Essay Writing Strategies

Top Essay Writing Strategies

How to Read an Assignment

When you receive an assignment, normally you are asked to show that you have read and fully understand the course material and assignments. Putting the time into understanding the source material that your course has given you will give you a significant advantage in understanding assignments, because you will have a proper understanding of the questions which will be asked.

Be sure to keep on track when it comes to assignments. Keep in mind that discussion and analysis both form the best path into finding the interesting problems at the heart of your assignment. Understanding one problem will help in understanding the next, and so on and so forth. There is a problem with this though, in that, working on an essay argument like this can mean that you end up getting caught in a huge feedback loop of problems. Keep your eye on the assignment at hand, and make sure that you are always linking them to any previous and future assignments. Being able to see the current assignment as part of the larger whole is something which will help you understand things in the course as a whole. Essay writing is helped by people understanding that they should set limits on their own ideas.

Moving from Assignment to Topic

Academic writing is something which can be very intimidating, particularly if you aren’t used to it. Writer’s block is quite common as a response to being overwhelmed, and it can lead to people not being able to fulfil the assignment because they are unable to understand it. Rather than treating something as if it is a full assignment, break it down into more manageable steps – this will make the entire process much easier. It also gives the added benefit that, if something in the assignment goes wrong, the writer can look back through the entire process to see where exactly they went wrong, and fix that specific step.

Moving from an assignment to a topic in writing an essay means being able to focus on individual answers within the overall assignment – so instead of looking for overall research, people can research one specific part of it, like the first paragraph in an assignment which deals with the Stuart dynasty as it existed in England. Using topics allows people to break assignments down into more manageable chunks that they can work through methodically, as well as showing them ways to structure the essay to form the best arguments possible.

Essay Structure

Writing an academic essay is something which is quite regimented, so it is easy enough to pick up what is needed. Yes, some of the nuances change, such as the use of formal language versus informal language, or the way in which the body paragraphs are laid out, but overall, things are relatively stable.

To structure an essay, writers will need an introduction, a conclusion, and three to five body paragraphs (if the assignment is the normal size). Beyond that, it needs a thesis statement which can appear in the introduction and the conclusion, and which ties into each separate paragraph in a meaningful way. Each body paragraph should be concerned with one specific piece of research, and it should have a topic sentence to introduce it, and a concluding sentence to help lead it seamlessly into the next paragraph and discussion.

When drafting your essay, you need to keep in mind that the entire argument has to flow cohesively throughout your writing. One point should naturally follow the next in your overall argument, leading people through the essay until they agree with your viewpoint at the end. A choppy essay will convince fewer people of your argument’s merits overall.

How to Construct a Thesis

A thesis statement is the summation of your argument in one or two sentences, and is there to inform people reading your academic essay what the subject is. The best theses can be said to be made up of two parts – the part which lets people know what your argument is, and the part which lets people know how that argument will be made.

A thesis statement is not something which can be boiled down to a yes or no answer – it should be something which encourages debate and thought, otherwise why would it be worthy of an essay on the subject? Thesis statements are not topics, but they do introduce them – this is why many people find themselves rewriting their thesis statements once they have actually written their essays – the statement no longer covers all the topics. Likewise, while the purpose of writing most essays is to try and persuade people to come to your point of view, a thesis statement is not an opinion, and it should not be phrased as such.

Examples of good thesis statements are as follows:

  • Fast food should not be consumed regularly as it leads to many debilitating yet preventable diseases.

  • Homeless people should be given safe access to services and supplies, as this would greatly improve the lives of everyone in the city.

  • Second hand smoke is as bad as smoking itself, and people don’t consent to breathe it. Smoking in public should be banned entirely.

  • Earth cannot be saved – we should focus our efforts on colonising Mars, where we can plan to avoid issues such as global warming.

  • Government surveillance does more harm than good, and is an invasion of civil rights. The NSA’s actions should not be condoned.

Opening Strategies for Essay Writing

Every academic essay needs a good introduction – a paragraph to lay out what will happen in the essay, contain the thesis statement, and give any initial pieces of information which people need to know before they read the essay itself.

Good strategies for essay introductions include having a hook somewhere in the first sentence to try and entice people to keep reading. They also include having a thesis statement which fulfils all the criteria of a good thesis statement by simultaneously giving readers an idea of the topic, and an idea of the essay which will discuss the topic. Essays are short and to the point, and keep things clear.

How to Outline your Essay

Outlining an essay is a matter of sitting down with a sheet of paper and deciding what you want to have in your essay. Outlines are not set in stone – you don’t need to stick to it if a better idea occurs to you – but they are very valuable to have for anybody who is writing. Outlines can serve as a way to try out different essay structures, to write down important quotes which you want to include in the finished work, and to make sure that you include every element that is needed. Even if you don’t end up writing the essay exactly the same way as you put it down in the outline, it can still serve as a useful checklist for essay editing, when you need to double check whether everything is there.

A basic outline would look something like this:

Introduction

Thesis statement: fast food should not be consumed regularly as it leads to many debilitating yet preventable diseases.

Include some information about statistics? Hook – X% people die each year from xyz.

Body Paragraph One

High cholesterol – fast food is prepared with lots of salt and fat, which can be very bad for overall health, and can lead to high cholesterol (brief explanation of cholesterol)

Body Paragraph Two

Heart disease – fatty foods can lead to heart disease, as fat builds up round the heart and makes it harder for the blood to flow evenly.

Body Paragraph Three

A more sedentary lifestyle and the dangers of this, including statistics and how fast food fits in.

Conclusion

Restate the thesis statement and sum up the arguments made in the essay.

How to Write Counter-Arguments

Using counter-arguments in your own essays serves a variety of purposes. First, it allows you to take the most common argument against the position you are defending, and show how that argument wouldn’t work. Second, you can use the counter-argument to strengthen the arguments you yourself are making, since including it makes it seem as though you are more informed. Having a counter-argument gives the essay an appearance of thorough research, as it includes multiple points of view.

To write a counter-argument, make sure that you have thoroughly researched the arguments surrounding the issue, and pick one which you think has the most information to work with. When actually writing, imagine that you have been talking about the subject of your essay to someone outside of yourself, and that they are not entirely convinced with your line of reasoning. They might bring up an argument such as the one which you have chosen for your counter-argument. The body paragraph in your essay is your answer to that argument – make it count. Write the counter-argument in the same way as your other arguments to make sure that everything is explained thoroughly, and that will give you the best results.

How to Make Transitions between Different Parts of the Essay

The introduction and the conclusion are differentiated enough from the rest of the essay that transitions between them are usually unnecessary. Where transitions come in very useful is in the body paragraphs – for two separate reasons. One reason is that good transitions show people how the argument is progressing, and helps them to move from one argument to the next while taking everything in. The other reason is that it helps to differentiate between the separate arguments the essay is making.

Transitions between body paragraphs are called either topic sentences (when they appear at the start of a paragraph), or concluding sentences (when they appear at the end). Topic sentences let people know what the rest of the argument presented in the paragraph will be, while concluding sentences round the paragraph off, and also help to lead from that particular argument to the one which will be presented in the next paragraph.

How to Conclude your Writing

The conclusion is one of the hardest parts of an essay to write, since it has so much riding on it. It needs to sum up the entire argument, and it needs to make one final attempt to persuade people that the point of view discussed in the essay is correct. The conclusion has to be very specific about what it is doing, in order to fit with the rest of the essay. The conclusion is something which also has to show people that the arguments have come to their conclusion through the writing used, and the types of phrasing. It needs to have the thesis statement repeated in it, to ensure that people know what the argument was, and it needs to have everything pulled together coherently for the final argument to be made.

How to Edit your Essay

  • Read it aloud – reading your essay out loud can show you if it flows nicely, and if the phrasing sounds awkward or not. Make sure to pay attention to see if there are any missed words along the way
  • Make sure every word is there for a reason – filler has no place in a good essay. Every word should serve a purpose
  • Try to use the best language – the best language can really elevate your essay to something beyond what it would otherwise be
  • Avoid jargon – too much jargon or official language can make an essay stilted. Try to strike a balance between a formal tone and pomposity
  • Use tough love – sometimes sentences no longer fit, and they are often the ones we like best. Be tough, and take them out if they no longer fit
  • Avoid repetition – try to avoid using the same words, phrases, and sentence structure over and over again. It is glaring, and will take people’s attention away from your argument
  • Watch out for clichés – clichés are clichés for a reason, but that is no reason to include them in your essay. Try not to rely on them – they are old and worn out
  • Avoid the word but – but should be used very rarely, and then only when talking about a counter-argument
  • Don’t use quotes too much – too many quotes can look like you are overcompensating for not enough to work with. Stick to one lengthy quote a page, and a few smaller ones
  • Use all your verbs – instead of relying on the verb to be, try and make sure that you use other verbs.
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