An essay is an informed, reasoned, opinion paper, in which a question or thesis is advanced and carefully answered or supported. Compared to a research paper, an essay offers more freedom to develop your own argument regarding a particular issue.
The purpose of an essay is to inform, persuade, inspire or incite into action a certain target audience. It is important to define the topic of your essay clearly and to apply relevant insights from theoretical approaches and research results to support your own thesis effectively. This means you need sufficient knowledge to bring your point across. You should use a clear and interesting formulation (language and structure), and take into account the prior knowledge and interests of your audience.
Compared to other text types, such as a research paper or a scientific article, the structure of an essay is less fixed. Usually, the author advances a question or thesis and guides the reader through several possible answers before arguing which answer is best. To prepare for writing your essay, it is therefore important to list all the facts and form a (general) idea of what others think of the subject. By using different sources, you will learn to approach the topic from multiple perspectives. Based on a selection of supportive and counterarguments, you can narrow your own viewpoint. Important here is the structure of your argument. A frequently used structure is the following:
When writing an essay, you are less bound to academic style conventions. However, be careful not to use an excessively personal or informal style, or forced humour. Furthermore, it is important to realise that titles and section headings not only fulfil an informative, but also a stimulating function. Study sample texts and/or ask your professor.