5 Tips for Writing Essays
Writing essays can be likened to running, in the sense that it’s something that would come naturally to people who have learned the prerequisite skills – walking and writing, respectively – and the fact that knowing how to do it is far different from doing it well. If you want to write effective essays, or basically ones that people will read and understand, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
1. Brevity is key
An essay gives you free reign to say a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean you have to say everything. You need to be selective in what you include. Organize your thoughts and your words under the unifying topic that you chose, so as to avoid letting your essay devolve into mere ramblings.
2. It helps to have an outline
Depending on how lengthy your essay is going to be, it helps if you have a rough outline. Think of the main topic, then come up with key arguments and a conclusion. There is a tendency to pay too much attention to writing the outline that you end up writing the essay itself (without an outline), so write only keywords and phrases instead of complete sentences. Save your time for writing the actual essay.
3. Provide effective examples and back them up
One sign of a poorly written essay is if majority of the statements found in the text can be cut and pasted into someone else’s work without ruining the flow of the essay itself. It means the writer managed to cram as many clichés and generic statements, without providing any meaningful exposition. It can be also considered as the writer failing to provide any semblance of personality to his or her writings.
4. Follow a formula
While essays can be written in freeform, you can make your task easier if you follow the tried and tested formula of Main Idea > Supporting Point > Elaboration. The main boxy of the essay could use this formula. You could also provide a summary sentence before each paragraph, but exercise care when doing so, as summary sentences have a tendency to sound incomplete or stilted, or sometimes they run for too long that they make the rest of the paragraph unnecessary.
5. Finally: proofread
Proofreading your work is part of any writing process, not just for essays. It lets you catch any typographical and grammatical error that may have crept up during the writing process. It also lets you review your work as one whole piece, instead of just seeing it in portions during the writing process. Avoid proofreading immediately after writing, as most of the thoughts and words are still fresh in your mind, which means you might end up reading words in your head instead of what’s on paper. Let the work sit for a few minutes or even an hour – do something else or rest. Then go back and proofread your essay with fresh eyes. You might surprise yourself with several mistakes that you didn’t catch before.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in January 2015.