College is full of fun and full of challenges. You’ll spend a lot of time during these years studying — and, most likely, a lot of time partying, too. But, for some of us, the challenges of some types of schoolwork are greater than others. And few assignments or tests inspire as much apprehension in students as the college essay.
If you’re not a great essay writer, don’t despair. You can do a lot to improve your writing. Here’s what you need to do and what you need to know.
Plan your attack
Have you heard the expression “measure twice, cut once?” It refers to carpentry, of course, but it has come to mean that planning will save you time and get you better results in all sorts of different areas. Nowhere is that more true than in the world of writing, where poor planning can result in your going way off on a tangent, filling pages with nonsense, and losing the point that you were trying to make in the first place. It will come as no surprise to you that essays that make these sorts of mistakes get bad grades.
Before you begin researching or writing your paper, you need to start thinking about how you’re going to approach the problem. Your plan of attack will depend on what sort of essay you’re writing. Do you need to do research? Have you settled on a topic? Tackle these tasks one at a time.
The actual writing will depend, in particular, on one big piece of planning: the essay outline. Outlining is the most important essay-writing step that writers skip, and you can bet that your professor will notice if you did just that.
A good essay outline will form the skeleton of your paper. It will keep things organized and well-paced. An essay without an outline is an invertebrate: shapeless.
Revise, revise, revise
Jack Kerouac and the rest of the Beat Generation of writers famously viewed their writing as being like jazz: improvisational and temporal. Kerouac and his pals revised as little as possible. But Kerouac wasn’t writing a persuasive essay or a research paper. If you’re going to write a great college essay, you’re going to need to be the anti-Kerouac. You’re going to need to revise, revise, revise!
As you look over your paper, start by looking for the biggest problems. Do entire paragraphs seem convoluted or unnecessary? Is the organization working? (If you did your outline, it hopefully is.)
Then, narrow things down to the sentence level. Seek out and eliminate style mistakes like the passive voice. Finally, do a careful pass for grammar and spelling issues. Some writers like to change the font of their essays to get a fresh look at the line-level issues. Resist the urge to skim. You need to catch those errors!
Collaborate with the experts
The best essay writing isn’t done by writers who work alone. To get a truly great essay, you’ll want to turn to all of the resources that you have available to you: your professor, your school’s writing center, and online essay writing services, to name a few.
Have people you respect — especially experts — read and edit your essay. Look at the changes that they’ve made and, if possible, get their feedback on why those things were changed. Working with others can help you to identify the issues and mistakes that you most frequently run into, which will allow you to tailor your essay-writing efforts in a way that addresses those shortcomings.
Becoming a great essay writer isn’t something that you can do overnight. But if you’re methodical about how you approach essay writing, and if you seek out and heed the advice of the best essay writers and editors, then you’ll start making progress toward conquering the college essay.
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