Once you have a topic, a position, and some extra sources for backup...what now? For starters, it might help you to make a list of the major points you want to include in your paper. This can also help you if you have not yet chosen a position for your topic. Here is an example of what this might look like:
- He sees a ghost
- He speaks in circles
- He plays with Ophelia's emotions
- Other characters see it too
- He told his friends he would seem mad
- Ophelia hurt him; he could be acting out of jealousy or revenge
This side-by-side method can be very effective for persuasive writing. You have your opposition's point of view right in front of you, so you can easily disprove it if you have enough evidence to support your own claims. Alternatives to a list could include web diagrams. Using these, you start with the main topic in the center and "branch out" to more specific areas. You have the chance to be creative at this stage, so you might want to play a little by using colored markers or even 3-dimensional building toys to draw, map out, and "build" your paper.
Now you must consider the order in which you want to say things. It's generally a good idea to start with an introduction, which can vary greatly in length from a paragraph to a page or more depending on how much background information you need to include. You may want to start with a very general statement ("Shakespeare wrote some great plays") and gradually narrow it down to the specific topic of your paper. Or, you may want to begin your introduction in a more creative way with a dialogue, a story, or a quote from an expert on Shakespearean tragedies.
Somewhere in your introduction, you may want to let your reader know what will be your position in the rest of your paper. This is generally referred to as the thesis statement, though it can be longer than a single sentence. It need not summarize all you plan to say, but should serve to guide your reader through your paper.
The body of your essay will be divided into logical sections. If you only have two pieces of evidence to support your position, that's not a very strong paper. On the other hand, if you try to cram nine different sections into a three-page essay, that's overkill. Find a happy medium. In the above Hamlet example, I used three main ideas because, quite frankly, that's all I could think of off the top of my head. You, on the other hand, might be able to come up with five main points. Nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that you have some kind of evidence to support them. Also, keep in mind that we're talking about sections, not necessarily paragraphs. Take as long as you need to explain your point thoroughly, and as soon as you do, move on to something else.
The end is in sight! Time to wrap up your paper.
Take a little time to let your readers down easy. For an essay about Hamlet, you may choose to summarize a few of your most salient points and end with a general statement. But, as with the introduction, you may want to be more creative. Perhaps you could offer an alternate ending, or theorize how a modern jury would view Hamlet. For other types of writing, you may want to elicit some sort of response from your reader. For instance, if you're writing about the dangers of rabies, you may ask your readers to make sure their pets are immunized.