At most points of a person’s life, it can often feel as though there is nothing more daunting than a blank page. Or, to be more specific, a blank page upon which you have to write five-to-ten double-spaced pages of a clear argument, thesis, and conclusion, all of which are related to and build upon one another, that you will also be receiving a grade that judges its worth. You know, like, an essay.
While I have finished with my conventional schooling, I now write content for the internet as my career, which basically means that I have homework every single day and will continue to until I die, probably. It never ends! Still, this amount of writing has lessened the power of the anxiety that a blank document used to instill in me. While your teachers will say that writing essays and research papers is different from writing listicles for the web, this is not actually the case. (I know this to be true because I majored in English at a top 25 university, and very few people will tell you this, but all that entails is just writing the same essay for Mrs. Dalloway over and over again.) Anyway, check out these essay writing tips you need if you want to get through the rest of the semester:
Don't Bite Off More Than You Can ChewWhen you're picking out a topic for, say, a five-page paper, don't pick the entire history of China or Shakespeare's whole body of work. While it can be tempting to pick a broad topic--you'll have so much to write about!--doing so will be overwhelming and, ultimately, unsuccessful, since you'll be so distracted by all of the information you have to work with that the paper won't really be cohesive. Instead, do some research beforehand and pick a subtopic that you're interested in learning more about. Even better, run the topics by your teacher or professor before you start it. They'll be able to give you a good idea as to whether or not the idea has to ability to translate to a paper. Image source: iStock
Deconstruct The FormulaMost essays follow a thesis-paragraph-paragraph-paragraph-conclusion formula. This varies, of course, but if your teacher has specified that they want a paper in this format, you can use this to your advantage. Writing an outline of bullet points for each specific section is an easy way to break down the paper and make it appear less daunting. Once you've finished that, all you need to do is fill in the holes, add some embellishments, and you've got a first draft. Image source: iStock
Write Down A PlanYou should never go into an essay or research paper totally cold. It's annoying, but try to write out some sort of plan before you start. This could be a general brainstorm or an outline that follows the intro-paragraph-conclusion, but either way, you'll definitely want something to follow along from rather than just trying to write out an entire paper from scratch. Plus, teachers can usually tell when there was planning done (the paper will seem organized) as opposed to a paper that had no planning put into it (it will not seem organized). Image source: iStock
Start ASAPUnfortunately, planning an essay means that you'll have to start at a time that isn't eleven PM the night before a paper is due. You know yourself best, so you know how long you'll need--some people do work better under a little bit of pressure--but a good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least a day for each page you're supposed to have in the paper, plus a couple extra on each end for planning and editing. Plus, as someone who used to write a lot of literal eleventh-hour papers (do as I say, not as I do), giving yourself some time to breathe will alleviate a lot of the existential dread and anxiety that can come from a last-minute paper.Image source: iStock
Don't Beat Yourself Up Over A First DraftAnother reason why starting a paper early is so important is that it gives you time to actually have a first draft. Once you have your notes together, try to let your ideas flow out. Don't get stuck on little mechanical issues or trying to make it perfect--the hardest part of writing a paper is often just getting whatever idea you have in your head onto the page, so you should try to let it flow out rather than backtracking. Once you've done that, you can go back and edit it. Image source: iStock
Always Stick To Third PersonBasically, never say "you" and only rarely say "I." Your teacher will specify if they want anything otherwise (and listen to them over me, obviously) but, for the most part, essays suffer from use of first or second person. While it's usually fine to say "In this essay I will argue that X, Y, and Z," saying things like "I believe" and "I think" weakens the overall argument. Likewise, referring to the reader as "you" comes across as unprofessional.Image source: iStock
Use Quotes To Back Up Any Claim You MakeUse Quotes To Back Up Any Claim You Make For this piece of advice, I turn to--as I often do--the noted scholar Kimberly Kardashian West. Remember how, in the great Taylor Swift Takedown of 2016, she entered the fray with so much hard, concrete evidence that it was basically impossible to prove that she was wrong? Like Kim, you should never enter an essay without a similar amount of receipts. If you're arguing that, I don't know, Boo Radley is actually the villain of To Kill A Mockingbird (don't argue this) you better have a bunch of quotes from the text as to why you think that is the case, as well as your own argument to back it up. Also, you don't want to just dump a bunch of quotes into an essay without any context. State your argument, put down the quote, and explain why that is relevant to your argument and entire paper. Once you've done that, that's a paragraph. Do that enough times, and that's an essay. See? You can do that.Image source: iStock
Get A Second Set Of Eyes On ItIf you can, try to have someone else read your paper before you turn it in. This can be your parents, a roommate, or someone at the writing center, if your school has one. This means that you're making yourself vulnerable, it is true, but having an editor is really important to point out errors or flaws in your argument that you wouldn't have noticed on your own. Image source: iStock If you really don't want to have someone else read it--or simply don't have time--try to read it aloud to yourself. This will help you pick up on small grammatical and spelling errors that you might have missed before, plus any sentences or phrases that don't flow as well as they should.
Is it hard for you to write school essays? Do you have any good tips? Let us know in the comments!