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How to Write A Quality Essay

When you’re not confident in your writing skills, the thought of submitting essays or research papers in high school can feel overwhelming. Where do you even start? Before you get stressed or convince yourself you can’t get a passing grade in your English classes, here are a few tips on writing a good essay.
Nicole Krempasky

Nicole Krempasky

Why do I have to complete writing assignments to graduate high school?

Often times, students wonder what the point of writing assignments is, particularly if they don’t have plans to continue onto careers or college programs that are focused on writing. According to Penn Foster English instructor Selina Rush, writing assignments are geared towards college and career readiness. Writing will factor into any type of degree or job you decide to pursue, and features in many college courses. This means you’ll need strong writing skills to create a stand-out resume when applying for work.


Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that writing assignments help you to think critically and learn to research, as well as helping you to develop communication skills. They are good practice for learning how to express ideas by organizing thoughts, developing points, and making connections between ideas.


What are Penn Foster writing assignments like?

Wondering what your Penn Foster writing assignments will be like? Rush explains that it all depends on the particular course and when a student enrolled.


“When it comes to the written assignments, there are different ones depending on when the student enrolled. We have some that are just question answer exam—they ask you a question and you give your answer—and then we have some that are essay related. You’re writing an introduction, you’re writing body paragraphs, and you’re writing a conclusion. Some of them are more personal, where you’re writing about personal experiences, personal knowledge, and you don’t have to do any sort of research. But then we also have some of our courses where you write a research paper or an argument paper. The goal is to really find something that you’re passionate about. We’ve made the exams in a way that allows the student to get excited about it. When they’re in a traditional class, they don’t always get that option.”


The most common types of essays you’ll come across in high school are:


Persuasive essays

Persuasive essays are used to convince the reader of something in an informal, personal way.


Descriptive essays

Descriptive essays are meant to create a detailed understanding of something by using descriptive language. It can be anything from an object to a person, an emotion, an experience, etc.


Expository essays

Expository essays are meant to explain concepts, ideas, or facts. While they can be similar in idea to a persuasive essay, expository essays utilize evidence and research to lay out an idea in a more formal, matter-of-fact manner.


Narrative essays

Narrative essays are also meant to tell a story; however, they are told often from a personal, first-person perspective based upon real experiences.


Regardless of the assignment, Rush also stresses that there is no need to panic, as writing assignments are not the end of the world. “We are here to help you … I mean, I love talking to students. Do not be afraid to ask for help.”


What is a quality essay in high school?

Though each essay assignment will be different when it comes to topic or subject, there are a few basic rules to follow to ensure you have a quality essay.


Determine the type of essay you’re writing

Knowing what you are supposed to write, or why you’re writing, is the first step to getting yourself in the right frame of mind to begin your task.


Research your topic

Researching your topic is extremely important, especially if you are writing an expository, persuasive, and even descriptive essay. This will help you formulate ideas and can even help you get excited or more interested in the assignment.


Form a thesis or theme

After researching and learning more about your topic, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to write about and why. If you are writing a persuasive essay, keep this sentence clear and direct.


Create an outline

Before you begin writing, it can help to form an outline. Outlines can help you organize your thoughts and break down the assignment into smaller, more digestible tasks. In addition to making writing less overwhelming, it can also help you format your essay so one idea flows more smoothly into the next.


Other key tips to help you write a good essay include starting each paragraph with a topic sentence (think of this like a mini thesis), writing in the same tense throughout the paper, proofreading, and (properly) citing sources if necessary.


Perhaps most importantly, Rush advises writing with honesty. “If it's something that's honest and it's true … if it comes from you and it's something you're passionate about or interested in, that makes it 10 times easier, because then you're just talking to us.”


What to do before you start writing

Writing a good essay starts with planning. While some experienced writers may tell you that they sit down at their computer and the words just flow from their fingertips (because they might not even realize they are still pre-planning their work mentally), it’s important to know how to map out your essay before getting started. As a student, pre-writing steps not only help you organize your thoughts but also help you learn about all the small parts that come together to make a great essay.


So, when you get to your first course that requires an essay, start with these steps before you write your first paragraph.


Figure out your topic

What are you writing about? You don’t have to get super specific yet but figuring out what your essay will be about in general is step number one. For example, if you were writing this blog, the topic could be simply stated as: The topic of this blog is to give advice on writing a good essay.


Think about your audience

Who is reading your essay? Who do you want to speak to or convince through your writing? Knowing who you’re writing for helps you decide the tone of the essay, what vocabulary to use, and even what information to include.


What’s your purpose?

Consider the point of your essay, outside of your having to write it for a grade in school. What are you trying to accomplish? As an example, let’s go back to the idea that you’re writing this blog. The topic of the blog is to give readers advice on writing a good essay. The audience you’re writing to is mostly students, or readers thinking of becoming students. The purpose, then, is to help students understand how they can write a good essay.


As you’re getting into the habit of pre-writing, jot down your answers to each of these three things before diving into an essay so you’re focused on what you want to accomplish.


Steps for writing a quality essay outline

So you’ve done a bit of pre-writing and know your topic, audience, and the purpose of your essay. Awesome! It’s time to sit down and write that essay, right? Not so fast. The next step in the writing process — especially for students — is creating an outline of your essay. When you’re writing a paper for school, you can generally think of an outline as having five parts. These five parts can be translated into five separate paragraphs, although depending on your topic, you may find yourself writing more. The five parts of your essay include:


1. The introduction

This is the paragraph where you open your essay, pull in the reader, and share your thesis statement. A thesis statement is one sentence that tells the reader your main idea and makes a claim. The rest of your essay follows up on this claim and supports your idea.


2. The first supporting idea

Let’s go back to the example of writing this blog. The reader needs to understand the process of writing but also why they should take this seemingly longer path to completing their essay. The best way to help the reader understand the value of the process is to use supporting data to show them that this is the best way. You might add in quotes from authorities on the topic or present data on how this process reduces the need for revisions. In the paragraph following your introduction, you need to support your claims with evidence. This same support will happen in the second and third paragraphs.


3. The second supporting idea

4. The third supporting idea

5. The conclusion

In your conclusion, you want to wrap up your essay. That can include repeating your main idea and also introducing a last and final piece of evidence that supports that idea.


By drafting an outline of your essay before writing it, you’re creating a map that you can follow even if you get a bit of writer’s block!


How proofreading can help you perfect your essay

You’ve finished writing your essay and it’s time to upload and submit it to be graded. But before you do, have you read over your work at least once or twice? Proofreading is an essential step to any writing you do, from emails to research papers. You may feel confident that spell check is going to catch any mistakes or typos you make, the tool will alert you to many mistakes, but some slip through. Spell check can also miss grammar mistakes, and you may not realize you forgot a sentence or two that connects one idea to another.


When you’re done writing your first draft, take a break and walk away from your essay. If you immediately jump into proofreading, you may miss a thing or two yourself because you’re still close to what you just wrote. Whether you leave for an hour or a day, when you come back to your essay, you’ll be able to look it over with fresh eyes.


If you’re able to, have a friend or family member look over your essay after you made changes. They can catch anything missing or point out things they don’t understand that you may want to explain more.


3 best tools for writing a quality essay

1. Turn on Grammarly

Besides a friend or classmate helping you proofread, there are a few free tools out there that can help you feel more confident about your writing. One easy to use site that can make an impact on your writing and help you learn from your mistakes is Grammarly. Grammarly is an online writing and editing “assistant” that can pinpoint your mistakes in spelling, grammar, and more and tells you why your previous choice was incorrect.

2. Penn Foster’s Writer’s Block

Another great resource? The Penn Foster’s Writer’s Block through the digital Learning Resource Center! The Writer’s Block offers advice and tips on writing a great essay, a perfect paragraph, and how to cite your sources. You’ll also find links that can help you with different struggles you may encounter, such as how to begin your research, how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing something, and more!


Read more: How to Use Penn Foster Resources to Write a Great Essay


3. ProWritingAid

If you’re looking for an alternative to Grammarly, ProWritingAid is the way to go. In addition to grammar and spellchecking, ProWritingAid also offers tips and help regarding structure, dialogue, repeated words, structure, and more. It offers a custom style guide, articles, and quizzes so you can better understand why you are making changes. While there is a free option available, to access all the tools, you will need to purchase the premium feature at roughly $70 per year.


Learn more: Must Have Apps for High School Students


What if I get stuck?

Sometimes even the best writers get stuck. If this happens to you, it’s ok! First, take a step back. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you won’t be able to concentrate on writing something that makes sense, flows, and has all the points you want to focus on.


After you collect yourself, think about what the assignment is. High school English teacher, Shawn Cherinchak, advises students to go slowly and take their time. “Read the directions carefully. Read them slowly and carefully, because if you skip over something, you’re probably either not going to get that great of a grade or the paper will be returned to you.”


Once you have a full understanding of the directions, make an outline. An outline can help guide you on the structure of the paper, highlighting the points you want make and the ideas you want to cover. From there, it’s a little bit easier to “fill in the blanks”, which are the detailed parts of those ideas.


Most importantly, if you feel like you’re really struggling, Cherinchak wants you to know that help is available. “If students could call us, they could e-mail US, chat with us, send us a text … And a lot of times even non-English instructors can answer their questions if they’re general. But Selena and I are the English instructors and we're more than happy to help anyone who reaches out to us.”


Find out more: What to Do When You Need Study Help


Remember, practice makes perfect

If you’re still worried that you will never be able to write a good essay, remember this: the more you do it, the more you learn. Following pre-writing steps, building an outline, and proofreading your essay as much as possible before submitting it can make a big difference. Not only will you become more familiar with the writing process, but you’ll also start to notice how you get better with each draft. And if you’re still unsure of your writing skills, the benefit of taking courses with Penn Foster is that you can go at your own pace. There’s no hard deadline to meet so if it takes you a week or four to write your essay, that’s okay! You have the time to make your essay what you want it to be before submitting it through your student portal.


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