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Essay Prompts

Sylvia Plath wrote, "Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."1 Although she wasn't writing an essay when she wrote those words in her journal, they offer a message of hope, success, and pleasure in writing. Responding to an essay prompt can be intimidating when you first get started, but they all follow a standard format. If you are aware of important essay features, research your prompt, and take the time to outline your essay, you'll deliver what you want to say in a compelling piece of writing.

AP Essay Writing an AP essay StudySmarterFig. 1. Schoolwork on an old-fashioned desk.

The Different Types of Essay Prompts

Essay prompts help you to approach the topic by asking you questions. When you are faced with an essay prompt, it is important to think about how you will respond, as each essay prompt may require a different writing style or rhetorical approach.

The different essay prompts include:

  • Narrative: requires you to explore a fictional experience or write a true or imagined story to convey your argument.
  • Expository: requires you to explain or define a concept or idea by evaluating evidence. A specific audience needs to be kept in mind as you present your argument and the evidence to back it up.
  • Persuasive: requires you to persuade or convince your audience to take a stance on a particular viewpoint or action, with certain language choices to present logical thinking.
  • Descriptive: requires you to describe "in detail" an object, an experience, or an image using sensory language.

Format of an Essay

An essay comprises a beginning, a middle, and an end. Leaving out one of these parts will confuse the audience because the piece will not flow smoothly.

Beginning: Essay Introduction

The introduction is where you launch your topic. You tell the reader the subject in a few sentences and outline the main ideas. The first couple of sentences grab the reader's interest. There are a few standard ways to begin your essay:

  • A quote: Find a meaningful quote that illustrates your topic. A fitting quote is effective because it mirrors your thoughts and creates believability by adding a separate voice that shares your view.
  • An anecdote: An anecdote is a brief story from your life that is connected to the subject of your essay. A quick tale is a good way to establish the atmosphere and setting.
  • A statistic: Opening your essay with a statistic that shocks the audience plays on their trust or distrust in the statistic as reliable information. They will keep reading to satisfy their desire to know whether or not the statistic is accurate and how this is the case.
  • A question: When you are having a conversation, and someone asks you a question, the natural response is curiosity. The same holds for your writing. When you begin your narrative with a question, the audience wants to keep reading to find out the answer.

The thesis statement is typically the final sentence in the introduction. The thesis clearly defines your topic and gives the audience an overview of what will be covered.

Middle: Essay Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs are where you'll argue your opinion, share information, or tell your story. When first getting acquainted with an essay prompt, including at least three body paragraphs is customary, and each one builds upon the information given previously. Pay attention to the way you begin and end each section because awkward transitions interrupt the readability of the text.

End: Essay Conclusion

The conclusion ties everything together and offers closure to the reader. In the conclusion, restate your thesis and briefly touch on your main points. As with the introduction, there are a variety of ways to write a powerful ending:

  • Consider the information included in the essay.

  • Examine what the audience gains from being made aware of your topic.

  • Discuss the moral or theme that underlies your issue.

There are many ways you can make your essay pop, including paying attention to language choices and choosing your sources wisely.

Language Choices in an Essay

Rhetoric is the study of how we communicate. One of the things it examines is the impact of language choice and structure on effective communication. The words you choose and how you write your essay's sentences directly affect its effectiveness. As you look over your writing, ask yourself:

  • Is your essay clear and concise?

  • Are you using concrete details to support the ideas in the essay?

  • Look at your writing objectively. How well are you explaining the main points? Is the essay saying what you are trying to make it say?

  • Through a more painful objective lens – is your essay interesting to read?

  • Have you answered the question or prompt directly and effectively?

Choosing Sources for an Essay

Credible sources are essential for the audience to take you seriously. The CRAAP Method is a handy guide:

  • Currency: When you're writing an essay about a rapidly evolving subject, the age of your source matters. Make sure your facts are up-to-date and that any links you include work properly.

  • Relevance: Research various sources to ensure they strongly support your arguments. Use sources that match the audience level of the essay you're writing.

  • Authority: A website's "About" section is an excellent resource for investigating the credibility of the source's information. Look at whether any organizations are connected to the source. Then, examine the author's credentials to decide if they have the knowledge to write about the subject.

Essasy Prompts. An old book. StudySmarter.Fig. 2. Find knowledgeable sources.

  • Accuracy: Verify that you can find the same information in other places and that experts have reviewed it. The sources for your essay should be grammatically correct and written in a neutral tone.

  • Purpose: Look at the reasons why the information exists. The "About" page of a particular website can help you decipher whether the source means to inform or entertain and whether it contains political, religious, or personal biases.

Essay Prompt Examples

If you can choose between multiple essay topics and prompts, pick the ones you'd like to learn more about because your interest will show through your writing. Ensure that your subject complements the style of the essay prompt you're responding to. Here are a few examples:

  • Write a story on the history of the printing press (Narrative Essay).

  • Convince us whether community gardens should be encouraged or not (Persuasive Essay).

  • Explain how to take a great nature photograph (Expository Essay).

  • Describe in detail how to make the perfect apple pie (Descriptive Essay).

  • Who was Alben Barkley? (Can you guess what the type of essay prompt this is?) .

Descriptive and Argumentative Essay Prompts

Take notes as you read through your sources and create a page that condenses your thoughts. Then, use these types of questions to come up with the main ideas of your essay:

  • What exactly has the Essay Prompt asked me to do?

  • What do you agree or disagree with in the sources you found? Why?

  • What stands out in the references you will use for your essay?

  • What evidence for your position do you see as you read?

Essay Outline

Just like the format of the essay, an outline follows a model:

I. Introduction

A. Hook (quote, anecdote, statistic, or question used to attract attention)

B. Introduction of Topic

C. Thesis Statement

II. Body Paragraphs 1-3

A. Main Point

B. Discussion of Main Point with Source

C. Transition Sentence to Next Point/Conclusion

III. Conclusion

A. Restate Thesis

B. Summarize Main Points

C. Final Impression

Example Response to an Essay Prompt

Read the example essay below. What type of Essay Prompt could it be responding to? What word choices have you found that support your argument?

When I visited my Nonnie in the summer, I got to help with her garden. I spent my days digging in the dirt and getting tanned in the bright sunshine. I didn't like the spicy smell of marigolds exactly, but I couldn't stop myself from sniffing their stiff petals. While we watered the plants (and squirted each other with the hosepipe), she taught me how different plants work together. Some plants make a good team, but others don't do so well when paired close to each other. Companion gardening is growing your vegetables, herbs, and flowers together in ways that eliminate some of the common problems, such as pests.

Not all bugs are out to get your garden. Many beneficial insects help eliminate the need to use pesticides. To attract them, position host and shelter plants throughout the plot. Host plants attract insects that help pollinate, while shelter plants offer safe places for them to lay eggs and rest. Herbs are an outstanding choice for this role. For example, herbs in the mint family will bring "predatory wasps, hoverflies, and robber flies" that eat caterpillars, grubs, and aphids.2 Gardening is a lot of work, so let nature do some of the work for you.

Companion planting can remove the annoyance of losing your crop to pests. Organizing the garden according to the characteristics of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers you want to plant creates a more natural, pesticide-free gardening experience. My Nonnie's tomatoes were the best I've eaten, and her company made the work all the more enjoyable, bringing yet another meaning to the benefits of "companion planting."

The anecdote attempts to gather interest in the essay. The thesis clearly defines the subject of the essay and its main points. The body paragraph supports its point using reliable evidence. Notice that the source supports your idea, not the other way around. There is a transition into the conclusion paragraph. The conclusion of the essay summarizes without repeating information word-for-word.

Essay Prompts - Key Takeaways

  • An essay has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • A thesis statement rounds out the introduction by naming the essay's subject and main ideas.
  • Choose the wording and references you include carefully to craft an effective essay prompt response. The CRAAP Method helps you decide the validity of a source.
  • Use brainstorming and outlining to organize your thoughts and help make writing your essay easier.

1 Ted Hughes, and Frances McCullough, Eds. The Journals of Sylvia Plath. 1982.

2 Marie Iannotti. "Companion Planting to Control the Insects in Your Garden." 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions about Essay Prompts

To write an effective response to an essay prompt, form a clear thesis and use concise language and concrete details to support explanations and assertions. Make sure the essay is engaging to the reader.

An essay prompt response should have at least five paragraphs.

The structure of a response to an essay prompt includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A thesis statement states the topic and outlines the main points.

An essay prompt response should start with a hook to get the reader's attention. A shocking statistic, illuminating quote, anecdote, or question are all effective hooks. After your hook, introduce your subject. Round out your introduction with a clearly-worded thesis statement.

These are strategies that will help you improve your essay prompt response:

  • Research your topic and choose sources using the CRAAP Method.
  • Brainstorm your topic to organize your thoughts.
  • Structure your brainstorming session into an outline to create a blueprint for your essay.
  • Follow the structure of an essay: introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion.
  • Start your essay with a hook to grab the audience's attention, and choose the words you include in your essay carefully.

Final Essay Prompts Quiz

Question

What two strategies are critical to effectively responding to an essay prompt?

Show answer

Answer

Language choice and choosing valid sources are critical to effectively responding to an essay prompt.

Show question

Question

A _____ essay uses personal experience to examine a moral or universal truth.

Show answer

Answer

Narrative

Show question

Question

How are events in a narrative essay ordered?

Show answer

Answer

Events are told in chronological order in a narrative essay.

Show question

Question

What are three things learning to write a narrative essay can improve?

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Answer

Learning to write a narrative essay can improve your comprehension, your reading, and your writing abilities.

Show question

Question

How is a narrative essay structured?

Show answer

Answer

A narrative essay is structured into an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Show question

Question

Where is the thesis statement located in a narrative essay?

Show answer

Answer

Introduction

Show question

Question

What are the two types of dialogue you can include in your narrative essay?

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Answer

The two types of dialogue you can include in your narrative essay are:

  1. Direct (exact words)
  2. Indirect (a paraphrase of the conversation)

Show question

Question

An _____ essay objectively provides information with an academic tone.

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Answer

Expository

Show question

Question

A cause and effect expository essay explores the real-life consequences of _____.

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Answer

An action or idea

Show question

Question

A process expository essay describes the way something works _____.

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Answer

In steps

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Question

A _____ expository essay examines the similarities and differences between two things.

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Answer

Compare and contrast

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Question

A _____ expository essay explores an object or concept in detail.

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Answer

Definition

Show question

Question

How is an outline useful to an expository essay?

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Answer

An outline is useful to an expository essay because it organizes your thoughts to make the writing process easier.

Show question

Question

What is the structure of an expository essay?

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Answer

An expository essay is structured into an Introduction, Body Paragraphs, and a Conclusion.

Show question

Question

What is a thesis statement?

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Answer

A thesis statement outlines your argument and lists the main points of your essay.

Show question

Question

Which type of essay relates both sides of an argument and allows the audience to make their own decision?

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Answer

Argumentative essay

Show question

Question

What subjects make good topics for persuasive essays?

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Answer

Any subject that you can agree or disagree with can be crafted into a persuasive essay.

Show question

Question

What are the three Elements of Rhetoric?

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Answer

A, B, and C

Show question

Question

Why should you avoid "I think" and "I feel" statements in your persuasive essay?

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Answer

You should avoid "I think" and "I feel" statements because they weaken your message.

Show question

Question

How should you structure your persuasive essay?

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Answer

A persuasive essay should include a thesis statement that lays out your argument and main points in an Introduction. Argue your main points in the body paragraphs. Use your conclusion to finalize your argument while restating your thesis and summarizing your main points.

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Question

Why are persuasive essays important?

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Answer

Persuasive essays help you to think critically about your beliefs.

Show question

Question

How is a persuasive essay different from an argumentative essay?

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Answer

A persuasive essay presents one side of a topic and refutes the other. An argumentative essay presents both sides and allows the audience to form their own opinion.

Show question

Question

Who was Aristotle?

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Answer

Aristotle was the Greek philosopher who developed the Elements of Rhetoric.

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Question

What are some fields that use persuasive writing?

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Answer

Persuasive writing is used in advertising, the media, and by speechwriters.

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Question

Where in your essay do you initially state your opinion and main ideas?

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Answer

Thesis statement

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Question

What is the CRAAP Method?

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Answer

The CRAAP Method (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) is a tool to help determine whether a source is valid and reliable.

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Question

What does the "C" in CRAAP stand for?

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Answer

Currency

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Question

What does the "R" in CRAAP stand for?

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Answer

Relevance

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Question

What does the "A" in CRAAP stand for?

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Answer

Authority

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Question

What does the "A" in CRAAP stand for?

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Answer

Accuracy

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Question

What does the "P" in CRAAP stand for?

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Answer

Purpose

Show question

Question

Why should you make sure to include transitional sentences in your essay?

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Answer

Transitional sentences help your essay flow smoothly from section to section.

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Question

Why is choosing the right sources for your essay so important?

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Answer

Choosing the right sources for your essay is important because reliable sources lend credibility, but shaky sources destroy the reliability of your argument.

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Question

What are the questions you should ask yourself when proofreading your essay?

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Answer

All of the above

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Question

Which features are unique to a Narrative essay?

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Answer

All of the above

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Question

Why are transitions important in a Narrative essay?

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Answer

Transitions are important in a Narrative essay because it's disorienting to readers to have to stop reading to figure out what's going on.

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Question

How can you leave a lasting impression in the conclusion of a Narrative essay?

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Answer

All of the above

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Why are concrete details in a Narrative important?

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Answer

Concrete details in a narrative essay are important because they draw the reader into the experience. 

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Question

True or false: cover letters and personal statements are real-world applications of narrative essays.

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Answer

True. Personal statements ask you to talk about yourself within the guidelines of a theme. Cover letters ask you to tell the story of how you gained your skills.

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Question

What do you learn while writing expository essays?

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Answer

All of the above

Show question

Question

True or False: Before reading your expository essay, you should assume the audience knows something about your subject.

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Answer

False. When writing your expository essay, you should assume the audience has no prior knowledge of the subject. Provide background information and explain technical terms.

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Question

Why is learning to write a descriptive essay important?

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Answer

All of the above

Show question

Question

A _____ describes an object, place, or concept in deep detail.

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Answer

Descriptive essay

Show question

Question

What are some types of figurative language?

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Answer

All of the above

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Question

A _____ is an image or saying that has been overused. 

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Answer

Cliché

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Question

Why should you follow a consistent pattern in your description?

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Answer

You should follow a consistent pattern in your description because if you don't, it creates a disjointed image in the reader's mind.

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Question

Why should you research you descriptive essay topic?

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Answer

Researching your descriptive essay topic helps you include concrete details in your writing.

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Question

What is a personal descriptive essay?

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Answer

A personal descriptive essay describes an event that affected the author's life.

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Question

A(n) _____ essay creates an impersonal, photograph-quality image of a subject.

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Answer

Formal description

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Question

A(n) _____ essay attempts to create an emotional reaction with its description.

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Answer

Impressionistic

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