How to Write a Kick-Butt Essay (From someone who only kind of knows what she’s doing)

Hello, I am writing way too many papers right now and I’m about to lose my mind, so I’ll tell you how to write yours. I’m going to use a Cultural/Counter Cultural Analysis essay I’m writing for an example.

Pre-Step: Plan around the deadline

(This a pre-step because I forgot it when I first wrote these out.)

I had about three weeks for this essay. I made sure that I knew what I needed to finish when. This is basically what it looked like:

Week 1: Pick topic, write thesis statement, research

Week 2: Read all the research, plan out essay, finish rough draft

Week 3: Revise, edit, revise some more.

I generally try and finish a few days before it is due incase anything happens. I’ve had laptops crash, my cat stepped on my keyboard and accidentally deleted everything, and tech difficulties.

Step 1: Receive the assignment.

Pretty self-explanatory.

Step 2: Understand the assignment.

I mark up my assignment paper like there is no tomorrow. I highlight, underline and scribble in the margins. I make sure I know what I’m being graded on, what I need to accomplish in this paper, and what my word count/page count is.

Step 3: Brainstorm/Choose Topic

Most of these tips are pretty standard, but keep with me here. For my essay I had to analyze a pop or counter cultural event. I chose to look at cults, specifically the Branch Davidians (they were real messed up let me tell ya).

To brain storm I google ‘counterculture’ and eventually ended up at cults then the Branch Davidians.

Step 3.b: Thesis Statement

This is what you are trying to convey throughout your whole essay. The way I come up with mine is I asked myself a series of questions over my topic and whichever answer I think I can prove the best I use as my thesis statement.

Question: Why do cult members become cult members?

Thesis Statement: Human beings want to belong to something. Koresh offered that. Because they belonged the members didn’t realize the subtle manipulation, power politics, and ego weakening that made them malleable to his sociopathic leadership.

Thesis statements should be at least one sentence, but more like two or three.

Step 4: Research

This is where most papers fail: in the evidence. I’m sure you know exactly what you want to talk about, what you think about the subject, and how you plan to write about it. I knew a little about the cult I was writing about but not a whole lot, and since I need five sources to back up my paper, I needed to mosey my way on over to a database.

Databases are a godsend. They are beautiful and wonderful and have SO much information on them. If you’re in high school, you may not have access to one, but if you are in college you definitely do and most likely your professor expects you to use them. You just have to play around with the search bar to find good material. They more specific the keywords the better. Keep in mind this is not like google. Keep looking past the first page if you don’t see anything. The best resource for this paper was found four pages back.

Step 4.b : Research your research

So now at this point you have some material. Read through ALL of it. Don’t groan or say it’s a lot of reading. For my paper, I read through six 15+ page papers on cult psychology. Some were completely pointless to my paper and I still read through them. It was awful, but I now fully understand what I am talking about WHICH IS YOUR GOAL.

Step 4.c: HIGHLIGHT and cite

I suggest printing out your sources btw. As you read through the papers/resources or even after, go in and highlight important bits like the main idea, quotable phrases and information, key ideas that you want to use. If you highlight it now, when you’re actually writing your paper you won’t flounder wondering where that one really good quote went. Sometimes I put little stars by the stuff I want to quote, but only if I am not feeling especially lazy.

Make sure you cite right away. Whatever type of citation you need make sure you cite it before you’re at the end of your paper and it’s due in thirty minutes and you have no idea what you’ve used and what to cite (I may or may not be speaking from experience). Citing now makes it a million times easier.

Step 5: Bring is all together to plan

Now that you have a decent idea as to what you’re writing about start planning. Start with your thesis and move onto your supporting details. I don’t know if anyone else had the five-paragraph essay format drilled into them like I did, but if you did forget it. You need way more than three supporting ideas. Have five or six with evidence to support it.

Tip: determine which quotes and information you’ll be citing correspond to what idea.

Write out a detailed outline with the main idea, thesis, supporting information to the supporting information and evidence. You’ll thank yourself later promise.

(Sorry the picture is crap, it was late when I took this)


Oh boy, it took you a long time to plan but now you’re here and sometimes this is the hardest part. Don’t worry about how nice it sounds, what order it’s in or anything, just write down all your information from your outline and evidence. You can fix it later.

Step 7: Revise

Now this has nothing to do with grammar. Who cares about grammar? (right now at least). Find those awkward sentences and rewrite them. Make sure everything written supports your thesis. Rearrange paragraphs so they make sense. Rearrange sentences so they make sense. Fix the weird parts and make sure everything is cited!!!!!!

Step 8: Edit

Now we do care about grammar. Print it out and read it aloud. Then fix what you found. Now copy and paste into google translate and have it read to you. You’ll hear more mistakes, fix those. Now paste into this website and find more mistakes.

Step 9: Second opinion

If you have really cool friends or have a writing center at your university go there and have them read your essay. They will either have some tips or tell you you’re perfect. Fix whatever they suggested (if you agree, sometimes they are wrong).

Step 10: Formatting final touches

Make sure you are citing correctly, your bibliography/works cited is correct and make sure any miscellaneous formats such as cover pages and headers are correct. Because this paper is for a humanities class my heading looks a little like this

Some Additional TIps:

  • I have a thumb drive specifically for school. Each class has it’s own folder. For my english class I have each paper set up with its own folder. All the articles I save and the different things I write go into that folder so I know where everything is.
  • If you can’t think of a topic google is your best friend so is your teacher/professor.
  • Sometimes completely scrap all of the planning that I’ve said to do above. Sometimes you have to write before you can figure everything else out.
  • Use a thesaurus during revision for those words you use a lot. I used manipulate a lot so I can use exploit, influence and control.
  • Don’t stress out over it. You got this.