Monday, April 6, 2015

A Few Tips on Being a Master Essayist (or at least an adequate one)

Here's something that I don't talk about often on A Splash of Ink: academic writing.

That term might send you running in fear to your latest YA novel. That's certainly my reaction. Um, professor, could I write this in narrative form? What do you mean it's 3000 words long?! What is a critical book review anyways? 

Well, with my first year of university under my belt, I've learned a few things about academic writing (aka the dreaded papers). I written this post of a combination of tips to first of all myself (because I'll forget by September and make the same dumb mistakes) and for you guys, because I wish I had known this stuff earlier.

On Time Management:
Mastering this is the key to your success. Plain and simple. No matter how good of a writer you are, no good papers are written the night before. Believe me, I've been there. Here's how I mastered acquired a few skills in time management:

  • I gave myself at least a week to write a each paper. That meant if I had two papers due the same day, I started the first one two weeks before the deadline in order to have a week left over for the next paper. Writing is a process, not an event. 
  • Each day of the week I had a goal that I had to accomplish to stay on track. 
Monday: light research/brainstorm
Tuesday: write thesis statement/start finding concrete sources to support the paper, write down some page numbers/quotes
Wednesday: get a complete outline with points, sources and quotes
Thursday: start writing
Friday: keep writing
Saturday: finish writing, take a break, start revising
Sunday: finish revising, do a grammar edit, check formatting and record your sources properly.
  •  Something I learned about daily goals: DO NOT use time goals (e.g. I will write for two hours today), because spending two hours writing does not mean you will have gotten anywhere (and let's be real, an hour of that time will be spent on the internet with your Word document open in the screen beside it). 

On Writing: 
The tips for this section are a bit harder to pin down, but I'll do my very best. The way you write is the mortar that will connect the bricks of your argument. If you can't coherently present an idea then your brilliant points will be lost. Here's a few tips that contributed to my writing skills.

  • I stopped writing the five paragraph essay. This is the first idea that I had to get rid of. Each idea got its own paragraph. Some ideas need to be broken down into more manageable chunks. Paragraphs shouldn't be pages long. 
  • Every paragraph, sentence and point needs to support the thesis. Every word I wrote needed to relate back to supporting the thesis. It was my job to not only present the points that supported the thesis, but analyze them and explain why they supported the thesis. If you're arguing that dogs are the best pets, it's not enough to just state the evidence that 90% of the families in your city have had multiple dogs*. After using this evidence you need to explain how it supports the thesis. For example: It's clear that families prefer dogs, because they have not only made them a part of their family once, but they've seen the benefits and wanted to increase them by getting another dog. The connection might seem obvious, but always assume the reader won't make the connection. 
  • Conclusions are not a rehashing of the introduction paragraph. A conclusion should begin with a reworked thesis, but it shouldn't repeat the same information as the introduction. This paragraph should be used as a place to place your argument in the wider world and reiterate the importance of it. The conclusion can also lend itself to be a springboard to larger arguments that can be made about your topic. And yes, this is hard, but if you think about it, you will get it.
*This is made up. I don't discriminate against the cat-lovers out there.

This list is by no means extensive, but I wanted to share a few of my most useful tips. My essay writing skills are always evolving, and I'm ALWAYS learning with every type of paper that I write. Hopefully these tips have helped you a little bit. Let me know your super awesome tricks to getting those coveted "A"s on your essays in the comments.

Reading: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Listening: Giselle
Watching: Gilmore Girls


  1. "After using this evidence you need to explain how it supports the thesis.(...) The connection might seem obvious, but always assume the reader won't make the connection." Also, that's how you bulk up your word count! XD hehe great post! I'm writing a paper as we speak...its not as hard as yours sound, tho! X)

    1. Hehe, word count is basically my worst enemy. I'm ALWAYS over or under, never spot on. Sometimes I just can't think of anything extra to say on the topic!

      Good luck with your paper!

  2. Essays are a tricky thing for me because I work my butt off and usually, when I do, I get okay grades [93-95?] but for essays, my marks are ALWAYS lower than I think they're going to be. I have no idea why. maybe i'm not as good as I try to be or my points aren't as well backed up as my picky English teachers want them to be. Nevertheless, this post was so helpful! Thank you (:

    1. Essays are always so subjective. It can be super hard to know what a teacher wants and what kind of style they prefer. I always just try to support my point in the strongest way I can, and hope for the best.

      Glad that my post helped a little!

  3. I actually enjoy writing essays for contests and magazines, but not so much for school because grades get met stressed out. I agree that time management and breaking the process of essay writing into multiple steps is very important. Usually when I'm in school, my teacher breaks up the process for me, but for contests or magazines, I have to do it myself. It helps SO MUCH. Awesome post, Sunny!

    1. Thanks! I'm so glad that I could help you out. It's always good to learn how to do things on your own:)

  4. I think this is very important, just because I'm in the habit of five-page essays. All my college prep is AP, which requires writing an essay in forty minutes. This is a good process for writing essays; I hope when I get to college I'll be able to figure out my own system relatively fast!

      All semester teachers tell you that essay writing shouldn't be done the night before, in one sitting, but come exams they expect you to write a quality paper in an hour. Ack, it's my pet peeve and I needed to rant about it for a minute, tehe.

      I hope that these tips help you! I'm sure that you'll get into your college essay writing habits quickly. I definitely did:)

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. SuperPayMe is a very recommended work from home website.


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