How to Write a Documented Essay

Inside library view with people on it.jpg

The process of writing a documented essay is generally the same no matter the project and begins with having an assignment or idea. Next, an outline is written, then research is conducted. Finally, the document is written and edited. Be aware of the instructor's requirements. Note the purpose of the essay to determine its structure and the information it should contain. An instructional essay, for instance, contains detailed instructions for the completion of a particular task.

  • Library account
  • Computer access
  • Something to write with

1 Read the essay instructions provided by the course instructor

Read the essay instructions provided by the course instructor. The rubric or project description will include the specified documentation or citation format for the assigned essay. The instructor might assign a certain style manual for the essay or provide his or her own system of documentation.

2 Write an outline of the essay

Write an outline of the essay according to its purpose or argument. For instance, an opinion essay would begin with an overview of the issue. Then other viewpoints might be introduced. Next, the essay would put forth the each claim and justify each claim with evidence. Use subheadings with bullets for a detailed outline.

3 Go to the library

Go to the library. Check out any style manuals that are assigned by your instructor. Bring the outline. Research the subject, broadly at first, then progressively narrow topics according to the information that is needed for the essay. For instance, an instructional essay on methods of cooking eggs might start out with research on "cooking eggs," then narrow to "hard-boiled eggs" and "egg-cooking temperature."

4 Take notes

Take notes while reading the research material for use later when you write the essay. This makes avoiding plagiarism easier by minimizing the chance the citations will be left out of the essay.

5 Avoid plagiarism of any material

Avoid plagiarism of any material, no matter the source. Plagiarism means taking someone's work and passing it off as your original material. The only material that does not need to be cited in an essay is that which is considered public knowledge, like the blue color of the sky, according to the Chicago Manual of Style. Use quotations only when the information cannot be adequately paraphrased or is best presented as a quotation.

6 Write the rough draft according to the outline

Write the rough draft according to the outline. Document or cite information according to format in this part of the process.

7 Compile and format all works

Compile and format all works cited in the paper. Format the references page according to style guidelines from a style manual or instructor specifications.

8 Reorganize material

Edit the rough draft and reorganize material as necessary. If some citations are taken out, remove them from the references page and add as necessary. Some instructors allow the inclusion of sources not directly cited in the essay under the title of "Related Works" or some other heading of the same meaning. Check with the instructor before including sources not cited directly in the text.

  • 1 The Chicago Manual of Style: 15th Edition; The University of Chicago Press; 2003

Josalin Mitchell began her writing career in 2009. She has written web content as well as grants, training manuals, reports and brochures for nonprofit agencies. Mitchell has a Bachelor of Arts in English and women's studies and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching in English education.