Know which sources are acceptable to your teacher.
Does your teacher want a certain number of primary sources and secondary sources?
Can you use Wikipedia? Wikipedia is often a good starting point for learning about a topic, but many teachers won't let you cite it because they want you to find more authoritative sources.
Take detailed notes, keeping track of which facts come from which sources. Write down your sources in the correct citation format so that you don't have to go back and look them up again later.
Never ignore facts and claims that seem to disprove your original idea or claim. A good essay writer either includes the contrary evidence and shows why such evidence is not valid or alters his or her point of view in light of the evidence.
Analyze some well-written essays. In your research, you'll probably come across some really well-written (and not so well-written) arguments about your topic. Do some analysis to see what makes them work.
What claims does the author make?
Why do they sound good? Is it the logic, the sources, the writing, the structure? Is it something else?
What evidence does the author present?
Why does the evidence sound credible? How does the author present facts, and what is his/her approach to telling a story with facts?
Is the logic sound or faulty, and why?
Why is the logic sound? Does the author back up his/her claims with examples that are easy to follow?
Brainstorm your own ideas. Sure, you can use the arguments of others to back up what you want to say. However, you need to come up with your original spin on the topic to make it uniquely yours.
Make lists of ideas. You can also try mind mapping.
Take your time. Walk in your neighborhood or local park and think about your topic. Be prepared for ideas to come to you when you least expect them.
Pick your thesis statement.
Look at the ideas that you generated. Choose one to three of your strongest ideas that support your topic. You should be able to support these ideas with evidence from your research.
Write a thesis statement that summarizes the ideas that you plan to present. Essentially, let the reader know where you're going and why.
A thesis statement should have a narrow focus include both your topic and what you plan to present. For example, "Although Eli Whitney's cotton gin ushered in a new era of American prosperity, it also widened the gap in suffering for African-American slaves, who would soon be more in demand, and more exploited, than ever."
A thesis statement should not ask a question, be written in first person ("I"), roam off-topic or be combative.
Plan your essay. Take the thoughts that you brainstormed and assemble them into an outline. Write a topic sentence for your main ideas. Then, underneath, make bullet points and list your supporting evidence. Generally, you want three arguments or pieces of evidence to support each main idea.
Topic sentence: "Eli Whitney's cotton gin made life harder on African American slaves."
Ex: "The success of cotton made it harder for slaves to purchase their own freedom."
Ex: "Many northern slaves were in danger of being kidnapped and brought down south to work in the cotton fields."
Ex: "In 1790, before the cotton gin, slaves in America totaled about 700,000. In 1810, after the cotton gin had been adopted, slaves totaled about 1.2 million, a 70% increase."
Write the body of your essay. You do want to think about length here; don't write pages and pages if your teacher wants 5 paragraphs. However, you should freewrite to let your thoughts reveal themselves. You can always make them more concise later.
Avoid sweeping generalizations. Statements such as "______ is the most important problem facing the world today," can cause your reader to dismiss your position out of hand if he/she disagrees with you. On the other hand, "______ is a significant…