Writing essays is an important, vital life skill. Whether you’re writing an essay for a class or updating your resume, knowing how to write a smart, compelling essay is a skill that can lead to success. If you’ve ever been told your writing could use some extra polish, there are a few things you can do to make your essays that much more compelling.
Use these tips to make your writing much stronger and your points more compelling:
- Start with an outline
Before you even start writing, it’s a good idea to know what you’re going to say. Making a basic outline is key to narrowing down your thesis and formulating your points. Include all the facts supporting your central thesis to help organize your ideas into a coherent essay that flows naturally. Your outline should have a similar structure to your finished piece. Include an introduction to introduce your thesis, a body with several paragraphs to present and discuss your evidence, and a conclusion to tie it all together and connect it to your original thesis.
- Build your vocabulary
There’s a quote by Mark Twain: “Use the right word, not its second cousin.” How you use language always matters, and it pays to know what the words you use mean. A varied, vibrant vocabulary is key to expressing precisely what you mean, clearly and concisely. This is an especially important point in academic writing; in that case, you are trying to convince your readers that you are someone who can make a reasoned argument. A broad word palate can go a long way toward making your arguments much more persuasive.
A good writer should never rest on their laurels; always keep an eye out for ways to improve your vocabulary. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to vocabulary.
- Master proper grammar
This may sound like a given, but grammar matters when writing an essay. Master proper grammar, syntax, and punctuation to make your work more understandable for your readers. Familiarize yourself with the common rules (e.g. subject-verb agreement, tenses, and sentence construction) to make sure you have a strong foundation for your writing. One common issue is the difference between using “who” and “whom.” “Who” is used to refer to the subject (the one doing the action), and “whom” to the object (the one receiving the action). Knowing all the right rules can make all the difference in the world. Master how grammar works to ensure your readers take you seriously.
- Do your research
Conduct basic and thorough research to prepare yourself for writing your essay. Meticulous research is vital for a persuasive presentation of your ideas. Find some credible sources (e.g. studies published in academic journals, primary sources, or famous literary works) to put some expert weight behind your arguments. When reading the works of others, identify how your work differs from theirs to help define the parameters of your essay.
- Avoid repetition
It’s generally a good idea to mix things up a little with your writing. Refrain from using the same words again and again; readers tend to view it as a sign of laziness. The easiest thing in many cases is to remove the repeated phrase. However, if you do need that phrase, try replacing the word with something similar.
For example, if you find yourself overusing pronouns, substitute a proper noun in their place. Alternatively, use a synonym that can take the place of a word you are repeating. A final step is to take the integral words of your sentence and discard repeated words. Expand those vital words to breathe new life into your paper.
- Use the active voice
Active ideas and images are more powerful (and memorable) than passive ones. For example, compare “He did his chores,” to “The chores were done by him.” Active voice emphasizes the subject and what they are doing. It’s more engaging, and will grip your readers far more strongly. This makes your content more concise, precise, and memorable; and that makes your readers feel their time was well-spent.
- Banish the banal
Readers come to an essay looking for new ideas and fresh thoughts. Look through your essay during your editing and proofreading process for any cliches and idioms, then replace them with your own phrasing. This includes similes or metaphors you have used throughout the work (especially the common ones).
- End purposefully
The conclusion helps wrap everything up. Its purpose is to tie together all the ideas that you have presented to prove your point. A solid conclusion should review your key points and relate them to your thesis to show how the evidence proves or disproves it. If your conclusion leads to further questions, recognize them and present them as future topics for discussion.
And, finally, the two most important ways to improve your writing skills:
- Read, read, read
You may have heard talk that becoming a good writer starts by being a voracious reader. Devouring plenty of books naturally helps you become a better writer; reading helps expose you to different styles, ideas, and genres. Use the things you pick up from your reading to help you cultivate your ideas and sharpen your skills when you write. Read other people’s essays (or opinion pieces in the newspapers) to pick up new ways to improve your writing skills. Bring a critical eye to what you read. Ask yourself what you did or didn’t like about their essays, how biased they seemed, and whether or not they were persuasive.
The more you read, the more you learn. You may even pick up new techniques you can use yourself.
- Write, write, write
As with reading, writing is another way of honing your skills. Like other skills, writing needs practice for you to improve. Make time to practice regularly to keep yourself sharp. Try making a schedule to govern how you spend your time to get more writing done each day. You can also do more writing than your essays; try different writing projects (e.g. poetry and short stories) to broaden your horizons and find more ways to express your ideas.
Another thing you can try is keeping an eye out for local writing groups in Toronto. It’s a great way to find like-minded people with whom you can swap ideas and get feedback.
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