How to Write & Reference an Essay

Books are usually an excellent information source when researching a topic.

Writing an essay is an unavoidable task for any high school or college student. While researching, notating and composing an essay may seem like a daunting prospect, there are simple steps one can follow to make it less difficult.

  • Notecards
  • References
  • Pencil
  • Paper

1 Writing Essay

2 Choose the topic

Choose the topic you want to research and writer about. According to, find a topic that you are interested in, as it will be easier to write an essay about it. Narrow your topic choice down to something that will make for a manageable paper.

3 For example

For example, writing about the history of Christianity is too broad for an eight- to 10-page paper. However, a more specific subject, such as the history of Easter, would be an easier topic to write about.

4 Research the chosen topic

Research the chosen topic. Use note cards to organize the information. According to, the note cards should include the source, its page number and volume number. Place quotation marks around any direct quotes from a source to avoid plagiarism. Sources can be books, magazines, encyclopedias, people or websites.

5 Organize your notecards by subtopic

Organize your notecards by subtopic. For example, if you were writing an essay about the Black Death, transmission of the disease and symptoms could be potential subtopics.

6 Make an outline of your essay

Make an outline of your essay from notecards. Write down each main idea, and list each subheading beneath it. Do not repeat any ideas in your outline.

7 Compose a first draft

Compose a first draft. According to, you main focus should not be the introduction or conclusion, but getting all of your ideas on paper. Read over what you have written, and make any necessary changes to the essay's structure to insure all of your main topics have been covered. Read your essay aloud to see if the language flows naturally. Correct any grammar, punctuation and spelling errors.

8 Use footnotes or endnotes or to cite your sources

Use footnotes or endnotes to cite your sources. Footnotes should appear at the bottom of the same page as the information you cited, while endnotes should be written in a list on a separate page at the end of the essay, according to

9 Used for the essay in a bibliography

List all of the sources used for the essay in a bibliography. All sources should be listed in alphabetical order by the author's last name. If there is no author listed, use the title of the source. There are different formats for a bibliography, such as Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) style, so consult your instructor to know which one you should use.

Kevin Clarkston, a freelance writer, is a recent graduate of Northwestern State University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2007, he has written freelance articles for bi-weekly papers "The Light" and "The Real Views," as well as newsletter articles for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.