8 Simple Steps On 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. Practicing essay writing to get better at writing 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 formal essay requires one to possess qualities of a good writer and this can help you excel in your academic career and your professional career.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 have 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 have chosen a general subject for your essay, you may need to narrow down the focus of your essay. You do not want a topic so broad that it will take a hundred pages to adequately cover the subject matter, but you also do not want a topic so narrow that the subject will be exhausted in one or two pages.
- 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 has 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.
- Compose an introduction
The introductory paragraph should provide readers with sufficient information to know what the essay will be about and what you will seek to prove or disprove in the ensuing text.
Provide the reader with any necessary background/expository information.
Insert your thesis statement somewhere near the end of your introductory paragraph.
- 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).
- 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 is for school) or the goal of your essay.
- 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 learning how to write 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.
- In practicing how to write a formal essay, 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.
- 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 are 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.
- Use proper citations. The formatting of your essay and any sources you cite in your work will vary, depending on the writing style you are working in. Two of the most common formatting styles are American Psychological Association (APA) style and Modern Language Association (MLA) style. MLA style is typically used for publications in the humanities, while APA is most often used for publications in the social sciences. MLA style uses a “works cited” page at the end of the essay to list all citations, while APA style uses a “references” page at the end of the essay to list all citations. Finally, do not forget to proofread your final copy.