Up until now, essay writing has been boring and painful—all about no-no’s and sandwich structure. Truth is, this kind of writing is just as boring to read as it is to write, and frankly, it’s just bad. If you want to start writing on a college level, here are a few bad habits from ninth grade English to get out of your system:
1. Formality is key – You’re not a stuffy old professor, so stop writing like one! The easiest way to make a paper dull to write AND read is to stifle your voice. Let your personality shine through for a change! Try free-writing first and editing for structure later, use words that you would normally use in speech, and inject a little humor into your paper. Trust me. If you have fun writing it, your teacher will have fun reading it (and be in a better mood when it comes time to give you a grade). Not to mention, the best college application essays all use voice to show the author’s personality.
2. The more words, the better – If one wishes to expertly transmit a believed abstraction to a fellow homo sapien, one is not necessarily coerced into using a large volume of lexeme.
In other words, short sentences go a long way. Using a lot of big words may seem like a good way to sound smart, but when they’re unneeded they just muddy up your points. Instead, skip the thesaurus—try writing your sentences in plain English, then replace the verbs with more interesting and appropriate ones.
3. There is only one way to write an essay – Structure is important, but not every essay should be five paragraphs. For example, one page response papers tend to be lightly-edited versions of your stream of consciousness, while scientific term papers follow a strict pattern: intro, model, data, conclusion. The key to writing a well-structured paper is to address its needs. Does one of your points need to be pumped up? Add and explain a few more statistics. Does it feel repetitive? Take out the repeats. Will what happened last week make a great example? Write another paragraph using your story as evidence. Just don’t get hung up on your middle school writing template.
4. You should never use “I” in a paper – Don’t get me wrong, “I” should be used sparingly, but sometimes you’ve gotta use it! There’s no getting around an “I” when you’re stating your own opinion, or telling a story about your life. You’ll need it in philosophy, you’ll need it in your college apps, and you’ll probably end up using it every once in a while in those other subjects. Don’t believe me? Look for the word “I” in the next book your social studies teacher recommends, or check out your uncle’s PH.D dissertation. Heck, “I” or “we” even pops up in scholarly articles sometimes! Often, the real danger is breaking up the flow or using passive voice in order to avoid saying “I,” so strike it from your list of no-no words.
5. Plagiarism is copying word-for-word – Plagiarism is much, much more. In high school, you may be safe using others’ ideas or even paraphrasing sentences, but if you do that in college you may get kicked out. Plagiarism is not that hard to avoid—just remember to cite any ideas, quotes or pictures that aren’t yours.
6. Conclusions should be paraphrased introductions – Conclusions used to be the toughest part of every essay I wrote. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to rewrite your introduction and make it sound interesting. Instead, use conclusions the same way movies set up their sequels, look for ways you can expand on your research in the future. Better yet, find ways your research is relevant to current events, the lives of fellow teenagers, or the human race. If you want a good example of a conclusion, just watch any episode of Modern Family. The writers are very good at referring back the episode’s kookiness to demonstrate a lesson about the meaning of “family.”
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