How Do I Write an Essay?

A Procedure for Writing an Essay

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One ~

When you are given an assignment to write an essay, you should follow a procedure that works for you. Here is a basic procedure that you can adapt and fine-tune according to your strengths or weaknesses in the writing task. The steps that you should take may be outlined as follows:


Before I write, what must I do?

In the pre-writing stage, you analyze the requirements of the assignment and plan how you will do the task. This will include some questions:

  1. When is the submission deadline?
  2. How much time do I have from now until the submission deadline?
  3. To produce fulfilling and excellent work, aim to give sufficient time to each of the above steps. Plan to complete your essay at least two or three days before the deadline. The reason for this will become clear later in Part Two of this article.
  4. With some idea of the timing, you are ready to scribble your ideas on paper or type them into a text editor or a Word Doc, whatever you prefer. You are not writing your essay. This is all preliminary. It is pre-writing, and you are getting a feel for the substance of your essay.
  5. In the pre-writing phase, you are jotting down various ideas that spring to mind as you think about your assignment. You are trying to pin down what your subject will be. You are making a list of possibilities that could take you in the direction that you need to go to meet the requirements of the assignment. You should make use of Venn diagrams, web diagrams, maps, and even spreadsheets to uncover what will be the substance of your essay.
  6. Narrow down your topic to a specific point. Be careful of being too broad in your choice. If writing about the ocean fits the assignment, narrow it down: Which ocean? The Atlantic Ocean. Which part of the Atlantic – North or South? North. Which part of the North Atlantic? The western part. Nearest which coastline or other physical feature? Near to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world and closely associated with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The more you narrow down the subject, the better you will be able to handle it.
  7. If it is required, part of the narrowing down process helps to establish a thesis statement in which you assert what you think about a matter that, preferably, is controversial. When you actually begin to write your essay, you will be defending your thesis statement.
  8. At this stage, you could produce an outline of your essay that will help you to develop it.
  9. Ask this question: Is this something that I can write about quite ably with no or little research, or is it a subject that is going to require a fair bit of research? If research is necessary, you might have to adjust your original outline after you have finished researching, or defer outlining until the research has been completed.

Venn Diagram

Venn Diagram

Ready for the hunt?

Researching is like hunting. You have an idea of what you are looking for. Now you have to hunt for it. Researching is really part of the pre-writing phase, but it is listed as a separate stage here because of its importance. To write any essay, it may be necessary to do some research, but this does not turn it into a research report, which is a matter that will receive attention in a later post.

If you have to research your subject at all, jot down some relevant keywords that you should investigate. If you do a Google search, it should lead you to useful articles as well as the texts that you might need to consult.

A word of caution here: Do not rely on the Internet as your sole source for research. There are too many errors there. You need to go to a library and make use of its catalog system to track down the books for your research. The Internet is a useful starting point, but you should delve deeper.

Using index cards as you research is a most useful method by which to make notes and write out quotations. It is a method that allows for easy sorting into the order that you wish to take in the development of your essay. You might prefer to type your information using your laptop computer.

The rule for quotations is that they need to be copied accurately. There is no excuse for error here. Be absolutely sure that you make a note of the full details of each of your sources for reference and quotations while you are working with them. This will save you the trouble of having to track down these sources yet again to compile your bibliography. These details will include

  • author
  • title of the work
  • place of publication
  • publisher
  • date of publication
  • page reference

In Part Two of this procedure for writing an essay, we’ll begin with outlining.

Do you have other useful tips for pre-writing and researching that have helped you? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2010 by English Essay Writing Tips


  1. thanks,
    i have red the information and get something from, but onething i want to mention for they are from other country and when they want speak or writhing any assignment or report it’s very deficullt to do it how ever studing hard, while talking to foriegn people first think in own luanguage the translate in mind or while listning to same people cosdiration to his speach and translate in mind undrestan, what’s your idea for these people if anything please advise and let us know,

    1. Hayatullah: Thank you for your comment.

      If I am understanding you correctly, your concern is about the part that translation should play in the mind of a person who is using English as a second or foreign language.

      This is a common problem facing ESL or EFL teachers and students.

      At the end of this comment there are two links that might give you some idea of a better way.

      It seems that it is better for the student not to translate back and forth between the mother tongue and English.

      Once the student has a basic vocabulary of English words that he understands and a basic grammar of English sentence structure, he should listen to English being spoken and he should read it daily.

      The student should practice English without trying to translate from his mother tongue to English or from English to his mother tongue.

      The reason for this is that each language has its own structure, and literal, word-for-word, translation results in misunderstanding.

      Here are the links. I trust that this will help you:

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