Once you’ve stepped into a college environment, you’ll likely notice that some people are naturally better at writing essays than others. As a professional writer, I really have to stand behind the notion that there is a certain amount of natural talent involved. True or not, that idea doesn’t preclude that fact that anyone can become a better writer through sheer force of will.
You’ll notice that the title of the article is “steps to becoming a better essay writer” and not “steps to write better essays.” There is a subtle difference. The former involves an intrinsic quality, while the latter is simply a means to a temporary end. One can write several essays – even good ones – without learning anything about being a better writer.
The following tips will focus on the idea of becoming a better writer – in perpetuity – a quality that you’ll find useful throughout the balance of your academic career and beyond.
1. Mind the flow of ideas. I learned early in my writing career that one of my strengths is the ability to gently segue one sentence to the next. Once I started proofreading and editing the work of others, I realized just how important this is. Written works should be a flow of ideas, concepts, and topics. Each sentence should ease into the next; each paragraph should do the same. You can improve idea flow in your own writing by back-reading as you work. Once you’ve finished a paragraph, go back and read it before continuing. This way, you can formulate a transition that’s pleasing and intuitive, rather than break-necking into the next topic.
2. Understand the type of essay you’re writing. Every form of writing has its own rules and expectations. Within the realm of essay writing, there are also considerations to be made between types of essays. There’s an expectation of pragmatism and practicality in certain exam essays, for instance, that’s absent when you’re dealing with a lengthy research paper. You can’t know what to deliver unless you know what your reader is expecting. Resources such as Oxbridge Essays have fantastic articles that explain the differences.
3. Become a better researcher. Writing is as much about obtaining knowledge as it is about communicating it. Even when I’m writing about subjects that I know quite well, I know I’ll need to set aside time and develop a plan for gathering information and fact-checking. Learn how to research efficiently and your writing will improve in kind.
4. Clarity is infinitely more important to good writing than any other factor. Pseudo-intellectualism is a sure sign of bad writing. Writing is about communication, and proper communication requires that you deliver your content in a way that can be effortlessly understood by the intended audience.
5. Outline when you can. Form a mental plan when you can’t. Many people find the planning stage boring or feel that it’s a waste of time. In fact, I spent most of my young life shunning outlines. Once I embraced the idea of planning my work – and experimented with outlining methods until I found one that worked for me – my writing improved exponentially. It’s difficult to stay coherent and maintain that critical idea flow without some measure of structure. At the very least, you should plan your essay in your head before starting off.
Will these tips help you write a better essay? Absolutely. More importantly, they will help you to become a better writer across all formats if you integrate them into your overall approach to the craft.