Professor: David T. Courtwright
Institution: University of North Florida
Date: Fall 1995
Listing: AMH 3544/HIS 5934
How to Write an Effective Essay
1. The first step is to organize your thoughts. Decide on a basic theme and outline three or four sections of the paper that will support the theme. If you are asked to deal with specific questions, make sure you do at some point in the essay.
2. The basic unit of an essay is the paragraph. A good paragraph should have a topic sentence that tells what it is about and several additional sentences that elaborate themain point. Be careful not to write one or two sentence paragraphs; these are almost invariably a sign of weak analysis. By the same token, do not put two or three main ideas together in one long paragraph. As a rule you should have one, one-and-a-half, or two paragraphs per typewritten, double-spaced page. Your opening paragraph should catch the reader's attendion and state the theme of your essay. Ordinarily, the final paragraph should summarize what you have said in the paper.
3. Guide the reader as you write. No one can read your mind or anticipate what you are going to say two pages later. As you begin each paragraph try to make a smooth, logical transition from the previous paragraph.
4. Be careful not to copy your answers from a book or article. Anyone can string together quotations; the trick is to synthesize your research in a meaningful way. You need to demonstrate your own ability to think, your originality. It is also a good idea to avoid long, block quotations. When you do quote, be sure to cite the source. If you have questions about how to arrange footnotes and endnotes (I do not care which you use) consult the Chicago Manual of Style, a copy of which is available in the library.
5. Write more than one draft. Try reading your paper to someone to see if it makes sense. Reading aloud is an excellent way to test the clarity and naturalness of your prose. If it sounds awkward, it is awkward. Revise it.