Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Advice from Michael: Tips on Starting an Essay


Lately, I have had several students come in with no idea where to start on an assignment. Sometimes this is a result of never writing a proper academic essay in high school, and at other times they simply have always had trouble starting an essay. To help them, I always start off with the same basic advice: remember the five paragraph essay structure.

The five paragraph essay structure will not always be helpful in college writing since you will sometimes need significantly larger or shorter essays, but it is an easy way to begin developing organized thoughts. For the intro, consider what the overarching issue that is being addressed and then try narrowing that issue down into the specific thesis statement you will be arguing. Then figure out three arguments that can be made for what you want to say, and treat that as the body paragraphs. Be sure to include these arguments in the thesis statement. Finally, conclude everything, and be sure to restate the thesis without adding new information in the conclusion.

Once you get at least part of this information down, then start writing. You don’t even have to start at the intro. You can begin with one of the body paragraphs if you prefer, but getting the words and ideas down on paper tends to help the students I’ve worked with gain a stronger grasp of what they are trying to argue, and how they can argue it. As you continue along this path, the essay structure can change to include more or less paragraphs or arguments as it becomes apparent to the writer. More advice on paragraph structure and how to structure an essay can be found on the Writing Center’s online resources under “Composition and Writing in the Disciplines” at this link. However, the key to all of this is to simply trust yourself enough to start writing. Once the words start falling on the page then everything will start to get easier.

Hang in there. You’ll get it done eventually.


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