Although you can always sign up with Train The Brain for help organizing, revising, or editing your written assignments, being able to get some of your writing assignments done independently is an important skill to master. But where do you begin? You can follow these basic steps as a guide for almost any written assignment.
1. Analyze the Prompt
The first step to a well-written essay is to make sure that you understand the prompt. Ask yourself the following questions, and if you’re unsure of any of the answers, contact your instructor for clarification.
- • What type of writing assignment is this? Research? Biography? Persuasive? Opinion? A narrative? Poetry?
- • Does the prompt include multiple parts to the instructions?
- • What is the length expectation?
- • Does this prompt require research?
2. Do Any Necessary Research
If the answer to the last question is “yes,” then it’s time to do some research. You want to do research before you plan because the research you complete should guide your thoughts about the topic. For example, if you’re supposed to persuade your audience to be for or against a specific topic, you’ll have to do some research first to understand where you stand on the issue. If you’re writing a biography about a famous person, then you’ll have to read about their life.
Keep track of your sources as you research. In fact, you might want to use a citation generator online to collect your source citations as you research so that they’re ready for your source page or bibliography later.
3. Plan Out Your Thoughts
Your next step is to plan out your thoughts. For fictional or personal narratives, you’ll want to fill out a plot diagram with every crazy or elaborate description, action, or idea you can think of; however, for most other essays, you’ll want to think about the research you’ve done and write down as many key points as you can think of. You can narrow your focus later.
You might naturally start grouping your ideas or the facts that you’ve read, but whatever you do, write everything down! No idea is a bad idea when you’re planning out your thoughts. Deleting is easy, but remembering an idea you didn’t write down can sometimes be tricky.
4. Organize The Essay
Your next step is to really narrow down your ideas, descriptions, the plot elements, or your main points and evidence. If you’ve done plenty of thinking, researching, and planning ahead of time, then you’ll have lots of content to choose from. It’s time to pick and choose what works best for the writing prompt and organize it into an outline format.
You don’t need to know how you’ll start and end your writing yet. You can add an exciting grabber for your narrative or an inviting introduction for your research paper later, even at the very end of the process right before you revise and edit. The most important thing to do when you’re organizing is focus on the meat of your writing. For a standard essay, you’ll need 3-5 main points to support your thesis. For a narrative, you’ll want a similar number of action points in your story.
After you’ve got the bones of your writing figured out, it’s time to start filling in the descriptions, evidence, and explanations that make your outline a full-fledged essay. It’s typically a good idea to start with weaker evidence and build to your strongest points. You want to leave your reader thinking about the strongest argument you’ve got, not the bit of information that’s just “okay.” Add each piece of evidence, description, or explanation to the main points.
Your outline will look something like the outline below, except you’ll include several more main points, and you’ll adjust the amount of evidence you have based on your research.
- • Thesis
- • Main point to support thesis #1
- 1.) Evidence 1 & explanation
- 2.) Evidence 2 & explanation
- 3.) Evidence 3 & explanation
5. Write, Write, Write
The only thing to do once you’ve created your outline is to write! Don’t worry about grammar, usage, and mechanics, just let the ideas flow. If you realize that you’re getting off on a tangent, just skip to a new paragraph and get yourself back on track. You can always delete or even cut entire paragraphs later.
If you get stuck on one part of your assignment, skip to another point or section of the narrative. Writers don’t always write in order from top to bottom. The most important step as you write is to just get the words down. Using your outline will help focus yourself, too.
6. Revise & Edit
Revision and editing is a step that some students like to skip, but they’re an important part of making sure you’ve got a solid essay on your hands. At the least, even if you’re not a grammar, usage, or mechanics whiz, you can check to make sure your ideas are all written in a clear, organized way. Be sure that you haven’t included any unnecessary information or forgotten to include a key point.
If you struggle with grammar, usage, and mechanics, you can still check certain part of your writing. Read your writing aloud and only pause when you see punctuation. If you notice that a lot of your thoughts are running together, check to see where you need to add a period or semicolon. If you catch yourself naturally pausing, then that’s another sign that you need some sort of punctuation.
You can check for usage errors, pretty easily, too. Use the “Ctrl” + “F” key to find certain words so that you can see if you’ve used them correctly. Here’s a quick list to check:
- 1.) To, too, two
- 2.) Your & you’re
- 3.) There, their, they’re
If you’re not sure how to use each of these words, take some time to look them up so that you are able to communicate effectively in writing.
Once you’ve done some checking yourself, have another person read through your essay to ensure that it makes sense to them. Another person might be able to catch mistakes that you missed, so be sure to rely on a trusted friend or family member to check your work. Being receptive to another person’s feedback is important!
7. Submit Your Essay
Finally, once you’re sure your writing has been revised and edited, it’s time to submit your essay. Take another look at the requirements your instructor has specified. Check the little details that you have missed in other work, and then submit!
Writing, like any other skill, takes some time and practice. However, the more you write, the more used to the process you’ll be. Eventually, you’ll be flying through these steps without even having to think about them!