Techniques for Writing Engaging Essays

a woman writing in front of a floral arrangement
a woman writing an engaging essay and drinking coffee

Why Writing Engaging Essays Matters

Every semester, students around the world struggle to write engaging essays. Indeed, it’s not easy to come up with an outstanding original essay for every essay assignment in every class. Students deal with high levels of stress trying to come up with an original idea, organize their thoughts, find good sources, and put everything together in a pretty package. Some will choose to procrastinate, throw together barely passing papers, or even turn to plagiarism methods like AI or paying for essays. However, knowing how to write a good essay is important for more than just your grade.

Notably, it helps improve your understanding of the course content, which will affect your success in later classes and your job field. Writing out your thoughts can help you develop them, find gaps in your knowledge, come up with your own theories, and even uncover areas of interest.

Additionally, improving your essay-writing skills will help your general communication skills. In today’s world, you’ll use writing to communicate with many people, both in your personal and professional lives.

Essay writing is stressful for many students, who often report feeling overwhelmed or that they’re not sure where to start. Just like any other skill, to get better, you simply need to do more of it. That’s why most colleges require all students to take at least one English or English Composition course during their studies.

If you’re looking to improve a paper that’s due in a week, don’t fret. Thankfully, there are some writing techniques that can help you write an interesting and engaging essay.

a young woman drinking coffee while writing engaging essays

How to Write Engaging Essays

The first step in writing an engaging essay is to thoroughly read the rubric and/or assignment guidelines. Some will be more detailed than others. However, the guidelines will help you understand your audience and what they’re looking for. Obviously, most college professors will expect a semi-formal or formal writing style. But what sort of content are they expecting? Do they want a reaction essay? A research paper? Do you need to include sources? Is the scope of your argument limited in some way? Don’t spend hours writing a beautiful, groundbreaking essay that will only earn you a C just because you misread the instructions.

Once you have the basics in order and understand (and if you don’t, try emailing the professor), it’s time to sit down and begin your writing process. Maybe you’re an outline or graphic organizer type of person. Or perhaps you like to free-write to get the creative juices flowing. You might even be one of those rare few who can jump straight into writing without preparation.

Regardless, get yourself primed for writing first. Then, utilize the below tips to create a compelling essay.

1. Choose a Compelling Topic

Engaging essays have compelling topics. Your thesis doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or brand new, but it also shouldn’t be the same topic everyone else is writing on, written in the exact same manner. If you must choose from a list of topics rather than come up with your own, try approaching it from a unique angle if possible.

Unique perspectives will make your essays more memorable, which can lead to a higher grade as professors often enjoy when their students go outside of the box. And as you look into supporting sources and arguments, you may stumble upon intriguing articles or essays that you’ll find more engaging. This benefit can lead to a stronger understanding of the content, a new personal interest, and perhaps even a new career niche or interest. Indeed, museum curators and historians didn’t wake up randomly with the knowledge that 12th-century artifacts interested them. They stumbled into something along the way that intrigued them.

Emphasize Personal Experiences to Make Your Topic More Compelling

Sometimes you may not know enough or feel confident enough to tackle a unique angle on a topic. You may, instead (or in addition to), emphasize relatable personal experiences. You can make an essay more engaging by making your audience relate the reading to their own personal life. Think of the events and daily struggles most people experience. It might not come easy to everyone, just like trying to say something interesting on a first date.

This method can make your topic more compelling as your audience will be more engaged. Indeed, it can be hard to stay focused on an essay that relentlessly hits you with facts, jargon, and rhetoric.

Just be mindful of how long you focus on such anecdotes. Don’t rely on fluff to carry an otherwise lackluster assignment. You still need substance.

a keyboard with a person typing and plenty of coffee

2. Craft a Strong Opening

A good sign of an engaging essay is a strong opening. A captivating hook makes a captivated audience. They’ll pay more attention to your essay, meaning they’re more engaged and likely to give a higher grade. Truly, college professors and instructors do not want to see the eighth-grade essay opener of:

My essay is about rainforest frogs. First, I will talk about rainforests and their weather conditions. Then, I will talk about how many different rainforest frogs there are. Finally, I will go into what rainforest frogs like to eat and how they survive.

So, What Should You Do?

The above opening is what many of us were taught to do as we first learned how to write essays. Functionally, it is effective and gives the reader basic information about what they’ll be reading. Objectively, it is boring and doesn’t provide a thesis statement, which is a necessity for most (not all) college papers. It is not the start of an engaging essay. Instead, try:

Rainforest frogs are among the most beautiful and dangerous assassins of the undergrowth. They may look cute and unassuming with their jewel-colored skin and minute size, but they are dangerous predators. They’ve adapted and evolved to the shadowy, treacherous, and predator-filled realm of the rainforest to become just as dangerous as the snakes and jungle cats. Many of them have skin as deadly as it is beautiful. A singular golden poison frog can take down ten humans with its toxins. While they snack on beetles and bugs, humans and animal alike must watch their step or find themselves in for a nasty surprise.

While the above isn’t a masterful essay opening, can you see what makes one more interesting than the other? For one, we cut out the “I” from the paper. Your audience understands that you are writing the article; they don’t need to be reminded. Often, using “I” weakens your argument, as it feels like you’re avoiding arguing your point. Like you’re pulling your punches because you don’t have the confidence to state it as fact (or at least a solid point in your argument).

Suggestions for Writing Captivating Hooks

There are many techniques for writing a stronger opening sentence. You don’t have to rely on pretty words or narration. Not every essay is going to be about something as vivid and beautiful as a rainforest. Rather, choose something that fits your topic and style.

Anecdotes and personal stories are great openers that will ground your readers and help them relate. It may also build strong emotions, which are great for convincing people of your argument (just don’t emotionally abuse your audience). Of course, you may also try utilizing vivid descriptions. Beautiful imagery will help immerse your audience in the world you’re describing, engaging more senses, and making your work more memorable.

If your essay needs logic more than pretty words or relatable stories, try starting with a thought-provoking question or some startling statistics or facts. These openers will grab your reader’s attention and prepare them for a logic or fact-heavy essay more than vivid imagery (though sometimes imagery helps an audience get through all of those numbers and stats).

Many seasoned essay writers suggest writing the introduction last to make it more relevant to your paper. This way, you don’t need to scrap the beautiful short story you wrote if you didn’t follow your original outline, which sometimes needs to happen.

a woman thinking about how to write engaging essays

3. Create a Memorable Conclusion

Of course, you need a memorable conclusion to close out your engaging essay. Just like with the opening, forget the line-by-line summation of paper. Instead, summarize each supporting argument, rather than the content of each paragraph. Remember, you’re here to support your thesis, not recap a novel. With the frog essay example, we’d include information that supports that rainforest frogs are among the most dangerous assassins. We’d recap how toxic they are, and not that the rainforest has a dark and treacherous undergrowth. While the rainforest information was important for this hypothetical essay (it provides context), it doesn’t show why rainforest frogs are dangerous.

Once you’ve reminded your audience of the important claims and data you went through in your essay, you’ll want to solidify that summary with a strong ending line or paragraph. Tie everything back to your thesis. Do not drag this section on for too long; keep it as short as possible.

How to Make Your Conclusion Memorable

You may consider again using a thought-provoking statement or question. Indeed, you might be able to end with the exact same question as you started with if it’s relevant. Alternatively, you can reflect on why your thesis is so significant. Here, you can add a final statistic or piece of data that will get your audience thinking.

Or you may try a call-to-action or provide final thoughts on the future of your topic. A call-to-action may include encouraging your audience to do more research, change something small in their lives (such as using less one-use plastic), or actively getting the word out in their community.

Arguably, conclusions are easier than introductions, but you still want to leave your readers with a good taste in their mouths. Engaging essays keep everyone engaged until the final word.

4. So, What About Everything in Between?

Your audience should already be hooked at this point, so now you’re here to back up that introduction and focus on the substantive parts of your essay. Which mainly means staying on track and using good supporting evidence and sources. Keeping the main body of your essay engaging comes down to a few key factors: consistency, brevity, organization, and engaging language.

Basically, stay on topic. Outlines are helpful as they keep you from rambling or adding irrelevant information. Also, don’t spend too long hashing and rehashing the same point or topic. You can only explain something so much before your audience gets bored. If you haven’t reached the word count, don’t bog sections of your essay down with useless information or sources. This method will only harm your grade, not help it. Instead, look for areas where you can add an additional supporting point. For example, using the frog essay again where we looked at how dangerous rainforest frogs are, you could add statistics showing jungle cat attacks versus poison frog hospitalizations.

As for engaging language, you can continue to use the same methods from your opener, though you don’t want that to be your whole essay. Continue to use vivid imagery, anecdotes, and data. Engaging essays keep people focused as both their content and structure are interesting from start to finish.

a young man excited that his engaging essays received high grades

5. Always Edit and Revise

Now, you don’t need to have a masterpiece for your first draft. Honestly, it may be better to get everything vital on the page first, then pretty it up. This technique of writing essays stops you from forgetting sources, supporting arguments, and so on. Also, if you do run out of time due to procrastination or other reasons, you’ll at least have a half-polished essay rather than a half-finished essay. Engaging essays rely on interesting content and well-crafted sentences to be compelling, but the content should be the focus. Not the packaging.

Even the best writers will have rogue typos in their papers from the first and even second drafts. Make sure you reread each draft of your essay a minimum of three times and not all at once! Take a short break before your final read-through so you come back in with fresh eyes. Consider reading it out loud, as this method can help identify weird wording. Finally, ask for someone else to read through it if you can.

Once you’ve read through it, do not be afraid to revise your essay. No one, and I mean no one, writes a perfect essay on their first try. Fix typos, confusing or overly long sentences, and grammatical weirdness. Keep an eye out for hard transitions from one topic to the next and lighten them up using transitional phrases. Always make sure your essay flows logically from idea to idea. Omit words, sentences, and paragraphs that just don’t fit, regardless of how good they sound on their own. And look for areas where you can spice things up.

Writers who craft engaging essays use revision to hone their craft and polish their work. It may take more time, but if you’re looking for quality, always revise.

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