Top tips for writing better essays
An essay is a short piece of non-fiction about a particular topic. It’s a common assignment in school and university, so you’ve probably already written a few. Essays can take many different forms. Narrative essays tell a story, while persuasive essays make an argument. Exploratory essays pursue an idea. No matter what kind of essay you’re writing, the principles below will help you connect with your readers.
1 Know your purpose
If you’re writing in response to an assignment, make sure you understand what you are being asked to write about. If you’re writing for another reason, it’s just as important to understand your goals. Whether you want to share information or an experience or get readers to change their minds, your purpose will determine the choices you make in your essay.
2 Understand your audience
The more you know about who will be reading your essay, the better. Readers who are experts on your topic will already have some background knowledge. Readers who are your age will be familiar with the same films and songs you’re likely to mention. The less you know about your audience, the more you’ll need to define your terms and provide context for your examples.
3 Brainstorm about your topic
Jot down everything you can think of related to the subject you’re going to write about. Some people make lists, while others draw diagrams or maps. The point is to quickly note lots of ideas in order to get started. If you don’t have any ideas, open a newspaper, turn on the television, or just look around. Chances are you’ll see something that suggests a topic.
4 Decide on a thesis
Your thesis is the claim you’re going to make about your topic. Consult the notes you made when you brainstormed to figure out what you want to say. Turn that idea into a complete sentence that makes a claim and includes your explanation or reason for that claim. Be prepared to change your thesis a bit as you work out your reasons and ideas.
5 Develop your essay
Now that you have a thesis, you need evidence to support your claim. Start by listing your reasons for believing what you do. Research what you need to; statistics and quotations will help you make your point. Personal stories also make good, unique examples that no one else could provide.
6 Create an essay structure
Organize your essay according to your purpose. If you’re writing a narrative, you’ll probably arrange your material in chronological order. Consider using flashbacks to create tension. For an argument, you might list your reasons in order of importance. Every essay has a beginning, middle, and end, but not every essay requires a formal introduction or conclusion.
Read more about structuring your writing.
7 Connect your ideas
Readers need a road map through your essay. Employ transitions to help them move from one idea to the next. Transitions are often individual words such as ‘then’, ‘but’, or ‘therefore’. Also, consider headings and repetition, devices that can also create good transitions.
Read more about cohesion in writing.
8 Choose memorable language
Use concrete, specific words. Write about a ‘bird’ and your reader won’t know whether it’s large, small, friendly, mean, or if it can even fly. Write about a ‘red tailed hawk’ and your reader will have a clear picture. Concrete words help the reader better understand what you want to communicate.
Read more about word choice.
9 Invent a strong title
People are busy and nobody has to read your essay. Write a title that makes them want to read it. You can get readers’ attention with an intriguing question or clever phrase, but make sure your title clearly conveys your essay topic. A simple subtitle will help you do this. Your title should also be searchable, since so many publications now appear online.
10 Edit and proofread your essay
Carefully check your work for errors. First, read your essay aloud. If anything sounds awkward, revise until you like the way it sounds. Second, make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all correct. When you think your essay is perfect, have a friend check it again.
Read more about writing essays.
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