Anybody S Son Will Do Essay Writing
Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.
Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with Bs and A-minuses.
I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.
Writing an essay? Dont pull your hair out. Here are 10 tips to write a great essay. Photo by Stuart Pilbrow (Creative Commons)
However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it.
Thats right. Fun.
Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard?
Here are a few reasons:
- Youd rather be scrolling through Facebook.
- Youre trying to write something your teacher or professor will like.
- Youre trying to get an A instead of writing something thats actually good.
- You want to do the least amount of work possible.
The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external rewards like getting a passing grade or our teachers approval. The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.
Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity. What this means practically is that when youre trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, youre turning off most of your best resources.
Just stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a good-enough essay). Instead, write an interesting essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when youre finished, go back and edit it until its good according to your teachers standards.
Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you.
I cant guarantee youll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise youll have a lot more fun writing.
10 Tips to Writing a Great Essay
Ready to get writing? Here are my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade!
1. Your essay is just a story.
Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas, the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.
That means that the best essays are about surprise, You probably think its one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way. See tip #3 for more on this.
2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, How can I have the most fun writing this?
Its normal to feel unmotivated when writing an essay. Im a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.
Heres the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:
How much fun can I have writing this?
Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun. Heres another sneaky question to ask yourself when you really dont want to write:
How can I finish this as quickly as possible?
Give it a try!
3. As you research, ask yourself, What surprises me about this subject?
The temptation, when youre writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read. Dont do this. Instead, ask yourself, What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?
If you cant think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then youre not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimmingover with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, We used to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.
As you research your essay topic, search for this story of surprise, and dont start writing until you can find it.
(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)
4. Overwhelmed? Just write five original sentences.
The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences, surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If youre feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences. Heres what they might look like:
- Thesis: While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
- Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
- Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
- Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, they will write better essays.
- Conclusion: Writing an essay doesnt have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.
After you write your five sentences, its easy to fill in the paragraphs they will find themselves in.
Now, you give it a shot!
5. Be source heavy.
In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful, but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.
As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I just quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasnt quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.
When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very source heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me As. Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research well, which some students find easier.
6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.
Introductions are often the hardest part to write because youre trying to summarize your entire essay before youve even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.
7. Most essays answer the question, What? Good essays answer the Why? The best essays answer the How?
If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or youre struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, How? For example:
- How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in The Catcher In the Rye?
- How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
- How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?
If you focus on how, youll always have enough to write about.
8. Dont be afraid to jump around.
Essay writing can be a dance. You dont have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end. Give yourself the freedom to write as if youre circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.
9. Here are some words and phrases you dont want to use.
- You (Youll notice I use a lot of yous, which is great for a blog post. However, in an essay, its better to omit the second-person.)
- To Be verbs
Dont have time to edit? Heres a lightning-quick editing technique.
A note about I: Some teachers say you shouldnt use I statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like I believe and in my opinion, especially in their introductions.
Its okay to use Wikipedia, if…
Wikipedia isnt just one of the top 5 websites in the world, it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors dont consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays. However, here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:
- Background research. If you dont know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
- Find sources. Check the reference section of Wikipedias articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and site them.
The thing I regret most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.
The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world dont have access to. Its a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I dont want you to make the mistake of just getting by through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.
How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?
All Im saying is, dont miss out!
How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay?
Use tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.
When youre finished, share your five sentences in the comments section.
And remember, have fun!
Free Guide: Want to become a writer? Get our free step guide to becoming a writer here and accomplish your dream today. Click here to download your guide instantly.
When I worked in admissions at Duke, I said a lot of things on the recruiting trail that weren’t exactly genuine: “Your combined SAT scores are in triple digits? Apply!” “We can’t get enough kids from northern New Jersey! Apply!” “You got a bunch of Cs in high school — at least you got a B in weight-lifting! Apply!”
But I did utter one true sentence: I told applicants that I was an astute reader and could tell the difference between the prose of a year-old girl and that of a year-old man. So don’t, I begged them, let your father write your personal statement for you.
I’d spent a dozen years working as an editor in scholarly publishing before I took a job in admissions. I’m not sure that all my colleagues were such careful readers; some were, I knew, occasionally hoodwinked. But since the essay is not that important a part of the application process, it didn’t really matter.
I emphasized writing the essay in my recruitment trips because by the time I was talking to these kids, that was the only thing within their control. Everything else — grades, course choice, SATs, extracurricular activities — were all done deals.
I wanted them to feel some degree of empowerment over this bruising senior year ordeal. I wanted them to understand that the process of learning to express themselves in clear, concise and lively prose could be an exercise in emotional archeology, an intellectual journey.
But then there were the parents.
Look, some of my best friends are parents. I understand that they want only what’s best for their offspring. This is a good impulse; it keeps the species going. But I’m not sure it’s always the right thing for the children.
When I do college counseling (which I do now mostly for the siblings of students I’ve already worked with), I see the dangerous good intentions these teenagers are up against.
One student kept writing the same bad essay. I labored to explain the fundamentals of good first-person writing: that it contains details that are specific and vivid, that it is honest.
He kept sending me slightly revised versions of the same vague platitudes and “Aren’t I great?” anecdotes. Finally I wrote him a harsh e-mail saying that he just wasn’t getting it. The essay was awful.
He started over, with a completely new topic — one he was passionate about — and it soared. Naturally suspicious and cynical, I asked what had happened. Had he been abducted by aliens? Or had someone else written it for him?
No, he said. This time he didn’t let his dad touch it.
Parents who have raised good kids should trust them. Because the essay is not an essential part of the process, and frankly, because most admissions officers know that they don’t know whose fingerprints are all over it, parental interference — except by people who really do know how to write — can be more demoralizing and divisive than useful.
It’s hard to come up with good topics. Parents who haven’t had the benefit of reading thousands of essays don’t know the clichés of the genre and steer children away from anything that might be “risky,” though essays that deal with hard stuff — sex, drugs, religion, family strife — are often the most affecting.
I can understand how difficult it is for parents not to be able to advise their children. But in this case, my advice is to step back and let them express themselves. If you’ve done a good job, so will they.
Ms. Toor is an assistant professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University and the author of Admissions Confidential: An Insiders Account of the Elite College Selection Process.
What are your thoughts on the notion of parental interference, and where to draw the lines between applicant, and parent of the applicant? Please use the comment box below to let us know.
In Tip Sheet, The Choice periodically posts short items by admissions officers, guidance counselors and others that might help applicants and their families better understand aspects of the admissions process. Click here for an archive of essays in this series.