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Essay Writing Format For Colleges

  • 1

    Research: First, choose a topic. Then, make sure to research it as much as possible. Know the material inside and out and become an expert on it. This will help connect the dots between various points in order to form a compelling argument.
    • Some essays in school require academic sources. These can sometimes be tricky to pick out because not everything is considered academic. For help in this area, you can refer to L. Lennie Irvin’s piece, “What Is ‘Academic’ Writing?” where he eases the student’s fear of the unknown and guides them to understand what academic writing is, how to pick it out, and discusses the benefits of using academic writing. [1]
  • 2

    Analyze. After immersing yourself in your research and learning all there is to know about the topic, analyze the information. Don’t think just surface level- what is the author actually saying? What is his or her argument and why is he or she trying to prove that point? Is the author accurate? Credible? Dissect their piece and read like the author.
    • Conventions are methods used in writing to enhance the product and make it more readable and understandable. They also determine what category or genre the piece belongs in. Types of conventions include but are not limited to mechanics, format, sentence structure, and word usage. So consider the following questions as well: What genre is the work and what conventions are used? Why did the author pick that genre and include those specific conventions?
    • Reading Mike Bunn’s “How to Read Like a Writer” will help you understand how this can be done.[2] He discusses in his piece how to notice decisions the author makes and the conventions used in their work so you can make similar decisions in your own.
  • 3

    Take your stance and form your argument. While researching and your argument is forming, mark pieces of evidence in the research that could be useful pieces of evidence for your paper. Don’t be afraid to mark more than you need because it’ll give you more options later on when you finalize what evidence you’re using.

  • 4

    Free write. This is a part of brainstorming. At this point, a million different ideas and connections are forming in your head and it is important to get them all out. Don't pay attention to the format or flow. In fact, use a pen to keep yourself from erasing anything because everything that comes out is important. Just write and write for ten minutes straight and get everything in your head on paper. Later, you will shift through it all and pick out the most important points that fit together the best.

  • 5

    Construct your thesis. Synthesize your main points and argument of the paper into a coherent sentence or two. This doesn’t need to be permanent and is subject to change. It will serve as a guideline for the paper in the time being. Incorporate it into the introduction and when the essay is complete, it will inform the reader what you are writing about and what you are arguing.

  • 6

    Create an outline. Next, make an outline of your essay. Separate your points into appropriate paragraphs and write notes about what you are going to include. After you have this all written down, ensure your ideas flow and you have enough points by picking evidence for each point.
    • Go back through the evidence you marked earlier or flip through your research again to find additional evidence if it does not sufficiently back up your claims. After this is complete and your outline logically flows, you are ready to begin writing!
  • 7

    Write your introduction. Compose your introduction that starts with a hook to capture the reader’s attention. In the paragraph, include your sources, thesis, and a “road map” for your essay. The “road map” is to give the reader a sense of where you are taking the subject and how you are going to prove your point without specifically stating, “First, I will talk about this. Then, about that”, etc.

  • 8

    Expand with body paragraphs. Make sure each body paragraph has a single main idea. If there are more than one, the paragraph can get confusing and one point will get overpowered by the other. Each paragraph should also have a topic sentence that tells the reader what that paragraph is going to tell them. Once again, don’t explicitly say, “In this paragraph I will explain...”.
    • Also, incorporate your evidence into appropriate places and ensure they flow. Evidence can be used in a quote but don’t forget that you can paraphrase too. Change it up so your essay doesn’t seem repetitive and make sure to use each of your sources equally.
  • 9

    Form your conclusion. Tie together your essay with a final conclusion of your argument. Give your reader something to walk away with after reading your essay. For example, have a call to action, leave them pondering a question or with something memorable, or maybe you’ll even end up blowing the reader's minds with something they’ve never thought of or considered. Just make sure they don’t finish your essay thinking “so what?” or “what was the point?”.

  • 10

    Cite your sources. Cite your sources in the appropriate format. Don’t forget this step- no plagiarizing! If you have any questions on citations, you can refer to Diana Hacker's "A Pocket Style Manual" which provide a plethora of information on citations, grammar, and formatting.[3]

  • 11

    Revise your piece. First, set your paper aside. Give yourself a little break to refresh your mind and then come back to revise. One helpful technique is to slowly read your essay out loud to yourself. The key is to read it out loud because you will catch more mistakes that way.
    • If you have a peer to revise with, trading with them and getting their opinion can be very helpful. If there are multiple people to trade with, go for it! The more opinions the better. Then you can pick and choose what revisions you agree with. You can repeat this step a few times by stepping away from it and coming back to ensure you caught all your mistakes.
  • 12

    Take time to reflect. Reflect on your writing, the process of how you completed it, and how you feel about your work. This process identifies the positives and the negatives of the paper, which could help improve it. Write down what you consider to be the downfalls of your paper and you can even go back to the revision stage and fix these once they are identified.

  • 13

    Done! When you are satisfied with your paper and you have fixed everything that you possibly can, you have completed your essay!

  • Sample College Admission Essays


    This section contains two examples of good college essays.

    1. College Essay One
    2. College Essay Two
    3. College Essay Three

    College Essay One

    Prompt: Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen State University and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).

    State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

    In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.

    This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

    At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

    This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.

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    College Essay Two

    Prompt: What motivates you?

    For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.

    Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.

    Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.

    In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.

    In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.

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    College Essay Three

    The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

    I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

    The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.

    In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.

    In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.

    As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.

    This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.

    My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.

    My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.

    My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.

    Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.

    From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.

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    Sample Essays

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