No matter what your major is, you probably have at least one essay to write per semester. For some people, writing an essay can be a daunting task; You may feel like you don’t know enough information, or even if you know what to say, you may not know how to say it. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips to make writing that essay less of a headache!
1. Know what formatting your professor wants.
Even if your content is amazing, you can be docked some serious points for a formatting error. Before you begin to craft your content, knowing what formatting to use is key. Check if your professor has a specific formatting they prefer. If they want MLA, APA, AMA or Chicago, Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource for every formatting question you could have.
2. Plan with your thesis in mind.
When planning to write, read the prompt thoroughly and create your thesis. That way you can morph your paper around your thesis. From your thesis, develop your main points. Also, make sure that each paragraph contains a topic sentence and a closing sentence that relates back to your thesis. Once these main points are developed and connected to your thesis, your content should be organized for you.
3. Transitions are your best friend.
Not only should your topic and closing sentences relate to your thesis, but they should also connect your ideas as you move through each paragraph. The first sentence of every paragraph should reference the last paragraph and how it relates to the paragraph you’re now introducing.
4. Know your professor’s stance on personal pronouns.
For more formal essays, personal pronouns (I, you, we, ect.) are a no-no, but for more informal essays some professors allow it. If you’re not sure, ask your professor what they prefer. However, I always say when in doubt, don’t use them.
5. Avoid basic grammar mistakes.
If a professor sees a basic grammar mistake in your paper, your work will automatically seem less credible. My number one rule for grammar, is if you’re not sure, Google it! NEVER just guess. If you’re looking for a good starting place, Purdue OWL has a great grammar guide.
6. Avoid passive voice.
Passive voice makes your writing more confusing to read. Passive voice is when the verb does the noun, rather than the noun does the verb (active voice). A simple way to spot passive voice is to look for versions of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were). I like to use the search bar in Microsoft Word to highlight these words and see if they can be removed. In some cases, “to be” cannot be changed without altering the meaning of the sentence, but if the sentence can be reworded to exclude the “to be” verb, do it. Here’s an example:
Passive voice: Hamlet was written by Shakespeare.
Active voice: Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
7. Avoid filler words.
People tend to write like they talk, and that can lead to filler words. Filler words have no real meaning and make sentences less clear. Common filler words include “just,” “very,” “really,” “even,” and “that.” I, again, would recommend doing a document search for them and deleting them.
8. Avoid adverbs.
In some cases, adverbs can be useful, but a lot of professors despise them. There are many instances where you can use more descriptive language rather than using an adverb. Avoiding them will strengthen your content and give your professor one less excuse to dock you points.
9. Mix up your sentence length.
Sometimes people will write run-on sentences to combine their ideas or try to sound smart. Other times, people will write a string of short sentences because they don’t know how to connect their ideas. Whether your sentences are all too long or too short, your essay will sound stiff if all your sentences are the same length. The key to a good flow is mixing up your sentence length. A good way to spot this, again, is to use the search tool to highlight your periods. If they all seem to be the same distance apart, that’s a sign you need to mix things up.
10. Lengthening tricks.
A common dilemma while writing is you need to meet a page length, but partway through you seem to have run out of ideas. There are actually intelligent ways to lengthen your essay without bumping up the period font. First, look at all the main ideas of your paragraphs. Can some of them be split into two ideas? Also, look at your sentences. See if you can ask “because why?” Adding a “because” statement adds a deeper analysis and lengthens your essay at the same time. However, if you can’t use either of these suggestions, you may have to do more research or consider modifying your thesis altogether.
11. Read your paper aloud.
Reading your paper aloud is one of the best techniques to catch your mistakes. You can catch typos you didn’t see or hear when a sentence sounds too wordy or awkward. It can help your writing sound more natural if you find your language sounds too robotic. Also if you have trouble with varying your sentence lengths, this technique can help you too.
12. Have someone else look over your essay.
In many cases you know what you mean to say, but don’t know if you said it correctly. Having someone else read your essay is the only way to ensure your ideas came across. Ask a friend to point out parts that are confusing or what they think you’re trying to say. They can also catch typos and grammar errors you didn’t catch yourself. If you want more thorough revision tips, feel free to visit your university’s writing center where a trained writing tutor can help you.
With these tips, you will produce a well-written essay with more ease. Happy writing!
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