Essay writing is an obligatory academic assignment, regardless of course of study and institution.
However, few students find the essay writing process easy. Of course, practice makes perfect and by the time students hit their senior year in college, most of them can write an essay in their sleep.
However, no one wants to learn from their own mistakes so knowing the most important dos and don'ts of essay writing will help make this experience less stressful and more productive.
There is no universal template that can solve every college essay trouble.
However, the following rules of writing are standard and applicable to all types of academic essay, no matter what the course and topic:
The Do's of Essay Writing
Do Make your Essay Easy to Read
Because of the large number of essays that have to be graded, many instructors admit that they skim read essays to get an idea if a student is competent in the topic and how well they have adhered to the style guidelines. Therefore, it is a good idea to structure your essay so the key points are visible when skim reading and are clear enough to get the message across.
Get rid of extra words and phrases, use clear constructions and stick to the point.
Do Include a Thesis Statement in the Introduction
A thesis statement is an important part of introduction and the essay in general, so it should never be neglected. The thesis statement should reveal the main idea of the essay in a concise format.
Although it is an obligatory part of the introduction, never make your thesis statement the opening sentence of your essay. It is a good idea to place it at the end of the introductory paragraph so it serves as a transition to the main body of the essay.
Do Use Transitions Between Paragraphs
Sometimes paragraphs sound like separate pieces of text put together. This is the wrong approach to writing.
Your essay should be smooth and coherent, leading the reader from one point to another. This is why you should use transitions – the phrases that help to connect each idea with the previous one, serving like bridges between paragraphs.
Examples of phrases you can use for transitions include:
- Despite the previous arguments…
- Speaking about this…
- Regarding this…
- With regards to this…
- As has been noted…
- To put it briefly…
Do Cite Examples
Any example you use – from literature, scientific work, etc. - should be cited.
Only examples from your own experience do not have to be cited. If you want to include mention of something that you have read, even if you are not using a direct quotation, it is best to reference the source of the information. This way, your examples will be more convincing and form more reliable evidence of the points you wish to prove.
Do Discuss Literature in the Present Tense
When writing literary reviews or essays based on literary works it is advisable to use present tense – historical present or narrative present, as it is called. It makes the storytelling more engaging and real, increasing the feeling of presence.
‘Romeo and Juliet experience true love the moment they see each other. Love makes them forget everything else. From the very beginning they are somehow aware that they are doomed to die – they have given up their lives to love. Not only love, but every emotion in the play is heightened and leads to terrible consequences.’
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta, Source: http://www.book-review-circle.com/Romeo-And-Juliet-William-Shakespeare.html
Do Use Advanced Vocabulary
The aim of an essay is to not only to reveal your knowledge of the topic, but to show your ability to choose appropriate vocabulary and show your language expertise.
You should show that your vocabulary has progressed since high school. That means using advanced vocabulary and replacing ‘good’ and ‘nice’ with more appropriate synonyms to reflect the shades of meaning.
Do Respond to the Prompt of the Essay
The prompt of the essay is intentional.
No matter how much you want to ‘go with the flow’ and write whatever your inspiration dictates, you should remember you are writing an academic assignment and, as long as it has a prompt, you should stick to it.
If the prompt is complicated and consists of several parts, analyze your final draft and check if you covered every point of the essay prompt.
Do Use Simple Sentences
Complicated sentences may be confusing, not only for the person reading and grading your essay but for the students themselves.
Writing complicated sentences doesn’t indicate elaborate writing style. Rather it may show your inability to convey information in a simple and readable format, or to break the sentences in a logical way. What’s more, complicated sentences increase the risk of grammar errors and stylistic mistakes. Famous writers, like Hemingway or Fitzgerald, wrote simply and that didn’t make their writing any worse.
Do Choose Proper Type, Style and Format
A good essay is not about style and formatting, of course, but style influences the first impression your paper makes.
First and foremost, professors want to see the correct essay style and structure depending on the topic and essay type students have to tackle. In many cases, the style meant to be used in the essay is laid out in the directions or has been established beforehand. You may easily figure out the style based on the type of essay.
Do Choose the Right Language
The language you use in the paper indicates your ability to research and analyze the topic, prove your opinion, and explain your points clearly and vividly.
It also shows the level of your language proficiency, knowledge of grammar and syntax, and ability to develop rich vocabulary. It is important to remember the academic style of writing and use the appropriate language. The following phrases work well to introduce and support your points:
- There seems to be no compelling reason to argue that …
- The argument can be made …
- Current research on [your topic] shows …
- The most common argument in favor of (or against) is …
- There is a growing body of evidence to support …
Do Revise your Writing Thoroughly
Before you hit ‘Save’ and print the final version, check your essay thoroughly to avoid spelling mistakes, typos and incorrect sentence constructions. Apart from language mistakes, check if you followed all the requirements: number of words/pages, text formatting, essay structure, etc.
See our page: Assignment Finishing Touches for more information.
The Don'ts of Essay Writing
Now that you’ve learnt the major Dos, let’s move to some Don’ts – the things you’d better avoid in essay writing.
Don't Overwhelm your Essay with Information and Facts
Though essays should be meaningful and detailed, learn to filter the information and choose only important points.
There is a temptation to include every single detail of your research to make the essay holistic and complete. However, your aim is to narrow the topic, show that you are able to analyze and structure information, and choose only the most relevant facts to prove your points.
Don't Neglect Formatting Details
No matter what your style and formatting requirements are, you should not forget to pay attention to the following points: paper size, spaces, font size, margins, and page numbers.
Also do not forget about narration types. For example, narrative essays tell stories from first person while persuasive or argumentative essays require that you leave emotions out and base your views on the solid facts, so no first person narration is appropriate.
Don't Use Too Many Clichés
While using set phrases, avoid overwhelming your essay with clichés.
Remember that not all clichés are good for every type of essay. What's more, professors expect your work to be original and truly value students with fresh ideas and views. Also, beware of using informal language. This doesn't mean that your writing should be reminiscent of a scientific thesaurus rather than real speech, but academic writing requires a certain level of formality.
See our page: Avoiding Clichés for more.
Don't Let Typos Ruin your Essay
Although typos do not indicate your language proficiency or grammar knowledge, they may show your professor that you are not attentive enough or do not care enough to proof read your essay.
Submitting a paper that looks like a draft can be interpreted by a professor as disrespectful.
Don’t Rely Only on Spell Checkers
Though spell checkers are good way to automatically proof read your writing, don’t rely on software alone.
These programs may miss a lot of spelling errors that that human eye will definitely notice. So, take time to proof read your essay. It is better to print out the final version on paper as spelling mistakes can be missed when reading from the screen. It is a good idea to ask someone else to have a fresh look at your essay and to proofread it for spelling mistakes.
Do Not Plagiarize
This rule should be clear for every student.
Plagiarism is a form of cheating, and when detected it is always punished.
Do not risk your reputation and your place in higher education. Plagiarism is easily detected today with the help of software and Google, so be honest with yourself and your educators and write on your own.
Reference every source to make sure you are not committing plagiarism, even unintentionally. It is a good idea to ‘know your enemy’ and read about the kinds of plagiarism possible and best ways to avoid it.
See our page: Academic Referencing for more information.
Do Not Address the Reader
No matter what type of essay you are writing, academic writing rarely reveals the author nor engages in the conversation with the reader. Addressing the reader is more a mark of fiction than an academic essay. While writing a college essay you should be detached, objective and analytical rather than appeal to the reader’s emotions and personality.
Don’t Start an Essay with “in this/my essay” Phrase
The introduction has to present the main idea of the essay and reveal what you are going to talk about.
Writing an effective introduction and including a thesis statement is enough to lead the reader into the context of your essay topic without using this meaningless high school phrase ‘In my essay I’m going to focus on…’
Don’t Use Negative Language
Negative language doesn’t mean vulgarisms. It means words with negative suffixes, phrases with negation, etc.
For example, painless is not a negative word in its meaning. However, using it makes the reader focus on pain instead of its absence. So it is better to replace so called negative language with more positive, synonymous expressions, like using economical instead of inexpensive, or comfortable/pleasant instead of painless.
When writing an essay you should walk a fine line between presenting a clear idea of the established knowledge and proving that you understand it well enough to make an independent assessment.
Show your professor your ability to format an essay correctly, choose the right style, express your point of view and prove it with facts. Learn to balance the form and meaning and essays will no longer be challenging for you.
About the Author
Tracy Collins is a writing instructor, education enthusiast and the author of the academic essay writing site EssayUniverse.org.
You can find her on Google+ and Facebook
And you have to find perfect hooks for an essay even when you don’t know what to write about.
When you are asked to write an essay, it doesn’t mean that you don’t get to express your own thoughts and creativity. An essay shouldn’t be boring or too formal. As a writer, your first priority is to make sure that you are keeping your audience in mind and writing for them and to them. That means grabbing and keeping their attention so that they want to read every word.
This is exactly why the essay hook exists and is such an important tool.
The use of hooks in writing goes far beyond just essays and college papers. Every writer, copywriter, screenwriter, and storyteller uses this device to draw in readers and keep them hooked. For example, world-famous ad executive, David Ogilvy, relied on a list of 29 “magic words” that he used in titles in order to hook a client’s attention.
College essay hooks can be difficult to generate, especially when you are still working on clarifying what your essay is going to say. So, the very first step in writing a strong essay hook is to do some planning.
This type of hook is appropriate when you are writing about a particular author, story, literary phenomenon, book, etc. Using a quote will make your essay sound fresh and establish your authority as an author.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” These words of Nick Carraway perfectly describe…”
“Not all those who wander are lost.” And yes, indeed, every person is so…”
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” Agree or not, but these words from The Alchemist determine…”
Including a quote from an authoritative and influential person can help support your argument and create an intriguing hook. The key is to make sure that you clearly show how the quote is relevant to your essay.
“John Wooden once said, ‘Never mistake activity for achievement.'”
“Learn to laugh” were the first words from my kindergarten teacher after Ralph Thorsen spilled paint on my daffodil picture.
Don’t be afraid to employ this type of hook. Remember, even if you start with a humorous anecdote, it doesn’t mean that your entire essay has to be funny. A bit of humor can help you grab readers’ attention and spark their interest in the topic.
“As my cousin and I pedaled our new bikes to the beach, 6 years old, suntanned and young, we met an old, shaggy-haired man weaving unsteadily on a battered old bike.”
“When I was a young boy, my father worked at a coal mine. For 27 years, he made it his occupation to scrape and claw and grunt his way into the bowels of the earth, searching for fuel. On April 19, 2004, the bowels of the earth clawed back.”
Keep in mind that most essay assignments will ask you to avoid using the first person. Be sure to check any requirements before using “I” in your writing.
Almost nothing can attract interest better than a well-constructed question. Readers will want to continue reading your essay in order to discover the answer. Be sure to avoid simple “Yes” or “No” questions and try to pose questions that ask reader to consider the other side or engage in some critical thinking.
“What would you do if you could play God for a day? That’s exactly what the leaders of the tiny island nation of Guam tried to answer.”
“Have you ever wondered, whether Anna Karenina still loved Alexei if she hadn’t decided to commit a suicide?”
People respond well to visual cues. Taking the time to set a detailed scene will help your reader have a clear picture in their minds and create an effective hook. You can describe an incident or detail the particular features of a person or a character to help the readers become immersed in your writing.
“The day of his birth began with Hurricane Charlie pounding at our door in Charleston, South Carolina.”
“Deciding to attend Hampton Roads Academy, a private school, was one of my most difficult decisions.”
These types of hooks start by surprising the reader with something that may not have known. Provide an interesting fact about something you are going to discuss in your essay’s body and your audience will want to keep reading to learn more.
“Spain, though hardly a literary juggernaut, translates more books in one year than the entire Arab world has in the past one thousand years.”
“Amiable is the best way to describe Elizabeth’s personality: she was friendly and caring.”
There is no harm in getting right to the point. Start with your main argument and use the rest of your essay to support your point of view. If you have an interesting take on a subject, readers will want to see where you came up with your idea.
“It is time, at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this. Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday. . .”
“Humans need to invest more time and money into space exploration because Earth is on a certain path to destruction.”
The most interesting essays will teach the readers something new. If you start your introduction by showing that a commonly accepted truth is actually false, your readers will be instantly hooked.
“Any parent will tell you that goldfish are a great first pet for a child. They hardly need any attention, and they won’t be around for too long. Flushing a goldfish in its first week is pretty common—it even happened to my first goldfish. But it turns out that goldfish aren’t as helpless as we all think.”
“While most coffee enthusiasts would tell you that their favorite drink comes from a bean, they would be wrong. Coffee is actually made from a seed that is simply called a bean.”
By listing proven facts at the very beginning of your paper, you will create interest that can be carried throughout the rest of the essay.
“The average iceberg weighs over 100,000 metric tons.”
“70% of all jobs found today were got through different networking strategies”
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Depending on the style of essay you are writing (narrative, persuasive, personal, critical, argumentative, deductive, etc.), the type of hook you will want to use will vary. Remember, your essay hook is just a tip of an iceberg and it will not guarantee that the rest of your essay will work. Be sure to organize your research and start with an outline before deciding on the best hook to start your essay. The right choice can make your paper truly interesting and worth reading.
Written by Lesley J. Vos, our blog writer and essay proofreader. Lesley is a big fan of reading, and she is always ready to help students come up with good ideas for their papers and reach their academic goals. You can always find her on Facebook and Google+.