A staple of high school classrooms and college campuses alike, the English essay is something often feared by students, especially when it comes to AP English, or college essays. Whether their fear comes from not understanding the format, or being strictly graded with rubrics and requirements, almost everyone will need to write an English essay at some point in their life. With some preparation and a working knowledge of English essay formats, anyone can write a strong, convincing essay that they can be proud of. Keep reading to learn how to write a fantastic English essay!
So what exactly does ‘essay’ mean in English? The definition of an English essay is somewhat nebulous, and can encompass many different essays written for several purposes. An argumentative essay is written to pose an argument and persuade your reader to agree with you. These essays rely on the well-structured presentation of reasons why someone should agree with you. They can also contain a brief discussion of potential counter-arguments.
A reflective English essay is a genre that relies on the author’s experiences as the basis for discussion. They have less structure than an argumentative essay and often deal with their growth as a person through the use of memories, story-telling, and, as the name suggests, self-reflection.
A literary analysis essay utilizes a piece of literature or other media, such as a movie or advertisement, to respond to a topic. The author analyzes the experiences of the characters or situations presented uses them to support a thesis. The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to generalize what happens in their source and relate it to everyday life.
While this list outlines several essay styles, there are much more for you to discover and explore. If the essay is for a class or an AP program, the style of essay you write usually will depend on the assignment. No matter what essay you’re writing, I’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to craft a strong, well-written piece.
The following are a list of some common English essay topics which can, in most cases, be used as AP English essay prompts as well. This, however, is not an exhaustive list, and the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to English essays. One trick to thinking of topics is hidden in current events. You can build a great English essay by writing a topic based on current topics in the world around you.
- Cigarettes should be banned altogether.
- People should not have access to birth control.
- It is ethical to have children instead of adopting.
Related: How to Write an Argumentative Essay
- Describe the role that adversity has played regarding to who you are today.
- What is a time you were embarrassed? How did it/does it affect you?
- Explore the tension between good and evil through the use of the character.
- How does a character respond in the face of adversity and how does it affect their actions further in the piece?
Before writing any English essay, doing some planning is an absolute must. Let me repeat that. Planning is not optional. Even if you’re writing under a time crunch like you would while writing an AP exam, take a few moments to plan out what you want your essay to say. Your readers (and your grades!) will thank you for it.
There are a few basic steps you can take before starting writing:
- Pick a Topic - If you are given a topic, the hard part is done for you. Move onto the next step. When choosing a topic, think of something meaningful to you that fits the style of essay you are going to write. You want a topic that is something you can be passionate about.
- Deconstruct the Topic - Look at what the topic or question is saying. Break it down so that you know exactly what the task is. Do you need to relate the literature to life, or is your purpose to argue a point? It is important to understand what the question is asking completely and to answer it fully. Jot down your preliminary ideas upon reading the topic.
- Build a Skeleton Essay - In this step, your goal is to outline how you want your essay to look. Decide how many paragraphs you want and how each paragraph will be broken down. This outline is not set in stone, but it helps to get some thoughts onto paper and see how your essay will progress. Read the “Outline” section for a more detailed look at building an outline.
- Get Thoughts onto Paper - Finally, get your thoughts and critical info onto your skeleton. Roughly put quotes where they make sense, jot down more specific points within each paragraph. This is step is great for timed essays especially. Often, getting all the disorganized thoughts out of your head helps to calm the nerves and relax knowing that you have a few fewer things to remember during the writing time.
Okay, so you’ve put all your thoughts into an outline and have a good idea of how you want to respond to the topic. Great job! However, having great content is only half the battle. You need a strong English essay outline that makes sense with what your purpose is. There are several options when it comes to outlines, but I will be going detail a common essay style, literary analysis, which can be easily tweaked to accommodate several other genres.
- Introduction - Imagine the introduction as an inverted triangle. General comments are broad, a transition to literature sets a specific context, and your thesis is a concise look at your argument.
- General Comments - Start your introduction with some general comments. They should be broadly applicable to life or form a metaphor with the topic, literature, or characters.
- Transition to Literature- Next, introduce the literature. State the author, genre, and literature. Provide a very brief synopsis that is specific to the topic.
- Thesis - Finally, write your thesis. A good thesis gets right to the point of your argument or analysis. State what you will be arguing, and how the literature supports it. It should be no more than two sentences in length, but one is ideal.
- Body Paragraphs - Your body paragraphs are the meat and potatoes of your essay. They should contain all the information needed to support your thesis. If you can, continue the metaphor from your introduction for an even more cohesive essay.
- Topic Sentence - Each body paragraph needs to open with a clear topic sentence that introduces the argument that will be developed. Avoid placing and evidence in this sentence, and stick to stating what you are going to say in the paragraph.
- Proof - Provide a piece of evidence to support your topic sentence. This might be a piece of data or a quotation from the source. Again, avoid clutter and only state what your single piece of proof is. Remember that your essay is about analyzing the source, not summarizing it for the reader.
- Tieback - This is really where you get to flex your analysis muscles. Tie your proof back to your thesis and show the reader why this piece of proof is important in advancing your argument. This section should be the longest in relation to the topic sentence and proof, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be as lean as possible. After every couple sentences, ask yourself “so what?” to gauge if the information should be included. If you can answer why the tieback is important to the thesis, get it out of there. For each topic sentence, you should have at least two pieces of proof and accompany tiebacks. Simply repeat the proof and tieback steps until the body paragraph is complete, and move onto another body paragraph with another topic sentence.
- Clincher - After listing your proofs and tiebacks, close it off with a great sentence. It should be short, sweet, and to the point of what you are saying. It can incorporate your topic sentence and arguments, or call upon an earlier metaphor.
- Conclusion - The conclusion is where you bring it all back together and remind your reader what they have read. While it is tempting to restate everything you have written completely, your reader likely only needs a gentle reminder of what you wrote.
- Thesis - Restate your thesis. For variety, it is best to mix up the wording a bit, but keeping it the same isn’t going to ruin your essay.
- Arguments - Briefly outline the arguments that support your thesis. Once again, don’t bore your reader with a bulky and redundant summary. Simply rephrase your topic sentences. Do not introduce any new arguments in conclusion. If they aren’t in the main body of the essay, leave them behind.
- Judgements - If the topic calls for it, this is a great way to write your concluding sentence. If you analyzed a character, for instance, judge how they acted and where it led them. How could their situation have been different? These are relatively loose, general comments, similar to the general comments in your introduction. If the topic or style does not work well with a judgment, write a closing sentence that leaves your reader asking questions or contemplating what they just read. You want to leave a lasting impression on whoever might read or grade your essay.
General Tips And Tricks
- Always be concise. There’s nothing worse than an essay that just won’t get to the point. Keep it clean. It’s better to have 1000 words of pure argument and proof than to have 3000 words of meandering, misguided writing.
- Make it relevant. As mentioned above, take the opportunity to apply your writing to real life. This doesn’t mean writing lots of unnecessary explanation, but some people may be surprised how far a short anecdote or metaphor can take them.
- Take a fresh look at your essay. If you can, it’s best to look at your essay with fresh eyes that have not read it for about 24 hours. Alternatively, you can have a friend read it over to ensure that it makes and that there aren’t any issues with spelling, grammar, or structure.
Check out these English essay examples! There are AP English essay examples too if you’re looking for specific AP formatting examples.
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