Bonus Material: 10 complete example essays

Writing an essay can often feel like a Herculean task. How do you go from a prompt… to pages of beautifully-written and clearly-supported writing?

This 12-step method is for students who want to write a great essay that makes a clear argument.

In fact, using the strategies from this post, in just 88 minutes, one of our students revised her C+ draft to an A.

If you’re interested in learning how to write awesome argumentative essays and improve your writing grades, this post will teach you exactly how to do it.

First, grab our download so you can follow along with the complete examples.

Then keep reading to see all 12 essential steps to writing a great essay.

Download 10 great example essays


Why you need to have a plan

One of the most common mistakes that students make when writing is to just dive in haphazardly without a plan.

Writing is a bit like cooking. If you’re making a meal, would you start throwing ingredients at random into a pot? Probably not!

Instead, you’d probably start by thinking about what you want to cook. Then you’d gather the ingredients, and go to the store if you don’t already have them in your kitchen. Then you’d follow a recipe, step by step, to make your meal.

Preparing to cook a dish in an organized way, just like we prepare to write an essay

Here’s our 12-step recipe for writing a great argumentative essay:

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Choose your research sources
  3. Read your sources and take notes
  4. Create a thesis statement
  5. Choose three main arguments to support your thesis statement—now you have a skeleton outline
  6. Populate your outline with the research that supports each argument
  7. Do more research if necessary
  8. Add your own analysis
  9. Add transitions and concluding sentences to each paragraph
  10. Write an introduction and conclusion for your essay
  11. Add citations and bibliography
  12. Revise

Grab our download to see the complete example at every stage, along with 9 great student essays. Then let’s go through the steps together and write an A+ essay!


1. Pick a topic

Sometimes you might be assigned a topic by your instructor, but often you’ll have to come up with your own idea! 

If you don’t pick the right topic, you can be setting yourself up for failure.

Be careful that your topic is something that’s actually arguable—it has more than one side. Check out our carefully-vetted list of 99 topic ideas.

Let’s pick the topic of laboratory animals. Our question is should animals be used for testing and research?

Hamster, which could potentially be used for animal research

Download our set of 10 great example essays to jump to the finished version of this essay.


2. Choose your research sources

One of the big differences between the way an academic argumentative essay and the version of the assignment that you may have done in elementary school is that for an academic argumentative essay, we need to support our arguments with evidence.

Where do we get that evidence?

Let’s be honest, we all are likely to start with Google and Wikipedia.

Now, Wikipedia can be a useful starting place if you don’t know very much about a topic, but don’t use Wikipedia as your main source of evidence for your essay. 

Instead, look for reputable sources that you can show to your readers as proof of your arguments. It can be helpful to read some sources from either side of your issue.

Look for recently-published sources (within the last 20 years), unless there’s a specific reason to do otherwise.

Support all your points with evidence

Good places to look for sources are:

  • Books published by academic presses
  • Academic journals
  • Academic databases like JSTOR and EBSCO
  • Nationally-published newspapers and magazines like The New York Times or The Atlantic
  • Websites and publications of national institutions like the NIH
  • Websites and publications of universities

Some of these sources are typically behind a paywall. This can be frustrating when you’re a middle-school or high-school student.

However, there are often ways to get access to these sources. Librarians (at your school library or local public library) can be fantastic resources, and they can often help you find a copy of the article or book you want to read. In particular, librarians can help you use Interlibrary Loan to order books or journals to your local library!

More and more scientists and other researchers are trying to publish their articles for free online, in order to encourage the free exchange of knowledge. Check out respected open-access platforms like arxiv.org and PLOS ONE.

How do you find these sources?

If you have access to an academic database like JSTOR or EBSCO, that’s a great place to start.

Example of a search on JSTOR

Everyone can use Google Scholar to search for articles. This is a powerful tool and highly recommended!

Google scholar search

Of course, if there’s a term you come across that you don’t recognize, you can always just Google it!

How many sources do you need? That depends on the length of your essay and on the assignment. If your instructor doesn’t give you any other guidance, assume that you should have at least three good sources.

For our topic of animal research, here’s a few sources that we could assemble:

Geoff Watts. “Animal Testing: Is It Worth It?” BMJ: British Medical Journal, Jan. 27, 2007, Vol. 334, No. 7586 (Jan. 27, 2007), pp. 182-184.

Kim Bartel Sheehan and Joonghwa Lee. “What’s Cruel About Cruelty Free: An Exploration of Consumers, Moral Heuristics, and Public Policy.” Journal of Animal Ethics , Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 1-15.

Justin Goodman, Alka Chandna and Katherine Roe. “Trends in animal use at US research facilities.” Journal of Medical Ethics, July 2015, Vol. 41, No. 7 (July 2015), pp. 567-569.

Katy Taylor. “Recent Developments in Alternatives to Animal Testing.” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill 2019.

Thomas Hartung. “Research and Testing Without Animals: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Heading?” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill 2019.

Bonus: download 10 example essays now.


3. Read your sources and take notes

Once you have a nice pile of sources, it’s time to read them!

As we read, we want to take notes that will be useful to us later as we write our essay.

We want to be careful to keep the source’s ideas separate from our own ideas. Come up with a system to clearly mark the difference as you’re taking notes: use different colors, or use little arrows to represent the ideas that are yours and not the source’s ideas.

We can use this structure to keep notes in an organized way:

SourceQuotes and key paraphrasesYour notes about the source
Bibliographic details– Specific evidence that the source uses
– Ideas and themes in the source that seem useful
Figure out the main arguments in the source
– Figure out the supporting arguments in the source
– How does this source relate to the other sources that you’re using? Does it agree/disagree? Does it use the same or different evidence and reasoning?
–  What kind of bias does the author have?
– Any other thoughts or observations

Download a template for these research notes here.

Petri dish in laboratory research

For our topic of animal research, our notes might look something like this:

SourceQuotes and key paraphrasesYour notes about the source
Kim Bartel Sheehan and Joonghwa Lee. “What’s Cruel About Cruelty Free: An Exploration of Consumers, Moral Heuristics, and Public Policy.” Journal of Animal Ethics , Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 1-15.Because there are many definitions of the phrase “cruelty-free,” many companies “can (and do) use the term when the product or its ingredients were indeed tested on animals” (1).

The authors compare “cruelty-free” to the term “fair trade.” There is an independent inspection and certification group (Flo-Cert) that reviews products labeled as “fair trade,” but there’s no analogous process for “cruelty-free” (2).

Companies can also hire outside firms to test products and ingredients on animals (3).
→ So anyone can just put that label on a product? Apparently, apart from in the European Union. That seems really easy to abuse for marketing purposes.
Andrew Knight. “Critically Evaluating Animal Research.” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill 2019.Knight cites “significant methodological flaws” in “most published animal experiments” (326). For example, “randomized allocation of animals to test groups was reported in only 12%” of a set of 271 studies—in the rest of the studies, researchers could select (whether consciously or not) weaker animals to serve as the control group, for example (326). Similarly, only 14% of papers in a different survey reported the use of blinding in making qualitative assessments of outcomes (327). 

The ARRIVE guidelines have been widely endorsed by leading research journals (including Nature, PLoS, and BioMed Central) and major UK funding agencies, and they’re part of the US National Research Council Institute for Laboratory Animal Research guidelines (330).

But…compliance with the guidelines “remains poor” (330).
→ Many people championing or opposing animal testing have their careers at stake. They’re either researchers who use animals as a fundamental part of their research, or they are working on alternatives to animal testing (like Harding). This seems like a potential problem with the debate.

→ So one way to improve the methodological quality of studies would be to encourage (or regulate) randomization and blinded assessment of outcomes.
(continued) Andrew Knight. “Critically Evaluating Animal Research.” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill 2019.Knight advocates that compliance with the ARRIVE guidelines and other standards “must become mandatory,” and that “compliance with such standards should be a necessary condition for security research funding and ethical approval; licensing of researchers, facilities, and experimental protocols; and publication of subsequent results” (331).

Knight also argues that “prior to designing any new animal study, researchers should conduct a systematic review to collate, appraise, and synthesize all existing, good-quality evidence relating to their research questions,” and that this step should also be required by grant agencies, licensing bodies, and journals (332). He notes that systematic reviews are really helpful and should be funded more frequently (332).

The article then covers impacts on laboratory animals—invasive procedures, stress, pain, and death (333). These aren’t very widely or clearly reported (333).
→ This seems like a reasonable position. What would there be to lose from requiring compliance with these guidelines? I suppose it could make research more difficult or expensive to conduct—but probably it would weed out some bad research. 

→ Good to remember that research requires money and is shaped by market forces—it’s not some neutral thing happening in an ivory tower.

Grab our download to read the rest of the notes and see more examples of how to do thoughtful research!

Student taking notes on research project

4. Create a thesis

What major themes did you find in your reading? What did you find most interesting or convincing?

Now is the point when you need to pick a side on your topic, if you haven’t already done so. Now that you’ve read more about the issue, what do you think? Write down your position on the issue:

Animal testing is necessary but should be reduced.

Next, it’s time to add more detail to your thesis. What reasons do you have to support that position? Add those to your sentence.

Animal testing is necessary but should be reduced by eliminating testing for cosmetics, ensuring that any testing is scientifically sound, and replacing animal models with other methods as much as possible.

Add qualifiers to refine your position. Are there situations in which your position would not apply? Or are there other conditions that need to be met? 

Cancer research

For our topic of animal research, our final thesis statement (with lead-in) might look something like this:

The argument: Animal testing and research should not be abolished, as doing so would upend important medical research and substance testing. However, scientific advances mean that in many situations animal testing can be replaced by other methods that not only avoid the ethical problems of animal testing, but also are less costly and more accurate. Governments and other regulatory bodies should further regulate animal testing to outlaw testing for cosmetics and other recreational products, ensure that the tests conducted are both necessary and scientifically rigorous, and encourage the replacement of animal use with other methods whenever possible.

The highlighted bit at the end is the thesis statement, but the lead-in is useful to help us set up the argument—and having it there already will make writing our introduction easier!

The thesis statement is the single most important sentence of your essay. Without a strong thesis, there’s no chance of writing a great essay. Read more about it here.

See how nine real students wrote great thesis statements in 9 example essays now.


5. Create three supporting arguments

Think of three good arguments why your position is true. We’re going to make each one into a body paragraph of your essay.

For now, write them out as 1–2 sentences. These will be topic sentences for each body paragraph.

Laboratory setup

For our essay about animal testing, it might look like this:

Supporting argument #1: For ethical reasons, animal testing should not be allowed for cosmetics and recreational products.

Supporting argument #2: The tests that are conducted with animals should be both necessary (for the greater good) and scientifically rigorous—which isn’t always the case currently. This should be regulated by governments and institutions.

Supporting argument #3: Governments and institutions should do more to encourage the replacement of animal testing with other methods.

Bonus: download 10 example essays now.


Optional: Find a counterargument and respond to it

Think of a potential counterargument to your position. Consider writing a fourth paragraph anticipating this counterargument, or find a way to include it in your other body paragraphs. 

Laboratory mouse

For our essay, that might be:

Possible counterargument: Animal testing is unethical and should not be used in any circumstances.

Response to the counterargument: Animal testing is deeply entrenched in many research projects and medical procedures. Abruptly ceasing animal testing would upend the scientific and medical communities. But there are many ways that animal testing could be reduced.

With these three arguments, a counterargument, and a thesis, we now have a skeleton outline! See each step of this essay in full in our handy download.



6. Start populating your outline with the evidence you found in your research

Look through your research. What did you find that would support each of your three arguments?

Copy and paste those quotes or paraphrases into the outline. Make sure that each one is annotated so that you know which source it came from!

Ideally you already started thinking about these sources when you were doing your research—that’s the ideas in the rightmost column of our research template. Use this stuff too! 

A good rule of thumb would be to use at least three pieces of evidence per body paragraph.

Think about in what order it would make most sense to present your points. Rearrange your quotes accordingly! As you reorder them, feel free to start adding short sentences indicating the flow of ideas.

Research at the National Cancer Institute

For our essay about animal testing, part of our populated outline might look something like:

Argument #1: For ethical reasons, animal testing should not be allowed for cosmetics and recreational products.

Lots of animals are used for testing and research.

In the US, about 22 million animals were used annually in the early 1990s, mostly rodents (BMJ 1993, 1020).

But there are ethical problems with using animals in laboratory settings. Opinions about the divide between humans and animals might be shifting.

McIsaac refers to “the essential moral dilemma: how to balance the welfare of humans with the welfare of other species” (Hubel, McIsaac 29).

The fundamental legal texts used to justify animal use in biomedical research were created after WWII, and drew a clear line between experiments on animals and on humans. The Nuremburg Code states that “the experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment” (Ferrari, 197). The 1964  Declaration of the World Medical Association on the Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects (known as the Helsinki Declaration) states that “Medical research involving human subjects must conform to generally accepted scientific principles, be based on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature, other relevant sources of information, and adequate laboratory and, as appropriate, animal experimentation. The welfare of animals used for research must be respected” (Ferrari, 197).

→ Context? The Nuremberg Code is a set of ethical research principles, developed in 1947 in the wake of Nazi atrocities during WWII, specifically the inhumane and often fatal experimentation on human subjects without consent.

“Since the 1970s, the animal-rights movement has challenged the use of animals in modern Western society by rejecting the idea of dominion of human beings over nature and animals and stressing the intrinsic value and rights of individual animals” (van Roten, 539, referencing works by Singer, Clark, Regan, and Jasper and Nelkin).

“The old (animal) model simply does not fully meet the needs of scientific and economic progress; it fails in cost, speed, level of detail of understanding, and human relevance. On top of this, animal experimentation lacks acceptance by an ethically evolving society” (Hartung, 682).

Knight’s article summarizes negative impacts on laboratory animals—invasive procedures, stress, pain, and death (Knight, 333). These aren’t very widely or clearly reported (Knight, 333). → Reading about these definitely produces an emotional reaction—they sound bad.

Given this context, it makes sense to ban animal testing in situations where it’s just for recreational products like cosmetics.

Fortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is less common than we might think.

A Gallup poll published in 1990 found that 14% of people thought that the most frequent reason for using animals to test cosmetics for safety—but figures from the UK Home Office in 1991 found that less than 1% of animals were used for tests for cosmetics and toiletries (BMJ 1993, 1019). → So in the early 1990s there was a big difference between what people thought was happening and what actually was happening!

But it still happens, and there are very few regulations of it (apart from in the EU).

Because there are many definitions of the phrase “cruelty-free,” many companies “can (and do) use the term when the product or its ingredients were indeed tested on animals” (Sheehan and Lee, 1).

The authors compare “cruelty-free” to the term “fair trade.” There is an independent inspection and certification group (Flo-Cert) that reviews products labeled as “fair trade,” but there’s no analogous process for “cruelty-free” (Sheehan and Lee, 2). → So anyone can just put that label on a product? Apparently, apart from in the European Union. That seems really easy to abuse for marketing purposes.

Companies can also hire outside firms to test products and ingredients on animals (Sheehan and Lee, 3).

Animal testing for recreational, non-medical purposes should be banned, like it is in the EU.

Download the full example outline here.

Research at the National Cancer Institute

7. Do more research if necessary

Occasionally you might realize that there’s a hole in your research, and you don’t have enough evidence to support one of your points.

In this situation, either change your argument to fit the evidence that you do have, or do a bit more research to fill the hole!

For example, looking at our outline for argument #1 for our essay on animal testing, it’s clear that this paragraph is missing a small but crucial bit of evidence—a reference to this specific ban on animal testing for cosmetics in Europe. Time for a bit more research!

A visit to the official website of the European Commission yields a copy of the law, which we can add to our populated outline:

Animal testing for recreational, non-medical purposes should be banned, like it is in the EU.

“The cosmetics directive provides the regulatory framework for the phasing out of animal testing for cosmetics purposes. Specifically, it establishes (1) a testing ban – prohibition to test finished cosmetic products and cosmetic ingredients on animals, and (2) a marketing ban – prohibition to market finished cosmetic products and ingredients in the EU which were tested on animals. The same provisions are contained in the cosmetics regulation, which replaced the cosmetics directive as of 11 July 2013. The testing ban on finished cosmetic products applies since 11 September 2004. The testing ban on ingredients or combination of ingredients applies since 11 March 2009. The marketing ban applies since 11 March 2009 for all human health effects with the exception of repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and toxicokinetics. For these specific health effects, the marketing ban applies since 11 March 2013, irrespective of the availability of alternative non-animal tests.” (website of the European Commission, “Ban on animal testing”)

Alright, now this supporting argument has the necessary ingredients!

You don’t need to use all of the evidence that you found in your research. In fact, you probably won’t use all of it!

This part of the writing process requires you to think critically about your arguments and what evidence is relevant to your points.

Cancer research


8. Add your own analysis and synthesis of these points

Once you’ve organized your evidence and decided what you want to use for your essay, now you get to start adding your own analysis!

You may have already started synthesizing and evaluating your sources when you were doing your research (the stuff on the right-hand side of our template). This gives you a great starting place!

For each piece of evidence, follow this formula:

  1. Context and transitions: introduce your piece of evidence and any relevant background info and signal the logical flow of ideas
  2. Reproduce the paraphrase or direct quote (with citation)
  3. Explanation: explain what the quote/paraphrase means in your own words
  4. Analysis: analyze how this piece of evidence proves your thesis
  5. Relate it back to the thesis: don’t forget to relate this point back to your overarching thesis! 

If you follow this fool-proof formula as you write, you will create clear, well-evidenced arguments.

As you get more experienced, you might stray a bit from the formula—but a good essay will always intermix evidence with explanation and analysis, and will always contain signposts back to the thesis throughout.

For our essay about animal testing, our first body paragraph might look like:

Every year, millions of animals—mostly rodents—are used for testing and research (BMJ 1993, 1020). This testing poses an ethical dilemma: “how to balance the welfare of humans with the welfare of other species” (Hubel, McIsaac 29). Many of the fundamental legal tests that are used to justify animal use in biomedical research were created in wake of the horrors of World War II, when the Nazi regime engaged in terrible experimentation on their human prisoners. In response to these atrocities, philosophers and lawmakers drew a clear line between experimenting on humans without consent and experimenting on (non-human) animals. For example, the 1947 Nuremberg Code stated that “the experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment” (Ferrari, 197). Created two years after the war, the code established a set of ethical research principles to demarcate ethical differences between animals and humans, clarifying differences between Nazi atrocities and more everyday research practices. However, in the following decades, the animal-rights movement has challenged the philosophical boundaries between humans and animals and questioned humanity’s right to exert dominion over animals (van Roten, 539, referencing works by Singer, Clark, Regan, and Jasper and Nelkin). These concerns are not without justification, as animals used in laboratories are subject to invasive procedures, stress, pain, and death (Knight, 333). Indeed, reading detailed descriptions of this research can be difficult to stomach. In light of this, while some animal testing that contributes to vital medical research and ultimately saves millions of lives may be ethically justified, animal testing that is purely for recreational purposes like cosmetics cannot be ethically justified. Fortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is less common than we might think. In 1990, a poll found that 14% of people in the UK thought that the most frequent reason for using animals to test cosmetics for safety—but actual figures were less than 1% (BMJ 1993, 1019). Unfortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is not subject to very much regulation. In particular, companies can use the phrase “cruelty-free” to mean just about anything, and many companies “can (and do) use the term when the product or its ingredients were indeed tested on animals” (Sheehan and Lee, 1). Unlike the term “fair trade,” which has an independent inspection and certification group (Flo-Cert) that reviews products using the label, there’s no analogous process for “cruelty-free” (Sheehan and Lee, 2). Without regulation, the term is regularly abused by marketers. Companies can also hire outside firms to test products and ingredients on animals and thereby pass the blame (Sheehan and Lee, 3). Consumers trying to avoid products tested on animals are frequently tricked. Greater regulation of terms would help, but the only way to end this kind of deceit will be to ban animal testing for recreational, non-medical purposes. The European Union is the only governmental body yet to accomplish this. In a series of regulations, the EU first banned testing finished cosmetic products (2004), then testing ingredients or marketing products which were tested on animals (2009); exceptions for specific health effects ended in 2013 (website of the European Commission, “Ban on animal testing”). The result is that the EU bans testing cosmetic ingredients or finished cosmetic products on animals, as well as marketing any cosmetic ingredients and products which were tested on animals elsewhere (Regulation 1223/2009/EU, known as the “Cosmetics Regulation”). The rest of the world should follow this example and ban animal testing on cosmetic ingredients and products, which do not contribute significantly to the greater good and therefore cannot outweigh the cost to animal lives.

Edit down the quotes/paraphrases as you go. In many cases, you might copy out a great long quote from a source…but only end up using a few words of it as a direct quote, or you might only paraphrase it!

There were several good quotes in our previous step that just didn’t end up fitting here. That’s fine!

Take a look at the words and phrases highlighted in red. Notice how sometimes a single word can help to provide necessary context and create a logical transition for a new idea. Don’t forget the transitions! These words and phrases are essential to good writing.

The end of the paragraph should very clearly tie back to the thesis statement.

As you write, consider your audience

If it’s not specified in your assignment prompt, it’s always appropriate to ask your instructor who the intended audience of your essay or paper might be. (Your instructor will usually be impressed by this question!) 

If you don’t get any specific guidance, imagine that your audience is the typical readership of a newspaper like the New York Times—people who are generally educated, but who don’t have any specialized  knowledge of the specific subject, especially if it’s more technical.

That means that you should explain any words or phrases that aren’t everyday terminology!

Equally important, you don’t want to leave logical leaps for your readers to make. Connect all of the dots for them!

See the other body paragraphs of this essay, along with 9 student essays, here.


9. Add paragraph transitions and concluding sentences to each body paragraph

By now you should have at least three strong body paragraphs, each one with 3–5 pieces of evidence plus your own analysis and synthesis of the evidence. 

Each paragraph has a main topic sentence, which we wrote back when we made the outline. This is a good time to check that the topic sentences still match what the rest of the paragraph says!

Think about how these arguments relate to each other. What is the most logical order for them? Re-order your paragraphs if necessary.

Then add a few sentences at the end of each paragraph and/or the beginning of the next paragraph to connect these ideas. This step is often the difference between an okay essay and a really great one!

You want your essay to have a great flow. We didn’t worry about this at the beginning of our writing, but now is the time to start improving the flow of ideas!


10. The final additions: write an introduction and a conclusion

Follow this formula to write a great introduction:

  1. It begins with some kind of “hook”: this can be an anecdote, quote, statistic, provocative statement, question, etc. 

(Pro tip: don’t use phrases like “throughout history,” “since the dawn of humankind,” etc. It’s good to think broadly, but you don’t have to make generalizations for all of history.)

  1. It gives some background information that is relevant to understand the ethical dilemma or debate
  2. It has a lead-up to the thesis
  3. At the end of the introduction, the thesis is clearly stated

This makes a smooth funnel that starts more broadly and smoothly zeroes in on the specific argument.

Essay intro funnel

Your conclusion is kind of like your introduction, but in reverse. It starts with your thesis and ends a little more broadly.

For the conclusion, try and summarize your entire argument without being redundant. Start by restating your thesis but with slightly different wording. Then summarize each of your main points.

If you can, it’s nice to point to the larger significance of the issue. What are the potential consequences of this issue? What are some future directions for it to go in? What remains to be explored?

See how nine students wrote introductions in different styles here.


11. Add citations and bibliography

Check what bibliographic style your instructor wants you to use. If this isn’t clearly stated, it’s a good question to ask them!

Typically the instructions will say something like “Chicago style,” “APA,” etc., or they’ll give you their own rules. 

These rules will dictate how exactly you’ll write your citations in the body of your essay (either in parentheses after the quote/paraphrase or else with a footnote or endnote) and how you’ll write your “works cited” with the full bibliographic information at the end.

Follow these rules! The most important thing is to be consistent and clear.

Pro tip: if you’re struggling with this step, your librarians can often help! They’re literally pros at this. 🙂


12. Revise

Now you have a complete draft!

Read it from beginning to end. Does it make sense? Are there any orphan quotes or paraphrases that aren’t clearly explained? Are there any abrupt changes of topic? Fix it!

Are there any problems with grammar or spelling? Fix them!

Edit for clarity.

Sharpening a pencil, just like you should sharpen your argument.

Ideally, you’ll finish your draft at least a few days before it’s due to be submitted. Give it a break for a day or two, and then come back to it. Things to be revised are more likely to jump out after a little break!

Try reading your essay out loud. Are there any sentences that don’t sound quite right? Rewrite them!

Double-check your thesis statement. This is the make-or-break moment of your essay, and without a clear thesis it’s pretty impossible for an essay to be a great one. Is it:

  • Arguable: it’s not just the facts—someone could disagree with this position
  • Narrow & specific: don’t pick a position that’s so broad you could never back it up
  • Complex: show that you are thinking deeply—one way to do this is to consider objections/qualifiers in your thesis

Try giving your essay to a friend or family member to read. Sometimes (if you’re lucky) your instructors will offer to read a draft if you turn it in early. What feedback do they have? Edit accordingly!

See the result of this process with 10 example essays now.


You’re done!

You did it! Feel proud of yourself 🙂

We regularly help students work through all of these steps to write great academic essays in our Academic Writing Workshop or our one-on-one writing tutoring. We’re happy to chat more about what’s challenging for you and provide you customized guidance to help you write better papers and improve your grades on writing assignments!

Want to see what this looks like when it’s all pulled together? We compiled nine examples of great student essays, plus all of the steps used to create this model essay, in this handy resource. Download it here!

Download 10 great example essays


Emily

Emily graduated summa cum laude of Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.