Writing an essay is nobody’s idea of a good time, and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid in college. This task can seem especially daunting for first-year students who now have to face more stringent standards than they’re used to. Thankfully, writing essays — and writing them well — gets easier with practice. Here are four tips to help you kick butt on that upcoming term paper.
Keep Your Outline Flexible
Whether you choose to draw a mind map or stick to a more linear type of outline, keeping your plan flexible is key. Leave more space on the page than you think you need for each section. Your outline will start out fairly basic and become more detailed when you research your topic. You should be able to easily add facts as you find them or cross out notes that no longer seem relevant.
Does all your supporting evidence work against your thesis instead of with it? Don’t be afraid to modify things! The planning stage is all about finding the best ideas and making sure they fit together well. When you have a strong argument from the start, the writing stage will be that much simpler.
Write the Body First
Although you can write your essay in whatever order you choose, many students prefer to write the body first. The body is the portion of the essay with all the quotations, statistics, and any other facts or arguments. It’s also the portion that undergoes the most revision. Because the introduction and conclusion are based on the body, any changes to it will force you to adapt the rest of your paper. Try writing the introduction and conclusion last to save yourself some time.
Cut Out Fluff
Be ruthless with your editing, and remove anything that doesn’t add value. Each point should relate directly to your main argument. It can be easy to lose focus and go on tangents or add anecdotes, so watch out for them. Maybe you couldn’t resist mentioning that “Hamlet” has been translated into Klingon. It’s a cool fact, but your English essay probably isn’t the best place for it.
Ideally, you should take a 24-hour study break after you’ve written the rough draft. You’ll be able to catch mistakes more easily when you read your paper with fresh eyes.
Follow the Writing Guidelines
Depending on which course you’re taking, you’ll have to follow the style guidelines. APA style and MLA style are commonly used, but certain courses may use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Basically, these rules tell you how to properly format quotations, citations, page numbers, and more. Check your course syllabus to find out which style guide you should use, and make sure to follow it. It would really suck to lose marks just because your margins aren’t the right size.
Incorporate these tips the next time you write an essay, and see if they help improve your grade. If you still need more help, make sure to check out your on-campus academic resources.