Writing essays is unavoidable in any school setting. Essays are long, tiring and intimidating, which means they’re usually put off until the last minute. If you’re mere hours away from a deadline with barely a page worth of words, fear not! From one expert procrastinator to another, here are a few tips to help you write a good, if not great, essay.
Create an outline
It can take quite a bit of strength to summon up the courage to finally start writing an essay. So start simple and break down the required 7 or so pages into an outline. Get out a piece of paper or—more commonly—a word doc, and type out:
- The thesis statement — included in your intro
- List of paragraphs — usually five or more
- Arguments — one for each paragraph
- Examples for each argument — as many as you can find
- Conclusion — restating the thesis statement
Keep this outline on a separate page/word doc as you write. Refer back to it to make sure you’ve got everything. Add notes, reminders, quotes, or anything else you might need. Since this is basically a rough draft, you don’t have to use proper sentences and grammar, it’s just for you. It actually helps to write this outline in slang—complete with cussing and inside jokes. Just make sure you don’t copy and paste them into your finalized essay.
Write a strong thesis
The absolute worst part of essay writing is also the most crucial element. The thesis statement. The thesis statement sets up your entire essay so if it isn’t good, then the rest of the paper will follow suit. This is the main point that you will be arguing throughout the essay. It must be detailed, direct, specific, and unique. You need to be able to back it up with actual evidence.
For example, you can’t just declare that Robinson Crusoe is the most boring book ever written. You have to provide substance. Turn that into Robinson Crusoe touches upon subjects that are no longer necessary in today’s society. See? Sounds smart but you’re essentially saying the same thing. Add some fancy adjectives and you’re good to go.
In my first-year English class, my TA gave a handout that explained how to write a proper thesis. Included on that handout was this thesis model:
*By looking at how____ we can see that____. This is important because____.
I kid you not when I say that this model saved my essay-writing life. As an English major, I probably wrote more than five essays a semester. That’s a whole lot.
Here’s how it works. In the first blank, insert the specific part in the novel/experiment that you want to delve into. In the second blank, identify what that specific part shows. The third blank is for the reason why the part you chose is important. Here you ask yourself, so what? I chose to write about how the migration of monarchs affects the whales in the ocean, but so what? Why is it important? How do monarchs and whales relate to a larger argument? (I’m making this up. I don’t know what monarchs and whales have to do with each other.)
At the conclusion of your essay, try to bring your argument full circle. Come back to your initial argument/thesis statement and basically say, “so that’s why I’m writing this.”
*Of course, your thesis statement is not going to look exactly like this model. You can’t use the “I” and “we” pronouns in an academic essay. This is just a way to get you going. Editing comes later.
Underline and highlight
Now that you’ve got your outline and rough thesis statement, you have to search for that evidence. You’re a detective with a hunch and now you have to prove that you’re on the right track. If this is an English essay and you’re writing on a novel, then that means you have to flip through some 300-page monster to find specific passages you can include as quotes.
To save time, as you read the book—assuming that you actually do the class readings—keep a pencil with you. Underline things that stand out, even if you don’t know what you’ll be writing about later on. Note page numbers and use sticky notes to mark significant passages.
Even when going through textbooks, highlight certain facts you find interesting or crucial. It may seem a bit much, but future essay-writing-you will appreciate it when they don’t have to leaf through their books frantically looking for things to write about.
Edit and proofread
Always, I repeat always, leave time to edit your essay before handing it in. You don’t want to be like me, raccoon-eyed at 3 AM with no will power left to check if my essay even makes sense, let alone realize I misspelled environment fifteen times.
Check for spelling, run-on sentences, and holes in your argument. With spelling, it’s usually the small words that go unnoticed by you and autocorrect, resulting in a lot of lost marks. Some common ones are:
Check your references
Lastly, make sure your references, in-text citations and work-cited pages are in order. It sounds awful but if you mess up any of these, there’s a high chance of your grade falling and you might just end up plagiarizing. Yes, plagiarism. That thing your teachers always warn you to stay away from like the plague. There are plenty of online resources that help when citing sources. For that reason, you could use a bibliography generator or write them yourself.
Make sure you’re using the correct format consistently—MLA, APA, Chicago… whatever your professor told you to use. While writing your essay, keep track of all the sources you’ve included. I suggest keeping a separate doc (maybe with your outline) with links to each source or the name of each book.
Overall (a good word to start the last paragraph of your essay with), like any other task, once you get started, it’ll all fall into place. Just stop procrastinating and open up that word doc.
A $50,000 Student prize bundle is up for grabs
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.