It’s taken weeks (or maybe a rushed few hours), but you’ve finally got a solid draft of your essay. You’ve spent a lot of late nights with this bad boy, trying to fix your essay and make it good enough to hand in. You’ve read it and re-read it, so what could wrong?
Well, a lot. Because chances are you have might your “I’m finished” goggles on, which could be making you blind to the mistakes of your work.
It’s hard to rewrite when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. To help with that, here are some common trouble spots you can check to help you fix your essay before you actually hand it in.
1. The Intro
Assuming you’re writing a formal essay, you should have four basic things in your introduction:
- What and who you’re writing on (i.e. “The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald…” or vice versa)
- Key observations about the work that support your argument
- Your thesis, stated clearly and concisely
- To say the above in three sentences or less
Example: “The excerpt from Pat Barker’s Regeneration is riddled with imagery and ambiguous allusion, which the author uses to explain Burns’ predicament without ever having to blandly state it. The excerpt is thus powerful and long-lasting in the mind of the reader.”
If you’ve covered at least this much in your introduction, writing the rest of it should be simple provided that you know what you’re going to argue.
2. The Meat and Potatoes
Get straight to the point. Avoid being “pretty”.
Being “pretty” in your writing is when you’re not adding to the point. You’re simply upping the word length of your essay. This is not good. Make your paragraphs compact and straightforward. Focus on the message you’re trying to deliver and you’ll be golden.
You can allow initial sentences and transitions between paragraphs to contain some “prettiness” so long as it leads into your meat and potatoes. Think of the “pretty” stuff as embellishments to the meal. Like parsley or cilantro.
3. The Set-Up
This format makes it easy to fly through and fix your essay with confidence. It’s only 3 steps and a big part of that whole straightforward thing I was telling you about.
- Lay out your points. More specifically, the points of your arguments. Are they relevant? Are they well-written? Can you group some of them together to avoid repetition? Ask yourself these questions. Your points need to vary, but at the same time, they should correlate and strengthen one another. Divvy up your paragraphs based on the parallels in your points.
- Include quotations! For the love of all that is good, use quotes that complement your points. More on this later. These are the proof that your points are actually valid.
- Your thesis. Enforce it using each point and quotation you include. Again. And again. And again. Don’t include anything that contradicts your thesis. More on this later, too.
Just remember: point-proof-analysis. Take these steps for each paragraph you write. Remember to keep these steps to a simple 1-3 sentences each.
Quotes. They will get you everything you want if you use them properly. Demonstrate to your teacher that you read the book, watched the movie, or whatever your task was, even if you have to paraphrase (sometimes this is just as effective as quoting directly from the source).
Example: “…Achilles was either to live long, quietly, and fruitfully, or die young and brilliantly in battle, remembered for eternity.”
If using a direct quote, never leave it standing on its own. Write transitional text before, after, or on both sides of the quotes. You can even use a semicolon to finish your own idea and lead into a relevant quote.
Show that you know the material! Use your source instead of seeking easy answers online. Use both famous and lesser-known quotes to prove yourself. Show your teacher how smart and resourceful you are (because, well, you are).
This one has a “do” and a “don’t” attached to it. Do repeat your thesis once in a while, since it’s the opinion that you need to enforce, validate, and solidify in your reader’s mind. State it at the end of your intro, at the end of each of the points in your paragraphs, and in your conclusion. Just remember to phrase it differently each time so that you (and your teacher) won’t get bored. Instructors want to see that you’re confident in your thesis and arguments.
But please don’t repeat arguments. Unlike with thesis statements, your reader only needs to read your point once to fully absorb it. For instance, if you’re trying to argue that Lady MacBeth wasn’t at all responsible for King Duncan’s death, don’t claim that she was possessed by evil spirits in every single paragraph.
End your work the way you started it; keep it brief, state the material, mention the writer, use key words of your thesis, and create a good punchline-esque final sentence. This will satisfy the “so what?” question that lingers in your reader’s mind throughout the essay. This final statement should be powerful and grave, not wishy-washy and boring. Make it really stand out.
Okay, so to sum this all up:
- Be brief
- Stick to the point
- Follow the 3-step format of point, quotation, and thesis
- Actually use quotations (creatively)
- Repeat your thesis
Hopefully the pain of essay writing has now been eased for you and the task of having to fix your essay is a bit less daunting.
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