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Written By: Josh Nierle - Academic Tutoring Director

3 tips for writing essays

1.  Write way more than you need.    

This is an excellent tactic for improving conciseness in writing. So often students try in vain to fill up empty pages with superfluous, unneeded, over-used, clichéd, and boring phrases (much like this sentence). But if you go into a four page essay knowing that you should write at least six pages, suddenly the original requisite four pages does not seem so daunting. Additionally, instead of filling up the remaining essay with empty phrases, you are now eliminating those unneeded sentences in an effort to get under the required four pages. This will leave your essay lean and to the point.

2. Do not be afraid to mix everything up halfway through.  

So you have finished an outline and are working your way through a typical five-body paragraph. But upon starting the third paragraph, you realize that a potential new avenue of thought would be more interesting. Should you ignore this tantalizing world of possibility in the interest of maintaining your original structure?  

Often students become too focused on form over content. They think that their original outline is a guideline delivered from above and should never be changed. But writing an essay is much more enjoyable when you treat its creation as a puzzle or a painting. Say you want to write an essay on the end of the Roman Republic. Your original outline has three main topics: Julius Caesar, the Civil War, and Augustus Caesar. However while researching and writing the essay, you find much more interesting and pertinent information about the period of Sulla and Marius during Julius Caesar’s childhood. Do not be afraid to push out the weaker part of your outline. Maybe in this case Augustus Caesar does not have as much to do with your main topic, or at least does not warrant a full paragraph. Perhaps then, it would be time to “paint over” your bland Augustus Caesar with a more vivid thought-provoking paragraph on Sulla and Marius.

The moral of the story? Always be on the lookout for new and interesting information as you develop your essay, and feel free to switch out your old thoughts for new ones.

3.  Every sentence should be leading somewhere

This tip is closely linked to the last one. Every single sentence should be purposefully written. If you have two main concepts and want to link them, make the connection between them as straightforward as possible. Lead your audience from the first concept on a flat wide path to the next concept and so on. There should be no abrupt gaps, dead ends nor cul-de-sacs in your thinking (even in the conclusion you want to add areas of further research to leave your readers wanting more). If you can move from one concept t another without an already existing intermediate concept, get rid of it. Good writing demands conciseness and your readers will quickly lose interest ambulating around in vague passive writing.

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