Beginner Essay Writing Tips for College Freshmen

College essays can be intimidating. I felt unprepared my freshman year because the last time I took a grammar in writing course was 6th grade. Simple grammatical errors in my first college essay showed it. I was shocked to find out that this was common amongst other college students. We forget names of simple rules and how to use them because they aren’t reinforced. It’s assumed that we know and understand grammar like the backs of our hands when in reality, we just write and hope for the best. It’s especially difficult for international students who have to relearn grammar and essay writing principles. 

In this article, I will give you a crash course about basic essay writing for all college students, not just college freshmen. All essays have three main parts: introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. How you approach the topic of discussion depends on the subject (ie scientific research versus literary research) and the type of essay you will write (argumentative or critical analysis). Reaching your word count, on the other hand, is all about finesse, which I, unfortunately, can not teach you. 

 

Outline and organize

Before starting your paper, it is important to organize your ideas and understand your topic. First, look over your rubric for directions and any indication of who your audience is. If your audience is the general population, then it will let you know to add background information on people and articles they may not be familiar with. 

Next, you need to research your topic. Have questions in mind to help narrow down your research and begin formulating your thesis statement.

General topics: World War II and global economy

Specific topic: Discussion of the impact of World War II on the global economy.

Your thesis statement is what the essay is about or the argument you are making. You will use your research to prove your thesis statement. You can use your prompt or rubric to formulate your thesis statement. 

Bad thesis statement: World War II positively and negatively affected the global economy. This addressed the topic, but it isn’t specific enough and it can’t be argued.

Good thesis statement: Despite increase in production and employment, high casualty rates and low morality during World War II negatively affected the global economy, which is still seen today. This claim can be challenged, and it’s clear, concise, and concrete.

 

Body paragraph structure

Start with body paragraphs first. As long as you have your thesis statement in mind, you will stay on track with your argument. This strategy will help you write and explain your main points, otherwise you wouldn’t have written anything to introduce yet.

Shorter essays typically have three main points organized into three paragraphs. More complicated essays can have the same main point split between different paragraphs. Main points support your argument. 

General main point: Differences in the economy pre- and post-World War II

Specific main point: Data changes in production and high employment rates in the pre- and post-World War II economies

Find evidence from your research that is specific to your main point. It can be a direct quote, summary (maintaining the author’s voice and style), or paraphrase (in your own voice and style of writing). Don’t forget in-text citations with proper formatting for each piece of evidence. It is possible to accidentally plagiarize. Consult your instructor, your writing center, or a librarian for assistance with citations.

Quote: “With the loss of so many husbands and brothers, women and children obtained jobs in order to maintain their household. The more employees companies hired, the less money they had to allocate. … The threat of loss of housing added onto grief decreased employees’ productivity; as a result, companies’ revenues decreased along with it” (Doe 23).

Summary: Women and children had to get jobs to keep their housing if the main male in their families died. Because of the increase in employment, there was less money to pay employees. Grief and anxiety prevented employees from working efficiently and decreased companies’ revenue (Doe 23).

Paraphrase: Men who fought and died in the war left behind women and children who were forced to work for little pay. Companies didn’t compensate for the influx of employment and paid their workers little to nothing. No matter how hard they worked, there was always the threat of losing their house. If they lost their house, the feeling of despair would make employees slip deeper into grief after the loss of loved ones (Doe 23). 

Analyse the evidence in two parts: explanation and application. Explain the meaning of the evidence. The explanation can be in relation to the article as a whole or simply defining any keywords that are unknown to your audience. This is done in your own words. Then apply it to your thesis. What connection did you make outside the article? Was there something missing that would be useful?

Explanation: This is where casualty rates and low morality trump high productivity and employment rates. Employment doesn’t mean that employees are getting reasonable pay that matches with prices.

Application: There was a lack of preparation for the post-World War II world. Of course, no one could have expected and properly planned to lose someone, but those that did were hypervigilant. The threat of war was over, but another one loomed over their heads: hunger and homelessness. Employee morality was already low prior to working because they were in a state of grief and shock. Worrying about bills causes one to feel despair and pessimistic.

If there are any counter-arguments, acknowledge them and (if you can) refute them. This will add to your credibility as a writer.

 

Effective introduction

Now that you have your body paragraphs written, it should be easier to write your introduction. 

Because your introduction sets the tone of the paper, try to find the best way to hook your readers. You can do this with a quote from a passage or a compelling story that matches with what you are writing. 

Once you have introduced your topic, provide relevant background information. This can be on the author and their previous works, events that surround the time period of most of your sources, or on the topic itself.

Usually the thesis statement is at the end of introductory paragraphs, but as long as your essay flows logically, you can place your thesis statement anywhere in your introduction.

 

Effective conclusion

Ask yourself, “At this point in my essay, what haven’t I fully analyzed?” Then go and put that information in your body paragraphs. 

The conclusion is where you should be wrapping up information, not adding or leaving your audience with more questions. Review your main points by connecting back to your introduction. 

If you have fully proven your thesis with the sources you used, then you can explore how further research can expand your argument. You could discuss how your thesis supports or denies an area of academic debate. 

 

Proofread/Edit

If you think you’re done writing, you’re not. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. If your paper is full of grammatical errors or you forgot to modify a main point, then it could take away from your credibility and grade.

Go to your writing center to get a tutor to review your essay, contact your professor and ask if they could review it before submitting. You could also use free web editors for grammar and syntax such as Hemingway App, ProWritingAid, or Grammarly. This is also where you check your formatting, ensuring you followed your citation style’s guidelines. 

 

Now you're a pro! Good luck with your writing!