How to Write an Academic Essay: Format,Outline, Topics

Academic essay writing differs from other types of writing, such as journalistic or creative writing. In most cases, the purpose is to inform rather than entertain. As a student, you will be required to write many different essays. The content and length of an essay depend on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most academic essays share the same goal.

An academic paper requires organization, adequate research or attention to the subject matter, and expression in conventional grammar and syntax. In this article, you will learn useful tips and tricks to ace your academic essay.

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What Is an Academic Essay?

It is a written assignment that aims to render your arguments and solution to a certain issue to your potential reader. You should note that the word “argument” in this context does not mean a dispute or a simple discussion but rather the research analysis. An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence.

An academic essay should include relevant examples, supporting evidence, and information from academic texts or credible sources.

Types of Academic Essays

There are many different types of academic essays. The most common types are argumentative, analytical, compare and contrast, and narrative. While each type of essay has unique features that distinguish it from other essays, some features overlap. In this section, we’ll share the basics of each type before covering how to brainstorm ideas for your writing.

Essays can be classified into two main categories: formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by “serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length,” whereas the informal essay is characterized by “the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes, and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,” etc.1 Informal essays may also use first-person perspective (I/me).

1. Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay requires a writer to research the given topic, gather all the information for it, study it carefully, formulate his own opinion about it, find strong arguments supporting it, and refute the arguments of any existing opponents. The opposing viewpoint is also suggested, but it is followed by arguments that show its inconsistency.

The main idea of an argumentative essay is to teach students to present their thoughts clearly and get their point across. The main thing they need to keep in mind is that they have to be very tactful. They must never criticize the opposite viewpoint straight out, as this will seem rude and hurtful. First, they need to research their opponent’s points (if they don’t know them). Then they should come up with an appropriate counterargument and write down all evidence supporting this position.

2. Analytical Essay

An analytical essay is an essay that analyzes, examines, and interprets things such as an event, a book, poem, play, or other work of art. An analytical essay means you will need to present some argument, or claim, about what you are analyzing. You will often have to analyze another piece of writing or a film, but you could also be asked to analyze an issue or an idea.

Remember that it is not enough to summarize the text/film (in other words, “retelling”). To write an effective analytical essay, follow these steps:

  • Analyze the material by examining its content thoroughly
  • Develop your thesis
  • Organize your ideas logically
  • Write a clear introduction and conclusion

3. Compare and Contrast Essay

In a compare-and-contrast paper, you analyze the similarities and differences between two subjects. In an academic essay, these points would typically be addressed in separate paragraphs, with each paragraph and point introducing a new element of your discussion. For example, suppose you analyze the similarities and differences between cats and dogs. In that case, you could discuss them in separate paragraphs or choose to discuss both sets of similarities or differences at once.

Depending on how many aspects you decide to cover and how complex your comparisons are, this might result in several body paragraphs (e.g., one for comparing appearances between cats and dogs and another for contrasting their habits)—so don’t feel like you have to match the number of paragraphs in your outline exactly.

4. Descriptive Essay

A descriptive essay requires you to provide a thorough description of a person, place, object, or experience. To write this type of essay well, you should know how to use words that describe your topic in the best way possible.

To write an engaging and effective descriptive essay, you should:

  • Write the introduction first. You can begin with a short story about your topic and then add context to your topic by describing what it is and why it is important.
  • Use powerful verbs, adjectives, and adverbs throughout your writing to bring the reader into the scene you are describing.
  • Use imagery so that the reader can relate to what you are writing about in all five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste/smell).

5. Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is a story about a real-life experience. You could be asked to write about an event held recently or an incident in your own life. It is also possible to narrate a story that you dreamt up in your mind. To write an excellent narrative essay, you must be able to describe your experiences in such detail so that the reader is persuaded that it is real. It’s important, therefore, to make use of all the five senses when writing this type of essay – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.

6. Expository Essay

An expository essay is a type of academic writing where you investigate the topic by evaluating the evidence and expounding the idea to describe, explain, and provide the information to a reader.

Unlike in most other essays, you don’t need to make a point or prove that your opinion on the subject matter is correct. One of the most characteristic features of an expository paper is that it doesn’t include purely personal feelings and opinions; it sticks strictly to facts.

Good Academic Essay Topics

Looking for some good academic essay topics? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Narrative Essay Topics

If you’re having a hard time choosing topics for your academic essay, here are some examples that might help you:

  • The most memorable day of my life
  • My favorite book and why
  • My first job and what I learned from it
  • My dream job as a kid
  • My best friend growing up
  • The most interesting place I’ve ever visited

Descriptive Essay Topics

  • Describe your favorite place in the world. You don’t have to stick to one specific place—you can write about a whole region, like the northern part of California.
  • Please describe your role model and explain what makes them influential in your life.
  • Describe the best day of your life and how long you’ve been waiting for that moment to happen.
  • Describe a person you hate and give specific reasons why you feel this way toward them.
  • Describe a person you love and what they mean to you.

Argumentative Essay Topics

It’s important to get the right argumentative essay topic if you want to write a persuasive, informative, and thought-provoking essay. To help you in this process, let’s look at some great ideas.

Some topics may include:

  • Should all parents attend life skills classes?
  • What is the best way for teachers to prevent bullying?
  • Should students work while still in high school?
  • Are honors courses good or bad?

Analytical Essay Topics

An analytical essay looks at something, breaking it down into its parts and assessing how they work together. The main aim of analyzing a piece of writing is to interpret it for the reader. You can write an analytical essay on various topics. However, you must select a topic that interests you to have an easy time understanding what the text entails. Here are some of the analytical essay topics for students to choose from:

  • The impact of music on the contemporary society
  • Dramatic changes in the modern world
  • The significance of entertainment in our lives
  • Effects of bullying among children

Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Compare and contrast the impact of the First World War and the Second World War on civilian populations.
  • Compare and contrast conceptions of self concerning Eastern and Western traditions.
  • Compare and contrast Christianity with Islam regarding their dogma, rituals, and beliefs about life after death.

Expository Essay Topics

  • What are the different types of government?
  • How do you set up a 401(k)?
  • Why is it important to exercise?
  • What will be the next big technology trend after smartphones?
  • If you could spend a day with one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Persuasive/Argumentative Essay Topics

When you write an argumentative essay, you will likely want to present two sides of an argument. You might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are some ideas:

  • Should students be able to choose their courses?
  • Should students learn practical courses like cooking and sewing?
  • Is it necessary to study the arts?
  • Should students be paid for good grades?
  • Should students be paid to play sports?

Academic Essay Format

These are the necessary parts of any academic essay, also known as the academic essay structure: an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction should be short and sweet but include a thesis statement that addresses your paper’s main points. The body will give supporting evidence to your argument and explain why you have chosen to present it in this way. Finally, the conclusion wraps up all of your ideas into one neat bow for your reader.

There are several ways to format an academic paper: MLA, APA, Chicago, or Harvard. Each one has its own rules for formatting so that they can easily be distinguished from each other when they are published—and so that students may easily learn their differences early on in their writing careers!

Start the Writing Process by Creating an Outline

When it comes to writing an essay, there are a few steps that you can follow that will help you feel confident when writing your paper. The first step is creating an outline. It’s important to create this outline to have a road map of how you will structure your paper.

You want to start by getting all of the main points down on paper and then organizing them to flow well and make sense for the topic you’ve chosen. This will also help you write faster and more efficiently because once these parts are written, you don’t have to worry about what will come next or if it’s making sense in your head. An outline also ensures that all of your important points are covered and included in the actual paper itself.

Every step should be taken one at a time, but don’t worry about having the perfect introduction right away or anything like that because what matters most is getting everything down on paper first! Once this is done, it’s time to go back through your essay with a fine-tooth comb: edit everything until it sparkles.

Basic essay outline

Introduction: How to Start an Academic Essay

The main purpose of an introduction is to capture the reader’s attention and let them know what you are going to write about. It is also your chance to state your thesis statement clearly, so make sure it is clear and concise. A good way to start an introduction would be to use a hook: something interesting or surprising in the first sentence that will make people want to read on.

After your hook, you will want to provide some background information for the topic so that the reader can better understand what you are writing about. This should be short and sweet; one or two sentences should do it! Be sure not to go into too much detail because you will cover most of this information in your body paragraphs.

Finally, you need a strong thesis statement that is concise, specific, and relevant to what you are trying to say!

The Main Body

The main body is the most important part when writing an essay. It is where you write your arguments and ideas and support them with quality research. The main body should be divided into paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one idea, and each idea should be supported by evidence from reliable sources.

While writing your arguments, you need to ensure that the reader understands how the points connect. You can use transition words to link the sentences in a paragraph together and transition words to link one paragraph to another.

The paragraphs should be at least four sentences long. It is also necessary that they have different lengths to make your work more interesting for readers.

Academic Essay Conclusion

To wrap up your academic essay, you should follow these steps:

  • Summarize the main points. This is where you briefly reiterate the points you have made in your essay. You can summarize them individually or mention all of the points together in one sentence. Make sure that everything that you mention relates to the thesis statement.
  • Restate the thesis statement to reinforce its significance to the reader. This is where you can add a twist on it if there was a revelation or something else significant in your essay or restate it as it was originally stated.
  • Leave the reader with an idea of what they should take away from reading your academic essay; this could be a call to action, a question for further study and research, etc.

Writing Process

So, what are you going to do? Here’s a rough outline of the process you’ll go through when writing a good essay.

  • Planning – Planning your essay is an essential step in the writing process. This involves deciding what you want to say and how you want to say it, and what order you will put it in.
  • Thinking – Get your thoughts in order before you start! Every little bit of information must fit together like pieces of a puzzle—missing bits can cause your essay to not hang together in the way it should. The clearer your argument is from the beginning, the easier it will be for you to write clearly and concisely.
  • Writing – Write out each part of your essay, following our guide above so that your whole piece flows well and is easy to follow throughout. Remember to include transitions between sections and paragraphs so that there’s no confusion between different ideas or sections—the last thing anyone wants is a jumble where they can’t tell one idea apart from another!
  • Revising & Editing – Revising your work means taking another look at it after some time has passed; editing means correcting any grammar (spelling mistakes), punctuation errors, etc., or rewording sentences that don’t make sense when read aloud (e-reading them).


The first step in developing the essay is writing a rough draft. The purpose of this draft is to get all your thoughts on paper to see what the essay looks like at its most basic level. Once you have written the first draft, you are much closer to having a finished product and will be able to think about each stage of revision with a clear head.

A good strategy for producing a rough draft quickly is to create an outline of your thesis statement and main ideas before beginning to write. This way, you are free to focus on both content and style as you write, knowing that the general idea has already been established. As long as each paragraph maintains its relationship to your thesis statement and each section follows from the previous one logically and coherently, your rough draft will likely be close enough!

Word Choice

Word choice is another important way to establish tone and voice. To create a clear, cohesive essay, be sure to:

  • Stick to a single tone. Avoid meandering between playful and formal or any other contrasting tones.
  • Use active voice rather than passive voice—where the subject of your sentence comes before the verb so that it’s clear who or what is acting. For example: “The professor graded all exams within a month” instead of “All exams were graded by the professor within a month.”
  • Avoid clichés (for example, “as busy as a bee”) and jargon (specific words used in specific fields). By using common phrases, you risk appearing boring or unoriginal. But by using technical language that only people with knowledge of your field can understand, you risk alienating your readers. The best way to avoid both pitfalls is to use simple language that communicates complex ideas effectively without calling attention to itself as language. In other words, choose appropriate words for academic writing but not necessarily found exclusively in academic writing.
  • Avoid run-on sentences and sentence fragments (sentences lacking verbs or subjects). Don’t be afraid to start new sentences! A common mistake many writers make is trying to pack too much information into one sentence when two would do just fine.
  • Avoid contractions (for example, “I’d” instead of “I would”). They’re too informal for most academic essays!
  • Avoid using first-person pronouns (“I,” “we,” “me,” etc.). It’s generally a better form to write from a third-person perspective (“he,” “she,” etc.) because it gives the essay more objectivity and makes you appear more authoritative about the subject matter. If you have to include yourself in an essay – such as when describing

Finalizing the Submission

Once the paper is written, it’s easy to forget that the final step—submitting your work—is just as important as writing the essay itself. After all, if you’ve come this far and spent hours researching your subject and creating a solid first draft, you want to make sure that your hard work pays off.

Before submitting, review how to edit and proofread an academic essay (and be sure to check out our expert advice on editing!), it’s also a good idea to read over your paper one last time in case you need to do any paraphrasing.

Finally, pat yourself on the back for all of your hard work—you’ve earned it!

Final thoughts on how to write an academic essay

When working on an academic essay, the writer needs to have a clear objective. They should be able to articulate this goal in a thesis statement near the beginning of the text and use their conclusion to reinforce that idea. To sum up, an effective academic essay should express an opinion and provide evidence.

In general, your conclusion should not exceed the length of a single paragraph. If you need more than one paragraph to summarize your argument, you may want to consider including additional evidence or reframing some of your points. You should avoid introducing new information at this stage to keep your essay focused and concise.

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