For those of you who have enjoyed my previous series of “Essay Writing Made Easy” and for those of you who have not read them before, I decided to place installations 1-4 into one easy to read post. Enjoy and I hope you find this information helpful for the upcoming school semester!
So, you need to write an essay.
You were assigned it in your syllabus and you’re nervously watching the days count down as the semester starts to get into full swing. It always takes so much time and effort and it’s your worst subject. Never fear! It’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be!
A lot of people put unneeded stress and tribulation into writing an essay. They overthink, over worry, and procrastinate way too long and leave themselves too little time to actually finish their assignment. Rinse and repeat. No wonder writing an essay is thought to be a trying time.
Below are tips, tricks, and pointers for all you out there that dread writing essays:
1) Make an outline.
– Seriously. Make an outline. A lot of students don’t realize how important an outline is, or how to create an effective one. Creating an effective outline is easy, use the following format to help you in the future:
Intro – (write your thesis sentence here)
Body Paragraph 1 – (The first point you want to make in your paper)
Conclusion – (make your final statements and finish strong)
DONE. That’s it. It’s that easy.
Note: A paper can have as many paragraphs as it needs. You do NOT have to stick to the typical 5 paragraph essay that you learned in highschool. A paragraph is as long as it needs to be to make it’s point, then a new one starts when you begin making a new point. It’s that easy.
You can have a 2 page paper with 8 paragraphs or a 20 page paper with 4, it really is up to the content of your essay and how many points it takes to make your argument.
2) Don’t write about something you’re not interested in at least a little bit.
– This one may sound a little far fetched, I know a lot of students are not interested in what they are going over in their classes. If you have a class in which the material does not interest you, pick your favorite topic/story out of the ones provided or allowed.
If you don’t have a favorite, pick the one that comes to mind when you read the word “favorite”. There is a reason that particular topic or story came to mind first. Explore this more. What about it is different from the rest of the stories/topics you had to choose from? What about it most lines up with your personal interests? What questions might you have about the text?
Explore the answers you come up with to those questions and you’ve got yourself the beginning of a brainstorming session or possible outline for your paper.
3) Make sure you understand what the essay is asking of you.
– The reason many students have trouble starting a paper is because, whether or not they realize it, they do not understand what the assignment/prompt is asking of them. The assignment might be a long-winded explanation of what is expected or it might be asking you to do a lot of things simultaneously.
If you are faced with this challenge, find yourself a few trusty highlighters in different colors. Highlight each additional point the assignment is asking you to touch on within your paper with a different color. When you go to write your paper, highlight each point in your outline/rough draft with the corresponding color. This way you know for SURE that you have covered all that was asked of you.
4) First, choose the quotes you’re going to use.
– After you have your outline prepared and you know what the subject of your paper will be, you may be tempted to jump in and just start writing. Do not do this. Instead, pick out the quotes that support your overall claim from your class material. I’d recommend 2-3 quotes per talking point (or body paragraph).
Type up your chosen quotes underneath the correct area in your outline, being sure to cite it correctly the first time you type it down. For MLA format, you have the authors last name and page number in parenthesis with no comma between, like this: (author page#). For APA format, you will write the authors last name and the year the source was published with a comma between, like this: (author, year)
[Side note: If you have other formatting questions, please reference Purdue Owl for any style of writing including MLA, APA, and Chicago.]
5) Write your introduction and conclusion before writing your body paragraphs.
– You’ve chosen your quotes, you’ve cited them according to the paper’s required format. Now you can jump in and begin writing, right?! Not recommended. The next thing you should do after choosing your quotes is write a quick introduction and conclusion to get your paper started.
For your introduction: Introduce your topic, the texts you’ll be referencing, and make sure to write your thesis statement in there as well.
For your conclusion: Restating the points you believe you will have made throughout your paper (the talking points you created for your outline) is a great way to get something quickly down for a conclusion.
The reason you will want to jot these down is so you can have clear parameters to get you started with the meat of your paper. You know what you said to begin and end with, and you will be less likely to have writer’s block as a result. The paper will flow smoother from your fingertips to the computer screen/pencil and paper than if you didn’t jot down a quick introduction and conclusion.
Note 1: Do not put too much time into this step.
– You will most likely be changing your introduction and conclusion later to match what you actually end up writing within your body paragraphs. This is just to give you a clear beginning and end to your paper!
Note 2: There are two types of conclusions I have found over my personal year and a half of tutoring.
-The first type is what I call a “sum it all up” conclusion where you simply remind your reader what you have stated in the past. While this first type of conclusion works just fine, I do not personally recommend it.
-The second type of conclusion is what I call a “so what?”conclusion. This second type of conclusion is when you explain to your reader what they should do with the information you have just spent the past however many pages telling them. Your words are important, you are adding your knowledge and argument to an already large plethora of information on the subject matter. Even if no one but your teacher reads your essay, you have still contributed to this ongoing discussion. This second type of conclusion is when you have a call to action or otherwise explain why this information was important to your reader, it’s explaining the next step your reader should take regarding this information. I definitely recommend this type of conclusion over the other one.
6) Begin writing your body paragraphs.
– Finally, it is time to write your body paragraphs! Now that you have successfully set up your paper, it’s time to get cracking. Write whatever has been rolling around in your mind that you wanted to say and be sure to incorporate your quotations within your essay. That’s right, those sentences from other books that seem a little ridiculous to have to put into your essay. Write up to them, weave them into your paper, then continue on. Use them as building blocks to help steer your points to become clearer and stronger with each added piece of evidence from an outside source.
How do you best incorporate quotations?: Do not…I repeat…DO NOT just put a quotation in as it’s own sentence. When you have a quote stand on it’s own it’s like that awkward kid at a party that obviously doesn’t want to be there, there is no explanation as to it’s purpose in your paper and it does nothing to help make your point. This is called a drop quote and is technically a sentence fragment.
Instead use it as part of your sentence, completing the sentence you are writing with the quote itself, or introduce the quote then explain what it means and why it is there.
Example 1: In Walker’s poem “Crooked Afro”, the father “don’t smile/ when you ask ’bout / uncle jay” because he feels pain at watching his brother struggle with alcoholism (1-3.)
Example 2: In Walker’s poem “Rock Star”, the narrators sister is shown to struggle with addiction to the point of not remembering her own brother:
my sistahz a mountain
when I call up to her
my I love you’s
in the valleys(10-14).
[Note: Both of these poems are found in Frank X Walker’s poetry book “Affrilachia” and they’re very very good poems. I just recently had to use them in a paper I wrote for my class and used those two poems in my own paper.]
Back to the basics
Throughout my time as a tutor, I have worked with several students (both traditional and non-traditional) that did not have good basic skills for essay writing and were trying to make heads or tails of what their English/Comp 1101 and 1102 classes were trying to teach.
I have noticed that several teachers try to give students the same basic tips for writing their essays when the students are trying to unlearn what Highschool poorly taught them and are trying to re-build their essay writing foundations.
These tips include telling students:
– Always have a hook
– Steps on how to write a strong thesis statement
– Make sure to include quotations from scholarly sources
…yeah yeah yeah…these are great and all, but to a student that is starting basically from scratch, this is absolute gibberish!
First of all, they don’t know what a hook is. Not only do they have no idea what this concept is and what is being asked of them, but now they’re going to completely overthink it.
Second, several students don’t actually understand what a thesis statement is. They’ve been told the word over and over but it’s never been defined for or explained to them. Throughout my tutoring experience, I’ve had way more than a few students think that a thesis statement was their entire introductory paragraph simply because a thesis was never explained to them in the first place.
Third, yes, direct quotations are amazing to have within your paper. But most of the time, students just throw in a quote and are not being taught the actual use of having direct quotes from scholarly sources in the first place.
If you’re one of these students I am referencing throughout these examples…here’s a tip…set it to the side for now
Seriously…forget every single tip that is on that packet you were handed for the time being. You have to start with the bare bones basics before you can dress it up. It’s like handing a toddler some lipstick and expecting them to put it in the correct place on their face. Or like going to a baseball game for the first time and being put in as the first batter without ever being told the rules or the function of the game.
If you don’t know/have never been exposed to the basic rules/ideations…then you’re not going to know what to do with more creative pointers. And that’s okay! Not knowing the rules yet doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It’s a learning curve and it takes time. You’ve got more in you than you realize, you’ve got this!
Alright, Alexis, so what SHOULD I know?
Well thank you for asking.
The simplest and most effective way I’ve been able to put it is this: remember when you were a child and begging/asking your parents for/to keep a pet? How did you go about doing that?
Did you slowly work up to the final point and jump them with it at the end? NO!
Did you provide them some context information and then tell them your overall goal before launching into the various reasons you should have a pet? YES!
Writing an essay is no different than a natural discussion…except it is wearing a tuxedo and flows MUCH more smoothly than a conversation because you’re actually able to put thorough thought into crafting it. AND you’re able to find others words, people that have more credibility than you, to weave into your own discussion to make yourself more credible (direct quotes).
Let me create an outline for you of this asking for a pet scenario:
1) Context/background information (that’s your introduction)
2) Stating your purpose is to ask for a dog and that you deserve one (that’s your thesis. It’s arguable, and gets to the point of your paper)
3) Launching into the reasons you deserve a dog (those are your body paragraphs. Each reason can be further backed up with quotes from credible sources to make your argument look even stronger.)
4)Explaining to your parents how much you, they, and the whole world would benefit from having a dog and what it could lead to in the future. (that is your conclusion. Specifically, a So Whatconclusion as I’ve defined in the past).
It’s really that simple. Take your time and try your best to not overthink things
Basics final notes:
– What is a hook?
A hook is just a fancy first sentence that is immediately engaging to the reader. Something that, if someone was skimming through a magazine, would catch their eye and make them stop to read YOUR piece of writing. I will go into more detail on writing effective hooks and how to best go about practicing/learning what works for you and your type of papers in a later writing of Essay Writing Made Easy.
– What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is the trailer to the movie that is your paper. It is calling a bush a bush (aka putting your overall point right up front) and it a statement that someone can look at and easily say they do not agree with it/they could argue your claim to be false.
The biggest hang-up that students have is trying to wrap their head around the fact that not everyone will agree with their ideas, which makes writing a strong thesis statement hard. Everyone wants to be agreed with and told they’re right, so students tend to stay with thesis statements that are more facts or popular opinion than what would be arguable and make an interesting paper.
– How SHOULD one use quotes within their essay?
Think of your essay as a face and think of direct quotes as make-up. They enhance your argument, they do not make it for you. If you put a quote somewhere it doesn’t belong (like swiping mascara across your cheek) it’s going to look terrible and it’s going to be ineffective for your paper.
Here are some quick tips for quotes:
1) Always introduce your quote, and then explain how the quote pertains to your essay and why it is important after: Doctor person said, “quote quote quote” how this pertains to my argument and why it is important is x.
2) When explaining why the quote matters, always pretend the quote is blank and then restate what the quote said in your own words and then explain why this matters to your essay.
Please remember: An essay is not a surprise party. It is NOT effective to slowly work up to your overall point and reveal it for the second time (the first being your thesis statement) in the conclusion of the essay. You are trying to persuade your audience, not surprise them with what it was all leading up to all along.
MLA vs APA
This section of Essay Writing Made Easy will talk about MLA and APA format. Below I will discuss the intended use for each, the differences, and the best sources to use to help you master them both!
APA stands for American Psychological Association and is normally used in classes such as psychology, sociology, and other social science classes (EasyBib What is APA). APA was first developed in 1929 by a group of unnamed anthropologists, sociologists, and business managers met to create a list of guidelines to help streamline academic writing in their respective fields (APAstyle.organd APA style – what is APA style)
The main identifiers of this style is the use of source publication dates over page numbers. How current a source is is deemed much more important than exactly where the reference was found within the source, and it is most desirable that sources for any academic paper be within 10 years of the current date. Any older than 10 years is thought to be outdated information and claims that are backed up by this older information will not hold as strong as claims backed up with more recent sources of information.
Another identifier that is more easily found in longer papers is the use of footnotes throughout the paper. Papers of APA format are typically more research heavy than papers conducted in MLA format and, therefore, there may be the heavy use of subject specific jargon throughout the paper. Footnotes are used primarily to alert the reader of where they can gain further context on phrases or information not regarded as common knowledge (APA FootnotesEndnotes pdf).
MLA stands for Modern Language Association and is normally employed in classes such as literature, language arts, composition, and other classes of the liberal arts and humanities (OWL Purdue – MLA Abbreviations). The Modern Language Association was first founded in 1883 by Aaron Marshall Elliot, an American novelist and professor at the John Hopkins University (MLA.org and Aaron Marshall Elliot). The Modern Language Association of America even holds an annual convention to discuss MLA format and, as a result of meeting often, MLA format tends to change every couple of years in order to achieve the associations academic goal as well as possible (MLA.org About Us).
The main identifier of this style is the use of page numbers rather than the year of source publication, like in APA. There is a Works Cited instead of a References page and the use of footnotes or endnotes is very rare. The authors name is normally emphasized, allowing for the full first and last name in the Works Cited entries. Very different from APA as the last name is full but the first and middle names are only a letter.
The basics of APA are as follows:
– In-text citations are to follow an (author last name, year of publication) format.
– The list of sources at the end of an APA paper is labeled “References”
– When listing a source in the References page, you will typically follow this format:
Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.
along with minor changes if the source is not a book (OWL Purdue – Reference List: Books).
The basics of MLA are as follows:
– In-text citations are to follow an (author last name page number) format with NO comma between the information.
– The list of sources at the end of an MLA paper is labeled “Works Cited”
– When listing a source in the Works Cited, you will typically follow this format: Last, First. Title of source (will be in quotation marks if the source is a shorter work such as an article). Title of container. Publisher, Publication date, Location.
There will be more or less information based on what you can find and you will present different information for other types of sources. This is the basic format for a book (OWL Purdue – MLA Formatting and Style Guide).
Sources to use
Thank you for reading and I hope this was helpful! Happy writing!
If you’d like more pointers and information, stay tuned for future posts!
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