Do you dread essay writing? Are you looking for some essay tips that will help you write an amazing essay—and have fun doing it?
Lots of students, young and old, dread essay writing. It's a daunting assignment, one that takes research, time, and concentration.
It's also an assignment that you can break up into simple steps that make writing an essay manageable and, yes, even enjoyable.
These ten essay tips completely changed my writing process—and I hope that they can do the same for you.
Essay Writing Can Be Fun
Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.
Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with B's and A-minuses.
I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.
However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it.
And since then, I've become a professional writer and have written more than a dozen books. I'm not saying that these essay writing tips are going to magically turn you into a writer, but at least they can help you enjoy the process more.
I'm excited to share these ten essay writing tips with you today! But first, we need to talk about why writing an essay is so hard.
Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard
When it comes to essay writing, a lot of students find a reason to put it off. And when they tackle it, they find it difficult to string sentences together that sound like a decent stance on the assigned subject.
Here are a few reasons why essay writing is hard:
- You'd rather be scrolling through Facebook
- You're trying to write something your teacher or professor will like
- You're trying to get an A instead of writing something that's actually good
- You want to do the least amount of work possible
The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external rewards like getting a passing grade, winning our teacher's approval, or just avoiding accusations of plagiarism.
The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.
Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity.
The subconscious is the source of your creativity.
What this means practically is that when you're trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, you're turning off most of your best resources and writing skills.
So stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a “good-enough” essay). Instead, write an interesting essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when you're finished, go back and edit it until it's “good” according to your teacher's standards.
Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! If your teacher asks for a specific type of essay, like an analysis, argument, or research essay, then make sure you write that type of essay!
However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you.
I can't guarantee you'll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise you'll have a lot more fun writing.
The Step-by-Step Process to Writing a Great Essay: Your 10 Essay Writing Tips
Ready to get writing? You can read my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade, or check out this presentation designed by our friends at Canva Presentations.
1. Remember your essay is just a story.
Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas, and the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.
That means that the best essays are about surprise: “You probably think it's one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way.” See tip #3 for more on this.
How do you know what story you're telling? The prompt should tell you.
Any list of essay prompts includes various topics and tasks associated with them. Within those topics are characters (historical, fictional, or topical) faced with difficult choices. Your job is to work with those choices, usually by analyzing them, arguing about them, researching them, or describing them in detail.
2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “How can I have the most fun writing this?”
It's normal to feel unmotivated when writing an academic essay. I'm a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.
Here's the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:
“How much fun can I have writing this?”
Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun.
The best time to have your fun is the first draft. Since you're just brainstorming within the topic, and exploring the possible ways of approaching it, the first draft is the perfect place to get creative and even a little scandalous. Here are some wild suggestions to make your next essay a load of fun:
- Research the most surprising or outrageous fact about the topic and use it as your hook.
- Use a thesaurus to research the topic's key words. Get crazy with your vocabulary as you write, working in each key word synonym as much as possible.
- Play devil's advocate and take the opposing or immoral side of the issue. See where the discussion takes you as you write.
3. As you research, ask yourself, “What surprises me about this subject?”
The temptation, when you're writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read.
Don't do this.
Instead, ask yourself, “What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?”
If you can't think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then you're not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimming over with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, “We used to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.”
These pieces of surprising information often make for the best topic sentences as well. Use them to outline your essay and build your body paragraphs off of each unique fact or idea. These will function as excellent hooks for your reader as you transition from one topic to the next.
(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)
4. Overwhelmed? Write five original sentences.
The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If you're feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences covering your most basic main points.
Here's what they might look like for this article:
- Introductory Paragraph: While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
- Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
- Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
- Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, it will also result in better essays.
- Conclusion: Writing an essay doesn't have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.
After you write your five sentences, it's easy to fill in the paragraphs for each one.
Now, you give it a shot!
5. Be “source heavy.”
In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful, but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.
As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasn't quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.
It's good to keep in mind that using anyone else's words, even when morphed into your own phrasing, requires citation. While the definition of plagiarism is shifting with the rise of online collaboration and cooperative learning environments, always err on the side of excessive citation to be safe.
When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very “source” heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me A's.
To keep yourself safe, I recommend using a 60/40 approach with your body paragraphs: Make sure 60% of the words are your own analysis and argumentation, while 40% can be quoted (or text you paraphrase) from your sources.
Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research well, which some students find easier.
6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.
Introductions are often the hardest part to write because you're trying to summarize your entire essay before you've even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.
This is especially important with an essay topic you are not personally interested in. I definitely recommend this in classes you either don't excel in or care much for. Take plenty of time to draft and revise your body paragraphs before attempting to craft a meaningful introductory paragraph.
Otherwise your opening may sound awkward, wooden, and bland.
7. Most essays answer the question, “What?” Good essays answer the “Why?” The best essays answer the “How?”
If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or you're struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, “How?”
- How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in The Catcher In the Rye?
- How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
- How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?
If you focus on how, you'll always have enough to write about.
8. Don't be afraid to jump around.
Essay writing can be a dance. You don't have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end.
For the same reasons listed in point #6, give yourself the freedom to write as if you're circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit and proofread, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.
In fact, now is the perfect time to mention that proofreading your essay isn't just about spelling and commas.
It's about making sure your analysis or argument flows smoothly from one idea to another. (Okay, technically this comprises editing, but most students writing a high school or college essay don't take the time to complete every step of the writing process. Let's be honest.)
So as you clean up your mechanics and sentence structure, make sure your ideas flow smoothly, logically, and naturally from one to the next as you finish proofreading.
9. Here are some words and phrases you don't want to use.
- You (You'll notice I use a lot of you's, which is great for a blog post. However, in an academic essay, it's better to omit the second-person.)
- To Be verbs (is, are, was, were, am)
Don't have time to edit? Here's a lightning-quick editing technique.
A note about “I”: Some teachers say you shouldn't use “I” statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion,” especially in their introductions.
10. It's okay to use Wikipedia, if…
Wikipedia is one of the top five websites in the world for a reason: it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors don't consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays.
Don't totally discount it, though! Here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:
- Background research. If you don't know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
- Find sources. Check the reference section of Wikipedia's articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and cite them. You can locate the links to primary and secondary sources at the bottom of any Wikipedia page under the headings “Further Reading” and “References.”
You Can Enjoy Essay Writing
The thing I regret most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.
The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world don't have access to.
It's a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I don't want you to make the mistake of just “getting by” through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.
How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?
All I'm saying is, don't miss out!
Looking for More Essay Writing Tips?
Looking for more essay tips to strengthen your essay writing? Try some of these resources:
How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay? Let us know in the comments.
Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20
Ready to try out these ten essay tips to make your essay assignment fun? Spend fifteen minutes using tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.
When you're finished, share your five sentences in the comments section. And don't forget to give feedback to your fellow writers!