In any humanities class, you will be expected to write a formal essay, whether it is a personal narrative or a persuasive essay. To be an excellent formal essay, your paper should be well organized, take the audience into consideration, have a clear thesis statement and be free of careless errors.


When writing a formal essay, you are given a topic about which you must write. For example, for a scholarship essay, you might have to write about how your culture has affected your goals. For an English class, you might have to write about the theme of a particular story. Once you know and understand the topic, you need to formulate a thesis statement, which is the main idea of your essay. Northern Virginia Community College describes a thesis statement as "a theory, hypothesis, or interpretation of your chosen topic that your paper will explore and argue for."


Once you have developed a thesis statement, you can plan the structure of your formal essay. By making an outline, you can create the skeleton of the essay to determine what specific points you will make to support your thesis statement. Making an outline before you write helps to avoid redundancy and lack of focus in your essay. The outline should plan the major points of each of the paper's paragraphs, and it can also include the evidence you will use to support the points.


Every act of communication has an intended audience. A formal essay is intended for a formal audience, such as a college professor or a university admissions panel. Therefore, you should avoid overly casual language such as contractions and slang in your essay. While you should not be dishonest or use large or complicated words solely to impress your audience -- this tends to make the content less effective -- do maintain a professional tone throughout the essay.


After you have written your essay, you must read it over at least once to check for errors in spelling and grammar. Many errors are not identified by computer writing programs -- such as mistaking "there" for "their" -- so you must personally proofread your work. This means that you should not postpone the assignment until the last minute; instead, start early so you have sufficient time to review and polish the essay.