It is important to understand the terms of an academic essay fully, to find a sense of direction before embarking on the essay paper. It is a good idea to identify some words which may point the way to the kind of reasoning which it is expected will be used. For example, 'how', 'argue', 'compare', or 'analyse' are particular words which may define the way that an essay should be approached. If the essay topic uses the terms how, or why, this would imply that the essay paper should reach a conclusion through analysis of the facts. Similarly, the term 'analyse' would suggest that the writer should investigate the background of any source material, looking behind it, perhaps identifying cause and effect, questioning the validity of any assumptions that have been made.
'Evaluate' and 'to what extent' are also similar terms which show the intent behind the topic. The essay writer should identify the criteria upon which to base their judgment, make an analysis, and offer an opinion which is backed up by evidence that can be clearly demonstrated. Similarly, a topic which requires the writer to argue a proposition (which may also be stated as agree, or disagree), should be approached by analysing the subject and taking a view based upon clear evidence. It is useful in this instance to compare contrary views, against which the writer can defend their own in turn.
In the case of 'compare', the essay topic requires the writer not only to identify similarities of approach but also any differences between them. Such similarities and differences will naturally lend themselves to paragraphs or sub-sections within the essay and provide a useful organizational reference. Once the approach to the topic has been identified, it is valuable to explore some ideas by posing several questions related to the topic. Look at the source material and consider any controversial considerations which can be drawn out. Concepts which have been covered in an academic course can be applied to the material, in order to question particular ways of thinking.
This sense of direction will help in the formulation of a preliminary thesis sentence or statement. Even if it is discarded later, this initial focus will be helpful in the development of the main idea for the academic essay. The topic should now be clear in the mind, and the main idea can produce a statement of the essay writer's intended position. This will lead to an investigation of the facts and concepts behind the topic, developing ideas for discussion. It is important to construct a strong and persuasive thesis statement as the entire essay's structure will depend upon it, and time spent in identifying the key elements of the essay topic will be well spent. The formal essay writing stage will progress much more easily with the natural flow which will stem from this clear main idea. This is an area in which the essay writer must make a key decision and it should be planned thoroughly. Other elements of an academic essay, however, such as the structure of an essay, its clarity and its grammatical accuracy can all be aided by online essay editing and proofreading services such as Grammarholic.com, but the main decision on the essay's topic is one which only the essay writer can make.