English Essay Tips from the Experts

The ability to write well is an invaluable skill.  Although it can be difficult to develop, it is something you can learn and improve.

Standardized tests like the SAT are placing a greater emphasis on writing skills.  As the written word becomes more and more important in the business world, students need sound advice on developing strong written communication skills.  We reached out to several professional editors, grammar experts and test preparation tutors to get their top tips.

Erin Brenner has been a publishing professional for nearly two decades. She is the editor of the bimonthly newsletter for copyediting.com, and also is a regular contributor to their blog. Erin runs Right Touch Editing, and teaches copyediting for the University of California-San Diego.

Her tip is - know that your essay is only the end result of all of the work you have to do before you sit down to write:

Writing is the last step in the writing process. Make sure you've done your research and created a detailed outline before you start writing your essay. You can't write well if you don't have anything to write with...

Write from a wealth of information. It's far better to have more than enough material to write from than not enough.

Alexis Avila, founder of the tutoring and test preparation service Prepped and Polished, has devoted his career to helping students at all levels – from elementary school to adult learners – improve their grades. He writes for Answers.com as the Test Prep Expert, and interviews educators, mentors, and leaders from the business world on his Prepped & Polished Podcast.

Photo via Writing Center Underground

His tip is to make sure you have a clear roadmap in mind for each paragraph you write:

When approaching any essay, remember TET: Thesis / Evidence / Transition. By structuring each paragraph using this model, you will have a strong and clear argument throughout your essay.  If you’re writing a sentence that doesn’t fit under Thesis / Evidence / Transition, then you don’t need it! 

Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, is a former science writer and senior editor at a number of health and science websites, creator of the Grammar Girls Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing podcast, and founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. Her blog, Grammar Girl, provides friendly tips to improve your writing.

Her tip is to focus on the clarity of your writing.

Writers often overuse the word "of," and the word can be a sign of vague writing. Whenever you see the word "of," check to see if you can make the sentence more concrete--especially when it follows a word that ends in "-tion."

Vague Sentence: I did not look forward to a continuation of our discussion.

Better Sentence: I did not look forward to talking with Bob again.

Brenda Bernstein brings a unique perspective to writing coaching. Her team at The Essay Expert specializes in helping non-traditional students and job seekers find their voice, whether they’re writing a college admissions essay or crafting an eye-catching resume. In addition to holding degrees with honors from Yale and New York University School of Law, Brenda also is one of only a handful of Certified Master Resume Writers and Certified Executive Resume Masters in the world.

Her advice to those sitting down to craft their life events into a clear and compelling narrative is as simple as it is central to effective personal storytelling:

If you have a non-traditional background and you are applying to college or graduate school, it’s essential to highlight that background in a truthful, insightful way. Don’t just tell us the facts of your life; reflect on them and find a thread, or theme, that adds color and cohesiveness to your story. You might be tempted to tell your story as if you already had the insights at a younger age that you have now. Instead, admit to the less mature thoughts or actions of your past so you can talk about how you’ve grown and gained new understanding of who you are and where you are going.

These tips may not be everything you need to know to write a strong essay, but they’re a great start from a wide variety of essay experts. If nothing else, remember this:

Research first; write second. If you don’t know what you want to say on a topic, you’re not ready to start putting words on the page.

  • Be structured in your writing. Although it may seem rigid, sticking to a clear structure will leave you with an easy-to-understand essay.
  • Sweat the details. Words have meaning, and just as using the perfect one will make your writing stand out, so will using the wrong one – only you won’t stand out in the way that you’d want!
  • Be honest, and write with all of your experiences in mind. An essay isn’t the place for a soul-bearing confessional, but understanding your life’s events and how they will impact your future will reveal the depth and maturity that otherwise can be difficult to get across in just a few hundred words.

Anything else you would add? Tell us in the comments!

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