How to Write a Braided Essay

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A braided essay is a popular structure for creative nonfiction essays. Braided essays generally use 2-3 moments or topics and create an essay surrounding an event or question. While collage style essays are a personal favorite of mine, I love a good braided essay too, like many readers. This may explain why braided essays are used by many authors to entertain readers including Joann Beard, Chelsea Biondolillo, and Anna Redsand to name a few.

But what is a braided essay, and how do I incorporate it in my writing? Don’t worry reader/writer, I’m here to lay it all out for you, so you can be on your way writing braided essays in no time.

What is a Braided Essay?

A braided essay is an essay that uses 2-3 events or topics to create an essay surrounding an event or question. Writers “weave” the “strands” (events or topics) together to form a “braid.” Sometimes when you say that out loud to yourself, it makes no sense. Therefore, let’s look at Joann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter.

Beard’s main strand is her narrative about taking care of her sick collie that is dying. Her first strand is dealing with the squirrels in her spare bedroom and the breakdown of her marriage. The last strand is the Iowa University Physics department shooting. These events are woven together to create one essay about an author’s inability to control the events happening in her life.

Braided essays can have more or less than three “strands.” Essays have been known to have just two strands or four to five. The most important thing to note about braided essays is repetition of the braid “strands.” The repetition of these elements are what makes an essay braided rather than just a collage. If you place multiple fragmented events and don’t repeat them, you are making a collage, not a braided essay. 

How to Construct a Braided Essay

Now that we have a clear definition of what a braided essay is, let’s outline one. I created a PDF to help you outline your essay. You can gain access to this free worksheet and others by visiting my Resource Library.

The worksheet is pretty straightforward and basic. It by no means encompasses what your braided essay can be, but I thought it would be easier to go over a simple braid.

First you will chose the anchor of your essay, otherwise known as the main strand or core event. This can also be a theme if you’re exploring different facets of something. In Beard, her main core event is taking care of her collie. (You can also say it’s the shooting, I believe it’s open to interpretation, but either way this method works no matter what you choose as the core).

With this core event, Beard weaves two other strands. The first other strand is the Beard’s failing marriage and the squirrels infesting her guest bedroom. This event ties in the collie because it is another thing Beard doesn’t have control over and can’t deal with on her own.

You will need to choose another event that makes sense when related to your core event. Pick a longer scene or topic in order to continue the repetition pattern that has to happen.

After choosing two events, you will need to pick one more to round out your essay and complete the braid. It doesn’t have to relate to the first other strand you chose, but needs to relate to the core event somehow.

In “The Fourth State of Matter,” Beard talks about the Iowa University Physics Department shooting. This relates to the collie because Beard discusses the collie with her coworkers, but also later because of Beard not being able to save her coworkers and their own death she has to deal with.

Again, the key here is the repetition. Beard is constantly weaving these events in her essay to create the braid. You must do this too, to create a proper braided essay.

More Inspiration and Examples

If writing braided essays intrigues you, or you enjoy reading the format, I have a few sources of inspiration to share with you. Along with Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter,” other braided essays include Biondolillo’s “How to Skin a Bird” and Redsand’s “A Good Stranger.” Biondolilo’s “How to Skin a Bird” is a more fragmented version of a braided essay and discusses the author’s relationship with her daughter while instructing on how to skin a bird properly. Redsand’s “A Good Stranger” discusses the author’s religious identity, braiding Christianity, Judaism, and Navajo tradition. “A Good Stranger” is an outstanding example if you are looking to write on a theme rather than focus on a certain event.

You can also find more information and other works to read on this website.


Wow. That was a lot of information to go through, but I hope you found this blog post insightful and inspirational. If you like the braided essay style, but want more freedom, collage essays may be more of your taste. Don’t worry, I plan on doing another post like this on collage essays soon.

Do you have a favorite braided essay? Have you written one?


  1. "How to Skin a Bird" is about the author's relationship with her father, not her daughter. But otherwise thank you for this. Beard's "Fourth State of Matter" is pretty unparalleled in my opinion, but I like the form and variety of braids I see in these essays and appreciate the thoughtful way you wrote this post.

  2. Thank you for this information. Just want to let you know there are a few typos.

    1. A lot of mistakes for a “writing addict.”

  3. I appreciate the explanation and examples you gave. I was surprised to find several editing mistakes in your writing, though. For example, you wrote that squirrels were investing a bedroom when I think you mean infesting. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but there were enough errors to distract me from the reading. You may get consider editing your writing more thoroughly or hiring someone to do so.

  4. Hi Kathy,

    I’m sorry you found the editing mistakes distracting, but I’m glad you enjoyed the content. This post is three years old and I like to believe my skills have improved since then. I will happily read over this post again and give it another editing look.

    By the way, “You may consider editing your writing more thoroughly or hiring someone to do so.” If you’re going to complain about someone’s editing/writing, I think I would review my comment more thoroughly. Have a great day and happy writing!

    1. Some people are just sticklers, and sticklers are the reason so many writers are unnecessarily afraid of editors. Seriously, commenting on a stranger's blog about minor errors? Get over yourself!

      I thought this was the most useful and informative bit of writing about braided essays I've come across. Well done, Shelby.

    2. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :) They are one of my favorite essay types and probably what I write most often apart from collage essays.

  5. This was so helpful! I'm in a college class right now, it's online, and the professor asked us to write a rough draft for a braided essay without telling us what it was. Her only link led to a cite we used last week for an entirely different subject. You have saved my grade and my blood pressure. Thank you so much!

    1. I'm glad I could help! Good luck with your essay! :)

  6. I Googled braided essay to find some examples, got to your blog, and then read "The Fourth State of Matter." Holy Hell, beautiful. It's going to sit with me forever.

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