Tips On Writing An Award Winning Essay

Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.

According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:

1. Pick a topic.

You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.

If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?

Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.

Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.

2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.

In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.

To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.

If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.

3. Write your thesis statement.

Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?

Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”

Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”

4. Write the body.

The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.

5. Write the introduction.

Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.

Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.

6. Write the conclusion.

The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.

7. Add the finishing touches.

After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.

Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.

Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.

Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.

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Why do people enter writing contests? Some enter to get practice. Others enter to motivate themselves to finish their stories. But there’s one thing nearly everyone who enters a writing contest wants…

To win.

Want to win a writing contest? We’re launching our new Winter Writing Contest next week with over $3,000 in prizes. As you prepare, get a free copy of our 1-page guide, 10 Questions for Better Story Ideas, here »

As the editor of The Write Practice, I’ve helped judge about a dozen writing contests, and during that time, I’ve learned what makes a winning submission and what will ruin your chances.

Here’s what I’ve learned about how to win—or lose—a writing contest.

How NOT to Win a Writing Contest

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.

Submitting a proofed, grammatically correct entry in the requested genre that follows the contest’s theme and meets the required word count is just the minimum requirement if you want to win a writing contest.

If you want to lose a writing contest, though, do any or all of the following:

  • Don’t proofread. Do I really need to tell you to proofread? Personally, I’m fairly lenient when it comes to typos. If the piece is excellent but has two or three mistakes, I recognize that there is time to fix them before we publish the story. However, not all judges are so understanding, and it goes without saying that you need to closely proofread your writing before submitting to a writing contest.
  • Knowingly or unknowingly break grammar rules. If you want to win, observe proper grammar. Again, I don’t really need to tell you this, do I?
  • Write 1,000 words more than the word count limit. You will not win a writing contest if you submit a 2,500 word story to a writing contest asking for pieces 1,500 words or less. Just don’t do it.
  • Submit a literary masterpiece to a supernatural romance contest. Yes, that’s a recipe for failure. Writing contests generally lean toward certain genres. If the genre is not explicitly stated, read previously published stories from the contest to get a sense of what the judges will be looking for.
  • If there is a theme, ignore it. Writing contests often ask for pieces that fit a certain theme or even follow a prompt. A good way to lose a writing contest is to ignore these requirements and write whatever you feel like.

These are obvious, right? I would like to believe that they are, but I’ve judged enough writing contests to know that many people don’t seem to understand these tips.

Of course, if you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re smart enough to know these already, so let’s get to the important tips, shall we?

Remember, these are just the base requirements. Following them will only ensure that your piece is considered, not chosen as the winner. Actually winning a writing contest is much more difficult.

 5 Tips to Win a Writing Contest

How do you win a writing contest? Here are five tips:

1. First, recognize you are human

This may be a strange way to begin a list of tips on how to win a writing contest, but let me explain.

Stephen King once said, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” But instead of the word “edit,” you could substitute the phrase “judge writing contests,” because editors and writing contest judges play a similarly godlike role.

Why is one excellent story chosen over another excellent story? Who knows?! Even the judge may not know, at least not objectively (although they will always have great reasons).

To scrutinize the actions of the judges of a writing contest is impossible.

All writing is subjective. A judge attempts to say, “This story is good,” or, “This story is bad,” but really, they are just choosing based on their own idiosyncratic taste. Winning comes down to luck. Or God. Or what the judge ate for lunch that day.

What is the writer to do, then? Submit your piece, pray it wins, and then go write your next story (and find a new contest to submit to). Nothing else can be done.

I know that’s not a very good tip. If you need more advice than this, continue reading.

2. Your main character must be fascinating

What fascinates humans the most is contrast.

Light vs. Darkness. Good vs. evil. A good hero battling the evil in the world. A normal person battling the evil inside themselves. An evil person drawn, despite themselves, to a moment of goodness.

Life vs. death. A woman’s struggle against cancer, against a villain that wants to kill her, against the deathly banality of modern life.

Male vs. female.

Neat vs. messy.

Contrast is fascinating. Does your main character have contrast? If you want to win a writing contest, he or she should.

3. Surprise endings

I love surprise endings. All judges do. However, I hate out of the blue endings.

A good surprise ending can be predicted from the very beginning, but the author skillfully distracts you so that you never expect it (the traditional method of distracting the reader is to use red herrings).

A bad surprise ending cannot be predicted and feels like the writer is simply trying to give the reader something they would never expect. This is lazy.

Please surprise me. Please don’t make up the most shocking ending without providing the clues to this ending earlier in the story.

4. Repeat with a twist

In the last few lines of your story, repeat something from earlier in the story with a twist. This echoed ending will reverberate with your reader giving closure and emotional power.

For example, you might repeat the opening image. If the snow is falling in the first lines of the story, you might say, “As night closed, the snow continued to fall. He thought it would fall for all his life.”

You might repeat an action. If your character is eating at a diner with his wife in the first scene, perhaps in the last scene he is eating alone at the same diner all alone.

You might repeat a character. If your heroine has a meet-cute with an attractive man early in the story, you can end the story with him unexpectedly showing up at her workplace.

Repeating with a twist gives your ending an artful sense of unity. It’s also really fun!

5. Write what you know (even if what you know never happened)

In one writing contest, I read a story written by a Brazilian writer about American kids driving around, eating hamburgers, and going to prep school.

“Write what you know,” I wrote to her over email. “I’m sure there are fascinating stories where you live. But don’t regurgitate stories you see on American television. You will never know that world as deeply as you know your own.”

On the other hand, Ursula Le Guin said this about the advice to write what you know:

I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

How to (Really) Win a Writing Contest

There is, of course, no guaranteed way to win a writing contest. All you can do is write your best piece, follow the rules of the contest, and submit. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.

All that’s to say, don’t over think this.

WRITE. SUBMIT. REPEAT. Truly, that is the only way to win a writing contest.

If You Want a Little More Help…

We just released a new, free guide to help you come up with better short story ideas, and thus have a better shot at winning writing contests.

You’re welcome to download the guide, for free, here:

Click here to get 10 Questions for Better Story Ideas free »

I hope you enjoy the guide, and most of all, I hope you write some really great stories.

Want more tips? Here are a few good resources:

Have you ever entered a writing contest? How did it go? Let us know in the comments section.

Want to win a writing contest? We’re launching our new Winter Writing Contest next week with over $3,000 in prizes. As you prepare, get a free copy of our 1-page guide, 10 Questions for Better Story Ideas here »

PRACTICE

Spend fifteen minutes creating two characters with high contrast (see Tip #2). Write one paragraph describing the first character and another paragraph describing the second.

Then, post your two paragraphs in the comments section. And if you do post, please be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.

Have fun and happy writing!

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