Most first-year students at college face a lot of anxiety as they find it challenging to make the transition from high school writing to academic writing. In high school, the 5-paragraph-essay structure has become the predominant form that, if executed correctly, will give you a passing grade. At college, however, it is abandoned in favor of a more individual style, one that prompts the writer to explore alternative means of presenting and supporting their argument. Lucky for you, we have compiled a list of 7 tips on how to write a good college essay to help you get started:
College Essay Tips
It should be a no-brainer that successful academic writing goes far beyond structure, grammar, and punctuation. Those are merely useful tools that can support your style. The secret to writing a good college essay lies in building up a level of confidence that you achieve through quality research and constant revision.
Don’t Worry About Being Overly Formal
In high school, you may have been taught to write in a formal tone - prompting you to search for fancy synonyms to impress your teacher. Although we don't discard this concept entirely, college writing embodies a different, more individualistic approach. Being overly formal can make your essay sound artificial and supercilious. For example, experienced essay writers won’t mind using “I” in their essays where they feel like they have to. As you gain experience, you will learn to take full advantage of your literary freedom to experiment with your style and write fearlessly.
Read Like A Writer
Focus on the quality of your research. It’s crucial to find the right academic sources and study them thoroughly because your ability to write will depend significantly on your ability to read and infer, separate fact from opinion, and recognize biases and assumptions. When you study, always be prepared to read like a writer.
Know Your Audience and Develop Your Writer’s Sense
An essential component of communicating effectively through your college essay is developing your “writer’s sense.” Many novice writers make the mistake of writing as if they were talking to a friend. Although this technique is useful in public speaking, it won’t work in a college essay. Speaking is a very physical form of communication, whereas in writing we are confined to a two-dimensional page. Punctuation and word choice take the place of physical expressions and become tools that will aid you in communicating your tone. Consider asking yourself the following questions to set the tone of your essay:
- Who’s your audience?
- What’s the occasion or context?
- What’s your message?
- What’s your purpose?
- What documents/ genres are used?
Thoroughly Analyze Your Material
The professor will always expect you to demonstrate the ability to pick out and analyze essential concepts that you will use in your argument. The analysis will be a vital part of your research. It means engaging yourself in an inquiry where you leave yourself open to multiple suggestions and interpretations. Think of it as asking ‘How’ and ‘Why’ questions rather than ‘What’ questions. As patterns emerge, you will develop your strategy to examine different parts of your subject and eventually connect the dots to support your argument.
Academic Writing Is an Argument
Your college essay must be a thoroughly crafted and heavily supported presentation of your viewpoint on a specific argument. The piece must be distinct, opinionated, and deniable. You must not try to “win” the debate, but rather to earn your audience’s consideration as both sides express a desire to understand the subject matter better.
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Narrow Down Your Topic
Narrowing down your writing topic is like looking at a pile of rocks and picking out the jewel. It’s not a cliche to say that you’ll work best when you love what you’re doing. Look for things that puzzle you, strike you as incomplete, something you find funny or amusing, details that perhaps most people didn’t notice, ideas you’d want to explore. Make it clear and compelling. Try finding a question that you and your audience will want to engage. This approach will give you a clear direction and keep you focused. You will also learn how to filter your sources to find the information you need.
Freewriting As Brainstorming Tool
It is a false to say that even experienced writers have everything figured out before they start. Keep in mind that writing is recursive. Routinely putting your ideas down on paper must become a habit that will help you develop your writing skills. There are no perfect first drafts, and continuous revision is one of the keys to success.
Freewriting is an instrumental brainstorming technique. As you navigate through your source material, new ideas will start popping up, and it’s important to write them all down. Free writing is like free jazz- there are no “wrong” notes- so don’t worry about grammar and punctuation and go put some ink on the page!
Now that you have been given insightful tips on how to write a good college essay, it is time to put pen to paper. Remember that constant revision is a key to success!
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