1. Create your thesis statement. It doesn’t have to be specific yet, but you’ll need a good idea of where you’re heading. This is the heart of your essay—every paragraph should relate back to the thesis statement. If you’re in doubt about how to create one, ask your professor.
2. Write up your ideas for your essay. What insights do you have? What statements do you want to make? Why are you interested in your topic? Just one paragraph is helpful for organizing your thoughts before you begin your research.
3. Do your research before you begin writing your essay. Not doing your research first may work out for you, or it may not. Several times I have written the first draft of my essay and then spent the second draft adding quotes and statistics as I read them. But not only was this method not fun in the long run, it usually ended up being more time-consuming because often I could not find research to back up my statements and ended up having to drastically change entire paragraphs. I would then have to keep my thesis statement vague in order to accommodate all my material.
When researching, I find it helpful to first attempt to find all the sources you will need to write your essay. Your professor will ask for a certain number of secondary and primary sources. Try to find at least three more than the minimum requirement for each because a source that has a promising title and abstract may end up being a dud.
As I research, I write up any quotes I think may be helpful. If you do this, make sure you meticulously document exactly where you get each quote from. You do not want to do all this work only to not be able to use your information because you can’t remember which document your quotes came from.
4. Refine your thesis. Now that you have your research, you know what statements you can back up. Draw conclusions from your research and plot out your essay. It may be helpful to write up an outline (and all your professors will recommend this).
5. Organize your research. This step is when I take all the quotes I have gathered and organize them into categories. By the time I’m finished, I’ll have 3-6 body paragraphs ready to write.
6. Refine your thesis again, if needed.
7. Read what you wrote in step 2. Is there anything you need to add? Remembering what drew you to this idea can help you keep the essay in your own voice, rather than the voice of the people you’re quoting.
8. Write your essay. Typically, I write body paragraphs first and then write my intro and my conclusion, but do what makes the most sense to you. Use the conclusion not only to summarize what you wrote about, but to show why what you wrote was important and how it relates to the world beyond your classroom. Give your reader something to think about.
9. Rewrite. Your first draft won’t be perfect, so edit for clarity and grammar.
Don’t hesitate to ask your professor or go to the Writing Centre if you need help or have any questions. They’re here to help.