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Writing an Excellent Essay: Format & Samples

A well-written essay is plagiarism-free, error-free, and properly-structured. It presents an argument, analysis, or interpretation on a specific topic or issue in a logical and coherent manner, avoiding unsubstantiated claims and logical fallacies. Essays are a common form of academic writing, and are often used in schools, colleges, and universities. They can take many forms, such as descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive, descriptive, and analytical.

Here are sample college-level essays:

Sample APA Essay: Science vs. Religion

Sample MLA Essay: Should College Education Be Free?

Structuring Your Essay: Format

Structuring an essay effectively is crucial for ensuring clarity, coherence, and logical flow. While the specific structure and format may vary depending on the type of essay and the topic, the following general guidelines can help you write an effective essay:

  1. Introduction:
    1. Start with an attention-grabbing hook to engage the reader.
    2. Provide some background information on the topic to provide context.
    3. Present a clear and concise thesis statement that states your main argument or position.
  2. Body paragraphs:
    1. Each body paragraph should focus on a single main idea or supporting point.
    2. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea or argument of that paragraph.
    3. Provide evidence, examples, or relevant information to support your main idea.
    4. Analyze or explain the significance of the evidence and how it supports your thesis.
    5. Use transitional words or phrases to ensure smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas.
  3. Counterarguments (if applicable):
    1. Address potential counterarguments or opposing viewpoints to strengthen your position.
    2. Refute or rebut counterarguments by providing evidence or logical reasoning.
    3. Acknowledge the validity of counterarguments when necessary but show why your position is stronger.
  4. Conclusion:
    1. Summarize the main points discussed in the body paragraphs.
    2. Restate your thesis statement in a slightly different way.
    3. Offer a final thought or insight that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
    4. Avoid introducing new information or arguments in the conclusion.
  5. Tips:
    • Use paragraphs to break down your ideas and arguments into manageable chunks. Each paragraph should focus on a single main idea or argument and contribute to the overall coherence of the essay.
    • Use headings or subheadings (if allowed or appropriate) to guide the reader through the different sections of your essay and make it easier to follow your line of thought.
    • Consider the logical progression of your ideas. Arrange your paragraphs in a logical order that allows the reader to follow your argument and builds toward a convincing conclusion.
    • Revise and edit your essay for clarity and coherence. Ensure that each paragraph and sentence contribute to the overall structure and flow of the essay.

Remember, the structure should serve the purpose of your essay and the specific requirements of your assignment. Adapt the above guidelines to suit your particular topic and essay type, whether it’s a persuasive essay, argumentative essay, compare and contrast essay, or any other form of academic writing.

Types of Essays

Here are various types of essays and their respective characteristics:

Type Description
Analytical Essays Analyze a topic, breaking it down into components to understand and evaluate each part.
AP Lang Essays Essays specifically designed for the Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, often requiring rhetorical analysis.
Argumentative Essays Present an argument or claim and provide evidence and reasoning to convince the audience of its validity.
Cause and Effect Essays Explore the relationship between events, explaining how one event leads to another or multiple effects stem from a cause.
Classification & Division Essays Categorize and organize items or ideas based on shared characteristics or criteria.
Compare & Contrast Essays Highlight similarities and differences between two or more subjects, presenting an analysis of their relationships.
Definition Essays Define and explain the meaning of a concept or term, providing clarity and understanding to the audience.
Descriptive Essays Paint a vivid picture with words, using sensory details to convey the essence of a person, place, object, or experience.
Expository Essays Present information, explain a topic, or explore an idea in a straightforward and informative manner.
Illustrative Essays Use specific examples to support and illustrate a general idea or concept, making it more tangible for the reader.
Literary Analysis Essays Examine and interpret a literary work, analyzing elements such as theme, character, plot, and symbolism.
Narrative Essays Tell a story or recount a personal experience, engaging readers with a clear plot, characters, and a central theme.
Persuasive Essays Convince the reader to adopt a particular viewpoint or take a specific action through effective argumentation.
Problem-Solution Essays Identify a problem, propose a solution, and provide evidence to support the feasibility and effectiveness of the solution.
Process Analysis Essays Break down a process into steps, explaining how something is done or how it works.
Reflective Essays Share personal thoughts, feelings, and insights on an experience or topic, often exploring the impact and lessons learned.
Response Essays React to a piece of literature, an event, or another work, expressing personal opinions and reactions.
Rhetorical Analysis Essays Analyze the techniques and strategies used in a piece of communication, such as a speech or advertisement.
Synthesis Essays Combine information from multiple sources to develop a new understanding or perspective on a particular topic.

Key Qualities of a Well-Written Essay

A well-written essay, regardless of its purpose or topic, shares several key characteristics that make it effective and impactful. Here are some qualities of a well-written essay:

  1. Clarity: A well-written essay presents its ideas in a clear and understandable manner. The sentences and paragraphs flow logically, making it easy for the reader to follow the author’s thoughts and arguments.
  2. Relevance: A good essay should be relevant to the topic and should address the assignment’s prompt or question.
  3. Coherence: The essay maintains a strong sense of coherence, with each paragraph contributing to the overall theme or argument. Transitions between paragraphs are smooth, and the ideas build upon each other to create a cohesive piece of writing.
  4. Structure: A well-written essay follows a clear structure, typically including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction hooks the reader, provides necessary context, and presents the main thesis or argument. Body paragraphs offer supporting evidence and analysis, while the conclusion summarizes the main points and leaves the reader with a sense of closure.
  5. Strong thesis statement: A well-written essay includes a strong thesis statement that clearly states the main argument or position. The thesis is specific, focused, and provides a roadmap for the rest of the essay.
  6. Use of evidence: Well-written essays back up their claims with relevant evidence, such as examples, facts, statistics, or expert opinions. This evidence adds credibility and persuasiveness to the author’s arguments.
  7. Critical thinking: A well-written essay demonstrates critical thinking skills by analyzing and evaluating information, rather than simply presenting it. The author engages with different perspectives, anticipates counterarguments, and provides thoughtful analysis and interpretation of the subject matter.
  8. Engaging and concise language: A well-written essay uses language that is engaging, concise, and appropriate for the intended audience. The author avoids unnecessary jargon or complex vocabulary, aiming for clarity and readability.
  9. Grammar and mechanics: A well-written essay is free from grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and typos. It shows attention to detail and a commitment to effective communication.
  10. Originality and creativity: A well-written essay offers a unique perspective, original ideas, or a creative approach to the topic. It stands out from generic or predictable writing, capturing the reader’s attention and leaving a lasting impression.
  11. Proper citation: A good essay should include proper citation of sources/evidence and be free of plagiarism. Citation guidelines are usually provided as part of your assignment’s instructions, and include formats such as APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver, and Oxford.
  12. Revision and editing: A well-written essay is the result of careful revision and editing. The author takes the time to review and refine the content, ensuring that each sentence and paragraph contributes to the overall quality and effectiveness of the essay.

Remember, these qualities may vary depending on the specific type of essay (e.g., argumentative, persuasive, analytical, narrative, expository, descriptive, rhetorical, literary, and so on) and the intended audience. However, these general characteristics serve as a solid foundation for creating a well-written essay in any context.

The Golden Rule of Essay Writing

The “golden rule” of essay writing is often considered to be “show, don’t tell.” This principle encourages writers to use vivid and specific details, examples, and evidence to convey their ideas, rather than relying on general statements or empty assertions.

Here is an example of show, don’t tell:

  • Telling: “I am a hardworking and determined individual.”
  • Showing: “Every day, I wake up at 5 a.m., meticulously organize my study materials, and commit myself to hours of focused work. I push through challenges and setbacks, driven by an unwavering desire to achieve my goals.”
  • In the second example, the writer provides specific actions and details that demonstrate their hardworking and determined nature, rather than simply stating those qualities. This approach makes the writing more engaging and persuasive.

By showing rather than telling, you engage the reader’s senses and imagination, creating a more vivid and compelling reading experience. Instead of simply stating that something is true or important, you provide concrete evidence, anecdotes, or descriptions that allow the reader to experience or visualize what you are conveying.

How to Write: Steps, Mistakes to Avoid, Tips

Steps Description Tips Mistakes to Avoid
1. Pre-writing Initial phase where you gather thoughts, plan, and organize ideas before diving into the writing.

– Essential to ensure your essay addresses the specific requirements outlined in the prompt.

– Take time to brainstorm and outline your ideas

– Clearly understand the essay prompt before starting

– Skipping brainstorming and planning

– Review suggested college essay topics.

2. Outline your essay – Based on your brainstorming, identify the main sections or major ideas that will form the backbone of your essay.

– These sections will typically become your body paragraphs.

– Aim for a clear and logical organization of your ideas. – Lack of a logical flow and clear essay structure.
3. Start with an Introduction – A well-crafted introduction captures the reader’s attention and provides a roadmap for the essay.

– Sets the tone for the essay and presents the main argument or purpose to guide the reader.

Start with a compelling hook

– Craft a concise and focused thesis statement

– Lack of a clear, focused, and specific thesis statement

– Overly complex language or jargon

4. Develop Effective Body Paragraphs – Focuses on developing and supporting the main points, ensuring a logical and organized structure.

– Consider the most effective order in which to present your ideas, ensuring a logical flow and progression throughout the essay.

– Each paragraph should contribute to the overall argument, providing evidence to strengthen your points.

– Use transitions to ensure a smooth flow between paragraphs

– Support each point with relevant and credible evidence

– Lack of coherence between paragraphs

– Insufficient or irrelevant evidence

5. Write a Strong Conclusion – Aims to leave a lasting impression, summarizing key points and possibly suggesting further action.

– Reinforces the significance of the essay and leaves the reader with something to ponder.

– Summarize main points without introducing new information

– Offer a fresh perspective or a call to action

– Introducing new ideas or arguments

– Being too repetitive

6. Referencing Cite evidence in recommended citation style i.e. APA, MLA Review essay instructions/ rubric/ prompt – Missing in-text citations

– Incorrect citation format

7. Revise and Proofread your essay – Final stage where you refine your essay, ensuring it is error-free, coherent, and effectively communicates your ideas.

– Valuable step to gain external perspectives, identify weaknesses, and improve the overall quality of the essay.

– Revise and edit for clarity, grammar, and punctuation

– Seek feedback and make revisions accordingly

– Neglecting to proofread for errors and typos

– Ignoring feedback from peers or instructors

Remember, it’s important to use a formal and academic tone, clear and concise language, and to avoid plagiarism by properly citing all sources. Remember that no matter how well-written and well-structured an essay is, submitting a plagiarized essay is the surest way to fail and/or get kicked out of school.

Use Evidence, Reasoning, and Examples

Evidence, reasoning, and examples play a crucial role in writing claims in a college essay. Here’s why:

  1. Supporting Claims:
    • Evidence, reasoning, and examples provide support for the claims you make in your essay. They add credibility to your arguments and make your ideas more convincing to the reader.
    • Without evidence, reasoning, and examples, your essay may lack substance and appear unsubstantiated.
    • For example, if you are writing an essay on the benefits of exercise, you could include evidence from scientific studies that show how regular physical activity improves cardiovascular health, boosts mood, and enhances cognitive function. By presenting this evidence, you strengthen your claim that exercise is beneficial.
  2. Demonstrating Knowledge:
    • By including evidence, reasoning, and examples, you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the topic. It shows that you have done your research, engaged with relevant information, and can apply critical thinking to analyze and interpret the subject matter.
    • Suppose you are writing an essay on the causes of climate change. By including reasoning that links greenhouse gas emissions to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes, you demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter and show that you have engaged with relevant scientific research.
  3. Enhancing Clarity:
    • Evidence, reasoning, and examples help clarify your ideas and make them easier to understand. They provide concrete examples, illustrations, and explanations that bring your arguments to life. This clarity allows the reader to follow your thought process and grasp the significance of your claims.
    • Imagine you are writing an essay on the impact of social media on mental health. By providing specific examples of studies, surveys, or personal anecdotes that illustrate the connection between excessive social media use and increased feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, you make your argument clearer and easier to comprehend.
  4. Strengthening Persuasion:
    • Including well-chosen evidence, reasoning, and examples strengthens your persuasive power. They help you build a strong case and present a compelling argument. When you support your statements with reliable evidence, logical reasoning, and relevant examples, you increase your chances of persuading the reader to accept your viewpoint.
    • If your essay is advocating for stricter gun control laws, you could present evidence from countries that have implemented such laws and seen a decrease in gun-related violence. Additionally, you could use logical reasoning to explain how limiting access to firearms could reduce the likelihood of mass shootings. These persuasive elements bolster your argument and make it more compelling.
  5. Adding Depth and Dimension:
    • Evidence, reasoning, and examples add depth and dimension to your essay. They show that you have thought critically about the topic, considered multiple perspectives, and can analyze and evaluate information. Including diverse and compelling evidence enriches your essay and makes it more engaging and informative.
    • Suppose you are writing an essay on the historical significance of the Civil Rights Movement. By incorporating specific examples of key events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Selma to Montgomery marches, along with the impact they had on the fight for racial equality, you add depth and dimension to your essay, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  6. Avoiding Generalizations:
    • Without evidence, reasoning, and examples, your essay may rely on generalizations or unsupported claims. This can weaken your arguments and undermine the overall quality of your writing. By including specific evidence, logical reasoning, and relevant examples, you can avoid sweeping statements and ensure that your essay is grounded in factual information.
    • If you are discussing the benefits of renewable energy sources, it is crucial to provide evidence such as statistics on reduced carbon emissions, improved air quality, and job creation in the renewable energy sector. By including specific data and examples, you avoid making broad generalizations and strengthen the validity of your claims.

In summary, evidence, reasoning, and examples are essential components of a well-written college essay. They provide support for your claims, demonstrate your knowledge and critical thinking skills, enhance clarity, strengthen persuasion, add depth to your arguments, and help you avoid generalizations.


Here are answers to frequently asked questions about writing an essay:

  1. What is the purpose of an essay?
    • The purpose of an essay is to express and communicate a writer’s thoughts, ideas, or arguments on a particular topic. Essays serve various functions, such as informing, persuading, analyzing, or reflecting.
    • They aim to engage readers, present a clear thesis or main idea, and provide evidence to support that idea.
  2. How do I start my essay?
    • Begin your essay with a compelling introduction that grabs the reader’s attention. You can use a thought-provoking question, an anecdote, a relevant quote, or a surprising fact to create an engaging opening.
    • Provide some background information on the topic and end the introduction with a clear and concise thesis statement that outlines the main point of your essay.
  3. How many paragraphs should be in the body of the essay?
    • The number of paragraphs in the body of an essay can vary, but a common structure includes three main paragraphs.
    • Each paragraph should focus on a single main point or argument, supported by evidence and analysis.
    • However, longer essays may have more body paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a specific subtopic.
  4. How do I support my arguments with evidence?
    • Support your arguments with relevant and credible evidence, such as facts, statistics, examples, or expert opinions.
    • Clearly present the evidence and explain its relevance to your main point. Ensure that the evidence is from reliable sources and contributes to the overall coherence and persuasiveness of your argument.
  5. What is the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism?
    • Paraphrasing involves rephrasing a source’s ideas or information in your own words while maintaining the original meaning.
    • Plagiarism, on the other hand, is the act of using someone else’s work without proper attribution or presenting it as your own.
    • Always credit the original source when paraphrasing and follow citation guidelines to avoid plagiarism.
  6. How do I conclude my essay effectively?
    • Conclude your essay by summarizing the main points and reiterating your thesis statement in a new way.
    • Avoid introducing new information and instead leave the reader with a lasting impression.
    • Consider connecting the conclusion to the broader context or suggesting further implications of your argument.
  7. Is it necessary to include a counterargument in my essay?
    • Including a counterargument strengthens your essay by acknowledging and addressing opposing viewpoints.
    • While not always required, presenting a counterargument demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the topic and enhances the overall credibility and persuasiveness of your argument.
  8. How can I improve the flow of my essay?
    • Improve the flow of your essay by using transitional phrases and sentences to guide the reader from one idea to the next.
    • Ensure logical connections between paragraphs and ideas. Consider the overall organization and coherence of your essay, making sure each section naturally leads to the next.
  9. Should I use first-person pronouns in academic essays?
    • The use of first-person pronouns (such as “I” or “we”) in academic essays depends on the style and guidelines of the assignment.
    • In many cases, academic writing tends to be more formal, and the use of third-person pronouns is preferred.
    • However, some disciplines or specific assignments may allow or even encourage the use of first-person pronouns for a more personal or reflective tone. Always check the guidelines provided by your instructor or institution.
  10. What is the importance of transitions between paragraphs?
    • Transitions between paragraphs are crucial for maintaining the flow and coherence of your essay. They serve as bridges that guide the reader from one idea to the next, ensuring a smooth and logical progression.
    • Effective transitions help readers understand the relationships between different points, making your essay more readable and coherent.
  11. How do I revise and edit my essay for clarity and coherence?

    To revise and edit for clarity and coherence, read your essay critically and consider the following:

    • Sentence Structure: Ensure varied sentence structures and eliminate unnecessary repetition.
    • Clarity: Clarify unclear or ambiguous sentences and expressions.
    • Consistency: Check for consistency in tone, style, and the use of terminology.
    • Logical Flow: Examine the order of paragraphs and ensure a logical progression of ideas.
    • Transitions: Confirm that transitions effectively connect ideas between paragraphs.
    • Grammar and Punctuation: Correct grammar and punctuation errors for better clarity.
  12. What role does peer review play in improving my essay?
    • Peer review involves having others read and provide feedback on your essay. It offers valuable insights into how your writing is perceived, identifies areas for improvement, and helps catch errors you might have overlooked.
    • Peer review fosters a fresh perspective and allows you to address potential weaknesses before submitting your final draft.
  13. Is it okay to use personal experiences in an essay?
    • Yes, incorporating personal experiences can add depth and authenticity to your essay.
    • However, ensure that the personal anecdotes are relevant to the topic and contribute to the overall message of the essay.
    • Strike a balance between personal reflection and the broader context of your argument.
  14. How can I make my essay more engaging for the reader?

    To make your essay more engaging:

    • Use Vivid Language: Employ descriptive and engaging language.
    • Create a Compelling Introduction: Start with a captivating hook to grab the reader’s attention.
    • Varied Sentence Structure: Use a mix of sentence structures for rhythm.
    • Appeal to Emotions: Connect with readers on an emotional level when appropriate.
    • Include Relevant Examples: Use real-world examples to illustrate your points.
  15. Should I include citations in my essay, and how do I format them?
    • Yes, it’s essential to include citations to give credit to the sources of your information and avoid plagiarism.
    • The format depends on the citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) specified by your instructor.
    • Common elements include the author’s name, publication date, title, and source information.
  16. What is the significance of a strong conclusion in an essay?
    • A strong conclusion summarizes key points, reinforces your thesis, and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It’s your final opportunity to make your case or reiterate your main message.
    • A well-crafted conclusion contributes to the overall cohesiveness and impact of your essay.
  17. How do I stay within the word count without sacrificing content?

    To stay within the word count:

    • Prioritize Information: Focus on essential points that directly support your thesis.
    • Eliminate Redundancy: Remove repetitive or unnecessary information.
    • Combine Ideas: Look for opportunities to merge similar ideas or arguments.
    • Use Concise Language: Express ideas clearly and succinctly without unnecessary elaboration.
    • Consider the Guidelines: Adhere to any specific word count guidelines provided by your instructor.

In conclusion, the key to writing a successful essay involves understanding the prompt, crafting a clear thesis statement, maintaining an organized structure, providing relevant and credible evidence, and revising thoroughly for clarity, coherence, and error-free content. Additionally, seeking feedback from peers or instructors can enhance the overall quality of the essay.