How to write an academic essay

Generally, an academic essay is a piece of writing on a particular subject that involves presentation of an argument and communication. An essay may also be an analytic or interpretive composition. The essay must have the topic of that is what you want to say about the subject An essay may take various forms depending on the thing being that is being discussed or dealt with or that gives rise to the writing of an essay. Generally, the approach is that an academic essay must be structured in the following manner: an introduction; body and a conclusion. There are various steps that one may take in coming with a good essay.


The question seeks to examine and investigate on various steps that can be adopted in coming up with a good essay.  This paper is going to discuss the sequence of procedures in writing an essay in chronological order. Arranging and organise the essay in order helps the writer to eliminate chances of neglecting significant information. According to Brass (2002), following steps helps to avert unnecessary information duplication.


The first step in writing a good academic essay is to select a subject cautiously and the writer should take note of the amount of time needed to write the essay and the time that you have, the length of the paper, the targeted audience and the availability of the resources to accomplish it (Hinkel, 2003). The writer needs to verify if there is available for example from textbooks, library and other various source of information. The writer must confirm whether there is a reasonable amount of information that is available on the subject he or she chooses. Basically, availability of information will help the writer to make an informed decision about the topic. For example, if there are a number of essay topics to choose from, the recommended approach would be to choose the topic for which information is most readily available. Having information at disposal also helps the writer to shape his topic and arguments as well. According to Krause (2001), having a clue of what you are going to write eliminates the chances of selecting controversial and sensational subjects that are not scholarly, or too technical, or will only restate the research material.


In situations, where there are selected essays, the writer must understand the essay question, words used and what is being demanded by the essay. According Wiggins and McTighe (2005), the writer must understand every word in the question to avoid misunderstanding and ending up with a poor essay. Some essay questions may be vexing or complex and an appreciation of them is vital as failure to do so maybe very critical. The writer must identify key words and key areas in the essay. This is important because some of the words contained in an essay demand explanations or definitions. Without a good understanding of the question it would not be possible to come up with a good essay. Even if the writer comes up with a brilliant article, if it does not answer the original question it would be marked down and is not considered a good academic essay.


The next step after selecting the topic is to narrow the topic you have chosen and this can be achieved if the writer has come across certain information for example from related textbooks, articles, essays and journals. In trying to narrow the topic the writer must take note of the characters involved, major issues arising, and his or her opinions regarding the topic. Goodson (2002) suggests that, the writer must also consider the importance of his/her topic, whether there is problem that had arisen as well its time and sphere of influence. These factors will help the writer to narrow the topic. For example, the writer may want to write about factors affecting the life of Zimbabweans in three pages. The topic may be narrowed to economic factors affecting Zimbabwe because the first question may be too broader because there are political-social factors which also play a part. A focussed essay which is written after narrowing the topic can clearly focus on the subject in a manner which leaves the reader without any doubts as to what the writer wishes to communicate, making it a good essay.


The next step in coming up with a good academic essay, after narrowing the topic is to define the objectives of the essay. The writer must create a thesis statement that describes how he/she is going to express himself or herself.  According to Glatton and Joyner (2005), the thesis statement is important to guide the essay writer on the choice of resource materials to be used. For example, the writer’s thesis statement may be “Drought has a devastating effect on rural livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe.” After coming up with such a thesis statement, the writer has a clear objective in that their essay seeks to expose the devastating effects which drought has on rural livelihoods. Having a clear objective guides the writer and ensures that they come up with a good essay without straying from the intended subject or topic.


The writer must identify the sources to be used and this will form a preliminary bibliography. The writer will identify the potential sources of information before they start working on the essay. Generally, as the writer researches more, more relevant sources will be gathered cumulatively. The writer must consider the work of prominent scholars for use in their essay in order to come up with a good essay. The writer also needs to identify dissenting scholars on the relevant subject and the writer needs to evaluate the information from those various sources. According to Hernandez (2003) they need do this by previewing each source, checking the table of contents and index, finding relevant chapters and skimming them. By studying various sources, the writer gains insight into the prevailing perspectives and controversies on the topic making sure they do not use information which has been discredited or proved wrong, and also that they gain familiarity with the subject’s terminology in order to write a good academic essay.


The next thing the writer needs to do to come up with a good academic essay is to prepare a working outline. A working outline is imperative since it gives direction to the writer’s note taking. The writer needs to do an assessment to check whether there is limited information about the topic or there is incompatible information. This is necessary for rephrasing or re-planning. The working outline provides a firm a guideline and a starting point during the time of taking notes. At this stage the writer is required to note down areas to be tackled through identifying topics. De La Paz, Graham (2002) suggest that, the areas should be developed into topics and subtopics for example, the writer have this thesis statement: “Drought has a devastating effect on rural livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe”. The working outline would contain some of natural causes, artificial causes, effects to the people, environment and animals, coping strategies. The working outline focuses the writer and guides their information search, enabling them to come up with a good essay which is not off topic.


After preparing the working outline, the writer can start preparation of notes. According to Barrass (2002), the notes must be related to identified topics mentioned in the outline and help the writer to prepare a final outline. The notes must be identifiable with a certain source because this will be later be used for making the reference section and the writer is entitled to cite all sources used. The notes must be written in writer’s own words. They must summarise the information to reduce the content of the information. By taking notes ,the writer gives themselves the opportunity to collect as much information as possible pertaining their topic so that the final essay is a good product.


The writer may have the final outline and in this case, the writer will further divide the major topics into sub-topics. For example, the writer may have a topics focusing on the effects on drought on people and this topic may be subdivided into subtopics like hunger and death of people. This final outline will replicate the organisational approach adopted by the writer and must be in order; however, this may vary with type of essay. Preparing a final outline gives the writer the launching pad for writing a coherent and good academic essay.


After coming with the final outline, the writer must start to prepare the rough draft that is subject to revision in order to collect mistakes of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Engestrom (2009) suggest that, the purpose of the rough draft is to expand the ideas developed in the note taking process. The format must comply with formalities of writing an essay and it must have an introduction, body and a conclusion. The purpose of an introduction is to summarise the writers’ work and must reflect the ideas of the writer to attract the attention of the reader.  The body of the essay will then give the information from the writer’s outline. The conclusion must then summarise the findings of the writer and regurgitate the thesis. Preparing a rough draft before actually writing the essay ensures that the essay will be good since there will be opportunity to eliminate spelling and grammatical errors before coming up with the final essay.


In writing the essay, the writer must come up with paragraphs. Generally, a paragraph is a distinct section of piece of writing that is indicated by a new line or indentation. The importance of a paragraph is that it marks a break in sense and indicates development of a new idea. A paragraph contains logical and connected sentences relevant to a certain idea. According to Bhatia (2004), the first sentence of a paragraph must indicate the idea to be developed in a paragraph and this can be expressed through a topic sentence/which indicates main areas to be tackled by the writer. A good essay contains paragraphs since they enable the reader to discern changes in focus and avoid getting confused at any stage of reading the essay.


After the writer is done with the rough draft, it is necessary to start editing the essay. The purpose of this process is to revise the work and correct various mistakes. The writer will also check whether the paragraphs correspond with topics and subtopics as well. Glaser and Strauss (2009) expressed that the writer will also need to verify whether each point or idea is supported by evidence as well as logic of the work. They must revisit the work several times, each visit with a different aim. Thorough editing of the essay give the opportunity to eliminate mistakes, in either the content or logic of the essay thereby coming up with coherent and technically good piece of writing.


Finally, after going through all the steps which are designed to eliminate errors and enhance quality the writer can proceed to prepare the final draft of the essay. This final draft must contain citations, title, and a bibliography. The essay writer should pay particular attention to presentation and if there are some set requirements they should adhere to them strictly as they contribute to the assessment of whether an essay is good or not. Finally, before the writer submits the essay, they should proofread it for any errors. To make sure that their essay is good, the writer may also get a peer to proofread for them and point out any errors which need to be rectified.


Essay writing

In a nutshell, these are some of the steps that may be adopted to come up with a well organised and structured essay. Following the steps mentioned herein helps the writer to develop and present ideas in a chronological and coherent manner. These steps may also motivate readers to have interest in the essay. The introduction will help to keep the reader well informed about the ideas to be developed in the essay. Following these steps also helps the writer to clearly state and demonstrate his/her arguments. Basically, pre-planning is vital because it helps the writer to structure and organise his/her essay. A good academic essay is therefore a result of proper planning and a methodical build-up from the topic selection to the final article.




Barrass, R. (2002). Scientists Must Write: A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. London: Psychology Press.

Bhatia, V. (2004). Worlds of written discourse: A genre-based view. London: A&C Black.

Engeström, Y. (2009). The future of activity theory: A rough draft. Learning and expanding with activity theory, 303-328.

Glatthorn, A., & Joyner, R. (2005). Writing the winning thesis or dissertation: A step-by-step guide. New York: Corwin Press.

Goodson, I. 2. (2002). The making of the curriculum: Collected essays. London: Routledge.

Graff, G. (2008). Clueless in academe: How schooling obscures the life of the mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hernandez, A. (2003). Making content instruction accessible for English language learners. English learners. Reaching the highest level of English literacy(8), 125-149.

Hinkel, E. (2003). Teaching academic ESL writing: Practical techniques in vocabulary and grammar. London: Routledge.



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