12 Useful Tips To Improve Your Essay Writing Skills

Updated February 3, 2023

Students and professionals often write essays to explain topics and argue their position on key issues. Communicating clearly and effectively through writing can help you succeed in your classes or advance in your chosen professional field. There is a wide range of strategies you can use to improve your skills in brainstorming, drafting and proofreading.

In this article, we describe some different types of essays and share 12 tips to improve your essay writing skills. 

What is an essay?

An essay is a piece of writing on a single topic. While some essays serve to inform readers about a chosen subject, others aim to persuade readers into believing the author’s viewpoint. Essays typically include an introduction, body and conclusion. Here are some different types of essays:

  • Descriptive essay: In a descriptive essay, you provide readers with a description of something such as a place, person or experience. This type of essay aims to provide readers with a detailed description that they can use to create a mental picture of your topic.

  • Definition essay: A definition essay explains a term or idea. You explain what the topic means to help readers better understand the topic overall.

  • Argumentative essay: This type of essay allows you to investigate a particular topic. You collect and evaluate evidence, establish a position on the topic and provide concrete evidence to back up your claims.

  • Critical essay: With this essay, you analyze and evaluate a body of text. Not only do you state the text's ideas, but you also support the claims it makes with evidence.

  • Personal essay: Many jobs and colleges require personal essays from their applicants. For a job, a personal essay explains how you meet the job's requirements and what makes you the best candidate.

Related: How To Write a Personal Essay

12 essay writing tips

Here are 12 strategies you can use to write a compelling, thoughtful essay: 

1. Read the prompt carefully 

When you’re writing an essay for a class assignment or scholarship application, you typically get a prompt that tells you what to write about or gives you a list of possible topics. Reading the prompt carefully can help you decide on an effective subject for your essay and can give you clues about how to structure your argument. When you read the prompt, underline any directions that tell you how many points to include or how long your essay might be. 

Related: 7 Simple Strategies To Improve Reading Comprehension

2. Pick an interesting topic if you can

Some assignments ask you to write an essay but let you choose the topic. If you're not assigned a topic ahead of time, write an essay on a subject you find intriguing. Consider the purpose of your essay when you’re choosing your topic. For example, if your assignment is to write a persuasive essay, you might choose a topic you’re passionate about, like environmental preservation. 

Caring about your topic can make it easier to find points that support your argument. If you’re trying to decide between two topics, make a list of the points you might use to support each argument and choose the topic that you think is easier to support.

Related: 125 Strong Argumentative Essay Topics For Your Next Paper

3. Use multiple research sources

For some essays, you can use outside sources to support your point or provide additional information. Using multiple sources ensures that your essay has a well-rounded argument and considers more than one perspective. Depending on your topic, you might use books, web databases, online journals, videos and primary sources, like novels and movies. For each source, collect key facts and quotations that support your topic and copy the citation information to include in your bibliography.

Related: How To Write a Research Paper Step-by-Step

4. Make an outline or diagram

Before you write an essay, you can organize your points and supporting evidence using an outline or graphic organizer. An outline allows you to organize your main points and place the supporting evidence beneath them, indicating where this information goes in the draft. When you create a diagram, write your topic down and draw a few lines branching off of this topic. Then, write down your main ideas on each line and draw even more lines and ideas off of these ideas. Both of these methods help you make connections and links between different topics or ideas.

Related: How To Write an Outline

5. Improve your grammar, spelling and punctuation skills

Improving your grammatical skills can help you create rough drafts that are closer to the finished product, saving you time in the proofreading stage of your writing process. If you’re a student, you might ask your English or writing teacher to give you additional help learning about punctuation, active voice, proper pronoun use and other concepts. Writers who are no longer in school might buy a grammar workbook or take an online course in grammar. 

Related: 31 Common Grammar Mistakes (With Examples and Corrections)

6. Use appropriate vocabulary

Using words that fit your essay’s tone and purpose can make your writing compelling and persuasive. When you’re writing, only use words that you understand to ensure that you’re using them correctly. You can use a dictionary or thesaurus to learn new words and diversify your writing. Consider your essay’s tone when you’re choosing words. For example, if you’re writing a formal paper for a class, avoid slang and abbreviations to create a professional tone. 

Related: 10 Easy Ways To Improve Your Vocabulary Skills

7. Evaluate evidence critically

When you're making an argument, take the time to look through your evidence. Be both critical and thorough. You might use sources written by authors with credentials, like university membership or press qualifications. Published books and research journals can be reliable sources of evidence. Use strong research to back up your argument and thesis throughout your essay.

Related: What Is Empirical Evidence? Definition and Examples

8. Write a strong conclusion

Ending your essay with a well-written, thoughtful concluding paragraph can improve your reader’s opinion of your credibility and leave them with a good impression of your skills. In your conclusion, you might restate your thesis and major points. You can also show the importance of your topic by explaining the implications of your research and argument. For example, if you’re writing an essay arguing for more arts funding at your college, you might conclude by visualizing the great works of art that students might create if their programs received more funding. 

Related: How To Write a Conclusion (With Tips and Examples)

9. Be specific

When writing an essay, use specific details, like historical facts, numerical data and descriptions of places and people, to support your argument and engage with your readers. The types of details you use might depend on the goal of the essay or your topic. For example, if you’re writing about population growth in a specific city, you might use historical census records to show how the city’s population has grown over time, along with descriptions of the neighborhoods that grew from the increase in population.

Related: 14 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer

10. Consider the "how"

Providing background information that explains how an event happened can make your essay engaging and teach your readers new facts. For example, if you're writing about the impact of social media on today's society, rather than just explaining its impact and discussing why it's made such an impact, take time to address exactly how it made such an impact. Not only does this give you more to write about, but it also helps you home in on your argument or topic. This information can also show your reader that you’re an expert on your topic, increasing their trust in you.

11. Proofread your essay

Before you submit or complete your essay, read it several times and look for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Consider asking a friend or classmate to read your final draft and give you feedback on its readability, clarity and tone. You might also read your essay out loud to yourself, which can show you places to improve your sentences and word choice.

Related: 27 Proofreading Tips That Will Improve Your Resume

12. Practice writing essays

Consider writing sample essays on different topics to help you feel more confident in your writing. Regular practice can help you hone your craft and help you feel more prepared when it's time to write a real essay. If you’re a current student, you might ask your teacher for sample prompts that resemble the assignments they might give you in class. You can also find sample prompts for a variety of essay topics online.

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