As a student pursuing a double major in English and Criminology, Law and Society, most of my assignments are essays.
Instead of delivering presentations, writing reports, or wearing a lab coat, I instead take tests and write essays.
Yes, for every single course.
While writing an essay on a topic that I am interested in holds the potential to be compelling and exciting, I find that I am most often intimidated by the boundless blank document that I need to fill with 1500 to 3000 words.
That’s partially because most of us weren’t exactly thoroughly taught how to write a good essay.
Instead, we were shown what the end result should look like, NOT the process of getting there. And its not as simple as just connecting the dots!
When not done correctly, the essay writing process can be so overwhelming that it causes hesitation and the feeling of not knowing where or how to begin.
The steps to writing an essay, that is, the steps we take to start writing, shouldn’t be an intimidating endeavour.
Nor should it be overlooked! (We should focus on the end result of the essay AND the steps that get us there).
These helpful essay writing tips will ensure that you get the most out of the planning stage so that your essay is much easier and less discouraging to write!
And of course, exceptionally written.
Don’t Just Jump Into the Writing Process!
1) Know your assignment – What are You writing? is it an argumentative essay, expository essay, or a comparative essay? For whom are you writing?
Don’t roll your eyes! A lot of people overlook this part of the writing process because they think it’s obvious.
If you see on your assignment paper that you have to write a comparative essay then you write a comparative essay right?
While this is true, you should actually consider and absorb what you have to do and what the requirements of that specific essay entails.
This should preferably be done as soon as you get the assignment so you are aware of the style, structure, and possible arguments that you can, or have to use.
Reflecting on the type of essay as soon as soon as you get it keeps the wheels in your brain turning for ideas in the background.
Next, who are you writing for? Is it your TA or your professor?
Getting to know your evaluator is crucial as you get a taste of possible criteria they are using to grade your essay as well as things you should or should not do.
Considering your evaluator and what they would dislike and like is so important as they are the one grading your essay in the end!
So, visit their office hours, book an appointment, or simply listen to what they have to say in class. This will give you a general idea of how to go about writing your essay.
You can even go one step further and ask to see a sample of level A work.
This will specifically highlight the best or possible essay structure and style you can use to convey your argument.
Plus, it demonstrates to your evaluator that you are taking initiative and effort in the assignment!
2) Find a topic and narrow it down to a research question
Oh, if I had a penny for every time I’ve seen someone sit in front of their computer screen and stare at a blank document waiting for an idea or thesis to come to them…
Just a friendly reminder that you cannot forcibly manifest an idea!
Sitting and waiting for an argument or idea to come to you is futile. That “lightbulb moment” only comes through research and reading!
Doing research provides you with the information and knowledge to formulate a great thesis.
As smart as you are, it’s quite difficult to just manifest an idea without gaining insight, background information, understanding relevant issues and terms, and having significant evidence to defend your viewpoint or idea.
But don’t wince at the word research! Simply think about your essay topic and read more about it and the information surrounding it.
This gives you a better grasp of the topic as a whole and a possible direction that you narrow it down to.
3) Use research tools to improve your idea!
To find more general and descriptive ideas about your idea or topic, consult tertiary sources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries.
This helps you explore and discover new ideas!
It also encourages you to start asking questions about the topic so that you can gain further awareness into what you can potentially write about.
While doing this, keep in mind the first step of the writing process – knowing your assignment.
Make sure you are fulfilling the expectations and relating it to your course material (if necessary).
Now You Can Start Writing – Draft Your Essay!
Drafting is one of the many effective essay writing tips that is overlooked but can have an incredible impact on your writing!
If you don’t know, drafting is a more concise way of outlining and planning our ideas for our essay in a free flowing manner.
In other words, it is exploratory writing!
Drafting your essay and essentially spilling your raw ideas allows you to explore and thus concentrate or simplify your thesis, arguments, findings and analysis.
This is a more comprehensive and, in my opinion, much more helpful, way of determining the basis of your essay.
Instead of using your typical point form or a brainstorm format before writing your essay, try expanding on your ideas and simply write what you have to say!
Here are some benefits:
1) Drafting can be used to combat procrastination or writers block.
This is because drafting begins the writing process and construction of ideas in a relatively stress free way as you are just freely exploring your essay.
2) Drafting allows you to review, rework, and sort out conceptual problems on paper.
This is such an important step to writing an essay because it encourages you to reflect, rethink and decipher your arguments BEFORE you start the good copy.
Thus, you are left with a strongly established position and basis when you go to actually write the essay because you know exactly what to touch upon.
3) You might discover a new angle to approach your writing assignment!
In the midst of exploring, you may come across a different argument that would be more effective.
Drafting is so significant because while brainstorming freely, you are forced to develop a deeper analytical scale of thought.
4) It provides distance between you and your writing.
Writing a draft essay is especially beneficial when it is done early on because you can put it away and then come back to it with a fresher perspective and clean slate.
From there, you can pinpoint what needs improvement and in your essay. Then you can fine tune and integrate your evidence or better sources to strengthen your essay.
Writing is a Social Act!
Writing is an engagement with others, that is, a conversation!
When writing, you have to remember to clearly and plainly explain your ideas without excessive jargon! That is your task when writing an essay.
You should be able to explain whatever it is you are writing in ordinary terms.
Try to assume the position of a specialized writer but also one that is general.
You need to ensure that someone with no prior knowledge on what you are writing about could understand your essay.
That does not mean you have to define every word, speak in an excessively simple manner, or avoid complex ideas.
Find a balance between a general and specialized writer. If you are too general, your essay will not convey your knowledge of the material and instead be too vague, lack depth and specificity and a connection to course material.
Constrasingly, if you are writing from a position that is too specialized, meaning assuming the reader knows all and throwing around tons of information and terms, your essay will be clouded by jargon.
This will make it difficult for the evaluator to decipher whether or not to understand the information, terms and more because you are solely using it and not explaining or expanding on it much, or if you do, you are doing so in a way that is too complex.
So, back to my first point, think of it as a formal conversation to exemplify your knowledge and opinions.
How Not Writing Can Help Your Writing
Yes, I know the title of this article directly juxtaposes this. But, hear me out.
As I said, writing can be a burdensome and stressful endeavor. Even if you are the most talented writer, you can through spurts where you have no creativity or motivation to write.
This feeling is your body telling you that you need to rest and reflect.
You may need more time to think and plan! And that’s completely okay as long as you are aware of the time frame you have.
So, if you find yourself in this position where you are forcing yourself to write, and you can tell you are not putting in your best work, stop for a bit.
Like any other task, rushing to complete your essay is not the best idea.
Give yourself time to be open to new and different ideas! This might affect your project in unexpected ways.
Essays do not just occur spontaneously. As highlighted throughout this article, there are various aspects that contribute to the writing process.
To construct a strong essay, you need to be aware of how you are working.
In the end, recognizing you need time to develop your thoughts will make your essay that much stronger!
On the flip side, if you finish a project early, set it aside and don’t work on it for a bit. If you submit it early, it limits the potential for your ideas to expand, improve and for you to encounter different things.
Plus, reading your essay after not looking at it for a bit will make your errors and areas for improvement more obvious as you are coming back to it with a fresh perspective!
This little tip will make all the difference, trust me!
1) write your essay in a way that works for you.
The process of writing an essay is, for the most part, directly up to you. Instead of seeing this boundless possibility as intimidating, use it to your advantage!
Make it fun to write by choosing a topic that interests you, try using a new approach to articulate your thoughts, or take a position you disagree with to make it more challenging if that is something you enjoy.
Make your essay your own!
2) Accept and use criticism as a means to improve.
To write a good essay, you need to use the criticism you get instead of ignoring it.
Although it can be hard to receive negative feedback, try to understand their perspective and use it for reference in the future.
Asking a friend or peer to critique your work before you submit it will minimize the amount of mistakes you have.
Not only that, but they can also inform you to some repetitive errors in your writing for you to look out for in the future.
Time to Get Writing!
I hope that these tips provided you with clarity on how to write a strong essay. I urge you to use these strategies and make a note of your progress and how confident you are with the final result of your essay!
Remember to always ask the instructor, TA, or individual grading your essay for tips on what they want to see most. It will definitely improve your mark and show them that you are making an effort.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!
If you are a student and have any questions or comments (or a topic you want us to cover) you can email us at eyesofourlives.com! All input is greatly appreciated.
All the best on your next essay!