How to Write an Essay for a Contest

Students can win money and supplies for their education through essay contests.
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Writing an essay for a contest is different than writing an essay for school. Your essay is being judged against other essay submissions. Not only must your essay be strong as a standalone essay, but it also needs to outshine the other submissions.

1 Understand the Contest

Understanding contest details is crucial. Review the contest rules, including the required essay length, the specific topic for the essay (if one is provided) and the deadline for submission. Note the sponsoring organization of the essay, the dominant philosophies of this organization and the committee judging the essay. Highlight these details so you can refer to them throughout your writing process. This will help you craft an essay most suitable for the contest.

2 Think About Your Strengths

Consider how to present your strengths to the contest committee. Strengths might include previous personal experiences, creativity in your writing or a remarkable trait you possess. Some contests, such as the Abbott and Fenner Scholarships essay contest, invite you to write about your personal experiences, making it easier to spotlight your strengths. Other contests, such as the Ayn Rand Institute's essay contest, ask for less-personal literary analyses, which means you can show your strengths in the form and content of your analysis.

3 Review Previous Winners

Contests that have held previous competitions will often publicize the winners' essays. Reviewing these essays can give you great insight into what the contest committee looks for in their winners. For instance, the National WWII Museum posts the winners on its website following the contest deadline. These are useful models for writers submitting to the next year's contest.

4 Appeal to the Judges

The introduction is a great place to appeal to the judges because it is the first thing the contest committee reads. Determine if the judges would prefer a personal story, researched facts or a humorous anecdote.The introduction should provide your readers with an idea of where your essay is heading. Based on what you know of the contest and the judges, decide the best way to do this in your essay.

The conclusion is your final chance to "wow" those judges. Remind them why your essay deserves recognition: Your unique experiences, valuable perspective and insightful ideas are deserving of the contest prize.

5 Get Outside Feedback

Have someone you trust read your essay. This might be a friend, a parent, a teacher or another mentor. Share the contest details with your reader and think of several specific questions your reader should consider as she reads your essay. For example, “What is the strongest part of my essay?” “What part needs the most work?” “How can my essay more effectively respond to this contest?”

6 Format Your Submission

Review the contest formatting guidelines. Some contests will ask you to submit online; others will want mailed copies. Contests might also be specific about additional information required beyond the essay. After all of the work you’ve done, you don't want your essay to be disqualified for not abiding by the submission rules.

Christine Maddox Martorana has been writing professionally since 2003. Martorana has been teaching college-level composition and journalism classes since 2007. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Florida State University.