How to Write an Essay Assignment

Generally, when a teacher assigns an essay, you’ll be asked to give your opinion on something.  And generally, it’s something you’ve never once thought about, so you get that deer-in-the-headlights feeling.  But cheer up, you can do this.

Let’s say you’re asked to write on “Should Smokers Pay Higher Health Insurance Premiums?”  Now, your brain is a wonderful attic where all sorts of things are stored.  Look around in there and see what you can find about smokers and health insurance.  You remember that Uncle Art died from a smoking-related disease, and someone said the hospital bills were really high.  Your dad’s work changed insurance companies, and he had to take a test to prove he didn’t smoke.  And yesterday there was a headline in the paper about the high cost of health insurance.

We in the writing biz call this “brainstorming,” and it’s a low-stress, effective way to start an essay.  After thinking about it, you decide that, with some research (which the teacher requires), you can write that yes, smokers should pay higher health insurance premiums.

You’re off to a great start, because now you have a main point for your essay:  Smokers should pay higher health insurance premiums than non-smokers. 

Now you need supporting points, which means reasons why you think smokers should pay more for health insurance.   You’ll need three or four strong points.  This is where your research comes in.  You’ll need to find sources, or experts who have written on health insurance and/or smoking.  You’ll quote these sources in your essay.  So your sources should agree with you, and provide evidence of why smokers should pay more. 

For example, you find an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association stating that health costs for smokers are four times greater than for non-smokers.  This is a good source that you can use.  You find another article on WebMD that says smokers raise the cost of health insurance for everyone.  This is another good source you can use.

It’s a great idea to write down your main point and follow it with an outline:

Smokers should pay more for health insurance than non-smokers.

1 – Smokers have higher health costs than non-smokers.

2 – Smokers develop conditions that are very expensive to treat.

3 – Smokers raise the cost of health insurance for everyone.

4 – Smokers can choose to quit smoking.

An outline like this is a blueprint for your essay.  It will keep you focused on your main point.  As you’re writing, you can just follow your outline.

Now someone else could make a good case that higher premiums are unfair to smokers.  Don’t let that bother you.  If there weren’t reasonable arguments on both sides of the question, it wouldn’t be a good essay topic.  As long as you make strong points and provide good sources to support them, your essay will be fine.

All you need now is to add a starting paragraph and a concluding paragraph.  Your starting paragraph will introduce your topic and include your main point.  Your concluding paragraph will sum up your discussion and reiterate your main point.   It’s fine to write these last, because then you’ll have a better idea of what to write in them.

And for my concluding paragraph, I’ll reiterate:  With a main point, good sources, and an outline, you can write that essay!