Prepare a Winning Essay

So you've chosen the challenge you want to address. Now how can you increase your chances of writing a winning essay? One of the most important things to remember is that this should be a science essay rather than a science report. We make an important distinction between these two writing approaches for the purpose of this competition. Reports and essays are two very different things:

  • A report’s purpose is to provide information. An effective report is clearly written and well organized, and it tells readers things that they did not know before about a topic that is worth knowing more about.
  • An essay also provides information—but it does more. An essay not only gives facts about its subject but shows its writer’s enthusiasm for and intellectual involvement with that subject. In an essay, unlike a report, the writer lets his or her personality come through.

A science essay is a journey. Think of it as the record created by a person who has ventured out to the edge of scientific discovery through his or her research, and has come back with a new understanding of it—a new understanding that he or she is eager to share with others.

Here are several other things to consider before you begin:

  • Have a point and develop it in a clear, organized way. Essays can either be expository (explaining a concept, theory, experiment, etc.) or persuasive (arguing for an explanation, approach, or course of action), but all of them need to have a point. Illustrate it with good evidence from a variety of sources, and develop it in a logical way. Don’t assume the reader knows as much about your subject as you do—in fact, don’t assume the reader knows anything about it at all! Think, "If I knew nothing about this, or even why it is important, what would I need to read in order to understand?" Answer that question for yourself. Then, that is what you should write.

  • Show why your subject matters. Essay readers will be interested in why your subject is important to "the real world"—today’s world, or tomorrow’s. It is part of your challenge to address this issue directly.
  • Write more than one draft. Some successful writers have said that grinding out the first draft is the difficult part of writing—and then revising it is the "fun" part. Revision is fun because it is the part of the writing process in which you turn your raw material into something that truly communicates. When you revise, make sure you catch all those errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and so on that we all make in first drafts. Also, look with a critical eye at the organization of your essay: Is the information presented in a clear order? Do transitions help the argument to flow smoothly?
  • Use the help your teacher can offer. You may not be the best editor for your own writing, because you know too well what you were "trying to say." Your teacher can read your work at any stage and offer useful comments that will sharpen your essay and make it more effective. Your teacher can also suggest research sources that may help you to back up your points more effectively.

Now go on to our Research and Writing Tips for more advice on the essay-writing process.

You can also see a detailed list of Student Awards and learn more about the 1986 Challenger Crew, the heroes who inspired this competition.

student at computer