For some, writing essays can be one of the most intimidating activities that one must complete during their tenure at college. Students from every major will have to write an essay at some point, so it is important to know how to complete these assignments. Of course, even English majors shed some tears and sweat over having to write a ten page research paper. While I definitely have experienced my fair share of stress over academic nonfiction papers, I have learned strategies to complete these colossal assignments efficiently and effectively. One of my favorite English professors at Northern Arizona University, Dr. Karen Renner, has been crucial to the process that I use to write research papers now. Her steps are flawless and have helped me become an effective writer. I want to share them with you and also include personal suggestions that have helped me. Also, I have taken multiple literature courses over three years and serve as an academic nonfiction editor for The Tunnels, so take my word for it that I know what I'm talking about.
Note: Allot appropriate time for each step to complete your essay by the deadline. Taking time to complete each step in sequence will make your job much easier. While it is possible to create a decent essay at the last second, you will reduce your stress if you break up the work. Also, this will give you more time to think about your paper and create something polished and excellent.
Step 1: Brainstorm your Topic
This is by far one of the most important steps of doing your essay. Coming up with an idea is the biggest step because it will shape the rest of your research and writing that is to come. First, decide what primary source you would like to write about, if you have a choice. This might be a book, movie, video game or some other sort of media. I would suggest to either choose a source that you are most familiar with or one that you know little about. The first way will ensure that you are already somewhat prepared for your essay while the latter will challenge you to grow your skills as a researcher. Both approaches have advantages, depending on how much time you have to spend on your essay. Next, come up with your thesis. This will shape the rest of your paper, so it is important to put as much thought into this as possible. I would suggest picking a topic that is not initially obvious and will require some work to make your point. While this may sound more difficult than writing about something obvious, it will make your paper stronger. The best essays come from a thesis that is attention grabbing and pulls your reader in with intrigue.
Step 2: Start your Analysis of your Primary Source
Next, it is time to start gathering the meat of your paper by scanning your primary source for evidence that supports your thesis. I know. You may be thinking, "Already? But I'm not ready for that! I need to think about my idea more." Trust me when I say that you'll be surprised by how much you'll find that supports your thesis if you just take the time to look through your source. I have dreaded starting my analysis before too but I always find that it is not that bad if I take my time to analyze my source. I suggest that you first start by reading, watching or playing the source and just pausing every so often to write down notes. Once you are done collecting your notes, you can start matching the notes with the different points of your thesis. Lastly, you can write polished paragraphs that analyze each of your notes. Congratulations. You should have a couple of pages of material now and have completed a good chunk of your essay. That wasn't too bad, was it?
Step 3: Complete your Annotated Bibliography
For this step, you will start finding secondary sources. For those that do not know, annotated bibliographies are just citations for your sources that also include analyses, like you did for the last step. While finding research can be extremely frustrating and time consuming if you cannot find the sources that you want, I have a few suggestions to make sure you are on the right track. First, you can use many different databases to find information. You can use online databases that your school provides, like JSTOR. However, do not neglect other sources such as Google Scholar, which has helped me find sources many times. Remember that your school library can retrieve articles for you if they are not initially accessible. Second, do not hesitate to ask your professor if you need help. Chances are that your literature professor has conducted much research of their own and they probably will be willing to share information if they have something available. Third, if you are completely lost and need assistance finding research, just ask your library for help. If you give them something to work from, they will help you find sources. Best of all, this service is free. Also, once you find something interesting, make sure that any research you find is a credible source for an academic paper. Stick to things that end in ".edu" or are peer-reviewed articles.
Step 4: Compile your Essay
This is the easiest step because you have already completed all of the grunt labor of this essay. Now, just combine all of the paragraphs that you have already written for your paper. Thankfully, you'll see that your paper is mostly complete. If your analysis or research is a little short, you can always add more later. The bulk of this step is to just write an effective introduction and conclusion. Your introduction should be successful in pulling your reader in and explaining what your essay will be about through your thesis. Your conclusion should restate your thesis and leave your reader with final thoughts to think about and take away from your essay.
Step 5: Make Necessary Revisions
I would suggest having some of your trusted peers look over your essay even if this isn't already a requirement for your class. I have found that sometimes my brain overlooks little mistakes when I am focused on the main idea of my essay. So, having fresh eyes look at your paper can be very beneficial. Once you have a rough draft or two painted with red ink, look over the suggestions. It is important to remember that as the author, you are not required to make all of the changes that are suggested. After all, you are the author and have the final word. Consider each suggestion carefully and make the ones that make your paper better.
Now that you know how to write an outstanding essay, why don't you write something for The Tunnels? We are currently accepting submissions and we need more academic nonfiction pieces. You can do it!