There are plenty of steps you can take to improve your essay writing skills. Improve your grammar, refine your style, and learn how to structure a well-organised essay. Since academic essays are especially tricky, learn the ins and outs of formal, scholarly writing. Be sure to read as much as possible; seeing how other authors use language can improve your own writing.

The good news is that writing doesn’t have to be agonising, and almost anybody can improve their writing skills with a little discipline and a willingness to learn.

Writing essays is difficult. In fact, essay writing is the single task that students universally dread. However, essays aren’t objectively more difficult than other types of assignments, or than other parts of the college experience.

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What accounts for students’ dread of writing essays? The answer to that is simple: Students hate writing essays because most students lack essay writing skills. Indeed, students frequently arrive on campus ill-prepared for the rigours of academic writing.

When writing an academic essay, you must take a number of qualities and characteristics into careful consideration. Focus, development, unity, coherence, and correctness all play critical roles when it comes to distinguishing an exceptional essay from one that is less than perfect.

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Improve Grammar

  • Review basic grammar rules. If you have trouble with grammar, familiarise yourself with topics such as subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, proper word order (called syntax), and punctuation. When you’re actually writing an essay, run a quick online search if you think a particular sentence might be grammatically incorrect.
  • Write in the active voice whenever possible. The active voice is stronger and usually more concise than the passive voice.
  • Choose concise words and phrases. Cut out the fluff and keep your writing succinct. Whenever possible, choose a single word to make your point. Simple word choices are almost always better than convoluted phrases or repetitive adjectives and adverbs.
  • Use punctuation to set your writing’s rhythm. Read out loud when you revise your work to fine-tune your rhythm. Include commas to indicate brief pauses, periods for full stops, and semicolons for pauses between two independent clauses that are closely related. Use natural pauses to give a reader time to breathe, but don’t include so much punctuation that your writing feels choppy.
  • Vary your sentence structure. In addition to ensuring that your writing is easy to follow, you need to engage your readers. Sentences with varied rhythm and word order are more interesting than those with repetitive structures.

Check out the top tips on how to improve your coursework!

Use Academic Language

  • Avoid slang, contractions, and other informal expressions. While academic writing needs to be clear and concise, it shouldn’t be casual. Spell out words such as "it is" instead of using contractions like "it’s." Don’t use conversational words, such as "cool" or "pretty (as in "pretty interesting"), and write in the third person instead of using "I" or "me."
  • Use objective, specific language instead of making generalisations. When crafting essays, support your claims with specific evidence and examples. Instead of merely stating your opinion, build your case on concrete facts.
  • Build your knowledge of your discipline’s vocabulary. Every subject has specific terminology. If you’re a student, check your textbooks for glossaries and chapter keyword lists. You can also search online for a subject, such as literature, plus "glossary" or "terminology." Make flashcards to remember key terms, and note how they’re used in your textbook and in other scholarly works.
  • Include big words and technical terms only when it’s necessary. While using your subject’s terminology properly is important, try not to go overboard. Expand your vocabulary, but don’t feel like you have to use big words to sound smart. Go with familiar terms instead of obscure ones, as long as doing so wouldn’t compromise precision and accuracy.

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Master the Writing

  • Analyse your essay question or prompt. Carefully reading your prompt is the first step in the essay writing process. Make sure you clearly understand what your essay needs to accomplish. Circle or underline keywords, such as "analyse" or "compare and contrast."
  • Research your subject matter. Once you understand your essay’s task, find credible sources on your topic. Examine primary sources, such as the poem you’re analysing or letters written by the historical figure you’re discussing. Read what other scholars have argued, and identify how expert opinions on your topic vary.
  • Develop a succinct, arguable thesis. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with your topic, come up with an argument. Your thesis should be a concise sentence that tells readers what you plan to argue. Rather than vaguely generalise or state the obvious, an effective thesis makes a clear, defensible, and specific claim.
  • Create an outline to map out your essay’s structure. The basic parts of an essay are an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. A good essay is well-organised, and each part transitions smoothly and logically to the next. To begin your outline, write the Roman number I., label it "Introduction" then, on the line below, write your thesis statement.
  • Use the TEEL strategy to organise your paragraphs. TEEL stands for Topic sentence, Explain, Evidence or example, and Link, or refer to the essay’s main idea. If your sentences are logically connected, your argument will be clearer and more convincing.
  • Address a counterargument to strengthen your claim. Mention an argument that opposes your thesis, and then explain why it’s incorrect. Be sure to bring up a strong counterargument. This is called a concession or rebuttal, and it strengthens your argument and shows you're unbiased. However, countering a weak argument that doesn’t actually represent the opposing side’s strongest claims will weaken your essay.

Work on Vocabulary

  • Use the vocabulary that you know. Don't always feel you have to use big words. It is always better to be clear and use simple language rather than showing off flashy words you aren't sure about and potentially misusing them. This is not to say, however, that you should settle for very weak vocabulary choices (like "bad" or "big" or "mad").
  • But also work on expanding your vocabulary. When reading, look up words you don't know. See how they're used. Start a list. Incorporate them into your writing as you feel comfortable and as they are appropriate.

Revise and Edit!

Time management is an essential aspect of essay writing. If you’re trying to rush through your essay right before it’s due, you won’t have time to edit it. Additionally, it’s helpful to step away for a few hours after writing so you can revise your work with fresh eyes.

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First, revise your essay’s content. Check for unclear language, unorganised spots, awkward sentences, and weak word choices. Next, proofread your work and fix any spelling or grammatical errors. For important essays, like a term paper or an admissions essay, have someone read your work and offer feedback.

In general, try to leave a day for edits at the bare minimum. For a big research paper, scheduling a week or more is ideal. For a quick, paragraph-long assignment that’s due the next day, you might only need 15 or 20 minutes for revisions. If you're taking a timed essay test, set aside the last 5 to 10 minutes to check your work.

Master the Harvard referencing style guide.

Editing is a tough skill to learn for most students because they place immense value on the time and effort they put into writing in the first place. However, a lot of writing is actually rewriting, and this is where the cold, hard eye of an editor will serve you well.

Develop the discipline it takes to eliminate extraneous words (more on this shortly). Resist the temptation to wax lyrically and get to the point. Not sure if a paragraph works? It probably isn’t. Be tough on yourself, and know when to delete or rework something. Your work will be much stronger as a result.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.