Writing Strategies

According to the Collins Gage Canadian Paperback Dictionary, an essay is “a literary composition on a certain subject, a written theme assigned as an exercise.” Writing essays is a major part of university assignments, particularly English courses. ‘Therefore, knowing how to go about writing a clear, concise, well-crafted essay will take you far in any course you undertake.  The practice of writing essays will also help you communicate your ideas and thoughts in other areas of study, in addition to other areas in your life.

There are many different ways to approach writing an essay.  Chapter 8 in the text Acting on Words: An Integrated Rhetoric, Research Guide, Reader, and Handbook, 3rd edition, available through Athabasca University, suggests many good approaches in beginning an essay, such as:

  1. Making a collage.
  2. Free writing.
  3. Brainstorming.
  4. Diagraming.
  5. Building a topic sentence tree.
  6. Ink shedding.
  7. Keeping a journal.

While a few of these methods (which are covered in detail in the text) may seem unusual, they do provide something that will appeal to everyone.  Certain students are more visual, other students are more methodical, and others more abstract thinking.  So choosing a method that works best for you will ensure you get off to a fast start on developing a thesis for your essay.

The next step, after narrowing the topic of your essay, is to create an outline, the structure of your essay.  Having an outline will help you to focus on each supporting detail of your topic and give you the opportunity to develop each section in a concentrated manner.

The basic essay structure is made up of a topic, engaging introduction, main subtopics or details, and an impactful conclusion.  Other things to consider are who you are writing for (your audience), the purpose of your essay (to change the reader’s point of view or to incite action), and a thesis statement.  Remember the importance of having an engaging essay title as well—first impressions on the reader count.

Another helpful essay writing tip is to keep detailed notes for your Works Cited page as you do your research.  Nothing wastes more time than attempting to locate an important quote or piece of information from a page number in a text you forgot to write down.

Revising and rewriting are vital final steps in presenting a polished, professional essay that ensures you do not lose marks for trivial errors.  Analyzing individual paragraphs and editing them for clarity, flow, concise details, and sensible concluding or transitional sentences break this task into easy steps.  Checking grammar, punctuation, and correct citations may seem tedious, but can make the difference between an A or a B grade.

Writing an essay can seem complex and difficult when you’ve never written one before.  But, with practice, the process of brainstorming a topic, developing an outline, narrowing your focus, and polishing your work to a brilliant shine will become second nature.  You may even discover the intoxication of finding enlightenment within your essay subject.  Nothing motivates you in the writing process quite like gaining an expanded point of view on a topic you knew nothing about prior to research.

Remember to note all previous mistakes outlined by your tutor on previous papers to ensure you do not repeat them on future papers.  One of the main goals is to improve your essay writing skills as you journey forward to more challenging courses.  Indeed, the purpose of writing a university level paper is to learn from the process and enjoy the journey, not simply achieve a great mark.