How to Write a Composition

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Written compositions often play a large part in many secondary school and college courses. This lesson will walk you through the process of planning, writing, and editing your assigned composition.

What Are You Writing?

An assignment referred to as a composition is usually a brief essay of five paragraphs. Sometimes, you will need a few more paragraphs to provide enough supporting detail in certain types of essays. For example, an argumentative or persuasive essay, in which you are arguing a specific point, may need more than five paragraphs. But by using the five-paragraph essay as a model, you can learn what you need to include and how to format your composition.

Before we look at the parts of an essay, you should note that this lesson is about non-fiction writing. If you are assigned to write a short piece of fiction, like a short story or flash fiction piece, there are different guidelines that will not be presented in this lesson

The Parts of an Essay

You can probably guess that the first paragraph should be an introduction to your topic. This introduction should be like a road sign to tell your readers what they will encounter in your paper. You may start with a fact (like a statistic), a question, or a quote. Even if none of these options work for your particular composition, remember that the first sentence should contain an element that makes your reader want to continue. Sometimes this is called a hook because it pulls the reader into what you are saying.

If you are writing five paragraphs, think of the middle three as the meat in your essay sandwich. This is where you will give supporting details that give substance and strength to your thesis, which is the main point your composition is going to convey. In fact, it makes writing especially smooth if you can organize each of the three body paragraphs around one point that adds to your overall thesis.

Finally, you need a strong conclusion to your paper. When writing a longer research paper, the conclusion is where you sum up your findings and/or argument. The same applies to a shorter composition. Remember that summarizing does NOT mean repeating your introduction - or even a single sentence from it. The conclusion should be a synthesis of your composition; a blending of all that you have said previously to leave your reader with something new to think about. If the reader can already guess what your conclusion is after reading the introduction, you have more planning and writing to do!

Qualities of a Good Essay

There are four basic qualities that every good essay must have. The first is organization. Of course, using the five-paragraph essay model will help you to organize. But remember as you plan and write your composition that you need a way to organize your ideas before you start writing. Some types of essays, like a narrative or process, lend themselves to a chronological format. Others, like a persuasive essay or a compare/contrast essay, work better with a conceptual organization. This is your decision as a writer. And, unless this is an in-class, timed assignment, you always have the opportunity to read through your essay and change the format.

The second quality needed is coherence. This simply means that what you have written should make sense. Sometimes you may know what you are trying to say, but the reader can't make sense of it. Again, reading your work and judging it as if you are the reader will help ensure a coherent composition.

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