How to Be a Good Essay Writer

Essay writing is a vital part of many courses and often presents the most challenging aspect of students’ work. In order to write effective essays, students need to master the fine line between presenting a clear idea of established knowledge and demonstrating their ability to make an independent assessment of that knowledge. They also need to demonstrate the ability to format their writing correctly and choose the right style, and to use and cite sources in an appropriate manner.

The first step in preparing to write an essay is determining the audience for the piece. This may be a peer, a tutor, an examiner or an employer, and understanding their perspective will help inform the student’s approach to the essay. For example, if the essay is intended to impress an employer, then it may be more worthwhile to focus on criticism, analysis, evaluation or interpretation rather than simply survey and description.

Once the student has determined the audience for their essay, they need to research the topic in depth. This research will typically include the following:

Finding sources

The selection of source material is a crucial stage in the preparation of an essay, and is important in establishing the academic credibility of the essay. In general, students should seek out scholarly works (including peer-reviewed journals and research papers, government publications and official statistics) and academic authors, but they can also look for reputable news stories or other non-scholarly literature if this is the subject of their essay. They should also check the citation style guidelines of their university or college to ensure that they are using the correct style throughout their essay.

Outlining and planning

The outline of an essay is an essential tool for the writing process, and will help to keep the writer on track and to avoid getting lost in the detail. It is essential that the outline outlines the main points of the essay, and shows how each paragraph connects to and supports the argument as a whole. The outline will also assist in making sure that the paragraphs are concise and contain only relevant information.


It is essential that a student writes a draft of their essay, and this can be useful to get any of the ‘crappy ideas’ out of the way. It can also be helpful to have a fellow student or colleague read through the draft, as they will be able to offer feedback on grammar and style.

Finalizing and proofreading

Once the essay is complete, it is essential that the student proofreads it thoroughly to make sure that it is free from errors in spelling, punctuation and structure. It is a good idea to print out the essay, and to go through it in reverse-order line by line. This will help the reader to catch any mistakes that they might otherwise have missed.

It is also a good idea to use a spell-checker, and to check for any grammatical errors such as verb and subject agreement, pronoun usage, sentence structure and tense consistency.