Make your own free website on

Writing Effective Essays and Avoiding Plagiarism

Writing an Effective Essay

  1. Determine the APPROACH you will take to the assigned topic. Be sure your approach is within a manageable range (not too broad, not too narrow).
  2. Formulate an effective THESIS STATEMENT. This statement will be the main idea or central focus of your paper. Very often, it is a generalization that prepares readers for the supporting details that follow.
  3. Write down ideas that SUPPORT YOUR THESIS statement.
  4. Organize your ideas into an OUTLINE, keeping in mind the method or methods of paragraph development that you want to use (e.g., details, examples, reasons, cause and effect, comparison/contrast, etc.). Construct the outline according to this format:

INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH--This consists of general points or attention grabbing details leading to the main idea. For instance, there are several means that effective writers use to "hook" their readers: beginning with an amusing or interesting anecdote, beginning with a question, beginning with a quotation, and beginning with a startling or paradoxical statement. The main idea is often written at the end of this paragraph in a thesis statement, which may also contain three or more reasons (written very succinctly) for supporting this main idea. Each of these reasons should be elaborated on in the body paragraphs that follow. Note: A thesis statement does not always come at the end of the introductory paragraph--some essays have the very first sentence as the thesis statement.

BODY PARAGRAPH #1--This often begins with a transition word or words like "First" or "The first of these reasons" and gives examples and/or details relating to the first supporting reason.

BODY PARAGRAPH #2--This often begins with a transition word or words like "Next" or "Second" or "Another reason" or "The second of these reasons" and gives examples and/or details relating to the second supporting reason.

BODY PARAGRAPH #3--This often begins with a transition word or words like "Finally" or Last" or "The final reason" and gives examples and/or details relating to the third supporting reason (which is often the strongest of the three supporting reasons).

CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH--This paragraph may begin with "In conclusion" or "To conclude" or "Clearly" and often restates the thesis statement in different words. It may move from there to a general comment about life, or to a final important point, or to a suggestion about future action that may be needed. Some writers like to end with a relevant quotation, or end with a question, or end with a prediction or warning. Another concluding technique is to end with some idea or detail from the beginning of the essay (thus bringing this idea full circle)

  1. Using your outline, begin your rough draft. Make sure that every sentence is directly related to your topic (as stated in your thesis statement).
  2. When you've finished your rough copy, revise and edit it by adding, deleting, rearranging, and substituting material. Use a dictionary and a thesaurus. Correct errors in spelling (use the spell-checking feature of your word processing program), capitalization, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, verb tense consistency, pronoun agreement, sentence errors, and usage.
  3. Now ask yourself the following questions:

With regard to UNITY: Is my essay unified? Do all parts contribute to the main idea? Have I avoided digression? Have I supported all generalizations that I made? Have I given enough emphasis to each part of my essay?

With regard to STRUCTURE: Is my introduction interesting? Will it catch the reader's interest? Does my thesis statement clearly delineate my assigned subject? Does my conclusion give a sense of finality or completion?

With regard to PARAGRAPHING AND TRANSITION: Does the first sentence of each paragraph provide an idea about what each paragraph discusses? Has each sentence been developed properly, using one or more of the following methods for developing paragraphs: examples, details, reasons, comparisons contrast, cause or effect, etc.? Does each sentence relate directly to the purpose of the paper as stated in the thesis statement? Is there a clear transition from the last sentence of each paragraph to the first sentence of the next paragraph? Have I used effective transitional words or phrases?

With regard to COHERENCE: Have I used effective transitional words and phrases to connect the sentences so that they flow smoothly from one to the next and are coherent (i.e., "stuck together" or clearly connected)?

With regard to SENTENCES: Have I used mainly complex (rather than simple) sentences and used a variety of different sentence lengths?

With regard to DICTION: Have I removed all slang, jargon, and unnecessary cliches from my diction? Is my vocabulary sophisticated and vibrant?

With regard to FOOTNOTING AND BIBLIOGRAPHY: Have I introduced and handled quotations properly and acknowledged accurately in footnotes and a proper bibliography everything that requires acknowledgment? Note: A good style text that covers footnoting and creating a bibliography is an essential tool for the essay writer.

Avoiding Plagiarism

It is easy to use and pass off as one's own the ideas or writings of another. This is especially true now that we have access to so much information on the Internet.  It is possible to copy and paste information from the Internet (without citing references) to get an instant essay, report, or term paper.  This is called plagiarism and is an unacceptable practice.

The following sources provide valuable information on how to avoid plagiarism:

Plagiarism from "Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students," Bowdoin College  in Brunswick, Maine. 
The Art of Avoiding Plagiarism from the Skidmore College Classics Department.
Avoiding Plagiarism by Sharon Williams, Hamilton College.
Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It from Indiana University.
The Puzzling Paraphrase from the University of Minnesota.


Send mail to Dr. Edrene S. Montgomery  with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 1999-2000 Edrene S. Montgomery
Last modified: October 31, 1999