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Chances are that you will be asked many times throughout your high school, college and graduate school careers to write many essays. Writing an essay may seem hard at the onset, but if you practice pre-writing first, you will find writing the actual essay much easier. Here are some pre-writing tips to help you with your essays, whether they be expository or not:  

Choose Your Essay Topic

Your teacher, professor, college admissions application, or standardized test, such as the GRE or LSAT, may have given you a topic for your essay. If this is the case, this part of your job is easy because it has already been done for you. If not, you will have to choose one yourself. Put a lot of thought into choosing your topic. If possible, choose a topic that interests you and that you are fairly knowledgeable on. This will make writing your essay a little easier -- hopefully.  

Do Research

Now that you have a topic, it's time to do some research. Grab books, go online or interview people who are experts on the topic. Take notes while you do your research that highlight the main facts that you want to cover. Write down these main facts and list your sources with them so that you can go back and refer to the sources when you are writing your essay. This part of your research is meant to give you an understanding of the topic and help you determine the key areas of the topic that you want to cover on your essay. After you have completed your pre-writing, you may find you need to conduct more research using the same materials (books, online sources and interviews) or additional materials.  

Articulate Your Argument

Now that you have conducted your research, you should have a good understanding of what position you want to take on your essay, so you should be able to write your thesis and conclusion.  

The Thesis

A thesis doesn’t have to be only one sentence unless your teacher or professor require it. It can be one or two sentences that tell the reader what your essay is about and sums up the position you are taking in the essay or proposition your essay poses. For example, a good thesis could be, "Nuclear energy is unsafe and expensive, as evidenced by the history of nuclear power plant accidents. Solar power is more cost effective and safer." This thesis tells the reader what the essay is about and shows your position on the topic.  

The Conclusion

Your conclusion should sum up and reiterate the thesis and body of your essay in one paragraph.  

Make a List

Once you have conducted your research and written your thesis and conclusion, it's time to make a list that shows the areas you want to cover in your essay, which should support your thesis statement. Take a look at your research notes to help you make the list. For example, if you were writing an essay on the example topic above (unsafe nuclear energy and the safer solar alternative), you might include the following on your list: a history of nuclear power plant accidents, nuclear power plant waste, the cost of building and operating nuclear power plants vs. solar energy, and the feasibility of solar energy.  


It's not always easy to come up with a list of areas that support your thesis statement. If you're having trouble coming up with a list, you might want to try free-writing to help get your thoughts flowing. Free-writing is what it sounds like; you just start writing about your topic without worrying about grammar or structure. After you have finished free-writing, look over what you have written and see if you can make a list of what to write about from what you have free-written or if you can organize it and edit it into the body of your essay.  

Make an Outline

The last pre-writing step you need to take before writing your essay is to make an outline. Providing a good structure to your essay beforehand will help write it more efficiently and help you out if you get stuck in one section - you can always move onto the next and come back to the challenging one. Before you start on your outline, remember that each paragraph in an essay should focus on only one argument or point. So, consider the length or word limit of your essay before making your outline to make sure you have room to fit each argument or point. There are several different outline techniques you can use. No one technique is better than the other so use whichever one works best for you!  

List Outline

To make a list outline method, write down a list of the topics you want to cover in the order you want to cover them, similar to what we have discussed above.  

Mind Mapping Outline

To make a mind map outline, draw a circle in center of a blank piece of paper. Write the main topic of your essay inside the circle. Draw circles around the main circle. Write keywords or short descriptions (sub-ideas) that support your main topic in these circles. Keep adding circles as necessary. Draw lines to connect the circles that contain related information.  

The Journalistic Outline

Journalists often ask themselves the following five questions before writing a story: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These questions can also be useful when writing an essay. Ask yourself these five questions about your essay topic down and write the answers on a piece of paper. Now you have an outline so get writing!

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