Essay Writing Tips
Essay Writing Tips
How to Write an Introduction for Your Essay
The most crucial part of your essay is the introduction: it can tell readers how well your thoughts are put together, how well organized your entire essay is, and how well you write. And if they don’t like what they see...well, they probably won’t read any further. Follow these 6 easy steps to make sure no one will be able to put your essay down.
1) Research, take notes, and outline. Prepare before you actually start writing your introduction. First, do some initial research, which should establish what it is you will be writing about, what issue you will argue for or against, and why you will take this position. Then actively research by taking notes on your topic. Outline the ideas and arguments that you will make so that you’ll know what to include in your introduction. Ideally, you should be able to roughly outline at least three to five ideas or arguments that you can successfully address in your essay.
2) Indicate your topic. When you write an introduction, you need to clearly indicate the topic (i.e., the subject matter) that you will be writing about. Be careful that you do not confuse your topic with your thesis. For example, if you are writing an essay that argues for renewable energy, you will need to briefly explain or define renewable energy because that is your topic.
3) Set the foundation for the structure. After you have clearly stated your topic, you will need to address how you’ve organized the body of your essay. You should use the notes and outline you made during your initial research and write a few sentences explaining the order in which your essay will be structured. This will be your readers’ road map. They will know where they will be going as they read and in what order your ideas will be presented.
4) Writing the thesis. Every good introduction has a clearly stated thesis. The thesis statement is where you will let your readers know what position you will take on your topic. When you write your thesis, don’t be shy: make a bold and factual statement that expresses your position.
5) Keep it short. An introduction must not be so detailed that it includes everything you want to say. Remember that you’re introducing an idea or topic, your structure of the essay, and your thesis statement. A general rule to follow is that the introduction should be about 10% (or less) of your whole paper. So if you’re writing a 2,000-word essay, your introduction should not be much longer than 200 words.
6) Be creative! An introduction should be structured and follow a format, but that does not mean it has to be boring. One (and only one) of the following techniques can draw people in and really make them want to read your entire essay:
- Start with a quote that is related to your topic, and make sure it's a powerful attention getter.
- Start with a question, perhaps a question you had yourself before you began your initial research.
- Begin with an interesting fact that is related to your topic.
- Use an analogy, but make sure it is concise and easy to understand. You don't want to get too lengthy, because your introduction should be about 10% of your entire essay.
- Try presenting a paradox if it is related to your topic; readers are interested in the unusual and seemingly unanswerable.
How to Write a Perfect Paragraph for Your Essay
We’ve all been there. You have an essay due in the next couple of days, but you don’t know how to get started. You might even feel a severe case of writer’s block coming on. There’s no need to panic, however, as long as you follow our 10-step process for acing the building block of your essay—the paragraph.
1) Brainstorm and freewrite. Before you can begin to create a paragraph, you need to have a very strong sense of what you will write about as a whole. Brainstorm all ideas, facts, concepts, myths, quotes, and any other associations that pop into your head when you think of your topic. Your freewriting could be structured into complete sentences or could simply be a bulleted list or a string of words or phrases. The most important thing is to get it all down!
2) Create a topic sentence. Now that you’ve jotted down all your initial thoughts and observations, try to find a main, general point that governs most of what you have written. This point should be formulated into a topic sentence, a general sentence that provides a very broad, sneak peek into the specifics of your paragraph. Remember, your sentence must allude to the details that will follow but must not give them away.
3) Organize your supporting details. Now that you have a topic sentence, look over your freewriting again and decide which details best support your topic sentence. You want to pick your strongest points and be sure not to stray from the general idea. A good rule of thumb is to have three to five specific points. Start with a strong point, sandwich in your adequate points, and end with another memorable detail.
4) Develop effective and varied transitions. You have all the major building blocks for your paragraph; now you have to get from one point to another artfully and effectively. Try to vary how you move from one idea to another. Sometimes sequential ordering (first, next) works best, while other times you may want to find relationships (similarly, together with) or consequences (as a result, consequently) between your ideas.
5) Consider your audience. Who will be reading your paragraph? It might just be your teacher who is already quite versed in the topic. However, it may be a peer with no previous background but who really wants new information. Depending on who reads your paragraph, you will need to adapt its style to educate and reach your audience.
6) Strive for sentence variety. Your points will hold more interest and pack punch if you vary your sentences. Go beyond length and consider mixing simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. Start a sentence with a prepositional phrase or a dependent clause. Why not begin with a description and inspire your audience to read on to discover who or what it is?
7) Formulate a clincher or concluding sentence. Leave your reader with a lasting impression and some additional insight into your topic by putting a great deal of thought into your last sentence. Don’t make your final impression a bland summary. Instead, accentuate your strongest point.
8) Double-check for extraneous details. Now that your paragraph is organized, look over all your supporting details and be sure that you are not off-topic with any of your points. If you absolutely cannot live without a certain detail, revise your topic sentence so that it fits. Otherwise, you will distract the reader from the purpose established in your topic sentence if you include irrelevant information.
9) Create a rough draft. The time has come to write your paragraph. You have thought of everything, so just get it down without worrying too much about revising and editing. Writer’s block often occurs because you are hung up on punctuation and finding the perfect word.
10) Revise and edit. Now that you have a solid framework, you can tweak and perfect the paragraph to your heart’s content. Start with checking your word choice and sentence structure and end with correcting mechanical errors. Finally, rewrite your paragraph. Now all you need to do to write that dreaded essay is to repeat these steps for each paragraph you need. Your essay will materialize before you know it!
How to Write an In-Class Essay
Many people fear the in-class essay. They wonder, “Will I be ready?” or “What if I freeze?” They also worry about how much writing is too much and how much is too little. The following guidelines will help you feel more comfortable with the prospect of writing on demand. Learn how to write an in-class essay with our 10 easy steps.
1) Prepare! In-class essays require that you do your preparation...beforehand. Make sure you attend class and complete the necessary reading and assignments. If you have to miss a class, make arrangements with a trustworthy classmate to share notes with you, or ask your teacher or professor if a tape recorder is allowed. Most teachers will not be able to “re-teach” the class for you, so assume that you will be responsible for any material you’ve missed.
2) Practice. Draw up a list of possible questions you think might be on the test, and ask a friend to choose randomly from your list and then time you. Even just asking your friend to come up with an unrelated topic on which you must write under a time deadline will be helpful in flexing your mental muscles.
3) Choose wisely...and relax! More often than not, you will be allowed a number of essays from which to choose. When you are handed your options, before you even look at the list, take a few seconds to take a deep breath and flex your hands. Tell yourself, “I can do this!” A positive frame of mind and a relaxed body will calm your nerves. Then scan for questions you feel confident in answering.
4) What kind of essay is it? There are two types of in-class essays: short and long.
- Short essays: If you are writing a short essay, you will want to identify a term or concept and briefly discuss its significance. Don’t fall into the “quantity” vs. “quality” dilemma. Focus on being concise and direct. Your instructor is looking to see if you know the term well enough to both define and explain it. After you provide your definition/explanation, then focus on how the term was used in lectures or in reading assignments, or how the term is understood in context.
- Long essays: Longer essays are aimed not only at your understanding of a term’s definition, but also your ability to discuss facts, theories, and themes. In a longer essay, you will want to answer some basic questions and expand upon them. Answer the “five w’s” (who, what, where, when, and why) and also “how” your topic is to be understood, in your opinion. You may also want to address what the question does and does not include.
5) Time is critical. Don’t waste time copying down the question. Instead, read the question thoroughly, and then circle keywords that require a response. This will serve as an outline for your essay and help to keep you on track. A real danger of the in-class essay is rambling. If you stick to your keywords, and perhaps add a few in the margin that you need to consider, your essay is more likely to stay focused and on topic.
6) Budget your time. If you are required to select a number of questions, then budget your time before you begin. Spend the most time on the question that weighs the most toward your grade. If they are all equal in weight, answer the ones that you know well first, and try hard to stick to a time limit, allowing the majority of your minutes to the hardest or to the one that is worth the most toward your grade.
7) Craft your first sentence carefully. Instructors will not expect the deft touch of an essay that is assigned out-of-class, but it will be to your benefit to create a concise and interesting introductory sentence. Doing so will also help establish your knowledge of the subject and keep you on track in the paragraphs that follow.
8) Support with specifics. A major pitfall of the in-class essay is the propensity to ramble. For each point you discuss, support your assertion with examples from lectures, reading, or context in other ways.
9) Make corrections clear. Nothing irritates instructors more than trying to decide what you meant or did not mean. But all teachers understand that in-class writing is an imperfect art, so don’t panic if you make a mistake. Simply make a clear line through any text that you do not wish to be considered. Avoid scribbling, erasing, and dark splotches. If the error is so egregious that you need a lot of correction, mark out the undesired text clearly, and use arrows to point to where you wish the reading to resume.
10) Allow a few minutes for editing. Give yourself a few minutes to review your writing. Does it make sense to you? If not, you can be certain that it will not be clear to your instructor. Make any necessary changes by using Step #9.
How to Write a Problem-Solution Essay
Problem: you’ve been assigned a problem-solution paper. Solution: this handy, 16-step guide will help you successfully tackle the assignment. You may even change the world—or at least your own backyard!
1) Take a walk. A good problem-solution paper addresses a problem that is worth pursuing and can be solved practically. World peace is out, sorry. So are your personal gripes with security, cafeteria food, or that annoying guy in the library—these are personal nuisances, not problems. National issues are too big and too broad to be analyzed and solved; you need to think locally. Get out and examine your immediate environment: what problems do you encounter every day that can and should be addressed? What questions arise? What answers are there?
2) Develop a proposal. The first person you’ll need to convince of your topic is yourself. Take these four steps to get the ball rolling:
- Develop a rationale for your selection: why it matters, why it’s a problem, and why it can be solved.
- Define your initial understanding: clarify what you know about the problem and what you think you know about potential solutions.
- Determine what you need to learn: develop questions to help you begin your research or writing.
- Design a research plan: poke around your library and/or online databases, and figure out what information is out there. Pick three people who could help your research and arrange to talk to them about the issue.
3) Get early feedback. While most people can’t give advice on Shakespeare, everyone has an opinion about the world’s problems, no matter how small. Make it known to others what your plans are: talk to your teacher, friends, parents—anyone—about your ideas. When you solicit their opinions, ask for their response to both your take on the topic and your plans for gathering information.
4) Don’t jump to conclusions—any. Let’s face it: we’re all know-it-alls; we all think we have the answer to life’s problems. Unfortunately, in our rush to judgment, we often miss key details that would help us make better decisions. The same goes for a problem-solution paper: those who establish their solution first and remain steadfast to it tend to demonstrate a limited understanding of both the problem and logical solution; in other words, they don’t do well on the assignment. It’s okay to brainstorm some initial ideas, but set them aside until later: the most informed decisions come when you’re well-informed. Wait until you’ve researched the topic and fully defined the problem before finalizing your call for action.
5) Research, research, research. No matter how much you already know about your topic, there will likely be plenty out there that you don’t, and perhaps this source may even have helpful statistical information. Read as much as you can about your topic, starting with broad discussions on your topic (i.e., articles about your problem at a national or state level rather than specific to your area) and then moving on to more local coverage. Some key sources are those materials that describe how your problem is/was dealt with in other communities like yours. You can use this information as a comparison tool or to inform your solution.
6) Research some more—but creatively. If you’re tackling a school or local community issue, printed materials may be scant, but consider it an opportunity to collect your own data. The two best methods: construct a survey to be given to the audience affected by your problem or interview key people associated with the problem (or solution). Both methods can provide significant credibility to your analysis and proposal.
7) Map, plan, or outline your essay first. Know where your paper needs to go before you begin. Problem-solution papers have a lot of components and thus need to follow a tight structure: you address the problem, you establish middle ground between all concerned parties, and you present your vision for how to solve the problem. Review steps 8 through 10 before beginning to write, and then organize your notes and data around the components discussed below.
8) When you’re ready to begin writing, start with the problem section first. It’s the easiest and most logical place to start, and it should be the component of the paper on which you have the most information. Take the following steps to define the progression of your “problem” paragraph(s):
- Define the nature of the problem.
- Establish its existence by explaining what has caused or led to the problem
- Explain the extent of the problem.
- Explain its effects and why it is an issue that needs to be solved.
- Finally, warn readers about future effects if no solution is offered. Apply prior experiences from other communities to this section.
9) Your middle section must establish common ground. You’ve addressed the problem, sure, but before anyone will accept your solution, you need to show you've taken the concerns of others to heart. To do so, you’ll need to explain how others view the topic and the concerns of those people when it comes to trying to solve it. Address opposing arguments, and anticipate your audience’s questions and concerns. Establish criteria for a good solution that will appease everyone involved.
10) Before you propose your solution, address other alternatives first. Show you’ve put some thought into your solution by acknowledging and critiquing other possible solutions to your topic. Explain your reasons for rejecting them. Your goal: make your solution appear to be the best solution.
11) Propose a plan of action. Make sure it’s clear to your readers not only what you’d do but how you would do it. Clearly describe your solution so that your audience can imagine what it will be like. Address the potential arguments your opposition might have to your solution. Let your audience know why they would be satisfied with your approach.
12) Conclude with a call to action. Encourage your audience to accept your views and join the cause. Use projection: show your audience what your community will be like if they do or do not adopt your solution. Or ask them to take simple steps to bring about the change you desire. Help them continue the fight.
13) Write your thesis last. A strange idea, but theses for problem-solution papers are pretty straightforward; wait until you’ve clearly established your ideas before putting them into a single sentence. Your thesis statement, by the way, should identify both problem and the solution. For example, “Schools shouldrequire uniforms in order to minimizegang violence.”
14) Revision advice #1: Use visualization whenever possible. Detailed descriptions evoke strong emotions and help your audience “see” the problem. You can do so with examples from your area or another area with the same problem, or you can create hypothetical scenarios that scare or encourage your audience. Make the problem and solution come alive.
15) Revision advice #2: Make your audience care about your ideas. As you read over your paper, ask yourself, “Am I connecting with those people affected by the problem?” Address their needs and concerns. Show them why your ideas matter.
16) Publish—or perish. Go public with what you’ve learned! A problem-solution paper is just that—a paper—unless those people affected by the problem are made aware of what you know. Talk to your instructor about expressing your knowledge in a new form: a documentary, a pamphlet, or a new club.
How to Write a Good Essay on English Literature
To write a good essay on English literature, just follow these 5 easy steps:
1) Understand the purpose of writing essays about literature.
2) Understand how to understand a work of literature.
3) Define "English."
4) Focus your essay.
5) Write your essay.
Let's take these in order.
1) Purpose. There are two closely related purposes of writing essays about literature. Instructors have you write them to make you examine literary works more closely. These works deserve your attention. They have moved people to tears and express the greatest thoughts and feelings of humanity in the best-known writing. As a student, the purpose of writing such an essay is to demonstrate that you understand this work fully and deeply.
2) Understanding. But how do you get that understanding? You get it by reviewing the work closely and repeatedly, and by looking at content, form, and function. You might think of the process as taking an engine apart and putting it back together. In the process, you should come to understand this particular "engine" (literary work) well. To do so, examine each choice made by the author until you can explain how it relates to the whole. Slow down, and take all elements of the work into account: sound, shape on the page, structure (chapter length, number of chapters, etc.), point of view, and so on. Assemble a list and move through it, always keeping the larger purposes of the essay in mind.
3) English. Don't take the term "English" for granted. It's been the subject of a lot of debate over the centuries, and you want to know how you're using it. Research the work's historical period and the author, and take what you learn to define your use of "English." Where is the author from? How did that location define itself during this period in relation to England—and how does it show up in the work?
4) Focus. As you write a literary essay, you argue for a specific interpretation of the work. The essential focus of your essay should be expressed in the thesis statement. Though there are many ways to phrase a thesis statement, you should always be able to translate it to a statement like this: "In this essay, I will prove ___ about this work." Your focus must relate to the purposes of literary essays. You should always be proving that you understand this work on a profound level, but also that you understand the larger meaning of this literary form, this period of English literature, writing, and humanity. Focusing well requires a lot of reflection.
5) Write the essay. This is where most people start. Don't. If you start here, you're likely to find the process hard and the result mediocre. Instead, do the other steps first. Come to the writing stage with a pile of notes and a clear sense of your focus regarding the work. Then start your essay with a clearly defined introduction that hooks your readers' interest and ends with a clearly stated thesis. Write three or more body paragraphs, each of which makes points that support your thesis, points that you illustrate with specific evidence from the work itself and your outside research. Provide transitions between each paragraph that guide your readers to a conclusion that sums up the essay, expresses what you learned by writing the essay, and, in the best possible world, rewards readers for reading your essay by teaching them something new. However, before you give the essay to them, review it. Make sure it completes its functions. Then proofread it until the work is error-free. You want every line of your essay to quietly declare, "You can trust me. I understand this work."
How to Write an Argumentative Essay
It goes by many names—the research project, the persuasive essay, the term paper—but all mean the same thing: you’re writing an argument. Before you wrench in agony, know that a smart approach and planning phase (like the one you’re in right now) can make the process of writing an argument approachable, even enjoyable. The following 9 steps will help guide you through the writing process.
1) Choose your topic—carefully. Check your ideas against the following three criteria before finalizing your topic:
- Your topic must be arguable. The phrase “everything’s an argument” is not quite true—most things are, but not everything. Take the common high school editorial topic of “cliques are bad”: it’s a common opinion, sure, but who really disagrees? Your topic needs to be debatable; there has to be a clear opposing argument that others support. Ask yourself: who would oppose me? Why?
- Your topic must be contemporary and relevant. Arguments do not exist in a vacuum; they arise because people of varied beliefs interact with one another every day (or just bump heads). Your essay, even if it is about the past, should connect to values and ideas of the present. Look to current events or issues for inspiration—what’s going on in the world that’s inspiring discussion and/or disagreement? Ask yourself: does my topic matter to people right now? Why?
- Your topic must have value to you. Given the hours you’ll need to invest in the paper, your topic needs to be more than “interesting”; it has to be knowledge you want to pursue for your own personal benefit, not just a grade. However fascinating cloning may be, for example, if you’re not interested in science or ethics—two fundamental sub-issues of the cloning debate—your essay will be a chore to write. Choose a topic you care about and are invested in. You’ll write better and research deeper because of your personal investment.
2) Narrow and focus your topic. Many popular topics, such as abortion or euthanasia, are too broad for even 100- to 200-page books, let alone your 3- to 5-page essay. Focus on a specific aspect of your topic: a specific method (e.g., a late-term abortion procedure), a specific policy (e.g., No Child Left Behind), or a specific perspective (e.g., evangelical Christians and the environment). Doing so not only makes your topic (and life) manageable, it should help you develop very specific search terms when you go to gather evidence.
3) Analyze your audience. Review your assignment sheet to check whether you’ve been assigned a specific audience to address in your response. If no audience is assigned, you can assume your audience is your teacher, a knowledgeable and experienced reader in the subject area. But don’t skip this step just yet.
Your understanding of your audience—yes, even your teacher—is integral in determining the development and organization of your argument, as well as the stylistic techniques you can utilize in your writing. For example, if you are writing to your instructor, consider what he/she expects from students on such an assignment—a formal tone, large amounts of evidence integrated into the paper, analysis of these ideas, right? On the other hand, if you’re writing for an audience of peers, you’ll want to lean heavily on your connection with them: use personal pronouns (“I” or “we”), express sympathy or understanding for their feelings, and address shared concerns.
4) Research wisely. Google is quick and easy; everybody uses it. So does your professor, who is rather justified in his/her skepticism of website credibility—lots of the readily accessible data via Google is inaccurate and risky. Make sure your online sources are from established educational/professional sites (like eNotes).
Also use your library’s subject-specific databases to find professional journals covering your topic. With a narrow and focused topic, searching should be a breeze. And use the “snowball” research technique: once you find a helpful source, look at its references/bibliography to get new leads on evidence for your paper. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
5) Utilize a variety of evidence types. Statistics can be sexy, but they can’t do all the work for you. In addition to quantitative research, utilize expert opinions—in the form of quotations or paraphrases—and historical examples to provide varied and insightful support. And don’t be afraid to examine a sometimes overlooked source: you. Include your own personal experience or observations if they help illuminate the topic for your audience.
6) Express your judgment, not your opinion. In middle school they call it "persuasion"; in college they call it "argumentation"—so what’s the difference? Expectation. Your instructor is less interested in what side you take than in how you take that side, how you analyze the issue and organize your response. Forget about whether you’re right and someone else is wrong; writing a good paper is not a competition. Instead, focus on your “line of argument”—how you develop your paper by meeting your audience’s needs, integrating solid evidence, and demonstrating a solid understanding of the topic. Steps 7 and 8 will help you get there.
7) Dig deeper. A meaningful topic will tap into underlying values and issues of modern society. Look for the themes or big ideas of your issue. For example, consider whether or not cities should limit or ban national chain stores from expanding in their respective communities. On one hand, yes, a paper might address the positives and negatives of Wal-Mart or Subway. Yet an excellent argument will also discuss the bigger conflicts at play: convenience vs. community identity, job creation vs. environmental damage. Seeing the “big picture” adds depth to your argument.
8) Complexify your argument. There are several rhetorical “moves” or patterns writers can utilize to enhance their argument and demonstrate critical thinking about their topic. Here are short summaries of six of them:
- Cause and effect: discuss what has led to your topic becoming an issue and why the issue is affecting people.
- Qualification: “qualification” here means to limit your position to specific contexts or situations, a “yes, but…” perspective. Qualifying not only can demonstrate that you understand the complexity of an issue but can show you have a unique perspective on it.
- Examination of the opposing argument: know thy enemy. Analyzing other perspectives on your topic has three key advantages: you demonstrate a broad understanding of the issue; you can strengthen your position by comparing it to others; and you’ve given yourself plenty more to write about.
- Concede a little, as necessary: it’s perfectly okay to admit your position is not perfect; in fact, breaking down what works and what doesn’t about your topic can enhance your analysis. Anticipating and alleviating your reader’s concerns can be incredibly persuasive.
- Propose a solution: a logical and feasible solution to your issue provides authority and credibility, and it can make for a strong conclusion.
- Examine the implications: what effect will this issue have on individuals and/or the world? Discussing what lies ahead for your topic also makes for a strong approach to a conclusion.
Note: there is no “correct” strategy about how to integrate these techniques into your writing, nor is there a desired amount or limit to how many can be used. Use your best judgment.
9) Revise, revise, revise. Talk is cheap—and so are papers littered with clichés, illogical arguments, and grammar mistakes. Find a peer who disagrees with your position and have him/her read your paper. Discuss your ideas, your approaches, and your writing style with this naysayer; take the feedback and advice seriously. Read your paper out loud to yourself during later revisions. Be sure to check if you’ve cited your sources correctly. Edit for grammar and spelling only after you are comfortable with what you’ve you written and how you’ve written it.
How to Write a Compare-and-Contrast Essay
A compare-and-contrast essay might seem like the easiest type of paper to write: just find things that are alike and then find things that are different. Piece of cake, right? There’s a catch, however. It is up to you to argue why those similarities and differences matter; otherwise, you don’t have much of a paper. The following 8 easy steps will guide you through the process of writing an effective compare-and-contrast essay that actually has something valuable to say.
1) So they’re alike and they’re different. So what? A good paper will not simply offer a summary of themes, characters, or plot. Your job is to think about how these comparisons and contrasts create meaningful connections to a larger issue.
2) Create an effective thesis statement. Again, you need to say why the comparison and contrast is worthy of note. Let’s say you want to compare and contrast the heroines of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Your thesis might be this: “Although Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre are very different on the outside, their shared internal values connects them in literary history and in the fight for women’s rights.” Now you have a reason for your efforts and a compelling case for your audience’s attention.
3) Select a pattern. There are two ways you can write a compare-and-contrast paper. You can present your arguments in a "tandem" pattern or an "alternating" pattern.
- Tandem. Separate your pros and cons into two camps. For example, if you are comparing Jane Austen’s Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice to the heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, you would list all the ways in which the protagonists are similar and different. A rough list might look something like this:
|Upper class||Dirt poor, orphan|
|Resists marriage||Resists marriage|
|Socially inappropriate||Socially awkward|
|Ends up with her man,
and all is well
|Ends up with her man,
but only after trauma
Once you have your list, the body of your paper will address everything you have discovered about one character, then everything about the other character.
- Alternating. If you opt for this choice, you will be juxtaposing Elizabeth and Jane’s pros and cons. Creating the list of likeness and differences will be handy here as well, but in using this method, you will continually address the two characters “back and forth” as you compose the body of your paper. For example, you might say, “Elizabeth is easy on the eyes, a traditional beauty, but Brontë’s Jane is continually described as plain and homely.”
4) How to decide on a pattern. While there is no rule about selecting one method over another, for longer papers (those that exceed five or six pages) you should probably go with the alternating pattern. It is hard for the reader to retain all the pertinent information about each side of your argument in lengthier discussions. For shorter papers, the tandem pattern will probably be the best bet.
5) Support with primary text. Support your analysis by providing primary textual support; in this case, the primary sources are the novels Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. For each point you address, whether in a tandem or an alternating pattern, offer textual evidence for your positions either by directly quoting from the text or by paraphrasing. Be sure to properly cite each quote or paraphrase in whatever format your instructor requests (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).
6) Support with secondary sources, if required. Some instructors may ask that you use sources other than the text itself to support your argument. A secondary source is anyone other than the original author. Use secondary sources to provide additional backing for your thesis, especially in arguing for why the compare-and-contrast approach you have selected is valid.
7) Include your own voice. One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to offer his or her own take on a topic. You may feel that everyone else has already said everything there is to say about your subject. Don’t be discouraged! Your own interpretation is what is most valuable in the end.
8) Review. Revise. Repeat. Compare-and-contrast essays can often become convoluted if a tight check is not kept on your writing. Review your work often to make sure you have not suffered the sins of summarizing plot, soapboxing, or wandering pointlessly in the literary woods. Move or delete text if you have to: don’t keep trying to pound a piece into the puzzle if it clearly doesn’t fit.
How to Write a Good Essay for the SAT
To the dismay of many students, the latest SAT exam includes an essay section. Fear not. By following these 8 easy steps, you can ace this portion of the test and make it an asset to your overall score.
1) Become intimately acquainted with the persuasive essay. Although the SAT directions do not specifically state the type of essay you must write, the persuasive format is the one you want to follow. You are convincing your reader or audience that your point of view is the most correct and valid one.
2) Answer the question. If you don’t answer the actual question, you have no chance of receiving a decent score, no matter how well written your response may be. In SAT essay exams, usually a quote or anecdote introduces a controversial opinion; the opinion is then followed by a question that invites you to take a stance or position on a situation. For example, the prompt may start with a quote from a psychologist stating that giving teenagers too many responsibilities is the number one cause of poor grades in high school. The accompanying question may ask, “Do you feel that having too many responsibilities or activities as a teenager results in poor grades or are other factors partly or wholly to blame?” Be sure you answer only this particular question and avoid going off on a tangent about other facets of being a teenager. Tip: Using part of the quote to introduce your essay will help you stay on track.
3) Be aware of—but not obsessed with—time limits. You have 25 minutes to complete the essay for the SAT. It is not a great deal of time; however, it is an adequate amount of time to persuasively support your point of view. The trick is to informally brainstorm and organize ideas for your essay before getting started. You shouldn’t take more than 5 to 7 minutes to do this, but definitely do it. This time will go a long way to helping you stay focused, organized, and confident throughout the writing of your essay.
4) Choose solid, specific examples. Here is where the old expression “show, not tell” comes in. It does not matter whether the examples to back your stance come from important historical events, the literary canon, or that fight you had with your sister last week. As long as the example addresses the question perfectly, go with it. Using academic examples certainly reflects on your scholarship. However, if an academic example is not intricately tied in with the question or does not make a logical connection, you are much better off with an example from everyday life that you can effectively, specifically, and succinctly use.
5) Remember to address the opposition. Besides backing up your own point of view, you’ll need to introduce and address the strongest argument for the opposing viewpoint. Use another specific example along with your persuasive skills to show how this position is flawed. By addressing the opposite stance, you are showing without question that your point of view is the only way to go.
6) Introduce artfully, and conclude definitively. Your introduction sets up your whole argument and engages the reader; your conclusion clinches the validity of your point of view and leaves the reader with a lasting impression. Do not neglect these portions of your essay by spending too much time on examples. The introduction and conclusion also provide an essential organizing framework.
7) Revise and edit. With whatever time you have left, read over the essay to be sure it is logical and organized. Scan for mechanical errors and correct any that stand out. If you are not able to get to this step or have very limited time, take heart. Many essays have received a perfect score even with minor mistakes related to faulty mechanics or word choice. The readers realize that you have limited time to complete your essay and don’t have time for a preliminary formal draft, which would in most cases eradicate these types of errors.
8) Practice, practice, practice. The old expression “practice makes perfect” truly applies to this situation. Your English teacher will probably give you opportunities to write this type of essay in class, but you can pull sample prompts from the Internet and write away. SAT preparation books also contain essay prompts to help you with this goal, and some contain sample essays with scores so that you have a way of gauging yourself. The more essays you write, the more confidence and experience you gain.
How to Write a College Application Essay
So much emphasis and pressure revolve around the college application essay that most students approach it with an overwhelming sense of dread. What is often forgotten, however, is that this essay is your chance to shine, to show what a unique and special individual you are. Follow our easy 5-step method to quickly and easily write an application essay that will get you noticed.
1) Pick a topic. Some colleges will give you a list of topics, and some will simply tell you to “write a personal statement.” The latter can often be the most difficult because when you are allowed to choose any subject, it can be hard to settle on just one. Start by brainstorming. Make a list of all the possible ideas that occur to you, and then decide which one is most interesting to you. Writing about what actually interests you will make your writing more interesting to others.
2) Address the question. Now that you have your topic, decide what you want to prove. The biggest pitfall that college applicants fall into is not addressing the question. Remember that the question is just a means by which the college is trying to get to know you better. What should they most know about you? What is your biggest selling point? Jot the answer to this down in one sentence, and let that be your thesis. Then consider how the topic you have chosen can best develop your thesis. If you want to prove that you are a dedicated student, and your topic is “My Biggest Influence,” then explain how a person in your life helped you to become such a dedicated student.
3) Hook your reader. You have heard this a thousand times from your teachers already...but that’s because it is important. Hooking your reader is essential in all writing. You might want to start with a personal narrative or with the description of someone or someplace. Be creative, and be sure to “show” your reader what you are thinking. Don’t tell the reader what to think: create a picture with your language that the reader can see.
4) Remember your audience. The goal here is to convince the college admissions officer that you deserve a spot at his or her school. Never forget that as you write. Even if your topic is “My Biggest Influence,” you don’t want to spend the entirety of your essay telling your reader about someone else. Recount the details that are important and relevant to you, and then expand on your accomplishments and your potential. Try to include information that is not in your transcript. Provide examples that someone could only know by hearing stories of your life.
5) Proofreading. This is essential, and it should not be done by you alone. Get many different people to read your essay and share their thoughts. To make sure that you are expressing the most important points, ask each reader for his or her impression about what you were trying to prove. Listen carefully to everyone’s opinions—but trust yourself in the end.
How to Correct 9 Common Writing Mistakes
We have all been guilty of mangling the English language at one point or another. Sometimes a handy reminder is all that is needed to keep your writing error-free and your communication clear. Here is a list of 9 common writing mistakes and how to avoid them.
1) Its versus It’s. The incorrect use of an apostrophe can cause confusion or make you appear to be a sloppy writer. Remember, in the case of “its” versus “it’s,” the apostrophe is a conjunction, the mark taking the place of the “i” in the word “is” or “ha” in the word “has.” The word “its” grants possessiveness. For example: “It had the bird in its teeth.”
If you are confused about whether the right word is “it’s” or “its,” simply replace the apostrophe with “is” or “has” and choose the one that makes sense.
2) Spell-Check: friend and foe. Spell-check is a marvelous invention, but remember that a human eye is usually necessary to avoid unintended meanings. As humorist Dave Barry points out, spell-check would say “A-okay!” to the following: “Deer Mr. Stromple: It was a grate pleasure to meat you’re staff and the undersigned look foreword too sea you soon inn the near future.” Whoops!
3) Their, they’re, and there. An easily overlooked mistake is the misuse of the words “their,” “they’re,” and “there.”
- “Their” is a pronoun: “Their vacation home is in Jamaica."
- “They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are”: “They’re on their way home.”
- The trickiest word is “there” because it can be an adverb, pronoun, noun, or interjection. Examples: “She is from there originally” (pronoun); “You can take it from there, Watson!” (noun). “There! I am done with it!” (interjection).
4) Dates and numerals. Be careful when spelling out dates and numerals. It is proper to write “November 11, 2007” or “42nd Street.” When writing dialogue, however, it is usually best to write the numeral out, as in, “Yesterday, I turned eighteen.”
A very common error in punctuating dates is to grant possessiveness to a time period. For example, you should write, “Disco was the music of the 1970s,” not “Disco was the music of the 1970’s.” In this case, you are expressing a plural idea, not a possessive one.
5) Don’t add unnecessary words. Make your writing work, not your reader! Don’t use several words to do the job of a single one. For example, the phrase “at the present time” should be changed to “now.” The phrase “in the immediate future” should be shortened to “soon.” And “for the reason that” is much more clear when you simply write “because.”
6) Make word order clear. While you may know exactly what you mean, your reader might be left scratching his or her head. If you write, “Mom wanted to take me to the movies with Charlotte, but she was too busy,” it is not clear who was too busy...Mom or Charlotte?
7) Avoid pretentiousness. Simply your sentences whenever possible. If you attempt to sound grand, chances are you’ll just come off as pompous. Which sounds better? “The blazing solar orb slipped beneath the arboreal vista” or “The sun sank below the trees”?
8) Leave out the clichés. Clichés are words or phrases that are so overused that they are no longer powerful. Whenever you find examples of the following clichés in your writing, delete them immediately:
- “blessing in disguise”
- “boggles the mind”
- “dead as a doornail”
- “each and every”
- “fierce fighting”
- “in this day and age”
- “in today’s society”
- “tip of the iceberg”
9) The 25-word rule. If you are guilty of the run-on sentence, try to stay within 25 words per sentence. Beyond this point, your reader will probably become distracted and your ideas might seem convoluted. Though you may sometimes ignore this rule, typically you’ll find that longer sentences can be separated or condensed. Your reader will thank you!
How to Use Punctuation Correctly
With the ever-increasing popularity of email and texting, it seems that proper punctuation has become a casualty of the times. Although a relaxation of the rules may be acceptable in some circumstances, academic and business writing still require you to adhere to the standards of punctuation. The following 8 easy steps are designed to help you express yourself correctly and professionally.
1) Commas. Commas separate related ideas and tell your reader where to pause in the sentence. Misplaced commas can cause a good deal of confusion and can even make another point rather than the one you intended. Consider the following examples; the first is a verse from the King James Bible, and the second is from another translation. Here, the placement of the second comma makes a crucial difference:
“Verily, I say unto thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
“Verily, I say to you this day, you will be with me in Paradise.”
These were the words of Jesus to the thieves hung next to him on crosses. If you were one the thieves, the comma is very important indeed. In the first example, Jesus is saying that the thieves will be in Paradise with him immediately; but in the second sentence, he is simply saying, “Today I am telling you that you will be with me in Heaven, at some point.” It is a pretty important difference! The little comma dictates interpretation.
RULE: Use commas to separate related ideas, but be careful not to change the meaning of the sentence.
2) Periods are not commas. Period. Sometimes people with a hearty fear of the comma believe that they’ll be safe simply putting a period in any place where they feel unsure. This practice leads to awkward, stilted phrasing and sentence fragments:
“I had a dog once on a farm. When I was about ten years old.”
“My teacher was very interesting. A woman who had studied at Oxford for many years.”
In both of these examples, replace the period with a comma and make the next letter lowercase.
RULE: Do not use periods as commas!
3) To dash or not to dash. Some people use dashes all the time; others avoid them entirely. The dash can be a valuable tool when properly employed. It carries more emotional weight than a comma does, but it’s more informal than a colon. The dash can help you make a strong point that tells the reader, “Pay attention here.” For example, one might use a dash in this case: “His thoughts about women—if he had any thoughts at all—were not the kind expressed in polite company.”
RULE: Use dashes sparingly, but do use them when an important, related thought needs to be strongly conveyed.
4) Apostrophes. A frequent problem in writing is the misuse of apostrophes to indicate possession. Like the comma, the apostrophe in a possessive can lead to misunderstandings (sometimes comically so!). Usually the author is aware of the difference, but poor proofreading may cause problems. For example, consider these questions:
“Am I eating my dessert or the dog’s?”
“Am I eating my dessert or the dogs?”
In the first example, you can see that the possessive indicates that the person is questioning whether the dessert is for him or for the dog to eat. In the second, lack of possession makes it appear as if the person believes he might be eating dogs!
RULE: Make sure apostrophes are appropriately placed to indicate ownership.
5) Colons. Use a colon to introduce a list or to provide an example that is closely related to the clause before it. For example, one might say, “There are three things a painter requires: canvass, paint, and silence.” Or you can use a colon when you have something vivid to add to a point: “Even while they gathered and laughed, everyone at the baby shower withheld some information most knew: there was no discussion of the pain or trouble that the new mother would soon experience.”
RULE: Use colons for lists, to make a more vivid point that a comma, and a more formal point than a dash would convey.
6) Semicolons. Semicolons are used to join independent clauses. An independent clause is a direct and different idea and is grammatically complete. For example, you would not use a comma in this case: “William Shakespeare’s plays are timeless, they are full of morality and intrigue.” Rather, the semicolon is appropriate here: “William Shakespeare’s plays are timeless; they are full of morality and intrigue.”
RULE: Semicolons are for independent clauses.
7) Parentheses. Parentheses are used when you have some minor information to add to a sentence, but the information could be removed and still make sense. You might say, perhaps, “Chili’s is my favorite restaurant (I eat there at least once a week), but I’m getting tired of the same old thing.”
RULE: Parentheses can be added when you want to convey a small aside, but often can be omitted entirely. Read your work carefully to determine whether the minor comment should stay or go.
8) Exclamation points. Think of exclamation points as garlic: a little bit can add excitement and spice things up; too much can ruin your food. When something is truly exciting, it is fine to add an exclamation point, but overuse does the opposite of what you intend. For example, if you are reading a letter from a friend who has been on an exciting trip, which do you find more compelling?
“We are now in Hawaii!!! It is fabulous!!! We saw a volcano!! And bought a grass skirt!! I even did the hula with some natives on stage!!! Wow!! Wish you were here!!!”
“We are now in Hawaii. It’s fabulous. We saw a volcano. I bought a grass skirt. I even did the hula on stage with some natives! Wish you were here.”
Hopefully, in the second case, you are more likely to hone in on the truly unusual adventure of your friend.
RULE: Use exclamation points sparingly and only when you really do want to convey excitement or surprise.