Writing can be a daunting thing to do. Even the reporters here at Young Post can get pretty overwhelmed when writing articles, so we can only imagine how much worse that feeling can be when there’s a teacher hovering over your shoulder while you’re trying to pen a decent essay. If even just thinking about it brings you out in a cold sweat, relax – we’ve got you covered. Here are five writing tips from someone who survived two degrees that will take your essay from eh to excellent.
Pick a side
How do you approach writing an essay about a certain topic? The first thing to do is to decide the position you will take. An essay prompt will almost never ask you to just regurgitate facts – it will ask you to respond to a question by taking a position. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Maybe you want to agree, but only if certain requirements are met, or in a specific situation. These questions will help you plan out your essay.
Don’t read through everything
Once you’ve roughly defined your side, you can actually get on with writing. It goes without saying that you have to know what you’re writing about. You might be given a reading list, but you might not want to, or have time to, read through them all. And not all of them will be helpful anyway. Once you’ve figured out your stance, you can look through the list and figure out which books will and won’t help you based on the title, the blurb, or even the list of contents.
Keep an eye out for plagiarism
If you don’t make a note of where you read something you want to use as a quote for your essay, you can easily forget what page it was on, or which book it came from. You might end up accidentally attributing that quote to someone else, or forgetting to credit it entirely. This is called plagiarism, as it will end up sounding like you are taking credit for someone else’s thinking. Keep detailed notes on who said what – write down the book title and page number next to your chosen quote, and remember to go back and double check them all at the end.
It’s all about the signs ... signposting, that is
When you write a paragraph, the first sentence is usually a summary of what that paragraph is about. This is called signposting, because you’re giving the reader a path or a way to follow your train of thought. You aren’t necessarily making it obvious (and you shouldn’t treat the reader like they are stupid), but signposting saves readers a lot of time.
Writing an argumentative essay is very different from writing an academic essay. However, even in an academic essay, you’d still be hoping to persuade the reader to agree with your point of view. This is because you are advocating a certain standpoint, using other people’s words to reinforce your opinion. This means you should put all the evidence in support of your argument at the start or in the middle of your essay. However, every issue has two sides, sometimes more. In an essay, you probably don’t have enough time to delve too deeply into all the intricacies or nuances of the argument, but you’d be remiss to not acknowledge some of the weaknesses in your viewpoints. Accordingly, when you have to acknowledge the facts that go against what you’re saying, put them at the very end.
Essay writing is a difficult skill to learn, but don’t let that scare you off. These five points, while they won’t immediately make you the next George Orwell or Gore Vidal, are the stepping stones to a better essay. Before you know it, you might even find yourself writing essays that you can be proud of – not just because they’re homework assignments.