This is by no means meant to be a definitive guide on essay writing. I am not a teacher, or a savant. None of the papers I wrote won any awards or got published (although one almost was).
There are rules to this game, and you must know them.
Here are few resources for instruction on essay writing;
OWL // Purdue Writing Lab
The Purdue University Online Writing Lab serves writers from around the world and the Purdue University Writing Lab…
Yet, even the most staunch, evangelical professors will acknowledge that while there are definitive rules for how to write an essay all of them, for the right reasons, get thrown out the window at one point or another.
English is a subjective art. It can be abstract and horribly frustrating. This is the beauty and hell of it.
These are things I used to do to write my essays. I found that they worked.
They will for you too.
Study the prof more than the material
More than focusing on the subject matter of the course, discerne what matters to your professors. Most profs have their individual idiosyncrasies and it pays to learn them.
You might’ve gone to every class, read every page of Hemmingway, even the ones not assigned for homework, and feel like you’ve got the guy cased. You may even like him more than your prof. The problem is, Ernest isn’t going to be grading your paper. You need to understand not just the Hemmingway short story, but the story of your professor.
The best way to do this is to take advantage of their office hours.
Face to face, in person or online.
Yes, yes I know. Why go talk to the prof when a nicely worded email will do? Or maybe you live far from their office, you don’t have a car and it’s -20 degrees Celsius outside (-25 with the windchill).
Buck up bud. Brown noseing is frowned upon, and I don’t go in for becoming a teachers pet but whether you like it or not that face to face interaction is going to make all the difference. You can craft exceptional after exceptional email all the live long day and it wont get you near the degree of clarity that a conversation will.
For one thing, giving a face, and body, and soul, and level of desperation to your name will make you more relatable.
This is especially true in larger classrooms where you can be one of multiple hundred students in an auditorium. Distinguish yourself. It’ll help your letter grade.
If it is small classroom setting (I’ve found myself in a classroom with just 8 other students) it’ll be more obvious if you don’t introduce yourself out of class time.
Now these conversations aren’t just for show and tell. You need to constructively emphasize your greivances and demonstrate your capacity to engage with the material. Profs don’t want you to complain to them, although that doesn’t mean that they never want that.
They want you to show that you are trying to understand. Describe your internal wrestling match. And make it clear what you comprehend and don’t.
Keep in mind that these are lonely academics who are starving for conversation with a youngblood like yourself. Your ignorance and malcontent, if expressed properly, can be invigorating. Take an interest in what they are studying (they do that too), their office space.
I remember visiting a profs office for the first time and discovering a litany of Star Wars bobbleheads and a video game collection that would’ve made my childhood self weep (who am I kidding, I was misty eyed right there and then). It’s cool to have things in common with your professors even if they don’t directly relate to what you are studying in the classroom.
And if you don’t (it happens) try to connect with them anyway. Sacrifice for the greater good (that GPA baby).
See what sticks
Conversing with your prof is important groundwork. Where the rubber meets the road is in the essay itself. That first paper is a bit of a range finder. It comes after your first 2 to 3 weeks of class and before your most meaninful conversation with your professor. That office meeting is going to focus on the feedback you gain from them after this essay.
It can be a doozy. The important thing is not to get discouraged. Don’t chuck it deep in the closet or burn it around a fire pit drinking beer with your buddies. Look at it. Read the red ink. Record it. And speak to the prof about it.
But remember, talk is cheap. You need to show that you are coachable. Diligently incorporate the feedback into your next paper. If the prof calls for more analysis, extrapolate. Get invested in the investigation, draw more conclusions.
If the prof feels you needed more evidence to support your argument, lean heavily on your sources. Provide more quotes. Re-difine your argument to make it more defensible or less vague.
Exaggerating your corrections is a viable strategy to get the prof to notice your commitment. Just don’t do it to the detriment of the quality of your work.
Stick to the basics
So you’ve studied the prof, established a relationship and want to focus on crafting the perfect essay.
The first step is acknowledging that won’t be the case. Starting can be overwhelming. We begin wanting to produce that earth shattering piece that crystallizes are argument into prophetic stone and illuminates an undiscovered nuance within the work betraying our sheltered, inner genius.
We end crawling, on our knees, at 11:59 pm, to the dropbox in emotional agony, wanting the pain to stop.
Melodrama aside it isn’t going to be what you want it to be. Make it what you need it to be. That is a convincing arguement.
Which requires 3 things;
It’s hard to be good when you’re great.
To make sure that idiot reading can keep up with your train of thought, your essay needs to be properly structured. Otherwise you’ll lose them along the way. Remember that you’re driving this rig and they’re just along for the ride. Don’t let your paper get derailed because you went off track.
The basic structure of an essay looks like this;
Title; Catchy and concise. Reflect your argument, don’t get too dramatic.
Hook; A quote is good. Engage the reader
Intro; Introduce the paper.
Thesis; Your argument in a sentence.
Intro to paragraph 1; what the first paragraph will be about. Transition sentences are good here, but don’t overuse.
paragraph 1; Your first point, your evidence, your conclusion from that evidence.
paragraph 2 ; your second point, your evidence, your conclusions from that evidence.
paragraph 3; Rinse and repeat
Conclusion; Restate your introduction and arguement in a different manner. State your findings.
That’s the barebones of it. Obviously, this depends on the prof (I have had some openly admit to hating this basic 3 paragraph structure). Even if the number of paragraph’s change, keep the core elements incorporated in your paper.
Your arguement is only as strong as the evidence you provide for it.
The easiest analogy is a courtroom lawyer. It doesn’t matter if you’re Harvey Spectre, Harvey Dent (Before the acid burns) or some other awesome lawyer named Harvey, you won’t win your case if you don’t have any facts.
Best case scenario, the sources do your work for you. They are your foundation. You’re just there to set the scene and move everybody along.
Always know the citation format, profs tend to get sticky about that.
Don’t start the paper without it. It is the centre and soul of the project. Everything else, in the end, is just fluff. A concise 2 to 3 line sentence (It’s ok if it gets a little long or runny) that states the arguement. The first and only thing you should ask anyone to understand their essay is “What’s your thesis?”.
Thanks guys, this is my first post.
More to come.