Oxford Scholastica Academy logo

How to Write the Perfect Essay

06 Feb, 2024 | Blog Articles , English Language Articles , Get the Edge , Humanities Articles , Writing Articles

Student sitting at a desk writing in a notebook

You can keep adding to this plan, crossing bits out and linking the different bubbles when you spot connections between them. Even though you won’t have time to make a detailed plan under exam conditions, it can be helpful to draft a brief one, including a few key words, so that you don’t panic and go off topic when writing your essay.

If you don’t like the mind map format, there are plenty of others to choose from: you could make a table, a flowchart, or simply a list of bullet points.

Discover More

Thanks for signing up, step 2: have a clear structure.

Think about this while you’re planning: your essay is like an argument or a speech. It needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question.

Start with the basics! It’s best to choose a few major points which will become your main paragraphs. Three main paragraphs is a good number for an exam essay, since you’ll be under time pressure. 

If you agree with the question overall, it can be helpful to organise your points in the following pattern:

  • YES (agreement with the question)
  • AND (another YES point)
  • BUT (disagreement or complication)

If you disagree with the question overall, try:

  • AND (another BUT point)

For example, you could structure the Of Mice and Men sample question, “To what extent is Curley’s wife portrayed as a victim in Of Mice and Men ?”, as follows:

  • YES (descriptions of her appearance)
  • AND (other people’s attitudes towards her)
  • BUT (her position as the only woman on the ranch gives her power as she uses her femininity to her advantage)

If you wanted to write a longer essay, you could include additional paragraphs under the YES/AND categories, perhaps discussing the ways in which Curley’s wife reveals her vulnerability and insecurities, and shares her dreams with the other characters. Alternatively, you could also lengthen your essay by including another BUT paragraph about her cruel and manipulative streak.

Of course, this is not necessarily the only right way to answer this essay question – as long as you back up your points with evidence from the text, you can take any standpoint that makes sense.

Smiling student typing on laptop

Step 3: Back up your points with well-analysed quotations

You wouldn’t write a scientific report without including evidence to support your findings, so why should it be any different with an essay? Even though you aren’t strictly required to substantiate every single point you make with a quotation, there’s no harm in trying.

A close reading of your quotations can enrich your appreciation of the question and will be sure to impress examiners. When selecting the best quotations to use in your essay, keep an eye out for specific literary techniques. For example, you could highlight Curley’s wife’s use of a rhetorical question when she says, a”n’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs.” This might look like:

The rhetorical question “an’ what am I doin’?” signifies that Curley’s wife is very insecure; she seems to be questioning her own life choices. Moreover, she does not expect anyone to respond to her question, highlighting her loneliness and isolation on the ranch.

Other literary techniques to look out for include:

  • Tricolon – a group of three words or phrases placed close together for emphasis
  • Tautology – using different words that mean the same thing: e.g. “frightening” and “terrifying”
  • Parallelism – ABAB structure, often signifying movement from one concept to another
  • Chiasmus – ABBA structure, drawing attention to a phrase
  • Polysyndeton – many conjunctions in a sentence
  • Asyndeton – lack of conjunctions, which can speed up the pace of a sentence
  • Polyptoton – using the same word in different forms for emphasis: e.g. “done” and “doing”
  • Alliteration – repetition of the same sound, including assonance (similar vowel sounds), plosive alliteration (“b”, “d” and “p” sounds) and sibilance (“s” sounds)
  • Anaphora – repetition of words, often used to emphasise a particular point

Don’t worry if you can’t locate all of these literary devices in the work you’re analysing. You can also discuss more obvious techniques, like metaphor, simile and onomatopoeia. It’s not a problem if you can’t remember all the long names; it’s far more important to be able to confidently explain the effects of each technique and highlight its relevance to the question.

Person reading a book outside

Step 4: Be creative and original throughout

Anyone can write an essay using the tips above, but the thing that really makes it “perfect” is your own unique take on the topic. If you’ve noticed something intriguing or unusual in your reading, point it out – if you find it interesting, chances are the examiner will too!

Creative writing and essay writing are more closely linked than you might imagine. Keep the idea that you’re writing a speech or argument in mind, and you’re guaranteed to grab your reader’s attention.

It’s important to set out your line of argument in your introduction, introducing your main points and the general direction your essay will take, but don’t forget to keep something back for the conclusion, too. Yes, you need to summarise your main points, but if you’re just repeating the things you said in your introduction, the body of the essay is rendered pointless.

Think of your conclusion as the climax of your speech, the bit everything else has been leading up to, rather than the boring plenary at the end of the interesting stuff.

To return to Of Mice and Men once more, here’s an example of the ideal difference between an introduction and a conclusion:

Introduction

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men , Curley’s wife is portrayed as an ambiguous character. She could be viewed either as a cruel, seductive temptress or a lonely woman who is a victim of her society’s attitudes. Though she does seem to wield a form of sexual power, it is clear that Curley’s wife is largely a victim. This interpretation is supported by Steinbeck’s description of her appearance, other people’s attitudes, her dreams, and her evident loneliness and insecurity.
Overall, it is clear that Curley’s wife is a victim and is portrayed as such throughout the novel in the descriptions of her appearance, her dreams, other people’s judgemental attitudes, and her loneliness and insecurities. However, a character who was a victim and nothing else would be one-dimensional and Curley’s wife is not. Although she suffers in many ways, she is shown to assert herself through the manipulation of her femininity – a small rebellion against the victimisation she experiences.

Both refer back consistently to the question and summarise the essay’s main points. However, the conclusion adds something new which has been established in the main body of the essay and complicates the simple summary which is found in the introduction.

Hannah

Hannah is an undergraduate English student at Somerville College, University of Oxford, and has a particular interest in postcolonial literature and the Gothic. She thinks literature is a crucial way of developing empathy and learning about the wider world. When she isn’t writing about 17th-century court masques, she enjoys acting, travelling and creative writing. 

Recommended articles

A Day in the Life of an Oxford Scholastica Student: The First Monday

A Day in the Life of an Oxford Scholastica Student: The First Monday

Hello, I’m Abaigeal or Abby for short, and I attended Oxford Scholastica’s residential summer school as a Discover Business student.  During the Business course, I studied various topics across the large spectrum that is the world of business, including supply and...

Mastering Writing Competitions: Insider Tips from a Two-Time Winner

Mastering Writing Competitions: Insider Tips from a Two-Time Winner

I’m Costas, a third-year History and Spanish student at the University of Oxford. During my time in secondary school and sixth form, I participated in various writing competitions, and I was able to win two of them (the national ISMLA Original Writing Competition and...

Beyond the Bar: 15 Must-Read Books for Future Lawyers

Beyond the Bar: 15 Must-Read Books for Future Lawyers

Reading within and around your subject, widely and in depth, is one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for a future in Law. So, we’ve put together a list of essential books to include on your reading list as a prospective or current Law...

how can i write a good essay

How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Getting ready to start your college essay? Your essay is very important to your application — especially if you’re applying to selective colleges.

Become a stronger writer by reviewing your peers’ essays and get your essay reviewed as well for free.

We have regular livestreams during which we walk you through how to write your college essay and review essays live.

College Essay Basics

Just getting started on college essays? This section will guide you through how you should think about your college essays before you start.

  • Why do essays matter in the college application process?
  • What is a college application theme and how do you come up with one?
  • How to format and structure your college essay

Before you move to the next section, make sure you understand:

How a college essay fits into your application

What a strong essay does for your chances

How to create an application theme

Learn the Types of College Essays

Next, let’s make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You’ll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types. Understanding the types will help you better answer the prompt and structure your essay.

  • How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
  • Personal Statement Essay Examples
  • How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity Essay
  • Extracurricular Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
  • Diversity Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Standout Community Service Essay
  • How to Write the “Why This Major” Essay
  • How to Write a “Why This Major” Essay if You’re Undecided
  • How to write the “Why This College” Essay
  • How to Research a College to Write the “Why This College” Essay
  • Why This College Essay Examples
  • How to Write The Overcoming Challenges Essay
  • Overcoming Challenges Essay Examples

Identify how each prompt fits into an essay type

What each type of essay is really asking of you

How to write each essay effectively

The Common App essay

Almost every student will write a Common App essay, which is why it’s important you get this right.

  • How to Write the Common App Essay
  • Successful Common App Essay Examples
  • 5 Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays
  • 11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

How to choose which Common App prompts to answer

How to write a successful Common App essay

What to avoid to stand out to admissions officers

Supplemental Essay Guides

Many schools, especially competitive ones, will ask you to write one or more supplemental essays. This allows a school to learn more about you and how you might fit into their culture.

These essays are extremely important in standing out. We’ve written guides for all the top schools. Follow the link below to find your school and read last year’s essay guides to give you a sense of the essay prompts. We’ll update these in August when schools release their prompts.

See last year’s supplemental essay guides to get a sense of the prompts for your schools.

Essay brainstorming and composition

Now that you’re starting to write your essay, let’s dive into the writing process. Below you’ll find our top articles on the craft of writing an amazing college essay.

  • Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises
  • Creating the First Draft of Your College Application Essay
  • How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay
  • What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
  • 8 Do’s and Don’t for Crafting Your College Essay
  • Stuck on Your College Essay? 8 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Understand how to write a great hook for your essay

Complete the first drafts of your essay

Editing and polishing your essay

Have a first draft ready? See our top editing tips below. Also, you may want to submit your essay to our free Essay Peer Review to get quick feedback and join a community of other students working on their essays.

  • 11 Tips for Proofreading and Editing Your College Essay
  • Getting Help with Your College Essay
  • 5 DIY Tips for Editing Your College Essay
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Essential Grammar Rules for Your College Apps
  • College Essay Checklist: Are You Ready to Submit?

Proofread and edited your essay.

Had someone else look through your essay — we recommend submitting it for a peer review.

Make sure your essay meets all requirements — consider signing up for a free account to view our per-prompt checklists to help you understand when you’re really ready to submit.

Advanced College Essay Techniques

Let’s take it one step further and see how we can make your college essay really stand out! We recommend reading through these posts when you have a draft to work with.

  • 10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays
  • How to Use Literary Devices to Enhance Your Essay
  • How to Develop a Personalized Metaphor for Your College Applications

Would you like to explore a topic?

  • LEARNING OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL

Or read some of our popular articles?

Free downloadable english gcse past papers with mark scheme.

  • 19 May 2022

How Will GCSE Grade Boundaries Affect My Child’s Results?

  • Akshat Biyani
  • 13 December 2021

The Best Free Homeschooling Resources UK Parents Need to Start Using Today

  • Joseph McCrossan
  • 18 February 2022

How to Write the Perfect Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide for Students

 alt=

  • June 2, 2022

how can i write a good essay

  • What is an essay? 

What makes a good essay?

Typical essay structure, 7 steps to writing a good essay, a step-by-step guide to writing a good essay.

Whether you are gearing up for your GCSE coursework submissions or looking to brush up on your A-level writing skills, we have the perfect essay-writing guide for you. 💯

Staring at a blank page before writing an essay can feel a little daunting . Where do you start? What should your introduction say? And how should you structure your arguments? They are all fair questions and we have the answers! Take the stress out of essay writing with this step-by-step guide – you’ll be typing away in no time. 👩‍💻

student-writing

What is an essay?

Generally speaking, an essay designates a literary work in which the author defends a point of view or a personal conviction, using logical arguments and literary devices in order to inform and convince the reader.

So – although essays can be broadly split into four categories: argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive – an essay can simply be described as a focused piece of writing designed to inform or persuade. 🤔

The purpose of an essay is to present a coherent argument in response to a stimulus or question and to persuade the reader that your position is credible, believable and reasonable. 👌

So, a ‘good’ essay relies on a confident writing style – it’s clear, well-substantiated, focussed, explanatory and descriptive . The structure follows a logical progression and above all, the body of the essay clearly correlates to the tile – answering the question where one has been posed. 

But, how do you go about making sure that you tick all these boxes and keep within a specified word count? Read on for the answer as well as an example essay structure to follow and a handy step-by-step guide to writing the perfect essay – hooray. 🙌

Sometimes, it is helpful to think about your essay like it is a well-balanced argument or a speech – it needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question in a coherent manner. ⚖️

Of course, essays can vary significantly in length but besides that, they all follow a fairly strict pattern or structure made up of three sections. Lean into this predictability because it will keep you on track and help you make your point clearly. Let’s take a look at the typical essay structure:  

#1 Introduction

Start your introduction with the central claim of your essay. Let the reader know exactly what you intend to say with this essay. Communicate what you’re going to argue, and in what order. The final part of your introduction should also say what conclusions you’re going to draw – it sounds counter-intuitive but it’s not – more on that below. 1️⃣

Make your point, evidence it and explain it. This part of the essay – generally made up of three or more paragraphs depending on the length of your essay – is where you present your argument. The first sentence of each paragraph – much like an introduction to an essay – should summarise what your paragraph intends to explain in more detail. 2️⃣

#3 Conclusion

This is where you affirm your argument – remind the reader what you just proved in your essay and how you did it. This section will sound quite similar to your introduction but – having written the essay – you’ll be summarising rather than setting out your stall. 3️⃣

No essay is the same but your approach to writing them can be. As well as some best practice tips, we have gathered our favourite advice from expert essay-writers and compiled the following 7-step guide to writing a good essay every time. 👍

#1 Make sure you understand the question

#2 complete background reading.

#3 Make a detailed plan 

#4 Write your opening sentences 

#5 flesh out your essay in a rough draft, #6 evidence your opinion, #7 final proofread and edit.

Now that you have familiarised yourself with the 7 steps standing between you and the perfect essay, let’s take a closer look at each of those stages so that you can get on with crafting your written arguments with confidence . 

This is the most crucial stage in essay writing – r ead the essay prompt carefully and understand the question. Highlight the keywords – like ‘compare,’ ‘contrast’ ‘discuss,’ ‘explain’ or ‘evaluate’ – and let it sink in before your mind starts racing . There is nothing worse than writing 500 words before realising you have entirely missed the brief . 🧐

Unless you are writing under exam conditions , you will most likely have been working towards this essay for some time, by doing thorough background reading. Re-read relevant chapters and sections, highlight pertinent material and maybe even stray outside the designated reading list, this shows genuine interest and extended knowledge. 📚

#3 Make a detailed plan

Following the handy structure we shared with you above, now is the time to create the ‘skeleton structure’ or essay plan. Working from your essay title, plot out what you want your paragraphs to cover and how that information is going to flow. You don’t need to start writing any full sentences yet but it might be useful to think about the various quotes you plan to use to substantiate each section. 📝

Having mapped out the overall trajectory of your essay, you can start to drill down into the detail. First, write the opening sentence for each of the paragraphs in the body section of your essay. Remember – each paragraph is like a mini-essay – the opening sentence should summarise what the paragraph will then go on to explain in more detail. 🖊️

Next, it's time to write the bulk of your words and flesh out your arguments. Follow the ‘point, evidence, explain’ method. The opening sentences – already written – should introduce your ‘points’, so now you need to ‘evidence’ them with corroborating research and ‘explain’ how the evidence you’ve presented proves the point you’re trying to make. ✍️

With a rough draft in front of you, you can take a moment to read what you have written so far. Are there any sections that require further substantiation? Have you managed to include the most relevant material you originally highlighted in your background reading? Now is the time to make sure you have evidenced all your opinions and claims with the strongest quotes, citations and material. 📗

This is your final chance to re-read your essay and go over it with a fine-toothed comb before pressing ‘submit’. We highly recommend leaving a day or two between finishing your essay and the final proofread if possible – you’ll be amazed at the difference this makes, allowing you to return with a fresh pair of eyes and a more discerning judgment. 🤓

If you are looking for advice and support with your own essay-writing adventures, why not t ry a free trial lesson with GoStudent? Our tutors are experts at boosting academic success and having fun along the way. Get in touch and see how it can work for you today. 🎒

1-May-12-2023-09-09-32-6011-AM

Popular posts

Student studying for a English GCSE past paper

  • By Guy Doza

gcse exam paper

  • By Akshat Biyani

girl learning at home

  • By Joseph McCrossan
  • In LEARNING TRENDS

homeschooling mum and child

4 Surprising Disadvantages of Homeschooling

  • By Andrea Butler

The 12 Best GCSE Revision Apps to Supercharge Your Revision

More great reads:.

Benefits of Reading: Positive Impacts for All Ages Everyday

Benefits of Reading: Positive Impacts for All Ages Everyday

  • May 26, 2023

15 of the Best Children's Books That Every Young Person Should Read

15 of the Best Children's Books That Every Young Person Should Read

  • By Sharlene Matharu
  • March 2, 2023

Ultimate School Library Tips and Hacks

Ultimate School Library Tips and Hacks

  • By Natalie Lever
  • March 1, 2023

Book a free trial session

Sign up for your free tutoring lesson..

Celebrating 150 years of Harvard Summer School. Learn about our history.

12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students

Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students.

About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?

There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University is dedicated to bringing rigorous academics and innovative teaching capabilities to those seeking to improve their lives through education. We make Harvard education accessible to lifelong learners from high school to retirement.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education Logo

  • PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game New
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Education and Communications
  • College University and Postgraduate
  • Academic Writing

How to Write an Essay

Last Updated: April 2, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD and by wikiHow staff writer, Megaera Lorenz, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 18 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 7,932,990 times.

An essay is a common type of academic writing that you'll likely be asked to do in multiple classes. Before you start writing your essay, make sure you understand the details of the assignment so that you know how to approach the essay and what your focus should be. Once you've chosen a topic, do some research and narrow down the main argument(s) you'd like to make. From there, you'll need to write an outline and flesh out your essay, which should consist of an introduction, body, and conclusion. After your essay is drafted, spend some time revising it to ensure your writing is as strong as possible.

Understanding Your Assignment

Step 1 Read your assignment carefully.

  • The compare/contrast essay , which focuses on analyzing the similarities and differences between 2 things, such as ideas, people, events, places, or works of art.
  • The narrative essay , which tells a story.
  • The argumentative essay , in which the writer uses evidence and examples to convince the reader of their point of view.
  • The critical or analytical essay, which examines something (such as a text or work of art) in detail. This type of essay may attempt to answer specific questions about the subject or focus more generally on its meaning.
  • The informative essay , that educates the reader about a topic.

Step 2 Check for formatting and style requirements.

  • How long your essay should be
  • Which citation style to use
  • Formatting requirements, such as margin size , line spacing, and font size and type

Christopher Taylor, PhD

Christopher Taylor, PhD

Christopher Taylor, Professor of English, tells us: "Most essays will contain an introduction, a body or discussion portion, and a conclusion. When assigned a college essay, make sure to check the specific structural conventions related to your essay genre , your field of study, and your professor's expectations."

Step 3 Narrow down your topic so your essay has a clear focus.

  • If you're doing a research-based essay , you might find some inspiration from reading through some of the major sources on the subject.
  • For a critical essay, you might choose to focus on a particular theme in the work you're discussing, or analyze the meaning of a specific passage.

Step 4 Ask for clarification if you don't understand the assignment.

  • If you're having trouble narrowing down your topic, your instructor might be able to provide guidance or inspiration.

Planning and Organizing Your Essay

Step 1 Find some reputable sources on your topic.

  • Academic books and journals tend to be good sources of information. In addition to print sources, you may be able to find reliable information in scholarly databases such as JSTOR and Google Scholar.
  • You can also look for primary source documents, such as letters, eyewitness accounts, and photographs.
  • Always evaluate your sources critically. Even research papers by reputable academics can contain hidden biases, outdated information, and simple errors or faulty logic.

Tip: In general, Wikipedia articles are not considered appropriate sources for academic writing. However, you may be able to find useful sources in the “References” section at the end of the article.

Step 2 Make notes...

  • You might find it helpful to write your notes down on individual note cards or enter them into a text document on your computer so you can easily copy, paste , and rearrange them however you like.
  • Try organizing your notes into different categories so you can identify specific ideas you'd like to focus on. For example, if you're analyzing a short story , you might put all your notes on a particular theme or character together.

Step 3 Choose a question to answer or an issue to address.

  • For example, if your essay is about the factors that led to the end of the Bronze Age in the ancient Middle East, you might focus on the question, “What role did natural disasters play in the collapse of Late Bronze Age society?”

Step 4 Create a thesis...

  • One easy way to come up with a thesis statement is to briefly answer the main question you would like to address.
  • For example, if the question is “What role did natural disasters play in the collapse of Late Bronze Age society?” then your thesis might be, “Natural disasters during the Late Bronze Age destabilized local economies across the region. This set in motion a series of mass migrations of different peoples, creating widespread conflict that contributed to the collapse of several major Bronze Age political centers.”

Step 5 Write an outline...

  • When you write the outline, think about how you would like to organize your essay. For example, you might start with your strongest arguments and then move to the weakest ones. Or, you could begin with a general overview of the source you're analyzing and then move on to addressing the major themes, tone, and style of the work.
  • Introduction
  • Point 1, with supporting examples
  • Point 2, with supporting examples
  • Point 3, with supporting examples
  • Major counter-argument(s) to your thesis
  • Your rebuttals to the counter-argument(s)

Drafting the Essay

Step 1 Write an introduction...

  • For example, if you're writing a critical essay about a work of art, your introduction might start with some basic information about the work, such as who created it, when and where it was created, and a brief description of the work itself. From there, introduce the question(s) about the work you'd like to address and present your thesis.
  • A strong introduction should also contain a brief transitional sentence that creates a link to the first point or argument you would like to make. For example, if you're discussing the use of color in a work of art, lead-in by saying you'd like to start with an overview of symbolic color use in contemporary works by other artists.

Tip: Some writers find it helpful to write the introduction after they've written the rest of the essay. Once you've written out your main points, it's easier to summarize the gist of your essay in a few introductory sentences.

Step 2 Present your argument(s) in detail.

  • For example, your topic sentence might be something like, “Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are among the many literary influences apparent in P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves novels.” You could then back this up by quoting a passage that contains a reference to Sherlock Holmes.
  • Try to show how the arguments in each paragraph link back to the main thesis of your essay.

Step 3 Use transition sentences between paragraphs.

  • When creating transitions, transitional phrases can be helpful. For example, use words and phrases such as “In addition,” “Therefore,” “Similarly,” “Subsequently,” or “As a result.”
  • For example, if you've just discussed the use of color to create contrast in a work of art, you might start the next paragraph with, “In addition to color, the artist also uses different line weights to distinguish between the more static and dynamic figures in the scene.”

Step 4 Address possible counterarguments.

  • For example, if you're arguing that a particular kind of shrimp decorates its shell with red algae to attract a mate, you'll need to address the counterargument that the shell decoration is a warning to predators. You might do this by presenting evidence that the red shrimp are, in fact, more likely to get eaten than shrimp with undecorated shells.

Step 5 Cite your sources...

  • The way you cite your sources will vary depending on the citation style you're using. Typically, you'll need to include the name of the author, the title and publication date of the source, and location information such as the page number on which the information appears.
  • In general, you don't need to cite common knowledge. For example, if you say, “A zebra is a type of mammal,” you probably won't need to cite a source.
  • If you've cited any sources in the essay, you'll need to include a list of works cited (or a bibliography ) at the end.

Step 6 Wrap up with...

  • Keep your conclusion brief. While the appropriate length will vary based on the length of the essay, it should typically be no longer than 1-2 paragraphs.
  • For example, if you're writing a 1,000-word essay, your conclusion should be about 4-5 sentences long. [16] X Research source

Revising the Essay

Step 1 Take a break...

  • If you don't have time to spend a couple of days away from your essay, at least take a few hours to relax or work on something else.

Step 2 Read over your draft to check for obvious problems.

  • Excessive wordiness
  • Points that aren't explained enough
  • Tangents or unnecessary information
  • Unclear transitions or illogical organization
  • Spelling , grammar , style, and formatting problems
  • Inappropriate language or tone (e.g., slang or informal language in an academic essay)

Step 3 Correct any major problems you find.

  • You might have to cut material from your essay in some places and add new material to others.
  • You might also end up reordering some of the content of the essay if you think that helps it flow better.

Step 4 Proofread your revised essay.

  • Read over each line slowly and carefully. It may be helpful to read each sentence out loud to yourself.

Tip: If possible, have someone else check your work. When you've been looking at your writing for too long, your brain begins to fill in what it expects to see rather than what's there, making it harder for you to spot mistakes.

how can i write a good essay

Expert Q&A

Christopher Taylor, PhD

You Might Also Like

Plan an Essay Using a Mind Map

  • ↑ https://www.yourdictionary.com/articles/essay-types
  • ↑ https://students.unimelb.edu.au/academic-skills/resources/essay-writing/six-top-tips-for-writing-a-great-essay
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/research_papers/choosing_a_topic.html
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/tips-reading-assignment-prompt
  • ↑ https://library.unr.edu/help/quick-how-tos/writing/integrating-sources-into-your-paper
  • ↑ https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/researching/notes-from-research/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/developing-thesis
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/outlining
  • ↑ https://lsa.umich.edu/sweetland/undergraduates/writing-guides/how-do-i-write-an-intro--conclusion----body-paragraph.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/argumentative_essays.html
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/transitions/
  • ↑ https://lsa.umich.edu/sweetland/undergraduates/writing-guides/how-do-i-incorporate-a-counter-argument.html
  • ↑ https://www.plagiarism.org/article/how-do-i-cite-sources
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/conclusions/
  • ↑ https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/twc/sites/utsc.utoronto.ca.twc/files/resource-files/Intros-Conclusions.pdf
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html
  • ↑ https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/8-4-revising-and-editing/
  • ↑ https://writing.ku.edu/writing-process

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

If you need to write an essay, start by gathering information from reputable sources, like books from the library or scholarly journals online. Take detailed notes and keep track of which facts come from which sources. As you're taking notes, look for a central theme that you're interested in writing about to create your thesis statement. Then, organize your notes into an outline that supports and explains your thesis statement. Working from your outline, write an introduction and subsequent paragraphs to address each major point. Start every paragraph with a topic sentence that briefly explains the main point of that paragraph. Finally, finish your paper with a strong conclusion that sums up the most important points. For tips from our English Professor co-author on helpful revision techniques, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Reader Success Stories

Muhammad Talha Javaid

Muhammad Talha Javaid

Feb 7, 2019

Did this article help you?

how can i write a good essay

Gabrielle Mattijetz

May 8, 2017

Shahzad Saleem

Shahzad Saleem

Jun 20, 2018

Barbara Gonzalez

Barbara Gonzalez

Aug 6, 2016

Kniziel Sanders

Kniziel Sanders

Oct 17, 2017

Am I a Narcissist or an Empath Quiz

Featured Articles

How to Perform a Candle Wax Reading

Trending Articles

View an Eclipse

Watch Articles

Make Sticky Rice Using Regular Rice

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

wikiHow Tech Help Pro:

Develop the tech skills you need for work and life

  • Academic Skills
  • Reading, writing and referencing

Writing a great essay

This resource covers key considerations when writing an essay.

While reading a student’s essay, markers will ask themselves questions such as:

  • Does this essay directly address the set task?
  • Does it present a strong, supported position?
  • Does it use relevant sources appropriately?
  • Is the expression clear, and the style appropriate?
  • Is the essay organised coherently? Is there a clear introduction, body and conclusion?

You can use these questions to reflect on your own writing. Here are six top tips to help you address these criteria.

1. Analyse the question

Student essays are responses to specific questions. As an essay must address the question directly, your first step should be to analyse the question. Make sure you know exactly what is being asked of you.

Generally, essay questions contain three component parts:

  • Content terms: Key concepts that are specific to the task
  • Limiting terms: The scope that the topic focuses on
  • Directive terms: What you need to do in relation to the content, e.g. discuss, analyse, define, compare, evaluate.

Look at the following essay question:

Discuss the importance of light in Gothic architecture.
  • Content terms: Gothic architecture
  • Limiting terms: the importance of light. If you discussed some other feature of Gothic architecture, for example spires or arches, you would be deviating from what is required. This essay question is limited to a discussion of light. Likewise, it asks you to write about the importance of light – not, for example, to discuss how light enters Gothic churches.
  • Directive term: discuss. This term asks you to take a broad approach to the variety of ways in which light may be important for Gothic architecture. You should introduce and consider different ideas and opinions that you have met in academic literature on this topic, citing them appropriately .

For a more complex question, you can highlight the key words and break it down into a series of sub-questions to make sure you answer all parts of the task. Consider the following question (from Arts):

To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?

The key words here are American Revolution and revolution ‘from below’. This is a view that you would need to respond to in this essay. This response must focus on the aims and motivations of working people in the revolution, as stated in the second question.

2. Define your argument

As you plan and prepare to write the essay, you must consider what your argument is going to be. This means taking an informed position or point of view on the topic presented in the question, then defining and presenting a specific argument.

Consider these two argument statements:

The architectural use of light in Gothic cathedrals physically embodied the significance of light in medieval theology.
In the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, light served to accentuate the authority and ritual centrality of the priest.

Statements like these define an essay’s argument. They give coherence by providing an overarching theme and position towards which the entire essay is directed.

3. Use evidence, reasoning and scholarship

To convince your audience of your argument, you must use evidence and reasoning, which involves referring to and evaluating relevant scholarship.

  • Evidence provides concrete information to support your claim. It typically consists of specific examples, facts, quotations, statistics and illustrations.
  • Reasoning connects the evidence to your argument. Rather than citing evidence like a shopping list, you need to evaluate the evidence and show how it supports your argument.
  • Scholarship is used to show how your argument relates to what has been written on the topic (citing specific works). Scholarship can be used as part of your evidence and reasoning to support your argument.

4. Organise a coherent essay

An essay has three basic components - introduction, body and conclusion.

The purpose of an introduction is to introduce your essay. It typically presents information in the following order:

  • A general statement about the topic that provides context for your argument
  • A thesis statement showing your argument. You can use explicit lead-ins, such as ‘This essay argues that...’
  • A ‘road map’ of the essay, telling the reader how it is going to present and develop your argument.

Example introduction

"To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?"

Introduction*

Historians generally concentrate on the twenty-year period between 1763 and 1783 as the period which constitutes the American Revolution [This sentence sets the general context of the period] . However, when considering the involvement of working people, or people from below, in the revolution it is important to make a distinction between the pre-revolutionary period 1763-1774 and the revolutionary period 1774-1788, marked by the establishment of the continental Congress(1) [This sentence defines the key term from below and gives more context to the argument that follows] . This paper will argue that the nature and aims of the actions of working people are difficult to assess as it changed according to each phase [This is the thesis statement] . The pre-revolutionary period was characterised by opposition to Britain’s authority. During this period the aims and actions of the working people were more conservative as they responded to grievances related to taxes and scarce land, issues which directly affected them. However, examination of activities such as the organisation of crowd action and town meetings, pamphlet writing, formal communications to Britain of American grievances and physical action in the streets, demonstrates that their aims and actions became more revolutionary after 1775 [These sentences give the ‘road map’ or overview of the content of the essay] .

The body of the essay develops and elaborates your argument. It does this by presenting a reasoned case supported by evidence from relevant scholarship. Its shape corresponds to the overview that you provided in your introduction.

The body of your essay should be written in paragraphs. Each body paragraph should develop one main idea that supports your argument. To learn how to structure a paragraph, look at the page developing clarity and focus in academic writing .

Your conclusion should not offer any new material. Your evidence and argumentation should have been made clear to the reader in the body of the essay.

Use the conclusion to briefly restate the main argumentative position and provide a short summary of the themes discussed. In addition, also consider telling your reader:

  • What the significance of your findings, or the implications of your conclusion, might be
  • Whether there are other factors which need to be looked at, but which were outside the scope of the essay
  • How your topic links to the wider context (‘bigger picture’) in your discipline.

Do not simply repeat yourself in this section. A conclusion which merely summarises is repetitive and reduces the impact of your paper.

Example conclusion

Conclusion*.

Although, to a large extent, the working class were mainly those in the forefront of crowd action and they also led the revolts against wealthy plantation farmers, the American Revolution was not a class struggle [This is a statement of the concluding position of the essay]. Working people participated because the issues directly affected them – the threat posed by powerful landowners and the tyranny Britain represented. Whereas the aims and actions of the working classes were more concerned with resistance to British rule during the pre-revolutionary period, they became more revolutionary in nature after 1775 when the tension with Britain escalated [These sentences restate the key argument]. With this shift, a change in ideas occurred. In terms of considering the Revolution as a whole range of activities such as organising riots, communicating to Britain, attendance at town hall meetings and pamphlet writing, a difficulty emerges in that all classes were involved. Therefore, it is impossible to assess the extent to which a single group such as working people contributed to the American Revolution [These sentences give final thoughts on the topic].

5. Write clearly

An essay that makes good, evidence-supported points will only receive a high grade if it is written clearly. Clarity is produced through careful revision and editing, which can turn a good essay into an excellent one.

When you edit your essay, try to view it with fresh eyes – almost as if someone else had written it.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Overall structure

  • Have you clearly stated your argument in your introduction?
  • Does the actual structure correspond to the ‘road map’ set out in your introduction?
  • Have you clearly indicated how your main points support your argument?
  • Have you clearly signposted the transitions between each of your main points for your reader?
  • Does each paragraph introduce one main idea?
  • Does every sentence in the paragraph support that main idea?
  • Does each paragraph display relevant evidence and reasoning?
  • Does each paragraph logically follow on from the one before it?
  • Is each sentence grammatically complete?
  • Is the spelling correct?
  • Is the link between sentences clear to your readers?
  • Have you avoided redundancy and repetition?

See more about editing on our  editing your writing page.

6. Cite sources and evidence

Finally, check your citations to make sure that they are accurate and complete. Some faculties require you to use a specific citation style (e.g. APA) while others may allow you to choose a preferred one. Whatever style you use, you must follow its guidelines correctly and consistently. You can use Recite, the University of Melbourne style guide, to check your citations.

Further resources

  • Germov, J. (2011). Get great marks for your essays, reports and presentations (3rd ed.). NSW: Allen and Unwin.
  • Using English for Academic Purposes: A guide for students in Higher Education [online]. Retrieved January 2020 from http://www.uefap.com
  • Williams, J.M. & Colomb, G. G. (2010) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. 10th ed. New York: Longman.

* Example introduction and conclusion adapted from a student paper.

Two people looking over study materials

Looking for one-on-one advice?

Get tailored advice from an Academic Skills Adviser by booking an Individual appointment, or get quick feedback from one of our Academic Writing Mentors via email through our Writing advice service.

Go to Student appointments

logo (1)

Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students

How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks

Updated: July 11, 2022

Published: June 22, 2021

How To Write An Essay # Beginner Tips And Tricks

Many students dread writing essays, but essay writing is an important skill to develop in high school, university, and even into your future career. By learning how to write an essay properly, the process can become more enjoyable and you’ll find you’re better able to organize and articulate your thoughts.

When writing an essay, it’s common to follow a specific pattern, no matter what the topic is. Once you’ve used the pattern a few times and you know how to structure an essay, it will become a lot more simple to apply your knowledge to every essay. 

No matter which major you choose, you should know how to craft a good essay. Here, we’ll cover the basics of essay writing, along with some helpful tips to make the writing process go smoothly.

Ink pen on paper before writing an essay

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Types of Essays

Think of an essay as a discussion. There are many types of discussions you can have with someone else. You can be describing a story that happened to you, you might explain to them how to do something, or you might even argue about a certain topic. 

When it comes to different types of essays, it follows a similar pattern. Like a friendly discussion, each type of essay will come with its own set of expectations or goals. 

For example, when arguing with a friend, your goal is to convince them that you’re right. The same goes for an argumentative essay. 

Here are a few of the main essay types you can expect to come across during your time in school:

Narrative Essay

This type of essay is almost like telling a story, not in the traditional sense with dialogue and characters, but as if you’re writing out an event or series of events to relay information to the reader.

Persuasive Essay

Here, your goal is to persuade the reader about your views on a specific topic.

Descriptive Essay

This is the kind of essay where you go into a lot more specific details describing a topic such as a place or an event. 

Argumentative Essay

In this essay, you’re choosing a stance on a topic, usually controversial, and your goal is to present evidence that proves your point is correct.

Expository Essay

Your purpose with this type of essay is to tell the reader how to complete a specific process, often including a step-by-step guide or something similar.

Compare and Contrast Essay

You might have done this in school with two different books or characters, but the ultimate goal is to draw similarities and differences between any two given subjects.

The Main Stages of Essay Writing

When it comes to writing an essay, many students think the only stage is getting all your ideas down on paper and submitting your work. However, that’s not quite the case. 

There are three main stages of writing an essay, each one with its own purpose. Of course, writing the essay itself is the most substantial part, but the other two stages are equally as important.

So, what are these three stages of essay writing? They are:

Preparation

Before you even write one word, it’s important to prepare the content and structure of your essay. If a topic wasn’t assigned to you, then the first thing you should do is settle on a topic. Next, you want to conduct your research on that topic and create a detailed outline based on your research. The preparation stage will make writing your essay that much easier since, with your outline and research, you should already have the skeleton of your essay.

Writing is the most time-consuming stage. In this stage, you will write out all your thoughts and ideas and craft your essay based on your outline. You’ll work on developing your ideas and fleshing them out throughout the introduction, body, and conclusion (more on these soon).

In the final stage, you’ll go over your essay and check for a few things. First, you’ll check if your essay is cohesive, if all the points make sense and are related to your topic, and that your facts are cited and backed up. You can also check for typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes, and formatting errors.  

The Five-Paragraph Essay

We mentioned earlier that essay writing follows a specific structure, and for the most part in academic or college essays , the five-paragraph essay is the generally accepted structure you’ll be expected to use. 

The five-paragraph essay is broken down into one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. However, that doesn’t always mean that an essay is written strictly in five paragraphs, but rather that this structure can be used loosely and the three body paragraphs might become three sections instead.

Let’s take a closer look at each section and what it entails.

Introduction

As the name implies, the purpose of your introduction paragraph is to introduce your idea. A good introduction begins with a “hook,” something that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them excited to read more. 

Another key tenant of an introduction is a thesis statement, which usually comes towards the end of the introduction itself. Your thesis statement should be a phrase that explains your argument, position, or central idea that you plan on developing throughout the essay. 

You can also include a short outline of what to expect in your introduction, including bringing up brief points that you plan on explaining more later on in the body paragraphs.

Here is where most of your essay happens. The body paragraphs are where you develop your ideas and bring up all the points related to your main topic. 

In general, you’re meant to have three body paragraphs, or sections, and each one should bring up a different point. Think of it as bringing up evidence. Each paragraph is a different piece of evidence, and when the three pieces are taken together, it backs up your main point — your thesis statement — really well.

That being said, you still want each body paragraph to be tied together in some way so that the essay flows. The points should be distinct enough, but they should relate to each other, and definitely to your thesis statement. Each body paragraph works to advance your point, so when crafting your essay, it’s important to keep this in mind so that you avoid going off-track or writing things that are off-topic.

Many students aren’t sure how to write a conclusion for an essay and tend to see their conclusion as an afterthought, but this section is just as important as the rest of your work. 

You shouldn’t be presenting any new ideas in your conclusion, but you should summarize your main points and show how they back up your thesis statement. 

Essentially, the conclusion is similar in structure and content to the introduction, but instead of introducing your essay, it should be wrapping up the main thoughts and presenting them to the reader as a singular closed argument. 

student writing an essay on his laptop

Photo by AMIT RANJAN on Unsplash

Steps to Writing an Essay

Now that you have a better idea of an essay’s structure and all the elements that go into it, you might be wondering what the different steps are to actually write your essay. 

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Instead of going in blind, follow these steps on how to write your essay from start to finish.

Understand Your Assignment

When writing an essay for an assignment, the first critical step is to make sure you’ve read through your assignment carefully and understand it thoroughly. You want to check what type of essay is required, that you understand the topic, and that you pay attention to any formatting or structural requirements. You don’t want to lose marks just because you didn’t read the assignment carefully.

Research Your Topic

Once you understand your assignment, it’s time to do some research. In this step, you should start looking at different sources to get ideas for what points you want to bring up throughout your essay. 

Search online or head to the library and get as many resources as possible. You don’t need to use them all, but it’s good to start with a lot and then narrow down your sources as you become more certain of your essay’s direction.

Start Brainstorming

After research comes the brainstorming. There are a lot of different ways to start the brainstorming process . Here are a few you might find helpful:

  • Think about what you found during your research that interested you the most
  • Jot down all your ideas, even if they’re not yet fully formed
  • Create word clouds or maps for similar terms or ideas that come up so you can group them together based on their similarities
  • Try freewriting to get all your ideas out before arranging them

Create a Thesis

This is often the most tricky part of the whole process since you want to create a thesis that’s strong and that you’re about to develop throughout the entire essay. Therefore, you want to choose a thesis statement that’s broad enough that you’ll have enough to say about it, but not so broad that you can’t be precise. 

Write Your Outline

Armed with your research, brainstorming sessions, and your thesis statement, the next step is to write an outline. 

In the outline, you’ll want to put your thesis statement at the beginning and start creating the basic skeleton of how you want your essay to look. 

A good way to tackle an essay is to use topic sentences . A topic sentence is like a mini-thesis statement that is usually the first sentence of a new paragraph. This sentence introduces the main idea that will be detailed throughout the paragraph. 

If you create an outline with the topic sentences for your body paragraphs and then a few points of what you want to discuss, you’ll already have a strong starting point when it comes time to sit down and write. This brings us to our next step… 

Write a First Draft

The first time you write your entire essay doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get everything on the page so that you’re able to then write a second draft or review it afterward. 

Everyone’s writing process is different. Some students like to write their essay in the standard order of intro, body, and conclusion, while others prefer to start with the “meat” of the essay and tackle the body, and then fill in the other sections afterward. 

Make sure your essay follows your outline and that everything relates to your thesis statement and your points are backed up by the research you did. 

Revise, Edit, and Proofread

The revision process is one of the three main stages of writing an essay, yet many people skip this step thinking their work is done after the first draft is complete. 

However, proofreading, reviewing, and making edits on your essay can spell the difference between a B paper and an A.

After writing the first draft, try and set your essay aside for a few hours or even a day or two, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to review it. You might find mistakes or inconsistencies you missed or better ways to formulate your arguments.

Add the Finishing Touches

Finally, you’ll want to make sure everything that’s required is in your essay. Review your assignment again and see if all the requirements are there, such as formatting rules, citations, quotes, etc. 

Go over the order of your paragraphs and make sure everything makes sense, flows well, and uses the same writing style . 

Once everything is checked and all the last touches are added, give your essay a final read through just to ensure it’s as you want it before handing it in. 

A good way to do this is to read your essay out loud since you’ll be able to hear if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies.

Essay Writing Tips

With the steps outlined above, you should be able to craft a great essay. Still, there are some other handy tips we’d recommend just to ensure that the essay writing process goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Start your essay early. This is the first tip for a reason. It’s one of the most important things you can do to write a good essay. If you start it the night before, then you won’t have enough time to research, brainstorm, and outline — and you surely won’t have enough time to review.
  • Don’t try and write it in one sitting. It’s ok if you need to take breaks or write it over a few days. It’s better to write it in multiple sittings so that you have a fresh mind each time and you’re able to focus.
  • Always keep the essay question in mind. If you’re given an assigned question, then you should always keep it handy when writing your essay to make sure you’re always working to answer the question.
  • Use transitions between paragraphs. In order to improve the readability of your essay, try and make clear transitions between paragraphs. This means trying to relate the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next one so the shift doesn’t seem random.
  • Integrate your research thoughtfully. Add in citations or quotes from your research materials to back up your thesis and main points. This will show that you did the research and that your thesis is backed up by it.

Wrapping Up

Writing an essay doesn’t need to be daunting if you know how to approach it. Using our essay writing steps and tips, you’ll have better knowledge on how to write an essay and you’ll be able to apply it to your next assignment. Once you do this a few times, it will become more natural to you and the essay writing process will become quicker and easier.

If you still need assistance with your essay, check with a student advisor to see if they offer help with writing. At University of the People(UoPeople), we always want our students to succeed, so our student advisors are ready to help with writing skills when necessary. 

Related Articles

Article type icon

How to Write an Academic Essay in 6 Simple Steps

#scribendiinc

Written by  Scribendi

Are you wondering how to write an academic essay successfully? There are so many steps to writing an academic essay that it can be difficult to know where to start.

Here, we outline how to write an academic essay in 6 simple steps, from how to research for an academic essay to how to revise an essay and everything in between. 

Our essay writing tips are designed to help you learn how to write an academic essay that is ready for publication (after academic editing and academic proofreading , of course!).

Your paper isn't complete until you've done all the needed proofreading. Make sure you leave time for it after the writing process!

Download Our Pocket Checklist for Academic Papers. Just input your email below!

Types of academic writing.

With academic essay writing, there are certain conventions that writers are expected to follow. As such, it's important to know the basics of academic writing before you begin writing your essay.

Read More: What Is Academic Writing?

Before you begin writing your essay, you need to know what type of essay you are writing. This will help you follow the correct structure, which will make academic paper editing a faster and simpler process. 

Will you be writing a descriptive essay, an analytical essay, a persuasive essay, or a critical essay?

Read More: How to Master the 4 Types of Academic Writing

You can learn how to write academic essays by first mastering the four types of academic writing and then applying the correct rules to the appropriate type of essay writing.

Regardless of the type of essay you will be writing, all essays will include:

An introduction

At least three body paragraphs

A conclusion

A bibliography/reference list

To strengthen your essay writing skills, it can also help to learn how to research for an academic essay.

How to Research for an Academic Essay

Step 1: Preparing to Write Your Essay

The essay writing process involves a few main stages:

Researching

As such, in learning how to write an academic essay, it is also important to learn how to research for an academic essay and how to revise an essay.

Read More: Online Research Tips for Students and Scholars

To beef up your research skills, remember these essay writing tips from the above article: 

Learn how to identify reliable sources.

Understand the nuances of open access.

Discover free academic journals and research databases.

Manage your references. 

Provide evidence for every claim so you can avoid plagiarism .

Read More: 17 Research Databases for Free Articles

You will want to do the research for your academic essay points, of course, but you will also want to research various journals for the publication of your paper.

Different journals have different guidelines and thus different requirements for writers. These can be related to style, formatting, and more. 

Knowing these before you begin writing can save you a lot of time if you also want to learn how to revise an essay. If you ensure your paper meets the guidelines of the journal you want to publish in, you will not have to revise it again later for this purpose. 

After the research stage, you can draft your thesis and introduction as well as outline the rest of your essay. This will put you in a good position to draft your body paragraphs and conclusion, craft your bibliography, and edit and proofread your paper.

Step 2: Writing the Essay Introduction and Thesis Statement

When learning how to write academic essays , learning how to write an introduction is key alongside learning how to research for an academic essay.

Your introduction should broadly introduce your topic. It will give an overview of your essay and the points that will be discussed. It is typically about 10% of the final word count of the text.

All introductions follow a general structure:

Topic statement

Thesis statement

Read More: How to Write an Introduction

Your topic statement should hook your reader, making them curious about your topic. They should want to learn more after reading this statement. To best hook your reader in academic essay writing, consider providing a fact, a bold statement, or an intriguing question. 

The discussion about your topic in the middle of your introduction should include some background information about your topic in the academic sphere. Your scope should be limited enough that you can address the topic within the length of your paper but broad enough that the content is understood by the reader.

Your thesis statement should be incredibly specific and only one to two sentences long. Here is another essay writing tip: if you are able to locate an effective thesis early on, it will save you time during the academic editing process.

Read More: How to Write a Great Thesis Statement

Step 3: Writing the Essay Body

When learning how to write academic essays, you must learn how to write a good body paragraph. That's because your essay will be primarily made up of them!

The body paragraphs of your essay will develop the argument you outlined in your thesis. They will do this by providing your ideas on a topic backed up by evidence of specific points.

These paragraphs will typically take up about 80% of your essay. As a result, a good essay writing tip is to learn how to properly structure a paragraph.

Each paragraph consists of the following:

A topic sentence

Supporting sentences

A transition

Read More: How to Write a Paragraph

In learning how to revise an essay, you should keep in mind the organization of your paragraphs.

Your first paragraph should contain your strongest argument.

The secondary paragraphs should contain supporting arguments.

The last paragraph should contain your second-strongest argument. 

Step 4: Writing the Essay Conclusion

Your essay conclusion is the final paragraph of your essay and primarily reminds your reader of your thesis. It also wraps up your essay and discusses your findings more generally.

The conclusion typically makes up about 10% of the text, like the introduction. It shows the reader that you have accomplished what you intended to at the outset of your essay.

Here are a couple more good essay writing tips for your conclusion:

Don't introduce any new ideas into your conclusion.

Don't undermine your argument with opposing ideas.

Read More: How to Write a Conclusion Paragraph in 3 Easy Steps

Now that you know how to write an academic essay, it's time to learn how to write a bibliography along with some academic editing and proofreading advice.

Step 5: Writing the Bibliography or Works Cited

The bibliography of your paper lists all the references you cited. It is typically alphabetized or numbered (depending on the style guide).

Read More: How to Write an Academic Essay with References

When learning how to write academic essays, you may notice that there are various style guides you may be required to use by a professor or journal, including unique or custom styles. 

Some of the most common style guides include:

Chicago style

For help organizing your references for academic essay writing, consider a software manager. They can help you collect and format your references correctly and consistently, both quickly and with minimal effort.

Read More: 6 Reference Manager Software Solutions for Your Research

As you learn how to research for an academic essay most effectively, you may notice that a reference manager can also help make academic paper editing easier.

How to Revise an Essay

Step 6: Revising Your Essay

Once you've finally drafted your entire essay . . . you're still not done! 

That's because editing and proofreading are the essential final steps of any writing process . 

An academic editor can help you identify core issues with your writing , including its structure, its flow, its clarity, and its overall readability. They can give you substantive feedback and essay writing tips to improve your document. Therefore, it's a good idea to have an editor review your first draft so you can improve it prior to proofreading.

A specialized academic editor can assess the content of your writing. As a subject-matter expert in your subject, they can offer field-specific insight and critical commentary. Specialized academic editors can also provide services that others may not, including:

Academic document formatting

Academic figure formatting

Academic reference formatting

An academic proofreader can help you perfect the final draft of your paper to ensure it is completely error free in terms of spelling and grammar. They can also identify any inconsistencies in your work but will not look for any issues in the content of your writing, only its mechanics. This is why you should have a proofreader revise your final draft so that it is ready to be seen by an audience. 

Read More: How to Find the Right Academic Paper Editor or Proofreader

When learning how to research and write an academic essay, it is important to remember that editing is a required step. Don ' t forget to allot time for editing after you ' ve written your paper.

Set yourself up for success with this guide on how to write an academic essay. With a solid draft, you'll have better chances of getting published and read in any journal of your choosing.

Our academic essay writing tips are sure to help you learn how to research an academic essay, how to write an academic essay, and how to revise an academic essay.

If your academic paper looks sloppy, your readers may assume your research is sloppy. Download our Pocket Proofreading Checklist for Academic Papers before you take that one last crucial look at your paper.

About the Author

Scribendi Editing and Proofreading

Scribendi's in-house editors work with writers from all over the globe to perfect their writing. They know that no piece of writing is complete without a professional edit, and they love to see a good piece of writing transformed into a great one. Scribendi's in-house editors are unrivaled in both experience and education, having collectively edited millions of words and obtained numerous degrees. They love consuming caffeinated beverages, reading books of various genres, and relaxing in quiet, dimly lit spaces.

Have You Read?

"The Complete Beginner's Guide to Academic Writing"

Related Posts

21 Legit Research Databases for Free Journal Articles in 2022

21 Legit Research Databases for Free Journal Articles in 2022

How to Find the Right Academic Paper Editor or Proofreader

How to Find the Right Academic Paper Editor or Proofreader

How to Master the 4 Types of Academic Writing

How to Master the 4 Types of Academic Writing

Upload your file(s) so we can calculate your word count, or enter your word count manually.

We will also recommend a service based on the file(s) you upload.

English is not my first language. I need English editing and proofreading so that I sound like a native speaker.

I need to have my journal article, dissertation, or term paper edited and proofread, or I need help with an admissions essay or proposal.

I have a novel, manuscript, play, or ebook. I need editing, copy editing, proofreading, a critique of my work, or a query package.

I need editing and proofreading for my white papers, reports, manuals, press releases, marketing materials, and other business documents.

I need to have my essay, project, assignment, or term paper edited and proofread.

I want to sound professional and to get hired. I have a resume, letter, email, or personal document that I need to have edited and proofread.

 Prices include your personal % discount.

 Prices include % sales tax ( ).

how can i write a good essay

Have a language expert improve your writing

Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • College essay

How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples

The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.

A standout essay has a few key ingredients:

  • A unique, personal topic
  • A compelling, well-structured narrative
  • A clear, creative writing style
  • Evidence of self-reflection and insight

To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.

Table of contents

Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.

While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.

Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

What do colleges look for in an essay?

Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :

  • Demonstrated values and qualities
  • Vulnerability and authenticity
  • Self-reflection and insight
  • Creative, clear, and concise writing skills

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.

Create an essay tracker sheet

If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:

  • Deadlines and number of essays needed
  • Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts

You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.

College essay tracker template

Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.

If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.

What makes a good topic?

  • Meaningful and personal to you
  • Uncommon or has an unusual angle
  • Reveals something different from the rest of your application

Brainstorming questions

You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:

  • What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
  • What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
  • What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
  • What makes you different from your classmates?
  • What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
  • Whom do you admire most? Why?
  • What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?

How to identify your topic

Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:

  • Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
  • Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.

After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.

Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.

Vignettes structure

The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.

This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.

Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences

  • Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
  • Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
  • Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
  • Story: Broadway musical interests
  • Lesson: Finding my voice
  • Story: Smells from family dinner table
  • Lesson: Appreciating home and family
  • Story: Washing dishes
  • Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
  • Story: Biking with Ava
  • Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
  • Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.

Single story structure

The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.

Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.

Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person

  • Situation: Football injury
  • Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
  • Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
  • My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
  • Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game

Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs

Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.

Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.

Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..

Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).

While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.

Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.

Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook

Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.

Option 2: Start with vivid imagery

Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.

A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .

Show, don’t tell

“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”

First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.

  • What are the most prominent images?
  • Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
  • What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?

Be vulnerable to create an emotional response

You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.

Use appropriate style and tone

Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:

  • Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
  • Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
  • Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
  • Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
  • Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).

You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:

  • Summarizing what you already wrote
  • Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
  • Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”

Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.

Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure

The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.

In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.

Option 2: Revealing your insight

You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.

Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.

It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.

Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.

Respect the word count

Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.

Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Check your content, style, and grammar

  • First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
  • Then, check for style and tone issues.
  • Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Get feedback

Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.

  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
  • Friends and family can check for authenticity.
  • An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.

The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.

College admissions essay checklist

I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.

I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.

I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.

I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.

I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.

I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.

I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.

I’ve used appropriate style and tone .

I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.

I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Congratulations!

It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

Is this article helpful?

Other students also liked.

  • What Do Colleges Look For in an Essay? | Examples & Tips
  • College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines
  • How to Revise Your College Admissions Essay | Examples

More interesting articles

  • Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples
  • College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't
  • Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary
  • How Long Should a College Essay Be? | Word Count Tips
  • How to Apply for College | Timeline, Templates & Checklist
  • How to End a College Admissions Essay | 4 Winning Strategies
  • How to Make Your College Essay Stand Out | Tips & Examples
  • How to Research and Write a "Why This College?" Essay
  • How to Write a College Essay Fast | Tips & Examples
  • How to Write a Diversity Essay | Tips & Examples
  • How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction | Examples
  • How to Write a Scholarship Essay | Template & Example
  • How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples
  • Style and Tone Tips for Your College Essay | Examples
  • US College Essay Tips for International Students

"I thought AI Proofreading was useless but.."

I've been using Scribbr for years now and I know it's a service that won't disappoint. It does a good job spotting mistakes”

Money-Saving Services for Writing College Essays Online

Writing argumentative essay like an expert.

Having big plans for the future? Willing to enter the best college that will develop your skills and talents? Unfortunately, thousands of other students think the same. Writing college essay is the first step to understanding that your career will be bright!

On the basis of your work, admission committee will decide whether you’re worthy to be enrolled in the college. Just imagine how many application they receive annually. Some of them are brilliant, others are commonplace and naive. But your task here is not to turn writing a persuasive essay into a nightmare by thinking about it.

What should you start with? The first step to write college essay is think about the main idea you want to describe. There should be something important, impressing, heartwarming in your work. And, of course, it should be truthful and original as well. Even if you know how to write an argument essay, there’s also a necessity to follow the right structure and composition. And here, you might need help of professionals.

Special services that help students in writing college essays exist all over the world. You can see it for yourself. Type “write my essay” and scroll through the results – the amount of websites will surprise you. Be careful when choosing a cheap service: you might end getting your paper done by a non-native English speaker. Do you actually want to waste your money on that? Make a little research before you start writing an argument essay, read the examples you find on the Internet, make notes and try to write down all the thoughts you have during the day (not when you actually seat in front your PC).

In attempt to write a college essay, people are spending countless night drinking one cup of coffee after another and rotating thousands thoughts in their heads. However, it might not be enough. People who write a persuasive essay also seeking help on the side. There’s no shame in that.

Quality guarantee

  • Skip to main content
  • Keyboard shortcuts for audio player

NPR defends its journalism after senior editor says it has lost the public's trust

David Folkenflik 2018 square

David Folkenflik

how can i write a good essay

NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust.

NPR's top news executive defended its journalism and its commitment to reflecting a diverse array of views on Tuesday after a senior NPR editor wrote a broad critique of how the network has covered some of the most important stories of the age.

"An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don't have an audience that reflects America," writes Uri Berliner.

A strategic emphasis on diversity and inclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, promoted by NPR's former CEO, John Lansing, has fed "the absence of viewpoint diversity," Berliner writes.

NPR's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, wrote in a memo to staff Tuesday afternoon that she and the news leadership team strongly reject Berliner's assessment.

"We're proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," she wrote. "We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

She added, "None of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole."

A spokesperson for NPR said Chapin, who also serves as the network's chief content officer, would have no further comment.

Praised by NPR's critics

Berliner is a senior editor on NPR's Business Desk. (Disclosure: I, too, am part of the Business Desk, and Berliner has edited many of my past stories. He did not see any version of this article or participate in its preparation before it was posted publicly.)

Berliner's essay , titled "I've Been at NPR for 25 years. Here's How We Lost America's Trust," was published by The Free Press, a website that has welcomed journalists who have concluded that mainstream news outlets have become reflexively liberal.

Berliner writes that as a Subaru-driving, Sarah Lawrence College graduate who "was raised by a lesbian peace activist mother ," he fits the mold of a loyal NPR fan.

Yet Berliner says NPR's news coverage has fallen short on some of the most controversial stories of recent years, from the question of whether former President Donald Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, to the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, to the significance and provenance of emails leaked from a laptop owned by Hunter Biden weeks before the 2020 election. In addition, he blasted NPR's coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On each of these stories, Berliner asserts, NPR has suffered from groupthink due to too little diversity of viewpoints in the newsroom.

The essay ricocheted Tuesday around conservative media , with some labeling Berliner a whistleblower . Others picked it up on social media, including Elon Musk, who has lambasted NPR for leaving his social media site, X. (Musk emailed another NPR reporter a link to Berliner's article with a gibe that the reporter was a "quisling" — a World War II reference to someone who collaborates with the enemy.)

When asked for further comment late Tuesday, Berliner declined, saying the essay spoke for itself.

The arguments he raises — and counters — have percolated across U.S. newsrooms in recent years. The #MeToo sexual harassment scandals of 2016 and 2017 forced newsrooms to listen to and heed more junior colleagues. The social justice movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 inspired a reckoning in many places. Newsroom leaders often appeared to stand on shaky ground.

Leaders at many newsrooms, including top editors at The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times , lost their jobs. Legendary Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron wrote in his memoir that he feared his bonds with the staff were "frayed beyond repair," especially over the degree of self-expression his journalists expected to exert on social media, before he decided to step down in early 2021.

Since then, Baron and others — including leaders of some of these newsrooms — have suggested that the pendulum has swung too far.

Legendary editor Marty Baron describes his 'Collision of Power' with Trump and Bezos

Author Interviews

Legendary editor marty baron describes his 'collision of power' with trump and bezos.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger warned last year against journalists embracing a stance of what he calls "one-side-ism": "where journalists are demonstrating that they're on the side of the righteous."

"I really think that that can create blind spots and echo chambers," he said.

Internal arguments at The Times over the strength of its reporting on accusations that Hamas engaged in sexual assaults as part of a strategy for its Oct. 7 attack on Israel erupted publicly . The paper conducted an investigation to determine the source of a leak over a planned episode of the paper's podcast The Daily on the subject, which months later has not been released. The newsroom guild accused the paper of "targeted interrogation" of journalists of Middle Eastern descent.

Heated pushback in NPR's newsroom

Given Berliner's account of private conversations, several NPR journalists question whether they can now trust him with unguarded assessments about stories in real time. Others express frustration that he had not sought out comment in advance of publication. Berliner acknowledged to me that for this story, he did not seek NPR's approval to publish the piece, nor did he give the network advance notice.

Some of Berliner's NPR colleagues are responding heatedly. Fernando Alfonso, a senior supervising editor for digital news, wrote that he wholeheartedly rejected Berliner's critique of the coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, for which NPR's journalists, like their peers, periodically put themselves at risk.

Alfonso also took issue with Berliner's concern over the focus on diversity at NPR.

"As a person of color who has often worked in newsrooms with little to no people who look like me, the efforts NPR has made to diversify its workforce and its sources are unique and appropriate given the news industry's long-standing lack of diversity," Alfonso says. "These efforts should be celebrated and not denigrated as Uri has done."

After this story was first published, Berliner contested Alfonso's characterization, saying his criticism of NPR is about the lack of diversity of viewpoints, not its diversity itself.

"I never criticized NPR's priority of achieving a more diverse workforce in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I have not 'denigrated' NPR's newsroom diversity goals," Berliner said. "That's wrong."

Questions of diversity

Under former CEO John Lansing, NPR made increasing diversity, both of its staff and its audience, its "North Star" mission. Berliner says in the essay that NPR failed to consider broader diversity of viewpoint, noting, "In D.C., where NPR is headquartered and many of us live, I found 87 registered Democrats working in editorial positions and zero Republicans."

Berliner cited audience estimates that suggested a concurrent falloff in listening by Republicans. (The number of people listening to NPR broadcasts and terrestrial radio broadly has declined since the start of the pandemic.)

Former NPR vice president for news and ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin tweeted , "I know Uri. He's not wrong."

Others questioned Berliner's logic. "This probably gets causality somewhat backward," tweeted Semafor Washington editor Jordan Weissmann . "I'd guess that a lot of NPR listeners who voted for [Mitt] Romney have changed how they identify politically."

Similarly, Nieman Lab founder Joshua Benton suggested the rise of Trump alienated many NPR-appreciating Republicans from the GOP.

In recent years, NPR has greatly enhanced the percentage of people of color in its workforce and its executive ranks. Four out of 10 staffers are people of color; nearly half of NPR's leadership team identifies as Black, Asian or Latino.

"The philosophy is: Do you want to serve all of America and make sure it sounds like all of America, or not?" Lansing, who stepped down last month, says in response to Berliner's piece. "I'd welcome the argument against that."

"On radio, we were really lagging in our representation of an audience that makes us look like what America looks like today," Lansing says. The U.S. looks and sounds a lot different than it did in 1971, when NPR's first show was broadcast, Lansing says.

A network spokesperson says new NPR CEO Katherine Maher supports Chapin and her response to Berliner's critique.

The spokesperson says that Maher "believes that it's a healthy thing for a public service newsroom to engage in rigorous consideration of the needs of our audiences, including where we serve our mission well and where we can serve it better."

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Managing Editor Gerry Holmes. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Seven agonizing nights aboard the Icon of the Seas

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Listen to this article

Listen to more stories on curio

Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET on April 6, 2024.

This article was featured in the One Story to Read Today newsletter. Sign up for it here .

MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, from the window of an approaching Miami cab, brings on a feeling of vertigo, nausea, amazement, and distress. I shut my eyes in defense, as my brain tells my optic nerve to try again.

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

Explore the May 2024 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find your next story to read.

“Author embarks on their first cruise-ship voyage” has been a staple of American essay writing for almost three decades, beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which was first published in 1996 under the title “Shipping Out.” Since then, many admirable writers have widened and diversified the genre. Usually the essayist commissioned to take to the sea is in their first or second flush of youth and is ready to sharpen their wit against the hull of the offending vessel. I am 51, old and tired, having seen much of the world as a former travel journalist, and mostly what I do in both life and prose is shrug while muttering to my imaginary dachshund, “This too shall pass.” But the Icon of the Seas will not countenance a shrug. The Icon of the Seas is the Linda Loman of cruise ships, exclaiming that attention must be paid. And here I am in late January with my one piece of luggage and useless gray winter jacket and passport, zipping through the Port of Miami en route to the gangway that will separate me from the bulk of North America for more than seven days, ready to pay it in full.

The aforementioned gangway opens up directly onto a thriving mall (I will soon learn it is imperiously called the “Royal Promenade”), presently filled with yapping passengers beneath a ceiling studded with balloons ready to drop. Crew members from every part of the global South, as well as a few Balkans, are shepherding us along while pressing flutes of champagne into our hands. By a humming Starbucks, I drink as many of these as I can and prepare to find my cabin. I show my blue Suite Sky SeaPass Card (more on this later, much more) to a smiling woman from the Philippines, and she tells me to go “aft.” Which is where, now? As someone who has rarely sailed on a vessel grander than the Staten Island Ferry, I am confused. It turns out that the aft is the stern of the ship, or, for those of us who don’t know what a stern or an aft are, its ass. The nose of the ship, responsible for separating the waves before it, is also called a bow, and is marked for passengers as the FWD , or forward. The part of the contemporary sailing vessel where the malls are clustered is called the midship. I trust that you have enjoyed this nautical lesson.

I ascend via elevator to my suite on Deck 11. This is where I encounter my first terrible surprise. My suite windows and balcony do not face the ocean. Instead, they look out onto another shopping mall. This mall is the one that’s called Central Park, perhaps in homage to the Olmsted-designed bit of greenery in the middle of my hometown. Although on land I would be delighted to own a suite with Central Park views, here I am deeply depressed. To sail on a ship and not wake up to a vast blue carpet of ocean? Unthinkable.

Allow me a brief preamble here. The story you are reading was commissioned at a moment when most staterooms on the Icon were sold out. In fact, so enthralled by the prospect of this voyage were hard-core mariners that the ship’s entire inventory of guest rooms (the Icon can accommodate up to 7,600 passengers, but its inaugural journey was reduced to 5,000 or so for a less crowded experience) was almost immediately sold out. Hence, this publication was faced with the shocking prospect of paying nearly $19,000 to procure for this solitary passenger an entire suite—not including drinking expenses—all for the privilege of bringing you this article. But the suite in question doesn’t even have a view of the ocean! I sit down hard on my soft bed. Nineteen thousand dollars for this .

selfie photo of man with glasses, in background is swim-up bar with two women facing away

The viewless suite does have its pluses. In addition to all the Malin+Goetz products in my dual bathrooms, I am granted use of a dedicated Suite Deck lounge; access to Coastal Kitchen, a superior restaurant for Suites passengers; complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream (“the fastest Internet at Sea”) “for one device per person for the whole cruise duration”; a pair of bathrobes (one of which comes prestained with what looks like a large expectoration by the greenest lizard on Earth); and use of the Grove Suite Sun, an area on Decks 18 and 19 with food and deck chairs reserved exclusively for Suite passengers. I also get reserved seating for a performance of The Wizard of Oz , an ice-skating tribute to the periodic table, and similar provocations. The very color of my Suite Sky SeaPass Card, an oceanic blue as opposed to the cloying royal purple of the standard non-Suite passenger, will soon provoke envy and admiration. But as high as my status may be, there are those on board who have much higher status still, and I will soon learn to bow before them.

In preparation for sailing, I have “priced in,” as they say on Wall Street, the possibility that I may come from a somewhat different monde than many of the other cruisers. Without falling into stereotypes or preconceptions, I prepare myself for a friendly outspokenness on the part of my fellow seafarers that may not comply with modern DEI standards. I believe in meeting people halfway, and so the day before flying down to Miami, I visited what remains of Little Italy to purchase a popular T-shirt that reads DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL across the breast in the colors of the Italian flag. My wife recommended that I bring one of my many T-shirts featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as all Americans love the beagle and his friends. But I naively thought that my meatball T-shirt would be more suitable for conversation-starting. “Oh, and who is your ‘daddy’?” some might ask upon seeing it. “And how long have you been his ‘little meatball’?” And so on.

I put on my meatball T-shirt and head for one of the dining rooms to get a late lunch. In the elevator, I stick out my chest for all to read the funny legend upon it, but soon I realize that despite its burnished tricolor letters, no one takes note. More to the point, no one takes note of me. Despite my attempts at bridge building, the very sight of me (small, ethnic, without a cap bearing the name of a football team) elicits no reaction from other passengers. Most often, they will small-talk over me as if I don’t exist. This brings to mind the travails of David Foster Wallace , who felt so ostracized by his fellow passengers that he retreated to his cabin for much of his voyage. And Wallace was raised primarily in the Midwest and was a much larger, more American-looking meatball than I am. If he couldn’t talk to these people, how will I? What if I leave this ship without making any friends at all, despite my T-shirt? I am a social creature, and the prospect of seven days alone and apart is saddening. Wallace’s stateroom, at least, had a view of the ocean, a kind of cheap eternity.

Worse awaits me in the dining room. This is a large, multichandeliered room where I attended my safety training (I was shown how to put on a flotation vest; it is a very simple procedure). But the maître d’ politely refuses me entry in an English that seems to verge on another language. “I’m sorry, this is only for pendejos ,” he seems to be saying. I push back politely and he repeats himself. Pendejos ? Piranhas? There’s some kind of P-word to which I am not attuned. Meanwhile elderly passengers stream right past, powered by their limbs, walkers, and electric wheelchairs. “It is only pendejo dining today, sir.” “But I have a suite!” I say, already starting to catch on to the ship’s class system. He examines my card again. “But you are not a pendejo ,” he confirms. I am wearing a DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL T-shirt, I want to say to him. I am the essence of pendejo .

Eventually, I give up and head to the plebeian buffet on Deck 15, which has an aquatic-styled name I have now forgotten. Before gaining entry to this endless cornucopia of reheated food, one passes a washing station of many sinks and soap dispensers, and perhaps the most intriguing character on the entire ship. He is Mr. Washy Washy—or, according to his name tag, Nielbert of the Philippines—and he is dressed as a taco (on other occasions, I’ll see him dressed as a burger). Mr. Washy Washy performs an eponymous song in spirited, indeed flamboyant English: “Washy, washy, wash your hands, WASHY WASHY!” The dangers of norovirus and COVID on a cruise ship this size (a giant fellow ship was stricken with the former right after my voyage) makes Mr. Washy Washy an essential member of the crew. The problem lies with the food at the end of Washy’s rainbow. The buffet is groaning with what sounds like sophisticated dishes—marinated octopus, boiled egg with anchovy, chorizo, lobster claws—but every animal tastes tragically the same, as if there was only one creature available at the market, a “cruisipus” bred specifically for Royal Caribbean dining. The “vegetables” are no better. I pick up a tomato slice and look right through it. It tastes like cellophane. I sit alone, apart from the couples and parents with gaggles of children, as “We Are Family” echoes across the buffet space.

I may have failed to mention that all this time, the Icon of the Seas has not left port. As the fiery mango of the subtropical setting sun makes Miami’s condo skyline even more apocalyptic, the ship shoves off beneath a perfunctory display of fireworks. After the sun sets, in the far, dark distance, another circus-lit cruise ship ruptures the waves before us. We glance at it with pity, because it is by definition a smaller ship than our own. I am on Deck 15, outside the buffet and overlooking a bunch of pools (the Icon has seven of them), drinking a frilly drink that I got from one of the bars (the Icon has 15 of them), still too shy to speak to anyone, despite Sister Sledge’s assertion that all on the ship are somehow related.

Kim Brooks: On failing the family vacation

The ship’s passage away from Ron DeSantis’s Florida provides no frisson, no sense of developing “sea legs,” as the ship is too large to register the presence of waves unless a mighty wind adds significant chop. It is time for me to register the presence of the 5,000 passengers around me, even if they refuse to register mine. My fellow travelers have prepared for this trip with personally decorated T-shirts celebrating the importance of this voyage. The simplest ones say ICON INAUGURAL ’24 on the back and the family name on the front. Others attest to an over-the-top love of cruise ships: WARNING! MAY START TALKING ABOUT CRUISING . Still others are artisanally designed and celebrate lifetimes spent married while cruising (on ships, of course). A couple possibly in their 90s are wearing shirts whose backs feature a drawing of a cruise liner, two flamingos with ostensibly male and female characteristics, and the legend “ HUSBAND AND WIFE Cruising Partners FOR LIFE WE MAY NOT HAVE IT All Together BUT TOGETHER WE HAVE IT ALL .” (The words not in all caps have been written in cursive.) A real journalist or a more intrepid conversationalist would have gone up to the couple and asked them to explain the longevity of their marriage vis-à-vis their love of cruising. But instead I head to my mall suite, take off my meatball T-shirt, and allow the first tears of the cruise to roll down my cheeks slowly enough that I briefly fall asleep amid the moisture and salt.

photo of elaborate twisting multicolored waterslides with long stairwell to platform

I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: “Ayn Rand.” Jesus Christ.

I breakfast alone at the Coastal Kitchen. The coffee tastes fine and the eggs came out of a bird. The ship rolls slightly this morning; I can feel it in my thighs and my schlong, the parts of me that are most receptive to danger.

I had a dangerous conversation last night. After the sun set and we were at least 50 miles from shore (most modern cruise ships sail at about 23 miles an hour), I lay in bed softly hiccupping, my arms stretched out exactly like Jesus on the cross, the sound of the distant waves missing from my mall-facing suite, replaced by the hum of air-conditioning and children shouting in Spanish through the vents of my two bathrooms. I decided this passivity was unacceptable. As an immigrant, I feel duty-bound to complete the tasks I am paid for, which means reaching out and trying to understand my fellow cruisers. So I put on a normal James Perse T-shirt and headed for one of the bars on the Royal Promenade—the Schooner Bar, it was called, if memory serves correctly.

I sat at the bar for a martini and two Negronis. An old man with thick, hairy forearms drank next to me, very silent and Hemingwaylike, while a dreadlocked piano player tinkled out a series of excellent Elton John covers. To my right, a young white couple—he in floral shorts, she in a light, summery miniskirt with a fearsome diamond ring, neither of them in football regalia—chatted with an elderly couple. Do it , I commanded myself. Open your mouth. Speak! Speak without being spoken to. Initiate. A sentence fragment caught my ear from the young woman, “Cherry Hill.” This is a suburb of Philadelphia in New Jersey, and I had once been there for a reading at a synagogue. “Excuse me,” I said gently to her. “Did you just mention Cherry Hill? It’s a lovely place.”

As it turned out, the couple now lived in Fort Lauderdale (the number of Floridians on the cruise surprised me, given that Southern Florida is itself a kind of cruise ship, albeit one slowly sinking), but soon they were talking with me exclusively—the man potbellied, with a chin like a hard-boiled egg; the woman as svelte as if she were one of the many Ukrainian members of the crew—the elderly couple next to them forgotten. This felt as groundbreaking as the first time I dared to address an American in his native tongue, as a child on a bus in Queens (“On my foot you are standing, Mister”).

“I don’t want to talk politics,” the man said. “But they’re going to eighty-six Biden and put Michelle in.”

I considered the contradictions of his opening conversational gambit, but decided to play along. “People like Michelle,” I said, testing the waters. The husband sneered, but the wife charitably put forward that the former first lady was “more personable” than Joe Biden. “They’re gonna eighty-six Biden,” the husband repeated. “He can’t put a sentence together.”

After I mentioned that I was a writer—though I presented myself as a writer of teleplays instead of novels and articles such as this one—the husband told me his favorite writer was Ayn Rand. “Ayn Rand, she came here with nothing,” the husband said. “I work with a lot of Cubans, so …” I wondered if I should mention what I usually do to ingratiate myself with Republicans or libertarians: the fact that my finances improved after pass-through corporations were taxed differently under Donald Trump. Instead, I ordered another drink and the couple did the same, and I told him that Rand and I were born in the same city, St. Petersburg/Leningrad, and that my family also came here with nothing. Now the bonding and drinking began in earnest, and several more rounds appeared. Until it all fell apart.

Read: Gary Shteyngart on watching Russian television for five days straight

My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us. “He fucking punked me,” Ayn’s frat-boy-like friend called out as he put his arm around Ayn, while his sizable partner sizzled up to Mrs. Rand. Both of them had a look I have never seen on land—their eyes projecting absence and enmity in equal measure. In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

But today is a new day for me and my hangover. After breakfast, I explore the ship’s so-called neighborhoods . There’s the AquaDome, where one can find a food hall and an acrobatic sound-and-light aquatic show. Central Park has a premium steak house, a sushi joint, and a used Rolex that can be bought for $8,000 on land here proudly offered at $17,000. There’s the aforementioned Royal Promenade, where I had drunk with the Rands, and where a pair of dueling pianos duel well into the night. There’s Surfside, a kids’ neighborhood full of sugary garbage, which looks out onto the frothy trail that the behemoth leaves behind itself. Thrill Island refers to the collection of tubes that clutter the ass of the ship and offer passengers six waterslides and a surfing simulation. There’s the Hideaway, an adult zone that plays music from a vomit-slathered, Brit-filled Alicante nightclub circa 1996 and proves a big favorite with groups of young Latin American customers. And, most hurtfully, there’s the Suite Neighborhood.

2 photos: a ship's foamy white wake stretches to the horizon; a man at reailing with water and two large ships docked behind

I say hurtfully because as a Suite passenger I should be here, though my particular suite is far from the others. Whereas I am stuck amid the riffraff of Deck 11, this section is on the highborn Decks 16 and 17, and in passing, I peek into the spacious, tall-ceilinged staterooms from the hallway, dazzled by the glint of the waves and sun. For $75,000, one multifloor suite even comes with its own slide between floors, so that a family may enjoy this particular terror in private. There is a quiet splendor to the Suite Neighborhood. I see fewer stickers and signs and drawings than in my own neighborhood—for example, MIKE AND DIANA PROUDLY SERVED U.S. MARINE CORPS RETIRED . No one here needs to announce their branch of service or rank; they are simply Suites, and this is where they belong. Once again, despite my hard work and perseverance, I have been disallowed from the true American elite. Once again, I am “Not our class, dear.” I am reminded of watching The Love Boat on my grandmother’s Zenith, which either was given to her or we found in the trash (I get our many malfunctioning Zeniths confused) and whose tube got so hot, I would put little chunks of government cheese on a thin tissue atop it to give our welfare treat a pleasant, Reagan-era gooeyness. I could not understand English well enough then to catch the nuances of that seafaring program, but I knew that there were differences in the status of the passengers, and that sometimes those differences made them sad. Still, this ship, this plenty—every few steps, there are complimentary nachos or milkshakes or gyros on offer—was the fatty fuel of my childhood dreams. If only I had remained a child.

I walk around the outdoor decks looking for company. There is a middle-aged African American couple who always seem to be asleep in each other’s arms, probably exhausted from the late capitalism they regularly encounter on land. There is far more diversity on this ship than I expected. Many couples are a testament to Loving v. Virginia , and there is a large group of folks whose T-shirts read MELANIN AT SEA / IT’S THE MELANIN FOR ME . I smile when I see them, but then some young kids from the group makes Mr. Washy Washy do a cruel, caricatured “Burger Dance” (today he is in his burger getup), and I think, Well, so much for intersectionality .

At the infinity pool on Deck 17, I spot some elderly women who could be ethnic and from my part of the world, and so I jump in. I am proved correct! Many of them seem to be originally from Queens (“Corona was still great when it was all Italian”), though they are now spread across the tristate area. We bond over the way “Ron-kon-koma” sounds when announced in Penn Station.

“Everyone is here for a different reason,” one of them tells me. She and her ex-husband last sailed together four years ago to prove to themselves that their marriage was truly over. Her 15-year-old son lost his virginity to “an Irish young lady” while their ship was moored in Ravenna, Italy. The gaggle of old-timers competes to tell me their favorite cruising stories and tips. “A guy proposed in Central Park a couple of years ago”—many Royal Caribbean ships apparently have this ridiculous communal area—“and she ran away screaming!” “If you’re diamond-class, you get four drinks for free.” “A different kind of passenger sails out of Bayonne.” (This, perhaps, is racially coded.) “Sometimes, if you tip the bartender $5, your next drink will be free.”

“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” the woman whose marriage ended on a cruise tells me again. “Some people are here for bad reasons—the drinkers and the gamblers. Some people are here for medical reasons.” I have seen more than a few oxygen tanks and at least one woman clearly undergoing very serious chemo. Some T-shirts celebrate good news about a cancer diagnosis. This might be someone’s last cruise or week on Earth. For these women, who have spent months, if not years, at sea, cruising is a ritual as well as a life cycle: first love, last love, marriage, divorce, death.

Read: The last place on Earth any tourist should go

I have talked with these women for so long, tonight I promise myself that after a sad solitary dinner I will not try to seek out company at the bars in the mall or the adult-themed Hideaway. I have enough material to fulfill my duties to this publication. As I approach my orphaned suite, I run into the aggro young people who stole Mr. and Mrs. Rand away from me the night before. The tattooed apparitions pass me without a glance. She is singing something violent about “Stuttering Stanley” (a character in a popular horror movie, as I discover with my complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream Internet at Sea) and he’s loudly shouting about “all the money I’ve lost,” presumably at the casino in the bowels of the ship.

So these bent psychos out of a Cormac McCarthy novel are angrily inhabiting my deck. As I mewl myself to sleep, I envision a limited series for HBO or some other streamer, a kind of low-rent White Lotus , where several aggressive couples conspire to throw a shy intellectual interloper overboard. I type the scenario into my phone. As I fall asleep, I think of what the woman who recently divorced her husband and whose son became a man through the good offices of the Irish Republic told me while I was hoisting myself out of the infinity pool. “I’m here because I’m an explorer. I’m here because I’m trying something new.” What if I allowed myself to believe in her fantasy?

2 photos: 2 slices of pizza on plate; man in "Daddy's Little Meatball" shirt and shorts standing in outdoor dining area with ship's exhaust stacks in background

“YOU REALLY STARTED AT THE TOP,” they tell me. I’m at the Coastal Kitchen for my eggs and corned-beef hash, and the maître d’ has slotted me in between two couples. Fueled by coffee or perhaps intrigued by my relative youth, they strike up a conversation with me. As always, people are shocked that this is my first cruise. They contrast the Icon favorably with all the preceding liners in the Royal Caribbean fleet, usually commenting on the efficiency of the elevators that hurl us from deck to deck (as in many large corporate buildings, the elevators ask you to choose a floor and then direct you to one of many lifts). The couple to my right, from Palo Alto—he refers to his “porn mustache” and calls his wife “my cougar” because she is two years older—tell me they are “Pandemic Pinnacles.”

This is the day that my eyes will be opened. Pinnacles , it is explained to me over translucent cantaloupe, have sailed with Royal Caribbean for 700 ungodly nights. Pandemic Pinnacles took advantage of the two-for-one accrual rate of Pinnacle points during the pandemic, when sailing on a cruise ship was even more ill-advised, to catapult themselves into Pinnacle status.

Because of the importance of the inaugural voyage of the world’s largest cruise liner, more than 200 Pinnacles are on this ship, a startling number, it seems. Mrs. Palo Alto takes out a golden badge that I have seen affixed over many a breast, which reads CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY along with her name. This is the coveted badge of the Pinnacle. “You should hear all the whining in Guest Services,” her husband tells me. Apparently, the Pinnacles who are not also Suites like us are all trying to use their status to get into Coastal Kitchen, our elite restaurant. Even a Pinnacle needs to be a Suite to access this level of corned-beef hash.

“We’re just baby Pinnacles,” Mrs. Palo Alto tells me, describing a kind of internal class struggle among the Pinnacle elite for ever higher status.

And now I understand what the maître d’ was saying to me on the first day of my cruise. He wasn’t saying “ pendejo .” He was saying “Pinnacle.” The dining room was for Pinnacles only, all those older people rolling in like the tide on their motorized scooters.

And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can’t help but mirror the endless American fight for status. Like Keith Raniere’s NXIVM, where different-colored sashes were given out to connote rank among Raniere’s branded acolytes, this is an endless competition among Pinnacles, Suites, Diamond-Plusers, and facing-the-mall, no-balcony purple SeaPass Card peasants, not to mention the many distinctions within each category. The more you cruise, the higher your status. No wonder a section of the Royal Promenade is devoted to getting passengers to book their next cruise during the one they should be enjoying now. No wonder desperate Royal Caribbean offers (“FINAL HOURS”) crowded my email account weeks before I set sail. No wonder the ship’s jewelry store, the Royal Bling, is selling a $100,000 golden chalice that will entitle its owner to drink free on Royal Caribbean cruises for life. (One passenger was already gaming out whether her 28-year-old son was young enough to “just about earn out” on the chalice or if that ship had sailed.) No wonder this ship was sold out months before departure , and we had to pay $19,000 for a horrid suite away from the Suite Neighborhood. No wonder the most mythical hero of Royal Caribbean lore is someone named Super Mario, who has cruised so often, he now has his own working desk on many ships. This whole experience is part cult, part nautical pyramid scheme.

From the June 2014 issue: Ship of wonks

“The toilets are amazing,” the Palo Altos are telling me. “One flush and you’re done.” “They don’t understand how energy-efficient these ships are,” the husband of the other couple is telling me. “They got the LNG”—liquefied natural gas, which is supposed to make the Icon a boon to the environment (a concept widely disputed and sometimes ridiculed by environmentalists).

But I’m thinking along a different line of attack as I spear my last pallid slice of melon. For my streaming limited series, a Pinnacle would have to get killed by either an outright peasant or a Suite without an ocean view. I tell my breakfast companions my idea.

“Oh, for sure a Pinnacle would have to be killed,” Mr. Palo Alto, the Pandemic Pinnacle, says, touching his porn mustache thoughtfully as his wife nods.

“THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S your time, buddy!” Hubert, my fun-loving Panamanian cabin attendant, shouts as I step out of my suite in a robe. “Take it easy, buddy!”

I have come up with a new dressing strategy. Instead of trying to impress with my choice of T-shirts, I have decided to start wearing a robe, as one does at a resort property on land, with a proper spa and hammam. The response among my fellow cruisers has been ecstatic. “Look at you in the robe!” Mr. Rand cries out as we pass each other by the Thrill Island aqua park. “You’re living the cruise life! You know, you really drank me under the table that night.” I laugh as we part ways, but my soul cries out, Please spend more time with me, Mr. and Mrs. Rand; I so need the company .

In my white robe, I am a stately presence, a refugee from a better limited series, a one-man crossover episode. (Only Suites are granted these robes to begin with.) Today, I will try many of the activities these ships have on offer to provide their clientele with a sense of never-ceasing motion. Because I am already at Thrill Island, I decide to climb the staircase to what looks like a mast on an old-fashioned ship (terrified, because I am afraid of heights) to try a ride called “Storm Chasers,” which is part of the “Category 6” water park, named in honor of one of the storms that may someday do away with the Port of Miami entirely. Storm Chasers consists of falling from the “mast” down a long, twisting neon tube filled with water, like being the camera inside your own colonoscopy, as you hold on to the handles of a mat, hoping not to die. The tube then flops you down headfirst into a trough of water, a Royal Caribbean baptism. It both knocks my breath out and makes me sad.

In keeping with the aquatic theme, I attend a show at the AquaDome. To the sound of “Live and Let Die,” a man in a harness gyrates to and fro in the sultry air. I saw something very similar in the back rooms of the famed Berghain club in early-aughts Berlin. Soon another harnessed man is gyrating next to the first. Ja , I think to myself, I know how this ends. Now will come the fisting , natürlich . But the show soon devolves into the usual Marvel-film-grade nonsense, with too much light and sound signifying nichts . If any fisting is happening, it is probably in the Suite Neighborhood, inside a cabin marked with an upside-down pineapple, which I understand means a couple are ready to swing, and I will see none of it.

I go to the ice show, which is a kind of homage—if that’s possible—to the periodic table, done with the style and pomp and masterful precision that would please the likes of Kim Jong Un, if only he could afford Royal Caribbean talent. At one point, the dancers skate to the theme song of Succession . “See that!” I want to say to my fellow Suites—at “cultural” events, we have a special section reserved for us away from the commoners—“ Succession ! It’s even better than the zombie show! Open your minds!”

Finally, I visit a comedy revue in an enormous and too brightly lit version of an “intimate,” per Royal Caribbean literature, “Manhattan comedy club.” Many of the jokes are about the cruising life. “I’ve lived on ships for 20 years,” one of the middle-aged comedians says. “I can only see so many Filipino homosexuals dressed as a taco.” He pauses while the audience laughs. “I am so fired tonight,” he says. He segues into a Trump impression and then Biden falling asleep at the microphone, which gets the most laughs. “Anyone here from Fort Leonard Wood?” another comedian asks. Half the crowd seems to cheer. As I fall asleep that night, I realize another connection I have failed to make, and one that may explain some of the diversity on this vessel—many of its passengers have served in the military.

As a coddled passenger with a suite, I feel like I am starting to understand what it means to have a rank and be constantly reminded of it. There are many espresso makers , I think as I look across the expanse of my officer-grade quarters before closing my eyes, but this one is mine .

photo of sheltered sandy beach with palms, umbrellas, and chairs with two large docked cruise ships in background

A shocking sight greets me beyond the pools of Deck 17 as I saunter over to the Coastal Kitchen for my morning intake of slightly sour Americanos. A tiny city beneath a series of perfectly pressed green mountains. Land! We have docked for a brief respite in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. I wolf down my egg scramble to be one of the first passengers off the ship. Once past the gangway, I barely refrain from kissing the ground. I rush into the sights and sounds of this scruffy island city, sampling incredible conch curry and buckets of non-Starbucks coffee. How wonderful it is to be where God intended humans to be: on land. After all, I am neither a fish nor a mall rat. This is my natural environment. Basseterre may not be Havana, but there are signs of human ingenuity and desire everywhere you look. The Black Table Grill Has been Relocated to Soho Village, Market Street, Directly Behind of, Gary’s Fruits and Flower Shop. Signed. THE PORK MAN reads a sign stuck to a wall. Now, that is how you write a sign. A real sign, not the come-ons for overpriced Rolexes that blink across the screens of the Royal Promenade.

“Hey, tie your shoestring!” a pair of laughing ladies shout to me across the street.

“Thank you!” I shout back. Shoestring! “Thank you very much.”

A man in Independence Square Park comes by and asks if I want to play with his monkey. I haven’t heard that pickup line since the Penn Station of the 1980s. But then he pulls a real monkey out of a bag. The monkey is wearing a diaper and looks insane. Wonderful , I think, just wonderful! There is so much life here. I email my editor asking if I can remain on St. Kitts and allow the Icon to sail off into the horizon without me. I have even priced a flight home at less than $300, and I have enough material from the first four days on the cruise to write the entire story. “It would be funny …” my editor replies. “Now get on the boat.”

As I slink back to the ship after my brief jailbreak, the locals stand under umbrellas to gaze at and photograph the boat that towers over their small capital city. The limousines of the prime minister and his lackeys are parked beside the gangway. St. Kitts, I’ve been told, is one of the few islands that would allow a ship of this size to dock.

“We hear about all the waterslides,” a sweet young server in one of the cafés told me. “We wish we could go on the ship, but we have to work.”

“I want to stay on your island,” I replied. “I love it here.”

But she didn’t understand how I could possibly mean that.

“WASHY, WASHY, so you don’t get stinky, stinky!” kids are singing outside the AquaDome, while their adult minders look on in disapproval, perhaps worried that Mr. Washy Washy is grooming them into a life of gayness. I heard a southern couple skip the buffet entirely out of fear of Mr. Washy Washy.

Meanwhile, I have found a new watering hole for myself, the Swim & Tonic, the biggest swim-up bar on any cruise ship in the world. Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one’s own self-consciousness. The men have curvaceous mom bodies. The women are equally un-shy about their sprawling physiques.

Today I’ve befriended a bald man with many children who tells me that all of the little trinkets that Royal Caribbean has left us in our staterooms and suites are worth a fortune on eBay. “Eighty dollars for the water bottle, 60 for the lanyard,” the man says. “This is a cult.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. There is, however, a clientele for whom this cruise makes perfect sense. For a large middle-class family (he works in “supply chains”), seven days in a lower-tier cabin—which starts at $1,800 a person—allow the parents to drop off their children in Surfside, where I imagine many young Filipina crew members will take care of them, while the parents are free to get drunk at a swim-up bar and maybe even get intimate in their cabin. Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care.

There is another man I would like to befriend at the Swim & Tonic, a tall, bald fellow who is perpetually inebriated and who wears a necklace studded with little rubber duckies in sunglasses, which, I am told, is a sort of secret handshake for cruise aficionados. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with him, but first the ship docks at St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is more charming in name than in presence, but I still all but jump off the ship to score a juicy oxtail and plantains at the well-known Petite Pump Room, overlooking the harbor. From one of the highest points in the small city, the Icon of the Seas appears bigger than the surrounding hills.

I usually tan very evenly, but something about the discombobulation of life at sea makes me forget the regular application of sunscreen. As I walk down the streets of Charlotte Amalie in my fluorescent Icon of the Seas cap, an old Rastafarian stares me down. “Redneck,” he hisses.

“No,” I want to tell him, as I bring a hand up to my red neck, “that’s not who I am at all. On my island, Mannahatta, as Whitman would have it, I am an interesting person living within an engaging artistic milieu. I do not wish to use the Caribbean as a dumping ground for the cruise-ship industry. I love the work of Derek Walcott. You don’t understand. I am not a redneck. And if I am, they did this to me.” They meaning Royal Caribbean? Its passengers? The Rands?

“They did this to me!”

Back on the Icon, some older matrons are muttering about a run-in with passengers from the Celebrity cruise ship docked next to us, the Celebrity Apex. Although Celebrity Cruises is also owned by Royal Caribbean, I am made to understand that there is a deep fratricidal beef between passengers of the two lines. “We met a woman from the Apex,” one matron says, “and she says it was a small ship and there was nothing to do. Her face was as tight as a 19-year-old’s, she had so much surgery.” With those words, and beneath a cloudy sky, humidity shrouding our weathered faces and red necks, we set sail once again, hopefully in the direction of home.

photo from inside of spacious geodesic-style glass dome facing ocean, with stairwells and seating areas

THERE ARE BARELY 48 HOURS LEFT to the cruise, and the Icon of the Seas’ passengers are salty. They know how to work the elevators. They know the Washy Washy song by heart. They understand that the chicken gyro at “Feta Mediterranean,” in the AquaDome Market, is the least problematic form of chicken on the ship.

The passengers have shed their INAUGURAL CRUISE T-shirts and are now starting to evince political opinions. There are caps pledging to make America great again and T-shirts that celebrate words sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” With their preponderance of FAMILY FLAG FAITH FRIENDS FIREARMS T-shirts, the tables by the crepe station sometimes resemble the Capitol Rotunda on January 6. The Real Anthony Fauci , by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appears to be a popular form of literature, especially among young men with very complicated versions of the American flag on their T-shirts. Other opinions blend the personal and the political. “Someone needs to kill Washy guy, right?” a well-dressed man in the elevator tells me, his gray eyes radiating nothing. “Just beat him to death. Am I right?” I overhear the male member of a young couple whisper, “There goes that freak” as I saunter by in my white spa robe, and I decide to retire it for the rest of the cruise.

I visit the Royal Bling to see up close the $100,000 golden chalice that entitles you to free drinks on Royal Caribbean forever. The pleasant Serbian saleslady explains that the chalice is actually gold-plated and covered in white zirconia instead of diamonds, as it would otherwise cost $1 million. “If you already have everything,” she explains, “this is one more thing you can get.”

I believe that anyone who works for Royal Caribbean should be entitled to immediate American citizenship. They already speak English better than most of the passengers and, per the Serbian lady’s sales pitch above, better understand what America is as well. Crew members like my Panamanian cabin attendant seem to work 24 hours a day. A waiter from New Delhi tells me that his contract is six months and three weeks long. After a cruise ends, he says, “in a few hours, we start again for the next cruise.” At the end of the half a year at sea, he is allowed a two-to-three-month stay at home with his family. As of 2019, the median income for crew members was somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, according to a major business publication. Royal Caribbean would not share the current median salary for its crew members, but I am certain that it amounts to a fraction of the cost of a Royal Bling gold-plated, zirconia-studded chalice.

And because most of the Icon’s hyper-sanitized spaces are just a frittata away from being a Delta lounge, one forgets that there are actual sailors on this ship, charged with the herculean task of docking it in port. “Having driven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers throughout my career,” retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writes to me, “I’m not sure I would even know where to begin with trying to control a sea monster like this one nearly three times the size.” (I first met Stavridis while touring Army bases in Germany more than a decade ago.)

Today, I decide to head to the hot tub near Swim & Tonic, where some of the ship’s drunkest reprobates seem to gather (the other tubs are filled with families and couples). The talk here, like everywhere else on the ship, concerns football, a sport about which I know nothing. It is apparent that four teams have recently competed in some kind of finals for the year, and that two of them will now face off in the championship. Often when people on the Icon speak, I will try to repeat the last thing they said with a laugh or a nod of disbelief. “Yes, 20-yard line! Ha!” “Oh my God, of course, scrimmage.”

Soon we are joined in the hot tub by the late-middle-age drunk guy with the duck necklace. He is wearing a bucket hat with the legend HAWKEYES , which, I soon gather, is yet another football team. “All right, who turned me in?” Duck Necklace says as he plops into the tub beside us. “I get a call in the morning,” he says. “It’s security. Can you come down to the dining room by 10 a.m.? You need to stay away from the members of this religious family.” Apparently, the gregarious Duck Necklace had photobombed the wrong people. There are several families who present as evangelical Christians or practicing Muslims on the ship. One man, evidently, was not happy that Duck Necklace had made contact with his relatives. “It’s because of religious stuff; he was offended. I put my arm around 20 people a day.”

Everyone laughs. “They asked me three times if I needed medication,” he says of the security people who apparently interrogated him in full view of others having breakfast.

Another hot-tub denizen suggests that he should have asked for fentanyl. After a few more drinks, Duck Necklace begins to muse about what it would be like to fall off the ship. “I’m 62 and I’m ready to go,” he says. “I just don’t want a shark to eat me. I’m a huge God guy. I’m a Bible guy. There’s some Mayan theory squaring science stuff with religion. There is so much more to life on Earth.” We all nod into our Red Stripes.

“I never get off the ship when we dock,” he says. He tells us he lost $6,000 in the casino the other day. Later, I look him up, and it appears that on land, he’s a financial adviser in a crisp gray suit, probably a pillar of his North Chicago community.

photo of author smiling and holding soft-serve ice-cream cone with outdoor seating area in background

THE OCEAN IS TEEMING with fascinating life, but on the surface it has little to teach us. The waves come and go. The horizon remains ever far away.

I am constantly told by my fellow passengers that “everybody here has a story.” Yes, I want to reply, but everybody everywhere has a story. You, the reader of this essay, have a story, and yet you’re not inclined to jump on a cruise ship and, like Duck Necklace, tell your story to others at great pitch and volume. Maybe what they’re saying is that everybody on this ship wants to have a bigger, more coherent, more interesting story than the one they’ve been given. Maybe that’s why there’s so much signage on the doors around me attesting to marriages spent on the sea. Maybe that’s why the Royal Caribbean newsletter slipped under my door tells me that “this isn’t a vacation day spent—it’s bragging rights earned.” Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

Today is a big day for Icon passengers. Today the ship docks at Royal Caribbean’s own Bahamian island, the Perfect Day at CocoCay. (This appears to be the actual name of the island.) A comedian at the nightclub opined on what his perfect day at CocoCay would look like—receiving oral sex while learning that his ex-wife had been killed in a car crash (big laughter). But the reality of the island is far less humorous than that.

One of the ethnic tristate ladies in the infinity pool told me that she loved CocoCay because it had exactly the same things that could be found on the ship itself. This proves to be correct. It is like the Icon, but with sand. The same tired burgers, the same colorful tubes conveying children and water from Point A to B. The same swim-up bar at its Hideaway ($140 for admittance, no children allowed; Royal Caribbean must be printing money off its clientele). “There was almost a fight at The Wizard of Oz ,” I overhear an elderly woman tell her companion on a chaise lounge. Apparently one of the passengers began recording Royal Caribbean’s intellectual property and “three guys came after him.”

I walk down a pathway to the center of the island, where a sign reads DO NOT ENTER: YOU HAVE REACHED THE BOUNDARY OF ADVENTURE . I hear an animal scampering in the bushes. A Royal Caribbean worker in an enormous golf cart soon chases me down and takes me back to the Hideaway, where I run into Mrs. Rand in a bikini. She becomes livid telling me about an altercation she had the other day with a woman over a towel and a deck chair. We Suites have special towel privileges; we do not have to hand over our SeaPass Card to score a towel. But the Rands are not Suites. “People are so entitled here,” Mrs. Rand says. “It’s like the airport with all its classes.” “You see,” I want to say, “this is where your husband’s love of Ayn Rand runs into the cruelties and arbitrary indignities of unbridled capitalism.” Instead we make plans to meet for a final drink in the Schooner Bar tonight (the Rands will stand me up).

Back on the ship, I try to do laps, but the pool (the largest on any cruise ship, naturally) is fully trashed with the detritus of American life: candy wrappers, a slowly dissolving tortilla chip, napkins. I take an extra-long shower in my suite, then walk around the perimeter of the ship on a kind of exercise track, past all the alluring lifeboats in their yellow-and-white livery. Maybe there is a dystopian angle to the HBO series that I will surely end up pitching, one with shades of WALL-E or Snowpiercer . In a collapsed world, a Royal Caribbean–like cruise liner sails from port to port, collecting new shipmates and supplies in exchange for the precious energy it has on board. (The actual Icon features a new technology that converts passengers’ poop into enough energy to power the waterslides . In the series, this shitty technology would be greatly expanded.) A very young woman (18? 19?), smart and lonely, who has only known life on the ship, walks along the same track as I do now, contemplating jumping off into the surf left by its wake. I picture reusing Duck Necklace’s words in the opening shot of the pilot. The girl is walking around the track, her eyes on the horizon; maybe she’s highborn—a Suite—and we hear the voice-over: “I’m 19 and I’m ready to go. I just don’t want a shark to eat me.”

Before the cruise is finished, I talk to Mr. Washy Washy, or Nielbert of the Philippines. He is a sweet, gentle man, and I thank him for the earworm of a song he has given me and for keeping us safe from the dreaded norovirus. “This is very important to me, getting people to wash their hands,” he tells me in his burger getup. He has dreams, as an artist and a performer, but they are limited in scope. One day he wants to dress up as a piece of bacon for the morning shift.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC (the Icon of the Seas is five times as large as that doomed vessel) at least offered its passengers an exciting ending to their cruise, but when I wake up on the eighth day, all I see are the gray ghosts that populate Miami’s condo skyline. Throughout my voyage, my writer friends wrote in to commiserate with me. Sloane Crosley, who once covered a three-day spa mini-cruise for Vogue , tells me she felt “so very alone … I found it very untethering.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes in an Instagram comment: “When Gary is done I think it’s time this genre was taken out back and shot.” And he is right. To badly paraphrase Adorno: After this, no more cruise stories. It is unfair to put a thinking person on a cruise ship. Writers typically have difficult childhoods, and it is cruel to remind them of the inherent loneliness that drove them to writing in the first place. It is also unseemly to write about the kind of people who go on cruises. Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.

A day or two before I got off the ship, I decided to make use of my balcony, which I had avoided because I thought the view would only depress me further. What I found shocked me. My suite did not look out on Central Park after all. This entire time, I had been living in the ship’s Disneyland, Surfside, the neighborhood full of screaming toddlers consuming milkshakes and candy. And as I leaned out over my balcony, I beheld a slight vista of the sea and surf that I thought I had been missing. It had been there all along. The sea was frothy and infinite and blue-green beneath the span of a seagull’s wing. And though it had been trod hard by the world’s largest cruise ship, it remained.

This article appears in the May 2024 print edition with the headline “A Meatball at Sea.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

IMAGES

  1. How to Write an Essay in 9 Simple Steps (2024)

    how can i write a good essay

  2. How to write an Essay Introduction (5-Step Formula) (2024)

    how can i write a good essay

  3. 10+ Formal Writing Examples

    how can i write a good essay

  4. College Essay Examples

    how can i write a good essay

  5. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    how can i write a good essay

  6. How to Write a Great Essay Quickly!

    how can i write a good essay

VIDEO

  1. BEST PRACTICE : How to Write Good Essay for Civil Services #upsc #civilserviceexam #upsc_mains_2023

  2. How to Start Essay Writing for UPSC Exam

  3. Essay writing tricks for Competitive Exams

  4. HOW TO PREPARE ESSAY FOR CIVIL SERVICES|| HOW TO WRITE ESSAY IN CIVIL SERVICES || BEST ESSAY METHOD

  5. How to write good essay for APSC- Part 2 || APSC Assam || APSC 2019

  6. How to write good essay for APSC- Part 1|| APSC Assam|| APSC 2019

COMMENTS

  1. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    Come up with a thesis. Create an essay outline. Write the introduction. Write the main body, organized into paragraphs. Write the conclusion. Evaluate the overall organization. Revise the content of each paragraph. Proofread your essay or use a Grammar Checker for language errors. Use a plagiarism checker.

  2. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    o If you're writing a research paper, do not assume that your reader has read all the sources that you are writing about. You'll need to offer context about what those sources say so that your reader can understand why you have brought them into the conversation. o If you're writing only about assigned sources, you will still need to provide

  3. Essay Writing: How to Write an Outstanding Essay

    The basic steps for how to write an essay are: Generate ideas and pick a type of essay to write. Outline your essay paragraph by paragraph. Write a rough first draft without worrying about details like word choice or grammar. Edit your rough draft, and revise and fix the details. Review your essay for typos, mistakes, and any other problems.

  4. How to Write the Perfect Essay

    Step 2: Have a clear structure. Think about this while you're planning: your essay is like an argument or a speech. It needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question. Start with the basics! It's best to choose a few major points which will become your main paragraphs.

  5. How to Write an Essay: 4 Minute Step-by-step Guide

    There are three main stages to writing an essay: preparation, writing and revision. In just 4 minutes, this video will walk you through each stage of an acad...

  6. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Next, let's make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You'll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types.

  7. How to Write the Perfect Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide for Students

    7 steps to writing a good essay. No essay is the same but your approach to writing them can be. As well as some best practice tips, we have gathered our favourite advice from expert essay-writers and compiled the following 7-step guide to writing a good essay every time. 👍. #1 Make sure you understand the question. #2 Complete background ...

  8. 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

    Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time. Read It Aloud. Writer's tip: Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy ...

  9. Essay writing 101

    An essay is a piece of writing where the author proposes an argument, an emotion, or tries to initiate some sort of debate. It's often used to present the author's ideas in a non-fictional manner. It can cover basically any topic in the world - from political discourse through to art criticism and everything in between.

  10. How to Write an Essay (with Pictures)

    5. Write an outline to help organize your main points. After you've created a clear thesis, briefly list the major points you will be making in your essay. You don't need to include a lot of detail—just write 1-2 sentences, or even a few words, outlining what each point or argument will be.

  11. How to Write a Good Argumentative Essay: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

    Learn what elements every argumentative essay should include and how to structure it depending on your audience in this easy step-by-step guide. When you're writing a persuasive essay, you need more than just an opinion to make your voice heard. Even the strongest stance won't be compelling if it's not structured properly and reinforced ...

  12. Writing a great essay

    5. Write clearly. An essay that makes good, evidence-supported points will only receive a high grade if it is written clearly. Clarity is produced through careful revision and editing, which can turn a good essay into an excellent one. When you edit your essay, try to view it with fresh eyes - almost as if someone else had written it.

  13. How to Structure an Essay

    The basic structure of an essay always consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. But for many students, the most difficult part of structuring an essay is deciding how to organize information within the body. This article provides useful templates and tips to help you outline your essay, make decisions about your structure, and ...

  14. How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks

    Use transitions between paragraphs. In order to improve the readability of your essay, try and make clear transitions between paragraphs. This means trying to relate the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next one so the shift doesn't seem random. Integrate your research thoughtfully.

  15. How to Write an Academic Essay in 6 Simple Steps

    Step 4: Writing the Essay Conclusion. Your essay conclusion is the final paragraph of your essay and primarily reminds your reader of your thesis. It also wraps up your essay and discusses your findings more generally. The conclusion typically makes up about 10% of the text, like the introduction.

  16. How to Start an Essay: 7 Tips for a Knockout Essay Introduction

    Intriguing ways to start an essay. There are many different ways to write an essay introduction. Each has its benefits and potential drawbacks, and each is best suited for certain kinds of essays.Although these essay introductions use different rhetorical devices and prime the reader in different ways, they all achieve the same goal: hooking the reader and enticing them to keep reading.

  17. 9 Steps on How to Write an Essay

    How to Write a Good Essay. Many college applications require an essay. This is a way for the school to learn a bit about the student. It also may help them make a decision about whether to extend an offer to attend the school based on the quality and content of the essay. For those who are planning to apply, there are a few things to keep in ...

  18. How to Write a Conclusion, With Examples

    Restate your thesis: remind readers of your main point. Reiterate your supporting points: remind readers of your evidence or arguments. Wrap everything up by tying it all together. Write a clincher: with the last sentence, leave your reader with something to think about. For many, the conclusion is the most dreaded part of essay writing.

  19. How to Write a College Essay

    Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement. Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying "no" to other interests. Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness. Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself.

  20. Your Guide to High School English at Penn Foster

    Write! Writing a good essay can take time, so don't wait to start your paper at the last minute. When writing your essay, follow the outline you created and try to hit all the major points you mapped out. Proofread. Once you've finished writing your first draft, set the paper aside or take a break from your computer for a bit.

  21. Write My Essay

    Learn how to write a college essay with the help of money-saving services that offer professional assistance and quality guarantee. Find out how to choose a reliable and affordable service, get tips and examples, and avoid common mistakes.

  22. NPR responds after editor says it has 'lost America's trust' : NPR

    Berliner says in the essay that NPR failed to consider broader diversity of viewpoint, noting, "In D.C., where NPR is headquartered and many of us live, I found 87 registered Democrats working in ...

  23. Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

    Day 2. I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: "Ayn Rand." Jesus Christ. I breakfast alone ...