You’re not in high school anymore. And that 5-paragraph essay that you got used to and that began to come so easily? You can throw that thought out the window. Essays now have far more complex topics, often require research, and will usually be more than five paragraphs in length.
But there are other issues too. There are things that were just fine in high school and which even got you a good grade. In college, not so much. So, here are five things you can do to “clean up” your essay writing right now.
Lose the Broad, General Openings
Let’s suppose you are writing an essay on the changing demographics of the U.S. population. Here’s a bad opener: “American society has always been somewhat diverse.” It’s a general, broad statement that everyone already knows, and it is, quite frankly, boring. How about something a bit more interesting that still introduces your topic but does it better? “This year, one out of every four children who entered Kindergarten was Hispanic.”
“Everyone” is not doing something or believing something. And there are other broad generalizations and assumptions that essay writers make. Perhaps this comes from listening to our politicians too much. The fact is, in college essays, you must back up what you say with facts and data. If you don’t have the facts, then qualify your assumptions. The same goes for accusations and stereotyping. Get facts, examples, and figures if you are going to do these things in an essay for college.
Making Word Count by Repetition – Just Don’t Do It
You will receive minimums or ranges of word counts. If you can’t meet the word requirement, what do you do? There is a temptation to repeat points, shrouded in different words and phrasing. This will not impress. No instructor or professor needs to hear the same thing twice. If you cannot meet the word count, go back to your research and find more. Or, expand your thesis statement so that you can include more.
“I Think” or “I Believe” is Weak
These are common phrases in argumentative essays. If you will dump these sentence beginnings, your entire essay will be far more assertive. Consider these two examples: “I believe that health insurance should be guaranteed to everyone,” or “Health insurance should be guaranteed to everyone.” Either of these statements, of course, will be backed by arguments, but consider how much stronger the second statement is. Be assertive with your arguments. Even better, you can use statements of authorities and experts to press the point.
Lose the Informal Language
Essays are formal writings, unless otherwise assigned. When you insert slang, old colloquial expressions, or too many first and second person pronouns (I, You), the formality and the scholarly impression is lost. If you are writing an essay on climate change or fighting terrorism, you are dealing with serious topics for which there is a great deal of research and data. Present this research and data in an academic manner, not as if you were talking to a friend. It is not that you should be using vocabulary that you do not know (although a thesaurus won’t hurt); it is more that you need to “shift gears” in your language. You would not talk to your grandmother or pastor the way you would talk to your best friend. Just be as formal as you can be.
Sometimes, you will get an essay assignment that can be informal – this will be explained to you with the assignments. Unless you are told so, consider every essay you write as needing to be formal.
These few tips will immediately clean up your essay writing. While you may have other challenges, there is no need to make these types of mistakes – they don’t require that you learn anything new. And your instructor will be happier – we all like happy instructors when they read our writing.