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Tips to Writing College Essays

By Jessica Bowman; For The Clock
On September 29, 2017

Tips to Writing College Essays 

Jessica Bowman

For The Clock

jlbowman@plymouth.edu 

All of us have had the wonderful opportunity to write an essay that we care nothing about and maybe many of you have heard way too many lectures from your professors that you end up tuning out due to boredom. Everyone has been a freshman who is still trying to find out which teacher is the strictest and which one’s you can put less effort in papers and still get an ‘A’ on. So here is a little help with that poor assignment. Being an English major, it’s sometimes easy to take for granted how words just flow onto the paper. But a number of people do not have that luxury, they sit and stare at a computer screen until their eyes glaze over.

So when writing an essay for any subject or any professor- the first thing you need is a thesis. There are many questions one must ask before they even start out with writing their first sentence. These questions being: what is your paper about? Is there an argument, if so what is it? Is your argument condensed into one sentence, and if not you may want to think about changing it. The thesis statement should be one sentence that clearly defines the goal or argument the essay will focus on. But most importantly one must know what type of essay they are responsible for. For example, is it a research essay or just a creative writing piece? If it is a research paper, then your thesis might be something like- “Throughout multiple books Kurt Vonnegut displays similar issues, characters, and themes, a lot of which become resolved in Breakfast of Champions.” If you are having trouble finding your thesis in what you have written, think about tightening the first paragraph. Sit down and ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish through this essay.

If you are writing an analytical essay your thesis may be more bold and assuming- “Through representation of story tropes and repetition of Foucauldian Archaeology’s cultural assumption the tale of Snow White is kept frozen in time, lasting for generations to come.” Nevertheless, the point of a thesis statement is to make a claim and to define what your paper is about in one sentence. Everything else is just supporting evidence for your claim, or thesis rather.

Another thing a lot of students get confused on is quotations and how to include them in text. In-text citations and using quotations vary from APA to MLA format. MLA format is usually used for subjects like humanities i.e. theater, arts, English, etc.. APA is used more for the social sciences i.e. psychology, sociology, social work, etc. How each format uses citations is slightly different with ground rules to each version.

1. APA: Uses a “references” page to cite work at the end of an essay

2. MLA: Uses a “works cited” page to cite work at the end of an essay

3. APA: When information is cited and the author’s name is included in that information put the year the material was published,

a.Example: William Wordsworth (1850) says all poetry comes from a “spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion.”

4. MLA: When information is cited and the author’s name is included in text put the page number that information can be found on in parenthesis at the end.

a. Example: William Wordsworth says all poetry comes from a “spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion” (263).

5. APA: When information is cited but the author’s name is not included in text place the author’s name and the year the material was published.

a. Example: All poetry comes from a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion (Wordsworth 1850).

6. MLA: When information is cited but the author’s name is not included in text place the author’s name and page number at the end of the sentence in parenthesis.

a. Example: All poetry comes from a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion (Wordsworth 263).

7. APA: Quotes 40 words or longer should be separated from the text by tabs or five spaces.

8. MLA: Quotes 4 lines or longer should be separated from the text by 2 tabs over. Meaning they are blocked.

Pay attention to punctuation in all of these examples as well. Professors will take off points if your citation looks like this; “All poetry comes from

a spontaneous overflow of emotion. (Wordsworth 1850)” Notice where the period is? The period should enclose the parenthesis within the sentence it is citing. The parenthesis should not be it’s own sentence or be left floating in space without punctuation like it is in the example above.

The last thing to remember when talking about essay formats is the structure of your essay. That is to say, introduction, body structure and your conclusion. Your introduction should always be short, to the point and include your thesis statement usually in the last sentence of your introductory paragraph. The point of it is to introduce your statement and the point you want to make in the essay. A good rule of thumb is to have three supportive points to your essay-backed up by quotations.

Next up is the body, the real beef of your essay. Typically your body should be three explaining paragraphs especially if you are following the rule of three points in your introductory paragraph. The point is that your three paragraphs explain the three points you made in the introduction. Another good tip is to start with your weakest argument or weakest point and end with your strongest one so the impact is more powerful.

Lastly the conclusion should be able to wrap everything up while also reinstating your thesis. If your thesis changes from the time it took to write the body paragraphs to the conclusion that is alright and just go back and revise your introduction. If your conclusion and introductory paragraph seem out of sync or like they are saying different things, there is a problem, and you should consider revising.

A lot of the finer parts of essay writing come from revision they may seem tedious but they are worth it. When revising, it may help to read the essay out loud, you will hear more mistakes once you hear your own voice form the words. Another tip is to print out the essay and go through it with a red or blue pen. Often, having the essay printed in front of you changes the way you look at it and in turn, helps you find more mistakes. Before you hand in your essay it is not a bad idea to phone a friend. Ask a classmate or even another professor to read your essay and tell you what works and what does not. However what can not be stressed enough is the power of your thesis statement, one must make it clear, precise, and to the point. You will provide more explanation in your body paragraphs and have a stronger paper. In more modern terms, if you do not hear a mic drop at the end of your essay, your thesis was not strong enough. 

 

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