What’s your first thought when a professor asks you to write an essay?
With reactions of all kinds possible, only two perfectly reflect a student’s state at this moment: it’s either “Kill me, please!” or “Great! I’m gonna write my best essay ever!”
Academic writing often promotes anxiety in students. Some hate such tasks and stop at nothing to avoid them, while others consider essays a strong chance to get high grades and rise in their professors’ opinions. The latter are sure they know all ins and outs of college writing; however, a few pitfalls exist that can sink your essay ship regardless what an excellent student you are.
What are they?
1) You Don’t Have a Hook
Do not confuse hooks with introductions! An essay hook opens your introduction rather than substitutes it. It’s 1-2 opening sentences of your paper, and they serve to capture your reader’s attention and help them decide if they want to continue reading your text. Once you’ve hooked them, introduce your essay topic and thesis.
There are many types of hooks. You are welcome to use questions, common misconceptions, quotes, statistics, or even anecdotes if your essay type and instructions from your professor allow. Not sure what hook is the right one for a particular paper? Write it along with your introduction after you’ve finished the whole essay.
2) You Quote Instead of Paraphrasing
Sure, you can quote others in essays. But do it only if you couldn’t say it better or if it helps convey the tone of the story. Don’t turn your writing into a list of quotes from famous people: your professor wants to read your thoughts and arguments, not others’.
A stellar alternative to quotes in your essay – if they merely supplement your words – is paraphrasing. One of the most popular types of accidental plagiarism, it’s not evil when used right. Don’t copy, but understand the sense of information, formulate it in your own words, use synonyms, split sentences, change the structure of paragraphs and word order when appropriate – and you’ll avoid the issue forever.
3) You Summarize Instead of Analyzing
Leave summaries for your essay’s conclusion. When writing a paper on books, movies, or any other work with a plot, make sure not to retell it. Your professors know what happens there, and they want to read your analysis of the work, not its plot’s summary.
Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to recount some part to make a point, but you should always make analytical statements about passages. Show what you, not others, think on the assigned topics.
4) You Don’t Proofread and Edit an Essay
Once you’ve finished writing an essay, don’t hurry to submit it for review. It’s time to proofread and edit it to avoid the most common types of mistakes that students are making. That’s not about spelling and grammar mistakes only: re-read your essay, check if the structure is clear and the arguments are strong, improve the introduction and think on a stronger hook if necessary, and make sure your conclusion drives the main points of your essay and answers the question “So what?”
The best strategy to edit your work is to leave it for a day or two after writing: it allows you to check it with a fresh perspective, see weak points, and change them. Also, you might ask someone to read the essay before submission and suggest if any more revisions are needed.
Consider proofreading and editing an integral part of writing, and that will help you avoid embarrassing mistakes in essays.
5) You Plagiarize (Even If Accidentally)
For most students, academic writing is hard because it requires following certain rules of structure, style, and references. Proper formatting is a must; otherwise, they consider your work cliched or plagiarized. That’s a serious offense with unpleasant consequences such as broken trust, poor grades, reputation loss, or even expulsion.
To avoid the issue, make sure to include proper references and format them accordingly: don’t paraphrase the direct quotes, use double quotation marks for them, and follow the prescribed style (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.) when formatting your list of references.
Your professors weren’t born yesterday, and a mere look at your writing is enough for them to understand if it’s original and worth reading. Moreover, they use tools such as PlagiarismCheck.org, Turnitin.com, Copyscape.com, and others to make sure your essay is not a poor mimicry of other authors. So you might want to try the above tools as well to prove the uniqueness of your work, and avoid accidental duplications able to ruin your essay.
This article was contributed by guest author Lesley Vos.