How to Write a Formal Essay
The term "formal essay" probably makes many people think of high school or college writing classes, but formal essays have many practical uses outside the classroom. A formal essay may be a requirement in certain job applications, and may be required in certain professional reports and correspondences.Writing a formal essay requires an understanding of how to structure the essay, how to present it on the page, and how to write in a formal writing style. A formal essay also requires a strong vocabulary, and may require some research skills. An essay may be persuasive, analytical, critical, or expository, depending on the subject and parameters of the essay.Learning how to write a strong formal essay can help you excel in your academic career and your professional career.
Essay Template and Sample Essay
Choosing an Essay Topic
Brainstorm possible subjects.Brainstorming is one of the most common methods of topic formation. It allows you to explore multiple possible topics without committing to any of them until you decide what will work best for you.
- Set a timer. Choose a time span that will allow you to cover a lot of ground, but not so large a time span that you find yourself feeling lost and aimless. Five to ten minutes is generally a good starting point.
- Write down any ideas for topics that come to mind. Try to come up with as many ideas as you can, and jot them down as quickly as possible. You want to have a large list to work with.
- When the timer goes off, review the list you've compiled. Look for any patterns or recurring themes in the subjects that you've written down.
Choose a topic.Your topic should be a subject that is interesting to you, since you want to be able to write about it at length. If you are writing an essay for school, be sure that your topic fits the assignment you've been given.
- Choose a topic that you can write the most about. If you had multiple items in your brainstorming session that are all related to a central issue or theme, it's a good sign that you will be able to write a lot about that issue.
- Be sure that the topic you choose can be sufficiently researched, if research is required for the essay.
- Be flexible in choosing your topic. You may find that your initial topic idea changes considerably as you conduct research and begin writing your essay.
Narrow your topic.Once you've chosen a general subject for your essay, you may need to narrow down the focus of your essay. You don't want a topic so broad that it will take a hundred pages to adequately cover the subject matter, but you also don't want a topic so narrow that the subject will be exhausted in one or two pages.For example, European art history might be too broad a topic, but Van Gogh's painting techniques might be too narrow. In this case, a particular movement in art history would be a good topic to explore in an essay.
- Try making an idea map to help you narrow your topic. This entails writing related sub-topics around the central topic you've chosen. It can be helpful because it allows you to visualize how your topic relates to other concepts.
Write a thesis statement.A thesis statement serves as a short preview of what the ensuing essay will address. It should be a claim or opinion that you will work to defend, and it should incorporate or acknowledge any relevant lenses through which you will be analyzing your topic (if, for example, you will be applying certain theories to your subject).
- The thesis of your essay should directly answer the question you are posing in the essay.
- Choose a thesis that is highly debatable or contestable. If your thesis is simply a statement that anyone else who's done the necessary reading would agree with, you will need to rework your thesis to stake out a stronger opinion.
- A strong thesis should address some issue that is important to you or within your field of study.
- It may be helpful to think about what possible questions arise naturally from the topic you've chosen. Considering those possible questions can help you develop a claim that you can defend which seeks to answer one of those questions.
Part 1 Quiz
What is true of a thesis statement?
Structuring Your Essay
Write body paragraphs.The body paragraphs contain the bulk of an essay. The body should come after the introduction and before the conclusion. The more research that you have done, or the more you have to say about your subject, the longer the body section will be in your essay.
- The standard expectation in academic writing is that each paragraph should introduce and explore each "point" that will ultimately prove or disprove your thesis statement.
- Compose a topic sentence for each paragraph, and insert that sentence somewhere near the beginning of the paragraph. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of a body paragraph.
- A topic sentence should introduce or express the "proof point" of that paragraph, and the ensuing sentences should explain or elaborate on the topic sentence.
- Use the so-called "P.E.E. structure" of paragraphs: Point (make your point/offer the proof of that paragraph), Evidence (give supporting quotes/examples from a book or article), and Explain (relate the evidence to your thesis and elaborate on how it proves your point).
- Each paragraph in the body of your essay should work toward addressing your thesis statement.
Form a conclusion.The final paragraph of a formal essay is called the conclusion. It should not introduce any new information, and should not actually say the words, "in conclusion".
- The conclusion paragraph may summarize the proof that was laid out in the preceding body paragraphs, or it may offer some larger implication based on the assumption that the thesis has been adequately proven.
- Some essays may require one or the other, while others may require both a summary and a prediction/implication. How you compose your conclusion will vary, depending on the assignment (if it's for school) or the goal of your essay.
Part 2 Quiz
What can your conclusion include?
Using Appropriate Language for a Formal Essay
Avoid first person writing.Most formal essays avoid using first person pronouns like "I" or "we". This is because the essay seeks to support the thesis statement, and using first person pronouns would render the thesis statement as mere opinion.
- Make concrete statements in your essay that are presented as your opinion. Think of the thesis statement as an absolute truth that you are supporting, rather than just your own interpretation of a text or event.
Use formal vocabulary.A formal essay should not use slang or informal words or phrases. Think of a formal essay as a professional or academic piece of writing, and make choices appropriate for the audience that might be reading a professional/academic essay.Aim for Standard English, and keep a dictionary and thesaurus at hand.In a formal essay, you should avoid using:
- slang/colloquialisms (such as "cool," "weird," and "busted")
- contractions (such as "can't," "isn't," and "ain't")
- abbreviations (such as "ASAP" and "lol")
- clichés (such as "think outside the box" and "avoid like the plague")
Pick strong verbs.Strong verbs are verbs that adequately convey the action of the sentence without requiring a preposition. Verbs that require a preposition are called phrasal verbs, and within the academic community they are typically considered weaker verbs.
- An example of a strong verb choice would be "eliminate" or "eradicate", instead of the phrasal verb "wipe out".
Write strong transitions.Transitions help weave the various parts of an essay together into a single, cohesive piece of writing.
- Transitions should make sense in the context of the sentence that precedes the transitional sentence and the new sentence that follows the transition.
- Be sure that transitions are necessary. If a transition feels forced and the sentences before and after the transition are still on the same subject, you most likely do not need a transition.
- Common transitional phrases include, "In contrast" and "On the other hand," as these signal an acknowledgement of the previous sentence while simultaneously segueing into a sentence that will shift focus.
Eliminate redundant words and phrases.A strong formal essay should avoid using any unnecessary words or phrases, including words that repeat what has already been said.
- Some examples of redundancies include "past histories" and "new innovations". In both examples, the adjectives "past" and "new" are redundant, because "histories" implies the past, and "innovations" implies something radically new.
- Comb through each sentence in your essay and assess whether each word is necessary to communicate your intended meaning.
Part 3 Quiz
How can you write a strong transition?
Formatting Your Essay
Choose a standard type.Formal essays should be typed on a computer, which means that you have access to a range of font types. Choose a serif font, as these font types are generally easier to read.
- Common serif fonts include Times, Times Roman, and Times New Roman.
- Use 12-point font size throughout the essay.
Use correct spacing.Some people were taught in years past to use a double-space after a period. Generally, in today's writing world, the standard is to use only one space after punctuation marks, but there are exceptions.
- If you are following the Modern Language Association (MLA) style, the recommended spacing after punctuation is one single space, but the MLA acknowledges that two spaces are sometimes an acceptable option.
- If you are following the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), the recommended spacing is one single space after punctuation.
- If you are following the American Psychological Association (APA) style, the recommended spacing in a manuscript is two spaces after punctuation.However, the APA acknowledges that most print publications will alter the spacing to display one single space after punctuation.If you are using APA style, you will probably have to use two spaces, but it's best to ask your instructor or editor what they prefer with regards to spacing.
Work with proper margins.The standard format is one-inch margins on all sides of the paper, though some instructors or publication editors may request a slightly larger margin on one or more sides.
- If you're unsure about the proper margin size for an essay that you will be submitting for a grade or for publication, ask your instructor or the editor what an acceptable margin size would be.
Part 4 Quiz
What style should you use when writing an essay in the social sciences?
QuestionHow do you write a transition?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLook at the sentence at the end of the last paragraph and the sentence you have planned for the next paragraph. Use connecting phrases to bring them together. For example, "Considering (fact you just went over), it's no surprise that ..." or "Not only is (thing) (adjective), but also ... ."Thanks!
QuestionIs the thesis statement describing the main idea?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, the thesis statement should be a 1-2 sentence summation of what your paper will discuss. In a persuasive essay or similar, the thesis statement should include both what you're arguing for as well as some of the points against it.Thanks!
QuestionIs it acceptable to ask a question?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. Rhetorical questions can be used so that the person wants to learn more about what you want to say. You can also present the problem being examined in the essay as a question. But don't overdo it.Thanks!
Is it possible to ask questions in the Introduction part?
How do you write a strong thesis statement?
Do I also need to give my opinion about the topic in the essay?
Can I bold the title on a formal essay?
How can I write a formal outline on a given essay?
To write a formal essay, first compose an introductory paragraph that gives background information and includes your thesis statement. Then, write body paragraphs so that each one addresses a point in support of that thesis. For each body paragraph, try to write a clear topic sentence that articulates the point of the paragraph, and provide supporting evidence for the point and an explanation of how it backs up your thesis. Finish your essay by writing a conclusion paragraph that summarizes the proof you’ve just laid out for your thesis.
- Be sure your essay is legible as well as readable. It's best to type a formal essay, but if you're writing it by hand, use either blue or black ink.
- Make sure your sentences are clear and easy to follow. Avoid poetic phrasings and stick with concise, well-written sentences.
- Never plagiarize someone else's work. Plagiarism is the use of other people's work without giving them credit as a source or reference. It is taken very seriously in academia, and may result in a failing grade or even expulsion from school.
- The above rules are general guidelines only. If you are writing according to a style manual that differs from the material presented above or for an instructor who wants you to follow a different set of instructions, follow the style manual or instructor's preferences.
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