QuillBot’s Guide to Essay Writing

Writing Jan 20, 2022
In this article

Cue the dreadful piano music: we’re talking essay writing. That means how-tos, types, and structure...the horror of it all is almost too much to bear.

Except it’s not, because we’re going to explain everything about writing an essay in painstaking detail. You’ll never freak over having to write an essay again, what with all the instructions and tips we’re about to set you up with.


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QuillBot helps you save time and write your essay with confidence


Take a breath. All will be revealed in 3...2...1…

What does the essay writing process consist of?

Ah, the million dollar question: How do you write an essay?

Well, it takes a lot more than crossing your fingers and blindly typing until 4 am, we can tell you that much.

The essay writing process can essentially be boiled down to three steps:

  1. Essay research
  2. Essay drafting
  3. Essay proofreading/revision

But before we can dive into the nitty gritty of each of these stages, we’ll need to talk about structure.

After all, we can’t be throwing around terms like “body paragraph” without context. That would be cruel and unusual.

The Parts of an Essay

spongebon's essay consisting of the word "the"
Strong start. (Source: Why Harmony)

An essay is just a collection of paragraphs, right? And while this is an overly-simple way of explaining the structure, there is truth to it.

As we outline in our Paragraphing post, every essay has an introduction paragraph, 3-5 body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.

The Introduction Paragraph

An introductory paragraph eases the reader into your topic. You’ll have a hook, a few context sentences, and your thesis, which consists of a stance on your chosen topic, and support points. This is the first impression your audience will get, so it’s got to be strong.

The Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs are the meat and potatoes of any essay, so to speak. They are what come in between the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, and explain what you’ve stated in your thesis.

There is usually one body paragraph per supporting point/argument in the thesis (if we’re talking about a basic 5-7 paragraph essay).

The Conclusion Paragraph

homer simpson finishing an essay with bart on the couch
Strong ending. (Source: tumblr)

The conclusion paragraph reminds the reader of your thesis and re-explains your supporting points (and, after having read the body paragraphs, the audience will have the context to decide if they agree with you or not).

The 7 Steps to Writing an Essay

This is where it gets extremely easy. This is what you’re here for. We’re about to break essay writing down into the simplest terms and most convenient definitions.

Here’s the TL;DR Version of our basic, 7-Step Essay-Writing Workflow:

See, 6 main steps, and then you submit your assignment as the 7th and final step. We thought about adding “Step 8: Celebrate!!” in there, but we’re not here to tell you how to live your life, just how to write a killer essay.

If you follow these steps, you’ll never sweat a writing assignment again. Promise.

And now, for the details of each step…read on.

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

Seems obvious, no? You’d be surprised by how many people just jump into writing without fully understanding what they’re being asked to do or what the scope is.

It pays to know whether you’re shooting for 500 words or 2,500 words, so don’t skimp on this part. Understanding what you’re expected to deliver with regards to project scope, length, and formatting are really important.

Besides the details of the assignment, you should understand what type of essay you are being asked to write before you start writing.

If you don’t know any of these details, ask your instructor so you don’t waste time accidentally ruining your odds of stress-free essay creation.

The 4 Main Types of Essays

There are four main types of essays, which can each be broken down into more specific categories. However, for the sake of clarity and ease, we’re just going to be taking a look at the main four. They correlate almost exactly with the four writing styles, which we’ve covered previously.

The Narrative Essay

The best way to remember what a narrative is is to think of it as a story. Personal essays and book reports are both examples of narrative essays, because they follow and explain a clear narrative or motif.

The Argumentative Essay

This essay type slightly differs from its writing type parallel. Whereas persuasive writing relies on emotion and a strong knowledge of its audience, argumentative essays use facts and research to support their perspectives. Persuasive writing aims to get you on its side; argumentative essays aim to show you the logic behind their stances.

The Descriptive Essay

As its name implies, a descriptive essay is used to describe, or depict, something in great detail. These essays usually rely heavily on the senses and descriptive imagery.

The Expository Essay

This essay type is used to explain a topic. It differs from argumentative essays in that it does not aim to persuade or win the audience over to a particular side, but rather aims to inform and educate, as neutrally as possible.

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Topics

Okay, so now you know how to write for a particular essay type, and now you need to figure out what to write to fit the assignment. It seems like a daunting task. It is not a daunting task.

The best way to brainstorm is to make a list. Good ideas, bad ideas—you’ll want them all. Check your inner editor at the door, because anything goes in a brainstorming session.

Let’s say you have to write a book report, which would fall under the narrative essay category. One way to figure out what specific theme or motif you want to talk about is by searching for topics related to your book.

Our Co-Writer has a Research tab, under which you can pull online sources and analyze the related topics and subtopics that correlate to your subject. For example, articles about “To Kill a Mockingbird” will bring up topics such as “Southern Gothic,” “the Great Depression,” and “the bus boycott,” which are all great subjects to explore in a narrative essay for this title.

Once you have these sources, you’ll need to cite them using a trustworthy citation generator. If you cite your sources as you research, even if you don’t end up using every single one, you’ll have a comprehensive list of sources at the end of your essay━one less thing to worry about as the deadline approaches.

Step 3: Find Your Angle

comic depicting two women discussing a first draft of an essay
That's one way to do it. (Source: anu.edu.au)

This just means “make it unique." Your angle is your stance, essentially. If “UFOs” are your topic, for example, your angle might be “UFOs are nothing more than government aircraft,” or it might be “UFOs prove the existence of alien life.”

Of course, your angle is going to have to be backed up by outside evidence. A great way to find reliable sources, or even to find/refine your angle, is to have a summarizer tool sum up each article or source you find.

This way, you’re saving precious writing time, and the main points are all laid out nice and easy for you. We’re all about efficiency, here. The essay writing process doesn’t have to drag on until your clothes go out of style.

Step 4: Make an Outline

A lot of people skip this step; we suggest you do not skip this step.

Spoiler Alert: A lot of what makes essay writing so difficult for some people is skipping or skimping on the outline.

The beauty of an outline is that, once you write it, your job is simply filling in the gaps to create a fully-fledged paper. An outline helps you organize your thoughts or argument to set up a clear flow of ideas, note where you have supporting evidence already, highlight where you might need to add a section for clarity, or see where you need to find more evidence/sources.

Making a bulleted list is such an easy way to outline. Instead of trying to explain how it would work, I’ll just lay it out for you.

How to Outline, an Example

Once you have everything filled out in your outline, drafting will be easy. For some, this might be one of the hardest steps, especially if you dislike planning, but wow, does it pay off in the long run.

Drafting Topic Sentences in Your Outline

Want to go a little further? If you’re feeling the outlining vibe, keep up your momentum by adding more detail to your essay’s outline. For example, you could write out each of the topic sentences within your outline.

A topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph. It’s important because it needs to both act as a logical transition from the last paragraph but also explain to the reader what the overall message or the main points are for the paragraph.

The reason for drafting topic sentences within your outline is three-fold:

  1. To make sure the transition between thoughts/paragraphs is smooth and logical
  2. To make sure your points are flowing clearly from paragraph to paragraph and that your overall idea or argument is cohesive
  3. To state what the paragraph is going to be about

Topic sentences can be a stumbling point when drafting because these babies have to multitask so hard.

Having them already written out in your outline, even just roughly, will make you feel like a superhuman drafter, skipping all those frustrating questions that arise in later stages of the process like: “What was I going for here?” and “Should that actually go after this point?”

Step 5: Write Your Draft

Would've been an easy out. (Source: CartoonStock)

The biggest piece of advice that can be given for the drafting step is to not censor or edit yourself. Save that for the next step.

When you’re drafting, you want to stick to your outline and get it all out: your good ideas, bad ideas, and great lines. Don’t worry about overwriting. Just type, type, type.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. There are a lot of Writing Roadblocks that might try to stand in your way, such as writer’s block, procrastination, and imposter syndrome; there are also ways around these roadblocks.

Using an online paraphrasing tool can help you when you get stuck, or when you’re feeling burnt out and fatigued (after all, you’ve done a ton of work up until this point!). Seeing your ideas rewritten with new words can help you:

  • avoid errors in fluency and grammar
  • spark new ideas for tone and style
  • give your essay that punch you’ve been looking for by varying vocabulary or sentence structure
  • avoid using the same words over and over

Step 6: Edit, Edit, Edit

You’ve done it. You’ve written the essay. But now is not the time to celebrate. A pat on the back, maybe, but then it’s time to get back to work━you’re not quite at the finish line yet.

Editing is just as important as drafting, if not more-so. This is the stage where you refine your writing into the sharpest, smartest version of itself. This is where your writing is transformed from manic ramblings to a polished essay.

Different folks edit in different ways, but if you’re looking for efficiency, like us, consider this editing flow:

  1. Edit for content
  2. Fix those weird parts, take out redundancies, and make sure the order/structure flows
  3. Edit for grammar, fluency, spelling, punctuation, word use (principle vs. principal), and formatting
  4. Check the knitty-gritty details only after you make content revisions, so you don’t have to keep going back and forth to edit
  5. Read your work aloud during the final proofread before submitting
  6. You’d be surprised what weirdness can still be lurking after several rounds of edits, but this step will help you catch and remedy such issues.

Okay, so it sounds like a lot at 3 rounds minimum. But do not fear: you’re not alone in this process. You’ve got tools at your disposal.

Step 7: Submit

That's it. You're done!

Time-Saving Tools for When You’re Writing an Essay

Writing tools can help save you time, energy, and frustration during the essay creation process. They can help with everything from comparing and contrasting ideas, refining language, fixing fluency issues, and much more.

Let’s take a quick look at which ones are useful in which stages of the writing process.

Online Writing Tools for Brainstorming, Finding Your Angle, Building Your Argument, and Outlining

Not another one. (Source: Brainless Tales)

Source material is the biggest help in deciding where you will take your essay. QuillBot is probably the second-biggest help in the writing process after that. Just saying.

If you’re stumped on where to take the assignment prompt, try our Co-Writer. Besides being able to make notes, outline, cite, draft, and edit within the Co-Writer itself, try the Research tab to see topics and subjects related to your search query for brainstorming ideas of what to write about or for finding an angle for your essay.

Use a tool, like our Summarizer, to help you quickly compare and contrast the main points of your potential sources. This will help you weed out what is useful, redundant, and/or credible for your essay.

As you find more sources and your ideas become more refined, lay out how each topic you’ve identified as important relates to the overall argument or message of your essay.

Check your assignment guidelines for if there’s a citation style you need to adhere to specifically. Get your citation list going as you find sources you know you want to use.

Start to build the flow of your essay with the topics you’ve found, along with your supporting evidence, and use these elements to lay out your argument in your outline.

Online Writing Tools for Drafting Faster (and More Painlessly!) Than Ever

Charlie Brown struggles with word count for essay.
Felt that. (Source: Pinterest)

Whether you love or hate the drafting process, you know that the sooner you get that thing finished, the better.

Online writing tools really take the cake on this one—from a lot of experience, we can absolutely tell you that they help keep your writing momentum up and also help you move out of being stuck faster than most anything else. Value, we tell you!

Chief among the tools that help during this process are paraphrasing and summarizing tools, because when you don’t have the words, you can’t seem to move the thoughts in your head onto the page with any semblance of clarity, or you don’t know where a topic/section should go, these tools will be your lighthouse in the drafting storm.

Use a paraphraser for articulating your ideas exactly as they live in your head with the visual sentence-building features for choosing the rights words and phrases. The writing Modes will help you hone the tone and style of your writing to meet the vibe you had when you first came up with an idea or concept.

If you’re feeling tired or unmotivated but still want to try and get a few paragraphs down, avoid writing roadblocks by using the paraphraser right when you get stuck on a difficult topic sentence or transition. In the spirit of drafting with reckless abandon, put that crappy sentence into the paraphraser without judgement, and then refine the output to your heart’s content.

Doing this will help you write not only faster, but with more confidence, knowing that it’s possible to articulate yourself exactly how you intend.

The Summarizer is also a great tool for getting unstuck in the drafting stage. Find new ideas for language and expression by summarizing a paragraph or other section of your work. The feedback is instant, and it can help you see the rabbit holes and redundancies your tired eyes might have missed.

The theme here is work smarter, not harder—and this is doubly important when getting that first draft hammered out, since it’s such a critical step in the writing process.

Online Writing Tools for Editing Without Hating Your Life

Few consider editing an easy step. Sure, some people prefer editing to drafting, or vice versa, but easy? You just don’t see that word floating around much in reference to editing.

Smarties will use the many free online tools at their fingertips to make it painless. You’re a Smarty, right?

When working on issues like awkward paragraphs or choppy sentences, an online paraphraser can help with finding the right tone, style, and vocabulary to perfectly express your thoughts.

You can visually edit the sentences you’re working on with the drop-down thesaurus for words and phrases, change tone and style with the different writing Modes, and change how much variance you want to see in the given synonyms.

All of these features will help you move from, “Wow, this is a rough draft indeed,” to “Wow, I didn’t think I’d agree, but they make a great case.”

While we suggest editing for content before grammar, we’re not the boss of you. Your instructor is.

In our humble opinion, once you fix all the weird or sticky sentences, then it’s a good time to check on the knitty-gritty issues, like fluency, grammar, punctuation, spelling, word use, and lame formatting mistakes, like extra spaces.

You can do this quickly and painlessly using our Grammar Checker. It’s hands-down the most low-energy editing move there is, so even when you don’t want to edit, you can still make some headway.


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QuillBot's grammar checker makes sure that your work is polished and error-free


Online Writing Tools to Use Before Submitting Your Essay

Once you’re happy with how everything reads, it’s a good idea to run your paper through that summarizer as a whole, one last time. Why? Well, it will tell you if your message or the point you’re trying to make came across the way it was supposed to, and it will show you if the flow of your paper makes sense.

If both you and QuillBot agree on what the main points are, and you know you followed the directions or prompt for the assignment, then you’re probably on your way to a celebration-worthy grade.

The Efficiency-Lover’s Essay-Writing Workflow

We’ve hit you with a ton of info so far—and what do you expect? A non-comprehensive guide? We’re professionals.

But, for the sake of those saturated sponges, let’s sum up the basic 7-step workflow for tackling writing an essay (again).

The 7 Basic Steps of Writing an Essay

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Topics

Step 3: Find Your Angle

Step 4: Make an Outline

Step 5: Write Your Draft

Step 6: Edit, Edit, Edit

And finally:

Step 7: Submit!

How Your Workflow Can Evolve

As you write more, you will see your own patterns form as to what steps you enjoy the most, dread the most, take you the longest to complete, cause you more/less heartburn, and which steps get you stuck on a writing roadblock most often.

Our basic workflow for essay writing is as simple as possible by design. Having as few steps as possible is key to feeling confident and on-track.

Ever driven to a new place and felt like it took hours, but on the way home, it seemed way faster? Yeah, workflows are like that. Learn the basics, and then you can easily iterate, refine, add, or do whatever else you want to make it work the best for you and your happy little brain.

Here’s a more detailed workflow that you might refine over time:

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Topics

Step 3: Start Compiling Citations

Step 4: Find Your Angle

Step 5: Make an Outline

Step 6: Draft Topic Sentences in Outline

Step 7: Edit Outline for Flow and Cohesion of Argument

Step 8: Write Your Draft

Step 9: Edit for Content

Step 10: Edit for Fluency & Grammar

Step 11: Format the Assignment

Step 12: Read Work Aloud for Final Proofreading

Step 13: Submit!

Notice that it’s really all the same steps as in the basic flow, but here, some steps are broken down into smaller pieces.

For some writers, big steps are no biggie. But for others, they can seem overwhelming and limit your precious progress. In the example above, the steps for outlining and editing are the ones broken into smaller steps—this flow would suit someone who takes outlining very seriously but maybe struggles with editing, or vice versa.

Either way, break apart the steps you find to be the most difficult, easiest to get hung up on, or that you think are really important to you being able to do a great job right off the bat.

Your workflow is yours, so iterate and refine it to your liking. Bend it to your will just as you will surely do with any essay assignment that comes your way from now on.

Final Thoughts on Essay Writing

Writing an essay doesn’t have to suck.

There are plenty of strategies, tools, and tricks that make the process faster and more easy to handle. So go forth with a new confidence, armed with this post and a thirst for typing.

No one can do it but you.

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Paige Pfeifer

Along with Emily Perry, PhD

Paige Pfeifer is any number of things, which include a writer, an editor, and QuillBot’s Communications Manager.
There are a few things she is not, like a hater of lists, or a ghost.
She enjoys reading screenplays and listening to any band that used to play Warped Tour.

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