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How to Write a Paper
Last Updated: November 27, 2022 Approved
This article was co-authored by Matthew Snipp, PhD . C. Matthew Snipp is the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor of Humanities and Sciences in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. He is also the Director for the Institute for Research in the Social Science’s Secure Data Center. He has been a Research Fellow at the U.S. Bureau of the Census and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He has published 3 books and over 70 articles and book chapters on demography, economic development, poverty and unemployment. He is also currently serving on the National Institute of Child Health and Development’s Population Science Subcommittee. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 319,196 times.
Whether you’re in high school or university, writing papers is probably a big part of your grade for at least some of your classes. Writing an essay on any topic can be challenging and time consuming. But, when you know how to break it down into parts and write each of those parts, it’s much easier! Follow the steps in this article for help writing your next paper from start to finish.
- If you have an idea for a topic that isn’t listed, feel free to ask your instructor if it would be okay to write about something that isn’t on the list they provided.
- In some cases, the teacher or professor might just provide an assignment sheet covering the logistics of the paper, but leave the topic choice up to you. If this happens, it can be helpful to come up with a short list of ideas on your own, then choose the best one.
- Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor for guidance on choosing a topic if you’re having trouble deciding.
- Note that there are different types of papers including research papers, opinion papers, and analytical essays. All of them need a thesis statement and all of them require you to do research and review various sources in order to write them.
- Keep in mind that a thesis is not a topic, a fact, or an opinion. It is an argument based on observations and findings that you are trying to prove in your paper, like a hypothesis statement in a science experiment.
- An example of a thesis statement for a research paper is: “The Soviet Union collapsed because of the ruling class’s inability to tackle the economic problems of the common people.” This tells the reader what point you are going to back up with evidence in the rest of your paper.
- A thesis statement for an opinion paper might read something like: “Libraries are an essential community resource and as such should receive more funding from local municipal governments.”
- An analytical essay’s thesis statement could be: “JD Salinger makes heavy use of symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye in order to create feelings of melancholy and uncertainty in the novel.”
- For example, if your thesis is about why the government needs to do more to protect wetland ecosystems, main supporting points could be: “effects of wetland loss in the US,” “current lack of laws protecting wetlands,” and “benefits of saving wetlands.”
- These major points form the body of your paper, in between your introduction and your conclusion.
- For example, under a main point that says “employment conditions affect the mental health of workers,” your sub-points might be: “high levels of stress are directly related to mental health” and “workers in low-skill positions tend to have higher levels of stress.”
- For example, you could write something like: “Did you know that cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest?”
- For example, you might write something like: “It’s common for apps and social media to be demonized as a waste of time and brain space, but not all such technology should be considered mindless entertainment. In fact, many apps and social media networks can be used for educational and academic purposes.”
- Make sure the background information about your topic that you include in your intro flows nicely into your thesis.
- Think of each paragraph as kind of a mini essay in and of itself. Each paragraph should be a self-contained chunk of information that relates to the overall topic and thesis of your paper.
- Supporting evidence can be things like statistics, data, facts, and quotes from your sources
- For example, put a paragraph about the reasons behind the collapse of the Soviet Union before a paragraph about the changes to Eastern European societies in the 90s, because the collapse of the Soviet Union directly led to many of those changes.
- If your first body paragraph discusses the extent of deforestation in the Amazon over the past decade, and your second paragraph is going to explain how that affects animal extinction, state the shift in focus by writing something like: “The deforestation of the Amazon over the last decade has resulted in a drastic reduction of natural habitats for many species.”
- For example, if your thesis in your intro was “The use of technology can benefit children because it improves developmental skills,” restate it something like this: “The use of technology contributes to children’s well-rounded development from a young age.”
- For example, you might write something like: “Deforestation is directly linked to climate change and increasingly extreme weather across the world, which is why global governments must take more action to stop illegal logging.”
- For example, say something like: “Ignoring the realities of deforestation and climate change has grave implications for all of us. If we don’t start putting more pressure on governments to act, your children or grandchildren will be living in a very different world from that which we inhabit today.”
- Humanities subjects include language arts and cultural studies.
- Note that these are just the basic rules for writing an MLA-style works cited page. For a full list of rules regarding all things MLA and citations, refer to an MLA handbook.
- Note that there is some crossover between certain subjects, in which case more than 1 style of works cited or reference page may be acceptable.
- Always review your assignment rubric or ask your professor which style of citations they prefer before writing your reference or works cited page.
- Social sciences include psychology, sociology, and anthropology.
- Refer to an APA style guide for complete rules about how to list different types of sources.
- Check a Chicago Manual of Style for more specific instructions about citations.
- Note that Chicago style is more commonly used for published works. If you’re a student, your professor might instruct you to use MLA format for your papers.
Revising, Editing, and Proofreading
- Anywhere from a few hours to a day is a good amount of time to wait before you start revising your paper. The point is to come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.
- If you can, get a roommate, a family member, a friend, or a classmate to read your paper too. Ask them for advice on ways you could make your argument and your evidence more clear or relevant.
- Here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you read each sentence and piece of information in your paper: Is this really worth saying? Does this say what I want it to say? Will readers understand what I’m saying?
- It helps to read your paper out loud as you do this. Listen for awkward pauses, phrases, and sentence structure, and revise them so the writing flows better.
- Try copying and pasting your essay into the free online tool called “Hemingway.” The app suggests many different ways to make your writing clearer, more direct, and more readable.
- Take this sentence as an example: “The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the collapse of local governments and economies across Eastern Europe.” Instead of using “collapse” twice, replace the second instance with “crumbling.”
- It’s also a good idea to paste your paper into a third-party tool, like Grammarly, for a final spelling and grammar check. Not every program catches everything, so it’s better to be on the safe side!
Sample Research Papers
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- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/research_papers/choosing_a_topic.html
- ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/developing-thesis
- ↑ Matthew Snipp, PhD. Research Fellow, U.S. Bureau of the Census. Expert Interview. 26 March 2020.
- ↑ https://library.piedmont.edu/c.php?g=521348&p=3564584
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
- ↑ https://writingcenter.uagc.edu/introductions-conclusions
- ↑ https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/14011/writing/112/essay_writing/6
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_page_basic_format.html
- ↑ https://aut.ac.nz.libguides.com/APA6th/referencelist
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/
About This Article
To write a paper, review the assignment sheet and rubric, and begin your research. Decide what you want to argue in your paper, and form it into your thesis statement, which is a sentence that sums up your argument and main points. Make an outline of the argument, and then start writing the introduction to the paper, which grabs your reader's attention and states the thesis. Then, include at least 3 paragraphs of supporting evidence for your argument, which makes up the body of the paper. Finally, end the paper with a conclusion that wraps up your points and restate your thesis. For tips from our academic reviewer on refining your paper and making a strong argument, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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The Five Steps of Writing an Essay
Mastering these steps will make your words more compelling
- Tips For Adult Students
- Getting Your Ged
- B.A., English, St. Olaf College
Knowing how to write an essay is a skill that you can use throughout your life. The ability to organize ideas that you use in constructing an essay will help you write business letters, company memos, and marketing materials for your clubs and organizations.
Anything you write will benefit from learning these simple parts of an essay:
- Purpose and Thesis
Body of information.
Here are five steps to make it happen:
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Before you can start writing, you must have an idea to write about. If you haven't been assigned a topic, it's easier than you might think to come up with one of your own.
Your best essays will be about things that light your fire. What do you feel passionate about? What topics do you find yourself arguing for or against? Choose the side of the topic you are "for" rather than "against" and your essay will be stronger.
Do you love gardening? Sports? Photography? Volunteering? Are you an advocate for children? Domestic peace? The hungry or homeless? These are clues to your best essays.
Put your idea into a single sentence. This is your thesis statement , your main idea.
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Choose a title for your essay that expresses your primary idea. The strongest titles will include a verb. Take a look at any newspaper and you'll see that every title has a verb.
Your title should make someone want to read what you have to say. Make it provocative.
Here are a few ideas:
- America Needs Better Health Care Now
- The Use of the Mentor Archetype in _____
- Who Is the She-Conomy?
- Why DJ Is the Queen of Pedicures
- Melanoma: Is It or Isn't It?
- How to Achieve Natural Balance in Your Garden
- Expect to Be Changed by Reading _____
Some people will tell you to wait until you have finished writing to choose a title. Other people find that writing a title helps them stay focused. You can always review your title when you've finished the essay to ensure that it's as effective as it can be.
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Your introduction is one short paragraph, just a sentence or two, that states your thesis (your main idea) and introduces your reader to your topic. After your title, this is your next best chance to hook your reader. Here are some examples:
- Women are the chief buyers in 80 percent of America's households. If you're not marketing to them, you should be.
- Take another look at that spot on your arm. Is the shape irregular? Is it multicolored? You could have melanoma. Know the signs.
- Those tiny wasps flying around the blossoms in your garden can't sting you. Their stingers have evolved into egg-laying devices. The wasps, busying finding a place to lay their eggs, are participating in the balance of nature.
Vincent Hazat / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
The body of your essay is where you develop your story or argument. Once you have finished your research and produced several pages of notes, go through them with a highlighter and mark the most important ideas, the key points.
Choose the top three ideas and write each one at the top of a clean page. Now go through your notes again and pull out supporting ideas for each key point. You don't need a lot, just two or three for each one.
Write a paragraph about each of these key points, using the information you've pulled from your notes. If you don't have enough for one, you might need a stronger key point. Do more research to support your point of view. It's always better to have too many sources than too few.
Anna Bryukhanova/E Plus / Getty Images
You've almost finished. The last paragraph of your essay is your conclusion. It, too, can be short, and it must tie back to your introduction.
In your introduction, you stated the reason for your paper. In your conclusion, you should summarize how your key points support your thesis. Here's an example:
- By observing the balance of nature in her gardens, listening to lectures, and reading everything she can get her hands on about insects and native plants, Lucinda has grown passionate about natural balance. "It's easy to get passionate if you just take time to look," she says.
If you're still worried about your essay after trying on your own, consider hiring an essay editing service. Reputable services will edit your work, not rewrite it. Choose carefully. One service to consider is Essay Edge .
Good luck! The next essay will be easier.
- How to Structure an Essay
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- The Ultimate Guide to the 5-Paragraph Essay
- How to Write a Great College Application Essay Title
- Tips on How to Write an Argumentative Essay
- How to Write a Good Thesis Statement
- Write an Attention-Grabbing Opening Sentence for an Essay
- How to Write a Great Essay for the TOEFL or TOEIC
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- How To Write a Top-Scoring ACT Essay for the Enhanced Writing Test
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OASIS: Writing Center
Writing a paper: overview, writing a paper.
The Walden Writing Center staff is dedicated to ensuring your transition to a writing intensive program is a smooth one. In the pages listed on the left you will find all the information you need to master the craft of scholarly writing.
If you are new to scholarly writing, it may be helpful to remember that writing is a process, not an event. Some common steps in the life cycle of a writing project are outlined below. Click each step to access information and resources on that topic, or navigate through our interactive "Life Cycle of a Paper" project at the bottom of the page.
Good luck with your scholarly writing, and if you have questions, Ask OASIS .
Click on each step to find out more about each part of the writing process.
Crash Course in Scholarly Writing Video Playlist
Note that these videos were created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.
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The Writing Process: 6 Steps Every Writer Should Know
You’ve probably heard the saying “good writing is rewriting.” It means good writing requires coming up with ideas, reviewing and organizing them, putting them into a cohesive written work, revisiting your work, editing it, and revising it to make your words stronger. These steps are known as the writing process.
No matter what you’re writing, whether it’s a blog post , a screenplay, a research paper , or a book review , you’ll work through the writing process to turn your rough ideas into a polished, publishable finished piece. Read on to learn more about the writing process’ six steps in detail.
Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.
Your writing, at its best Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly
The writing process actually starts before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The first step is brainstorming .
Depending on the assignment, you may be given a topic or you may have to create one yourself. Do an internet search for the topic you’ll be covering to get a stronger grasp on it and all the potential directions your writing can take.
When you brainstorm, you think deeply about the topic you’ll be covering in your writing and let your mind follow any and every lead it comes across. If you’ve been assigned to write within a fairly broad area, this is the point where you narrow your topic down to a specific thesis statement .
For example, if you’re writing about key events in American history during the Gilded Age, you could decide to focus on the debate surrounding the gold standard that occurred during that time. As you brainstorm, you might zero in further on how it was portrayed in pop culture and decide to write your essay on how L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz represented this debate through specific imagery.
Jot down every idea you have while you brainstorm, even if it’s only tangentially related to your topic. The goal here isn’t to create a coherent piece of writing—it’s to clear a path for your writing.
Brainstorming isn’t just about developing a clear topic and set of supporting content to cover; it’s about determining the most effective way to present your information to your intended audience. Think about the type of writing you’re doing and whom you’re writing it for. A video script that walks your viewers through a specific knitting technique requires a much different tone, structure, and vocabulary than an academic research proposal for your master’s program in marine biology.
Once you have a clear central theme for your writing and a strong grasp on your supporting arguments, it’s time to finesse your brainstorming results into a logical outline.
Preparing to write
The next step in the writing process is preparing to write . In this stage, you’re taking all the ideas, connections, and conclusions you encountered during your brainstorming session and organizing them into an outline .
An outline is basically a skeleton of a finished piece of writing that maps the topics you’ll cover and where each paragraph fits into the piece. It provides a structure that helps ensure your ideas flow logically and clearly. It can be helpful to look at outline templates online, especially if you’ve been assigned a type of writing that you haven’t done before.
Choosing authoritative sources
At this stage, you’ll also identify which sources to use . With certain types of writing, you’ll need to cite your sources. If this is the case for your current assignment, this stage is the point at which you should familiarize yourself with the applicable style guide and its formatting requirements for citations .
Make sure your chosen sources are appropriate for your writing before you decide to use them. For an academic writing assignment, the range of acceptable sources you can use is typically limited to academic articles, government or nonprofit research groups, and, if you’re writing a literature review , the literary works you’re comparing in your writing. With other kinds of writing, appropriate sources are relevant sources. For example, if you’re writing an article about the rising popularity of mushroom-based health supplements, effective sources may include:
- Sale statistics from retailers
- Insight on mushrooms’ health benefits from accredited health experts (think nutritionists, doctors, and other healthcare providers)
- Data from health-supplement industry journals
Your sources’ job is to support your writing . Working with credible sources gives your writing a strong foundation, while weak sources undermine the position your writing takes.
Striking the right tone
This is also the stage where you clarify the tone you’ll use in your work. Usually, figuring out the right tone for your writing is easy—if it’s an essay or another piece of academic writing, it needs a formal tone. If it’s a promotional piece, your tone needs to be engaging and highlight the benefits of whatever you’re promoting. If it’s a cover letter , your tone should be confident, but not arrogant. When you’re unsure about the right tone to use or how to achieve it, do an internet search for examples of the type of writing you’re doing and familiarize yourself with the structure, vocabulary, and overall tones used.
>>Read More: Grammarly’s Tone Suggestions Help You Tailor Your Tone to Your Reader
Writing your first draft
You’re finally ready to write!
Don’t worry about making your writing perfect just yet—at the rough draft stage, your goal is to get words on the page, not to churn out something that’s ready to publish.
Using the outline you created, start building your draft, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.
Here’s a secret a lot of writers don’t realize: You don’t have to write your rough draft from start to finish . If you know exactly what you want to say in your third supporting paragraph but you’re not quite sure how to hook readers in your intro , write that third supporting paragraph and come back to the intro later. When you reach a challenging spot in your writing, it’s easy to get stuck there and waste a lot of time trying to figure out what to write. Save yourself the time and stress by writing the easiest parts first, then moving onto the tougher spots.
Doing it this way can also make those tough spots a lot less daunting because it reduces them from big, scary holes to fill up to small blanks to fill in.
Editing and revising
Once you have a completed rough draft, the next step in the writing process is to shape it into a final draft. This is known as editing .
As you move through the writing process, you’ll employ different kinds of editing . At this stage, you’re content editing , line editing , and copy editing . Later, you’ll proofread your work and, depending on the content you’re covering, you might fact-check it as well.
In some cases, you’re totally on your own with editing. In others, editing your work involves incorporating feedback an editor or instructor left on your first draft. When you’re facing the latter scenario, be sure to read the feedback carefully and address or incorporate all of it .
Edit with fresh eyes
Before you edit, give your work time to “cool off.” In other words, don’t jump from writing the first draft to editing it unless you’re crunched for time and you absolutely must. By taking time between writing and editing, you’re giving yourself some distance from your work. This enables you to view it with “fresh eyes” and catch mistakes and areas for improvement more easily than you would if you hadn’t created that distance.
With fresh eyes, look for:
- Logical inconsistencies or fallacies
- Inconsistent and inappropriate tone
- Areas where your writing can be made more concise
- Opportunities to replace words with more effective synonyms
- Confusing phrases and sentences
One way to easily find areas where you can make your writing stronger is to read it aloud. By listening to the rhythm of your writing, you can hear words that feel out of place, awkward transitions, redundant phrases, inconsistent tenses and tone, and points where you need more (or less) detail.
For example, you might find you used language that’s too formal for your blog post that’s making your writing seem stiff and boring. Instead of “the balloon was inflated,” try “we blew up the balloon.”
Or you might find your writing contains redundant phrasing, such as “In my opinion, I think that’s a problem.” Change this to “That’s a problem” to make your writing more direct and concise.
If the piece you’re writing is meant to be read aloud, like a speech or a presentation, this part of the editing process is mandatory .
Pay attention to how effectively your supporting arguments prove and strengthen your thesis statement. Even if the piece you’re writing doesn’t have a formal thesis statement, it has a central theme or argument. The goal of editing and revising your work is to optimize your writing to make that central theme as clear and powerful as possible.
This is also the stage where Grammarly can really help you out. Not only does the Grammarly Editor catch typos and grammar mistakes, but it can also detect your tone and make word choice suggestions based on your specific writing goals.
Here’s a tip: You don’t have to guess whether you’re using certain words correctly or breaking grammar rules in your writing. Just copy and paste your writing to check your grammar and get instant feedback on whether your sentences have misspellings, punctuation errors, or any structural mistakes.
Once you’re finished editing, it’s time to revise your draft into its final version. This is the process of implementing all the changes you noted during the editing process.
Proofreading your final draft
The last stage of the writing process is proofreading your final draft . At this stage, you’re finished writing, but you’re not quite ready to hand in your assignment.
Proofreading is one last lookover to catch any spelling mistakes, grammar errors, typos, formatting errors, or incorrect structure or syntax . Unless something is egregiously wrong, you’re not changing any of your content—you’re simply double-checking that everything is grammatically correct. Ideally, you have enough time to proofread your work with fresh eyes.
After you’ve proofread your work, give it one last pass through Grammarly. Grammarly can catch any last-minute mistakes that slip past you and help you avoid embarrassing, easily fixable errors in your work.
Publishing your finished work
Your work is ready to be shared with the world!
What it means to publish your work depends on the type of writing you’re doing. If it’s a blog post, a story you’re self-publishing, a video you’ve written and shot, or anything else where you’re the publisher as well as the writer, this stage is essentially you uploading your own work and making it available to others. If you just completed an academic assignment or a commissioned piece for a journal, blog, or another outlet to which you’re a contributor, this step is when you send it off to your professor or editor. Publishing can also mean submitting your work to an academic journal, querying your novel, or delivering a finished piece of content to your client.
No matter what publishing means for your particular piece, take a moment to celebrate. You wrote something and now, people are going to read it.
This article was originally written in 2019 by Jennifer Calonia. It’s been updated to include new information.
Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students
How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks
Many students dread writing essays, but essay writing is an important skill to develop in high school, university, and even into your future career. By learning how to write an essay properly, the process can become more enjoyable and you’ll find you’re better able to organize and articulate your thoughts.
When writing an essay, it’s common to follow a specific pattern, no matter what the topic is. Once you’ve used the pattern a few times and you know how to structure an essay, it will become a lot more simple to apply your knowledge to every essay.
No matter which major you choose, you should know how to craft a good essay. Here, we’ll cover the basics of essay writing, along with some helpful tips to make the writing process go smoothly.
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash
Types of Essays
Think of an essay as a discussion. There are many types of discussions you can have with someone else. You can be describing a story that happened to you, you might explain to them how to do something, or you might even argue about a certain topic.
When it comes to different types of essays, it follows a similar pattern. Like a friendly discussion, each type of essay will come with its own set of expectations or goals.
For example, when arguing with a friend, your goal is to convince them that you’re right. The same goes for an argumentative essay.
Here are a few of the main essay types you can expect to come across during your time in school:
This type of essay is almost like telling a story, not in the traditional sense with dialogue and characters, but as if you’re writing out an event or series of events to relay information to the reader.
Here, your goal is to persuade the reader about your views on a specific topic.
This is the kind of essay where you go into a lot more specific details describing a topic such as a place or an event.
In this essay, you’re choosing a stance on a topic, usually controversial, and your goal is to present evidence that proves your point is correct.
Your purpose with this type of essay is to tell the reader how to complete a specific process, often including a step-by-step guide or something similar.
Compare and Contrast Essay
You might have done this in school with two different books or characters, but the ultimate goal is to draw similarities and differences between any two given subjects.
The Main Stages of Essay Writing
When it comes to writing an essay, many students think the only stage is getting all your ideas down on paper and submitting your work. However, that’s not quite the case.
There are three main stages of writing an essay, each one with its own purpose. Of course, writing the essay itself is the most substantial part, but the other two stages are equally as important.
So, what are these three stages of essay writing? They are:
Before you even write one word, it’s important to prepare the content and structure of your essay. If a topic wasn’t assigned to you, then the first thing you should do is settle on a topic. Next, you want to conduct your research on that topic and create a detailed outline based on your research. The preparation stage will make writing your essay that much easier since, with your outline and research, you should already have the skeleton of your essay.
Writing is the most time-consuming stage. In this stage, you will write out all your thoughts and ideas and craft your essay based on your outline. You’ll work on developing your ideas and fleshing them out throughout the introduction, body, and conclusion (more on these soon).
In the final stage, you’ll go over your essay and check for a few things. First, you’ll check if your essay is cohesive, if all the points make sense and are related to your topic, and that your facts are cited and backed up. You can also check for typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes, and formatting errors.
The Five-Paragraph Essay
We mentioned earlier that essay writing follows a specific structure, and for the most part in academic or college essays , the five-paragraph essay is the generally accepted structure you’ll be expected to use.
The five-paragraph essay is broken down into one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. However, that doesn’t always mean that an essay is written strictly in five paragraphs, but rather that this structure can be used loosely and the three body paragraphs might become three sections instead.
Let’s take a closer look at each section and what it entails.
As the name implies, the purpose of your introduction paragraph is to introduce your idea. A good introduction begins with a “hook,” something that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them excited to read more.
Another key tenant of an introduction is a thesis statement, which usually comes towards the end of the introduction itself. Your thesis statement should be a phrase that explains your argument, position, or central idea that you plan on developing throughout the essay.
You can also include a short outline of what to expect in your introduction, including bringing up brief points that you plan on explaining more later on in the body paragraphs.
Here is where most of your essay happens. The body paragraphs are where you develop your ideas and bring up all the points related to your main topic.
In general, you’re meant to have three body paragraphs, or sections, and each one should bring up a different point. Think of it as bringing up evidence. Each paragraph is a different piece of evidence, and when the three pieces are taken together, it backs up your main point — your thesis statement — really well.
That being said, you still want each body paragraph to be tied together in some way so that the essay flows. The points should be distinct enough, but they should relate to each other, and definitely to your thesis statement. Each body paragraph works to advance your point, so when crafting your essay, it’s important to keep this in mind so that you avoid going off-track or writing things that are off-topic.
Many students aren’t sure how to write a conclusion for an essay and tend to see their conclusion as an afterthought, but this section is just as important as the rest of your work.
You shouldn’t be presenting any new ideas in your conclusion, but you should summarize your main points and show how they back up your thesis statement.
Essentially, the conclusion is similar in structure and content to the introduction, but instead of introducing your essay, it should be wrapping up the main thoughts and presenting them to the reader as a singular closed argument.
Photo by AMIT RANJAN on Unsplash
Steps to Writing an Essay
Now that you have a better idea of an essay’s structure and all the elements that go into it, you might be wondering what the different steps are to actually write your essay.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Instead of going in blind, follow these steps on how to write your essay from start to finish.
Understand Your Assignment
When writing an essay for an assignment, the first critical step is to make sure you’ve read through your assignment carefully and understand it thoroughly. You want to check what type of essay is required, that you understand the topic, and that you pay attention to any formatting or structural requirements. You don’t want to lose marks just because you didn’t read the assignment carefully.
Research Your Topic
Once you understand your assignment, it’s time to do some research. In this step, you should start looking at different sources to get ideas for what points you want to bring up throughout your essay.
Search online or head to the library and get as many resources as possible. You don’t need to use them all, but it’s good to start with a lot and then narrow down your sources as you become more certain of your essay’s direction.
After research comes the brainstorming. There are a lot of different ways to start the brainstorming process . Here are a few you might find helpful:
- Think about what you found during your research that interested you the most
- Jot down all your ideas, even if they’re not yet fully formed
- Create word clouds or maps for similar terms or ideas that come up so you can group them together based on their similarities
- Try freewriting to get all your ideas out before arranging them
Create a Thesis
This is often the most tricky part of the whole process since you want to create a thesis that’s strong and that you’re about to develop throughout the entire essay. Therefore, you want to choose a thesis statement that’s broad enough that you’ll have enough to say about it, but not so broad that you can’t be precise.
Write Your Outline
Armed with your research, brainstorming sessions, and your thesis statement, the next step is to write an outline.
In the outline, you’ll want to put your thesis statement at the beginning and start creating the basic skeleton of how you want your essay to look.
A good way to tackle an essay is to use topic sentences . A topic sentence is like a mini-thesis statement that is usually the first sentence of a new paragraph. This sentence introduces the main idea that will be detailed throughout the paragraph.
If you create an outline with the topic sentences for your body paragraphs and then a few points of what you want to discuss, you’ll already have a strong starting point when it comes time to sit down and write. This brings us to our next step…
Write a First Draft
The first time you write your entire essay doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get everything on the page so that you’re able to then write a second draft or review it afterward.
Everyone’s writing process is different. Some students like to write their essay in the standard order of intro, body, and conclusion, while others prefer to start with the “meat” of the essay and tackle the body, and then fill in the other sections afterward.
Make sure your essay follows your outline and that everything relates to your thesis statement and your points are backed up by the research you did.
Revise, Edit, and Proofread
The revision process is one of the three main stages of writing an essay, yet many people skip this step thinking their work is done after the first draft is complete.
However, proofreading, reviewing, and making edits on your essay can spell the difference between a B paper and an A.
After writing the first draft, try and set your essay aside for a few hours or even a day or two, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to review it. You might find mistakes or inconsistencies you missed or better ways to formulate your arguments.
Add the Finishing Touches
Finally, you’ll want to make sure everything that’s required is in your essay. Review your assignment again and see if all the requirements are there, such as formatting rules, citations, quotes, etc.
Go over the order of your paragraphs and make sure everything makes sense, flows well, and uses the same writing style .
Once everything is checked and all the last touches are added, give your essay a final read through just to ensure it’s as you want it before handing it in.
A good way to do this is to read your essay out loud since you’ll be able to hear if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies.
Essay Writing Tips
With the steps outlined above, you should be able to craft a great essay. Still, there are some other handy tips we’d recommend just to ensure that the essay writing process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Start your essay early. This is the first tip for a reason. It’s one of the most important things you can do to write a good essay. If you start it the night before, then you won’t have enough time to research, brainstorm, and outline — and you surely won’t have enough time to review.
- Don’t try and write it in one sitting. It’s ok if you need to take breaks or write it over a few days. It’s better to write it in multiple sittings so that you have a fresh mind each time and you’re able to focus.
- Always keep the essay question in mind. If you’re given an assigned question, then you should always keep it handy when writing your essay to make sure you’re always working to answer the question.
- Use transitions between paragraphs. In order to improve the readability of your essay, try and make clear transitions between paragraphs. This means trying to relate the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next one so the shift doesn’t seem random.
- Integrate your research thoughtfully. Add in citations or quotes from your research materials to back up your thesis and main points. This will show that you did the research and that your thesis is backed up by it.
Writing an essay doesn’t need to be daunting if you know how to approach it. Using our essay writing steps and tips, you’ll have better knowledge on how to write an essay and you’ll be able to apply it to your next assignment. Once you do this a few times, it will become more natural to you and the essay writing process will become quicker and easier.
If you still need assistance with your essay, check with a student advisor to see if they offer help with writing. At University of the People(UoPeople), we always want our students to succeed, so our student advisors are ready to help with writing skills when necessary.
Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts
Writing a Research Paper
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The pages in this section provide detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
The Research Paper
There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.
Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.
The pages in this section cover the following topic areas related to the process of writing a research paper:
- Genre - This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
- Choosing a Topic - This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses themselves.
- Identifying an Audience - This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
- Where Do I Begin - This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.
Paperpal Adds Online Plagiarism Checker to its AI Academic Writing Toolkit
Plagiarism, while often unintentional and accidental, is considered a serious ethical misstep, one that can undermine the credibility of research outcomes, harm your reputation, and erode academic integrity. With the use of standard expressions in academic writing, and the fact that research often emerges from the gaps in published literature, the risk of accidental plagiarism is real. This is where Paperpal comes in to help safeguard your research. Today, Paperpal is proud to introduce its online plagiarism checker that empowers authors to achieve high quality, original work with the best chance of success. By adding a plagiarism detector to its AI writing toolkit, Paperpal addresses a crucial step in the academic writing process, furthering its goal of providing students, educators, and researchers with comprehensive real-time writing support in one place.
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- Why You Should Choose Paperpal’s Plagiarism Checker?
- Paperpal Outperforms Other Popular Plagiarism Checkers
- STEP 1: Check your writing for similarity
- STEP 2: Review report for actionable items
- STEP 3: Write in your own voice
- STEP 4: Cite any overlooked sources
- Who Can Use Paperpal’s Plagiarism Checker?
- Paperpal’s AI Writing Toolkit is Loved by Academics Worldwide
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For those who are writing original content or using AI writing tools to polish their work, it’s important to note that the text could be flagged in a plagiarism check. This makes it important to run a similarity check and address any problem areas highlighted by the plagiarism detector. Here’s a simple step by step guide by Paperpal to help you write more responsibly.
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Even when you’re writing on a novel topic, it’s prudent to contrast and validate your writing in the context of related published literature. If any publication is flagged as similar to your text, and it is relevant to your research work, you’ll need to address this. When using exact wording from another paper, use quotation marks and cite these works meaningfully in your paper.
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Here’s what Angela Jones, a student at Southern New Hampshire University, United States, has to say:
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We support doc, docx, and PDF files at the moment and expect to support additional file types soon.
Neither Paperpal nor Copilot are designed to avoid detection by plagiarism and AI detection software. Using them doesn’t guarantee your content will be plagiarism-free. In fact, if you incorporate text from published sources without proper citation, those sections will likely be flagged regardless of the writing tool. If any of your input text to the Paperpal Copilot AI was pasted from a published source, there will be a higher likelihood of the generated result being flagged as similar. Always cite the sources you’ve quoted in your work and incorporate a thoughtful analysis on how those works relate to your own article. In fact, AI-generated outputs may have high similarity to published works because the outputs may be based on published sources in the model’s training dataset.
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- Introducing Paperpal Copilot: Prime Members Get Early Access to Generative AI for Academic Writing
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7 Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing Process
- How Paperpal’s Built-In Academic Writing Prompts Make It a Better Alternative to ChatGPT
How Long Should a Chapter Be?
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- Knowledge Base
What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
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Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
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The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
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The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service , AI proofreader or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
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