Writing College Essays: Things To Focus On

Writing essays — lots of them — is an inescapable reality for many students, regardless of how natural writing comes to you. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a gifted wordsmith to turn out college essays that get high marks. If you turn your attention to a few things that can produce high rewards, you can ace those college essays even with relatively average writing abilities.

Formulating Your Main Thesis

Most of the time, essay assignments won’t provide you with a ready-made thesis. Instead, you’ll get instructions about the kind of essay to write, the general subject to write it in and other such guidelines, but you’ll need to decide about the actual main thesis for yourself.

In these situations, your first move should be to formulate the questions that you want to answer in the essay? Once you have that, you can proceed to decide on your hypothetical answers, each of which then becomes one of your candidate theses.

From there, you can evaluate each one individually on the way to deciding which main thesis could work best. Personally, I filter them through these criteria:

1. Scope. Which candidate thesis has a scope that’s just the right size for the word count required in the essay? Too narrow and you could end up grasping for words. Too broad and you’ll have to cut out too much of your discussion.
2. Difficulty. Some thesis candidates will stick out at you as being easier to argue for than others. If it tackles an important enough issue, isn’t an obvious conclusion (i.e. the opposite of a thesis needs to be equally valid) and has the right scope, why make life harder for yourself by choosing something else? Make sure you test and refine as the research proceeds, though, to ensure you end up with something you can adequately prove.
3. Depth. You want something that delves deep enough into the subject that you have plenty of options where to go. Most surface issues restrict you to surface arguments — those tend to feel a little underwhelming when used as a thesis.

Outlining

Some people outline. Others don’t. If you belong in the latter group, you might want to consider your stance. The longer and more complicated the essay, the more an outline can help, as it allows you to plan the paper’s structure before diving in to actually put together the draft.

Outlines allow you to think before you write. It allows you to test out various elements of the essay — from the sequence your ideas are presented in to the paragraph groupings to the progression of your logic — before you even write a single word.

When you write an outline, make it brief. The point is to put your general ideas on paper so that they may gain structure and nothing more. In programming, this will be a flowchart or a use-case, rather than the actual code, so there’s no real need to delve too deep into the nitty-gritty.

Drafting

The biggest advantage of writing an outline is it simplifies the drafting phrase a lot. When you draft without an outline, you’re basically thinking on your feet, building the structure, presentation and progression of all your points and arguments on the fly. Instead of focusing on just expressing your points, you’re worrying about the structure of your logic and the sequence of your ideas along with it.

We always recommend jumping right into the body paragraphs unless the introduction comes naturally. After you’ve done the body paragraphs, the right introduction should be a little clearer, as you have a more concrete idea of how the essay flows. Many times, students get stumped trying to construct the introduction as the first paragraph they write. You can avoid that by just jumping right into the meat of your discussion and going back to the introduction later.

Finish the draft as fast as you can, focusing on expressing your ideas according to the structure in your outline. Don’t second-guess anything you write. If you put something on paper, leave it on. When you finish the draft, you should have more than enough time to second-, third- and even fourth-guess yourself. Learn to control the urge to judge your work — it can save you plenty of time.

Introductions And Conclusions

You can strive for average in all paragraphs in your essays and still get good marks, provided your introduction and conclusion are strong. For the introduction, make sure it includes an attractive component — one that generates interest in the reader to learn more. For the conclusion, try to end strongly, ending with a statement (a quote, a statistic or a finding) that carries heavy impact. The stronger the conclusion, the more satisfying the ending of a paper usually becomes.

For both, make sure you write clearly. Avoid using complicated language and keep things as simple as possible. Being the two most important paragraphs, you want to avoid any chance for misunderstanding.

Good Practices For Writing Essays

1. Start early. The earlier you start brainstorming ideas for the essay, the sooner you’ll start getting work done. If you think you can finish an essay in three days, then begin with the work two weeks before deadline — people tend to overestimate their own abilities to finish essay assignments (yes, including you), so don’t be too cocky.
2. Don’t write from beginning to end. Instead, write whatever is ready to be written. If the second point is already clear in your mind and the first point isn’t, then do the second point first. Doing so saves you time and speeds up the drafting process.
3. Keep the overall purpose and organizational scheme in mind throughout the drafting. That way, you don’t ever lose track of what’s important in the essay whether you’re writing the introduction or a body paragraph. Done right, it could lead to a more cohesive piece of writing.
4. Revise extensively. When you revise, attend to the whole essay, rewriting it as a whole, rather than a series of isolated sentences. Do multiple passes, checking for different things each time in order to ensure you sculpt it to the best of your ability. This is where starting early really helps you — the earlier you begin work, the more time you’re going to have to perform revisions.