Seven Steps in Answering Essay Questions


General Rules:

A.  Your essay should consist of five paragraphs:  An introductory paragraph, three in the body, and  a conclusion.  General length should be two to three typed double-spaced pages, or three to four handwritten pages.

B.  Length is not nearly as important as content; but don't cut corners for the sake of brevity.  Remember, a long essay may not be a good essay, but a short essay is rarely a good essay.

1.  Analyze the question by circling all the important words.  Take sufficient time to be sure you know exactly what the question is asking you to do.  Determine the definition (or use) of important words.

2. Collect and sort your information.  Jot down any ideas and details that pertain to the question.  Organize ideas into categories or groups.

3.  Develop your thesis.  Every essay must have a thesis that you plan to develop and prove.  Your thesis is your personal opinion on the topic stated in the question.  Your essay will be organized and written so that it proves your thesis.


Your thesis is a statement, and should not necessarily be confined to a single sentence.  In many instances, it is impossible to state a clearly defined thesis in a single sentence.


 Your thesis should appear in the first paragraph of your essay, shortly after the introduction.  It is important that the reader understands your position immediately.

4.  Write your introduction.  Begin with a broad general statement, then explain or focus on the topic of the question.  Next, state your thesis.  The introduction should answer two questions:  (1) What is the question? and (2) What is the thesis?


   The introduction is like a flashlight beam.  The beam catches the reader with a broad light, forces the reader to focus on the question, then narrows into a specific thesis.

5.  In the body of your essay, write several paragraphs that present, prove, and support your thesis.  Your ideas should be presented in a logical sequence.  Every major idea should be presented in its own paragraph.  It should be clearly stated in a separate sentence and supported with details, facts, or examples in at least four sentences.


You should organize your essay from the least important to the most important idea.


Each set of facts should be in a separate paragraph.


You should refute arguments that are contrary to your thesis.  This is important!! If you ignore conflicting arguments, your reader will assume you are uninformed, and your grade will suffer substantially.

6.  Write your conclusion.  The conclusion is important as it holds your essay together. You should restate your major ideas and then restate your thesis in broad context, but do not repeat it verbatim. Also, do not restate major ideas in detail, or introduce new information.  Your purpose is to summarize and conclude.

7.  Read over your essay. Take sufficient time to correct problems in writing.  Look for correct spelling, punctuation, complete sentences, subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, consistent verb tense, and transitions.