Essay Writing Simplified

Although it is one of the most fundamental skills of students' academic careers, there is still always the echo of groaning in the classroom once another essay is assigned. Essay writing reaches all realms of academia and many students learn to just get by, instead of going through the trial and error that it takes to master it once and for all. I partially blame many teachers who don't take the time to go back to the roots of essay structure when need be, and instead just hope their students figure it out, eventually. It's easy to groan at the assignment paper and spew sentences onto Microsoft Word; however, if the time was taken to review and learn how to properly write an essay, it would make the process much more enjoyable and productive for students, and hopefully produce higher grades.

"If you learn to write and to edit, you will also be able to tell the difference between good ideas, intelligently presented, and bad ideas put forth by murky and unskilled thinkers" - Jordan B. Peterson

Perfecting essay writing is just as important as mastering your times tables. Math geniuses might be rocked by that statement, but it's true. Not only is being able to write well needed for school, but it is essential for getting a job. How you are able to present yourself to employers is largely dependent on how well you can write a resume, cover letter, or even a simple email. The first thing I usually hear when I tell adults that I am an English major is, "That's great because most people today have no writing and grammar skills; it's horrifying." In addition to being a good writer already, I learned a lot of these strategies from my training to be an academic mentor for students at Queen's. So, listen up: applying these strategies and tips will get you into post-secondary, into a master’s program, and then your dream job. You'll be able to ace your essay assignments and skillfully write your way through any problem. Take it from me: they work.

1. Worry about the thesis later

I have learned a lot from meeting with my English TA's because they truly understand the writing process first hand, whereas sometimes professors might have forgotten what it's like to struggle to write. Earlier this yea,r I went to my TA for help formulating a concise essay. I had been struggling to come up with a thesis statement but didn’t even have a complete idea of what I wanted to say yet. My TA told me that if you don’t know your overall thesis statement, work backwards. He said, "Just because you don't have a thesis statement yet doesn't mean you can't write." Since your thesis statement should often be a unique idea that your essay will attempt to support, it is not easy to figure it out. So I went home, wrote paragraphs revolving around subtopics I wanted to discuss, and once I knew what I wanted to say, I found a common denominator between all of them, which became my thesis. Master of essay writing Jordan Peterson says, "You have very little right to break the rules, until you have mastered them." The more you practice writing, the easier it will be to make up your own rules. Thesis last and conclusion first - why not!  

2. The meat of the essay

We're going back to basics to review effective and proper paragraph structure. When you're writing, it is easy to get lost in your sentences. If you're like me, my brain tends to work faster than my fingers, so often my sentences and paragraphs are filled with jumbled ideas. I learned to keep in mind proper structure when writing and attempt to keep it in a logical flow. This is hard to master, especially when you're discussing many points at once but trying to connect it to the main idea/point of the essay. In my first-year English lecture, my professor told us that every sentence should be able to exist on its own and also connect with the main thesis of the essay, and if it is not, then it’s useless. This helped me realize that the whole point of an essay is to explain an idea, and to back it up with supporting evidence. Keeping your writing concise will eliminate all the fluff that often confuses the reader. Therefore, your paragraph should present a single idea that contributes to your overall thesis. You're never too old to use the WHW rule: what, how and why. An easy way to organize your paragraphs is to create headings with the WHW and bullet point your ideas under it like an outline. Another strategy I learned in ENGL100 that has helped me through all my subjects is to structure your paragraphs with a claim (your sub thesis for your paragraph), the evidence to support, and the analysis for the evidence. This is similar to the WHW but a bit more specific. The easiest way to create a coherent paragraph is to first organize your points into headings to make sure you're discussing all the components.

3. Bad first draft

In my 12th grade creative writing class, my teacher presented us with the idea of the “bad first draft.” This idea was unlike anything I had ever been taught. Previously, I had the idea that what you write on the page should always be concise, logical, interesting, and proper. But realistically, no great writer has ever started with something magnificent at the beginning. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a bad first draft. My teacher encouraged the class to write down everything that came to mind - every idea, phrase, word, or othe form of nonsense that exuded from us as we were writing. Because buried amongst all the random phrases and random ideas were our essays. It's barbaric to try and restrict your mind to thinking only certain things, so in the editing process is where you'll find your buried treasure. It's necessary to get everything down on the page, and that's when you can start digging.

4. Read, reread, repeat - but take breaks in between

Many times, I have reviewed people's essays and it is just sentence after sentence. Great writing has a conversational flow to it, that is as if you are reading your essay to someone. It's important to link both everything to the main idea and every idea together, which is best done by having easy to follow transitions. Using "therefore," "furthermore," "in addition," and many more transition words help create a coherent essay. Once you write your first draft, it is time to start the editing process, which should take longer than it did to write it. This is the importance of the bad first draft; you have to dig through all the murky water to find the gems. In my editing process, I first read my essay over and fix grammar and word choices, and cut and paste passages or ideas that don't fit into a certain paragraph down below to use later on. Then, I leave it. It is important to take breaks in the editing process so that you can come back with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear perspective. This is when the timing is important; you want to start your essay early enough to have time to edit slowly and precisely. Then, I start tracking changes, which strikes out what you delete without erasing it from the document forever - this way you can savagely cut down on your essay without feeling regrettable. Mostly, I never reincorporate what I initially delete, but it creates peace of mind. Give yourself time and take lots of deep breaths.

I learned these tips along the road to writing a strong essay, but ultimately, practice makes perfect. Follow feedback from your instructors and try different writing techniques until you find your voice in writing. Writing expert Jordan B. Peterson created an essay writing tool that blew up on the internet. It helps organize your ideas and gives you helpful tips on the writing process.

It’s both comforting and terrifying that there is not one right way to write, but greatness takes time.