11 Top Essay Writing Tips for Students

If you struggle with essay writing, these essay writing tips for students can help you get started.

College applications and examinations all have one thing in common. In most cases, they require the student to write an essay. Essays give a chance for students to show their writing skills and ability to reason, making them valuable pieces of information for the people making decisions about the entrance to college.

If you want to succeed in writing essays, you need to practice. These essay writing tips are for students, but they can help all kinds of writers improve their next research paper or essay.

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Essay Writing Tips to Help You Succeed

Top essay writing tips for students

Before you sit down to write an essay, make sure you have a good plan. These essay writing tips can help you make your writing stronger.

1. Pick Your Topic Carefully

Pick your topic carefully
Spend some time brainstorming ideas you are interested in writing about, and make a list of good essay topics

A key to a strong essay is a strong topic. Spend some time brainstorming ideas you are interested in writing about, and make a list of good essay topics. Then, narrow down your essay to a relevant, interesting topic.

Need help? Check out our brainstorming tips.

Essay topics should be something that you can have an opinion about or write a detailed statement about. Your topic does not have to state your opinion, though, because that will come later. 

Here are some examples of good essay topics:

  • Legalities of a hot topic like cigarettes or personal guns
  • A story about your best friend, pet or a favorite family member
  • Your goal or purpose in life
  • Comparing and contrasting two similar, but different items
  • Description of a process, like how to bake a cake
  • Contrasting two subjects
  • Arguing for or against a position
  • Writing about a personal experience or turning point

2. Make a Preliminary Outline

An outline will focus your writing and give you a plan as you begin crafting the essay. Your outline may change as you do some research on your topic, but it is an important starting point before you begin your first draft. You can either brainstorm or mind map a potential outline.

Need help? Read our brainstorming tips.

A basic outline will look like this:


  • Summarize the main points
  • Include the thesis statement

Body paragraph 1 (First point)

  • Supporting data or research

Body Paragraph 2 (Second Point)

  • Supporting data or research

Body Paragraph 3 (Third Point)

  • Supporting data or research


  • Restate the thesis
  • Restate the points or support
  • Include a call to action, if appropriate for your essay or research paper

Your outline does not have to be a formal document. It’s something that can evolve. That said, having a solid outline should dramatically reduce the amount of time you spend writing an essay. You can use several different writing apps to create an outline quickly and easily. We particularly like Dynalist.

3. Create a Thesis Statement

Before you start writing your essay, you need a thesis statement. This is the purpose of your essay, and if your essay question includes an opinion, the thesis statement will state your opinion. if it does not, then the thesis statement will summarize your basic main points.

Once you have the thesis statement, you will put it in the first paragraph of your essay. Often it is the final sentence after the introductory writing. You will use the thesis statement to drive the rest of your writing and body paragraphs. 

Here are some examples of good thesis statements:

  • The benefits of social media outweigh the negatives as social media helps people stay connected, builds healthy friendships and gives families a chance to see children grow up.
  • The government should pass legislation that makes environmentalism a priority because it is good for business, has an impact on the future and helps natural resources last longer.

4. Write the Body

It may seem logical to write the introduction first, but in a college essay, you can do better if you write the body paragraphs. Most essays will have three paragraphs of at least four sentences to support each point in the outline.

Writing the body first helps you fine-tune your ideas before you summarize them in the introduction. The first sentence in each body paragraph should include your main idea for that paragraph, followed by supporting information. Like with learning how to write a book, it’s a good idea to write the body of an essay before the conclusion or introduction but after you know the thesis statement.

5. Write the Conclusion

The conclusion should be the last thing you write when writing an essay. It will also summarize your thoughts and review your main points, and add any reinforcing ideas you need. Strive for strong sentences that tie everything together.

Sometimes you need a call to action. This will encourage the reader to come to your point of view or to take action on the topic you are writing about. a good essay writer will make the call-to-action a natural part of the structure of the essay, so it does not feel forced.

6. Write the Introduction Last

The introduction of your essay should be the last thing you write. You’ll find it easier to introduce and end an essay when you know what it’s about

Since you have your three main points nailed down, you are ready t summarize them in the introduction.

Start your introductory paragraph with something that grabs attention. This can be a story, quote or shocking statistic. After you share this, summarize your main points and end with your thesis statement. 

Here are some examples of good first lines in literature.

  • ‘Call me Ishmael’ – Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • ‘Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure’ – The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.” The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Check out this list of great opening lines for more inspiration.

7. Focus on Something Surprising

Thousands of people write essays every year, so how can you make yours stand out? When you think about your topic, look for something about the topic that is surprising to you. This will make it interesting to research and will also help you present an idea that is new and engaging.

Surprising information can be a great topic sentence in your introduction. It can grab the reader’s attention quickly when they start to read your essay.

8. If You Get Writer’s Block, Start with Five Sentences

Beat writer's block
Stop thinking about full paragraphs. Instead, write five sentences

If you are writing a traditional five-paragraph essay, and you find that you’re stuck, stop thinking about full paragraphs. Instead, write five sentences, which would include:

  • Thesis statement: Writing an essay may seem boring, but you can make it an enjoyable experience if you have the right mindset.
  • Point 1: If you focus just on the external rewards of a great essay, you may be bored by the process.
  • Point 2: Instead, students can focus on the intrinsic, internal rewards of essay writing.
  • Point 3: Focusing on internal rewards will make the essay writing experience more fun while also helping you create better-written work.
  • Concluding sentence: Focusing on the internal fulfillment of essay writing will make the entire process more enjoyable, and it may also help you get a better grade.

Once you have this framework, you can fill it in with details to make the essay engaging.

Read our guide to beating writer’s block.

9. Use a 60/40 Approach to Sources

While people reviewing essays want to see that you can write your own work, they also want to see that you can research. Try to find a balance between quoted works and your own paraphrase and thoughts. If 60% of the writing is your own analysis and arguments, and 40% is quoted, the essay will work well. 

Always cite sources appropriately. Essay reviewers do not frown on research, but they want to see that you give credit where credit is due.

Here is an example:

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, people who exercise regularly are at lower risk for heart disease.

10. Proofread and Check for Plagiarism

Proofreading is as important as writing when crafting research papers or essays. Avoid proofreading immediately after you write an essay or research paper as you’ll miss common grammar errors. Instead, print out out essay, and read it out loud. Listen for wording or grammar issues that you need to address. Make sure all of the sentences flow well and that the opening sentence grabs the reader’s attention.

When you proofread, check the formatting. Ensure sure all of the spacing is correct. Check you have proper punctuation throughout. Depending on the tone of voice, you may also need to adjust conjunctions and other colloquial terms in your essay.

If the essay is important, such as for a college application or grant, ask someone else to proofread it for you. Or hire a professional proofreader The more eyes you get on the piece, the better.

Read our guide to the best grammar checkers.

11. Check for Plagiarism

As an essay writer, you don’t plagiarize work by other people, right? Well, if you’re writing any sort of nonfiction, it’s relatively easy to inadvertently borrow an idea, argument or line of thought from someone else. Perhaps you read an article or blog post about the topics months ago?

Now, it’s okay to use these ideas in your essay once you properly cite, attribute or link to your sources. However, fail to do so, and you risk breaching a copywriting or a negative grade from an instructor, teacher or academic evaluating your essay. There are many consequences of plagiarism.

The good news is a plagiarism checker enables checking for instances of inadvertent plagiarism. It’s also helpful if you want to use a quote or statistic, but you can’t find the original source or link. It only takes a few minutes to scan an essay for plagiarism and find and fix these issues. I use one regularly to check articles and essays that I write and which other submit to this site.

Read our guide to the best plagiarism checkers.

A Final Word on Essay Writing Tips

Essay writing gives you a chance to showcase your English grammar, thinking, and writing skills. Many colleges require an essay as part of their entrance process. College prep tests, like the SAT, often require an academic essay as part of the testing process.

Learning how to write an essay is a vital skill for high school and college students. Use these tips to make the process easier for you, and to improve your chances of getting a great grade on your next essay.

FAQs on Essay Writing Tips

How can I get better at essay writing?

Essay writing is a skill that requires practice. If you want to get better at it, take more opportunities to write. The more you write, the more natural it will become.

What are the different types of essays?

There are four main types of essays, which include:
1. Argumentative essays – These have a strong opinion and use evidence to back that opinion.
2. Expository essays – These essays show a writer’s knowledge of a topic and ability to communicate information clearly.
3. Narrative essays – These essays tell a story, typically from a personal experience.
4. Descriptive essays – These essays talk about an object or a process using descriptive, creative language.

  • 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.