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How to Write a Good High School English Essay

by Pamela Martin

For some students, writing a high school English essay feels like trying to scale a mountain, when the blank paper causes a matching blank in their minds. Using a blueprint like the traditional five-paragraph essay makes writing a good composition less daunting. When you combine that plan with prewriting, drafting, revising and proofreading steps of the writing process, a good essay becomes much simpler.

Prewriting

The first step in the process of writing a quality essay doesn't involve much actual writing. At this stage, you select your focus and define your purpose. Remember that a high school English teacher has probably read dozens of essays about your topic, so find a original approach. Think about what your readers need to know about the topic and become an expert through research. Then decide whether your goal is to inform the readers, to persuade them into action or to tell them a story. Write down all your ideas.

Drafting the Introduction

You can begin your paper with an interesting story, statistic or quotation to grab the readers' attention. Follow with your thesis and a short summary of your three main points. Your thesis is the single idea that you want your readers to understand, stated in one sentence. It should express an idea that is new to your reader. For example, "studying for tests helps your grade" isn't a great thesis, since not many would dispute it, while "morning core courses are better" would be both fresh and arguable. Avoid phrases like, "I'm going to tell you…" or "This essay is about…."

Drafting the Body and Conclusion

Follow your introduction with body paragraphs for each main point, beginning with your second strongest argument. State the point in the first or second sentence, or topic sentence and follow it with supporting details. Make sure that everything in that paragraph relates to the topic sentence. Avoid "I believe" or "I think" statements. Finish with your strongest point, so readers will remember it. For your conclusion, restate your thesis and summary without repeating it exactly. End with a memorable quotation or statement that encourages your reader to take a desired action.

Editing

It can be helpful to let your paper rest for a while before you begin editing, if you have the time. You are taking a rough draft and polishing it by checking of the structure and flow of the sentences, the word choices you've made and the transitions between paragraphs and ideas. You are not yet correcting spelling or punctuation. Read the essay aloud to see if you need to vary sentence lengths more. Take out words used only to impress the teacher. Make sure that there is a smooth switch from one idea to another.

Proofreading

After editing is the time to check for spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation mistakes. Don't rely solely on the spell-check tool in your word-processing program. Check your spelling by reading from the last word backwards to the beginning, so that your eyes see what you wrote, rather than what they expect to see. Make a clean copy of the paper to hand in to your teacher. If you are writing by hand, use blue or black ink on white paper and write only on one side of each page. If you are using your computer, pick a clear 12-point font, like Times New Roman or Arial.

About the Author

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.

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