished, share your five sentences in the comments section.

And remember, have fun!

Free Guide: Want to become a writer? Get our free 10-step guide to becoming a writer here and accomplish your dream today. Click here to download your guide instantly.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Good pointers, Joe. I could have used this advice 50 years ago when I was in college. I’m sure it would have been a great help.
    Adelaide

  • Cassandra

    Ironically, this essay was published right after I completed all my work for my English BA. 🙂 Overall, this is pretty good advice– why NOT write a fun essay? You know the professors are reading not only the papers of your classmates, but also the essays of students in their other classes. I have also used wikipedia as a way to find general information or additional citations. I have also tried a variation of #4 and #8, where you jot down some ideas to focus the essay before filling the paragraphs out. It’s how I write in general. It’s so much easier to write that way, since otherwise if I try to write straight through, I just start editing and stop writing. I do differ on #6, though. I have to write the introduction first– otherwise, I can’t lay out the other paragraphs. The intro is where my thesis is, and the beauty of a word processor is that it is easy to go back and just rewrite the thesis if it’s not totally working. But even with this help, there are professors (in several areas besides English, like history, psychology, and art) who love my writing, and classes where most people including myself are getting Bs, and nobody in the class knows who are getting the As. You could write the BEST essay ever, but it’s just not for THAT professor. Sometimes it felt like the trick was learning how to write an essay for a particular professor who wouldn’t really tell you want they wanted, and was just trial and error to figure out what they wanted. Those are just my thoughts since I actually felt like I had something to say on one of these helpful articles. 🙂

  • maha

    As anon native English speaker Can I borrow other writers’ phrases , sentences or expressions for my story especially I need to use the Dictionary sometimes,without being scandalous .or turned down (did I used it correctly ) And while Iam reading I discover a new wide variety of vocabulary which I admire a lot .

    • Unfortunately, that would be plagiarism, Maha. Sorry!

      • Maha

        So why do we have to read a lot before we start writing ,if it isn’t or couldn’t consider to be a dictionary?

        • Maha

          I looked for Plagiarism in the dictionary ;I found it is stealing ideas but I didn’t talk about that .I talked about the words that are used , be sure I have my own ideas .Example:stepped away & walked;
          that one ( writer ) used one of the previous verbs to get someone went away from some one else , and I want him to get away from a door for example or a phone ,what’s wrong ?

  • Pingback: You Need to Ask this Question Every Time You Sit Down to Write()

  • Pingback: 3 Easy-to-Use Tools to Count Your Words()

  • Hi Joe, Great points. I wish I had paid closer attention in school. I did not have the desire or the opportunity to go to college but I have written all of my life and just now realizing I can be a writer and publish on my own.

  • Sidney G Fox

    OK – using tip [I can’t remember how to do the hashtag and I only have fifteen minutes so I don’t want to go and look it up, so…] ‘hashtag’ 4, to write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay…
    Using an essay writing prompt when you have no need to write an essay can be beneficial in many ways.
    Writing in any form allows, in my opinion, the writer to express thoughts and create a piece of writing.
    Personally, I think an essay about writing essays could be interesting and fun, and almost certainly challenging; though it’s possible I’ve had too much coffee this morning and am failing to grasp the purpose of this prompt… either way, I’m writing – and writing is good for me. It’s making me smile.
    That was only four sentences but one of them was pretty long and fragmented.

    Thanks, Joe 🙂

    And I didn’t use my fifteen minutes up so now I have time to
    {alt key and press 3}
    #

  • Adam Hughes

    Thanks for the tips, Joe. I don’t have occasion to write a lot of essays these days, but I do need to write tech specs and internal white papers fairly regularly. Here is a five-sentence skeleton from my “day job.”

    Information technology as a career has traditionally been considered a bastion for technofiles who have little to offer beyond tweaking computer programs, but true success in modern IT requires a well-rounded world view and the ability to effectively interact with and influence others.

    While previous generations of technology professionals may have been able to succeed by learning one or more core technologies, today’s fast-changing tech landscape requires a nimble mind in order to remain relevant.

    Beyond the need to learn quickly and often, IT staff in the 21st century must be able to communicate effectively with stakeholders in all areas of the business.

    In fact, today’s technology professionals are in a position to positively transform their organizations by translating powerful technological capabilities into consumable information that business influencers can understand and embrace.

    The days of choosing a career in IT because you want to hide away in an office and write obscure software are over. The technology leaders of today must work in partnership with our customers to effect real competitive advantages.

    • This sounds like an essay I would enjoy reading, and I’m not even an IT person.

      • Thanks, Erica. Maybe I’ll write the full thing some day.

  • Thanks for the amazing post 🙂 Really great points ..

  • Pingback: Session 6 (10/22/14): Recap, Assignment, & Further Reading | Niteo Writing Seminar()

  • Guest

    kgnflgnlhgl

  • One more tip – ask the right question and give the right answer. When it comes to essay writing – asking the right questions is a main thing.

  • I get many confused looks whenever I tell people I have a degree in English yet hated writing papers in college. I wish I had taken the time to learn how to write one properly, so then they might not have sucked all the fun out of my life back then. I struggled to get Cs on my papers (granted, I usually waited ’til the night before to write them – such a bad habit for me). Anyway, I took a stab at the prompt and here are the results:

    Title: Why The World Needs More Adoptive Families
    Thesis: Adoption can be a rewarding and beneficial experience, despite its own unique challenges.
    Body #1: Even though being raised by biological parents is the ideal, the reality is that adoption is likely the best option for children who are already waiting for a permanent family.
    Body #2: Thousands of children age out foster care each year without the support system of a stable family.
    Body #3: Supporting adoption is a Biblical mandate, regardless of one’s personal ministry calling.
    Conclusion: Adoption isn’t for everyone, but the need is great enough that more families must step up to meet it.

  • thompsonamy

    Great post to read, keep on updating new posts. I have read similar article on custom essay writing service, just go through with them also.

  • Pingback: 10 Steps to Express Yourself Better in Writing()

  • Great tips to creative writing…

  • ElminaKenley

    Writing or composing is a craftsmanship, while composing, put conclusions toward the starting: Think of a transformed pyramid when you compose. Become acquainted with point in the first passage, then develop it. Prepare to have your mind blown. I got these tips from paper composing administrations which is the reason I have succeeded in life. Joe thank you for giving me great deal of help to writing an authentic essay.

  • It is hard to find a reliable college essay website these days due to the surge of websites claiming to write the best essay for college admissions. In my opinion turning an essay into a great story will be the winning point for any candidate.

  • Ivga Stark

    Have you heard about first writing service. It provides a lot of useful papers, and help students to get higher mark, because here work only a high-qualified writer. Just check it, you might be interested.

  • Ujin

    I think it’s nice to do a checklist for those, who a starting to write essay 🙂
    And for those who have not enough time to finish -i recommend http://essay4you.net/
    Really fast and professional. Just grab, all what you already have and go there.

  • Masura

    I’m very happy to read about college essay papers
    online
    . I’ll be recurring to your blog for extra soon

  • efrain

    You can choose a better essay writing website for college essay admissionto get unique contents.

  • efrain

    You can choose a better essay writing website for college essay admission writings to get unique contents.

  • efrain

    you can choose a best essay writing website for college essay admission writings.

  • BigBuggyMan

    If you want tp write well such articles and essay, you can find a lot of themes on this site http://www.bestaessays.com

  • immaculateAMG

    I hate writing essay’s

  • Shane Nelson

    Joe, thank you so much for this! I was in a bit of a writing slump and this was exactly the read I needed.

  • Pingback: Breakfast Blend 10.02.14 | Scribblepreach.com()

  • Pingback: How can you make your writing more you? | ✿Enriching My Soul✿()

  • Оля Клименко

    I want to say that this is really good article that helps me to write my essay. Because as for me essay is so hard. But after reading this I understand that this is not so hard. When I need help to write a paper It can be done byhttp://writepaper4me.com/

  • Olga Klymenko

    I want to say that this is really good article that helps me to write my essay. Because as for me essay is so hard. But after reading this I understand that this is not so hard. When I need help to write a paper It can be done byhttp://writepaper4me.com/

  • Stella Aldrin

    Excellent tips you have provided to write an essay. I used to get worried about writing essay and I was actually looking for essay rewriting services online but after reading your post, I will try myself first. Thanks.

  • David carjon

    Everybody try to write best essay.If i write best essay,i will try to best essay help on myself.So, help of myself is best help.

  • Pingback: 100 Writing Practice Lessons & Exercises()

  • Mark Tween

    Would you mind if I will make link on your artilce from our website – http://custom-essay.ca ?

  • Jonny

    Hi, guys, I’ve released free tool for generating topics for essays. Can you test it? http://essaytopicgenerator.com/

  • Writers Celebrate this Halloween week with us

    Halloween party ideas 2015

    Halloween 2015

  • Daniella

    Thank you for your wonderful tips on writing an essay. How do u suggest we gather information for an essay for example, a school essay(narrative, argumentative and reflective)

  • Luis Islas

    how about an opinion essay what advice would you give me

  • dgIT Applications
  • I am happy I came by this post at the right time. http://www.cutewriters.com. Thank you for the good work. may the Lord bless you.

  • Pingback: 10 Tips to Write an Essay and Actually Enjoy It()

  • dduggerbiocepts

    Joe,

    I’m so glad to see you used Wikipedia as source tool. As someone that is more of a technical writer, research scientist/business man and who sells his work in the form of technical reports and occasional publications – I am a huge proponent of Wikipedia. There is no better way for the average person to research a subject (and that is a fact, see below). I am always saddened when I run into some severely handicapped uninformed soul who thinks that Wikipedia is not a valid source because it isn’t on paper. Few people take the time to read the comparison studies that have been done regarding the accuracy of Wikipedia and other encyclopedic sources – and none of which are 100% accurate and or unbiased. The first of such comparisons was done by Nature in 2005:

    “For its study, Nature chose articles from both sites in a wide range of topics and sent them to what it called “relevant” field experts for peer review. The experts then compared the competing articles–one from each site on a given topic–side by side, but were not told which article came from which site. Nature got back 42 usable reviews from its field of experts.

    In the end, the journal found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.”

    Since 2005 there have been several other comparisons and Wikipedia fairs very well in all. One article I found in Forbes also reveals a curious phenomenon, conservative personality types tend to have a general bias against Wikipedia – and are also uninformed as to accuracy. Not unlike conservative college professors who have biases against even high quality online courses. Never underestimate the limitations of the conservative personality type.

    Here are some the references I’ve found:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v440/n7084/full/440582b.html

    http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/08/02/seven-years-after-nature-pilot-study-compares-wikipedia-favorably-to-other-encyclopedias-in-three-languages/

    Conservative bias and Wikipedia

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/01/20/wikipedia-or-encyclopaedia-britannica-which-has-more-bias/

    • I love your thinking. Wikipedia is a great site. It provides directions and the general knowledge from a broad perspective. Many thanks for your references. I shall dig deeper and develop my writing skills.

  • LaCresha Lawson

    Luke Ramirez

    July 16 2015

    Essay

    Ms. Lawson

    Do you love mom? You
    really should. Mom is the one who loves you. Here are some reasons why I LOVE
    my mom!!!

    My mom gives me food.
    She gave birth to me. She loves me and likes me a lot…. She gives me clothes.
    She lets me live. She helps me learn how to type. She wants me to be smart. She
    gives me discipline. My mom is the best mom in the world.

    Always look up to your
    mom unless she is on drugs or something. You should always love your mom. She’s
    the one who went through pain for you. She’s awesomeness thing you could ever
    have.

    (My son’s hilarious essay for all to view!) Also, bear with him because he is just starting.

  • lotus Renulat

    Hey Joe ! Thank you for your wonderful advices. I struggle a lot during essay writings but if I use your tips correctly, I’m sure I will get better results. Thanks a lot Joe 🙂

  • immaculateAMG

    I totally agree with you 100 percent

    • LaCresha Lawson

      I hate writing in APA. The citing. The reference page has to be perfect. Getting my Masters was so frustrating at times. I had to write a 30 page thesis. At least with essays, you don’t have to if it doesn’t apply. When helping my son with his we had a title page and cited only if necessary and providing a reference page. His teacher loved that because he is in middle school. The paper was really professionally written. He got a solid A.

  • analsuck

    thank you

  • fuckmyhairyass

    i want you to want me joe

  • joecrazy

    thanks

  • i dont get tired i eat booty

    you the real mvp

  • 69bootyeater

    thank u

  • cherryspice

    This is the best advice on essays I’ve read in a long time. I’m about to write an essay and am a bit rusty. However, I’ve written a few over the course of my studies and the ones that got the best marks were the ones where I applied the sort of techniques you write about here… thanks for the refresh!

  • Pingback: 10 tips that are ACTUALLY effective for writing | cosmicanagrams()

  • Pingback: Tips to Enjoy Writing | eBook Cover Blog()

  • Charisse Samano

    I read the whole thing in a woman’s voice oops! But great tips! Will be using those tomorrow!

  • This is great. We just apply the tips together with other sweetness to provide the best writing experience in our work.

  • This is a real inspiration man, keep up that same spirit.

  • deez nuts

    I started reading this instead of doing my essay…

    • MinecraftWierdio

      yeah me too

      • guadab17

        i got an essay due tommorow morning and yet here i am

  • Lillian wood (Lilly)

    I am having so much trouble writing my essay and even though these are great points and i can probably use them, I cant get my brain to use them. I really need help and i don’t even know how to begin to ask.

  • Person

    Thanks this helped a lot

  • Pingback: Apathy and the Writing Assignment | UofL Writing Center()

  • Luk

    I like how easily you describe the whole essay writing process. If you are interested at its continuation, you may read one more article pertaining to essay writing. Click on http://bigessaywriter.com/blog/7-most-effective-essay-writing-techniques to read the entire piece!

  • MobiusKnot

    Great points. Just a question, is it okay if we use let’s give it a try as a suggestion at the end of conclusion paragraph?Thanks

  • Ann Joseph

    Very good points. Actually writing essay is a very difficult task to students. Your points will help those students. Wikipedia is a good reference. http://academic-essay-writing-service.blogspot.in/

  • Nice tips Joe! I would also advise using this nice tool http://elitewritings.com/topic-generator.html to choose a topic of the paper

  • Jane Li

    Great article! Helps me get past my fear of writing for grad school