7 Tips for Writing Your Best Essay

It’s not always easy to sit down and write an essay or research paper straight off the bat, and it may surprise you to know that doing so isn’t even beneficial to your writing. Follow these tips to make sure that you’re following the proper steps before you even start writing!

1. Build Your Vocabulary

Though it’s not one specific step, the most important investment you can make in your future writing is to build your vocabulary. A good vocabulary will allow you to express exactly what you want to say in concise a manner as possible. This is important because readers (and graders!) want to understand your points and come to your conclusions as quickly and easily as possible—and a properly built and maintained vocabulary is the best way to make sure that you’re delivering a pleasant and expedited reading experience. Vocabulary development is an active process, and even the best linguists always have more to learn. Try subscribing to a “word of the day” email service (Merriam Webster has a great one!), and make sure to always look up words that are new to you as you come across them. You can even try keeping a vocabulary journal to collect new words and their meanings! Remember, though, a good vocabulary relies on using words of all levels. Don’t use big words purely to sound educated, when simpler words would suffice. Use the proper word in the proper setting, and your work will shine.

2. Do Some Pre-Research

Before starting an essay, especially a research-based project, make sure that you will have sufficient information and relevant research to reference. Of course, you will ideally be developing a new idea that will add to the canon of research that already exists, but it is essential to make sure that you will have enough existing material to support your arguments and conclusions. Doing a few quick searches in academic databases or at your local library will help you to determine whether your proposed topic is one that is worth pursuing, or if you need to re-direct yourself down a new path.

3. Try an Elevator Pitch

If you’re going to dedicate even a few pages to writing something, you need to make sure that you’re familiar with what you plan to say inside out and backwards. In order to test yourself, try giving a family member or friend an “elevator pitch” of your topic. An elevator pitch is a technique used in the sales industry for condensing the arguments in favor of buying a product into the most concise and effective language possible in order to make a sale. You can try the same thing with your argument: try condensing your points into a short synopsis that will leave whoever you’re taking to with a desire to read your essay. This can be a tough exercise, as you’ll have to be concise and deliberate with your arguments, but it will help you achieve clarity and can help you to develop your introduction, which should excite your reader and give him or her taste of what is to come.

4. Outline or Brainstorm

Now that you’ve picked out your topic and really clarified what you want to say, make an overarching outline of what you plan to write. Be sure to identify you introduction, in which you will set up the topic and argument of your paper, all your key points as well as relevant literature relating to them, and your conclusion, in which you should explain to your reader why what you have said matters. Whether this outline is a broad brushstroke in which you brainstorm ideas, or a detailed outline in which you write down specific sentences and ideas doesn’t matter—what’s important is having something to follow when you actually sit down to write your essay.

5. Let it Flow

Now it’s time to write a first draft of your work. At this point, don’t worry too much about brevity; simply write down all your ideas that lead to the development and eventual conclusion of your argument. This can almost be stream-of-consciousness-esque: write down what you’re thinking as it develops in your head, as this will help your future reader to follow your thought process.

6. Make Some Edits

Now that you’ve done the bulk of your writing, it is time to go back over your first draft and make edits. You’ve written down every idea in your head that could help to develop your argumentative points, but they’re not all necessary to reach the conclusion. Take out what is superfluous, and make sure to cut anything in which you repeat what you have already established. Your reader doesn’t want to waste time reading the same argument more than once, and you don’t want to waste space and word count. Edit your paper down to what is absolutely necessary to introduce, develop, and conclude your argument, and leave it at that. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” so do your best to be succinct.

7. Double Check Your Work

Finally, make sure to check your work. You can hand your essay off to a willing friend or family member to check for spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and tone. While you’re writing you may not realize it, but complex sentence structures can make a world of difference to how intelligent you end up sounding. Of course, it’s important to make sure that your writing is clear and concise, but giving your reader some interesting syntax can make the experience of reading your writing much more pleasant and surprising. Let others help identify any basic spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, but also heed their advice concerning the tone of your writing, and your essay will be all the better for it!