How to Focus an Essay
Do your essays seem unfocused? Do you tend to ramble while writing? Stating a clear thesis and providing a well-structured argument will help you convey your points to the reader in a focused manner. Create an outline to bring different sections together into a cohesive, flowing piece of work. Be sure to read and revise your material as you write it. This will help you keep your work focused.
Essay Template and Sample Essays
Preparing to Write Your Essay
Choose a theme.Perhaps your teacher has assigned you a topic about which to write. If so, think about how you want to answer the essay prompt. If, for example, you must write about a character in Pride and Prejudice, pick which character you would like to discuss. If your essay topic is undefined, think about what you would like to research. What subject or theme interests you? For example, you could write about a favorite musician or a current event.
- If your essay is part of an exam, read the question carefully. Underline the action words like “explain,” “compare,” “analyze.”Be sure you understand how you are supposed to prove your answer.
- See if the essay prompt has multiple parts. For example, it could say, “First, discuss Mary’s emotions upon being rejected at the ball. Then compare her father’s behavior in this situation to his behavior towards Elizabeth’s engagement. Is he showing the same paternal instincts? How so?” For this question, you should answer the first part and then proceed to offer a comparison.
Do your research.Explore your chosen topic. Use the internet, academic journal search engines (like JSTOR or EBSCO), your library’s electronic card catalog, or newspapers. Keep track of your sources and the information you take from each source.Be sure to separate your facts so that you can cite your sources later.
- You should not cite Wikipedia as a source. You can, however, use Wikipedia to find scientific sources for your topic. Look at the references section at the end of a Wikipedia article for links.
Make an outline.Do you need to write a five paragraph essay or something longer? Depending upon the requirements for your essay, map out how you will tackle your theme. For example, divide your essay into sections like introduction with thesis statement, section 1, section 2, section 3, and conclusion. Identify your initial thesis statement. You can perfect the writing of your thesis statement after you draft your paper.
- Under each section, write your main arguments as bullet points.
- Under each argument, use secondary bullet points to write out your supporting points and create footnote or in-text citations.
- Include additional information that you think might be useful in an “Other” bullet point even if you don’t have a place for it. You might discard this information or find a use for it later.
- For example, if you must write a five paragraph essay about housing at the Sochi Olympics, you might organize your outline by having paragraphs that provide the following information: I. Introduction to Sochi Olympics and housing II. Discussion of housing financing III. Analysis of contractors, laborers, and their schedules for completion IV. Media reaction to unfinished housing V. Conclusion and overall assessment of housing at Sochi Olympics. Under each paragraph you would have additional sub-points.
Practice free-writing.If at any point in writing your essay, you get writer's block, try free-writing. Think about the topic and start writing everything that comes to mind. Your writing does not have to be perfect. Instead, focus on getting whatever thoughts you have onto the paper. You can make the prose beautiful later.
Focusing Your Thesis Statement
Choose what you want to prove.You might have an initial thesis statement that you crafted while making your outline. Now take the time to determine specifically what you want to argue. Your thesis statement is the main idea, point, or argument you want to “sell” in your essay.The thesis statement is comprised of three parts: the main idea or subject of your paper, the specific claim you are making, and the reasons behind your claim. For the last point, consider why your thesis statement is relevant. What are you adding to scholarly knowledge on the topic?
- Your thesis statement is your opinion it is not a statement of fact.For example, "Mr. Bennet's wife is Mrs. Bennet" is an indisputable fact and not a thesis statement. Your opinion might be, "By providing a time diary of Mr. Bennet's daily activities, I argue that he prefers to spend time with Elizabeth rather than Mrs. Bennet. Additional quotations work to prove that Mr. Bennet is intellectually attracted to more intelligent females. In this regard, he is a man living beyond his time."
- Your thesis statement is not a question.You can ask questions in an introduction to pique the readers' interest but you must state directly what you want to prove. For example, you cannot ask, "Was the housing finished in time for the Sochi Olympics?" Most people know it wasn't. Instead, theorize or investigate why it was not finished on time and produce your unique opinion on the underlying reasons.
- Has someone proved the same thing previously or is your thought a well-established fact? If so, try to take a different angle on a topic. For example, instead of writing, "Pride & Prejudice is a beloved book especially for young women," ask yourself why? What is it about this particular book that has captured generations of young women's imaginations? Is it the characters? Do the strong female leads help girls of the past and today to identify with the story?
Determine whether your sources support your statement.Looking at the sources you have gathered, do your sources support or disprove your thesis statement. It is okay to have some sources that disagree with you. You should be able to provide some support for your point as well, though.
Write thesis statement drafts.Based on the initial thesis statement you have formed, create multiple versions. Because your thesis statement is the "selling point" of your essay, you want to take time to make sure it clearly and strongly states what you want to convey. Use strong, declarative verbs. Avoid the use of "I" if possible. You can formulate your thesis as a two part statement with an introductory phrase and a conclusion statement.
Underline your thesis statement.When reading your paper, underline the thesis statement.Keep it in mind as you read your essay. Do your paragraphs or section support or contradict your thesis statement?
Writing the Introduction
Start strong.When starting an essay, it is good to have a catchy, declarative first sentence. For example, instead of writing: “I am going to talk about how cool ferrets are,” write “Ferrets are a unique member of the animal kingdom because they have interacted with humans for more than 3,000 years…”Avoid using “I” in your first sentence. You might also use a quotation from a book or another source (be sure to provide a citation).
- The length of your introduction depends on the size of your entire essay. For example, a five page essay should have a short introduction with only a few paragraphs. If you are doing a longer paper, however, your introduction could be a few pages.
- It is often most effective to write your introduction after you have written the rest of your paper. While it is okay to write a draft of your introduction right away, you should edit your introduction later to reflect your paper's final appearance.
Explain the context.Talk about the historical, theoretical, or social context of your work. For example, are you examining a novel's heroine in the context of 19th century gender norms? It will help your reader know what your mental framework is.
- Your explanation of the context should also be focused. For instance, in a shorter essay, you do not need to give an exhaustive explanation of 19th century gender roles. You can, however, provide a few sentences or paragraphs (depending on your essay size) to ground the reader. Specify the gender dynamics that impact the character you are examining. For example, in the context of Pride and Prejudice, discuss gender politics of the upper middle class as this is the class to which the Bennets belong. You might discuss women's dowries and their lack of occupations and thus need to marry. Choose the most relevant points that will help your reader understand your argument more.
Discuss your methods.In your introduction, discuss how you will answer your research question.For example, are you using certain authors to help make your point? Are you using your own ethnographic research? Perhaps, you are giving examples from a primary source, like a novel.
State your thesis.In your introduction, it is important to state your thesis clearly. Your readers need to understand where you are going in your essay. Telling what you will prove will help them follow your argument. Oftentimes, writers place the thesis statement towards the end of the introduction.
End with a clear transition.When you are ending your introduction, state in one sentence what is coming next. This is particularly relevant for larger essays. For example, you could write,”The next section compares the natural habitats of ferrets and otters.” For a five paragraph essay, be sure the last sentence of the introductory paragraph does not leave the reader with questions that you will not answer in the essay.
Developing a Focused Argument
Organize thoughts into separate paragraphs or sections.Based on your outline and the length of your essay, divide your main body into separate paragraphs or sections. Each section should tackle its own theme. Try to arrange your paragraphs in a logical sequence.
- For a five paragraph essay, each separate argument should have its own paragraph.
Write clear topic sentences.Be sure to have clear introductory sentences in each paragraph. These sentences should show how your paragraph relates to the overall topic. They should help defend your thesis statement. Use strong, clearly written sentences for your opening.Your opening sentence acts as a paragraph preview. It should describe what you are going to say without revealing all the details.
Stay on point.The middle sentences of your paragraph work to provide examples and supporting material for the main point.Your points should support the topic sentence of the paragraph. In other words, keep your sentences relevant to the theme of the paragraph. These sentences should attempt to describe "how" or "why" your points prove your thesis.
- Reread your supporting sentences aloud and ask yourself whether they relate to the topic sentence. If they do not, delete them. If they somewhat but not entirely relate, revise them.
- Check for the logical order of your supporting sentences. They should follow one another in a way that makes your argument clear. If you skip around in your explanation, even topically relevant sentences will not help the reader.
Include evidence.When making supporting points for each paragraph, use proper citations.If you incorporate quotations or paraphrase material, mention the page number of the source as well. Do not make statements without having facts to back up your assertions unless the essay is purely personal.
End powerfully.Just as your first sentence in the paragraph is important, so is your last sentence. Finish the paragraph with another main point that defends the material in your paragraph and the thesis statement.Remember to stay relevant.
Use transitional words.When moving from paragraph to paragraph or from section to section, write transitional phrases. This will help your reader know how each section connects to the next. Avoid using too many of the same transitional words. Also do not start every new paragraph with a transitional word. You can put the word at the end of the sentence as well.
- Transitional words could be “furthermore,” “nevertheless,” “additionally,” or “in contrast.”
Writing the Conclusion
Review your essay so far.If your essay is short, summarize what you have written in one paragraph. If your essay is longer, take three to four paragraphs to explain what you have argued. Describe how each section proved your overall thesis point. Do not rehash every detail but remind the reader what you have said.
Describe what you will research next.If you plan to continue working on the same or a similar theme, discuss what this essay will lead to. For example, if you wrote an essay on ferrets’ sleeping habits, perhaps now you will examine their daytime activities. Do not mention anything that is not relevant or related in some way to your present essay.
- Do not mention your future plans in a homework or exam essay. This step is appropriate for academic essays.
End with a memorable sentence.Just like the beginning of your essay should spark interest, your last sentence should leave the reader feeling like his time was well spent.Use a powerful declarative sentence to end your essay. For example, you could write: “Based on Mr. Bennet’s variant responses to Mary and Elizabeth’s behaviors, Mr. Bennet clearly favors his elder daughter.”
Finishing Your Essay
Complete a reverse outline.When you finish your first draft, go through your main body paragraphs and identify the main points. Put these into an outline. Does the order make sense? Are your points specific enough? Remember, your job is not to state facts but to prove your opinion or interpretation of a situation or scientific problem. Do your points lead to a different conclusion? If so, that is not necessarily bad. Instead, rework your beginning to reflect your new findings. Revision is a healthy, normal part of the writing process.
Isolate each section.Cut and paste each section and regard it as its own mini essay. Does each paragraph work on its own? Are you proving something different in each section? Thinking of the entire paper, does this section contribute to the bigger argument? If you find the section does not help your argument, consider revising or deleting it.
Proofread.Check for spelling and grammatical mistakes. If using a computer, use your word processor’s spell check. If you have written your essay by hand, reread it slowly or read it aloud. You will catch more mistakes that way.
- If possible, wait a day or two before doing a thorough proofreading. You tend to catch more mistakes when you are less tired.
- Insert page numbers.
- Printing typed essays is another good way to find mistakes. Sometimes we see more mistakes on printed copies.
- Check for redundancies in language. Do you use the same verbs or transitional words all the time?
Ask a friend to read it.If possible, request that a friend give you feedback. Oftentimes, another person can help you see if your work is truly focused. Ask her to identify what your main and supporting points are. If she does not know, you should revise your work to articulate your ideas better.
Add your bibliography or references section.Using the assigned style (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago), create your bibliography. Include this section at the end of your essay. It is often permissible to put the bibliography in a smaller font. Check with your teacher for any guidelines.
- It is helpful to collect your sources while you write. This way, if you have a “working bibliography,” it will only take a small time to proofread it before submission.
Submit your essay.If using a computer, print a final, error-free copy. Be sure to check every page and its content. If you see missing spaces, double check with your digital copy.
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