Writing is a skill that many people struggle with, and when it comes to academic essays, many people are so anxious about writing that they don’t even know where to start. Many find it easier to begin when they have a clear idea of what they should and should not be doing, so I’ve compiled some tips to hopefully alleviate your essay-induced anxieties.
You don’t need one. In fact, I would argue that you shouldn’t have one. They’re a juvenile method of starting a paper and, in many cases, they involve broad generalizations that aren’t even true. “Since the beginning of literature, people have been interested in how evil characters are portrayed in novels.” Have they, really? When exactly is the so-called “beginning” of literature? What is your proof that a largely illiterate society cared about the way in which characters were depicted when people like Defoe and Behn were penning some of the first English-language novels? One could argue that most people now don’t even care about how characters are depicted in novels. Get my point? It’s juvenile, sounds lazy, and you can skip all of this by just getting to the damn point by opting to begin your essay rather than constructing a flowery hook.
2. Your Thesis
In most cases, your thesis should make an argument of your own, and it should be an argument that you can prove with evidence. You could have a spectacular sounding thesis that is saturated with sophisticated claims and language, but it doesn’t matter how good your thesis sounds if you don’t have textual evidence to back it up. Further, you need to make sure that your thesis answers the question the prompt is asking—if the prompt asks you to use Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality to access the actions of Frankenstein’s creature, you better make sure that you directly and clearly relate those two texts in your thesis statement. When constructing your thesis statement, make sure that you are addressing the prompt fully, and ensure that you have adequate evidence to back up your claims. You don’t want to get too far into an essay only to realize that you don’t have enough evidence for your argument.
3. Creating a voice in Your Writing
Have a strong, confident voice. Sound sure of yourself. Don’t say things such as, “This might prove why this character does this.” Make a confident argument—explain in a clear and confident manner the way in which your evidence supports your thesis argument. This is easy to do once you learn how to integrate appropriate quotes into your essays.
4. Using Quotes
Quotes are necessary for most forms of essay writing; without them, your argument is weak. Provide context when introducing a quote—don’t simply throw a quote at your reader with no context or explanation. Use shorter quotes when possible, and integrate them into your sentences. Try not to let a quote stand alone as its own sentence. Here’s an example of successfully integrating appropriate quotes into your writing:
“However, Caliban openly attempted to rape Miranda, and when Prospero mentions this, Caliban enthusiastically states that if Prospero hadn’t stopped him, he would have “peopled else this isle with Calibans” (1.2.420-421). Prior to this attempted rape, Prospero and Caliban apparently shared a reciprocal relationship, wherein Prospero taught Caliban English and, in return, Caliban “showed [him] all the qualities o’ th’ isle” (1.2.403).”
As you can see above, quotes are used to provide succinct evidence for what you’re talking about. They show that you have read and possess a clear understanding of the text, and they provide textual evidence that strengthens your argument.
5. The Structure of Your Essay.
Your essay does not need to be a cookie-cutter five paragraph monstrosity that has been drilled into your brain since 8th grade; you can switch it up as you see necessary. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have paragraphs of varying lengths, multiple paragraphs discussing the same argument, or even to bring up previously stated topics and arguments in order to further explore what you’re talking about. Don’t feel obligated to constrain yourself to formulaic writing when frankly, it often isn’t the best way to write a paper. Make your argument in the most natural way possible, and if that required seven body paragraphs, then so be it.
6. Editing Your Essays
I advise reading your essay out loud when editing. In your initial read-through, check for grammatical mistakes and typos. These mistakes will be obvious if you read your paper aloud. After ensuring that your paper is free from technical errors, reread it again to check how one idea transitions to the next. Does your essay have clear and natural transitions from topic to topic, or are there abrupt shifts that need to be worked out? Finally, make sure your paper adequately proves the overall argument you’re attempting to make. Is your argument the driving force in your paper, or do you make unnecessary digressions? These are all important things to consider before turning in your final essay.
Remember, writing essays is something that, with practice, can become quite easy. Don’t treat writing an essay as some kind of foreign, impossible task; all writing an essay really involves is making an argument and attempting to prove your argument with evidence. If you can do this, then writing becomes substantially easier. Good luck!