Essay Prompts

Often, essay prompts refer to specific statements that dictate the type and topic of an essay assignment. A typical prompt from an instructor, for example, might be, “There is a significant difference between day and night grocery shoppers.” Based on this, the student then understands that the type of essay to write will be comparison/contrast and the topic will be the behaviors of shoppers.

For our purposes, however, we will define essay prompts as tips provided so that you fully understand the nature of each type of essay and can therefore organize the thought and content accordingly. It is important to note, moreover, that high school essay prompts and college essay prompts are the same because the nature of each type of essay does not change with academic level, only the rigor of topics.

University Admissions Essays

Topics for admissions essays always generally relate to goals, personal development, and/or contributions one will make to the specific academic community. While these are not meant to be persuasive essays, they must be in subtle ways, for it is the writer’s job to convince decision makers that s/he is the best candidate for admission. The best essay prompts for this essay type are as follows:
1) stick to the topic and length requirements
2) be creative in the introduction – grabbing attention immediately is critical
3) promote one’s qualities without the appearance of egotism.

Persuasive Essay Prompts

Sometimes called the argumentative or the pro/con essay, this type requires the writer to take a stand and to support that stand with solid factual information. Persuasive essay prompts include the following:
1) Make a list of the reasons for your opinion, beginning with the most compelling one and working down to the least important. This will provide the sequence in which the points will be made.
2) Consider an opponent’s views on each of your points and note how you will counter those views.
3) Do not skip the research aspect of preparation. An argument is not compelling without factual data to support a point of view

Cause and Effect Essay

The best essay prompts for the cause/effect essay include these:
1) Consider that there may be multiple causes for one effect. The Civil War, for example, was the result of several significant political and economic situations.
2) If there are multiple causes, treat them in order of importance.
3) Understand that an effect may, in turn, become the cause of a new effect. Dependent upon the topic and depth of coverage, this may have to be addressed.

The Classification Essay

Organization is the key to this type of writing. The writer is therefore encouraged to:
1) Define the categories to be addressed,
2) be prepared to explain the reasoning for the category selections, and
3) be certain to include plenty of examples within each category. If one were asked to categorize or classify types of government assistance, for example, categories might include housing, food, medical care, and miscellaneous.

Comparison/Contrast Essay Prompts

Again, organization is critical. Take note of these:
1) The use of a Venn diagram will organize similarities and differences, and provide a solid graphic organizer for writing.
2) Select the method of organization that best suits the topic. Will you address all of the similarities first and then the differences or will you address each specific sub-topic and state the similarities and differences?
3) Be certain that each category of comparison or contrast is clearly defined.
4) For complex and/or lengthy topics, factual data will be required.

The Critical Essay

This essay type requires judgment, but judgment cannot be made without overriding criteria. These are the following:
1) Criteria for the critical analysis should be stated in the introduction.
2) Every subtopic should relate to one criterion.
3) The conclusion should be a generalized summation of the criticism.
4) Avoid emotional responses.

The Definition Essay

This essay type usually entails a topic that is broader than the type of definition found in a dictionary. One might be asked, for example, to define Christianity – a complex task, to be sure. The best essay prompts for a definition essay include:
1) List all aspects of the concept to be defined, for these become the sub-topics covered in the body paragraphs,
2) conduct a bit of research to examine how others define the term
3) Write the introduction last, so that you are able to synthesize all aspects of the definition.

The Descriptive Essay

High school essay prompts and college essay prompts may somewhat vary because the expectations for the use of descriptive and figurative language differ with academic levels. One may be asked to describe something as concrete as a Tyrannosaurus Rex or as complex as the reaction to a major world event. In either case, the following prompts apply.
1) Devise a list of the sub-topics to be included in the description
2) Consider each item on the list and determine if similes, metaphors, alliteration, or other types of figurative language can be used, for these make an otherwise boring piece exciting and appealing to the reader’s senses.

The Character Sketch

Usually assigned in an English or literature course, this type of essay is unique in that it involves description, analysis, and, most often, judgment and opinion. The important considerations in producing a character sketch are:
1) To “show”, not “tell”. If a character is unselfish, for example, you must give examples of actual unselfish acts.
2) Sequence the character traits from most important to least important and limit the traits to three or four.
3) An introduction may address the “simplicity” or the “complexity” of the character.


Tell the story. Whether the student is asked to provide a personal narrative of a life-changing event or write a fictional short story, a narrative essay must, by its very nature, be chronologically addressed although reflection on events should address a general theme or point to be made.
1) A graphic organizer of sequential boxes will assist in organizing the storyline and ensure that no key elements are ignored.
2) In the case of a personal narrative, the introduction should provide reflection on the impact of the events shaping one’s current station, character, or belief.

The Interview

When an interview is conducted and then translated to a piece of writing, the pre-interview preparation is most critical.
1) Prepare a comprehensive but succinct list of questions to be asked.
2) Take detailed notes or record the entire interview.
3) Organize the interview responses in a coherent manner and eliminate extemporaneous content.
4) Provide personal responses in the introduction and conclusion.

The Process Essay

Explaining a process may involve a topic as simple as changing the tire on a car or as complex as the election of a US president. Again, this type of essay must have a basic chronological approach as there are specific steps that must be defined and explained as to how they occur. The essay prompts that matter most are:
1) clearly delineate the steps of the process in a graphic organizer
2) stick to the organizer as the essay is written and
3) be certain that the introduction grabs the attention of the reader, because these types of essays can be a bit boring.

Reflective Essays

Reflective essays are usually assigned when a student must present his behavior or thoughts. For example, after a student of education has taught a lesson in a student-teaching experience, s/he will often be required to produce an essay of reflection on that experience. Prompts for creating this type of essay include:
1) What went well? What did not go well?
2) What would I do differently next time?
3) How has this experience altered my perspective or how will it influence future action or thought? Reflective essays are personal, and the individual’s thoughts are the subject of all body paragraphs.

The Response Essay

Students are often asked to read or view something and then provide a personal response to what the author or speaker has said. These essays certainly require personal opinions regarding the content, but the student still should refer back to the original piece to find factual evidence to support the response. While sometimes difficult to organize, it is important that the writer
1) lists important points in the original document or verbal presentation to which s/he plans to respond to and
2) makes an outline of the responses to these points.It is the goal of to assist students as they struggle with written essay assignments. Of course, if these essay prompts are not enough, a student is welcome to contact us to receive customized assistance with essay writing of any type.