Breaking Down An Essay Prompt…


Writing an essay is hard; starting an essay is even harder. Interpreting your professor’s prompt—well, that’s more difficult than everything else combined. Getting the essay prompt right, and making sure you are addressing it is half the battle, albeit a complicated half. But believe it or not, we have all been there. Every student who gets an essay prompt, at one point or another, has had the experience of clutching her head and groaning in horror, with absolutely no idea how to tackle this monstrosity called an essay prompt.

Never fear, because your friendly neighborhood tutors here at the writing center have put our heads together to combine some of our best-kept secrets for conquering the beast. Check out below for some helpful hints on interpreting a prompt and starting your essay:

1)    READ THE PROMPT: That’s right; make sure you read it from start to finish. Then, look it over one more time for good measure. Make sure you know what is expected of you in this essay.

2)    BREAK IT DOWN: Break the prompt down to its simplest format. Many essay prompts are long, wordy, and easy to get lost in. We have a hard time knowing just what the question we are supposed to be addressing is! So do bullet points, short sentences, whatever works for you. Just find the most basic way to re-phrase the prompt in your own words.

3)    FIGURE OUT WHAT TYPE OF ASSIGNMENT YOU ARE DEALING WITH: What type of essay are you supposed to write? Is it a research paper, an argumentative essay, a response paper? Determine what you are dealing with, so you know what type of answer to give!

4)    KNOW YOUR ROLE AND YOUR AUDIENCE: It is important to know your role as the writer. Figure out if you are trying to persuade your reader to your point of view, or simply present facts! It is important, and makes a difference on how you present your essay! And, don’t forget…who are you writing for? Gear your answers and your tone towards the audience that will be reading your essay.

5)    ANSWER THE QUESTION: Make sure that you answer the question that the professor gives you. Don’t get so lost in your ideas that you forget the point of the essay!

6)    MAKE AN OUTLINE: Yes, I know it is so 9th grade to have to outline your essays. But guess what: they actually taught you something useful. A brief outline is a great way to organize your ideas, work on your thesis, and make sure you are answering the essay question.

7)    NOTECARDS: Try this little essay tip from one of our tutors. Put one important fact that you want to include per notecard. Then, mix and match. Move the notecards around until you have a nicely organized essay.

Hope these tips give you some important tools to tackle that overwhelming essay! Let us know some of your tips now! What works for you?


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