Your professors will always judge you on the quality of your essays. Sometimes this is all they’ve got. They don’t always get a fair impression of all their students simply because not everyone participates in class.
If you need a quick boost to your grade and to your professor’s opinion of your intellectual abilities, here are the
10 Essay Writing Tips to Improve Your Grade Quickly
Essay writing tip #1. Get to the point early
The way most so-called experts teach writing the introductory paragraph doesn’t really work. They tell you to get to the point at the end of your first paragraph.
But this doesn’t help you or the reader.
The introduction ends up being a bunch of fluff. And then the final sentence containing the main point is just left there gasping for air.
They teach it because that’s how they were taught. We tend to accept our teachers’ methods as gospel.
But don’t fall into this trap when it comes to writing introductory paragraphs.
Here’s what you should do instead.
Write your complete thesis statement first. It should include your main and supporting points. For example:
“I love the summer because it’s warm, fun, and care-free.”
This is a perfect thesis statement because it’s crystal clear – both to the writer and to the reader – what this essay is about.
Not only that, but it’s also crystal clear how the essay will proceed. It will include the discussion of the summer in terms of the weather, activities, and freedom.
Anything that precedes this statement just doesn’t give anybody a clear idea of the content of the essay.
So, present your thesis and supporting ideas early and directly. Just be direct. You don’t need a long preamble.
That said, I still advise my students to write one introductory sentence. Just one, two max. Your teachers and professors expect you to write an introduction, so by all means do.
Just make it a very succinct statement that focuses your reader on the real subject which is coming in the next sentence – your thesis.
Here’s how I would introduce our thesis about the summer:
“Not all seasons are created equal. I love the summer because it’s warm, fun, and care-free.”
The first sentence is introductory, and the second is the actual thesis. And this works just fine. No need to spend a whole paragraph talking about fluff just to get to the main point.
Essay writing tip #2. Limit your use of the phrases “There is” and “There are”
If you learn to write expository essays without using these phrases, your sentences will automatically become more elegant. Consider the difference:
“There are many people who want to gain muscle.”
“Many people want to gain muscle.”
The first one is longer; the second one – shorter and more elegant. You can usually improve your sentence a lot just by shortening it.
But using these phrases presents another problem. You see, a sentence must contain a Subject and a Verb.
When you start a sentence with “There is” or “There are,” you take the focus away from the actual Subject and Verb. Let me illustrate.
Here is our example sentence again:
“There are many people who want to gain muscle.”
In this sentence, the word “There” is the subject. And the word “are” is the verb.
But what are the real subject and verb in this sentence?
This sentence is really about “people” who “want to gain muscle.”
So, by getting rid of the phrase “There are,” you make your sentence a lot stronger because now you are talking about the actual subject.
Essay writing tip #3. Avoid fancy words
Whenever you write a word whose meaning is not perfectly clear to you, you risk coming across as a total newbie in writing.
When a fancy word you just used doesn’t quite work in a particular sentence, your professor or grader will notice that.
Use the words you know.
Writing in plain English is wonderful because it feels great to write and to read. When you use your own words, you just make much better sense.
And you don’t have to struggle, trying to find fancy words.
Let me give you an example. The following sentence is from an essay about family values and not spending enough time together as a family:
“They engage in family discussions for solely 10 minutes every day.”
The word “solely” really means “exclusively.” It doesn’t really work in this sentence. Here is an example of this word used correctly:
“My dentist is solely responsible for the decay of my tooth.”
In this sentence, the dentist is the only person responsible for the decay. The connotation is exclusivity, not scarcity.
But the writer is trying to convey that the family does not spend enough time together. The connotation here is scarcity. So, the word “only” would work much better here:
“They engage in family discussions for only 10 minutes every day.”
It is a subtle difference but an important one. The word “solely” is less common than the word “only.” So, it’s a fancier word. But the plain old “only” would work much better here.
In an attempt to be fancy, the student used a word that weakened the sentence.
That said, by all means expand your vocabulary. Learn new words.
If you want to use a new word in your essay, look it up first. Make sure that the word says exactly what you want it to say.
Use a thesaurus, which is a great tool to find synonyms and antonyms. Just by using an online thesaurus, you can find a word that is brand new to you and learn the word by using it in your sentence.
Just make sure that the meaning of every word you use is crystal clear to you. To do that, before you use a word, look up its usage.
Search for how to use the new word in a sentence. Examples that are available online will clarify the meaning for you.
Essay writing tip #4. Write longer sentences only if you know exactly what you’re doing
The longer your sentence, the higher the chances that a mistake can crawl in. This is especially important to you if you’re trying to pass a standardized test.
Let me give you an example:
“Animals have a right to be treated humanely, they are living creatures, just like human beings.”
In case you didn’t notice, this is a comma splice – a very serious sentence structure error.
Two sentences are spliced into one by a comma.
When it seems like your sentence is getting a bit out of control, just split it in two:
“Animals have a right to be treated humanely. They are living creatures, just like human beings.”
Just end one sentence and start the next one. It’s going to be all right.
As a rule of thumb, try to begin your sentences with the subject rather than with anything else. This habit alone will eliminate a great number of sentence structure errors.
Here is a detailed tutorial I wrote on how to improve your sentences.
Essay writing tip #5. Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice
Here’s an example of the passive voice:
“A hamburger was eaten by a man.”
Here’s an example of the active voice:
“A man ate a hamburger.”
Use the second one.
An active voice is just more powerful. Besides, if you look at the first sentence, it sounds like the hamburger actually did something. But it really did not. Someone ate it, that’s all.
Essay writing tip #6. Avoid repetition as much as you can
Student essays are often repetitive. A part of the problem is that the student is often out of things to say, and yet he has to meet the word count requirement.
But repeating yourself is not a good way to add words. It weakens your points and makes the reader feel like she is wasting her time. If you already said it, why are you saying it again?
You can add words in much better ways. Here is one of the ways that I teach in detail.
You can add examples, explanations, and even entire sections of material without being redundant.
Repetition happens on all levels – a few words within a sentence or a few sentences in a paragraph. I have seen whole passages of repetitive content.
Let me give you a sentence-level example.
In the previous tip, instead of saying:
“Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice,”
I wanted to say:
“Use the active voice and don’t use the passive voice.”
Why did I choose the first version? Because it precludes the repetition of the word “use.”
Catch these little repetitions and try to replace them with a synonym, or just rephrase the sentence to make it diverse. This shows that the writer has a sense of style and class.
Try it and watch your grade go up.
Essay writing tip #7. Use vivid, colorful examples
Do you want your writing to stand out above the rest? Start using examples in your writing. So few students do it – it’s amazing!
College-level essays tend to be very general. The most specific evidence usually used is some statistics.
Instead of (or in addition to) describing the behavior of thousands or millions of people, give an example of just one person and write it out. Use some colors; make it vivid; describe the sounds and smells.
Use names, specific events and dates, and other particulars.
Examples are fun both for you the writer and for your audience, whether that is your professor or your boss. They are like little stories, and people love a good story.
Trust me, if you do just that and don’t follow the rest of the advice I give here, you’ll be making progress fast.
Essay writing tip #8. Don’t overuse quotations
I don’t know if this will surprise you or not, but sometimes as much as 70% of a given paper consists of quotations.
Come on, your professor is not blind. He can see right through such attempts to disguise the lack of things to say behind other people’s thoughts.
You are smart and talented. You have your own things to say. So, say them – in your own language.
Sometimes I like to avoid quotations altogether – I don’t always need them. This also means that I don’t have to look for them on the Internet, which takes time.
That said, quotations can be useful. Sometimes an author can state something so succinctly, and it is such a perfect fit for your point that it makes sense to use it.
Just keep your use of quotations to a minimum. Paraphrasing is much better. Learn how to paraphrase, and you’ll never have a problem writing original content again.
Essay writing tip #9. Don’t chicken out on your stand
Very often an essay that you write is entirely unilateral – meaning it has a one-sided view of something. It could be a totally glowing review of a product or service. Or, it could be a strictly positive or negative view of a human being.
In such an essay, it is very easy to feel that your view is too limited or restricted. You can begin to feel uneasy about making such a strong statement.
And you decide to water it down by making concessions here and there.
For example, you could be writing a strictly positive review of a book. You loved it, and you just rave about it. And at some point you feel that your reader might become judgmental about your review.
You can almost feel that person’s criticism creeping up on you. So, what do you do? You begin to admit here and there that the book is not perfect, after all.
But, you see, you really intended this to be a totally positive review. If that’s the case, stick to your guns. Just keep it positive.
And if you feel that you do really need to provide a little perspective that may not be perfectly positive, use the counterargument technique.
In a counterargument, you would first state a contradiction to your overall view:
“Some may say that the author uses too many metaphors in this murder mystery novel.”
And then you negate this contradiction by responding to it:
“But that is like telling Mozart that he uses too many notes. The author uses as many metaphors as are necessary to drive the story and to keep it mysterious and intriguing.”
If you do it this way, you admit that you are aware that not everyone will agree with you. But you know what you’re talking about and are willing to defend your point of view.
Essay writing tip #10. Talk to your professor
Before writing your first essay assignment, approach your professor at the end of a class and ask her about her expectations.
Some of the questions to ask are:
- What are two or three most important things in an essay, in your opinion?
- Do you require that I write an introduction and a conclusion?
- What do you expect in a conclusion?
- What is the biggest no-no that could drive my grade down a lot?
And then just listen and follow the recommendations. Your professor will gladly answer these questions and will be flattered that you asked.
Also, asking your professor these kinds of questions shows her that you care. You definitely can’t lose.