how to improve essay writing
There is, however, so much good advice out there that given you know where to look, you can go from scared stiff to wondering what you ever had to fear in an instant. Simply follow these tips to improve essay writing, and perfectly-crafted essays will be flying from your laptop and into your tutor’s hands before you even know what’s happening.
Before you even start writing a single word, stop and consider whether the angle you are taking is as original as possible or if you can put a different spin on it. A good rule of thumb is to just avoid overused topics that are frequently written about all together, and if something has been said better before, to leave it unsaid.
- Tom tossed the ball (active)
- The ball was tossed by Tom (passive)
A key tip to improving your writing skills is that everything should be in the present tense. It doesn’t matter that you read the book last week, or that the author wrote it a century ago. Write about the characters and events as though they exist in the here and now. This is one of those conventions that is just easier to accept than to question.
How you use language is important, especially in academic essay writing. When writing an academic essay, remember that you are trying to persuade others that you are an expert who can make an intelligent argument. Using big words just to sound smart often results in the opposite effect—it is easy to detect when someone is overcompensating in their writing. If you aren’t sure of the exact meaning of a word, you risk using it incorrectly. Using obscure language can also take away from the clarity of your argument—you should consider this before you pull out that thesaurus to change that perfectly good word to something completely different.
Grammar, style, and punctuation are incredibly important if you want your research to be understood and taken seriously. Before writing an essay, make sure you have a solid understanding of basic grammar. Grammar basics include verb and subject agreement, proper article and pronoun usage, and well-formed sentence structures. Make sure you know the proper uses for the most common forms of punctuation. Be mindful of your comma usage and know when a period is needed. Finally, in academic essay writing, voice is important. Try to use the active voice instead of the passive whenever possible (e.g., “this study found” instead of “it was found by this study”). This will make the tone of your essay stronger. Ensure your language is concise. Avoid transition words that don’t add anything to the sentence and unnecessary wordiness that detracts from your argument.
We’ve mentioned this on a previous article on essay writing, but it seems pertinent to mention it here too. Essays are a chance for you to show off how widely read you are, so make sure you quote other people’s opinions, and original sources, on what you’re writing about. For example, if you were to write a history essay on early religious practices in Britain, you could quote original texts on that topic (such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and also mention what a range of modern scholars have to say about the topic. Contrasting views should be sought; it’s unlikely that everyone agrees on the topic, so show you’ve looked at all the possible angles.
For each of the subjects you’re studying, start a page in a notebook for important people in that field, with a summary of when they lived and what their views are. That way, you’ll have something to refer to when you’re writing an essay and want to consult appropriate scholars or other writers whose opinions you might wish to include.
Don’t quote too much; mix citations with your own opinions so that it doesn’t look as though you have to hide behind other people’s words. It’s fine to disagree with a scholar you quote, provided you can give evidence and reasoning for doing so. This shows that you have thought about it and made your own mind up, rather than blindly accepting what that scholar has said; this demonstrates strong critical reasoning skills, one of the hallmarks of brilliant students.
A good vocabulary will allow you to express exactly what you mean, as clearly and concisely as possible. Economy with words is a characteristic of all good essays, because readers (and essay-markers) don’t like having their time wasted with long, rambling points that could have been expressed in half the number of words.
One way of ensuring that you can communicate clearly and to the point is through accurate and effective use of advanced vocabulary. A good essay writer should never rest on their laurels when it comes to vocabulary; it’s something you should be working on continually, as there are always new words to learn that could help convey a point more effectively. What’s more, deploying a good vocabulary displays intelligence and allows you to be more persuasive in your essay-writing. Here are some ways in which you can build your vocabulary:
– Subscribe to a ‘word a day’ email (such as this one from Merriam-Webster). Create a folder in your email account for new word emails, so that you can file each email away and have them all in one place ready to flick through and learn from in an idle moment.
– Read widely, and refer to a dictionary for words you don’t know as you go along; this way, you’ll learn the new word as well as seeing it in context so you know how to use it properly. Read different genres of fiction, and non-fiction covering a range of topics, and you’ll have the added bonus of widening your general knowledge as well as your vocabulary.
– Use a thesaurus – if you find yourself using the same words over and over again, add variety to your language by looking up those words in a thesaurus and finding other words that mean the same thing. A word of warning: words you find in a thesaurus can’t always be used interchangeably; even words with similar meanings can differ subtly in a way that makes them inappropriate in certain contexts, so find examples of a word used correctly before you use a new word for the first time.
– Learn prefixes, suffixes and roots – it sounds boring, but this shortcut will help you learn a great many more words. Many roots come from Latin and Greek words, such as “bene” in Latin, meaning “good”, which gives rise to words such as “benefactor”, “benevolent” and “benefit”. It’s often possible to deduce the meaning of a new word if you know its root and read it in context. Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word to change the meaning, such as “semi” or “ante”, while suffixes are added to the end, such as “-able” or “-ance”.
– Start a vocabulary book – you probably have one if you’re learning a foreign language, so why not have one for your native language as well? Buy yourself a nice notepad and use it to collect new words and their meanings. The act of writing down the definition will help you remember it, and you could include an example of how the word is used to increase your chances of memorising it for use in essays. It may help to have different sections for words on particular themes; you could have a general section, and then further parts of the notebook could be dedicated to words of use in history essays, science essays and so on.
A 3.5 paper is a type of essay that organizes and presents your topic in a clear, well-supported, and complete way.
A three-point five paragraph paper, also called a 3.5 paper, is a type of essay that includes five paragraphs and three main ideas, or points: