If you don’t have a lot of experience in essay writing, it can be hugely intimidating. A thousand words! Do you know how many letters that is? How am I ever supposed to put that many of them together into any kind of a cohesive story without spending a huge chunk on my life on it or running the risk of slitting my wrists?
You’ll be happy to know it’s entirely possible. Students around the world do so regularly and without any risk of suicide. To do so, they will often use a number of tricks that make the whole process a great deal easier. Let’s look at some of the best ones here.
The elevator pitch
Your essay is only as good as the ideas that go into it. So, before you start writing, make sure that you’ve got the base argument down to a T. The best way to do so, is to get it down to an elevator pitch. That’s basically what you would say the essay was about when you only have one elevator ride to explain it to somebody.
Spend some time on refining this pitch. Because if you make sure that you’ve got this done before you start writing, then it’s far less likely that you’ll drift off topic as you’re writing. You can just think ‘does this advance the pitch that I wrote out initially?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, you shouldn’t include it.
From outline to the full thing
Once you’ve gotten the hang of writing essays and understand the inherent structure, then you can often just sit down and write the thing without having to think about it too hard. But that’s definitely not how you should start out. To just start writing without any kind of plan risks ending up with an essay that’s not long enough or far longer than it needs to be.
More damning still, you’ll often find yourself drifting off topic and ending up with an essay that wanders around like an alcoholic blind man. This is sure to frustrate you, your teachers and your grades.
A much better system is to use the essay outline. In fact, it is entirely possible to work your way from the outline to the final version, by adding more details as you go through. This is how you do it:
• Write your thesis or the main point you want to make.
• Divide this into an introduction, where you’ll explain your thesis and why it’s important and your conclusion, where you explain if you’ve found support for your argument (just a few lines for each will do at this point).
• Find the arguments you’ll use to get from the intro to your conclusion and write them out as bullet points. About 80% of your text will be made up those arguments, so make sure you have enough. It can help to write how many words each argument will approximately be.
• Further sub-divide each of these arguments into the steps that you’ll need to make it. Basically, this is a repetition of the above three points in small.
• Flesh out each section until it’s complete and you’ve hit your word count.
• Think of a title and hand in your essay.
The best arguments are rarely your own
The most convincing essays are the ones which incorporate the ideas and arguments of other people. The reason this works so well is because then you’re borrowing the authority of other people to boost the power of your own.
This works particularly well if you’ve actually got authority figures in the field that you’re writing about who are saying something that supports your position. So, when you’re researching your essay, always be on the lookout for such arguments. It works best if you can quote them verbatim (as in, use their actual words) and then attribute them correctly. Of course, you can also summarize the gist of what you say.
Don’t take this too far, though
A lot of beginning essay writers end up simply repeating what authorities have said before them without adding anything of their own. These kinds of ‘he said, she said’ articles are easy enough to spot as they spend most of their time simple recounting what one person said and how other people responded to them.
Don’t do that. That’s almost never the assignment you’ve been given. If your professors or teachers wanted to know what somebody famous said about something, they can go straight to the source. They’re not after a translation reviews. Instead, they want to hear what you’ve got to add that makes your essay worth reading.
The clue is to ask yourself ‘which idea in this essay has not been explored before?’ If you can’t answer that, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
The second look
The biggest problem with writing an essay is that you lose sight of the forest through the trees, which means that you lose sight of what you’re trying to do overall because you’re too close to everything.
The solution is to take a step back. Once you’ve written your essay, or at least most if it, you’re best off taking a break, going to do something else, and then returning to it. This will give you fresh eyes which will make it far more likely that you’re actually going to see what you wrote, instead of what you thought you did. This can help you find strangely constructed sentences, meandering points, or even grammar and spelling mistakes.
To be able to take this second look, though, you need to give yourself enough time. The best way to do that is not to try to do everything at the last minute. I know that’s hard and that procrastination is an art form, but trying to do everything at the last minute might feel exhilarating, but ultimately means that you’re going to deliver a product which isn’t as good as it could be. And that’s a shame considering how much work you have to put into the essays you’re writing.
Essay writing is a skill
If you’re not a very good essay writer, there’s good news. You can get better. If you practice and you learn from your mistakes (by reading the feedback that your teachers give you, for example) then you’ll improve and it will get easier.
So, don’t despair. Instead, keep at it and see each essay as an opportunity to get better. In that way, you’ll keep learning and you’ll be able to turn the power of writing to your advantage not just throughout school but your entire life.