Writing an essay or paper, no matter what its subject or required length, can be a challenging task for any student.
Here are five guidelines that can help your writing process be more productive, efficient and satisfying.
1. Read the directions for the assignment carefully. Sometimes students are in such haste to begin writing that they overlook the details of the teacher’s expectations. Ask yourself, “What is my teacher looking for?”
Search for keywords in the assignment, such as “analyze,” “evaluate,” “compare,” “explain,” and “assess.” Sometimes assignments also include subcategories that can help you organize the paper, such as an English assignment that mentions plot, character, and setting, or a history assignment that cites economy, politics, and religion.
Pay close attention to the required or suggested length of the paper. You don’t want the paper to receive a low grade because it’s either too short or too long.
2. Think before you write. An astronaut who was asked what she would do if she were stuck in space with only ten seconds of oxygen left replied, “I would think for nine seconds, and then I’d take action.”
Planning is everything. Brainstorm and write down any ideas that come to mind, no matter how far-fetched. (Some students find it helpful to use the voice-to-text function on their computers or cellphones so they can talk through their ideas as the device writes them down.)
Then distill your best ideas into a clear thesis statement that directly addresses the topic posed by the assignment. Now that you’ve formulated your ideas, you can organize them into an outline or graphic organizer that includes your essential points. Then make a list of key terms - characters, events, quotations, details - to use as examples or evidence in your paper.
3. Don’t write your introductory paragraph first. Many students try so hard to craft captivating and compelling introductions that they become bogged down and lose momentum.
Once you’ve generated the thesis, outline, and list of key terms, dive right into writing your first body paragraph (which will eventually become the second paragraph of your paper).
After you’ve written the body of the paper, consolidate the ideas you’ve already expressed and developed into both the introduction and conclusion.
4. Topic sentences are key. The first sentence of each body paragraph (its topic sentence) should present the key idea of the paragraph and provide a clear transition from the preceding paragraph.
This transition can be indicated with words such as “in addition,” “by contrast,” “another aspect,” “also,” “nevertheless,” “a further example.”
Topic sentences are the road signs of your paper, telling the reader where you’re going, and connecting the next part of the journey with where you’ve just been.
5. Proofread. Don’t rely only on spelling or grammar checkers or on visually proofreading a hard copy of the paper to catch errors. After you’ve completed the paper, use the speak to text function on your computer to read the text aloud as you follow along on the screen. This is especially helpful in catching omitted or repeated words and detecting sentences that are clunky or awkward.
While these guidelines can be helpful in crafting a successful paper, there’s no substitute for talking with your teacher directly when you have questions either before or during the writing process. Teachers at Kingswood Oxford are always open to working with students develop their ideas and finesse their essays and papers as they empower students to own their learning.