Writing an essay is like tuning a piano.
In order to write an excellent essay, you need to understand your audience.
In our home, we refer to this as a tuning fork. In the old days, piano tuners would ping a tuning fork and listen to the pitch of the note as they fine tuned a string on the piano. When the tone from the string matched the tuning fork, they’d know they had made the key sound the right way.
1. Understand your audience.
In many cases, you will be writing an easy for a teacher or professor. They are your audience. What are they looking for and how will they judge your writing? Typically, you will be given a rubric in advance. This is your best friend as you evaluate your work. If you write with your audience in mind, you will avoid extra steps.
2. Prewriting: The single most important step.
Brainstorming and gathering ideas and quotes. One of the hardest things to do is to generate a 5-page essay when you don’t have enough research and material to stitch together. Take your time in the pre-writing phase of your essay.
This is the biggest mistake writers make; neglecting prewriting.
Related: There are many different kinds of prewriting activities.
The prewriting stage is like making pizza dough. You toss in some ingredients and then you need to let them roll around in your mind and go through a few sessions of simply jotting down ideas. There are many ways to gather ideas for the prewriting stage: lists, word-webs, Venn diagrams, outlines, even drawing pictures. To give yourself a boost toward writing something amazing, spend quite a bit of time on the prewriting of your essay.
If you were making pizza dough, you could toss all the ingredients together into a bowl and quickly roll out a pizza crust. But it would be tough and gritty. To make excellent dough, the mix needs time to rest and ferment. This takes time. A decent dough takes about 4 hours to rise, but a fantastic dough takes 24-48 hours.
If you have spent enough time prewriting, when you sit down to write your first draft you will find it’s relatively easy to pound out your first draft. Turn off your inner editor. Just write. Get that first full draft out as fast as possible without worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Once you get your first draft completed, set it aside for at least 30 minutes. A day is more effective though. The idea of drafting and then giving your writing time to sit is so you can look at it more objectively.
We become emotionally attached to our words and ideas. It hurts to cut and slash your sentences with red pen, but it’s necessary to bring the essay to its final stage. By giving space between drafts we can see your words more objectively.
4. Citing your work
Excellent essays require different levels of background information and quotations. Be sure to cite your sources! Follow the guidelines of your instructor and cite properly. Whether you gleaned vital ideas for your topic, or used direct quotes, you will need to give proper credit.
“I need that!” 5. Polishing and perfecting.
Once you have your draft complete, take another look at the original assignment. Are you on track? Do you have a solid skeleton to work with? If you have strayed from the purpose of the assignment, highlight the pieces you can still use from your draft, create a plan and create another draft.
Take time to create an interesting hook to grab your reader’s attention!
Are you seeing the common ingredient for excellent writing?
If you save your essay writing for the day before it’s due, you can’t go through the steps necessary to do it well. Pace yourself. Working on your writing every day in 30-60 minute chunks of time will help you produce a more valuable essay than trying to type it out the morning the assignment is due.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 7. Editors.
It’s hard to edit your own work because your brain has a beautiful ability to read between the line. As you are reading, your brain will autocorrect to words you meant to write rather than see what is actually on the page.
The BEST way to edit your paper is to have 1-3 trusted classmates edit it for you. They will see things you will not.
In many cases, you can bring your drafts to your teacher/professor for feedback. If they are open to edit/critique your drafts take them up on the offer! Remember, they are your audience. If you can get their input early on you will get on track much sooner than one your own.
8. Final read through.
Before you call your essay complete, read it out loud with a red pen in your hand. Don’t murmur and buzz through it quickly, but read it slowly and carefully in your full voice.
Don’t be surprised when you catch a few more simple mistakes. That’s why you are holding that red pen.
You expect to find a mistake. Simply mark it, finish reading and make your corrections.
9. Repeat this step until you are confident it’s complete.
Anyone can become a stronger writer if they are willing to put in the time and effort. Spend extra time on the prewriting, understand your assignment and your final audience and give yourself time to go through all the steps.
Then enjoy a pizza to celebrate!
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