How to Write an Essay: A Complete Online Writing Guide

Writing guide
Posted on November 20, 2023
Table of contents

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This is a famous quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway. Writing an essay sometimes seems like a tremendously exhausting task for those unfamiliar with the academic field. However, you can learn how to write a good essay with no harm to your nerves by reading this article.

So, get yourself comfortable and find your long-awaited help with writing an essay!

Steps to Writing an Essay

In fact, there are just a few crucial steps for writing an essay. You must keep things simple: all you need is to research, write, and check your text. However, each of these three steps has some long-established rules. If you know the requirements for each writing process, you are safe from paper revisions, poor marks, and displeased professors.

Steps of writing an essay: Three main processes

Here are the three whales of the essay writing system with sub-topics included:

  • Step 1: Research. This step includes searching for credible sources, processing them, extracting citations, and preparing the extracts for citing in your text according to the required format.
  • Step 2: Writing. This step has three sub-steps. Writing an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion are all similar processes. Yet, each of them has specific distinctions.
  • Step 3: Editing and proofreading. In this step, the main work is done. You only have to make sure you meet the requirements and correct all mistakes.

Major length types of an essay

Here is just a quick note before we start: the requirements for your essay may differ depending on its length and type. Due to the approximate classifications, there are three main essay-length types:

  • A small essay (1 page, 275 words)
  • A medium essay (2-4 pages, 500 – 1000 words)
  • A long essay (4-10+ pages, 1000-2750+ words).

This essay guide will cover medium essay length later.

Essay Writing Mind Map

Step 1: Preparation for Writing an Essay. Key Research Processes and Essay Format Examples

You have just received a topic and instructions for your essay. So, how do you start an essay? What do you need to do first – should you start writing immediately? No, the first step to developing a strong paper is doing research.

Why do you need research, references, and citations in your essay?

You need to include other people’s perspectives on your issue to acknowledge the two core principles of academic integrity. The first principle states that you must “stand on the shoulders” of those before you, i.e., rely on the achievements of other scientists in your work.

Pro tip

Doing research and citing credible sources just prevents you from reinventing the wheel.

The second principle declares that you must properly tribute and acknowledge others’ work instead of stealing it. The best way to meet both criteria is to find the most suitable resources and properly cite them in your work.

How must students conduct the research process?

The students must research as if they are preparing for public speaking: extract only facts, good arguments, and stunning examples. These three things are the most common criteria you must apply for selecting the sources. The fourth and last criterion in choosing good quotation material is the source’s credibility. But let’s dive deeper and investigate how to implement these recommendations in practice.

Choosing Credible Source

Choosing credible sources has never been easier

How to make a good essay outstanding? Choose great references for your essay. A credible source is one that meets rigorous academic standards and presents accurate and truthful information. Here are some basic criteria that will help you identify good resources:

  • Journal article
  1. Is scholarly and peer-reviewed
  2. Has International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
  3. Presents authors’ names, publication date, journal title, volume, issue, page numbers, and DOI (Digital Object Identifier)
  4. Has clear research methods, sampling, and follows the standard structure for academic papers
  5. Avoids bold claims with no verification and proofs
  6. Examples: “Science,” “American Economic Review,” “The Journal of American Medical Association”
  • Books
  1. Are written by people with relevant expertise in the field (academic degree, credible courses, appropriate training, or working in the field)
  2. Have International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
  3. Dive deeply into the material instead of giving shallow information
  4. Have an objective and balanced perspective
  5. Examples: “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari, “The Making of the Modern Middle East” by Jeremy Bowen
  • Websites
  1. Have secure connections (https://)
  2. Have clear and accessible contact information
  3. Have clear authorship or relation to an official institution
  4. Provide evidence-based information or fact-supported opinions
  5. Avoid manipulative emotional calls and messages
  6. Avoid being overly personal (except for personal blogs), rude, unpolite, and inconsistent
  7. Examples: “The New York Times,” “Washington Post,” “Forbes”
Pro tip

If you need some details on credible sources, here is a guide to credible sources 101.

Basic citing information. Citation formats and requirements explained

Citing is one of the most important steps to writing an essay. You can and must give credit for someone’s work using two ways in your academic paper:

  • In-text citations. This method of giving credit goes right after the sentence with a citation. It’s a short form that only names the most basic information. Usually, it consists of the author’s name, the page number of the quote, and the year of the source’s publication. Here is how that looks:
  • The bibliography list (reference-page citations). This citation goes on the last page of your document. It is the full description of the source’s publication properties.

Different formatting styles vary slightly based on how these two citations are designed and presented. But what are citation styles (manuals), anyway?

Pro tip

If you don’t know where to find references, try using a free reference finder. It will guide you through the most rigorous collections of academic works all in one place.

A few of the most common citation styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago formats. As there is too much information on each citation style, we will direct you to our detailed guidance on each particular manual.

  • APA citation style

APA was created by the American Psychology Association. APA primarily serves in the fields of social sciences, where the research evolves rapidly. That is why, right after the author’s name, the APA manual requires the year of publication. This style puts a strong emphasis on the currency of the information. You can use the full APA guidelines or make things work faster with a citation generator. If you just want to understand how an APA citation should look, here is a step-by-step guide with essay format examples included.

  • MLA citation style

MLA was developed by the Modern Language Association, mainly for humanities disciplines and art. For the in-text citations, you only need the author’s name and the page number. This way, it is easier to talk about the arts and concepts without thinking too much about correct references. Similarly to the APA style, you can read the full MLA citation manual, go for an easy method using a citation generator, and check quick guidance on the MLA formatting.

  • Chicago style

Chicago style has come from the University of Chicago Press since 1906. This style is common in the historical field, which usually requires a lot of sources for each page. For that reason, Chicago’s citing style has more specific citing methods than APA and MLA. It uses footnotes at the bottom of the page to mark the citations. Here are the three options for your choice of Chicago style: read a full manual, use a citation generator, or get the most crucial bits of information in the quick guidelines.

Pro tip

For those who like to get all the information in one piece, here is a short and comprehensive guide on all three formats. It works best with a free citation generator. This way, you get your citation done by machine, and you understand how the whole process works.

Most common questions and useful resources about citing

When it comes to citations, there are a few commonly asked questions that may bother you. Let’s get them clear.

  • “How many citations are enough for my essay?”

Typically, you can use one or two citations per essay page. In this article, our authors shared particular numbers for all years of studying and for the most common essay types.

  • “What should I do if the source misses some crucial citing information?”

You can skip that missing part in your citation or use specific marks to indicate that some data is missing. Here is a full guide on how to do that properly for each format.

  • “I have to write a research paper, but it also must have an essay form, according to my instructions. I am confused about references and other requirements. Can I get help to write an essay?”

Sure. The research paper and essay forms significantly differ for scientists and graduate students. However, if you are an undergraduate, the difference is only in the larger number of sources and deeper research process. Here is all you need to know about references in research.

Step 2.1: Writing the Introduction of the Essay

As soon as you are done with your research, you can start writing your essay. A formal essay consists of three mandatory parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction is the part where you present your topic to the reader and set the composition for the whole essay. So, how do you do that?

How to write the perfect essay? Write a strong introduction paragraph

The “academically correct” introduction takes 10% of the whole essay’s word count.

  • It should have at least three full sentences to properly present the topic.
  • The first sentence is a “hook sentence.” Its purpose is to catch the readers’ attention and intrigue them enough to read the whole work.
  • The most important part of the introduction is the thesis statement. Typically, it’s the last sentence of the introduction paragraph. It briefly states the key idea of the essay and lists the sub-topics that will be discussed throughout the text.
  • You must not include any citations in the introduction paragraph. All citations go to the body paragraphs. All you have to do in the intro paragraph is to briefly present the topic; no extra details are required.
Jacob Lee Top-10 Writer at

I think the essay introduction might work as a roadmap for the reader, guiding them through the central thesis and key arguments. It is not just a metaphor but an actual goal of writing a good introduction.

A hook sentence. A short guide on grabbing the reader’s attention

A hook sentence is your five-second chance to make the first impression on the reader. Writing an essay format supposes that you do everything coherently and convincingly. The person who reads your essays will only remember its start and finish a few minutes after reading the text. That is why you must make it memorable. If you don’t know how to start an essay, here are a few tips on how to do that in a management-related essay.

  • Startling statistics. Example: “The average manager-per-worker ratio is ten workers per manager. That means that one person must keep in mind the working processes and personal traits of ten people simultaneously.”
  • A thought-provoking question. Example: “Have you ever wondered why some managers effortlessly inspire their teams while others struggle to gain their trust?”
  • Storytelling. Example: “As a manager in a large company, I sometimes feel like a sailor steering a ship in a storm.”
  • Humor. Example: “Managing a team can sometimes feel like herding cats; you have a diverse group of individuals, each going in their direction.”
  • Analogies or metaphors. Example: “In the world of management, the role of a leader is akin to that of a gardener. They nurture the talents of their team, removing weeds of inefficiency.”

The crucial role of the thesis statement. Why is it so important?

A poor thesis statement is one of the most common reasons for essay revisions and poor grades. This one sentence is essential because the whole essay genre stands on coherence and cohesiveness. The thesis statement is the first milestone on the way to these qualities. Here is how the structural logic works:

  1. All the parts of the essay must work for your main idea. The introduction must explain what you are going to discuss, and the body paragraphs must develop your thesis statement and provide arguments and facts. The conclusion must sum up your ideas and reinforce your thesis statement.
  2. Each body paragraph must have a topic sentence that briefly covers the main idea of the paragraph. For instance, if the thesis statement reveals the idea through three components, the essay will have three body paragraphs and three topic sentences, respectively.
  3. As you see, what you write in your thesis statement impacts what you will write later through the text.

Thesis statement writing rules. All you need to know about thesis statements

Writing a quality thesis statement is a skill on its own. Professional writers can choose the best tools, methods, and tricks depending on the topic, essay type, and many other factors. However, you can easily practice these skills with the following key points:

  • The thesis statement must clearly define the main idea. It’s not enough to just rephrase your body paragraphs in one sentence. A good thesis statement specifies the particular sub-topics of your essay. Yet, they must directly reflect your main focus.
  • A good thesis statement is narrowed down. You don’t have to put every thought you have for the essay in one sentence. It is better to write down your topic sentences first and then summarize them in one thesis statement.
  • The thesis statement must be arguable. Although writing a one-sided thesis statement is sometimes tempting, a good paper has an idea to prove. A strong essay not only presents its arguments but also takes the time to counter potential objections or counterarguments, making it more persuasive. Otherwise, what are your arguments for?

Thesis Statement

“How do I know my thesis is good?” and other questions answered

The questions about writing a decent thesis statement are very common among students. That’s why we already have completely separate guides on each of these typical questions. Here is a sneak peek at the answers and the links to these guides.

  • “So, really, how do I know my thesis is good?”

The two most crucial points are to make sure that the thesis statement clearly states the main idea and that it’s neither too broad nor narrow. But you can read more detailed instructions to check yourself.

  • “Can I please have more samples? I tried the ‘How to write an essay step by step’ search request and barely found some samples. Are there any resources with thesis statement samples on my topic?”

Yes, sure you can! Here are examples of good thesis statements from our experts. You can also search thesis statement samples through the search engine “How to Write” by For instance, here are the articles with thesis statement examples for diverse disciplines:

  • “But how long should my thesis statement be?”

A thesis statement usually takes about one or two sentences of your introduction paragraph. The length depends on the type of assignment and the length of the paper. We have a whole article answering this question in detail, so check it out!

Jacob Lee Top-10 Writer at

Guess what? You can have a little “cheat code” for this part of the writing. You can use the thesis statement generator, and don’t ever try to wrap your mind around all these complicated rules.

Step 2.2: Writing the Main Body of the Essay

Now, you have come to the core part of the writing process – writing the body paragraphs. But no worries, the harder parts are already behind. Learn a few more points on how to write an effective essay to get your work done.

Golden rules for the essay’s body paragraphs

As for the standard formal requirements or recommendations for the essay format, there are just a few of them.

  • The classic college essay format requires each body paragraph to vary approximately from 60 to 140 words. It is inconvenient to violate any of the two restrictions. In one case, your idea will lack clarity and confirming arguments. In the other case, the paragraph will have too many unrelated details and will be hard to read.
  • Each body paragraph must explore some part of the thesis statement. You can do so by declaring what part you are going to discuss now and then supporting it with arguments and examples.
  • It is recommended that each body paragraph starts with a topic sentence and ends with a reinforcement or conclusion on the paragraph’s idea. However, it is rather a recommendation than a requirement, as the essay still must preserve some novelty and originality. You can use this rule when you struggle to maintain a clear structure of thoughts.

Topic sentences. Quick answers on what they are and why you need them

As the thesis statement is a structural basis for the whole essay, the topic sentences are the core elements of each body paragraph. These sentences are the “branches” coming from the thesis statement. You need them in your essay to keep the readers’ attention and the understanding of where your thoughts are heading.

There are not many rules and restrictions concerning topic sentences. The main thing you must do is keep your whole essay composition clear and coherent.

Citations and your thoughts. How to find a balance

One more thing that bothers beginner writers is the number of citations in body paragraphs. As said earlier, you can get a more detailed explanation of how many citations are enough. But if you struggle to understand the dynamics between these two types, here is how you can address it.

You may perceive citations as three types of “appendixes” to your thoughts:

  1. The other people’s ideas reinforce and confirm your perception. People tend to believe in some claims only when many people support these claims. Hence, by citing others, you add some authority to your ideas.
  2. Citations serve as examples of your statements. The general logic of any narrative is as follows: a thesis – an argument that supports the thesis – an example that supports the argument. You can come up with examples on your own, or you can use side sources for that purpose. Just don’t forget to cite it!
  3. External inserts in your text make it more dynamic. Narrating or augmenting your idea becomes monotonous if you have to “decorate” the main claims. All external inserts in your text add some “anchors” for the reader’s eyes and minds.
Pro tip

These three ideas work only if you have the core basis of your thoughts. Citations are always an extra spice for your meals.

Arguments and examples. How to master them

As you understand that your thoughts are the main constructing blocks of your essay, the other problem emerges. Let’s say you have a topic for the essay, a thesis statement, and an opinion to advocate for. But how can you know what arguments and examples will justify your perspective the best? No worries! Here are a few ideas for your inspiration:

  1. Keep your arguments closely related to the topic. The common mistake students often make is dragging all their thoughts into an essay. You can do that at first, but then you must edit the essay and choose what arguments work best for your paper.
  2. Diversify your examples. Fortunately, there are plenty of inspirational things around us every day. You can use examples from your life, history, literature, movies, your life observations, nature, statistics, and the stories of other people. Do not hold onto just one type. Diversity makes your essay more vibrant and interesting.
  3. Balance quantity and quality. Focus on the quality of your evidence rather than the quantity. A few well-chosen, high-quality examples are more effective than a long list of weak ones.
  4. If you write a descriptive or narrative essay, do not tell but show your point. These essay types are aimed to impress the reader, while other types mainly deliver the information. Hence, try to keep your arguments and examples consistent with the essay’s type and with your main target.

Arguments and examples

Step 2.3: Writing the Conclusion of the Essay

Along with the introduction, the conclusion is the framing of your essay. Body paragraphs hold the central informational value, while the framing keeps the readers’ attention and helps them memorize the content.

Key rules to writing a good conclusion

Therefore, the main rules of formatting the conclusion are somewhat similar to those we discussed in the introduction:

  • The “academically correct” conclusion takes 10% of the whole essay’s word count.
  • It should have at least three full sentences to properly present the topic.
  • The goal of the conclusion in your essay is to sum up everything and rephrase your points.
  • The conclusion must not have any citations, new information, new arguments, or examples.
  • The conclusion cannot simply repeat some concluding sentences from your essay. It also must not retell every single argument you have in the text. Instead, develop your conclusion as if it “stands at a higher level” from your whole text. It must provide a helicopter view of the whole essay.

Good and bad conclusion samples. Check whether your conclusion has three common mistakes

  1. Repeating the introduction word-by-word

Bad conclusion example: “In conclusion, I have discussed the importance of renewable energy sources and their positive impact on the environment. As I mentioned in the introduction, renewable energy is essential for a sustainable future.”

The reason why it needs improvement: Despite the popular misconception, you must not repeat your introduction in the final words of your essay. At the very least, it must be a more subtle repetition. Instead, the conclusion can emphasize how exactly the arguments support your initial claims.

Improved conclusion example: “Altogether, renewable energy sources decrease the negative impact of the greenhouse effect and provide a more sustainable lifestyle for humanity.”

  1. Presenting new information

Bad conclusion example: “In conclusion, the topic of climate change is complex and multifaceted. In recent news, there was a report on record-breaking global temperatures. This shows how urgent the situation is and why we must take immediate action.”

The reason why it needs improvement: The essay’s conclusion is not the place for the arguments, citations, examples, and new ideas. These important essay parts must go to the body paragraphs.

Improved conclusion example: “In conclusion, the topic of climate change is complex and multifaceted. The issue becomes increasingly abrupt and urgent, so we must take immediate action.”

  1. Being repetitive

Bad conclusion example: “In conclusion, I want to emphasize the importance of time management skills. Time management is crucial for success in all aspects of life. So, remember, time management is key.”

The reason why it needs improvement: Some students get confused because of the idea of concluding something. Please do not mix up concluding and repeating the same thoughts.

Improved conclusion example: “Strong time management skills make our lives much more effective, pleasant, and concentrated. Keeping a simple time-management routine helps to beat procrastination and significantly improve mental health.”

Step 3: Editing and Proofreading. The Final Step of the Essay Writing Process

The best advice you can get for editing your draft is to separate the editing processes. First, let’s elaborate on the differences between editing and proofreading.

  • Editing your essay refers to the process of improving the text’s readability, clarity, coherence, and thought flow.
  • Proofreading is about checking out misspellings, punctuation, formatting, and grammatical errors.

So, how do we improve both processes?

Editing 101. The checklist of all important points

Editing must always go first before proofreading, as during the editing process, you may change or completely rewrite large parts of the text. To make sure that everything is clean and smooth in your text, go through these points:

  1. Your essay follows the basic structural criteria described earlier. The introduction and conclusion paragraphs take about 20% of the whole word count. Each paragraph of the essay serves the particular purpose of the introduction, body, or conclusion.
  2. Your essay has a thesis statement. Your body paragraphs clearly claim the main ideas (one key thought per paragraph). Your thoughts are supported by arguments and examples.
  3. Your arguments are solid and directly related to your claims and thesis statement. Your examples are diversified.
  4. The ideas flow smoothly from one paragraph to another. There are no abrupt changes to the topic or conflicting claims. Your essay can discuss different points of view on the issue, but it presents each perspective consistently and logically.
  5. Your paragraphs have linking words. They are not decorative elements but serve for the coherence and cohesiveness of your text.

Linking words

  1. Your essay has a clear and logical conclusion. It does not repeat the exact words from the introduction or body. The conclusion provides a brief overview of your key idea.

Does your essay meet all these requirements? Great! Then, you have just a few final points to check, and your essay is all done!

Proofreading your text. A few smart strategies to use

Now, you are in the last “station” before sending your essay on a new checking journey with your teacher. You only have to make sure there are no critical mistakes in the formatting, grammar, and punctuation.

We know that you have had enough English classes throughout your school life, so there is no repetition of the grammatical rules here. However, you probably need some tips on detecting all your mistakes and never letting your teacher find them in your papers. So, here is how you do that:

  1. First, check your essay’s plagiarism rate. Yes, even if your text is fully original, you may involuntarily use someone else’s ideas without noticing it. It’s a really fast step; just use the plagiarism checker, and you will be safe from any accusations.
  2. Use Grammarly and/or AI to check your text for grammar, punctuation, and misspelling mistakes. AI is barely helpful with writing high-quality papers but does well with more technical tasks.
  3. Read your text aloud or print it out. The more you switch the methods of perception, the more new perspectives you will have.
  4. Check your essay for typical grammatical mistakes. These are run-on sentences, correct verb tenses, pronoun agreement, and subject-verb agreement.

How to Write Essay Step By Step. Some Untypical Questions

Wow, great job! You are trying really hard if you made it all the way here through the text. Now, if you still have some questions about the step by step essay guide, we will answer them here.

“How to start of an essay if I have no ideas for writing?”

Most likely, you have the fear of the blank page. Start with brainstorming ideas first, and do not perceive your initial text as the final version. You can make as many drafts as you need!

“How to write a essay if I have no time left?”

You can write a small essay even within a few hours. It will not be perfect, but submitting an imperfect text is better than skipping the assignment. Read this guide to write your essay fast.

“How to write good essay if I had no writing experience at all?”

Having no experience in writing is totally fine. You already have everything you need. Writing an essay steps are accurate compasses on your studying journey. Read this guide a few more times, take notes, and make sure that you understand the logic of the essay steps, and your first college essay will be great!

“How to write a essay if I don’t want to do that?”

You can always use essay support services or start with trying free writing tools. For instance, our service proposes an AI essay generator, but you can choose any software you like. Also, if you have any questions about “How do I write an essay,” you can leave comments and wait for new articles with free essay writing tips.

About authors
James Snyder A Top-10 writer at
James is one of the most prominent authors on our team with more than 7 years of experience. He specializes in writing essays and coursework. James loves to work from home with a cup of hot chocolate and his cat Archibald.
Kate Roth A Top-10 writer at
Kate likes to read long stories and write essays. She’s experienced in both academic writing and marketing activities, so she can tell everything about a writer’s job in a few simple words. You can use our website to request the help of our experts anytime.
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