No matter your major or area of study, at some point in time you are going to encounter a college essay. Whether you are writing a research paper, a narrative, or an analytical paper you will quite possibly find yourself staring at your computer screen, waiting for the words to appear.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way—but there are some tips to help ensure the words that do come are met with an A!
1. Determine the expectations
In college, there is no such thing as a “typical paper.” In each field of study, and with each professor you encounter, you will be met with different expectations. The first vital piece of information you will need is the style of writing that is required. There are several different styles, including MLA and APA, each with different format and citation rules. You will also need to know the type of writing you are being asked to do. Is it a research paper? Or is it a summary of literature? This information can most likely be found in your syllabus or in your paper description. Each type of essay has different standards and tone, which you need to be aware of before you begin to write.
2. Revisit what is being asked
There are few things worse than getting halfway through a paper and realizing you are answering the wrong question. Before you begin writing your paper, be sure to double-check your understanding of the subject at hand. If you have clarifying questions, it is best to ask your professor or teaching assistant as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the last minute. If there are multiple questions or prompts surrounding the paper, make sure you dedicate time in the essay to answering each and every one of them.
3. Choose a stance
Once you understand the question, you must choose a direction for your paper and a strategy for answering said question. Outlining an essay and creating a plan before you begin writing is essential, no matter the size of a paper. You should have one main idea that is threaded throughout your entire essay, and this main idea should be evident within the first paragraph. All other points should complement the main idea and flow logically.
4. Stick to the point
If you’ve done a good job outlining your paper, this part should come naturally. However, even the best outliners can fall victim to fluff sentences meant to fill space. Rambling on, repeating a point, or adding unnecessary words will only decrease the quality of your essay. Do not be tempted to fall into these traps just to fill a page or meet a word quota. If you find yourself coming up short on a page or word requirement, go back through your essay and add meaningful content where it fits appropriately, and where it truly adds some substance to the paper. Consider giving another example or fleshing out a point you made with further evidence.
5. Be detailed and specific
Although you don’t want to be redundant and ramble, you do want to include enough details to effectively get your point across. Whether you are writing a literary piece or a research paper, you want to include enough description to help the reader visualize your points. If you are writing a persuasive piece, you will need to include enough detail to sufficiently backup your point. Be specific in your writing, giving a variety of examples or explanations. Avoid vague words such as “stuff,” “things,” or “very,” as there are other words that can express your point more clearly.
6. Nail the ending
One of the most important parts of an essay is the conclusion. It’s the time you get to reiterate your main points and drive your essay home. It’s also your last chance to wow your reader. Ensure that your conclusion isn’t just a summary of your paper, but also conveys the main points you spoke to earlier. The point of the conclusion is to add closure and completeness to the essay.
Once you’ve written this amazing essay, your job isn’t quite done. Now you have to go back and make sure you’ve thoroughly completed all of the points above. You should go through several stages of edits once your paper is complete. First, edit for content. Do your ideas flow? Do you have good transitions? You should then read for grammar and word choice. Reading your paper out loud is a great way to catch errors that you may not have caught otherwise. It never hurts to have another eye look over your paper as well, so try trading off with a peer or visiting your campus writing center.
Brittany Phillips is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.