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How to Develop & Revise Your Essay Over Time

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  • 0:01 Choose Topic
  • 1:06 Research & Analyze Research
  • 3:02 Organize Information & Outline
  • 5:45 Rough Draft
  • 6:18 Revision & Editing
  • 7:31 Publish
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

You have over three weeks to complete an essay. You have plenty of time, so you don't worry about starting. Suddenly, you have just a few days until the due date, and you haven't even begun! Watch this video lesson to avoid this common mistake and learn how to develop an essay over time.

Step 1: Choose Topic

A well-written essay takes time to develop. Often, when given several weeks to complete an essay, students will procrastinate until there is only a few days left. Here are some steps to follow so you don't fall into this trap. First, you need to choose your topic. The topic is merely the subject matter you will focus on in your essay. Usually, you are given some sort of prompt to guide your choice in topic. For example, your teacher or professor might ask you to describe a cultural debate or take a stand on a controversial issue. It is then up to you to choose that controversial issue. When doing this, be sure to choose a topic that can be researched. Some topics, like the existence of aliens, can be very subjective and difficult to find scientific support.

If you are stuck on choosing a topic, try creating a question to answer. For example, you might ask yourself, 'What are the benefits of stem cell research?' Over time, this broad question will be narrowed down into your thesis, which will be covered in a later step. Choosing a topic should only take you one day.

Step 2: Research

Next, you need to research. To accomplish this, you must find sources for your topic, which are any scholarly publications about your topic. Your sources could include books written on the subject, encyclopedia articles, online websites, professional journals or magazine articles. Make copies of any source you find, or save a digital copy if applicable. Be sure the source is credible, and copy down the publishing information, which includes the author, publisher, date published and website. Depending on your assignment, you may need 3-5 sources for your essay. If this is the case, be sure to gather more than five sources. You never know which ones you will end up using. Completing your research should take you about 2-3 days.

Step 3: Analyze Research

Gathering sources is essential, but the next step is even more important: analyze your research. This is where you need to narrow down your main idea into a thesis. The thesis is your main argument for the entire essay. Usually, a thesis changes throughout the writing process, so don't worry if you feel your thesis is not strong at this stage. With this in mind, create a thesis to help you narrow down your research analysis.

Looking at the stem cell example, your narrowed thesis might be, 'Stem cell research has many beneficial uses.' This is a very broad thesis and not very strong, but it will be enough to help focus your analysis. Once you have your general thesis, read through your sources and mark down any facts, statistics or data that supports your thesis. In this case, anything about the benefits of stem cells would make your list. Copy down more than you think you need, as you can always cut out irrelevant information in the revision process. After making your list of facts, keep your sources. You never know when you'll need to find more supporting details. Overall, analyzing your research should take about a day to complete.

Step 4: Organize Information

Now that you have a list of facts and statistics, you need to begin sorting the information. Usually, in a 5-paragraph essay, you need three main ideas to support your thesis. Each of these will be the focus of a body paragraph. To figure out the three subjects for the body paragraphs, you need to look at your list of facts that you pulled out of your sources.

This is when you should revise your broad thesis. The example from above stated, 'Stem cell research has many beneficial uses.' Looking at your list of facts, you need to organize the information into three ideas that support the benefits of stem cells. For example, if you found that stem cells help with cancer patients, that could be the focus of one body paragraph. Continue with this until you have a focus for each body paragraph. After this process, your thesis should be much stronger. It could become something like, 'The benefits of stem cells extends from cancer patients, to skin repair, and also many other diseases.' Then the focus of the other two body paragraphs would be skin repair and other diseases, respectively. This process should take you 1-2 days.

Step 5: Outline

Once you have your three lists of supporting facts and a strong thesis, creating an outline should be a piece of cake! An outline is your plan for each of your paragraphs. Your outline can take many forms, including a bulleted list, a web, or a numbered outline. Choose whichever method works best for you. Your body paragraphs should be already mapped out, but you may want to think about the order. Generally, you always want to start with the body paragraph that will have the strongest supporting details. Also, be sure to have this topic listed first in your thesis statement. So, if stem cells helping cancer patients is your strongest point, then it should be listed first in the thesis and be the focus of the first body paragraph.

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