By Steve Aedy
Essay writing is an essential part of college life. Some students will be lucky enough to have professors who will give them guidance on what makes a good essay. Others will be left to their own devices to figure it out as they fumble along. Learning to write good essays means learning how to research a subject and craft an argument. These are skills that will serve you well after college is over.
But quality essay writing has other elements too, such as making sure your essay “flows”, is free of grammar and spelling errors and has a tightly woven argument. Here are some tips on how you can improve your essay writing:
Read a lot of essays. Reading essays other people have written is a great way to study essay writing. Don’t just read for fun, read critically. Look at the author’s writing style: how do they introduce their topic, what tools do they use to formulate their argument? Is it effective? Could it be done better? If so, how? Did they leave anything important out? What would you include that they didn’t? The more you read essays, the more familiar you’ll become with different writing styles and the better your essays will become.
Do a lot of research. While you may have a strong opinion about a topic, it’s best to look to the experts in the subject to find out what they have to say. That’s basically the definition of research. Different scholars may have opposing views on the subject. You can explore these arguments in your essay to present the reader with a more complete view of the topic. An example is this article in which various experts express their arguments on whether or not Shakespeare was a Catholic. You may notice that the author does not express his personal opinion, but rather presents the arguments of both sides of the issue using quotes from authorities on the subject.
Use a thesaurus. Oftentimes, students get caught using the same word over and over again. This can become boring for the reader and sets a monotonous tone for your essay. In the above section on research, I used three different terms for the same idea: experts, scholars and authorities. A thesaurus is a great tool for helping you find new ways to express the same idea. Merriam-Webster has a combined dictionary-thesaurus resource and thesaurus.com has the largest word bank on the web.
Use transition words. Transition words help your essay flow. The cadence and rhythm of transition words are what make your essay enjoyable to read. While the quality of your research and your information are important, it’s also important how you present them. Transition words add finesse to your essay and help guide the reader through your argument, allowing them to follow along. Here’s a great list of 100 transition words to use in your essays.
Leave time to edit. Editing takes time. Literally. It’s like baking a cake. You mix all the ingredients and put it in the oven, you let it rise, then you let it cool. Then, you eat it. You need to leave some time for your thoughts to cool so you can have some perspective on what you wrote. This is essential to the editing process. Leave at least a few hours between when you wrote your last sentence to when you go over it for an edit. During that time, your brain will have a chance to refresh itself, making it easier to spot holes in your logic, spelling and punctuation errors and other issues. You can also use these tips for editing.
Proofread. Make sure your essay contains correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you’re not confident in your own proofreading skills, have a friend look it over for you. One thing that helps you spot errors is reading your essay out loud. The eye often autocorrects when you’re reading to yourself, but reading out loud is a way to turn off the autocorrect and allow you to see what’s actually on the page. It’s a good practice to cultivate. Want to brush up on your grammar skills? Check out this list of common grammar mistakes.
Good luck crafting A+ essays and happy writing!
Steve Aedy is a professional writer, editor and passionate blogger. He provides essay writing assistance at Fresh Essays and covers academic writing and education in his articles. Feel free to circle him on Google+.