Quick Tip #13: Write the body of an essay first

Here’s a secret you might not know: there is no one “correct” way to write an essay draft. If writing an essay from beginning to end has not worked for you, it may be time to consider another drafting strategy.

For many students, the hardest part of writing is getting their initial ideas down on paper. A good first step in the writing process is to outline your ideas. This process will save you work later because you will not have to spend time determining where to go next in your paper.

But then, writers often wonder, what happens in that transition from outlining to actual writing?

To facilitate the transition, you may consider writing your body paragraphs before your introduction. You do need to keep in mind at least a vague thesis statement or main point while drafting your paragraphs.

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Imagine you have already outlined a paper for a physical education class about the major factors that influence people’s health. You come up with a general thesis:

The three most important factors that impact a person’s health are diet, exercise, and sleep.

Then, as you elaborate in your body paragraphs, you may find that your thesis needs to be adapted to match the arguments and support you provide.

When writing your first draft of your essay, you are also simultaneously constructing your argument. Throughout the writing process, your stance and message should become clear to the reader and to yourself as a writer.  When you first start writing, you might not yet know how to introduce the topic of the paper until the paragraphs are fully developed. So, there is no need to address the introduction until you know very well what you are introducing.

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Take your sample thesis “The three most important factors that impact a person’s health are diet, exercise, and sleep.” After developing your body paragraph on diets, you might see that you explain a lot about nutrients people get in their diets. The paragraph on exercise is full of statistics of the quantity of activity done. The paragraph on sleep not only addresses sleeping habits but also what makes it hard to fall asleep at night and stay awake during the day. You can then rework your thesis to address your topics more clearly:

Many people are misinformed or unaware of important factors that affect a person’s health, such as the amount of exercise a person requires; the habits and strategies a person uses to maintain one’s energy levels; and what nutrients one needs, how to get them, and what quantity one ought to intake.

At this point you have a much better idea of where you need to lead your reader in your introduction.

That’s why I usually take this approach to essay writing and encourage others to consider this method as well. Just because the introduction is read first does not mean it has to be written first.

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