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How to Write an Essay — A Comprehensive Guide

Sumalatha G

Table of Contents

Writing an essay can be a daunting task, especially if you are new to academic writing. However, with the right approach and a clear understanding of the essay structure, you can tackle this challenge seamlessly. In this article, we will guide you through the process of essay writing in a detailed manner. By following these guidelines, you will be able to gather your materials, develop a strong argument, and craft a well-structured essay that will leave your readers hooked.

Getting Started — Gather Your Materials and Research

Before you start writing your essay, it is important to gather all the necessary materials and conduct thorough research on your topic. This includes finding relevant books, articles, and online sources that will provide you with the information needed to support your argument. The more well-informed you are on the subject, the stronger your essay will be.

When gathering your materials, it is essential to consider the credibility and reliability of your sources. Look for reputable publications, academic journals, bibliography databases , and expert opinions to ensure that the information you include in your essay is accurate and trustworthy. Remember, the quality of your research will greatly influence the overall quality of your essay.

Additionally, conducting thorough research will not only provide you with the necessary information but also help you gain a deeper understanding of your topic. As you delve into different sources, you may come across various perspectives and arguments that will enrich your own analysis. This exploration will allow you to develop a well-rounded and comprehensive essay that considers different viewpoints.

While conducting your research, it is crucial to take organized and detailed notes. Jot down key points, quotes, and any thoughts or ideas that come to mind. This will not only help you remember important information but also assist you in organizing your thoughts and structuring your essay effectively. By keeping track of your sources, you will also avoid any issues with plagiarism and ensure that you can properly cite your references.

Furthermore, the research process provides an opportunity for you to engage critically with the topic. As you read and analyze different sources, you may encounter conflicting information or gaps in the existing literature. This presents a chance for you to contribute to the academic discourse by addressing these discrepancies or proposing new insights. Your essay can become a platform for advancing knowledge and sparking further discussions.

Lastly, remember that research is an ongoing process. Even after you have gathered your initial materials, it is important to remain open to new information and perspectives. Embrace this continuous learning and be willing to revise and refine your arguments as you progress.

Create an Outline

Once you have gathered your research materials, it is time to create an outline for your essay. An outline will serve as a roadmap for your writing, helping you organize your thoughts and ensure that your essay flows logically.  Start by identifying the main points you want to cover in your essay. Then, arrange these points in a logical order, considering the overall structure of your essay.

When creating an outline, it is important to consider the overall structure of your essay. Think about how you want to introduce your topic and engage your readers. Consider what information is essential to include in each section of your essay and how you want to transition between different ideas.

Understand the Essay Structure

Before diving into the essay writing process, it is important to understand the basic structure of an essay. Most essays follow a standard format, consisting of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction should grab the reader's attention and provide a clear thesis statement that reflects your main argument. The body paragraphs should expand on your argument, providing evidence and examples to support your claims. Finally, the conclusion should summarize your essay and restate your main points.

Write the Introduction

The introduction is the first impression your essay makes on the reader, so it is essential to make it engaging and captivating. Start with a hook that grabs the reader's attention and introduces the topic. Then, provide some background information and context to set the stage for your argument. Finally, end your introduction with a clear and concise thesis statement that reflects the main point you will be discussing throughout your essay.

Develop Your Argument

Once you have established your thesis statement, it is time to develop your argument in the body paragraphs of your essay. Each body paragraph should focus on a specific point that supports your thesis. Commence with each paragraph by presenting a topic sentence that serves to introduce the main idea to the reader. Subsequently, provide evidence and illustrations to support your argument. Be sure to use clear and concise language and vary your sentence structure to keep the reader engaged.

Use Evidence to Support Your Argument

To strengthen your argument and validate your claims, it is crucial to use evidence and examples throughout your essay. This can include research findings, statistics, quotes from authoritative sources, or real-life examples. Make sure to cite your sources properly and provide enough context for the reader to understand the significance of the evidence you are presenting.

Write the Body Paragraphs

With your argument and evidence in place, it is time to write the body paragraphs of your essay. Each body paragraph should focus on a separate point that contributes to your overall argument. Start with a topic that introduces the main concept of the paragraph. Then, provide supporting details and evidence to expand on your point. Use transition words and phrases to ensure a smooth flow between the paragraphs.

Craft the Conclusion

The conclusion is the final opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your reader. In this section, you should summarize your main points and restate your thesis statement. Do not introduce new information or arguments in the conclusion section. Instead, focus on wrapping up your essay and leaving the reader with a thought-provoking closing statement. Make sure to leave a lasting impact and reinforce the significance of your argument.

Edit and Proofread

Once you have finished writing your essay, it is crucial to edit and proofread it thoroughly. Check for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and awkward phrasing. Ensure that your sentences flow smoothly and that your ideas are clearly expressed. Trim any unnecessary information and make sure that your essay is concise and focused. Consider seeking feedback from your peer or teacher to get a fresh perspective on your work.

Final Touches and Submission

Before submitting your essay, take some time to add the final touches. This includes formatting your essay according to the guidelines provided by your instructor or educational institution. Make sure that your essay is properly formatted, with consistent font, spacing, and citation style . Double-check that all your sources are properly cited, both within the text and in the bibliography or reference list. Finally, read your essay once more to ensure that it is polished and ready for submission.

Wrapping up

By following these guidelines, you can approach essay writing with confidence. Remember to gather your materials and conduct thorough research, create a well-structured outline, and develop a strong argument supported by evidence. Craft an engaging introduction, write clear and concise body paragraphs, and wrap up your essay with a thought-provoking conclusion. Finally, edit and proofread your essay, ensuring that it is well-written and free of errors. By following these steps, you can write an essay that will ingrain your readers and showcase your skills as an academic writer.

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How to Format an Essay

Last Updated: April 11, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Carrie Adkins, PhD and by wikiHow staff writer, Aly Rusciano . Carrie Adkins is the cofounder of NursingClio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog that connects historical scholarship to current issues in gender and medicine. She completed her PhD in American History at the University of Oregon in 2013. While completing her PhD, she earned numerous competitive research grants, teaching fellowships, and writing awards. There are 11 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 90,081 times.

You’re opening your laptop to write an essay, knowing exactly what you want to write, but then it hits you—you don’t know how to format it! Using the correct format when writing an essay can help your paper look polished and professional while earning you full credit. There are 3 common essay formats—MLA, APA, and Chicago Style—and we’ll teach you the basics of properly formatting each in this article. So, before you shut your laptop in frustration, take a deep breath and keep reading because soon you’ll be formatting like a pro.

Setting Up Your Document

Step 1 Read over the assignment’s guidelines before you begin.

  • If you can’t find information on the style guide you should be following, talk to your instructor after class to discuss the assignment or send them a quick email with your questions.
  • If your instructor lets you pick the format of your essay, opt for the style that matches your course or degree best: MLA is best for English and humanities; APA is typically for education, psychology, and sciences; Chicago Style is common for business, history, and fine arts.

Step 2 Set your margins to 1 inch (2.5 cm) for all style guides.

  • Most word processors default to 1 inch (2.5 cm) margins.

Step 3 Use Times New Roman font.

  • Do not change the font size, style, or color throughout your essay.

Step 4 Change your font size to 12pt.

  • Change the spacing on Google Docs by clicking on Format , and then selecting “Line spacing.”
  • Click on Layout in Microsoft Word, and then click the arrow at the bottom left of the “paragraph” section.

Step 6 Put the page number and your last name in the top right header for all styles.

  • Using the page number function will create consecutive numbering.
  • When using Chicago Style, don’t include a page number on your title page. The first page after the title page should be numbered starting at 2. [4] X Research source
  • In APA format, a running heading may be required in the left-hand header. This is a maximum of 50 characters that’s the full or abbreviated version of your essay’s title. [5] X Research source

Step 7 Use a title page with APA or Chicago Style format.

  • For APA formatting, place the title in bold at the center of the page 3 to 4 lines down from the top. Insert one double-spaced line under the title and type your name. Under your name, in separate centered lines, type out the name of your school, course, instructor, and assignment due date. [6] X Research source
  • For Chicago Style, set your cursor ⅓ of the way down the page, then type your title. In the very center of your page, put your name. Move your cursor ⅔ down the page, then write your course number, followed by your instructor’s name and paper due date on separate, double-spaced lines. [7] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source

Step 8 Create a left-handed heading for MLA Style essays.

  • Double-space the heading like the rest of your paper.

Writing the Essay Body

Step 1 Center the title of your paper in all style formats.

  • Use standard capitalization rules for your title.
  • Do not underline, italicize, or put quotation marks around your title, unless you include other titles of referred texts.

Step 2 Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) for all styles.

  • A good hook might include a quote, statistic, or rhetorical question.
  • For example, you might write, “Every day in the United States, accidents caused by distracted drivers kill 9 people and injure more than 1,000 others.”

Step 4 Include a thesis statement at the end of your introduction.

  • "Action must be taken to reduce accidents caused by distracted driving, including enacting laws against texting while driving, educating the public about the risks, and giving strong punishments to offenders."
  • "Although passing and enforcing new laws can be challenging, the best way to reduce accidents caused by distracted driving is to enact a law against texting, educate the public about the new law, and levy strong penalties."

Step 5 Present each of your points in 1 or more paragraphs.

  • Use transitions between paragraphs so your paper flows well. For example, say, “In addition to,” “Similarly,” or “On the other hand.” [12] X Research source

Step 6 Complete your essay with a conclusion.

  • A statement of impact might be, "Every day that distracted driving goes unaddressed, another 9 families must plan a funeral."
  • A call to action might read, “Fewer distracted driving accidents are possible, but only if every driver keeps their focus on the road.”

Using References

Step 1 Create parenthetical citations...

  • In MLA format, citations should include the author’s last name and the page number where you found the information. If the author's name appears in the sentence, use just the page number. [14] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
  • For APA format, include the author’s last name and the publication year. If the author’s name appears in the sentence, use just the year. [15] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
  • If you don’t use parenthetical or internal citations, your instructor may accuse you of plagiarizing.

Step 2 Use footnotes for citations in Chicago Style.

  • At the bottom of the page, include the source’s information from your bibliography page next to the footnote number. [16] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
  • Each footnote should be numbered consecutively.

Step 3 Center the title of your reference page.

  • If you’re using MLA format, this page will be titled “Works Cited.”
  • In APA and Chicago Style, title the page “References.”

Step 4 List your sources on the references page by author’s last name in alphabetical order.

  • If you have more than one work from the same author, list alphabetically following the title name for MLA and by earliest to latest publication year for APA and Chicago Style.
  • Double-space the references page like the rest of your paper.
  • Use a hanging indent of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) if your citations are longer than one line. Press Tab to indent any lines after the first. [17] X Research source
  • Citations should include (when applicable) the author(s)’s name(s), title of the work, publication date and/or year, and page numbers.
  • Sites like Grammarly , EasyBib , and MyBib can help generate citations if you get stuck.

Formatting Resources

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  • ↑ https://www.une.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/392149/WE_Formatting-your-essay.pdf
  • ↑ https://content.nroc.org/DevelopmentalEnglish/unit10/Foundations/formatting-a-college-essay-mla-style.html
  • ↑ https://camosun.libguides.com/Chicago-17thEd/titlePage
  • ↑ https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/paper-format/page-header
  • ↑ https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/paper-format/title-page
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html
  • ↑ https://www.uvu.edu/writingcenter/docs/basicessayformat.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/cruzmayra/basicessayformat.pdf
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_in_text_citations_the_basics.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/in_text_citations_the_basics.html
  • ↑ https://library.menloschool.org/chicago

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The writer of the academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence. The beginning of the essay is a crucial first step in this process. In order to engage readers and establish your authority, the beginning of your essay has to accomplish certain business. Your beginning should introduce the essay, focus it, and orient readers.

Introduce the Essay.  The beginning lets your readers know what the essay is about, the  topic . The essay's topic does not exist in a vacuum, however; part of letting readers know what your essay is about means establishing the essay's  context , the frame within which you will approach your topic. For instance, in an essay about the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, the context may be a particular legal theory about the speech right; it may be historical information concerning the writing of the amendment; it may be a contemporary dispute over flag burning; or it may be a question raised by the text itself. The point here is that, in establishing the essay's context, you are also limiting your topic. That is, you are framing an approach to your topic that necessarily eliminates other approaches. Thus, when you determine your context, you simultaneously narrow your topic and take a big step toward focusing your essay. Here's an example.

 was published in 1899, critics condemned the book as immoral. One typical critic, writing in the  , feared that the novel might "fall into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on things that only matured persons can understand, and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires" (150). A reviewer in the   wrote that "there is much that is very improper in it, not to say positively unseemly."

The paragraph goes on. But as you can see, Chopin's novel (the topic) is introduced in the context of the critical and moral controversy its publication engendered.

Focus the Essay.  Beyond introducing your topic, your beginning must also let readers know what the central issue is. What question or problem will you be thinking about? You can pose a question that will lead to your idea (in which case, your idea will be the answer to your question), or you can make a thesis statement. Or you can do both: you can ask a question and immediately suggest the answer that your essay will argue. Here's an example from an essay about Memorial Hall.

The fullness of your idea will not emerge until your conclusion, but your beginning must clearly indicate the direction your idea will take, must set your essay on that road. And whether you focus your essay by posing a question, stating a thesis, or combining these approaches, by the end of your beginning, readers should know what you're writing about, and  why —and why they might want to read on.

Orient Readers.  Orienting readers, locating them in your discussion, means providing information and explanations wherever necessary for your readers' understanding. Orienting is important throughout your essay, but it is crucial in the beginning. Readers who don't have the information they need to follow your discussion will get lost and quit reading. (Your teachers, of course, will trudge on.) Supplying the necessary information to orient your readers may be as simple as answering the journalist's questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why. It may mean providing a brief overview of events or a summary of the text you'll be analyzing. If the source text is brief, such as the First Amendment, you might just quote it. If the text is well known, your summary, for most audiences, won't need to be more than an identifying phrase or two:

, Shakespeare's tragedy of `star-crossed lovers' destroyed by the blood feud between their two families, the minor characters . . .

Often, however, you will want to summarize your source more fully so that readers can follow your analysis of it.

Questions of Length and Order.  How long should the beginning be? The length should be proportionate to the length and complexity of the whole essay. For instance, if you're writing a five-page essay analyzing a single text, your beginning should be brief, no more than one or two paragraphs. On the other hand, it may take a couple of pages to set up a ten-page essay.

Does the business of the beginning have to be addressed in a particular order? No, but the order should be logical. Usually, for instance, the question or statement that focuses the essay comes at the end of the beginning, where it serves as the jumping-off point for the middle, or main body, of the essay. Topic and context are often intertwined, but the context may be established before the particular topic is introduced. In other words, the order in which you accomplish the business of the beginning is flexible and should be determined by your purpose.

Opening Strategies.  There is still the further question of how to start. What makes a good opening? You can start with specific facts and information, a keynote quotation, a question, an anecdote, or an image. But whatever sort of opening you choose, it should be directly related to your focus. A snappy quotation that doesn't help establish the context for your essay or that later plays no part in your thinking will only mislead readers and blur your focus. Be as direct and specific as you can be. This means you should avoid two types of openings:

  • The history-of-the-world (or long-distance) opening, which aims to establish a context for the essay by getting a long running start: "Ever since the dawn of civilized life, societies have struggled to reconcile the need for change with the need for order." What are we talking about here, political revolution or a new brand of soft drink? Get to it.
  • The funnel opening (a variation on the same theme), which starts with something broad and general and "funnels" its way down to a specific topic. If your essay is an argument about state-mandated prayer in public schools, don't start by generalizing about religion; start with the specific topic at hand.

Remember.  After working your way through the whole draft, testing your thinking against the evidence, perhaps changing direction or modifying the idea you started with, go back to your beginning and make sure it still provides a clear focus for the essay. Then clarify and sharpen your focus as needed. Clear, direct beginnings rarely present themselves ready-made; they must be written, and rewritten, into the sort of sharp-eyed clarity that engages readers and establishes your authority.

Copyright 1999, Patricia Kain, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

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College essays are an entirely new type of writing for high school seniors. For that reason, many students are confused about proper formatting and essay structure. Should you double-space or single-space? Do you need a title? What kind of narrative style is best-suited for your topic?

In this post, we’ll be going over proper college essay format, traditional and unconventional essay structures (plus sample essays!), and which structure might work best for you. 

General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

How you format your essay will depend on whether you’re submitting in a text box, or attaching a document. We’ll go over the different best practices for both, but regardless of how you’re submitting, here are some general formatting tips:

  • There’s no need for a title; it takes up unnecessary space and eats into your word count
  • Stay within the word count as much as possible (+/- 10% of the upper limit). For further discussion on college essay length, see our post How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Indent or double space to separate paragraphs clearly

If you’re submitting in a text box:

  • Avoid italics and bold, since formatting often doesn’t transfer over in text boxes
  • Be careful with essays meant to be a certain shape (like a balloon); text boxes will likely not respect that formatting. Beyond that, this technique can also seem gimmicky, so proceed with caution
  • Make sure that paragraphs are clearly separated, as text boxes can also undo indents and double spacing

If you’re attaching a document:

  • Use a standard font and size like Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Make your lines 1.5-spaced or double-spaced
  • Use 1-inch margins
  • Save as a PDF since it can’t be edited. This also prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting
  • Number each page with your last name in the header or footer (like “Smith 1”)
  • Pay extra attention to any word limits, as you won’t be cut off automatically, unlike with most text boxes

Conventional College Essay Structures

Now that we’ve gone over the logistical aspects of your essay, let’s talk about how you should structure your writing. There are three traditional college essay structures. They are:

  • In-the-moment narrative
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage

Let’s go over what each one is exactly, and take a look at some real essays using these structures.

1. In-the-moment narrative

This is where you tell the story one moment at a time, sharing the events as they occur. In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you . This structure is ideal for a specific experience involving extensive internal dialogue, emotions, and reflections.

Here’s an example:

The morning of the Model United Nation conference, I walked into Committee feeling confident about my research. We were simulating the Nuremberg Trials – a series of post-World War II proceedings for war crimes – and my portfolio was of the Soviet Judge Major General Iona Nikitchenko. Until that day, the infamous Nazi regime had only been a chapter in my history textbook; however, the conference’s unveiling of each defendant’s crimes brought those horrors to life. The previous night, I had organized my research, proofread my position paper and gone over Judge Nikitchenko’s pertinent statements. I aimed to find the perfect balance between his stance and my own.

As I walked into committee anticipating a battle of wits, my director abruptly called out to me. “I’m afraid we’ve received a late confirmation from another delegate who will be representing Judge Nikitchenko. You, on the other hand, are now the defense attorney, Otto Stahmer.” Everyone around me buzzed around the room in excitement, coordinating with their allies and developing strategies against their enemies, oblivious to the bomb that had just dropped on me. I felt frozen in my tracks, and it seemed that only rage against the careless delegate who had confirmed her presence so late could pull me out of my trance. After having spent a month painstakingly crafting my verdicts and gathering evidence against the Nazis, I now needed to reverse my stance only three hours before the first session.

Gradually, anger gave way to utter panic. My research was fundamental to my performance, and without it, I knew I could add little to the Trials. But confident in my ability, my director optimistically recommended constructing an impromptu defense. Nervously, I began my research anew. Despite feeling hopeless, as I read through the prosecution’s arguments, I uncovered substantial loopholes. I noticed a lack of conclusive evidence against the defendants and certain inconsistencies in testimonies. My discovery energized me, inspiring me to revisit the historical overview in my conference “Background Guide” and to search the web for other relevant articles. Some Nazi prisoners had been treated as “guilty” before their court dates. While I had brushed this information under the carpet while developing my position as a judge, it now became the focus of my defense. I began scratching out a new argument, centered on the premise that the allied countries had violated the fundamental rule that, a defendant was “not guilty” until proven otherwise.

At the end of the three hours, I felt better prepared. The first session began, and with bravado, I raised my placard to speak. Microphone in hand, I turned to face my audience. “Greetings delegates. I, Otto Stahmer would like to…….” I suddenly blanked. Utter dread permeated my body as I tried to recall my thoughts in vain. “Defence Attorney, Stahmer we’ll come back to you,” my Committee Director broke the silence as I tottered back to my seat, flushed with embarrassment. Despite my shame, I was undeterred. I needed to vindicate my director’s faith in me. I pulled out my notes, refocused, and began outlining my arguments in a more clear and direct manner. Thereafter, I spoke articulately, confidently putting forth my points. I was overjoyed when Secretariat members congratulated me on my fine performance.

Going into the conference, I believed that preparation was the key to success. I wouldn’t say I disagree with that statement now, but I believe adaptability is equally important. My ability to problem-solve in the face of an unforeseen challenge proved advantageous in the art of diplomacy. Not only did this experience transform me into a confident and eloquent delegate at that conference, but it also helped me become a more flexible and creative thinker in a variety of other capacities. Now that I know I can adapt under pressure, I look forward to engaging in activities that will push me to be even quicker on my feet.

This essay is an excellent example of in-the-moment narration. The student openly shares their internal state with us — we feel their anger and panic upon the reversal of roles. We empathize with their emotions of “utter dread” and embarrassment when they’re unable to speak. 

For in-the-moment essays, overloading on descriptions is a common mistake students make. This writer provides just the right amount of background and details to help us understand the situation, however, and balances out the actual event with reflection on the significance of this experience. 

One main area of improvement is that the writer sometimes makes explicit statements that could be better illustrated through their thoughts, actions, and feelings. For instance, they say they “spoke articulately” after recovering from their initial inability to speak, and they also claim that adaptability has helped them in other situations. This is not as engaging as actual examples that convey the same meaning. Still, this essay overall is a strong example of in-the-moment narration, and gives us a relatable look into the writer’s life and personality.

2. Narrative told over an extended period of time

In this essay structure, you share a story that takes place across several different experiences. This narrative style is well-suited for any story arc with multiple parts. If you want to highlight your development over time, you might consider this structure. 

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

The timeline of this essay spans from the writer’s childhood all the way to sophomore year, but we only see key moments along this journey. First, we get context for why the writer thought he had to choose one identity: his older brothers had very distinct interests. Then, we learn about the student’s 10th grade creative writing class, writing contest, and results of the contest. Finally, the essay covers the writers’ embarrassment of his identity as a poet, to gradual acceptance and pride in that identity. 

This essay is a great example of a narrative told over an extended period of time. It’s highly personal and reflective, as the piece shares the writer’s conflicting feelings, and takes care to get to the root of those feelings. Furthermore, the overarching story is that of a personal transformation and development, so it’s well-suited to this essay structure.

3. Series of anecdotes, or montage

This essay structure allows you to focus on the most important experiences of a single storyline, or it lets you feature multiple (not necessarily related) stories that highlight your personality. Montage is a structure where you piece together separate scenes to form a whole story. This technique is most commonly associated with film. Just envision your favorite movie—it likely is a montage of various scenes that may not even be chronological. 

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée , while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “ Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable. 

This essay takes a few different anecdotes and weaves them into a coherent narrative about the writer’s penchant for novel experiences. We’re plunged into her universe, in the middle of her Taekwondo spar, three years before the present day. She then transitions into a scene in a ballet studio, present day. By switching from past tense to present tense, the writer clearly demarcates this shift in time. 

The parallel use of the spoken phrase “Point” in the essay ties these two experiences together. The writer also employs a flashback to Master Pollard’s remark about “grabbing a tutu” and her habit of dorsiflexing her toes, which further cements the connection between these anecdotes. 

While some of the descriptions are a little wordy, the piece is well-executed overall, and is a stellar example of the montage structure. The two anecdotes are seamlessly intertwined, and they both clearly illustrate the student’s determination, dedication, reflectiveness, and adaptability. The writer also concludes the essay with a larger reflection on her life, many moves, and multiple languages. 

Unconventional College Essay Structures

Unconventional essay structures are any that don’t fit into the categories above. These tend to be higher risk, as it’s easier to turn off the admissions officer, but they’re also higher reward if executed correctly. 

There are endless possibilities for unconventional structures, but most fall under one of two categories:

1. Playing with essay format

Instead of choosing a traditional narrative format, you might take a more creative route to showcase your interests, writing your essay:

  • As a movie script
  • With a creative visual format (such as creating a visual pattern with the spaces between your sentences forming a picture)
  • As a two-sided Lincoln-Douglas debate
  • As a legal brief
  • Using song lyrics

2. Linguistic techniques

You could also play with the actual language and sentence structure of your essay, writing it:

  • In iambic pentameter
  • Partially in your mother tongue
  • In code or a programming language

These linguistic techniques are often hybrid, where you write some of the essay with the linguistic variation, then write more of an explanation in English.

Under no circumstances should you feel pressured to use an unconventional structure. Trying to force something unconventional will only hurt your chances. That being said, if a creative structure comes naturally to you, suits your personality, and works with the content of your essay — go for that structure!

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Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students

How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks

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Updated: June 19, 2024

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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How to Write a Great College Essay, Step-by-Step

College Admissions , College Essays

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Writing your personal statement for your college application is an undeniably overwhelming project. Your essay is your big shot to show colleges who you are—it's totally reasonable to get stressed out. But don't let that stress paralyze you.

This guide will walk you through each step of the essay writing process to help you understand exactly what you need to do to write the best possible personal statement . I'm also going to follow an imaginary student named Eva as she plans and writes her college essay, from her initial organization and brainstorming to her final edits. By the end of this article, you'll have all the tools you need to create a fantastic, effective college essay.

So how do you write a good college essay? The process starts with finding the best possible topic , which means understanding what the prompt is asking for and taking the time to brainstorm a variety of options. Next, you'll determine how to create an interesting essay that shows off your unique perspective and write multiple drafts in order to hone your structure and language. Once your writing is as effective and engaging as possible, you'll do a final sweep to make sure everything is correct .

This guide covers the following steps:

#1: Organizing #2: Brainstorming #3: Picking a topic #4: Making a plan #5: Writing a draft #6: Editing your draft #7: Finalizing your draft #8: Repeating the process

Step 1: Get Organized

The first step in how to write a college essay is figuring out what you actually need to do. Although many schools are now on the Common App, some very popular colleges, including Rutgers and University of California, still have their own applications and writing requirements. Even for Common App schools, you may need to write a supplemental essay or provide short answers to questions.

Before you get started, you should know exactly what essays you need to write. Having this information allows you to plan the best approach to each essay and helps you cut down on work by determining whether you can use an essay for more than one prompt.

Start Early

Writing good college essays involves a lot of work: you need dozens of hours to get just one personal statement properly polished , and that's before you even start to consider any supplemental essays.

In order to make sure you have plenty of time to brainstorm, write, and edit your essay (or essays), I recommend starting at least two months before your first deadline . The last thing you want is to end up with a low-quality essay you aren't proud of because you ran out of time and had to submit something unfinished.

Determine What You Need to Do

As I touched on above, each college has its own essay requirements, so you'll need to go through and determine what exactly you need to submit for each school . This process is simple if you're only using the Common App, since you can easily view the requirements for each school under the "My Colleges" tab. Watch out, though, because some schools have a dedicated "Writing Supplement" section, while others (even those that want a full essay) will put their prompts in the "Questions" section.

It gets trickier if you're applying to any schools that aren't on the Common App. You'll need to look up the essay requirements for each college—what's required should be clear on the application itself, or you can look under the "how to apply" section of the school's website.

Once you've determined the requirements for each school, I recommend making yourself a chart with the school name, word limit, and application deadline on one side and the prompt or prompts you need to respond to on the other . That way you'll be able to see exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it by.

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The hardest part about writing your college essays is getting started. 

Decide Where to Start

If you have one essay that's due earlier than the others, start there. Otherwise, start with the essay for your top choice school.

I would also recommend starting with a longer personal statement before moving on to shorter supplementary essays , since the 500-700 word essays tend to take quite a bit longer than 100-250 word short responses. The brainstorming you do for the long essay may help you come up with ideas you like for the shorter ones as well.

Also consider whether some of the prompts are similar enough that you could submit the same essay to multiple schools . Doing so can save you some time and let you focus on a few really great essays rather than a lot of mediocre ones.

However, don't reuse essays for dissimilar or very school-specific prompts, especially "why us" essays . If a college asks you to write about why you're excited to go there, admissions officers want to see evidence that you're genuinely interested. Reusing an essay about another school and swapping out the names is the fastest way to prove you aren't.

Example: Eva's College List

Eva is applying early to Emory University and regular decision to University of Washington, UCLA, and Reed College. Emory, the University of Washington, and Reed both use the Common App, while University of Washington, Emory, and Reed all use the Coalition App.

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
What academic areas are you interested in exploring in college?
after the Greek term signifying "education"—the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community?

Even though she's only applying to four schools, Eva has a lot to do: two essays for UW, four for the UCLA application, one for the Common App (or the Coalition App), and two essays for Emory. Many students will have fewer requirements to complete, but those who are applying to very selective schools or a number of schools on different applications will have as many or even more responses to write.

Eva's first deadline is early decision for Emory, she'll start by writing the Common App essay, and then work on the Emory supplements. (For the purposes of this post, we'll focus on the Common App essay.)

Pro tip: If this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. Writing essays for your college applications is demanding and takes a lot of time and thought. You don't have to do it alone, though. PrepScholar has helped students like you get into top-tier colleges like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Brown. Our essay experts can help you craft amazing essays that boost your chances of getting into your dream school . 

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Step 2: Brainstorm

Next up in how to write a college essay: brainstorming essay ideas. There are tons of ways to come up with ideas for your essay topic: I've outlined three below. I recommend trying all of them and compiling a list of possible topics, then narrowing it down to the very best one or, if you're writing multiple essays, the best few.

Keep in mind as you brainstorm that there's no best college essay topic, just the best topic for you . Don't feel obligated to write about something because you think you should—those types of essays tend to be boring and uninspired. Similarly, don't simply write about the first idea that crosses your mind because you don't want to bother trying to think of something more interesting. Take the time to come up with a topic you're really excited about and that you can write about in detail.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Analyze the Prompts

One way to find possible topics is to think deeply about the college's essay prompt. What are they asking you for? Break them down and analyze every angle.

Does the question include more than one part ? Are there multiple tasks you need to complete?

What do you think the admissions officers are hoping to learn about you ?

In cases where you have more than one choice of prompt, does one especially appeal to you ? Why?

Let's dissect one of the University of Washington prompts as an example:

"Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the UW. "

This question is basically asking how your personal history, such as your childhood, family, groups you identify with etc. helped you become the person you are now. It offers a number of possible angles.

You can talk about the effects of either your family life (like your relationship with your parents or what your household was like growing up) or your cultural history (like your Jewish faith or your Venezuelan heritage). You can also choose between focusing on positive or negative effects of your family or culture. No matter what however, the readers definitely want to hear about your educational goals (i.e. what you hope to get out of college) and how they're related to your personal experience.

As you try to think of answers for a prompt, imagine about what you would say if you were asked the question by a friend or during a get-to-know-you icebreaker. After all, admissions officers are basically just people who you want to get to know you.

The essay questions can make a great jumping off point, but don't feel married to them. Most prompts are general enough that you can come up with an idea and then fit it to the question.

Consider Important Experiences, Events, and Ideas in Your Life

What experience, talent, interest or other quirk do you have that you might want to share with colleges? In other words, what makes you you? Possible topics include hobbies, extracurriculars, intellectual interests, jobs, significant one-time events, pieces of family history, or anything else that has shaped your perspective on life.

Unexpected or slightly unusual topics are often the best : your passionate love of Korean dramas or your yearly family road trip to an important historical site. You want your essay to add something to your application, so if you're an All-American soccer player and want to write about the role soccer has played in your life, you'll have a higher bar to clear.

Of course if you have a more serious part of your personal history—the death of a parent, serious illness, or challenging upbringing—you can write about that. But make sure you feel comfortable sharing details of the experience with the admissions committee and that you can separate yourself from it enough to take constructive criticism on your essay.

monkey

Think About How You See Yourself

The last brainstorming method is to consider whether there are particular personality traits you want to highlight . This approach can feel rather silly, but it can also be very effective.

If you were trying to sell yourself to an employer, or maybe even a potential date, how would you do it? Try to think about specific qualities that make you stand out. What are some situations in which you exhibited this trait?

Example: Eva's Ideas

Looking at the Common App prompts, Eva wasn't immediately drawn to any of them, but after a bit of consideration she thought it might be nice to write about her love of literature for the first one, which asks about something "so meaningful your application would be incomplete without it." Alternatively, she liked the specificity of the failure prompt and thought she might write about a bad job interview she had had.

In terms of important events, Eva's parents got divorced when she was three and she's been going back and forth between their houses for as long as she can remember, so that's a big part of her personal story. She's also played piano for all four years of high school, although she's not particularly good.

As for personal traits, Eva is really proud of her curiosity—if she doesn't know something, she immediately looks it up, and often ends up discovering new topics she's interested in. It's a trait that's definitely come in handy as a reporter for her school paper.

Step 3: Narrow Down Your List

Now you have a list of potential topics, but probably no idea where to start. The next step is to go through your ideas and determine which one will make for the strongest essay . You'll then begin thinking about how best to approach it.

What to Look for in a College Essay Topic

There's no single answer to the question of what makes a great college essay topic, but there are some key factors you should keep in mind. The best essays are focused, detailed, revealing and insightful, and finding the right topic is vital to writing a killer essay with all of those qualities.

As you go through your ideas, be discriminating—really think about how each topic could work as an essay. But don't be too hard on yourself ; even if an idea may not work exactly the way you first thought, there may be another way to approach it. Pay attention to what you're really excited about and look for ways to make those ideas work.

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Consideration 1: Does It Matter to You?

If you don't care about your topic, it will be hard to convince your readers to care about it either. You can't write a revealing essay about yourself unless you write about a topic that is truly important to you.

But don't confuse important to you with important to the world: a college essay is not a persuasive argument. The point is to give the reader a sense of who you are , not to make a political or intellectual point. The essay needs to be personal.

Similarly, a lot of students feel like they have to write about a major life event or their most impressive achievement. But the purpose of a personal statement isn't to serve as a resume or a brag sheet—there are plenty of other places in the application for you to list that information. Many of the best essays are about something small because your approach to a common experience generally reveals a lot about your perspective on the world.

Mostly, your topic needs to have had a genuine effect on your outlook , whether it taught you something about yourself or significantly shifted your view on something else.

Consideration 2: Does It Tell the Reader Something Different About You?

Your essay should add something to your application that isn't obvious elsewhere. Again, there are sections for all of your extracurriculars and awards; the point of the essay is to reveal something more personal that isn't clear just from numbers and lists.

You also want to make sure that if you're sending more than one essay to a school—like a Common App personal statement and a school-specific supplement—the two essays take on different topics.

Consideration 3: Is It Specific?

Your essay should ultimately have a very narrow focus. 650 words may seem like a lot, but you can fill it up very quickly. This means you either need to have a very specific topic from the beginning or find a specific aspect of a broader topic to focus on.

If you try to take on a very broad topic, you'll end up with a bunch of general statements and boring lists of your accomplishments. Instead, you want to find a short anecdote or single idea to explore in depth .

Consideration 4: Can You Discuss It in Detail?

A vague essay is a boring essay— specific details are what imbue your essay with your personality . For example, if I tell my friend that I had a great dessert yesterday, she probably won't be that interested. But if I explain that I ate an amazing piece of peach raspberry pie with flaky, buttery crust and filling that was both sweet and tart, she will probably demand to know where I obtained it (at least she will if she appreciates the joys of pie). She'll also learn more about me: I love pie and I analyze desserts with great seriousness.

Given the importance of details, writing about something that happened a long time ago or that you don't remember well isn't usually a wise choice . If you can't describe something in depth, it will be challenging to write a compelling essay about it.

You also shouldn't pick a topic you aren't actually comfortable talking about . Some students are excited to write essays about very personal topics, like their mother's bipolar disorder or their family's financial struggles, but others dislike sharing details about these kinds of experiences. If you're a member of the latter group, that's totally okay, just don't write about one of these sensitive topics.

Still, don't worry that every single detail has to be perfectly correct. Definitely don't make anything up, but if you remember a wall as green and it was really blue, your readers won't notice or care.

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Consideration 5: Can It Be Related to the Prompt?

As long as you're talking about yourself, there are very few ideas that you can't tie back to one of the Common App or Coalition App prompts. But if you're applying to a school with its own more specific prompt, or working on supplemental essays, making sure to address the question will be a greater concern.

Deciding on a Topic

Once you've gone through the questions above, you should have a good sense of what you want to write about. Hopefully, it's also gotten you started thinking about how you can best approach that topic, but we'll cover how to plan your essay more fully in the next step.

If after going through the narrowing process, you've eliminated all your topics, first look back over them: are you being too hard on yourself? Are there any that you really like, but just aren't totally sure what angle to take on? If so, try looking at the next section and seeing if you can't find a different way to approach it.

If you just don't have an idea you're happy with, that's okay! Give yourself a week to think about it. Sometimes you'll end up having a genius idea in the car on the way to school or while studying for your U.S. history test. Otherwise, try the brainstorming process again when you've had a break.

If, on the other hand, you have more than one idea you really like, consider whether any of them can be used for other essays you need to write.

Example: Picking Eva's Topic

  • Love of books
  • Failed job interview
  • Parents' divorce

Eva immediately rules out writing about playing piano, because it sounds super boring to her, and it's not something she is particularly passionate about. She also decides not to write about splitting time between her parents because she just isn't comfortable sharing her feelings about it with an admissions committee.

She feels more positive about the other three, so she decides to think about them for a couple of days. She ends up ruling out the job interview because she just can't come up with that many details she could include.

She's excited about both of her last two ideas, but sees issues with both of them: the books idea is very broad and the reporting idea doesn't seem to apply to any of the prompts. Then she realizes that she can address the solving a problem prompt by talking about a time she was trying to research a story about the closing of a local movie theater, so she decides to go with that topic.

Step 4: Figure Out Your Approach

You've decided on a topic, but now you need to turn that topic into an essay. To do so, you need to determine what specifically you're focusing on and how you'll structure your essay.

If you're struggling or uncertain, try taking a look at some examples of successful college essays . It can be helpful to dissect how other personal statements are structured to get ideas for your own , but don't fall into the trap of trying to copy someone else's approach. Your essay is your story—never forget that.

Let's go through the key steps that will help you turn a great topic into a great essay.

Choose a Focal Point

As I touched on above, the narrower your focus, the easier it will be to write a unique, engaging personal statement. The simplest way to restrict the scope of your essay is to recount an anecdote , i.e. a short personal story that illustrates your larger point.

For example, say a student was planning to write about her Outward Bound trip in Yosemite. If she tries to tell the entire story of her trip, her essay will either be far too long or very vague. Instead, she decides to focus in on a specific incident that exemplifies what mattered to her about the experience: her failed attempt to climb Half Dome. She described the moment she decided to turn back without reaching the top in detail, while touching on other parts of the climb and trip where appropriate. This approach lets her create a dramatic arc in just 600 words, while fully answering the question posed in the prompt (Common App prompt 2).

Of course, concentrating on an anecdote isn't the only way to narrow your focus. Depending on your topic, it might make more sense to build your essay around an especially meaningful object, relationship, or idea.

Another approach our example student from above could take to the same general topic would be to write about the generosity of fellow hikers (in response to Common App prompt 4). Rather than discussing a single incident, she could tell the story of her trip through times she was supported by other hikers: them giving tips on the trails, sharing snacks, encouraging her when she was tired, etc. A structure like this one can be trickier than the more straightforward anecdote approach , but it can also make for an engaging and different essay.

When deciding what part of your topic to focus on, try to find whatever it is about the topic that is most meaningful and unique to you . Once you've figured that part out, it will guide how you structure the essay.

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Decide What You Want to Show About Yourself

Remember that the point of the college essay isn't just to tell a story, it's to show something about yourself. It's vital that you have a specific point you want to make about what kind of person you are , what kind of college student you'd make, or what the experience you're describing taught you.

Since the papers you write for school are mostly analytical, you probably aren't used to writing about your own feelings. As such, it can be easy to neglect the reflection part of the personal statement in favor of just telling a story. Yet explaining what the event or idea you discuss meant to you is the most important essay —knowing how you want to tie your experiences back to your personal growth from the beginning will help you make sure to include it.

Develop a Structure

It's not enough to just know what you want to write about—you also need to have a sense of how you're going to write about it. You could have the most exciting topic of all time, but without a clear structure your essay will end up as incomprehensible gibberish that doesn't tell the reader anything meaningful about your personality.

There are a lot of different possible essay structures, but a simple and effective one is the compressed narrative, which builds on a specific anecdote (like the Half Dome example above):

Start in the middle of the action. Don't spend a lot of time at the beginning of your essay outlining background info—it doesn't tend to draw the reader in and you usually need less of it than you think you do. Instead start right where your story starts to get interesting. (I'll go into how to craft an intriguing opener in more depth below.)

Briefly explain what the situation is. Now that you've got the reader's attention, go back and explain anything they need to know about how you got into this situation. Don't feel compelled to fit everything in—only include the background details that are necessary to either understand what happened or illuminate your feelings about the situation in some way.

Finish the story. Once you've clarified exactly what's going on, explain how you resolved the conflict or concluded the experience.

Explain what you learned. The last step is to tie everything together and bring home the main point of your story: how this experience affected you.

The key to this type of structure is to create narrative tension—you want your reader to be wondering what happens next.

A second approach is the thematic structure, which is based on returning to a key idea or object again and again (like the boots example above):

Establish the focus. If you're going to structure your essay around a single theme or object, you need to begin the essay by introducing that key thing. You can do so with a relevant anecdote or a detailed description.

Touch on 3-5 times the focus was important. The body of your essay will consist of stringing together a few important moments related to the topic. Make sure to use sensory details to bring the reader into those points in time and keep her engaged in the essay. Also remember to elucidate why these moments were important to you.

Revisit the main idea. At the end, you want to tie everything together by revisiting the main idea or object and showing how your relationship to it has shaped or affected you. Ideally, you'll also hint at how this thing will be important to you going forward.

To make this structure work you need a very specific focus. Your love of travel, for example, is much too broad—you would need to hone in on a specific aspect of that interest, like how traveling has taught you to adapt to event the most unusual situations. Whatever you do, don't use this structure to create a glorified resume or brag sheet .

However you structure your essay, you want to make sure that it clearly lays out both the events or ideas you're describing and establishes the stakes (i.e. what it all means for you). Many students become so focused on telling a story or recounting details that they forget to explain what it all meant to them.

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Example: Eva's Essay Plan

For her essay, Eva decides to use the compressed narrative structure to tell the story of how she tried and failed to report on the closing of a historic movie theater:

  • Open with the part of her story where she finally gave up after calling the theater and city hall a dozen times.
  • Explain that although she started researching the story out of journalistic curiosity, it was important to her because she'd grown up going to movies at that theater.
  • Recount how defeated she felt when she couldn't get ahold of anyone, and then even more so when she saw a story about the theater's closing in the local paper.
  • Describer her decision to write an op-ed instead and interview other students about what the theater meant to them.
  • Finish by explaining that although she wasn't able to get the story (or stop the destruction of the theater), she learned that sometimes the emotional angle can be just as interesting as the investigative one.

Step 5: Write a First Draft

The key to writing your first draft is not to worry about whether it's any good—just get something on paper and go from there. You will have to rewrite, so trying to get everything perfect is both frustrating and futile.

Everyone has their own writing process. Maybe you feel more comfortable sitting down and writing the whole draft from beginning to end in one go. Maybe you jump around, writing a little bit here and a little there. It's okay to have sections you know won't work or to skip over things you think you'll need to include later.

Whatever your approach, there are a few tips everyone can benefit from.

Don't Aim for Perfection

I mentioned this idea above, but I can't emphasize it enough: no one writes a perfect first draft . Extensive editing and rewriting is vital to crafting an effective personal statement. Don't get too attached to any part of your draft, because you may need to change anything (or everything) about your essay later .

Also keep in mind that, at this point in the process, the goal is just to get your ideas down. Wonky phrasings and misplaced commas can easily be fixed when you edit, so don't worry about them as you write. Instead, focus on including lots of specific details and emphasizing how your topic has affected you, since these aspects are vital to a compelling essay.

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Write an Engaging Introduction

One part of the essay you do want to pay special attention to is the introduction. Your intro is your essay's first impression: you only get one. It's much harder to regain your reader's attention once you've lost it, so you want to draw the reader in with an immediately engaging hook that sets up a compelling story .

There are two possible approaches I would recommend.

The "In Media Res" Opening

You'll probably recognize this term if you studied The Odyssey: it basically means that the story starts in the middle of the action, rather than at the beginning. A good intro of this type makes the reader wonder both how you got to the point you're starting at and where you'll go from there . These openers provide a solid, intriguing beginning for narrative essays (though they can certainly for thematic structures as well).

But how do you craft one? Try to determine the most interesting point in your story and start there. If you're not sure where that is, try writing out the entire story and then crossing out each sentence in order until you get to one that immediately grabs your attention.

Here's an example from a real student's college essay:

"I strode in front of 400 frenzied eighth graders with my arm slung over my Fender Stratocaster guitar—it actually belonged to my mother—and launched into the first few chords of Nirvana's 'Lithium.'"

Anonymous , University of Virginia

This intro throws the reader right into the middle of the action. The author jumps right into the action: the performance. You can imagine how much less exciting it would be if the essay opened with an explanation of what the event was and why the author was performing.

The Specific Generalization

Sounds like an oxymoron, right? This type of intro sets up what the essay is going to talk about in a slightly unexpected way . These are a bit trickier than the "in media res" variety, but they can work really well for the right essay—generally one with a thematic structure.

The key to this type of intro is detail . Contrary to what you may have learned in elementary school, sweeping statements don't make very strong hooks. If you want to start your essay with a more overall description of what you'll be discussing, you still need to make it specific and unique enough to stand out.

Once again, let's look at some examples from real students' essays:

Neha, Johns Hopkins University

Brontë, Johns Hopkins University

Both of these intros set up the general topic of the essay (the first writer's bookshelf and and the second's love of Jane Eyre ) in an intriguing way. The first intro works because it mixes specific descriptions ("pushed against the left wall in my room") with more general commentary ("a curious piece of furniture"). The second draws the reader in by adopting a conversational and irreverent tone with asides like "if you ask me" and "This may or may not be a coincidence."

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Don't Worry Too Much About the Length

When you start writing, don't worry about your essay's length. Instead, focus on trying to include all of the details you can think of about your topic , which will make it easier to decide what you really need to include when you edit.

However, if your first draft is more than twice the word limit and you don't have a clear idea of what needs to be cut out, you may need to reconsider your focus—your topic is likely too broad. You may also need to reconsider your topic or approach if you find yourself struggling to fill space, since this usually indicates a topic that lacks a specific focus.

Eva's First Paragraph

I dialed the phone number for the fourth time that week. "Hello? This is Eva Smith, and I'm a reporter with Tiny Town High's newspaper The Falcon. I was hoping to ask you some questions about—" I heard the distinctive click of the person on the other end of the line hanging up, followed by dial tone. I was about ready to give up: I'd been trying to get the skinny on whether the Atlas Theater was actually closing to make way for a big AMC multiplex or if it was just a rumor for weeks, but no one would return my calls.

Step 6: Edit Aggressively

No one writes a perfect first draft. No matter how much you might want to be done after writing a first draft—you must take the time to edit. Thinking critically about your essay and rewriting as needed is a vital part of writing a great college essay.

Before you start editing, put your essay aside for a week or so . It will be easier to approach it objectively if you haven't seen it in a while. Then, take an initial pass to identify any big picture issues with your essay. Once you've fixed those, ask for feedback from other readers—they'll often notice gaps in logic that don't appear to you, because you're automatically filling in your intimate knowledge of the situation. Finally, take another, more detailed look at your essay to fine tune the language.

I've explained each of these steps in more depth below.

First Editing Pass

You should start the editing process by looking for any structural or thematic issues with your essay . If you see sentences that don't make sense or glaring typos of course fix them, but at this point, you're really focused on the major issues since those require the most extensive rewrites. You don't want to get your sentences beautifully structured only to realize you need to remove the entire paragraph.

This phase is really about honing your structure and your voice . As you read through your essay, think about whether it effectively draws the reader along, engages him with specific details, and shows why the topic matters to you. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the intro make you want to read more?
  • Is the progression of events and/or ideas clear?
  • Does the essay show something specific about you? What is it and can you clearly identify it in the essay?
  • Are there places where you could replace vague statements with more specific ones?
  • Do you have too many irrelevant or uninteresting details clogging up the narrative?
  • Is it too long? What can you cut out or condense without losing any important ideas or details?

Give yourself credit for what you've done well, but don't hesitate to change things that aren't working. It can be tempting to hang on to what you've already written —you took the time and thought to craft it in the first place, so it can be hard to let it go. Taking this approach is doing yourself a disservice, however. No matter how much work you put into a paragraph or much you like a phrase, if they aren't adding to your essay, they need to be cut or altered.

If there's a really big structural problem, or the topic is just not working, you may have to chuck this draft out and start from scratch . Don't panic! I know starting over is frustrating, but it's often the best way to fix major issues.

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Consulting Other Readers

Once you've fixed the problems you found on the first pass and have a second (or third) draft you're basically happy with, ask some other people to read it. Check with people whose judgment you trust : parents, teachers, and friends can all be great resources, but how helpful someone will be depends on the individual and how willing you are to take criticism from her.

Also, keep in mind that many people, even teachers, may not be familiar with what colleges look for in an essay. Your mom, for example, may have never written a personal statement, and even if she did, it was most likely decades ago. Give your readers a sense of what you'd like them to read for , or print out the questions I listed above and include them at the end of your essay.

Second Pass

After incorporating any helpful feedback you got from others, you should now have a nearly complete draft with a clear arc.

At this point you want to look for issues with word choice and sentence structure:

  • Are there parts that seem stilted or overly formal?
  • Do you have any vague or boring descriptors that could be replaced with something more interesting and specific?
  • Are there any obvious redundancies or repetitiveness?
  • Have you misused any words?
  • Are your sentences of varied length and structure?

A good way to check for weirdness in language is to read the essay out loud. If something sounds weird when you say it, it will almost certainly seem off when someone else reads it.

Example: Editing Eva's First Paragraph

In general, Eva feels like her first paragraph isn't as engaging as it could be and doesn't introduce the main point of the essay that well: although it sets up the narrative, it doesn't show off her personality that well. She decides to break it down sentence by sentence:

I dialed the phone number for the fourth time that week.

Problem: For a hook, this sentence is a little too expository. It doesn't add any real excitement or important information (other than that this call isn't the first, which can be incorporate elsewhere.

Solution: Cut this sentence and start with the line of dialogue.

"Hello? This is Eva Smith, and I'm a reporter with Tiny Town High's newspaper The Falcon. I was hoping to ask you some questions about—"

Problem: No major issues with this sentence. It's engaging and sets the scene effectively.

Solution: None needed, but Eva does tweak it slightly to include the fact that this call wasn't her first.

I heard the distinctive click of the person on the other end of the line hanging up, followed by dial tone.

Problem: This is a long-winded way of making a point that's not that important.

Solution: Replace it with a shorter, more evocative description: " Click. Bzzzzzzz. Whoever was on the other end of the line had hung up."

I was about ready to give up: I'd been trying to get the skinny on whether the Atlas Theater was actually closing to make way for a big AMC multiplex or if it was just a rumor for weeks, but no one would return my calls.

Problem: This sentence is kind of long. Some of the phrases ("about ready to give up," "get the skinny") are cliche.

Solution: Eva decides to try to stick more closely to her own perspective: "I'd heard rumors that Atlas Theater was going to be replaced with an AMC multiplex, and I was worried." She also puts a paragraph break before this sentence to emphasize that she's now moving on to the background info rather than describing her call.

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Step 7: Double Check Everything

Once you have a final draft, give yourself another week and then go through your essay again. Read it carefully to make sure nothing seems off and there are no obvious typos or errors. Confirm that you are at or under the word limit.

Then, go over the essay again, line by line , checking every word to make sure that it's correct. Double check common errors that spell check may not catch, like mixing up affect and effect or misplacing commas.

Finally, have two other readers check it as well . Oftentimes a fresh set of eyes will catch an issue you've glossed over simply because you've been looking at the essay for so long. Give your readers instructions to only look for typos and errors, since you don't want to be making any major content changes at this point in the process.

This level of thoroughness may seem like overkill, but it's worth taking the time to ensure that you don't have any errors. The last thing you want is for an admissions officer to be put off by a typo or error.

Example: Eva's Final Draft (Paragraphs 1 and 2)

"Hello? This is Eva Smith again. I'm a reporter with Tiny Town High's newspaper The Falcon , and I was hoping to ask you some questions about —" Click. Bzzzzzzz. Whoever was on the other end of the line had hung up.

I'd heard rumors that the historic Atlas Theater was going to be replaced with an AMC multiplex, and I was worried. I'd grown up with the Atlas: my dad taking me to see every Pixar movie on opening night and buying me Red Vines to keep me distracted during the sad parts. Unfortunately my personal history with the place didn't seem to carry much weight with anyone official, and my calls to both the theater and city hall had thus far gone unanswered.

Once you've finished the final check, you're done, and ready to submit! There's one last step, however.

Step 8: Do It All Again

Remember back in step one, when we talked about making a chart to keep track of all the different essays you need to write? Well, now you need to go back to that list and determine which essays you still need to write . Keep in mind your deadlines and don't forget that some schools may require more than one essay or ask for short paragraphs in addition to the main personal statement.

Reusing Essays

In some cases, you may be able to reuse the essay you've already written for other prompts. You can use the same essay for two prompts if:

Both of them are asking the same basic question (e.g. "how do you interact with people who are different from you?" or "what was an important experience and why?"), or

One prompt is relatively specific and the other is very general (e.g. "tell us about how your family shaped your education" and "tell us something about your background"), and

Neither asks about your interest in a specific school or program.

If you choose to reuse an essay you wrote for a different prompt, make sure that it addresses every part of question and that it fits the word limit. If you have to tweak a few things or cut out 50-odd words, it will probably still work. But if the essay would require major changes to fit the criteria, you're probably better off starting from scratch (even if you use the same basic topic).

Crafting Supplemental Essays

The key to keep in mind in when brainstorming for supplemental essays is that you want them to add something new to your application . You shouldn't write about the same topic you used for your personal statement, although it's okay to talk about something similar, as long as you adopt a clearly different angle.

For example, if you're planning to be pre-med in college and your main essay is about how volunteering at the hospital taught you not to judge people on their appearance, you might write your secondary essay on your intellectual interest in biology (which could touch on your volunteering). There's some overlap, but the two topics are clearly distinct.

And now, you're really, truly, finally done. Congrats!

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What's Next?

Now that you know how to write a college essay, we have a lot more specific resources for you to excel.

Are you working on the Common App essay ? Read our breakdown of the Common App prompts and our guide to picking the best prompt for you.

Or maybe you're interested in the University of California ? Check out our complete guide to the UC personal statements .

In case you haven't finished the rest of the application process , take a look at our guides to asking for recommendations , writing about extracurriculars , and researching colleges .

Finally, if you're planning to take the SAT or ACT one last time , try out some of our famous test prep guides, like "How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT" and "15 Key ACT Test Day Tips."

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

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Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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How to Write an Essay

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Introduction: How to Write an Essay

How to Write an Essay

Step 1: Prewriting

Step 2: the thesis statement & set up, step 3: the introduction.

The Introduction

Step 4: Body Paragraph

Step 5: conclusion, step 6: things to remember throughout writing..

Things to Remember Throughout Writing.

Step 7: Revision and Rewriting.

Revision and Rewriting.

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How to Write a Paper in APA Format | For Students

When I was a student, I was told to submit my essays in APA format. At the time, I had no idea what that even meant or how to do it. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry—I’ve been there, too. In this guide, I’ll show you the easiest way to understand APA format and a simple hack to help you comfortably write your essays and then format them in APA style.

When is APA format used?

APA format is commonly used in the social and behavioral sciences, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, and economics, as well as in fields like business and nursing. This standardized format is adopted by professionals, researchers, and students to structure and present research papers, essays, and other academic documents.

It ensures consistency and clarity in communication within these disciplines by providing specific guidelines for nearly all aspects of manuscript formatting, from font choice to margins and punctuation. By adhering to paper APA format 7th edition style, writers in these fields can effectively share their findings and ideas in a clear and organized manner.

General Guidelines/ Rules of APA Formatting

Understanding the guidelines is key when learning how to write a paper in APA format for students. However, there's one important point that is often missed by many: the APA 7th edition now has different guidelines for students and professionals. So, if you notice a few extra details that might be missing in the guidelines below, it is because we have skipped the APA 7th edition guidelines for professionals to avoid any confusion. Let's review the guidelines:

General Formatting:

Margins: Set 1-inch margins on all sides.

Font: Use a readable font such as Times New Roman (12 pt.).

Line Spacing: Double-space throughout the document, including the title page, abstract, references, and any other sections.

Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (use the tab key or the paragraph formatting function).

Alignment: Left-align all text except for headings, which follow specific formats.

Page Numbers: Include page numbers in the top right corner of every page, starting on the title page (which is considered page 1).

Title Page: Follow guidelines for the placement of the title, author information, affiliation (your school), course information, and instructor's name.

Abstract: Include a brief summary of your paper on a separate page after the title page.

Body Text: Write in clear and concise language, avoiding jargon. Use headings to organize your content.

In-text Citations: Cite your sources within the text using the author’s name and publication year in parentheses. There are specific formats for different types of sources.

Reference List: Start a new page for your references, listed alphabetically by the first author's last name. Follow specific formatting guidelines for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.).

Here's what a title page of a reference paper template looks like in APA format:

How to Set up APA Format Paper [Step-by-Step]

After understanding the guidelines, the next step is to apply them effectively to format your paper in APA 7th edition style. To achieve this, we need an efficient writing tool that provides all the necessary formatting tools. Since we're just starting our journey to format essays in APA style, the tool should be easy to use. For these reasons, I'll be using a professional writing tool— WPS Office .

WPS Office not only provides all the necessary tools but also has a major benefit—it's completely free to use. I recommend downloading WPS Office on your system to ensure you can follow the steps smoothly. So, let's begin. I have an example paper that I will format in APA style using WPS Office.

1.Page Margins

Before you begin formatting your essay, let's set the page margins according to APA 7th edition guidelines, which require 1-inch margins on all sides.

Step 1: To set the page margins in WPS Writer, simply go to the Page Layout tab.

Step 2: In the Page Layout ribbon, locate the Margin fields on the left end of the ribbon.

Step 3: Here, set all margins—top, bottom, left, and right—to 1 inch.

Once you've adjusted the margins, we can proceed with formatting the rest of the document.

2.Font Settings and Line Spacing

Next, let's adjust the font and line spacing according to APA style requirements.

Step 1: Go to the Home tab in WPS Writer and change the font to “Times New Roman” in the “Fonts” field.

Step 2: To change the font size, enter "12" in the "Font size" field.

Step 3: For adjusting line spacing, simply click on the "Line spacing" icon in the Home ribbon and select "2.0" to apply double spacing in your essay.

Once we've completed setting the general formatting of our entire essay according to APA style, we now need to prepare the header.

Step 1: To set the header, double-click on the header area to enter the header in WPS Writer.

The header in APA style for students includes only the page number on the top right.

Step 2: To insert the page number, click on the "Page Number" button in the Header/Footer ribbon.

Step 3: From the Page Number drop-down menu, select the "Header right" option to insert the page number on the top right.

Step 4: Next, we need to set the header height to "0.5 in" in the "Header height" field.

 4.Title Page

Sure! Let's start formatting each page of your essay, beginning with the title page. The title page should include the title of your paper, your name (as the author), the professor's name, course details, university name, and the due date. Each of these headings should start on a new line with 3-4 blank lines at the top of the page. This formatting ensures that your essay's title page follows APA style guidelines accurately.

Step 1: Press the "Enter" key on the keyboard to leave 3-4 blank lines at the top of the page.

Step 2: Type the title of your essay and center align it by clicking on the "Center" icon in the Home ribbon.

Step 3: Make the title bold by selecting the title text and clicking on the "Bold" icon in the Home ribbon.

Step 4: Press the "Enter" key twice to create a blank line between the title and the essay details. Then, enter the essay details in the following order, each on a separate line:

Your name (Author)

Department, University

Course Name, Course code

Professor's name

Step 5: After entering the essay details as described, ensure that each detail is centered on the page by selecting all the text with your mouse. Then, click on the "Center" icon in the Home ribbon to center-align the selected text.

Step 1: To insert a new blank page after the title page, place the cursor at the end of the due date on the title page and go to the Insert tab.

Step 2: In the Insert ribbon, click on "Breaks" and then select "Page Break" from the drop-down menu. This will create a new blank page where we will enter our abstract.

Step 3: Enter the heading "Abstract" in bold font style and center align it.

Step 4: Type the body of the abstract with no indentation. Simply start typing the abstract text.

After completing the abstract, insert another page break to start the next section of your essay.

6.Headings and Subheadings

To ensure your paper adheres to APA style guidelines for headings and paragraph indentation, here's how you can format them:

Step 1: On a new blank page, enter the Level 1 heading and ensure it is centered and in bold.

Step 2: For the body of the headings, indent the first line of each new paragraph by “0.5 in” by pressing the “Tab” key on your keyboard

Level 1 Heading: Centered and bold. It is used for main sections, like "Methods" or "Results".

Level 2 Heading: Left-aligned and bold. It is used to divide the main sections into subsections.

Level 3 Heading: Left-aligned, bold, and italicized. It further divides subsections into smaller parts.

Level 4 Heading: Indented, bold, and ends with a period. Text immediately follows this period, and it continues with lowercase text.

Level 5 Heading: Indented, bold, and in italics. Similar to Level 4, it also continues with lowercase text..

7.Table of contents

Essays can be lengthy, so including a table of contents can help make navigation easier. Let's take a look at how we can add a table of contents in WPS Writer.

Step 1: The Table of Contents is placed right after the title page, so the first step is to create a blank space after the title page using a Page Break.

Step 2: Now, on the blank page, go to the References tab and click on the Table of Contents button.

Step 3: From the Table of Contents drop-down menu, select any of the default templates available. I prefer using the 3rd template as it allows coverage of 3 levels of headings.

Step 4: Once the Table of Contents has been added, ensure that its heading is set to "Table of Contents", and it is formatted in bold and centered alignment.

Step 5: Additionally, ensure that the font settings of the Table of Contents are set to Times New Roman and 12-point font size.

8.Reference page

Before completing our essay, it's important to insert references that were helpful during the research process. For this, the end of your essay will include a separate References page.

Step 1: On a blank page at the end of your essay, enter the heading "References". Center align the heading and make it bold.

Step 2: List all the works cited in your essay. You can use the free Scribbr citation generator to generate APA 7th edition citations, which makes the process easier and ensures accuracy.

Step 3: Ensure the references are formatted with hanging indents using the Ruler in WPS Writer. To access the ruler, go to the View tab and check the "Ruler" checkbox in the ribbon.

Step 4: Drag the arrow on the ruler to half an inch to set the hanging indent .

Step 5: Then, drag the rectangle (below the ruler) back to 0 to reset the left indent for the subsequent lines of each reference.

And here is our APA 7th edition formatted essay from scratch. As you may have noticed, the whole process can be lengthy without an outline, but formatting your essay step by step makes the process clearer and easier to complete. I've used a few other writing tools for formatting, but I recommend WPS Writer because of its ease of navigation—all formatting tools are readily available in the tab, with no need to navigate through extra menus or open additional guides to learn additional steps. Try using WPS Writer for your essay assignments and experience the difference.

Bonus Tips: How to Convert Word to PDF without losing Format

WPS Office not only provides the necessary tools for students to efficiently format their essays according to APA 7th edition, but it also offers tools to easily convert these papers to PDF format within the WPS Writer application. Therefore, because submitting your work promptly is the next step after writing, ensure that your submission doesn't cost you any marks due to formatting issues after putting in so much effort.

To convert your essay documents to PDF using WPS PDF without quality loss, simply follow these steps:

Step 1: Open your document in WPS Writer.

Step 2: Click on the Menu button at the top left corner of the screen.

Step 3: Select "Export to PDF" from the menu that appears.

Step 4: Adjust any settings, such as the output path, in the Export to PDF window.

Step 5: After configuring the settings, click on "Export to PDF" to save your essay document as a PDF.

FAQs about writing a paper in APA format

1. how should i format tables and figures in apa style.

To correctly format a table in APA style, follow these guidelines:

Boldly label the table number above the table.

Provide a brief, italicized title in the title case just below the table number.

Avoid using vertical lines in the table design.

Use horizontal lines sparingly, only where necessary for clarity.

Ensure column and row headings are clearly labeled and concise.

Maintain consistent number formatting, such as decimal places.

Include any necessary notes below the table to explain details or sources.

To correctly format a figure in APA style, follow these guidelines:

Place the figure number in bold above the figure.

Provide a brief, italicized title in the title case beneath the figure number.

Include clear labels and legends within the image if needed.

Add any pertinent notes below the figure.

2. How to cite a Journal article in APA Style?

An APA Style citation for a journal article includes the author's name(s), the year of publication (in round brackets), the title of the article, the name of the journal in italics, the volume (in italics) and issue number, the page range of the article, and a DOI (if available).

APA format:

Author's last name, First name initial. (Year of publication). Title of article. Journal Title, Volume(Issue), Page range. DOI or URL

Johnson, M. (2023). Explore with us. Journal of random discoveries, 5(2), 123-135. https://doi.org/10.1234/jes.2023.5.2.123

3. How to cite a website in APA style?

APA website citations include the author's name, publication date, the title of the page or article in italics, the website name, and the URL. If no author is known, begin with the title of the article. If updates to the content are possible, include a retrieval date.

Author's Last Name, First initial. (Year, Month Date of publication). Title of the page. Name of the Website. URL

Johnson, M. (2024, March 12). Explore with us. Random Discoveries. https://www.randomdiscoveries.com/explore-with-us

Master APA Format Easily with WPS Office

I personally find APA format to be the most complex of all formats, but doing it on WPS Office sure makes it easy. The fact that it’s so user-friendly, with every feature readily available, is a huge advantage. The best part is that WPS Office is completely free. As a student, finding a good office suite that is cost-effective can be a challenge, and I’ve been there. Download WPS Office and spare yourself the hassle of hunting for an office suite— WPS Office is the answer to all your problems.

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Disney-ish: How we embraced Disney magic without setting foot inside the park

Maggie and Everest Downs

Living in Southern California as the parent of a small child, I knew this day was inevitable.

“Mom, when can we go to Disneyland?” asked my son, Everest, then age 8.

It was true that nearly all of his friends had already visited Disneyland, some more times than they could count. But for us, Disneyland was out of reach. I’d crunched the numbers, and they added up quickly. With a recent home purchase and unexpected expenses, a Disney vacation simply wasn’t feasible. My priority was house keys, not Magic Keys.

I also considered the fact that Everest doesn’t like rides. Ever since a scary spin on the Scrambler during our local Tamale Festival, he’s been reluctant to even climb aboard a docile merry-go-round. While I think my kid will embrace amusement park rides someday, he’s not there yet — and when I imagined the Disney experience without any rides, it didn’t seem worth it.

On the other hand, I wanted to do this for him. Having lost my mom to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and my dad to cancer, I’m profoundly aware that life is fleeting and meant to be embraced. I strive to cultivate meaningful family experiences and opportunities for connection. Memories are my most valuable currency.

I wondered: Was it possible to create the Disney moment of my child’s dreams without putting my family into debt?

Maggie and Everest Downs

So I sat down with Everest, and I asked what he wanted out of a trip to Disneyland . Yes, many of his friends had visited the park, which made it appealing. But beyond that, what interested him? What did he want to do? His response was immediate: Meet his favorite character, Goofy, and watch fireworks.

That set my absurd plan into motion — we would do the things Everest wanted to do at Disneyland, but we’d do them without ever entering the park. I called it Disney-ish .

Living within driving distance of Anaheim, getting to Disneyland is easy enough. Our first stop was a character brunch at Goofy’s Kitchen, located at the Disneyland Resort. In a cartoonish kitchen scene, Chef Goofy greeted every group and posed for photos. Then, during the buffet-style meal, other characters approached us. Chip, (or maybe it was Dale?), taught Everest a few dance moves. Pluto offered enthusiastic high-fives, while Minnie Mouse had plenty of hugs for us both. At some point between peanut butter and jelly pizza and Mickey waffles, everyone in the room leaped to their feet, swinging napkins in the air while a conga line of characters weaved around the tables.

Maggie and Everest Downs

Afterward, we spent hours exploring Downtown Disney, the entertainment district open to the public. During a stop in the LEGO store, Everest was invited to construct a car to add to a display. Then we built our own lightsabers at the Star Wars Trading Post. We danced around to a live band playing pop hits, ate ice cream for dinner and rode the free tram to the parking structures and back again. We cranked out a lot of flattened souvenir pennies.

At the end of the night, our Disney-ish adventure concluded with a dazzling fireworks show, easily viewed from the esplanade between Disneyland and California Adventure. It was spectacular.

Legend has it that Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it” — and he transformed an orange grove into a world of wonder. Embracing that Disney spirit, I aimed to create something wondrous too, to be the Imagineer for my own child. Everest and I may not have gone inside the happiest place on Earth, but we discovered joy in the space beyond the happiest place on Earth. And that was more than enough.

More than anything, I want Everest to grow up knowing that our special moments don’t have to look the same as everyone else’s.

I will always have a feverish desire to make things perfect for my son. I ache to right every wrong from my own childhood, to give Everest everything I ever lacked. But when that’s not possible, it’s my cue to get creative and conjure a different experience. More than anything, I want Everest to grow up knowing that our special moments don’t have to look the same as everyone else’s.

One day Everest will experience Disneyland fully and in all its glory; I’m sure of it. Until then, I can proudly say our Disney-ish day was every bit as enchanting as the real thing. Because, as anyone who has ever watched a Disney movie knows, the magic was never hidden behind the gates. It was in us all along.

Maggie Downs is the author of “50 Things to Do Before You’re Five” and the travel memoir “Braver Than You Think.”

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  • The Conspiracy of Silence to Protect Joe Biden

The president’s mental decline was like a dark family secret for many elite supporters.

Portrait of Olivia Nuzzi

President Joe Biden walked before a row of flags and took his place at a lectern stamped with the presidential seal. A few feet in front of him, thin panes of teleprompter glass, programmed with prewritten remarks, were positioned to meet his stare as he spoke into a microphone that would carry his voice through a soundsystem. His White House press secretary looked on. So did several senior White House officials. Anxiety clung to the humid summer air. What the president was about to say might determine the future of his presidency and perhaps the Republic itself.

Yet this was not to be some grand pronouncement about war or peace or a shift in domestic policy. He was not delivering an official address or even a rally speech. He was not onstage in a stadium or auditorium or perched on a platform in a gilded government or hotel ballroom. He was not speaking to a crowd of thousands or even hundreds. There would be no video of his statement carried live to the world. There would be no photos. And there would be no published audio.

In a tent on the backyard patio of a private home in suburban New Jersey, the president was eye to eye with a small group of powerful Democrats and rich campaign donors, trying to reassure them that he was not about to drop dead or drop out of the presidential race.

The content of his speech would matter less than his perceived capacity to speak coherently at all, though much of what he would say would not be entirely decipherable. His words as always had a habit of sliding into a rhetorical pileup, an affliction that had worsened in the four years since he began running for president for the third time in 2020. He might begin a sentence loud and clear and then, midway through, sound as if he was trying to recite two or three lines all at once, his individual words and syllables dissolving into an incoherent gurgle.

Still, he was fine, he told the donors. Old, sure. But fine. He was here, wasn’t he? Things were actually going well by the numbers. The polls looked good. The money looked good. They were looking right at him. He looked pretty good for 81, no? Really, folks! And what choice did they have? As he liked to say, “As my father liked to say: Joey, don’t compare me to the almighty; compare me to the alternative. ” In total, his remarks would last for exactly ten minutes — long enough to inspire confidence in his abilities, advisers hoped, but not so long that he was at increased risk of calling those abilities further into question.

As always with this president, the production surrounding any public appearance — even if it was semi-private — came down to timing and control. He could not spend too much time out in the wild, and the circumstances in which he could exist in such an environment with so many wobbly variables would need to be managed aggressively. According to rules set by the White House, the traveling protective pool — the rotating group of reporters, run by the White House Correspondents’ Association, that trails a sitting president to provide constant coverage of his movements for the press corps — would be permitted limited access to observe his remarks before being whisked away from the reception, or “wrangled,” in communications parlance, and held elsewhere on the property (in a guest house, where somebody tuned an old television set to Real Time With Bill Maher ).

Obsessive efforts to control Biden were not a new phenomenon. But whereas in the last campaign, the incredible stagecraft surrounding even the smallest Biden event — speaking to a few people at a union hall in rural Iowa, say, or in a barn in New Hampshire — seemed to be about avoiding the so-called gaffes that had become for him inevitable, the stagecraft of the 2024 campaign seems now to be about something else. The worry is not that Biden will say something overly candid, or say something he didn’t mean to say, but that he will communicate through his appearance that he is not really there.

The display early Saturday evening was the last of seven campaign events held across four states in the 48 hours that followed the first presidential debate. The events were designed to serve as both proof of life for concerned wealthy patrons of the Biden reelection effort and proof of the wisdom of their choices: Other concerned wealthy people were still buying. They didn’t need to panic.

The sprawling Red Bank estate on a hill overlooking the Navesink River belonged to Goldman Sachs executive turned governor Phil Murphy. The local press had reported that hundreds were expected to attend the event. Though the $10 million property could have easily accommodated such a crowd, it was more like 50. Fewer if you subtract official staff or members of the Biden family, including the First Lady and several grandchildren. But big money comes in small packs, and Tammy Murphy, the governor’s wife, began her remarks with an unusual announcement: The couple had raised $3.7 million with their fundraiser, a number that had exceeded their goal. “This is personal for us,” the governor said. “We’re all with you 1,000 percent.” He called Biden “America’s comeback kid.” The callback to Bill Clinton articulated the nervous, defensive energy that animated the evening. But Biden had not face planted in a pit of bad press because of a mistake in his personal life. His problems would be much trickier to solve. A sex scandal might help him right now, in fact.

The president had approached the lectern with his stiff gait, which his official medical report, written by Dr. Kevin O’Connor, who has led his care since he was vice-president, attributes to a foot injury and an arthritic spine.

“I’d like to make three quick points,” Biden said. “Today we announced, since the debate, which wasn’t my best debate ever, as Barack points out, we raised $27 million.” It has long been a feature of Biden speeches to refer to the former president in this familiar way. “Barack and me” is a frequent refrain, a reminder of his service to the nation’s first Black president and a promise, too, of a return to normalcy after the aberrant rise of Donald Trump.

Although large speakers lined the patio, and although Governor and Mrs. Murphy were perfectly audible in their remarks, understanding Biden’s speech required intense focus. “POTUS was difficult to hear at times,” Tyler Pager of the Washington Post , assigned to circulate his statements in real time as the print pooler, wrote. “So please check the transcript.” The pool reporters often struggle with the challenge of how hard it is to hear or make sense of the president. Radio reporters do not always obtain usable audio of his remarks. Print reporters squint and strain and crane their necks, trying to find the best position by which their ears may absorb the vibration of his voice in the air. Reporters scrutinize their audio recordings and read quotes to one another after the fact. Is that what he said? You heard it? In that order? You sure?

Biden continued on: “Secondly, I understand the concern after the debate. I get it. We didn’t have a great night, but we’re working hard and we’re going to be working to get it done … Since the debate, the polls show a little movement and have me up a couple points.”

The donors broke into thunderous applause when the president said this about the polls. But what he said was false. Early public surveys immediately following the debate indicated that Biden was down overall a point or two, and surveys that asked respondents to rate the debate itself had him losing by mid–double digits. As a means of damage control, the campaign leaked some of its own internal polling — which had been until recently regarded as a state secret — to argue that the debate had not moved the needle: The president was losing by a slim margin before Thursday night, and he was still losing by that slim margin after Thursday night. In the days that followed, the polls would only grow grimmer .

“In fact,” Biden went on, “the big takeaway are Trump’s lies … The point is, I didn’t have a great night and neither did he.”

He returned to the central message of his campaign: “The fact is that Donald Trump is a genuine threat to democracy, and that’s not hyperbole. He’s a genuine threat. He’s a threat to our freedom, he’s a threat to our democracy, he’s literally a threat to America and what we stand for … Ask yourself the question: If not for America, who would lead the world?”

The question was posed as a reminder of the stakes of the November election. During his term in office, Trump had sought to retreat from America’s global commitments, abiding by a madman semi-isolationist theory of foreign policy that in Biden’s view and the view of many Establishment actors across the ideological divide had caused damage to the country’s reputation that will take a generation of stable leadership to undo.

Yet Biden’s comment also served as an unintentional reminder of the concerns about his own leadership. Just the day before, the Wall Street Journal had published a report that described how the president’s “frail” appearance and inconsistent “focus and performance” presented challenges on the world stage. At the G7 summit in Italy in June, Biden had the distinction of being the only world leader who did not attend a private dinner party where candid diplomatic talks would happen off-camera. At a European Union summit in Washington in October, Biden “struggled to follow the discussions” and “stumbled over his talking points” to such a degree that he required the intervention of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (The White House denied the Journal ’s reporting.)

Under vines of white moonflowers on the governor’s patio, I watched as the president neared the end of his ten-minute speech. If a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth, he was still making them. The truth he told now was this: “I’ve got a helluva lot of plans for the next four years — God willing, as my father used to say.”

In January, I began hearing similar stories from Democratic officials, activists, and donors. All people who supported the president and were working to help reelect him to a second term in office. Following encounters with the president, they had arrived at the same concern: Could he really do this for another four years? Could he even make it to Election Day?

Uniformly, these people were of a similar social strata. They lived and socialized in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. They did not wish to come forward with their stories. They did not want to blow a whistle. They wished that they could whistle past what they knew and emerge in November victorious and relieved, having helped avoid another four years of Trump. What would happen after that? They couldn’t think that far ahead. Their worries were more immediate.

When they discussed what they knew, what they had seen, what they had heard, they literally whispered. They were scared and horrified. But they were also burdened. They needed to talk about it (though not on the record). They needed to know that they were not alone and not crazy. Things were bad, and they knew things were bad, and they knew others must also know things were bad, and yet they would need to pretend, outwardly, that things were fine. The president was fine. The election would be fine. They would be fine. To admit otherwise would mean jeopardizing the future of the country and, well, nobody wanted to be responsible personally or socially for that. Their disclosures often followed innocent questions: Have you seen the president lately? How does he seem? Often, they would answer with only silence, their eyes widening cartoonishly, their heads shaking back and forth. Or with disapproving sounds. “Phhhhwwwaahhh.” “Uggghhhhhhhhh.” “Bbbwwhhheeuuw.” Or with a simple, “ Not good! Not good!” Or with an accusatory question of their own: “Have you seen him?!”

Those who encountered the president in social settings sometimes left their interactions disturbed. Longtime friends of the Biden family, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, were shocked to find that the president did not remember their names. At a White House event last year, a guest recalled, with horror, realizing that the president would not be able to stay for the reception because, it was clear, he would not be able to make it through the reception. The guest wasn’t sure they could vote for Biden, since the guest was now open to an idea that they had previously dismissed as right-wing propaganda: The president may not really be the acting president after all.

Others told me the president was becoming increasingly hard to get ahold of, even as it related to official government business, the type of things any U.S. president would communicate about on a regular basis with high-level officials across the world. Biden instead was cocooned within mounting layers of bureaucracy, spoken for more than he was speaking or spoken to.

Saying hello to one Democratic megadonor and family friend at the White House recently, the president stared blankly and nodded his head. The First Lady intervened to whisper in her husband’s ear, telling him to say “hello” to the donor by name and to thank them for their recent generosity. The president repeated the words his wife had fed him. “It hasn’t been good for a long time but it’s gotten so, so much worse,” a witness to the exchange told me. “ So much worse!”

Who was actually in charge? Nobody knew. But surely someone was in charge? And surely there must be a plan, since surely this situation could not endure? I heard these questions posed at cocktail parties on the coasts but also at MAGA rallies in Middle America. There emerged a comical overlap between the beliefs of the nation’s most elite liberal Biden supporters and the beliefs of the most rabid and conspiratorial supporters of former President Trump. Resistance or QAnon, they shared a grand theory of America in 2024: There has to be a secret group of high-level government leaders who control Biden and who will soon set into motion their plan to replace Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee. Nothing else made sense. They were in full agreement.

What I saw for myself confirmed something was amiss. I spent much of the spring, summer, and fall of 2020 on the primary campaign trail with Biden. In the period before he was granted Secret Service protection, his events, which were usually of modest size, were more freewheeling affairs, and reporters inched up to the candidate as he interacted with voters at the rope line. He rarely took questions. A teetotaler, he was not the kind of candidate who hung out at the hotel bar after the campaigning day was through (on occasion, Jill Biden would enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir in a Marriott lobby with her aides), but he was visible and closely observable.

A campaign trail is a grueling exercise for anybody of any age, from the youngest network embeds to the oldest would-be presidents, and back then, there were days when Biden appeared sharper than on others. I knew it was a good day when he saw me and winked. On such occasions, he joked and prayed and cried with voters. He stayed to take a photo with every supporter. He might even entertain a question or two from the press. He had color in his face. There was no question he was alive and present. On bad days, which were unpredictable but reliably occurred during a challenging news cycle, he was less animated. He stared off. He did not make eye contact. He would trip over his words, even if they were programmed in a teleprompter. On such occasions, he was hurried out of the venue quickly and ushered into a waiting SUV.

This April, at a reception before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I joined a sea of people waiting for a photo with the president and First Lady in the basement of the Washington Hilton. A photo line is a trauma. The main attraction must stand there, reduced to a human prop, with person after person, group after group, nodding and saying “hello” and flashing the same smile a zillion times so that guests leave the event with their little token commemorating their split second in proximity to history. People of all ages suffer in a photo line. It is tiring and unnatural, an icky transaction that requires robotic discipline on the part of its star and reveals primal horrors on the part of its participants. In Washington, even the most allegedly serious people can behave like pushy fangirls. So I grade photo-line behavior and performance on a curve. Who can be their best selves wedged into such a nightmarish dynamic? And in the basement of a Hilton, no less.

The first person I saw upon entering the subterranean space was the First Lady. I maintain personal fondness for Dr. Biden, whose controversial preferred honorific I am using out of respect. The day that my mother died, I happened to be traveling with her in Virginia, and when she learned about it, she was incredibly decent . She called to talk with me about grief, and she sent me a lovely note. The Bidens are famous for their willingness and ability to mourn with others, so I was not surprised exactly, but I was impressed, since among White House officials, members of the Biden family, and supporters of the president, I had always been treated with suspicion or outright contempt after my critical coverage of him during the 2020 campaign . I had written that there were “[c]oncerns, implicit or explicit, about his ability to stay agile and alive for the next four years,” and that “[f]or political reporters, marveling every day at just how well this isn’t going, watching Biden can feel like being at the rodeo. You’re there because on some level you know you might see someone get killed.” Biden-world insiders did not appreciate that very much, and they never forgot or fully forgave it. I was particularly touched then by the First Lady’s kindness, and I always think of that when I see her.

In the basement, I smiled and said hello. She looked back at me with a confused, panicked expression. It was as if she had just received horrible news and was about to run out of the room and into some kind of a family emergency. “Uh, hi,” she said. Then she glanced over to her right. Oh … 

I had not seen the president up close in some time. I had skipped this season’s holiday parties, and, preoccupied with covering Trump’s legal and political dramas, I hadn’t been showing up at his White House. Unlike Trump, he wasn’t very accessible to the press, anyway. Why bother? Biden had done few interviews. He wasn’t prone to interrupting his schedule with a surprise media circus in the Oval Office. He kept a tight circle of the same close advisers who had been advising him for more than 30 years, so unlike with his predecessor, you didn’t need to hang around in West Wing hallways to figure out who was speaking to him. It was all pretty locked down and predictable in terms of the reality you could access as a member of the press with a White House hard pass.

I followed the First Lady’s gaze and found the president. Now I understood her panicked expression.

Up close, the president does not look quite plausible. It’s not that he’s old. We all know what old looks like. Bernie Sanders is old. Mitch McConnell is old. Most of the ruling class is old. The president was something stranger, something not of this earth.

This was true even in 2020. His face had then an uncanny valley quality that injectable aficionados call “low trust” — if only by millimeters, his cosmetically altered proportions knocked his overall facial harmony into the realm of the improbable. His thin skin, long a figurative problem and now a literal one, was pulled tightly over cheeks that seemed to vary month to month in volume. Under artificial light and in the sunshine, he took on an unnatural gleam. He looked, well, inflated. His eyes were half-shut or open very wide. They appeared darker than they once had, his pupils dilated. He did not blink at regular intervals. The White House often did not engage when questioned about the president’s stare, which sometimes raised alarm on social media when documented in official videos produced by the White House. The administration was above conspiratorial chitchat that entertained seriously scenarios in which the president was suffering from a shocking decline most Americans were not seeing. If the president was being portrayed that way, it was by his political enemies on the right, who promoted through what the press office termed “cheap fakes” a caricature of an addled creature unfit to serve. They would not dignify those people, or people doing the bidding of those people, with a response.

For many inclined to support the president, this was good enough. They did not need to monitor the president’s public appearances, because under his leadership the country had returned to the kind of normal state in which members of a First World democratic society had the privilege to forget about the president for hours or days or even weeks at a time. Trump required constant observation. What did he just do? What would he do next? Oh God, what was he doing right at that moment? Biden could be trusted to perform the duties of his office out of sight. Many people were content to look away.

My heart stopped as I extended my hand to greet the president. I tried to make eye contact, but it was like his eyes, though open, were not on . His face had a waxy quality. He smiled. It was a sweet smile. It made me sad in a way I can’t fully convey. I always thought — and I wrote — that he was a decent man. If ambition was his only sin, and it seemed to be, he had committed no sin at all by the standards of most politicians I had covered. He took my hand in his, and I was startled by how it felt. Not cold but cool. The basement was so warm that people were sweating and complaining that they were sweating. This was a silly black-tie affair. I said “hello.” His sweet smile stayed frozen. He spoke very slowly and in a very soft voice. “And what’s your name?” he asked.

Exiting the room after the photo, the group of reporters — not instigated by me, I should note — made guesses about how dead he appeared to be, percentage wise. “Forty percent?” one of them asked.

“It was a bad night.” That’s the spin from the White House and its allies about Thursday’s debate. But when I watched the president amble stiffly across the stage, my first thought was: He doesn’t look so bad. For months, everything I had heard, plus some of what I had seen, led me to brace for something much more dire.

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  • Open access
  • Published: 03 July 2024

The impact of evidence-based nursing leadership in healthcare settings: a mixed methods systematic review

  • Maritta Välimäki 1 , 2 ,
  • Shuang Hu 3 ,
  • Tella Lantta 1 ,
  • Kirsi Hipp 1 , 4 ,
  • Jaakko Varpula 1 ,
  • Jiarui Chen 3 ,
  • Gaoming Liu 5 ,
  • Yao Tang 3 ,
  • Wenjun Chen 3 &
  • Xianhong Li 3  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  452 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

362 Accesses

Metrics details

The central component in impactful healthcare decisions is evidence. Understanding how nurse leaders use evidence in their own managerial decision making is still limited. This mixed methods systematic review aimed to examine how evidence is used to solve leadership problems and to describe the measured and perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurse leaders and their performance, organizational, and clinical outcomes.

We included articles using any type of research design. We referred nurses, nurse managers or other nursing staff working in a healthcare context when they attempt to influence the behavior of individuals or a group in an organization using an evidence-based approach. Seven databases were searched until 11 November 2021. JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Quasi-experimental studies, JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Case Series, Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool were used to evaluate the Risk of bias in quasi-experimental studies, case series, mixed methods studies, respectively. The JBI approach to mixed methods systematic reviews was followed, and a parallel-results convergent approach to synthesis and integration was adopted.

Thirty-one publications were eligible for the analysis: case series ( n  = 27), mixed methods studies ( n  = 3) and quasi-experimental studies ( n  = 1). All studies were included regardless of methodological quality. Leadership problems were related to the implementation of knowledge into practice, the quality of nursing care and the resource availability. Organizational data was used in 27 studies to understand leadership problems, scientific evidence from literature was sought in 26 studies, and stakeholders’ views were explored in 24 studies. Perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership focused on nurses’ performance, organizational outcomes, and clinical outcomes. Economic data were not available.

Conclusions

This is the first systematic review to examine how evidence is used to solve leadership problems and to describe its measured and perceived effects from different sites. Although a variety of perceptions and effects were identified on nurses’ performance as well as on organizational and clinical outcomes, available knowledge concerning evidence-based leadership is currently insufficient. Therefore, more high-quality research and clinical trial designs are still needed.

Trail registration

The study was registered (PROSPERO CRD42021259624).

Peer Review reports

Global health demands have set new roles for nurse leaders [ 1 ].Nurse leaders are referred to as nurses, nurse managers, or other nursing staff working in a healthcare context who attempt to influence the behavior of individuals or a group based on goals that are congruent with organizational goals [ 2 ]. They are seen as professionals “armed with data and evidence, and a commitment to mentorship and education”, and as a group in which “leaders innovate, transform, and achieve quality outcomes for patients, health care professionals, organizations, and communities” [ 3 ]. Effective leadership occurs when team members critically follow leaders and are motivated by a leader’s decisions based on the organization’s requests and targets [ 4 ]. On the other hand, problems caused by poor leadership may also occur, regarding staff relations, stress, sickness, or retention [ 5 ]. Therefore, leadership requires an understanding of different problems to be solved using synthesizing evidence from research, clinical expertise, and stakeholders’ preferences [ 6 , 7 ]. If based on evidence, leadership decisions, also referred as leadership decision making [ 8 ], could ensure adequate staffing [ 7 , 9 ] and to produce sufficient and cost-effective care [ 10 ]. However, nurse leaders still rely on their decision making on their personal [ 11 ] and professional experience [ 10 ] over research evidence, which can lead to deficiencies in the quality and safety of care delivery [ 12 , 13 , 14 ]. As all nurses should demonstrate leadership in their profession, their leadership competencies should be strengthened [ 15 ].

Evidence-informed decision-making, referred to as evidence appraisal and application, and evaluation of decisions [ 16 ], has been recognized as one of the core competencies for leaders [ 17 , 18 ]. The role of evidence in nurse leaders’ managerial decision making has been promoted by public authorities [ 19 , 20 , 21 ]. Evidence-based management, another concept related to evidence-based leadership, has been used as the potential to improve healthcare services [ 22 ]. It can guide nursing leaders, in developing working conditions, staff retention, implementation practices, strategic planning, patient care, and success of leadership [ 13 ]. Collins and Holton [ 23 ] in their systematic review and meta-analysis examined 83 studies regarding leadership development interventions. They found that leadership training can result in significant improvement in participants’ skills, especially in knowledge level, although the training effects varied across studies. Cummings et al. [ 24 ] reviewed 100 papers (93 studies) and concluded that participation in leadership interventions had a positive impact on the development of a variety of leadership styles. Clavijo-Chamorro et al. [ 25 ] in their review of 11 studies focused on leadership-related factors that facilitate evidence implementation: teamwork, organizational structures, and transformational leadership. The role of nurse managers was to facilitate evidence-based practices by transforming contexts to motivate the staff and move toward a shared vision of change.

As far as we are aware, however, only a few systematic reviews have focused on evidence-based leadership or related concepts in the healthcare context aiming to analyse how nurse leaders themselves uses evidence in the decision-making process. Young [ 26 ] targeted definitions and acceptance of evidence-based management (EBMgt) in healthcare while Hasanpoor et al. [ 22 ] identified facilitators and barriers, sources of evidence used, and the role of evidence in the process of decision making. Both these reviews concluded that EBMgt was of great importance but used limitedly in healthcare settings due to a lack of time, a lack of research management activities, and policy constraints. A review by Williams [ 27 ] showed that the usage of evidence to support management in decision making is marginal due to a shortage of relevant evidence. Fraser [ 28 ] in their review further indicated that the potential evidence-based knowledge is not used in decision making by leaders as effectively as it could be. Non-use of evidence occurs and leaders base their decisions mainly on single studies, real-world evidence, and experts’ opinions [ 29 ]. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses rarely provide evidence of management-related interventions [ 30 ]. Tate et al. [ 31 ] concluded based on their systematic review and meta-analysis that the ability of nurse leaders to use and critically appraise research evidence may influence the way policy is enacted and how resources and staff are used to meet certain objectives set by policy. This can further influence staff and workforce outcomes. It is therefore important that nurse leaders have the capacity and motivation to use the strongest evidence available to effect change and guide their decision making [ 27 ].

Despite of a growing body of evidence, we found only one review focusing on the impact of evidence-based knowledge. Geert et al. [ 32 ] reviewed literature from 2007 to 2016 to understand the elements of design, delivery, and evaluation of leadership development interventions that are the most reliably linked to outcomes at the level of the individual and the organization, and that are of most benefit to patients. The authors concluded that it is possible to improve individual-level outcomes among leaders, such as knowledge, motivation, skills, and behavior change using evidence-based approaches. Some of the most effective interventions included, for example, interactive workshops, coaching, action learning, and mentoring. However, these authors found limited research evidence describing how nurse leaders themselves use evidence to support their managerial decisions in nursing and what the outcomes are.

To fill the knowledge gap and compliment to existing knowledgebase, in this mixed methods review we aimed to (1) examine what leadership problems nurse leaders solve using an evidence-based approach and (2) how they use evidence to solve these problems. We also explored (3) the measured and (4) perceived effects of the evidence-based leadership approach in healthcare settings. Both qualitative and quantitative components of the effects of evidence-based leadership were examined to provide greater insights into the available literature [ 33 ]. Together with the evidence-based leadership approach, and its impact on nursing [ 34 , 35 ], this knowledge gained in this review can be used to inform clinical policy or organizational decisions [ 33 ]. The study is registered (PROSPERO CRD42021259624). The methods used in this review were specified in advance and documented in a priori in a published protocol [ 36 ]. Key terms of the review and the search terms are defined in Table  1 (population, intervention, comparison, outcomes, context, other).

In this review, we used a mixed methods approach [ 37 ]. A mixed methods systematic review was selected as this approach has the potential to produce direct relevance to policy makers and practitioners [ 38 ]. Johnson and Onwuegbuzie [ 39 ] have defined mixed methods research as “the class of research in which the researcher mixes or combines quantitative and qualitative research techniques, methods, approaches, concepts or language into a single study.” Therefore, we combined quantitative and narrative analysis to appraise and synthesize empirical evidence, and we held them as equally important in informing clinical policy or organizational decisions [ 34 ]. In this review, a comprehensive synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data was performed first and then discussed in discussion part (parallel-results convergent design) [ 40 ]. We hoped that different type of analysis approaches could complement each other and deeper picture of the topic in line with our research questions could be gained [ 34 ].

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Inclusion and exclusion criteria of the study are described in Table  1 .

Search strategy

A three-step search strategy was utilized. First, an initial limited search with #MEDLINE was undertaken, followed by analysis of the words used in the title, abstract, and the article’s key index terms. Second, the search strategy, including identified keywords and index terms, was adapted for each included data base and a second search was undertaken on 11 November 2021. The full search strategy for each database is described in Additional file 1 . Third, the reference list of all studies included in the review were screened for additional studies. No year limits or language restrictions were used.

Information sources

The database search included the following: CINAHL (EBSCO), Cochrane Library (academic database for medicine and health science and nursing), Embase (Elsevier), PsycINFO (EBSCO), PubMed (MEDLINE), Scopus (Elsevier) and Web of Science (academic database across all scientific and technical disciplines, ranging from medicine and social sciences to arts and humanities). These databases were selected as they represent typical databases in health care context. Subject headings from each of the databases were included in the search strategies. Boolean operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ were used to combine the search terms. An information specialist from the University of Turku Library was consulted in the formation of the search strategies.

Study selection

All identified citations were collated and uploaded into Covidence software (Covidence systematic review software, Veritas Health Innovation, Melbourne, Australia www.covidence.org ), and duplicates were removed by the software. Titles and abstracts were screened and assessed against the inclusion criteria independently by two reviewers out of four, and any discrepancies were resolved by the third reviewer (MV, KH, TL, WC). Studies meeting the inclusion criteria were retrieved in full and archived in Covidence. Access to one full-text article was lacking: the authors for one study were contacted about the missing full text, but no full text was received. All remaining hits of the included studies were retrieved and assessed independently against the inclusion criteria by two independent reviewers of four (MV, KH, TL, WC). Studies that did not meet the inclusion criteria were excluded, and the reasons for exclusion were recorded in Covidence. Any disagreements that arose between the reviewers were resolved through discussions with XL.

Assessment of methodological quality

Eligible studies were critically appraised by two independent reviewers (YT, SH). Standardized critical appraisal instruments based on the study design were used. First, quasi-experimental studies were assessed using the JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Quasi-experimental studies [ 44 ]. Second, case series were assessed using the JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Case Series [ 45 ]. Third, mixed methods studies were appraised using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool [ 46 ].

To increase inter-reviewer reliability, the review agreement was calculated (SH) [ 47 ]. A kappa greater than 0.8 was considered to represent a high level of agreement (0–0.1). In our data, the agreement was 0.75. Discrepancies raised between two reviewers were resolved through discussion and modifications and confirmed by XL. As an outcome, studies that met the inclusion criteria were proceeded to critical appraisal and assessed as suitable for inclusion in the review. The scores for each item and overall critical appraisal scores were presented.

Data extraction

For data extraction, specific tables were created. First, study characteristics (author(s), year, country, design, number of participants, setting) were extracted by two authors independently (JC, MV) and reviewed by TL. Second, descriptions of the interventions were extracted by two reviewers (JV, JC) using the structure of the TIDIeR (Template for Intervention Description and Replication) checklist (brief name, the goal of the intervention, material and procedure, models of delivery and location, dose, modification, adherence and fidelity) [ 48 ]. The extractions were confirmed (MV).

Third, due to a lack of effectiveness data and a wide heterogeneity between study designs and presentation of outcomes, no attempt was made to pool the quantitative data statistically; the findings of the quantitative data were presented in narrative form only [ 44 ]. The separate data extraction tables for each research question were designed specifically for this study. For both qualitative (and a qualitative component of mixed-method studies) and quantitative studies, the data were extracted and tabulated into text format according to preplanned research questions [ 36 ]. To test the quality of the tables and the data extraction process, three authors independently extracted the data from the first five studies (in alphabetical order). After that, the authors came together to share and determine whether their approaches of the data extraction were consistent with each other’s output and whether the content of each table was in line with research question. No reason was found to modify the data extraction tables or planned process. After a consensus of the data extraction process was reached, the data were extracted in pairs by independent reviewers (WC, TY, SH, GL). Any disagreements that arose between the reviewers were resolved through discussion and with a third reviewer (MV).

Data analysis

We were not able to conduct a meta-analysis due to a lack of effectiveness data based on clinical trials. Instead, we used inductive thematic analysis with constant comparison to answer the research question [ 46 , 49 ] using tabulated primary data from qualitative and quantitative studies as reported by the original authors in narrative form only [ 47 ]. In addition, the qualitizing process was used to transform quantitative data to qualitative data; this helped us to convert the whole data into themes and categories. After that we used the thematic analysis for the narrative data as follows. First, the text was carefully read, line by line, to reveal topics answering each specific review question (MV). Second, the data coding was conducted, and the themes in the data were formed by data categorization. The process of deriving the themes was inductive based on constant comparison [ 49 ]. The results of thematic analysis and data categorization was first described in narrative format and then the total number of studies was calculated where the specific category was identified (%).

Stakeholder involvement

The method of reporting stakeholders’ involvement follows the key components by [ 50 ]: (1) people involved, (2) geographical location, (3) how people were recruited, (4) format of involvement, (5) amount of involvement, (6) ethical approval, (7) financial compensation, and (8) methods for reporting involvement.

In our review, stakeholder involvement targeted nurses and nurse leader in China. Nurse Directors of two hospitals recommended potential participants who received a personal invitation letter from researchers to participate in a discussion meeting. Stakeholders’ participation was based on their own free will. Due to COVID-19, one online meeting (1 h) was organized (25 May 2022). Eleven participants joined the meeting. Ethical approval was not applied and no financial compensation was offered. At the end of the meeting, experiences of stakeholders’ involvement were explored.

The meeting started with an introductory presentation with power points. The rationale, methods, and preliminary review results were shared with the participants [ 51 ].The meeting continued with general questions for the participants: (1) Are you aware of the concepts of evidence-based practice or evidence-based leadership?; (2) How important is it to use evidence to support decisions among nurse leaders?; (3) How is the evidence-based approach used in hospital settings?; and (4) What type of evidence is currently used to support nurse leaders’ decision making (e.g. scientific literature, organizational data, stakeholder views)?

Two people took notes on the course and content of the conversation. The notes were later transcripted in verbatim, and the key points of the discussions were summarised. Although answers offered by the stakeholders were very short, the information was useful to validate the preliminary content of the results, add the rigorousness of the review, and obtain additional perspectives. A recommendation of the stakeholders was combined in the Discussion part of this review increasing the applicability of the review in the real world [ 50 ]. At the end of the discussion, the value of stakeholders’ involvement was asked. Participants shared that the experience of participating was unique and the topic of discussion was challenging. Two authors of the review group further represented stakeholders by working together with the research team throughout the review study.

Search results

From seven different electronic databases, 6053 citations were identified as being potentially relevant to the review. Then, 3133 duplicates were removed by an automation tool (Covidence: www.covidence.org ), and one was removed manually. The titles and abstracts of 3040 of citations were reviewed, and a total of 110 full texts were included (one extra citation was found on the reference list but later excluded). Based on the eligibility criteria, 31 studies (32 hits) were critically appraised and deemed suitable for inclusion in the review. The search results and selection process are presented in the PRISMA [ 52 ] flow diagram Fig.  1 . The full list of references for included studies can be find in Additional file 2 . To avoid confusion between articles of the reference list and studies included in the analysis, the studies included in the review are referred inside the article using the reference number of each study (e.g. ref 1, ref 2).

figure 1

Search results and study selection and inclusion process [ 52 ]

Characteristics of included studies

The studies had multiple purposes, aiming to develop practice, implement a new approach, improve quality, or to develop a model. The 31 studies (across 32 hits) were case series studies ( n  = 27), mixed methods studies ( n  = 3) and a quasi-experimental study ( n  = 1). All studies were published between the years 2004 and 2021. The highest number of papers was published in year 2020.

Table  2 describes the characteristics of included studies and Additional file 3 offers a narrative description of the studies.

Methodological quality assessment

Quasi-experimental studies.

We had one quasi-experimental study (ref 31). All questions in the critical appraisal tool were applicable. The total score of the study was 8 (out of a possible 9). Only one response of the tool was ‘no’ because no control group was used in the study (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Case series studies . A case series study is typically defined as a collection of subjects with common characteristics. The studies do not include a comparison group and are often based on prevalent cases and on a sample of convenience [ 53 ]. Munn et al. [ 45 ] further claim that case series are best described as observational studies, lacking experimental and randomized characteristics, being descriptive studies, without a control or comparator group. Out of 27 case series studies included in our review, the critical appraisal scores varied from 1 to 9. Five references were conference abstracts with empirical study results, which were scored from 1 to 3. Full reports of these studies were searched in electronic databases but not found. Critical appraisal scores for the remaining 22 studies ranged from 1 to 9 out of a possible score of 10. One question (Q3) was not applicable to 13 studies: “Were valid methods used for identification of the condition for all participants included in the case series?” Only two studies had clearly reported the demographic of the participants in the study (Q6). Twenty studies met Criteria 8 (“Were the outcomes or follow-up results of cases clearly reported?”) and 18 studies met Criteria 7 (“Q7: Was there clear reporting of clinical information of the participants?”) (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Mixed-methods studies

Mixed-methods studies involve a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. This is a common design and includes convergent design, sequential explanatory design, and sequential exploratory design [ 46 ]. There were three mixed-methods studies. The critical appraisal scores for the three studies ranged from 60 to 100% out of a possible 100%. Two studies met all the criteria, while one study fulfilled 60% of the scored criteria due to a lack of information to understand the relevance of the sampling strategy well enough to address the research question (Q4.1) or to determine whether the risk of nonresponse bias was low (Q4.4) (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Intervention or program components

The intervention of program components were categorized and described using the TiDier checklist: name and goal, theory or background, material, procedure, provider, models of delivery, location, dose, modification, and adherence and fidelity [ 48 ]. A description of intervention in each study is described in Additional file 5 and a narrative description in Additional file 6 .

Leadership problems

In line with the inclusion criteria, data for the leadership problems were categorized in all 31 included studies (see Additional file 7 for leadership problems). Three types of leadership problems were identified: implementation of knowledge into practice, the quality of clinical care, and resources in nursing care. A narrative summary of the results is reported below.

Implementing knowledge into practice

Eleven studies (35%) aimed to solve leadership problems related to implementation of knowledge into practice. Studies showed how to support nurses in evidence-based implementation (EBP) (ref 3, ref 5), how to engage nurses in using evidence in practice (ref 4), how to convey the importance of EBP (ref 22) or how to change practice (ref 4). Other problems were how to facilitate nurses to use guideline recommendations (ref 7) and how nurses can make evidence-informed decisions (ref 8). General concerns also included the linkage between theory and practice (ref 1) as well as how to implement the EBP model in practice (ref 6). In addition, studies were motivated by the need for revisions or updates of protocols to improve clinical practice (ref 10) as well as the need to standardize nursing activities (ref 11, ref 14).

The quality of the care

Thirteen (42%) focused on solving problems related to the quality of clinical care. In these studies, a high number of catheter infections led a lack of achievement of organizational goals (ref 2, ref 9). A need to reduce patient symptoms in stem cell transplant patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy (ref 24) was also one of the problems to be solved. In addition, the projects focused on how to prevent pressure ulcers (ref 26, ref 29), how to enhance the quality of cancer treatment (ref 25) and how to reduce the need for invasive constipation treatment (ref 30). Concerns about patient safety (ref 15), high fall rates (ref 16, ref 19), dissatisfaction of patients (ref 16, ref 18) and nurses (ref 16, ref 30) were also problems that had initiated the projects. Studies addressed concerns about how to promote good contingency care in residential aged care homes (ref 20) and about how to increase recognition of human trafficking problems in healthcare (ref 21).

Resources in nursing care

Nurse leaders identified problems in their resources, especially in staffing problems. These problems were identified in seven studies (23%), which involved concerns about how to prevent nurses from leaving the job (ref 31), how to ensure appropriate recruitment, staffing and retaining of nurses (ref 13) and how to decrease nurses’ burden and time spent on nursing activities (ref 12). Leadership turnover was also reported as a source of dissatisfaction (ref 17); studies addressed a lack of structured transition and training programs, which led to turnover (ref 23), as well as how to improve intershift handoff among nurses (ref 28). Optimal design for new hospitals was also examined (ref 27).

Main features of evidence-based leadership

Out of 31 studies, 17 (55%) included all four domains of an evidence-based leadership approach, and four studies (13%) included evidence of critical appraisal of the results (see Additional file 8 for the main features of evidence-based Leadership) (ref 11, ref 14, ref 23, ref 27).

Organizational evidence

Twenty-seven studies (87%) reported how organizational evidence was collected and used to solve leadership problems (ref 2). Retrospective chart reviews (ref 5), a review of the extent of specific incidents (ref 19), and chart auditing (ref 7, ref 25) were conducted. A gap between guideline recommendations and actual care was identified using organizational data (ref 7) while the percentage of nurses’ working time spent on patient care was analyzed using an electronic charting system (ref 12). Internal data (ref 22), institutional data, and programming metrics were also analyzed to understand the development of the nurse workforce (ref 13).

Surveys (ref 3, ref 25), interviews (ref 3, ref 25) and group reviews (ref 18) were used to better understand the leadership problem to be solved. Employee opinion surveys on leadership (ref 17), a nurse satisfaction survey (ref 30) and a variety of reporting templates were used for the data collection (ref 28) reported. Sometimes, leadership problems were identified by evidence facilitators or a PI’s team who worked with staff members (ref 15, ref 17). Problems in clinical practice were also identified by the Nursing Professional Council (ref 14), managers (ref 26) or nurses themselves (ref 24). Current practices were reviewed (ref 29) and a gap analysis was conducted (ref 4, ref 16, ref 23) together with SWOT analysis (ref 16). In addition, hospital mission and vision statements, research culture established and the proportion of nursing alumni with formal EBP training were analyzed (ref 5). On the other hand, it was stated that no systematic hospital-specific sources of data regarding job satisfaction or organizational commitment were used (ref 31). In addition, statements of organizational analysis were used on a general level only (ref 1).

Scientific evidence identified

Twenty-six studies (84%) reported the use of scientific evidence in their evidence-based leadership processes. A literature search was conducted (ref 21) and questions, PICO, and keywords were identified (ref 4) in collaboration with a librarian. Electronic databases, including PubMed (ref 14, ref 31), Cochrane, and EMBASE (ref 31) were searched. Galiano (ref 6) used Wiley Online Library, Elsevier, CINAHL, Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, PubMed, and the Cochrane Library while Hoke (ref 11) conducted an electronic search using CINAHL and PubMed to retrieve articles.

Identified journals were reviewed manually (ref 31). The findings were summarized using ‘elevator speech’ (ref 4). In a study by Gifford et al. (ref 9) evidence facilitators worked with participants to access, appraise, and adapt the research evidence to the organizational context. Ostaszkiewicz (ref 20) conducted a scoping review of literature and identified and reviewed frameworks and policy documents about the topic and the quality standards. Further, a team of nursing administrators, directors, staff nurses, and a patient representative reviewed the literature and made recommendations for practice changes.

Clinical practice guidelines were also used to offer scientific evidence (ref 7, ref 19). Evidence was further retrieved from a combination of nursing policies, guidelines, journal articles, and textbooks (ref 12) as well as from published guidelines and literature (ref 13). Internal evidence, professional practice knowledge, relevant theories and models were synthesized (ref 24) while other study (ref 25) reviewed individual studies, synthesized with systematic reviews or clinical practice guidelines. The team reviewed the research evidence (ref 3, ref 15) or conducted a literature review (ref 22, ref 28, ref 29), a literature search (ref 27), a systematic review (ref 23), a review of the literature (ref 30) or ‘the scholarly literature was reviewed’ (ref 18). In addition, ‘an extensive literature review of evidence-based best practices was carried out’ (ref 10). However, detailed description how the review was conducted was lacking.

Views of stakeholders

A total of 24 studies (77%) reported methods for how the views of stakeholders, i.e., professionals or experts, were considered. Support to run this study was received from nursing leadership and multidisciplinary teams (ref 29). Experts and stakeholders joined the study team in some cases (ref 25, ref 30), and in other studies, their opinions were sought to facilitate project success (ref 3). Sometimes a steering committee was formed by a Chief Nursing Officer and Clinical Practice Specialists (ref 2). More specifically, stakeholders’ views were considered using interviews, workshops and follow-up teleconferences (ref 7). The literature review was discussed with colleagues (ref 11), and feedback and support from physicians as well as the consensus of staff were sought (ref 16).

A summary of the project findings and suggestions for the studies were discussed at 90-minute weekly meetings by 11 charge nurses. Nurse executive directors were consulted over a 10-week period (ref 31). An implementation team (nurse, dietician, physiotherapist, occupational therapist) was formed to support the implementation of evidence-based prevention measures (ref 26). Stakeholders volunteered to join in the pilot implementation (ref 28) or a stakeholder team met to determine the best strategy for change management, shortcomings in evidence-based criteria were discussed, and strategies to address those areas were planned (ref 5). Nursing leaders, staff members (ref 22), ‘process owners (ref 18) and program team members (ref 18, ref 19, ref 24) met regularly to discuss the problems. Critical input was sought from clinical educators, physicians, nutritionists, pharmacists, and nurse managers (ref 24). The unit director and senior nursing staff reviewed the contents of the product, and the final version of clinical pathways were reviewed and approved by the Quality Control Commission of the Nursing Department (ref 12). In addition, two co-design workshops with 18 residential aged care stakeholders were organized to explore their perspectives about factors to include in a model prototype (ref 20). Further, an agreement of stakeholders in implementing continuous quality services within an open relationship was conducted (ref 1).

Critical appraisal

In five studies (16%), a critical appraisal targeting the literature search was carried out. The appraisals were conducted by interns and teams who critiqued the evidence (ref 4). In Hoke’s study, four areas that had emerged in the literature were critically reviewed (ref 11). Other methods were to ‘critically appraise the search results’ (ref 14). Journal club team meetings (ref 23) were organized to grade the level and quality of evidence and the team ‘critically appraised relevant evidence’ (ref 27). On the other hand, the studies lacked details of how the appraisals were done in each study.

The perceived effects of evidence-based leadership

Perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurses’ performance.

Eleven studies (35%) described perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurses’ performance (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in four groups: awareness and knowledge, competence, ability to understand patients’ needs, and engagement. First, regarding ‘awareness and knowledge’, different projects provided nurses with new learning opportunities (ref 3). Staff’s knowledge (ref 20, ref 28), skills, and education levels improved (ref 20), as did nurses’ knowledge comprehension (ref 21). Second, interventions and approaches focusing on management and leadership positively influenced participants’ competence level to improve the quality of services. Their confidence level (ref 1) and motivation to change practice increased, self-esteem improved, and they were more positive and enthusiastic in their work (ref 22). Third, some nurses were relieved that they had learned to better handle patients’ needs (ref 25). For example, a systematic work approach increased nurses’ awareness of the patients who were at risk of developing health problems (ref 26). And last, nurse leaders were more engaged with staff, encouraging them to adopt the new practices and recognizing their efforts to change (ref 8).

Perceived effects on organizational outcomes

Nine studies (29%) described the perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on organizational outcomes (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership). These were categorized into three groups: use of resources, staff commitment, and team effort. First, more appropriate use of resources was reported (ref 15, ref 20), and working time was more efficiently used (ref 16). In generally, a structured approach made implementing change more manageable (ref 1). On the other hand, in the beginning of the change process, the feedback from nurses was unfavorable, and they experienced discomfort in the new work style (ref 29). New approaches were also perceived as time consuming (ref 3). Second, nurse leaders believed that fewer nursing staff than expected left the organization over the course of the study (ref 31). Third, the project helped staff in their efforts to make changes, and it validated the importance of working as a team (ref 7). Collaboration and support between the nurses increased (ref 26). On the other hand, new work style caused challenges in teamwork (ref 3).

Perceived effects on clinical outcomes

Five studies (16%) reported the perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on clinical outcomes (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in two groups: general patient outcomes and specific clinical outcomes. First, in general, the project assisted in connecting the guideline recommendations and patient outcomes (ref 7). The project was good for the patients in general, and especially to improve patient safety (ref 16). On the other hand, some nurses thought that the new working style did not work at all for patients (ref 28). Second, the new approach used assisted in optimizing patients’ clinical problems and person-centered care (ref 20). Bowel management, for example, received very good feedback (ref 30).

The measured effects of evidence-based leadership

The measured effects on nurses’ performance.

Data were obtained from 20 studies (65%) (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership) and categorized nurse performance outcomes for three groups: awareness and knowledge, engagement, and satisfaction. First, six studies (19%) measured the awareness and knowledge levels of participants. Internship for staff nurses was beneficial to help participants to understand the process for using evidence-based practice and to grow professionally, to stimulate for innovative thinking, to give knowledge needed to use evidence-based practice to answer clinical questions, and to make possible to complete an evidence-based practice project (ref 3). Regarding implementation program of evidence-based practice, those with formal EBP training showed an improvement in knowledge, attitude, confidence, awareness and application after intervention (ref 3, ref 11, ref 20, ref 23, ref 25). On the contrary, in other study, attitude towards EBP remained stable ( p  = 0.543). and those who applied EBP decreased although no significant differences over the years ( p  = 0.879) (ref 6).

Second, 10 studies (35%) described nurses’ engagement to new practices (ref 5, ref 6, ref 7, ref 10, ref 16, ref 17, ref 18, ref 21, ref 25, ref 27). 9 studies (29%) studies reported that there was an improvement of compliance level of participants (ref 6, ref 7, ref 10, ref 16, ref 17, ref 18, ref 21, ref 25, ref 27). On the contrary, in DeLeskey’s (ref 5) study, although improvement was found in post-operative nausea and vomiting’s (PONV) risk factors documented’ (2.5–63%), and ’risk factors communicated among anaesthesia and surgical staff’ (0–62%), the improvement did not achieve the goal. The reason was a limited improvement was analysed. It was noted that only those patients who had been seen by the pre-admission testing nurse had risk assessments completed. Appropriate treatment/prophylaxis increased from 69 to 77%, and from 30 to 49%; routine assessment for PONV/rescue treatment 97% and 100% was both at 100% following the project. The results were discussed with staff but further reasons for a lack of engagement in nursing care was not reported.

And third, six studies (19%) reported nurses’ satisfaction with project outcomes. The study results showed that using evidence in managerial decisions improved nurses’ satisfaction and attitudes toward their organization ( P  < 0.05) (ref 31). Nurses’ overall job satisfaction improved as well (ref 17). Nurses’ satisfaction with usability of the electronic charting system significantly improved after introduction of the intervention (ref 12). In handoff project in seven hospitals, improvement was reported in all satisfaction indicators used in the study although improvement level varied in different units (ref 28). In addition, positive changes were reported in nurses’ ability to autonomously perform their job (“How satisfied are you with the tools and resources available for you treat and prevent patient constipation?” (54%, n  = 17 vs. 92%, n  = 35, p  < 0.001) (ref 30).

The measured effects on organizational outcomes

Thirteen studies (42%) described the effects of a project on organizational outcomes (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in two groups: staff compliance, and changes in practices. First, studies reported improved organizational outcomes due to staff better compliance in care (ref 4, ref 13, ref 17, ref 23, ref 27, ref 31). Second, changes in organization practices were also described (ref 11) like changes in patient documentation (ref 12, ref 21). Van Orne (ref 30) found a statistically significant reduction in the average rate of invasive medication administration between pre-intervention and post-intervention ( p  = 0.01). Salvador (ref 24) also reported an improvement in a proactive approach to mucositis prevention with an evidence-based oral care guide. On the contrary, concerns were also raised such as not enough time for new bedside report (ref 16) or a lack of improvement of assessment of diabetic ulcer (ref 8).

The measured effects on clinical outcomes

A variety of improvements in clinical outcomes were reported (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership): improvement in patient clinical status and satisfaction level. First, a variety of improvement in patient clinical status was reported. improvement in Incidence of CAUTI decreased 27.8% between 2015 and 2019 (ref 2) while a patient-centered quality improvement project reduced CAUTI rates to 0 (ref 10). A significant decrease in transmission rate of MRSA transmission was also reported (ref 27) and in other study incidences of CLABSIs dropped following of CHG bathing (ref 14). Further, it was possible to decrease patient nausea from 18 to 5% and vomiting to 0% (ref 5) while the percentage of patients who left the hospital without being seen was below 2% after the project (ref 17). In addition, a significant reduction in the prevalence of pressure ulcers was found (ref 26, ref 29) and a significant reduction of mucositis severity/distress was achieved (ref 24). Patient falls rate decreased (ref 15, ref 16, ref 19, ref 27).

Second, patient satisfaction level after project implementation improved (ref 28). The scale assessing healthcare providers by consumers showed improvement, but the changes were not statistically significant. Improvement in an emergency department leadership model and in methods of communication with patients improved patient satisfaction scores by 600% (ref 17). In addition, new evidence-based unit improved patient experiences about the unit although not all items improved significantly (ref 18).

Stakeholder involvement in the mixed-method review

To ensure stakeholders’ involvement in the review, the real-world relevance of our research [ 53 ], achieve a higher level of meaning in our review results, and gain new perspectives on our preliminary findings [ 50 ], a meeting with 11 stakeholders was organized. First, we asked if participants were aware of the concepts of evidence-based practice or evidence-based leadership. Responses revealed that participants were familiar with the concept of evidence-based practice, but the topic of evidence-based leadership was totally new. Examples of nurses and nurse leaders’ responses are as follows: “I have heard a concept of evidence-based practice but never a concept of evidence-based leadership.” Another participant described: “I have heard it [evidence-based leadership] but I do not understand what it means.”

Second, as stakeholder involvement is beneficial to the relevance and impact of health research [ 54 ], we asked how important evidence is to them in supporting decisions in health care services. One participant described as follows: “Using evidence in decisions is crucial to the wards and also to the entire hospital.” Third, we asked how the evidence-based approach is used in hospital settings. Participants expressed that literature is commonly used to solve clinical problems in patient care but not to solve leadership problems. “In [patient] medication and care, clinical guidelines are regularly used. However, I am aware only a few cases where evidence has been sought to solve leadership problems.”

And last, we asked what type of evidence is currently used to support nurse leaders’ decision making (e.g. scientific literature, organizational data, stakeholder views)? The participants were aware that different types of information were collected in their organization on a daily basis (e.g. patient satisfaction surveys). However, the information was seldom used to support decision making because nurse leaders did not know how to access this information. Even so, the participants agreed that the use of evidence from different sources was important in approaching any leadership or managerial problems in the organization. Participants also suggested that all nurse leaders should receive systematic training related to the topic; this could support the daily use of the evidence-based approach.

To our knowledge, this article represents the first mixed-methods systematic review to examine leadership problems, how evidence is used to solve these problems and what the perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership are on nurse leaders and their performance, organizational, and clinical outcomes. This review has two key findings. First, the available research data suggests that evidence-based leadership has potential in the healthcare context, not only to improve knowledge and skills among nurses, but also to improve organizational outcomes and the quality of patient care. Second, remarkably little published research was found to explore the effects of evidence-based leadership with an efficient trial design. We validated the preliminary results with nurse stakeholders, and confirmed that nursing staff, especially nurse leaders, were not familiar with the concept of evidence-based leadership, nor were they used to implementing evidence into their leadership decisions. Our data was based on many databases, and we screened a large number of studies. We also checked existing registers and databases and found no registered or ongoing similar reviews being conducted. Therefore, our results may not change in the near future.

We found that after identifying the leadership problems, 26 (84%) studies out of 31 used organizational data, 25 (81%) studies used scientific evidence from the literature, and 21 (68%) studies considered the views of stakeholders in attempting to understand specific leadership problems more deeply. However, only four studies critically appraised any of these findings. Considering previous critical statements of nurse leaders’ use of evidence in their decision making [ 14 , 30 , 31 , 34 , 55 ], our results are still quite promising.

Our results support a previous systematic review by Geert et al. [ 32 ], which concluded that it is possible to improve leaders’ individual-level outcomes, such as knowledge, motivation, skills, and behavior change using evidence-based approaches. Collins and Holton [ 23 ] particularly found that leadership training resulted in significant knowledge and skill improvements, although the effects varied widely across studies. In our study, evidence-based leadership was seen to enable changes in clinical practice, especially in patient care. On the other hand, we understand that not all efforts to changes were successful [ 56 , 57 , 58 ]. An evidence-based approach causes negative attitudes and feelings. Negative emotions in participants have also been reported due to changes, such as discomfort with a new working style [ 59 ]. Another study reported inconvenience in using a new intervention and its potential risks for patient confidentiality. Sometimes making changes is more time consuming than continuing with current practice [ 60 ]. These findings may partially explain why new interventions or program do not always fully achieve their goals. On the other hand, Dubose et al. [ 61 ] state that, if prepared with knowledge of resistance, nurse leaders could minimize the potential negative consequences and capitalize on a powerful impact of change adaptation.

We found that only six studies used a specific model or theory to understand the mechanism of change that could guide leadership practices. Participants’ reactions to new approaches may be an important factor in predicting how a new intervention will be implemented into clinical practice. Therefore, stronger effort should be put to better understanding the use of evidence, how participants’ reactions and emotions or practice changes could be predicted or supported using appropriate models or theories, and how using these models are linked with leadership outcomes. In this task, nurse leaders have an important role. At the same time, more responsibilities in developing health services have been put on the shoulders of nurse leaders who may already be suffering under pressure and increased burden at work. Working in a leadership position may also lead to role conflict. A study by Lalleman et al. [ 62 ] found that nurses were used to helping other people, often in ad hoc situations. The helping attitude of nurses combined with structured managerial role may cause dilemmas, which may lead to stress. Many nurse leaders opt to leave their positions less than 5 years [ 63 ].To better fulfill the requirements of health services in the future, the role of nurse leaders in evidence-based leadership needs to be developed further to avoid ethical and practical dilemmas in their leadership practices.

It is worth noting that the perceived and measured effects did not offer strong support to each other but rather opened a new venue to understand the evidence-based leadership. Specifically, the perceived effects did not support to measured effects (competence, ability to understand patients’ needs, use of resources, team effort, and specific clinical outcomes) while the measured effects could not support to perceived effects (nurse’s performance satisfaction, changes in practices, and clinical outcomes satisfaction). These findings may indicate that different outcomes appear if the effects of evidence-based leadership are looked at using different methodological approach. Future study is encouraged using well-designed study method including mixed-method study to examine the consistency between perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership in health care.

There is a potential in nursing to support change by demonstrating conceptual and operational commitment to research-based practices [ 64 ]. Nurse leaders are well positioned to influence and lead professional governance, quality improvement, service transformation, change and shared governance [ 65 ]. In this task, evidence-based leadership could be a key in solving deficiencies in the quality, safety of care [ 14 ] and inefficiencies in healthcare delivery [ 12 , 13 ]. As WHO has revealed, there are about 28 million nurses worldwide, and the demand of nurses will put nurse resources into the specific spotlight [ 1 ]. Indeed, evidence could be used to find solutions for how to solve economic deficits or other problems using leadership skills. This is important as, when nurses are able to show leadership and control in their own work, they are less likely to leave their jobs [ 66 ]. On the other hand, based on our discussions with stakeholders, nurse leaders are not used to using evidence in their own work. Further, evidence-based leadership is not possible if nurse leaders do not have access to a relevant, robust body of evidence, adequate funding, resources, and organizational support, and evidence-informed decision making may only offer short-term solutions [ 55 ]. We still believe that implementing evidence-based strategies into the work of nurse leaders may create opportunities to protect this critical workforce from burnout or leaving the field [ 67 ]. However, the role of the evidence-based approach for nurse leaders in solving these problems is still a key question.

Limitations

This study aimed to use a broad search strategy to ensure a comprehensive review but, nevertheless, limitations exist: we may have missed studies not included in the major international databases. To keep search results manageable, we did not use specific databases to systematically search grey literature although it is a rich source of evidence used in systematic reviews and meta-analysis [ 68 ]. We still included published conference abstract/proceedings, which appeared in our scientific databases. It has been stated that conference abstracts and proceedings with empirical study results make up a great part of studies cited in systematic reviews [ 69 ]. At the same time, a limited space reserved for published conference publications can lead to methodological issues reducing the validity of the review results [ 68 ]. We also found that the great number of studies were carried out in western countries, restricting the generalizability of the results outside of English language countries. The study interventions and outcomes were too different across studies to be meaningfully pooled using statistical methods. Thus, our narrative synthesis could hypothetically be biased. To increase transparency of the data and all decisions made, the data, its categorization and conclusions are based on original studies and presented in separate tables and can be found in Additional files. Regarding a methodological approach [ 34 ], we used a mixed methods systematic review, with the core intention of combining quantitative and qualitative data from primary studies. The aim was to create a breadth and depth of understanding that could confirm to or dispute evidence and ultimately answer the review question posed [ 34 , 70 ]. Although the method is gaining traction due to its usefulness and practicality, guidance in combining quantitative and qualitative data in mixed methods systematic reviews is still limited at the theoretical stage [ 40 ]. As an outcome, it could be argued that other methodologies, for example, an integrative review, could have been used in our review to combine diverse methodologies [ 71 ]. We still believe that the results of this mixed method review may have an added value when compared with previous systematic reviews concerning leadership and an evidence-based approach.

Our mixed methods review fills the gap regarding how nurse leaders themselves use evidence to guide their leadership role and what the measured and perceived impact of evidence-based leadership is in nursing. Although the scarcity of controlled studies on this topic is concerning, the available research data suggest that evidence-based leadership intervention can improve nurse performance, organizational outcomes, and patient outcomes. Leadership problems are also well recognized in healthcare settings. More knowledge and a deeper understanding of the role of nurse leaders, and how they can use evidence in their own managerial leadership decisions, is still needed. Despite the limited number of studies, we assume that this narrative synthesis can provide a good foundation for how to develop evidence-based leadership in the future.

Implications

Based on our review results, several implications can be recommended. First, the future of nursing success depends on knowledgeable, capable, and strong leaders. Therefore, nurse leaders worldwide need to be educated about the best ways to manage challenging situations in healthcare contexts using an evidence-based approach in their decisions. This recommendation was also proposed by nurses and nurse leaders during our discussion meeting with stakeholders.

Second, curriculums in educational organizations and on-the-job training for nurse leaders should be updated to support general understanding how to use evidence in leadership decisions. And third, patients and family members should be more involved in the evidence-based approach. It is therefore important that nurse leaders learn how patients’ and family members’ views as stakeholders are better considered as part of the evidence-based leadership approach.

Future studies should be prioritized as follows: establishment of clear parameters for what constitutes and measures evidence-based leadership; use of theories or models in research to inform mechanisms how to effectively change the practice; conducting robust effectiveness studies using trial designs to evaluate the impact of evidence-based leadership; studying the role of patient and family members in improving the quality of clinical care; and investigating the financial impact of the use of evidence-based leadership approach within respective healthcare systems.

Data availability

The authors obtained all data for this review from published manuscripts.

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Acknowledgements

We want to thank the funding bodies, the Finnish National Agency of Education, Asia Programme, the Department of Nursing Science at the University of Turku, and Xiangya School of Nursing at the Central South University. We also would like to thank the nurses and nurse leaders for their valuable opinions on the topic.

The work was supported by the Finnish National Agency of Education, Asia Programme (grant number 26/270/2020) and the University of Turku (internal fund 26003424). The funders had no role in the study design and will not have any role during its execution, analysis, interpretation of the data, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Department of Nursing Science, University of Turku, Turku, FI-20014, Finland

Maritta Välimäki, Tella Lantta, Kirsi Hipp & Jaakko Varpula

School of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, FI-00014, Finland

Maritta Välimäki

Xiangya Nursing, School of Central South University, Changsha, 410013, China

Shuang Hu, Jiarui Chen, Yao Tang, Wenjun Chen & Xianhong Li

School of Health and Social Services, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Hämeenlinna, Finland

Hunan Cancer Hospital, Changsha, 410008, China

Gaoming Liu

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Contributions

Study design: MV, XL. Literature search and study selection: MV, KH, TL, WC, XL. Quality assessment: YT, SH, XL. Data extraction: JC, MV, JV, WC, YT, SH, GL. Analysis and interpretation: MV, SH. Manuscript writing: MV. Critical revisions for important intellectual content: MV, XL. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xianhong Li .

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Differences between the original protocol

We modified criteria for the included studies: we included published conference abstracts/proceedings, which form a relatively broad knowledge base in scientific knowledge. We originally planned to conduct a survey with open-ended questions followed by a face-to-face meeting to discuss the preliminary results of the review. However, to avoid extra burden in nurses due to COVID-19, we decided to limit the validation process to the online discussion only.

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Välimäki, M., Hu, S., Lantta, T. et al. The impact of evidence-based nursing leadership in healthcare settings: a mixed methods systematic review. BMC Nurs 23 , 452 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-02096-4

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Don’t Doubt NATO. It Saved My People.

Two boys, in front of a crowd, hold up small flags, of Albania, NATO and the European Union.

By Albin Kurti

Mr. Kurti is the prime minister of Kosovo.

Some in the United States have downplayed the importance of NATO . Many European partners worry that after the U.S. presidential election in November, the American commitment to the alliance will wane. But as NATO prepares for the start of its summit in Washington on Tuesday, marking 75 years since its birth, I would like to remind the world of how NATO is etched into the cultural and political identity of one country in Europe: my own, Kosovo.

In 1999, a ruthless Serbian campaign led by the Serb leader and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic brought massacres, rapes and the expulsion of about half of Kosovo’s majority Albanian population. It was a humanitarian disaster. NATO’s sustained aerial bombardment of Serb forces and positions put a stop to the horror. The alliance sent in nearly 50,000 troops immediately after.

Who among my people could forget the sight of NATO soldiers being cheered as they arrived? Over the past 25 years, as NATO helped liberate Kosovo and maintained the peace, we in return built democracy to foster this peace from within. We declared our independence in 2008, an idea that will resonate with Americans who have just celebrated their Independence Day. Most of the world now recognizes the nation known as Kosovo, although I prefer the Albanian spelling, Kosova.

There was little doubt to us, given the fresh memories of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, that the situation in Kosovo would have deteriorated rapidly without NATO. As a Kosovar, it is painful even to imagine how much worse it could have become.

From the outset, NATO’s intervention was humanitarian. But a humanitarian intervention serves national interests, too, however much we’d like to think of them as distinct. Peace in Europe and stopping human suffering served the national interests of NATO’s members. Conflict in the Balkans increases the risk of spillover into Western Europe, not only through refugee crises but also by drawing foreign players into this historically significant geopolitical borderland, threatening Europe’s security.

NATO is not an abstract entity acting on its own. It requires political will. In Kosovo’s case, we had the political will of many great powers, including the United States, NATO’s biggest military power. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright knew the region and the terrors of European wars. Despite being strongly associated with the Clinton administration, the intervention was bipartisan. In Congress, Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, was a strong advocate.

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How to Write an Essay Introduction | 4 Steps & Examples

Published on February 4, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A good introduction paragraph is an essential part of any academic essay . It sets up your argument and tells the reader what to expect.

The main goals of an introduction are to:

  • Catch your reader’s attention.
  • Give background on your topic.
  • Present your thesis statement —the central point of your essay.

This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.

The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

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Table of contents

Step 1: hook your reader, step 2: give background information, step 3: present your thesis statement, step 4: map your essay’s structure, step 5: check and revise, more examples of essay introductions, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.

Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook.

Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.

The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you’re writing about and why it’s interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact.

Examples: Writing a good hook

Take a look at these examples of weak hooks and learn how to improve them.

  • Braille was an extremely important invention.
  • The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.

The first sentence is a dry fact; the second sentence is more interesting, making a bold claim about exactly  why the topic is important.

  • The internet is defined as “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities.”
  • The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education.

Avoid using a dictionary definition as your hook, especially if it’s an obvious term that everyone knows. The improved example here is still broad, but it gives us a much clearer sense of what the essay will be about.

  • Mary Shelley’s  Frankenstein is a famous book from the nineteenth century.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement.

Instead of just stating a fact that the reader already knows, the improved hook here tells us about the mainstream interpretation of the book, implying that this essay will offer a different interpretation.

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Next, give your reader the context they need to understand your topic and argument. Depending on the subject of your essay, this might include:

  • Historical, geographical, or social context
  • An outline of the debate you’re addressing
  • A summary of relevant theories or research about the topic
  • Definitions of key terms

The information here should be broad but clearly focused and relevant to your argument. Don’t give too much detail—you can mention points that you will return to later, but save your evidence and interpretation for the main body of the essay.

How much space you need for background depends on your topic and the scope of your essay. In our Braille example, we take a few sentences to introduce the topic and sketch the social context that the essay will address:

Now it’s time to narrow your focus and show exactly what you want to say about the topic. This is your thesis statement —a sentence or two that sums up your overall argument.

This is the most important part of your introduction. A  good thesis isn’t just a statement of fact, but a claim that requires evidence and explanation.

The goal is to clearly convey your own position in a debate or your central point about a topic.

Particularly in longer essays, it’s helpful to end the introduction by signposting what will be covered in each part. Keep it concise and give your reader a clear sense of the direction your argument will take.

As you research and write, your argument might change focus or direction as you learn more.

For this reason, it’s often a good idea to wait until later in the writing process before you write the introduction paragraph—it can even be the very last thing you write.

When you’ve finished writing the essay body and conclusion , you should return to the introduction and check that it matches the content of the essay.

It’s especially important to make sure your thesis statement accurately represents what you do in the essay. If your argument has gone in a different direction than planned, tweak your thesis statement to match what you actually say.

To polish your writing, you can use something like a paraphrasing tool .

You can use the checklist below to make sure your introduction does everything it’s supposed to.

Checklist: Essay introduction

My first sentence is engaging and relevant.

I have introduced the topic with necessary background information.

I have defined any important terms.

My thesis statement clearly presents my main point or argument.

Everything in the introduction is relevant to the main body of the essay.

You have a strong introduction - now make sure the rest of your essay is just as good.

  • Argumentative
  • Literary analysis

This introduction to an argumentative essay sets up the debate about the internet and education, and then clearly states the position the essay will argue for.

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.

This introduction to a short expository essay leads into the topic (the invention of the printing press) and states the main point the essay will explain (the effect of this invention on European society).

In many ways, the invention of the printing press marked the end of the Middle Ages. The medieval period in Europe is often remembered as a time of intellectual and political stagnation. Prior to the Renaissance, the average person had very limited access to books and was unlikely to be literate. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.

This introduction to a literary analysis essay , about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , starts by describing a simplistic popular view of the story, and then states how the author will give a more complex analysis of the text’s literary devices.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale. Arguably the first science fiction novel, its plot can be read as a warning about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, and in popular culture representations of the character as a “mad scientist”, Victor Frankenstein represents the callous, arrogant ambition of modern science. However, far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to gradually transform our impression of Frankenstein, portraying him in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

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Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction . It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it’s interesting.

To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, July 23). How to Write an Essay Introduction | 4 Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 8, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/introduction/

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    2.Thesis. 3. Plan of Development. 4. Transition. Somewhere in there you need to include any other information that is necessary, such as the title and author (if your essay is about a book), or the time period (if about a certain event). You need to include the setting.

  18. 5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

    Start writing essays early to allow time for research and editing. Grab the reader's attention immediately with a compelling story. Answer questions directly with sound grammar and style. With so ...

  19. How to Write a Paper in APA Format

    Before you begin formatting your essay, let's set the page margins according to APA 7th edition guidelines, which require 1-inch margins on all sides. Step 1: To set the page margins in WPS Writer, simply go to the Page Layout tab. Step 2: In the Page Layout ribbon, locate the Margin fields on the left end of the ribbon.

  20. How to Write an Essay Outline

    Revised on July 23, 2023. An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph, giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold. You'll sometimes be asked to submit an essay outline as a separate ...

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    But for us, Disneyland was out of reach. I'd crunched the numbers, and they added up quickly. With a recent home purchase and unexpected expenses, a Disney vacation simply wasn't feasible. My ...

  22. The Conspiracy of Silence to Protect Joe Biden

    According to rules set by the White House, the traveling protective pool — the rotating group of reporters, run by the White House Correspondents' Association, that trails a sitting president ...

  23. The impact of evidence-based nursing leadership in healthcare settings

    Global health demands have set new roles for nurse leaders [].Nurse leaders are referred to as nurses, nurse managers, or other nursing staff working in a healthcare context who attempt to influence the behavior of individuals or a group based on goals that are congruent with organizational goals [].They are seen as professionals "armed with data and evidence, and a commitment to mentorship ...

  24. How to Write an Argumentative Essay

    Make a claim. Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim. Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim) Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives. The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays.

  25. Don't Doubt NATO. It Saved My People.

    NATO's intervention against Serbia's campaign against Kosovo set the tiny country up for independence. ... Guest Essay. Don't Doubt NATO. It Saved My People. July 5, 2024.

  26. How to Write an Essay Introduction

    Table of contents. Step 1: Hook your reader. Step 2: Give background information. Step 3: Present your thesis statement. Step 4: Map your essay's structure. Step 5: Check and revise. More examples of essay introductions. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.