It looks easy whipping out your word processor and cranking out a 1,000-word essay the night before submission. That’s why most essay writers in high school and college often come up with essays that have no clear purpose at all. An essay can, in fact, be well written. It can have the proper tone, appropriate word usage and flawless grammar, but it can still lack a sense of focus that allows the writer to make the best choices when it comes to everything else about the essay.
The Pre-Writing Stage
It can save you a huge amount of time if you think about your essay’s purpose before you start writing your first draft. Immature writers take on a come-what-may approach, typing down each sentence as it comes without any real sense of where the essay is going. The more mature ones, on the other hand, create a plan first, whether it is a tangible one printed out on a piece of paper or one that they memorize inside their heads.
For a beginner, it is helpful writing out your plan first. Let’s assume you chose a very broad topic to write about, such as college education. A 1000-word essay will not do justice to the topic, as you need to write an entire book to cover everything about getting a college education. You need to break it down into manageable categories and sub-categories and focus on one you really want to write about. For example, financial aid for college might sound like an interesting category to you, but you can still narrow it down even more into sub-categories, such as scholarships, student loans, etc., which can still be broken down further.
The Writing Stage
Here is the part where you have to create a thesis statement that will serve as your guidepost for maintaining focus. The thesis statement is a clear and straightforward declaration of what your main point is. It usually comes at the beginning of the essay, often towards the end of the first paragraph, as an introduction to the following supporting arguments in your next few paragraphs. A thesis statement is not a declaration of a fact. It states an opinion—your opinion that you have to support with the following paragraphs. Underline it. Highlight it. Make it stand out so you have something to keep coming back to that will remind you of your essay’s focus.
The Post-Writing Stage
Now is the time for you to cut away your excesses. Revising is a painful process for most beginners, but it comes naturally as you mature as a writer. At this stage, you have to analyze every single paragraph to see if it supports the thesis statement. Each paragraph also needs to have its own thesis statement, which is a supporting statement for the main idea. If one paragraph doesn’t, you have two choices. One is to get rid of it. The other is to flesh out the ideas presented in that paragraph and see if you can incorporate them in another paragraph. The second option is best, especially for writers not used to doing away with major chunks of their work.
When all paragraphs are sure to serve a purpose, move to a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the essay. Does each sentence support the main idea of the paragraph? Does each sentence convey the same tone as the rest of the essay? If you answered no to each question, rephrase your sentences to keep them aligned to the paragraph’s main point. If you answered yes, congratulations! Your essay has found its purpose.