Essay writing for college involves a few steps. Each step is equally important. Skipping steps or not allowing yourself enough time to complete each step results in a weaker paper.

If you don’t have a lot of experience writing essays, follow the steps below. Eventually, you will develop a system that works for you. Remember, starting the night before a due date is not enough time to write an excellent paper.


Preparation before you actually start writing is a crucial part of writing a paper. Read over your assignment and make sure you know exactly what your instructor wants from you. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, this is the time to ask for clarification.


  • How many pages or words are required?

  • How many sources are required?

  • What types of sources are acceptable?

  • When is the assignment due?

  • How much is the assignment worth?


Getting Ready 
  • Map out your ideas for your paper. Your instructor may have a particular topic to write about or may allow you to choose your own subject.
  • Make sure you’re clear about what you’re hoping to prove and write some notes for yourself about the topic. You don’t need to do a lot of writing; this is just the stage where you’re deciding.
  • Write a concise outline of what you think you may find or to keep track of what you already know about your topic. The next step will help you narrow it even more and see if your thesis statement or the main point you’re hoping to prove can be supported.


Usually, your instructor wants you to include certain types of information sources to support your thesis. If you’re used to finding all your information from Google, you may find this step more challenging in college.


Where to Start Your Research
  • Besides books specific to your classes, the JIBC Library has subscriptions to academic journals and article databases that will meet the requirements of your instructor and help you write a stronger paper. 
  • Check for a subject guide for your course that will give tips on researching. Librarians can help if you’re not sure how to get started. 
  • Visit the Research Help page.

Choosing the best search terms is the hardest part of researching. Books and articles are described by people who organize information, so they use standard descriptions to make finding materials easier.


Search Suggestions
  • Avoid using a, an, the, of, and other short linking words. These are not useful in searches and can make your results less accurate.

  • Avoid verbs like “describe,” “discuss,” “compare,” or others. Concentrate on descriptive keywords for more accuracy.

  • Put two or more keywords together by using “and” and “or” to narrow or broaden your search (e.g. leadership AND Canada).

  • Think of synonyms for your keywords so you can try different combinations of search terms. Keep track of the words and combinations if you are doing your research over a few days.


Determine if your sources are useful for your essay 

Is it related to your topic? Is this source reliable? How current is this information? Does it fall in one of the areas of your outline? Even if the information contradicts your thesis, make a note of it if you decide to change your point-of-view during the writing step.


Record All Sources

Make sure you’ve kept great notes on where all your information came from so you can more easily put your bibliography together. See JIBC’s APA Guide if you’re not sure how to cite your sources.

  • Author

  • Title

  • Date of publication

  • Page numbers

  • Edition number (for journal articles)

  • Publisher

  • Place of publication

  • Where you found it (for journal articles)


This is the time to synthesize or combine all the information you found and the ideas that you’ve developed from your research into written form.


  1. Start with the first draft of your essay, adding in everything you listed on your outline. Make sure you’ve stated your thesis or the main point you’re trying to prove in your paper, in the opening paragraph or the introduction.
  2. Arrange your ideas into separate paragraphs and your paragraphs into a logical order. Include your introduction, the body of the essay that supports your thesis statement, and a conclusion to summarize your findings or research.
  3. When you’ve completed your first draft, read through your paper critically or have someone else read it and give feedback. Often a tutor, a friend, or even an instructor will agree to read the first draft and let you know how to improve on it.


The second draft should fix all the issues or changes from the first draft review.


Review Questions 
  • Have you included everything your instructor required?

  • Did you answer what you stated you would in the Introduction?

  • Does the flow of information support your argument in a clear way for the reader?

  • Is there a balance between analysis and facts?

  • Is your thesis or argument clearly supported by your research?

  • Have you made grammar or spelling errors?

  • Is the writing style clear?

  • Did you answer the thesis statement in the Conclusion?

  • Have you forgotten anything?