5 Easy Tips To Improve Your College Essays

It doesn’t matter whether you’re majoring in English or Theoretical Physics: sooner or later, you’ll have to write an essay. Thankfully, it doesn’t take the mind of a theoretical physicist to write an essay that will earn an A.

With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to writing better college essays.

  •  Do the Research Beforehand

Dr. Dale Flynn, a professor for the University Writing Program at UC Davis, wrote a writing guide for a journalism class I took from her. The very first tip in the guide? Stockpile information.

Dr. Flynn said that in the context of journalism, but I believe this tip applies to essay writing as well. Know your essay’s topic and research it. Don’t just cherry pick information that will support your conclusion. Formulate your conclusion while you do the research, instead of before. Find out as much as you can about your topic, because your essay will reflect your knowledge of that topic.

  •  Know the Format

As evidenced by the previous tip, a solid essay will cite other people’s work. However, there are multiple ways of formatting citations, including MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and the Chicago style. It is very important that you know which format your professor expects you to use for the essay. Check the syllabus.

I can speak from personal experience on the importance of this tip. The first essay I had written for a university class was supposed to be in APA format. I had no idea what I was doing – I hadn’t heard of the APA until a month before – so I treated it like it was in MLA format. I received an 80 percent, and all of the notes the TA left on my essay were about formatting errors. This mistake ended up dropping my final grade in the class from an A- to a B.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab is great resource for not making the same mistake I did. You can visit it at owl.english.purdue.edu.

  •  Spell Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Spelling is very important in regards to getting people to take you and your ideas seriously. Most modern word processors will automatically spell check for you by drawing red lines under misspelled words. Pay attention to these.

Less obvious but even more important are words that are used incorrectly but can evade the spell check because they aren’t technically misspelled. For instance, the word “your” in the sentence “your the worst writer ever” is incorrect but will not set off the spell check’s alarm because it isn’t a misspelled word. The consequences for these mistakes will be as bad as an actual typo, so carefully proofread your essays to catch them.

  •  Give Yourself Time

Writing doesn’t flow steadily like a stream. For me, it comes in short, intense bursts. If you write like I do, I would recommend that you start writing your essay a week before the due date. By doing this, you give yourself time to really think about what you’re writing. By spending a longer amount of time on your essay, you can think about it for a longer amount of time, which may cause some mental breakthroughs on your topic that could improve your essay.

Even if you’re a fast writer, there are practical reasons for beginning some time before the night before the essay is due. You will make less mistakes. It will give you time to check your work. You’ll won’t feel the crunch of stress as you race to complete your essay before midnight.

  •  Don’t Rely Too Much on Quotes

A few years ago, I took a linguistics class in which I had to write a research paper. I did an extensive amount of research on my topic but I only earned a B on the paper. The professor wrote that I used too many quotes and had too little analysis. She was right.

Don’t make the same mistake I made. Professors and teaching assistants want to see what you know, not what you read. Whenever you quote a source, you should relate it to your overall thesis. Don’t just list information. Argue for its relevance.
Consider these five tips the next time you write an essay. They’re not essential for passing the class, but they’ll make the difference between an A and a B.

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John Kesler

John Kesler

John Kesler is a senior studying communication at the University of California, Davis. If he is on campus, he can be found in the basement offices of the newspaper or the radio station. At home, he enjoys listening to whatever music he can, reading whatever books he can, and taking walks wherever he can.
John Kesler

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