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Home » Student Services » Tutoring » English Writing Center » Getting Started: Ideas for Writing Essays

Getting Started: Ideas for Writing Essays

Getting Started

Writing is a process of organizing and expressing your thoughts. Since writing is a process, there is no one or single manner of writing an essay. However, "experienced writers pass through certain stages that overlap and circle back on each other" (Little, Brown Handbook). These stages include: 1) Developing or Planning (discovering the subject, gathering information, focusing on a central theme, and organizing material); 2) Drafting (the "writing" that includes creating ideas, expressing ideas, clarifying ideas, and connecting ideas); 3) Revising (rethinking and improving structure, content, style, and presentation; re-writing; editing; and proofreading).

Even though writing is a process, you—the student/essayist—need some place to begin, some steps to follow. To get started:

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Choosing a Topic

CHOOSE A TOPIC that interests you; choose one that you know something about or one that you can easily research. If you are working on a topic you have never done before, or one that you struggle in, try to find an area of it that you are interested in. For example:

If you have to do a paper on ancient Greece and are interested in sports, why not make your topic the Olympics?

Narrow Your Topic


For example, do not write on “Earthquakes”; rather, write on “The San Andreas Fault.” Even this topic is broad enough to warrant writing a book, so you could further narrow it to “The Northridge Earthquake.”

Use Prewriting Techniques

USE prewriting techniques to get ideas down on paper:

a) Brainstorm – Focus on an idea for a set time (say fifteen minutes) and list every idea that comes to mind about a given topic. Do not reject any idea, no matter how absurd. Do not try to list in any order (1, 2 ,3 or A, B, C). Do write down ideas all over the page.

b) Cluster ideas and/or words – Group ideas or words that belong together to discover connections among ideas. Clustering is often done after brainstorming so that similar ideas can be grouped together.

c) Make lists – Outline informally the major points in a tentative order.

d) Free write – Focus on an idea for a set time (say ten minutes) and write down those ideas in paragraph or "essay" format. Do write down every idea, no matter how absurd or unrelated it may seem. Do not think about or be concerned with organization, grammar, sentence structure, or punctuation. Do not stop writing for the given time period (set a timer and if you run out of ideas write "I can't think of anything to write" until another idea comes–and it will).

e) Explore new ideas and a variety of points of view on your topic.

Make an Outline

MAKE AN OUTLINE to organize your main points.

Put similar ideas together; find examples and details to illustrate these ideas. For example.

1. This is my topic sentence, I chose the Olympics, but need to talk about what athletes did.

a. One example of life for athletes.

b.Another example of life for athletes

c. Yet another example of life for athletes.

You can do this for an entire paper. Each number represents a paragraph and the subject matter in it.

Determine your Thesis

DETERMINE YOUR THESIS, which is the main idea or controlling idea of your paper.

A thesis statement is your judgment or opinion about a subject – an opinion you will illustrate, prove, and support in the essay. Your thesis should be narrow and to the point; it should assert an opinion or judgment about the subject; and it should be a complete statement, generally one sentence, not a question, and not a fragment.

Last Updated: 09/08/2016


Danielle Feliciano
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