How to Write a Unified Essay

If you don't know what you're writing about, your thoughts will seem scattered and disorganized.
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Many new writers find themselves struggling to complete an essay for a very simple reason -- they do not know what they are writing about. A unified essay is dedicated to explaining or arguing for a single idea or thesis. Having a good foundation for your essay and solidifying your ideas before you begin will help you to avoid unnecessary stress later.

1 Choosing a Manageable Subject

At first, research can seem overwhelming.
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An essay should be dedicated to one central idea or subject rather than having several subjects that compete with each other and detract from one another. A college-level essay will typically be between five and 30 pages long, or about as long as a magazine article. Since you have a limited amount of space in which to express yourself, choose a subject that fits the length of your essay. For example, "The Renaissance" would not be a good subject for a 10-page essay. "Cooperation and Competition between Italian Renaissance Poets in the 14th Century," on the other hand, would be narrow enough to explore fully in 10 pages.

2 Framing a Strong Argument

Not all essays have to be provocative.
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Your essay should not just be about a subject; it should have something definite and original to say about that subject, as well. Most readers would probably not be interested in an essay simply devoted to trees, but they might read an essay arguing that the importation of foreign species is threatening native forest growth in North America. If you frame a strong argument, you basically show that you do, in fact, know what you are trying to say. Your argument does not have to be combative or controversial, however -- it could be a purely academic argument, like asserting that Francis Petrach, the 14th-century Italian poet, sought to distance himself artistically from his predecessor Dante.

3 Using Supporting Evidence

Your evidence should fit together to form a coherent case for your argument.
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Supporting evidence is what demonstrates that you are not making assertions out of thin air. Your evidence could be from primary sources on your topic, from secondary sources, from research you have conducted yourself, from current events or from whatever form of information boosts your argument. When you are using supporting evidence, the evidence should connect in a clear way to your central argument. Even a reader with little prior knowledge of the material should be able to make the connection. Avoid including information simply because you, personally, find it interesting.

4 Drawing Conclusions

Your conclusion should review without being repetitive.
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The concluding paragraph in your essay should be a summary of your previous evidence and a strong restatement of your central argument. Speak confidently of your findings, and avoid using qualifiers like "I think" and "perhaps." Often, a surprising piece of information or an amusing anecdote helps to reawaken your audience's interest at the end of the essay. Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary as you sum up your evidence to avoid sounding like an echo of what came before. Concluding paragraphs can also speak about your essay's relevance in your larger field of scholarship.

Trish Tillman is a Ph.D. student and adjunct professor in the Washington, D.C. area. She earned her M.A. in history from George Mason University and has more than five years of teaching experience. She often finds that humor is a valuable tool in the classroom.