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How Can I Achieve Better Essay Writing?

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We can usually recognise a piece of good writing intuitively. When an essay or book is well written the pieces fall into place with as little effort from the reader as possible. This is because the person who did the writing has done all the hard work for us. The writer structured the essay/book well, and constructed the sentences well, so all the information fits together and makes sense. Even if we disagree with the writer’s opinion we may still respect their ability to write and present their views. Occasionally a piece of writing may be beyond our present comprehension level, and we cannot tell if it is good or bad. But for the most part an educated person can enjoy and recognise decent writing when they encounter it.


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So how do we write well?

Perhaps the most common mistake is getting our ideas clearly on the paper/computer screen. We may know exactly what we are talking about, but not realise that the essay we write doesn’t contain the information the reader needs. If we write for publication we need to assume the reader knows nothing except the language that we write in. If we write an academic essay we can assume the marker/examiner is familiar with the book or subject that we write on, but not our research or opinions. Any essay we write must persuasively convey our point of view.

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– Ideas that are interesting and Relevant. Ideas are the heart of the matter, not just information.
– Organisation – Are the ideas logical? and do they move from one idea to the next, building on what we are saying.
– Voice – is the writing formal? or perhaps casual if it is a magazine article? Are we teaching or just speaking down to the reader.
– Succinct – Padding and wasted words work against you. If you can convey an idea effectively in two sentences the reader will be impressed.
– Fluency – Does the writing flow. Individual sentences might be fine, but they must join together. We only have to read a bad translation (try Google translate) to appreciate sentence flow.
– Grammar conventions – Get the spelling and grammar right. Conventions exist because we need some common means to communicate. No language is perfect, but our language has developed over centuries to the point it is at today for a reason – It works reasonably well and is far better than having no convention.
– Concrete and abstract – a specific example is better because it is almost always easier to understand. Saying that ‘the race isn’t always won by the best athlete’ is more effective than saying that ‘conditional fluctuations affect the individual performance leading to unpredictable results for highly able persons who otherwise and previously rank highly’.
– Sources – Primary sources of information that are referenced are far superior to secondary sources, which are just the opinions of other writers. By all means read the opinions in secondary sources, and compare them. But base essays on primary sources.
– Quotes – A few pithy and relevant quotes, include one after the tittle, can boost an essay’s appeal. It helps to have an idea captured in a memorable line.

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Essay writing is not the only form of assessment, but it remains the most important form for the foreseeable future. Decent essay writing skills get us better grades.

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