Essay writing is not a skill you’re born with. While some people may have a natural inclination towards writing, anyone can acquire and improve their essay writing skills through practice and continuous improvement.
As a high school or college student, developing proficient essay writing skills is crucial for academic success and this often tends to become a cause of concern for most students.
We turned to our team of experienced writers who write essays for a living and asked them, “How do you write a good college essay?”. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Analyze the prompt thoroughly
Are you someone who reads the essay prompt twice and gets on with the research? If yes, that’s a major mistake you’re making there.
The importance of closely reading essay prompts is often underestimated. Remember: only when you gain a thorough understanding of the prompt can you ensure the essay addresses it completely.
“The key is to dissect the prompt. I always highlight keywords or phrases in the prompt that provide clues about the essay's subject, supporting question, context, and required approach. This guides my research process and helps me stay on track while writing,” says Erica.
So, take a few extra minutes and examine every word or phrase in order to write a high-scoring essay that meets the criteria.
2. Take detailed notes while doing research
The research process is an exhaustive one – How much is enough? Which sources should you refer to? What supporting information would add value to your essay? The list of questions is endless. A smart way to approach this step is by taking detailed notes along the way.
You can use a note-taking app, word-processing software, or the traditional pen and paper. What’s important is keeping your notes organized by creating separate sections for different topics and taking note of supporting evidence, examples, statistics, or arguments that you may want to include in your essay.
Jerry has valuable advice when it comes to copy-pasting key points. He says, “Avoid copying lengthy passages verbatim. Instead, summarize information in your own words such that you can easily refer back to them while writing. Not only does this help you understand the text better, but it also reduces the risk of plagiarism.”
3. Outline the essay in bullet points
After doing tons of research, one is often left overwhelmed. This is why it’s a good idea to outline the essay before you start drafting. You don’t have to write complete sentences – bullet points are enough.
Go back to review the essay prompt to understand how you will structure your essay and start outlining, making sure each bullet point captures the main idea of the argument of the section. You should also consider adding examples and evidence as part of the bullet points.
“Your outline is a flexible guide that can be adjusted or modified as you proceed with your writing. Don't hesitate to add or rearrange bullet points as you delve deeper into your research or discover new connections between ideas,” adds Janine.
At the end of this step, you will be left with a comprehensive outline that will serve as a roadmap throughout the writing process.
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4. Follow the rule of three
The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests grouping ideas, arguments, or examples in sets of three within an essay. It helps structure information effectively, maintains a concise flow, and makes the content more engaging.
For example, let's say you are writing an essay about the benefits of regular exercise. Instead of listing numerous advantages in a disorganized manner, you can use the rule of three to create a more compelling paragraph such as:
Regular exercise has numerous benefits, including improved physical health, enhanced mental well-being, and increased longevity.
Shelly, who often uses this tip, says, “Identify the key points or supporting arguments you want to present. Group them into sets of three – look for connections or themes that can naturally group them together. This could involve similarities, contrasts, or a progression of ideas.”
It’s a good idea to use different words, phrases, or perspectives to convey each element within the group of three. This adds variety and keeps your writing engaging.
5. Use the ‘So what?’ technique
As clear as it sounds, this technique prompts you to ask yourselves, ‘So what?’ after making a point or argument, helping you go beyond the surface-level information and delve deeper. It pushes you to provide reasoning to support your arguments and improves the quality of your essay.
“Pause and assess the importance of your point in relation to the essay as a whole. Ask yourself – Does it add depth to your analysis? Does it strengthen your argument? Does it address a key aspect of the topic? If the answer is no, revise or expand upon your point,” says Dan.
6. Stay focused on the main argument
Staying focused on the main argument results in a clear and coherent essay. Every point and piece of evidence you present needs to relate back to the thesis or main argument you’re making.
Doing so helps you present your ideas in a logical and organized manner, making it easier for your professor to follow your thought process.
Olivia has a tip for students struggling with this. “Refer back to your thesis statement regularly while writing each paragraph or section. Ask yourself if the information you include directly supports your main argument. If not, reconsider its relevance or find a way to connect it to the central idea,” she says.
The key is to stay disciplined and avoid including unrelated information and divergent information in the essay.
“Another way to not lose focus is by starting each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that relates to the main argument,” she adds.
7. Use precise language
It is a common misconception among students that academic writing requires the use of complicated words and jargon. However, a successful essay is one that is written in precise and concise language.
Being precise helps you communicate your ideas effectively and adds credibility to your writing, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
Here are some ways to use precise language:
- Use specific words (eg. excellent or remarkable instead of good).
- Use active voice wherever possible.
- Provide specific examples.
- Remove repetitive phrases.
One way to keep this in check is by reading the essay aloud while proofreading. “Read your essay aloud to identify any awkward or unclear phrases. This technique helps you hear how your words sound and can highlight areas where you need to refine your language for greater precision,” advises Raymond.
8. Show, rather than state
Sentence 1: Regular exercise has numerous health benefits.
Sentence 2: According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health, individuals who engage in regular exercise experience a 20% decrease in the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Which sentence catches your attention? Chances are the latter. That’s because it includes evidence and factual information, thereby strengthening the claim. Here are different ways to show, rather than state:
- Present data or statistics;
- Use descriptive and figurative language;
- Add dialogue or direct quotes;
- Create imagery through literary devices;
- Include specific examples.
However, it’s important to use this technique strategically. It’s important to find the right balance between showing and stating to ensure the essay is engaging while conveying the message accurately.
“Determine which parts of your essay would benefit most from showing rather than stating. Typically, this includes key moments, important arguments, or significant experiences that you want to highlight,” says Gemma.
9. Keep it original
Originality is a crucial element in essay writing. After all, the point of essays is to evaluate students’ critical thinking skills, creativity, and ability to share their unique perspectives.
This is another reason why using AI for essays is a bad idea as you end up writing the same old ideas, packaged in a different way.
Bronwyn’s go-to tip for writing original essays is deviating from standard accepted opinions. “To deviate from standard opinions, consult a wide range of sources that offer alternative viewpoints. Engage with diverse perspectives and strive to provide fresh insights to form a more nuanced argument,” she says.
Among a sea of essays, it's crucial to make yours creative and distinct in order to catch your professor's attention and get good grades.
Whether you’re writing for college assignments or admissions, writing a good essay requires a combination of skill, strategy, and authenticity. To master it, you need consistent dedication and practice.
We hope these tips from our expert writers help you write better essays and improve the quality of your writing.
Last edit at Jul 27 2023