12 Do’s and Don’ts of Good Essay Writing

Despite the fact that, as Shakespeare said, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” the pen itself is not enough to make an effective writer. In fact, though we may all like to think of ourselves as the next Shakespeare, inspiration alone is not the key to effective essay writing. You see, the conventions of English essays are more formulaic than you might think – and, in many ways, it can be as simple as counting to five.

For every student of all academic levels, essay writing holds big importance.  Essay writing is an essential tool for teachers to judge student’s knowledge and measure their critical thinking skills.  Also, as writing is the most widespread form of homework and examination, students need good writing skills.  However, It is one of the most daunting aspects of their studies.  In college preparation, students with good writing skills always have bigger chances of getting accepted to top universities.

Learning how to write a good essay is not only about knowing what to do, but also about what to avoid doing.  This article suggests a few do’s and don’ts for writing an essay, whether for college admission, a high school class, or a college paper!

6 Do’s of Essay Writing

1. DO use transitions between paragraphs.

Sometimes paragraphs sound like separate pieces of the text put together.  This is the wrong approach to writing.  Your essay should be smooth and coherent, leading the reader from one point to another.  This is why you should use transitions – the phrases that help to connect each idea with the previous one, serving like bridges between paragraphs.  Examples of phrases you can use for transitions include:

  • Despite the previous arguments…

  • Speaking about this…

  • Regarding this…

  • With regards to this…

  • As has been noted…

  • To put it briefly…

2. DO cite examples.

Any example you use – from literature, scientific work, etc. – should be cited.  Only examples from your own experience do not have to be cited.  If you want to include a mention of something that you have read, even if you are not using a direct quotation,  it is best to reference the source of information.  This way, your examples will be more convincing and form more reliable evidence of the points you wish to prove.

3. DO discuss literature in the Present Tense.

When writing literary reviews or essays based on literary works, it is advisable to use present tense – historical present or narrative present, as it is called.  It makes the storytelling more engaging and real, increasing the feeling of presence.  Things that happen within the space of a text should be treated similarly to facts and generalizations.  This applies to fictional narratives in books, films, plays, etc.

For example:

‘Romeo and Juliet experience true love the moment they see each other. Love makes them forget everything else. From the very beginning, they are somehow aware that they are doomed to die – they have given up their lives to love. Not only love, but every emotion in the play is heightened and leads to terrible consequences.’

(Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta)

>>> Learn more about common tenses used in academic writing HERE

4. DO use advanced vocabulary.

The aim of an essay is not only to reveal your knowledge of the topic but to show your ability to choose appropriate vocabulary and show your language expertise.  Word usage is also one of the critical criteria in the Writing and Speaking parts of many standardized tests such as the Cambridge Advanced exams or IELTS.  Therefore, try to use a variety of words and phrases, synonyms and expressions, and do not repeat the same words.  For example, instead of “good”, let’s use “excellent”, “spectacular”, “exceptional”, or other more appropriate synonyms that reflect the same shades of meaning.

5. DO respond to the prompt of the essay.

The prompt of the essay is intentional.  No matter how much you want to ‘go with the flow’ and write whatever your inspiration dictates, you should remember you are writing an academic assignment and, as long as it has a prompt, you should stick to it.  If the prompt is complicated and consists of several parts, analyze your final draft and check if you covered every point of the essay prompt.

6. DO choose the correct language.

The language you use in the paper indicates your ability to research and analyze the topic, prove your opinion, and explain your points clearly and vividly.  It also shows the level of your language proficiency, knowledge of grammar and syntax, and ability to develop a rich vocabulary. It is important to remember the academic style of writing and use the appropriate language.  The following phrases work well to introduce and support your points:essay writing skill

  • There seems to be no compelling reason to argue that …

  • The argument can be made …

  • Current research on [your topic] shows …

  • The most common argument in favor of (or against) is …

  • There is a growing body of evidence to support …

6 Don’ts of Essay Writing

1. DON’T forget to look for formatting requirements

A good essay is not about style and formatting, of course, but style influences the first impression your paper makes.  Some essays and assignments will have font, spacing, and layout requirements.  It is important to make sure you follow those requirements, as they are easy points.  In many cases, the essay’s style is laid out in the directions or established beforehand.  You may quickly figure out the style based on the type of essay.  If the syllabus doesn’t have clear formatting requirements, you can always ask your instructor.

2. DON’T write too long sentences

Complicated sentences may be confusing, not only for the person reading and grading your essay but for the writers themselves.  Writing complicated sentences doesn’t indicate an elaborate writing style. Instead, it may show your inability to convey information in a readable and straightforward format or break the sentences logically.  What’re more, complicated sentences increase the risk of grammar errors and stylistic mistakes.  Like Hemingway or Fitzgerald, famous writers wrote simply, which didn’t make their writing any worse.

3. DON’T provide too much information or too many facts

Even though you were taught to create detailed and meaningful essays, this does not mean that you shouldn’t filter the information you provide.  Your aim is to present the topic to the reader while giving them sufficiently but narrowed information.  To avoid that, choose the most important and significant topic to write about and stick to it.  If it is complicated, you can analyze the final draft before you submit the writing.  Make sure to include the key information your essay needs and then exclude all unnecessary information and facts.

4. DON’T stray from the focus of the question (especially in the conclusion)

Students often think that a conclusion is where they discuss the broader ramifications of their position on the topic, branch out, and touch upon other aspects slightly related to the topic.  But it’s not true at all!  The job of a conclusion is to highlight the key ideas you have been arguing in response to the question (i.e., readdress the essay question in light of the discussion you have just provided).  You can then summarize each main point from the body of the essay in the logical order you presented them.

How do you know if something is off-topic?  Ask yourself whether your paragraph or sentence directly helps you to answer the essay question.  If not, it should be cut from the essay.  In conclusion, don’t just say that you have discussed what the problem has asked you to discuss. You must be specific and say what the key aspects were (and why).  The trick is to say what you have argued in a concise way that does not repeat what you have already said (don’t repeat your examples).

5. Don’t forget to proofread

Typos, spelling and grammatical errors can make an otherwise flawless essay look unprofessional and messy, and can be interpreted as carelessness or simply bad writing.  Teachers may mark your essay in red if you do not get rid of typos from your coursework.  You should carefully go through your thesis and eliminate typos.  Don’t rely on your computer’s spell check also.  Spell checker software may seem an excellent way to you to check spelling mistakes.  However, spell checker software cannot notice errors that human eyes can notice, so you should not depend on spell checker software.  A teacher, a parent and even a friend should read your work before sending it off.

6. Don’t be shy about asking for help

There are so many resources available when it comes to writing essays.  Your teachers, your friends, and the online community are always out there to help.  They can give advice, check for errors, and possibly help you find a direction.  Some teachers are willing to look over a rough draft provided you give them enough time.  There are also online resources where you can look up formatting guidelines for citations and bibliographies.  And of course, you can always find a friend to read your essay over and answer the question, “Does this make sense?”


Parting words

Excellent writing doesn’t happen by accident.  While an essay is a big project, a student can take several steps that will help break down the task into manageable pieces.  Keep the above points in mind to write a good essay.  If you’re given the subject, you ought to think about the sort of paper that you wish to produce.  It is a good idea to look for the one which has a fantastic reputation and offers high-quality papers.  Also, update yourself with the latest issues and knowledge about diverse topics.  It is best to practice writing essays on essential issues before the actual exam.

Writing an essay can be equated to studying your soul as through it, you inevitably learn self-expression; you develop writing skills, vocabulary, and a style of writing.  At College Compass, we strongly believe that just a good essay can turn your dream into a reality.

>> Explore the essay review series where Don and Tony – Everest Education founders – share their own essay that got them into Harvard and Stanford: 

Want to learn more about Academic Writing?

Writing is at the very heart of academic life, and academic English determines a student’s potential for success.  That’s why at Everest, we teach English Language Arts, a bridge to take students from basic conversational English to academic English. Our class strongly focuses on comprehensive reading and writing skills – where students learn how to describe and comprehend complex ideas, process higher-order thinking, and understand abstract concepts. Through the use of academic language, students read, write, listen, and speak about the topics they learn at school.

We also integrate social studies into language arts to develop a solid general knowledge and vocabulary students need to become successful readers and writers in the future.

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