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Your Step-By-Step Guide To Writing An Academic Essay (& Review Checklist)

High school student writing in a notebook.

Writing a formal essay can be scary! It requires a lot more work and research than other assignments, and there are many rules to follow when writing it. It’s difficult to know where to start, and even the thought of writing it can be stressful.

However, with the right information and tips or even with the aid of services like the essay writing service reddit, preparing and writing your essay becomes a lot easier. Check out our guide for essay writing below to help you write a paper you can be proud to hand in.

Before You Start Writing The Essay

1. Pick Your Topic

Unless your teacher has given you a very specific topic, you will need to pick one. If possible, choose a topic that interests you. Once you have a topic in mind, narrow it down to make your paper more specific. You want to be able to prove a point with your chosen topic.

Example: “Golden Retrievers as therapy dogs” is too broad of a topic. A topic that is narrower, such as, “Golden retrievers as therapy dogs for residents in nursing homes” keeps your research and ideas focused.

2. Determine Your Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is the main point you are trying to prove in your essay—it ties all of your ideas and arguments together into one or two concise sentences. A good thesis statement gives your reader a preview of what you will be discussing in the body of your essay.

Example: Golden Retrievers are ideal therapy dogs for seniors in nursing homes because they provide emotional support and companionship to residents.

How To Write A Strong Thesis Statement

  1. Ask yourself, what are you trying to say about your topic in your paper? Is there something you are trying to prove?
  2. Focus these ideas into one or two sentences.
  3. Make sure you introduce your topic and give the reader an idea of the direction you are taking. Include your topic/opinion and your supporting arguments/reasons.
  4. Finally, make sure you are able to back up your thesis with evidence/supporting resources.

3. Find Sources

Once you have an idea of what you want to say in your essay, start finding sources you can use to back up your points. Aim to have at least 2-3 credible sources in your paper, unless your teacher says otherwise.

Some examples of sources include:

  • Books
  • Websites
  • Published articles
  • Encyclopedias
  • Academic Journals

Always check with your teacher to find out what kind of sources he or she is looking for.
Once you have found (and read) your sources, take note of pieces of information you think could back up your thesis.

4. Create An Outline

Creating an outline of your essay will help make the writing process much easier. It is a way to organize your thoughts and structure them in a way that makes sense. Try to come up with three arguments that support your thesis. These arguments will form the body of your essay.

Example: Arguments to support the thesis could be:

  • Golden Retrievers can sense emotion in humans.
  • Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent and easy to train.
  • Golden Retrievers are more calm and gentle than other breeds of dogs.

Writing Your Essay

All essays, regardless of length, have an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each of these sections serve a different purpose in your paper.

The Introduction

The introduction of an essay is one paragraph that introduces your topic and gives an overview of what will be discussed in the body of the paper.

The introductory paragraph is where you will state your thesis and the arguments that you will be presenting in the body of the essay. Avoid talking about the conclusion or findings in the introductory paragraph—you will be discussing those in the rest of the essay.

Helpful Tip: Even though it appears at the top of your essay, write your introduction last. This way, you can summarize the rest of your essay easily—it’s difficult to summarize something you haven’t written yet!

The Body

The body of your essay is where you present your arguments/evidence that back up your thesis.
Each paragraph in your essay should have:

  • A topic sentence: What is this paragraph about? What are you trying to prove in this paragraph?
  • Supporting sentences: How can you back up the topic sentence? What sources can you use to support your claim?
  • A concluding or transition sentence: How will you keep your reader engaged? How can you link this paragraph to the next?

Every paragraph in your essay should have a unique claim/argument that supports your thesis. Always structure your essay to have the strongest argument in your first paragraph, and the next strongest argument in the final paragraph of the body. Your other argument should be sandwiched between your stronger paragraphs.

The Conclusion

The conclusion is the last paragraph in your essay. This is where you wrap up your findings from your discussion in the body paragraphs.

Start your paragraph by restating your thesis (although not in the exact same words). In a few sentences, summarize your arguments from the body paragraphs, and avoid discussing any new ideas that you didn’t talk about in the body of your essay. Finally, wrap up your findings in one final sentence.

Helpful Tip: Your final sentence should convince your reader that you proved your thesis.


The final page in your essay is the references page (sometimes called the bibliography). This is where you document all the sources you have cited in your paper. There are several different formats that can be used to reference sources, such as APA or MLA style. Your teacher may have specified a certain format he or she would like in your paper. If you are unsure, double-check with your teacher before starting.

Polishing Your Work

After writing the first draft of your essay, take one or two days before you go back and read it so your mind is fresh. Make any changes you think are necessary to improve your paper, such as reordering sentences, adding extra information, or taking out sentences that don’t add value to your arguments.

If possible, ask another person to review your essay for spelling, grammar, and clarity. A second set of eyes is helpful to catch small errors you may have missed.

Helpful Tip: Read your essay out loud to make sure it flows and your sentences are clear.

The Oxford Learning Essay Review Checklist

Use our essay review checklist to make sure your essay is polished and ready to go before the deadline!

Essay Review Checklist
Download Your Checklist

More Essay Writing Tips

  1. Don’t force yourself to write your essay in order—start by writing the body of your essay first. Your introduction and conclusion should not be written until the main points of the body are completed first.
  2. Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism is taking other people’s ideas, thoughts, or work and presenting it as your own (or not citing your sources correctly). Always give credit where it is due.
  3. There is no such thing as starting too early! Get a head start and prioritize writing your essay so you have plenty of time to review and edit well before the due date.
  4. Keep your writing objective. Objective language helps convince your reader the facts you are presenting are strong and factual.

    Objective: Golden Retrievers are loyal companions because…
    Subjective: I think Golden Retrievers are loyal companions because…

  5. Avoid using slang terms and contractions. These words make your writing appear less formal.

Time To Get Writing!

Writing an essay can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Give yourself plenty of time to pick your topic, find your sources, and preparing your outline. Once you are happy with your ideas, just start writing! If you begin your essay well before the due date, you will have lots of time to edit and rework your essay. This way you can be confident in your work when it comes time to hand it in.

If you need more help with writing your essay, Oxford Learning is here to help!

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