Despite the possible small size, writing essays is a much more difficult task than one may be led to believe. It is vital to express valuable thoughts and prove the point of view using a very limited number of words – 500 words, for example. This means that you have to stick to the most important aspects, which may be difficult if you aren’t used to this kind of thinking. You have to follow a number of rules that are often not very obvious. In other words, learning how to write a perfect essay through practice alone can take a lot of time and efforts.
For a college student who needs results right now to improve their grades, this is unacceptable. This is why we’ve gathered some of the most important essay writing tips in this article so that you can learn useful techniques used by professional writers right now without having to discover them on your own.
1. Prepare a Plan and Stick to It
Many students (especially those who put writing an assignment off until the last possible moment) feel that preparing a plan of an essay is a waste of time that can and should be spent on the writing process itself. This belief is wrong for a number of reasons:
- A plan makes your paper neat and organized, which is just as important for an essay as it is for a dissertation;
- It is the best way to prevent yourself from forgetting important points of your argument or repeating yourself;
- In the long run, it saves time. Every minute spent on planning saves you at least 5 minutes you would otherwise spend on worrying about what to write next and correcting yourself. In other words, by planning an essay properly, you buy time for yourself.
2. Start Writing an Essay Early
If you are given two weeks to write an essay, don’t put it off until the last day or even minute. Remember that work always requires more time than we initially think, and you may run into unexpected trouble. Even if you write a brilliant essay eventually but it is delivered after the deadline, your grade is going to suffer – at the very least. So start writing an essay as soon as you have some free time. Have 2 free hours today? Work on the essay introduction. Will have a free day tomorrow? Develop a body for your essay.
Ideally, you should finish your work at least a few days before the deadline so that you have enough time to take a break from it and then reread it afterward – this can provide some unexpected insights and make previously unnoticeable flaws obvious.
3. Write What You’re Said
Quite often students avoid answering the question given to them. Instead, they may attempt to “masterfully” lead the discussion in the direction of something they want to talk about. This may happen for two reasons – students can know more about the subject and feel that they can better demonstrate their skills by writing about the other aspects of the problem. And vice versa – there is no valuable information to capture and essay writing starts with what is better known for a student. Don’t follow either of these ways, as both will direct you wrongly away from the assigned research topic. Even if you end up writing an excellent and highly original essay, you are likely to receive a failing grade because you failed to answer the question you’re asked.
4. Start with a Thesis Statement
Before you start writing the essay itself, you have to formulate your thesis statement. Some students do not make a distinction between topics and thesis statements, which can lead to some severe misunderstandings. A topic states what an essay is about, for example, “The Role of Habits in Our Everyday Life”. A thesis statement expresses your take on the subject, a point you are trying to prove. A good thesis statement contains a single point. If you cannot single it out, it usually means that the direction in which you are moving is too vague, and you probably need some help.
5. Go an Extra Mile
Want to know how to make your essay look ‘cheap’ and generic? Don’t go beyond what you’ve discussed in class, don’t read additional materials, pick the most obvious answer to the question and decide it is good enough. Want to be at the top of your class? Do the opposite. The exact tips on how to broaden your perspective may differ depending on the discipline you study. So let’s focus on the English literature as an example. You have to write a term paper about a text by a certain author. What can you do to stand out?
- Read examples of other works by the same author and see if they are connected to this text;
- Research the context in which the text was written;
- Study the works by literary critics dedicated to the text and provide samples from them;
- Read works by other authors who were active in the same period and see how the text looks like a part of a bigger picture.
The broad context of an essay question allows you to regard the subject matter from different points of view based on various information sources. It may look like a disproportionately huge amount of work to do for an essay, but you don’t have to actually read all this in full. Leaf through them to be sure you include everything that is valuable. For that, you need to be critical enough. Be sure the results will blow everything written by your classmates out of the water. Besides, some assignments (like entrance essays) are actually worth doing all this work in full.
6. Use Quotes, but Don’t Overdo It
Any academic work is a sample of its author’s thoughts backed up by the findings of other people. In other words, quoting reputable academic sources strengthens your argument and shows that you’ve done your homework. However, “reputable” is the key word here. Quoting a random website probably won’t do you much good. Also, it is important to know how to cite properly as required by the necessary formatting style (APA, MLA, Harvard, etc.) However, don’t overuse the others’ ways of thinking. If you turn your essay into a list of other people’s opinions, it shows that you aren’t confident in your own ability to express your thoughts.
7. Proofread. Probably More than Once
If you want your writing to be taken seriously, your English should be perfect. No misspellings, no poor grammar structures, no misplaced punctuation marks. You may ask, “Isn’t a Word spellchecker enough for me to be sure that my essay doesn’t contain anything of the kind?” No, it isn’t. In-built spellcheckers in word processors and even specialized services claiming to be able to find all the grammar mistakes in your writing are woefully inadequate for their task. They miss all but the most obvious problems and, sometimes, find fault with perfectly fine structures. If you want to be sure about your writing, proofread it yourself (preferably a couple of days after writing) and/or ask somebody you trust to do it for you. You may even want to hire a professional proofreader for extremely important tasks like writing a dissertation.
8. Follow the Formatting Rules Carefully
Following the rules of your assigned format is just as important as spelling every word correctly. Even if you are not asked to follow any particular style guide and include academic citations and bibliography page, do it anyway because:
- It makes your work look more serious and scholarly;
- It gives you an opportunity to show off all the extra work you did when you looked for additional sources of information and read supplementary material;
- It is going to look all the better if nobody else does it.
Just make sure you understand the requirements of your style guide correctly, as mistakes here can undo all your hard work.
9. Show All Sides of the Argument
Usually, the topic you are discussing is going to have multiple points of view associated with it. Make sure you give representation to all of them (or at least the most important ones), even if you decide which one you agree with. Most professors won’t look favorably upon one-sided arguments because the primary purpose of writing an essay is not to prove a point but to demonstrate that you are able to view all the existing proof comprehensibly, take different viewpoints into account, weigh up the evidence and make a decision based on all this, not as a result of your pre-existing bias. However, make sure you do express your own opinion in your own words – this shows that you are ready to think independently and not just recount what other people say.
10. Use Visuals
Images and diagrams aren’t what usually comes to mind when we speak about essays, but they can be used to great effect exactly because of it. Unless you are directly discouraged from using visuals, nothing prevents you from doing so. Writing an essay is all about effectiveness and persuasiveness of communication, and an image can help you drive your point home. In addition to making your writing more compelling, visuals also make it more enjoyable to read – and if reading it is an enjoyable experience for the person who is marking it, they are more likely to give you a good grade.
The skill of essay writing comes naturally with experience and practice. The more often you write, the better you get at it. However, if you pay attention to the tips we’ve listed here, you will be able to get to positive results much faster. Try them out the next time you are given an essay to write, and you will see for yourself how much difference even such simple things can make! If you still have ‘how-to-write’ questions, there are online writing guides provided by a top service. Consult them additionally to make progress in essay writing.
For more great tips on all things College, check out the other blogs on College Basics.