7 Essay Writing Skills All Writers Need To Master

Whether for college or an examination, knowing how to write an essay is important. Read our guide to learn our top seven essay writing skills.

Essay writing is an important skill to have when going to college. This common writing assignment allows you to sort ideas and information into logical conclusions rather than simply memorizing and spitting out facts. Writing essays is also essential for many standardized tests, including college entrance exams and immigration testing. Therefore, knowing what makes a good essay and how to write one well is vital to your academic success. Essays have three main parts. These are:

  • Introductory paragraph
  • Body of the essay
  • Concluding paragraph

Knowing this structure is just the first part of writing effective essays. As you learn to write this paper, consider building additional essay writing skills to help. Here are seven that will come in handy as you build your writing abilities for college and beyond.

1. Develop Your Brainstorming Abilities

Essay Writing Skills: Develop your brainstorming abilities
Set a time limit for this brainstorming technique and write down as many ideas as possible on your topic

Writing a great essay starts long before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It starts the minute you start thinking about your essay question. The question or topic you write on may come from your professor, or you may have the freedom to choose for yourself. If you have the freedom to choose, write down a list of topics that interest the subject area you need to write on. This is your first brainstorming step. Next, you need to brainstorm the answer to the question or argument of your essay. You can try many different brainstorming techniques for this part of the process. Some popular ones include:

  • Mind Mapping – A mind map starts with your main essay topic or idea in the middle. From that point, you draw lines and boxes or bubbles that contain your thoughts on the topic. Then, you add additional branches if a new thought connects to one of those.
  • Rapid Ideation – You set a time limit for this brainstorming technique and write down as many ideas as possible on your topic. After the time is up, you can look at your ideas and see which ones will work to make a winning essay.
  • Bullet Lists – This technique is quite simple. Spend a few moments writing bullet lists of words, phrases, or ideas that go with your main topic. From those, pull out ideas to build your outline and essay.
  • Journalistic Questions – Like a journalist, ask who, what, when, where, why, and how, and jot down your ideas and answers. Use this as the basis of your essay.

The more you learn to brainstorm, the better your final draft of your essay will be because you will have the opportunity to dig into your ideas before committing them to paper. Use the information from your brainstorming session to create a tentative outline, which you will fill in as you do your research.

2. Try Out New Researching Skills

Research is the key to writing a good essay. You have to find information to write your essay, no matter what type of essay you have to write. Research skills should involve both digital and non-digital content. If you have a lot of skills in researching online, that’s great, but you’ll also need to be able to use databases and libraries to find additional research materials.

As you learn to research, you will need to distinguish between a sound source and a poor one, especially if you are focusing on academic writing. Many websites, like Wikipedia, are user-generated, unreliable content. Therefore, you must be able to decipher what should be used as a source for your academic essay and what should not. Finding sources is the first part, but you will need to learn how to organize those sources so you can draw from them to verify your thesis statement. When you find a source, read through it to pick the important parts supporting your essay topic. Then, write the author’s ideas down with clear guidance to the original reference.

Keeping organized research will help you draft your essay and build your references list. Many writers will use notecards that they can use to organize their ideas and keep those ideas accessible during the writing part.

3. Practice Proper Organization

Another skill set you need to write a good essay is organizational skills. You need to know how to organize an essay to make sense to the reader and organize your reference list so readers can find the sources you used. Organization starts with following the proper essay structure.

In English, essays start with an introductory paragraph. The introduction puts forth the problem or argument you will discuss in your essay. You may use facts and statistics to show why you are writing your argument or performing your research. This grabs the audience’s attention. This first paragraph ends with a thesis statement, your basic premise, or your argument. Next comes the body paragraphs. Each body paragraph will cover one main point from your outline or one main support for your argument. It should start with a topic sentence and have additional sentences that support that main point. Traditionally, an essay will have three supportive points and three body paragraphs.

Finally, an essay ends with a conclusion paragraph. The concluding paragraph will restate the essay’s main points and paraphrase the main argument or thesis. It draws all of the body paragraphs together into one concluding thought. That said, a well-written conclusion will not simply restate everything you have already said. Instead, it will bring a new, concluding thought to the passage.

For example, if your essay is research-based and uses original research or experiments you performed, then use your conclusion to show the implications of that research. If the essay is an argumentative essay, use the conclusion to draw the reader to your point of view by reiterating your points. Finally, show how the essay topic connects to the big picture of the niche you are writing about if you can.

4. Use Key Analytic Skills

To write a high school or college essay well, you not only have to be able to research, but you also have to be able to analyze the information you discover in your research. If you are not pulling your thoughts and ideas from your research, you could be guilty of plagiarism, which is a severe offense. Remember, simply paraphrasing is not enough to avoid this blunder. You have to use your own words, properly reference your sources, and make conclusions from your references.

To develop your analytic skills, practice reading someone’s work, then drawing your conclusion from it. Then, think beyond what the writer says and consider what they might mean. Practice analyzing everything you read. Then, put your analytic skills to work in your writing to draw solid conclusions and ideas.

5. Show Good Mechanics

Essay Writing Skills: Show good mechanics
Use the proper writing style and voice for your audience

Proper grammar is important in an essay, but mechanics go beyond grammar rules alone. Mechanics also covers tone and writing style. You need to ensure that your style and mechanics fit your audience. While there are many parts of mechanics when it comes to writing, some things you should focus on include:

  • Active voice: Write in the active voice, not the passive voice. Active voice occurs when the sentence’s subject does the sentence’s action. In a sentence that uses the passive voice, the item doing the action is not the subject and may.
  • Sentence structure: Learn how to write effective sentences with a subject, verb, and object. Learn how and when to use modifiers to emphasize the topics in the sentences without overdoing them.
  • Subject/Verb Agreement: Make sure all subjects and verbs agree in number. Plural subjects require plural verb conjugations, and singular subjects require singular verb conjugations.
  • Transitions: Transitions are words used between sentences and paragraphs to help the essay flow. For example, words like “therefore” and “in light of that” can guide the reader to your next point. Learn to use these well as you write.
  • Writing style: Use the proper writing style and voice for your audience. Some essays require a more formal tone for academic settings, while others can take a more casual approach for informal settings. Being able to vary your tone to fit the situation indicates that you have good, solid writing skills.

6. Expand Your Vocabulary Knowledge

A great essay writer will have the vocabulary necessary to convey ideas in an easy-to-read but easy-to-understand format. The best way to build your vocabulary is not by sitting down with a list of words to memorize but rather through reading. Reading works especially works from the world of higher education, will help you grow your vocabulary. Also, studying other essay writers’ work in your niche can help you build your vocabulary.

You can also use your thesaurus to increase the vocabulary you use in your essay. For example, if you’re over-using any particular word, look it up in the thesaurus to find a synonym that would make sense as a replacement.

7. Enhance Your Proofreading and Editing Skills

Before you submit an essay to your teacher or publisher, you must proofread it. No writer should ever submit their first draft of any work, even something that seems simple, like an essay. Proofreading involves rereading and changing the essay so that it reads more clearly and perfectly explains your stance on the topic. Try to read it as if you are someone who knows nothing about the topic unless your audience is made up of people who know the topic area well. As you proofread, check for:

  • Grammar and spelling errors
  • Syntax errors
  • Confusing or wordy sentences
  • Poor essay structure
  • Missing punctuation
  • Typos

Your final draft should be free from these common errors. It should also clearly convey your ideas and points so the reader can quickly grasp them. Then, edit and rewrite it several times until you reach this goal.

FAQ About Essay Writing Skills

How can I improve my essay writing skills for IELTS?

Essay writing is an important part of the IELTS. If you are taking the International English Language Testing System exam, consider these essay writing tips:
1. Stay within the word count.
2. Know what the task asks you to write by carefully reading the instructions.
3. Logically organize ideas with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
4. Use a style appropriate to the type of writing you are asked to do on the exam.
5. Build strong grammar fundamentals before taking the exam.

Why do students need to improve their essay writing skills?

Essay writing is an important part of the modern education world. It not only shows up in high school but also in college. A well-written essay shows the reader that you know how to take your ideas and break them down into a logical format. In addition, it gives you a platform to build arguments and encourage others to understand your point of view.

How can I improve my essay writing skills for GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) aims to show if someone has the analytical writing, mathematics, and vocabulary skills to succeed in graduate or professional school. To improve your essay writing, if you need to take the GRE, consider these writing tips:
1. Practice your essay writing before the exam.
2. Choose a solid stance.
3. Build your essay around relevant but real-world examples.
4. Use declarative sentences to make your point strong.
5. Avoid referencing yourself as the writer.
6. Use your conclusion to refute your opposition.

For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers.

If you’re still stuck, check out our general resource of essay writing topics.

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.