About Essays (& How To Write A Great One)

About Essays (& How To Write A Great One)

Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we tell you all about essays, including the types of essays, and how to write a great one.


When writers have something to say, they can do it in the form of short stories, articles, novels – or essays.

About Essays (& How to Write a Great One)

An essay is defined as “a short piece of writing on a particular subject” (Lexico). It can be one of the most powerful literary vehicles for writers. 

Essays are great when a writer wants to bring a particular topic, point-of-view, opinion, or event into focus.

Here’s more about the subtle art (yet bold statement) of essay writing and how to do it.

What Is An Essay (And Why Write One)?

While short stories tell tales and newspaper articles condense notable events, essays bring focus to something specific – whether it’s a topic, literary work, or opinion. Writers choose a singular topic for the essay.

Essays vary in length: While 500 to 2, 500 words describes a great deal of essays, they can also be shorter (or longer) in order to get the point across. Deciding on the length of your essay can have a lot to do with the individual submission guidelines. You also might just be done at 800 words instead of 1, 500.

Who publishes essays? Magazines, newspapers, and literary journals do. An increasing number of websites and blogs are also possible markets for selling your essays.

Essays are also often used as a teaching tool. Asking a student to write 500 words on a specific topic can say a lot about how they approach language, sentences, paragraphs, and writing in general. It also shows where or how the writer can improve.

Next, let’s talk about the main types.

The 4 Main Types Of Essays

Most academic sources agree that there are four main types of essays: 

  1. Narrative essays tell a story, or narrate an event; sometimes, though not always, narrative essays are fictional. 
  2. Descriptive essays will describe something in detail, such as a specific topic, event, opinion, or feeling. 
  3. Expository essays relay straight facts and statistics tied to a particular topic, usually for (or against) a specific idea. 
  4. Persuasive or Argumentative essays put forth an argument (or persuade the reader) about a theory, idea, or opinion from the writer. 

Other Types Of Essays

Sometimes, essays can also be:

  1. Academic
  2. Economic
  3. Reflective
  4. Comparative
  5. Medical
  6. Legal
  7. Historical

Some essays focus on a particular film, TV show, or piece of music.

Another common essay type that writers should know about is the five-paragraph essay, also referred to as the hamburger essay. (The hamburger starts out with the introductory paragraph, which is the top bun. The middle paragraphs are the meat of the essay. The concluding paragraph is the bottom bun of the essay.)

Studying The Essay

Every successful writer reads.

Read good essays, average essays, in-between essays, and bad essays. All of these can teach you something, even if it’s what you don’t want your essay to read like.

Essays always say something. They are creative, effective, and to-the-point literary works. They often use creative language to express thoughts and concepts, but essay writers should also be careful to avoid going over the top.

Compare essay writing to painting. A painting that uses every colour in the palate, even when there’s no need to, will be very difficult and ‘busy’ to look at, whilst a piece of writing that uses every adjective is similarly difficult to read.

Study essays. For starters, read your way through some of these: 

  1. ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’ by Gay Talese
  2. ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved’ by Hunter S Thompson
  3. ‘Breasts: The Odd Couple’ by Una LaMarche
  4. ‘Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Roger Ebert
  5. How to Write with Style‘ by Kurt Vonnegut

After you’ve read an essay, take a moment to think about why it worked – or why it didn’t. 

How To Write An Essay

Essays happen when people have something to say. This is the core of every single article, essay, and short story that has ever been written. No, you don’t have to be a professional writer or journalist to write an essay, and many essay writers aren’t.

There is no ideal process or environment for writing. If you wait for the impossible “ideal” to start writing, you’ll never finish a single piece. Collect ideas, keywords, or sentence fragments over time. Or choose a specific time of day to generate ideas.

1. Choose The Topic

Ideas start with topics. Start your essay by knowing, at least more or less, what the central topic of your writing piece is going to be. If you’re stuck, go back to your idea handbook. Or read submission guidelines for your chosen publication as a way to lead your ideas in the right direction.

2. Build The Skeleton

A few writers can write entire pieces without stopping for a second thought, but that doesn’t describe the majority of us. Once you have a topic, outline where you’re going from there. Every writer’s outline, structure, and notes look a little different when they write it, and you’ll find the outlining method that works best for you. Words are generally a lot easier to write when you know where you’re going. Use sub-headers or notes to guide you.

3. Flesh It Out

Once you have a skeletal outline of your writing, it’s time to flesh it out.

Adding flesh means adding stronger sentences. This is where an outline stops resembling a collection of sentences, and starts resembling a structured article.

The great thing about writing is that you’re free to do anything from there. Write, write, and write. Worry about the editing part later.

4. Now, Butcher (Or Outsource)

Once you have a skeleton and flesh, it’s time to butcher it again. Every ‘fleshed out’ article or essay requires some careful carving. Check your readability statistics. They should be around 70%.

Sometimes, a piece of writing is easier to edit once you’ve let it sit in a drawer for a week (and you get to look at it with a fresh, new perspective as though you didn’t write it yourself at all. Other times, it’s easier to outsource the butchering process to a professional editor.

5. Everything After

Essays can be perfect for publication after a single rewrite or edit, or an essay might take a thousand different rewrites to end up right.

One of the most important writing lessons I’ve learned is this: If a piece of writing isn’t working for a particular market, change the market.

The problem isn’t always an individual piece of writing getting rejected. A piece that isn’t perfect for one magazine, could very well be perfect for another literary journal with a few edits, or could have been adapted to the first. 

Communication with your editor is always important. 

Essay-Writing Agencies: The Writer’s Trap

Once a writer has started writing essays, they’ll eventually spot the attraction of essay writing agencies.

Essay writing agencies are best avoided by professional writers. This is because essay writing agencies usually write essays that are meant for schools, universities, and other academic institutions.

If you write for an essay writing agency, not only are you getting paid lower-than-usual wages, you’re also fuelling an illegal, false academic industry.

Would you trust a medical doctor who hadn’t written his own medical exams? Then don’t ghost-write for “essay writing agencies” – one of the biggest traps for desperate writers.

The Last Word

Essays are one of the most powerful writing vehicles to choose when a writer has something to say. Learning how to write good essays is a combination of studying the work of others, and working on your own.

For yours, best of luck!

If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.

 By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read his other posts:

  1. From Full-Time To Freelance Writing: Ways To Cope
  2. 9 Practical Tips For Being A Faster Writer
  3. 6 Ways Bridge Can Make You A Better Writer
  4. Invaluable Safety Tips For Journalists
  5. 12 Newspaper Archive Resources For Journalists & Writers
  6. The 18 Essential Rules Of Journalism
  7. 9 Things That Can (& Will) Go Wrong When You Conduct An Interview
  8. 8 Lessons Freelancing Taught Me About Money
  9. Skeleton Keys: A Horror Story That Will Scare All Writers
Posted on: 3rd August 2020