Does your heart race when you stare at a blank page on your computer? Does your mind freeze? We understand that feeling. It happens sometimes when you have to produce a piece of writing but have no idea how to begin.

Just like anything else, writing requires planning, time, and discipline. Forget the myth of the professional writer tapping away at a keyboard in a creative burst that begins with inspiration and ends with a complete product. Writing is difficult, messy, and complicated. Embrace this crazy process—it will help you overcome your anxiety.

Writing anxiety comes from fear of the unknown. So let’s demystify the process and break it down into what a good academic essay should do and what it shouldn’t do.

A Great Academic Essay Should Show the Reader:

  • Argumentative skills. You should have a strong thesis statement and be able to sustain an argument over the course of the paper.
  • Attention to detail. Little errors here and there are no big deal, but too many of them make you look careless and will affect your grade.
  • Critical thinking. Don’t just repeat what your teacher has said in class. Go deeper.
  • Knowledge of conventional English. Use correct spelling, punctuation, and syntax. This will help to show your authority on the subject.

A Great Academic Essay Should NOT be:

  • Messy or sloppy. Your teacher wants to see that you understand how to structure a paragraph and carry an argument through the whole paper. If your paper is unfocused, it’s going to impact your grade.
  • Too broad. Make sure to be specific. Sweeping generalizations don’t show critical thinking.
  • Unpolished. A couple typos are no big deal, but if you clearly didn’t proofread your work, it looks bad.
  • Poorly researched. The point of a high school paper is to show that you’re knowledgeable in a specific area. If you aren’t engaging closely enough with the material and backing up your argument with information from other sources, you’re not approaching this with enough depth.

Follow these 6 steps for a great essay:

  1. Read the prompt carefully. Make sure you understand what the essay question is asking you.
  2. Brainstorm/Freewrite around the essay question. Set a timer, maybe fifteen minutes, and write about the topic without stopping. Just see what comes up. It will help you get past the initial brain freeze.
  3. Create an argument. Before you start writing, make sure you have a strong argument—a strong thesis statement and a structure for how you’ll present your evidence.
  4. Draft...keep drafting.... You can write this is any order you want. You can start with the intro, the body paragraphs, the conclusion, whatever you need to do. Start where you’re the most confident. Keep drafting until you finish the draft.
  5. Revise. Most students hate this part. Remember that all great writers revise, sometimes for years! You might write several drafts of an essay before it’s finished. This is totally normal.
  6. Workshop. Get feedback from others on your essay. It can help to have an outside perspective on your work.

Start developing strong writing skills now. If you do, you’ll be super prepared for high school, college, and beyond.

Need help getting started or revising an essay? Our Signet writing specialists are ready to help!