Writing Tips

Good Essay Writing...

Essays are a vital part of writing, both in academic circles and in many professions. Being able to write good essays is a rare ability and those that can demonstrate a mastery of this writing form will quickly distinguish themselves from those who write poorly. In school, this can be the difference between a good or bad grade; in industry, it can mean being passed over for a promotion, creating a safety hazard, or even limiting an applicant's prospective job pool.

Learning to write good essays will boost academic performance in school and college, but will also be a valuable skill in today's increasingly competitive job market. Creating concise, informative, and compelling essays can form the basis of many careers, such as authoring non-fiction books, getting into print journalism, writing legal briefs, rendering judicial opinions, or just creating some persuasive advertising text for a business. The ability to write a good essay is a foundational block that can unlock numerous opportunities.

Writing experts agree that details such as grammar and punctuation are important, they are far less important than solid organization, fresh writing, and creative content.

Planning and Organization...

A plan can help to gather your thoughts, and make sure you do not forget to mention key arguments. It is an opportunity to brainstorm what you know about the topic. However, it is important not to get into too much detail - writing keywords and phrases are the best solution.
  • Does the introduction provide sufficient background for the reader?
  • Is there a thesis sentence?
  • Is the purpose of the essay clear?
  • Does the essay move from general to specific?

The Introduction...

The principle purpose of the introduction is to present your position (this is also known as the "thesis" or "argument") on the issue at hand but effective introductory paragraphs are so much more than that. Before you even get to this thesis statement, for example, the essay should begin with a "hook" that grabs the reader's attention and makes them want to read on.
Only then, with the reader's attention "hooked," should you move on to the thesis. The thesis should be a clear, one-sentence explanation of your position that leaves no doubt in the reader's mind about which side you are on from the beginning of your essay.

In an introduction to an essay you should offer a short, concise summary of the main points to be raised. If appropriate, you could clarify key concepts. Introductions go wrong when students go into too much detail, and then repeat their arguments in the main body of the text.

Following the thesis, you should provide a mini-outline which previews the examples you will use to support your thesis in the rest of the essay. Not only does this tell the reader what to expect in the paragraphs to come but it also gives them a clearer understanding of what the essay is about.

Finally, designing the last sentence in this way has the added benefit of seamlessly moving the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper. In this way we can see that the basic introduction does not need to be much more than three or four sentences in length. If yours is much longer you might want to consider editing it down a bit!

The Body Paragraphs...

The middle paragraphs of the essay are collectively known as the body paragraphs and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the examples that support your thesis.

For the first body paragraph you should use your strongest argument or most significant example unless some other more obvious beginning point (as in the case of chronological explanations) is required. The first sentence of this paragraph should be the topic sentence of the paragraph that directly relates to the examples listed in the mini-outline of introductory paragraph.

A one sentence body paragraph that simply cites the example of "Carl Smith" or "Bobby Vinton" is not enough, however. No, following this an effective essay will follow up on this topic sentence by explaining to the reader, in detail, who or what an example is and, more importantly, why that example is relevant.

Even the most famous examples need context. For example, Carl Smith's life was extremely complex - by using him as an example, do you intend to refer to his honesty, bravery, or maybe even his wooden teeth? The reader needs to know this and it is your job as the writer to paint the appropriate picture for them. To do this, it is a good idea to provide the reader with five or six relevant facts about the life (in general) or event (in particular) you believe most clearly illustrates your point.

Having done that, you then need to explain exactly why this example proves your thesis. The importance of this step cannot be understated (although it clearly can be underlined); this is, after all, the whole reason you are providing the example in the first place.

The Conclusion...

Although the conclusion paragraph comes at the end of your essay it should not be seen as an afterthought. As the final paragraph is represents your last chance to make your case and, as such, should follow an extremely rigid format.

One way to think of the conclusion is, paradoxically, as a second introduction because it does in fact contain many of the same features. While it does not need to be too long - four well-crafted sentence should be enough - it can make or break and essay.

Effective conclusions open with a concluding transition ("in conclusion," "in the end," etc.) and an allusion to the "hook" used in the introductory paragraph. After that you should immediately provide a restatement of your thesis statement.

This should be the fourth or fifth time you have repeated your thesis so while you should use a variety of word choice in the body paragraphs it is a acceptable idea to use some (but not all) of the original language you used in the introduction. This echoing effect not only reinforces your argument but also ties it nicely to the second key element of the conclusion: a brief (two or three words is enough) review of the three main points from the body of the paper.

Having done all of that, the final element - and final sentence in your essay - should be a "global statement" or "call to action" that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end.

Make Your Essay Shine...

Planning Pays

Although it may seem like a waste of time - especially during exams where time is tight - it is almost always better to brainstorm a bit before beginning your essay. This should enable you to find the best supporting ideas - rather than simply the first ones that come to mind - and position them in your essay accordingly.

Your best supporting idea - the one that most strongly makes your case and, simultaneously, about which you have the most knowledge - should go first. Even the best-written essays can fail because of ineffectively placed arguments.

Aim for Variety

Sentences and vocabulary of varying complexity are one of the hallmarks of effective writing. When you are writing, try to avoid using the same words and phrases over and over again. You don't have to be a walking thesaurus but a little variance can make the same idea sparkle.

If you are asked about "money," you could try "wealth" or "riches." At the same time, avoid beginning sentences the dull pattern of "subject + verb + direct object." Although examples of this are harder to give, consider our writing throughout this article as one big example of sentence structure variety.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

In the end, though, remember that good writing does not happen by accident. Although we have endeavored to explain everything that goes into effective essay writing in as clear and concise a way as possible, it is much easier in theory than it is in practice.

As a result, we recommend that you practice writing sample essays on various topics. Even if they are not masterpieces at first, a bit of regular practice will soon change that - and make you better prepared when it comes to the real thing.

It's Hard Work...

As you move through your college years, you'll be expected to write more and more. Here are some pointers that students seem to find useful:

1. Write every day.

2. Take your time.

3. Quality is always better than quantity.

4. Ask for help.

5. Practice proofreading.

Tips and tools to improve writing...

There is plenty that you can do to improve your writing and your school/career opportunities? Make quality writing a priority and establish a series of "checks and balances" before submitting any application, essay, cover letter, or any other written material in a school or work setting.

Consider the following resources:

  1. Courses
    • Enroll in local courses or workshops that target writing skills.
    • While in-person instruction may be beneficial for some, others may prefer the convenience of online instruction.
  2. Writing centers
    • Seek out the writing center in your high school or college.
    • consult a writing center well in advance of any deadlines
  3. Writing partner
    • Find a "writing buddy" and take turns proofreading and editing each other's work
    • do not rely solely on a classmate's review
  4. Proofread
    • This is the most important
    • Your last chance to correct writing errors
    • Have a fresh set of eyes review the document
  5. Online tools
    • Use online tools and resources
    • Consult a dictionary, thesaurus, grammar guide, punctuation guide, writing guide, or style guide
    • Write in an active voice
    • Avoid common grammar mistakes

The importance of high-quality writing cannot be emphasized enough.

Writing Effective Essay Exams...

  1. Read through all the questions carefully.
  2. Budget your time and decide which question(s) you will answer first
  3. Underline the key word(s) which tell you what to do for each question
  4. Choose an organizational pattern appropriate for each key word
  5. Write your answers as quickly and as legibly as you can
  6. Begin each answer with one or two sentence thesis which summarizes your answer
  7. Support your thesis with specific references to the material you have studied
  8. Proofread your answer and correct errors in spelling and mechanics