Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.
Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with B’s and A-minuses.
I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.
Writing an essay? Don’t pull your hair out. Here are 10 tips to write a great essay. Photo by Stuart Pilbrow (Creative Commons)
However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it.
That’s right. Fun.
Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard?
Here are a few reasons:
- You’d rather be scrolling through Facebook.
- You’re trying to write something your teacher or professor will like.
- You’re trying to get an A instead of writing something that’s actually good.
- You want to do the least amount of work possible.
The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external rewards like getting a passing grade or our teacher’s approval. The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.
Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity. What this means practically is that when you’re trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, you’re turning off most of your best resources.
Just stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a “good-enough” essay). Instead, write an interesting essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when you’re finished, go back and edit it until it’s “good” according to your teacher’s standards.
Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you.
I can’t guarantee you’ll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise you’ll have a lot more fun writing.
10 Tips to Writing a Great Essay
Ready to get writing? Here are my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade!
1. Your essay is just a story.
Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas, the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.
That means that the best essays are about surprise, “You probably think it’s one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way.” See tip #3 for more on this.
2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “How can I have the most fun writing this?”
It’s normal to feel unmotivated when writing an essay. I’m a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.
Here’s the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:
How much fun can I have writing this?”
Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun. Here’s another sneaky question to ask yourself when you really don’t want to write:
How can I finish this as quickly as possible?
Give it a try!
3. As you research, ask yourself, “What surprises me about this subject?”
The temptation, when you’re writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read. Don’t do this. Instead, ask yourself, “What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?”
If you can’t think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then you’re not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimmingover with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, “We used to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.”
As you research your essay topic, search for this story of surprise, and don’t start writing until you can find it.
(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)
4. Overwhelmed? Just write five original sentences.
The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences, surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences. Here’s what they might look like:
- Thesis: While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
- Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
- Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
- Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, they will write better essays.
- Conclusion: Writing an essay doesn’t have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.
After you write your five sentences, it’s easy to fill in the paragraphs they will find themselves in.
Now, you give it a shot!
5. Be “source heavy.”
In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful, but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.
As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I just quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasn’t quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.
When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very “source” heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me A’s. Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research well, which some students find easier.
6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.
Introductions are often the hardest part to write because you’re trying to summarize your entire essay before you’ve even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.
7. Most essays answer the question, “What?” Good essays answer the “Why?” The best essays answer the “How?”
If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or you’re struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, “How?” For example:
- How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in The Catcher In the Rye?
- How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
- How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?
If you focus on how, you’ll always have enough to write about.
8. Don’t be afraid to jump around.
Essay writing can be a dance. You don’t have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end. Give yourself the freedom to write as if you’re circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.
9. Here are some words and phrases you don’t want to use.
- You (You’ll notice I use a lot of you’s, which is great for a blog post. However, in an essay, it’s better to omit the second-person.)
- To Be verbs
Don’t have time to edit? Here’s a lightning-quick editing technique.
A note about “I”: Some teachers say you shouldn’t use “I” statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion,” especially in their introductions.
10. It’s okay to use Wikipedia, if…
Wikipedia isn’t just one of the top 5 websites in the world, it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors don’t consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays. However, here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:
- Background research. If you don’t know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
- Find sources. Check the reference section of Wikipedia’s articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and site them.
The thing I regret most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.
The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world don’t have access to. It’s a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I don’t want you to make the mistake of just “getting by” through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.
How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?
All I’m saying is, don’t miss out!
How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay?
Use tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.
When you’re finished, share your five sentences in the comments section.
And remember, have fun!
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I am writing something. Yes, I plan to make it the most boring thing ever written. I go to the store. A car is parked. Many cars are parked or moving. Some are blue. Some are tan. They have windows. In the store, there are items for sale. These include such things as soap, detergent, magazines, and lettuce. You can enhance your life with these products. Soap can be used for bathing, be it in a bathtub or in a shower. Apply the soap to your body and rinse. Detergent is used to wash clothes. Place your dirty clothes into a washing machine and add some detergent as directed on the box. Select the appropriate settings on your washing machine and you should be ready to begin. Magazines are stapled reading material made with glossy paper, and they cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from news and politics to business and stock market information. Some magazines are concerned with more recreational topics, like sports card collecting or different kinds of hairstyles. Lettuce is a vegetable. It is usually green and leafy, and is the main ingredient of salads. You may have an appliance at home that can quickly shred lettuce for use in salads. Lettuce is also used as an optional item for hamburgers and deli sandwiches. Some people even eat lettuce by itself. I have not done this. So you can purchase many types of things at stores.
If I drive around, I sometimes notice the houses and buildings all around. There are also pieces of farm land that are very large. Houses can be built from different kinds of materials. The most common types are brick, wood, and vinyl or synthetic siding. Houses have lawns that need to be tended. Lawns need to be mowed regularly. Most people use riding lawnmowers to do this. You can also use a push mower. These come in two varieties: gas-powered and manual. You don’t see manual push-mowers very much anymore, but they are a good option if you do not want to pollute the air with smoke from a gas-powered lawnmower. I notice that many families designate the lawnmowing responsibility to a teenager in the household. Many of these teenagers are provided with an allowance for mowing the yard, as well as performing other chores, like taking out the trash, washing the dishes, making their bed, and keeping the house organized. Allowances are small amounts of money given by parents to their children, usually on a weekly basis. These usually range from 5 dollars to 15 dollars, sometimes even 20 dollars. Many parents feel that teenagers can learn financial responsibility with this system.
Now I will talk about farm land. Farm land can be identified by some common features. They almost always consist of a very large patch of dirt with small green plants lined up in very long rows. You may sometimes see farm equipment riding over these rows, like tractors or combines. These machines help farmers grow more crops in less time. They are a very helpful invention. Some different types of crops are soybeans, cotton, corn, tomatoes, tobacco, and lettuce (which I mentioned earlier). Most crops are used as food, and can be defined as either fruits or vegetables. Some are commonly eaten raw, after being rinsed in water to remove any dirt. Some are often cooked, which helps give them a more pleasant taste and makes them easier to chew. A very versatile vegetable is the potato. It can be eaten raw, or it can be cooked in a variety of ways. They can be baked, and many people like to add butter to them. They can be mashed, and a lot of times brown gravy or milk gravy is poured on top of them. They can be cut into thin strips and fried. Typically a large amount of grease is required to prepare potatoes in this style, but they are easy to make and easy to eat. You can order them at several fast-food restaurants. Potatoes can also be boiled, stewed, and scalloped. There is a wide variety of options available to you when cooking potatoes.
Some other types of crops grown on farm land are used for other purposes. Cotton is used to make clothing (which I also mentioned earlier). It is a very versatile and inexpensive material for clothes. Such items as shirts, pants, socks, and underwear can be made from cotton. The process of converting cotton from a cotton plant to clothing is fairly complicated. Today, cotton is harvested more efficiently through the use of the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney many years ago.
Tobacco is another type of crop. It is used in making cigarettes. A lot of people smoke cigarettes, even though many medical sources have identified them as harmful to people’s health. Warnings are printed on cigarette packages reminding people of possible dangers resulting from smoking. Cigarettes are available in several brands, including Marlboro, Salem, and Virginia Slims. There is a brand called Kool, but I don’t know whether they are still available at most outlets. Tobacco farming is a large industry, and currently there is debate about it. Recently the government decided on some regulations that cost tobacco companies a large amount of money.
If you notice, some farm lands have animals living on them. Most of these are cows, and there are also pigs, sheep, and goats living on farms. Some are raised for the milk they provide. This milk goes through several processes to ensure that it is not contaminated before it is made available to consumers at stores (which I mentioned earlier). Another use for farm animals is meat. Three popular types of meat are beef, pork, and chicken. Beef comes from cows. Pork comes from pigs. Chicken comes from chickens, but you probably knew that. These animals are raised to become plump and healthy, then they are killed, sometimes at slaughter houses. The meat is then removed from their bodies, cleaned, and made available at a variety of stores and restaurants. Sometimes this process can seem gross, but it is part of an advanced ecological food chain on earth. Just like birds eat worms and tigers eat deer, human beings eat cows and pigs. The main difference is that we don’t eat animals raw. We cook the meat to remove blood, fat, and germs from it. We also season our meat with salt or different kinds of sauces. The end result is food that is very tasty and is healthy for us.
Farmers do not like trespassers. If a farmer sees one, he will sometimes shoot at them with a shotgun that he owns. Trespassing is against the law. Laws are created by government to prevent people from living in fear. They are meant to provide safety for citizens. Our government in America consists of a legislative branch, an executive branch, and a judicial branch. The legislative branch makes laws based on the concerns of citizens they represent. The executive branch consists of the President. This person enforces the law, and he has certain other duties like declaring war and approving bills prepared by members of the legislative branch. The President is also considered the leader of our country. The judicial branch interprets the laws. This branch consists of the courts and the trials held in them. Here a judge and jury determine from evidence presented by lawyers whether someone is guilty of breaking a law. Initial law enforcement takes place among police officers. They are the first people to encounter situations where a law is being broken. If a criminal (law-breaker) becomes too violent or hostile, they will use guns or mace or nightsticks to administer immediate punishment. Their goal is to bring the criminal under control, so that he can receive a punishment determined by members of the judicial branch of government. Punishments mostly include time in jail, but they can also include fines and, in extreme cases, the death penalty. There is controversy surrounding the death penalty.
Children play with toys. This is common to almost all kids. Toys come in a very wide variety. Boys tend to like cars, action figures, and toy weapons. Girls tend to like dolls, toy kitchens, and make-up. Both of them like building or assembling things, be it with Legos, blocks, Play-Doh, or something similar. Toys can be found at most stores, and these days entire stores are dedicated to selling only toys. The most popular of these is Toys ‘R’ Us (with a backwards “R”). Their mascot is Geoffrey the Giraffe. Children love to go to Toys ‘R’ Us and look at the wide variety of toys available. Most children receive the greatest quanitity of toys on their birthdays, or during the holiday season in December. For the majority of children, this holiday is Christmas. For Jewish children, the holiday is Channakuh. Either way, the kid gets presents during this time, and most of these presents are toys.
Christmas is a holiday which has gradually become centered around the character “Santa Claus” and his elves and reindeer. Children are told that Santa’s elves build their toys, and Santa delivers them personally to each house in the world by riding in an airborne sleigh hauled by nine reindeer, including Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, who leads the way. Another popular Christmas character is Frosty the Snowman. Frosty is basically any snowman that comes to life. So during Christmas, many children build snowmen, and some of them hope that theirs might come to life. But all of these characters are myths. The true origin of Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, who founded the religion of Christianity a couple of thousand years ago. Many popular Christmas carols deal with his story, such as “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.”
Other holidays include Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Independence Day. Thanksgiving has become a tradition of preparing large quantities of food for a large gathering of people, mainly family and friends. This meal usually features turkey or ham as the main course. Turkey and ham are both kinds of meat (which I mentioned earlier). The meal usually also consists of dressing and a wide assortment of vegetables (which I also mentioned earlier). The origin of Thanksgiving is usually traced to the days of the pilgrims, who were the first settlers in America. They made peace with the native people, the Indians, and together enjoyed a large feast, thanking God for providing them with such an abundance. (Their concepts of God were probably very different.)
Halloween is the holiday when people dress in costumes to look like other characters. Most of these are children, who go from door to door in different neighborhoods to request candy from the people living there. They usually say “trick or treat” then receive a treat. Very rarely does the person in the house respond with a trick. Halloween has some sort of demonic origin that I am not quite sure about, but the name derives from “All Hallow’s Eve.” I will not say much about Independence Day, but it is the day Americans celebrate the anniversary of our independence from Britain. Most families purchase fireworks during this holiday and set them off in their lawns (which I mentioned earlier).
America gained independence from Britain in the late 1700’s after the Revolutionary War. Britain was hoping to extend its empire across the Atlantic Ocean, but the colonists who settled the territory did not want to be under Britain’s control, with their various taxes and regulations. Both sides were very passionate about their position on the issue, so a war occurred. This war featured a few heroes, including George Washington and Paul Revere. George Washington became America’s first president when we gained independence. I am not sure what happened to Paul Revere. The Declaration of Independence was written before the war by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 and made clear the position of the colonists. It was signed by many important people, including Ben Franklin and John Hancock. Ben Franklin is well-known for many things. One of these is inventing electrical conductors in the form of lightning rods. A famous tale is that he flew a kite with a small piece of metal somewhere on the string during a lightning storm. This was an effective way to test his theory. Another thing Ben Franklin is known for is publishing Poor Richards Almanac. This was like a magazine and contained some of his famous writings and quotations. One famous quote was “Tell me, I forget. Teach me, I remember. Involve me, I learn.” Maybe this had something to do with why he flew that kite.
Trees are one of our most important natural resources. They are made of wood, and wood can be made into a variety of products. Some of the more obvious kinds are furniture, houses, and toothpicks. However, wood can also be made into paper. When I first heard this, I was skeptical, but it is true. Paper is a very important product in our society. Writers and artists have greatly benefited from the invention of paper. With only some paper and a pen or pencil, a writer can produce stories and poems that can captivate readers. They can also write down historical facts about their society. Actually, these writings don’t become historical until years later. At the time, the writings could probably be considered news. Artists use paper for their drawings and paintings. They can also use canvas. Drawings and paintings can be very beautiful. They can depict a wide variety of subjects, including flowers, animals, landscapes, and people. They can be realistic or impressionistic. Some paintings also attempt to convey emotions merely by the way the colors are combined and the brushstrokes are applied. This is a modern or contemporary approach to art. Many people think this approach does not require as much talent as the realistic styles.
I will end my writing here. I have tried to make it very boring, and I hope I have succeeded. There are plenty of boring documents available for you to read. Check your public library for more information. You can also find boring materials at a bookstore or on websites. Sometimes this information can be found in magazines (which I mentioned earlier).
A wonderful soul has provided an audio narration of the first paragraph:
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