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Essay Writing FAQ

Essay Writing Frequently Asked Questions - check this essay writing FAQ for answers to common questions and problems in writing the high school or college essay.

Q: How do I improve the clarity of my essay?

First, read your essay out loud to yourself. It sounds strange, but it catches a lot of run-on sentences, wordiness, strange transitions, etc. If what you write doesn't make sense out loud, change it!

If you are told your essay is vague or unclear, look at the topic sentences of your body paragraphs and see if they match up with your thesis. Your essay may be suffering from organization issues and you might have to alter key sentences to get it back on track.

Q: My essay is due tomorrow and I haven't started! What should I focus on the most?
If you're running late and don't have time to make a top-quality essay, focus on having clear organization over grammar. While you will certainly be docked for grammatical points, if you have a clear thesis and logical organization, these will prevent you from an essay disaster. Even if you're concerned about time, try to make an outline to organize your thoughts.
Q: How do I improve transitions between paragraphs?
When transitioning between two paragraphs, many students often use the last sentence of the first one to "preview" what is coming in the second. This method however, is awkward and takes the last sentence of your paragraph off topic.

A better way to transition is to use the start of the second sentence as your reference point.

Let's say you're writing an essay comparing types of dogs. The first paragraph on beagles can end with: "Beagles in general are friendly and fun to be around."

You can start the next paragraph on Saint Bernards like this: "Unlike beagles, a Saint Bernard is much larger, but can still be kept as a pet."

This way, both paragraphs stay on topic, but have a smooth transition. Here's where you can find a list of good essay transitions.

Q: I've been told to work on my sentence structure and style. How do I fix this problem?
Fixing sentence structure and style takes a lot of practice, but you can start by reading your essay out loud before you turn your papers in to catch small grammar errors. In addition, look at the lengths of your sentences. Try using a combination of short and long sentences, instead of relying too much on one or the other. Your reader will like that you are using a variety of sentence lengths.
Q: I'm worried about accidentally plagiarizing when I paraphrase a quote. How can I identify paraphrases so my teacher knows what they are?
The easiest way to avoid accidental plagiarism is to "cite" your paraphrase - indicate the page number next to what you are summarizing. You should also be careful not to paraphrase too often, as this can confuse your reader, or suggest you haven't read your source.
Q: How do I properly cite my sources?
It depends on what you are writing about. Certain subjects like English require you to use the MLA style of citations. More scientific subjects like anthropology will probably have you use the APA style. There are sites where you can learn more about MLA and the APA style. Another handy website allows you to generate citations in different styles - a significant student timesaver.
Q: How can I get an A on my next paper?
Since all papers and teachers are different, there is no easy way to answer this question. However, "A" papers typically have the following qualities:
  • An interesting or unusual twist on a topic and a thought-provoking thesis statement
  • Logically ordered paragraphs with strong transitions and an argument that successfully builds upon itself
  • Well-placed, accurately cited quotations plus insightful commentary
  • A thoughtful rebuttal paragraph that addresses the counterargument with an open-mind, and then convinces the reader why it is incorrect
  • A conclusion that leaves the reader with a powerful impression


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