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Step 13: Essay Tips

Now matter how good your final essay is, it's always worthwhile to take into account some last minute essay tips that can help improve your writing. The following tips and tricks were developed out of the completion of thousands of model essays through our custom writing and editing service

Don't Use the Word "Said"

When you are integrating your quotes and citing authors, it can be really easy and tempting to just repeatedly introduce the quote with "he said..." and "this author said..." However, you want to avoid using the word said at all costs. There are many, many other means of introducing quotes without using this method. Below is a link to a website that has 219 words to use other than said.

SPWBook's List of 219 Alternates to "Said"


Words to Use Instead of "Said"

  • Accused
  • Admitted
  • Affirmed
  • Agreed
  • Commanded
  • Conceded
  • Concluded
  • Confessed
  • Declared
  • Disclosed
  • Echoed
  • Explained
  • Fretted
  • Groaned
  • Interjected
  • Insisted
  • Implied
  • Laughed
  • Mentioned
  • Nagged
  • Revealed
  • Responded
  • Smirked
  • Snorted
  • Stammered
  • Wailed
  • Yawned

Use Colons and Semi-colons Properly

Colons and semi-colons are wonderful ways to create rich, complex sentences. However, more often than not these punctuation marks are misused. Remember that colons are used for listing things and can include only subjects after it, not a subject and predicate. Alternatively, semi-colons are used when you want to include two separate sentences together. Each half of the sentence before and after the semi-colon must have a subject and predicate. A good rule of thumb is to see if each half can stand alone as a sentence by itself. If it can't, then you are using it incorrectly.

Start Early

There's nothing worse than feeling the stress of having to get an essay written the night before it's due. However, despite plenty of stories from college students that make it seem like that's the only way to write, there's a better option: getting started early on your work. If you begin earlier, then you can break up the work into smaller, more manageable chunks. That way, you're not stressing in the library with twelve hours before your essay is due.

Minimize Distractions

It's always best to make sure that you can get your writing done in an environment where you're not distracted. Find a quiet place to work (away from home, if you can - if you haven't been to the library all semester, now is the time!). Don't watch TV or a movie while you work, even if you're trying to pull the old "it's just background noise" excuse. And, above all, don't mindlessly surf the Internet. We've all found ourselves getting sucked into social media, or trapped in a Wikipedia black hole, when we should really be writing. If it's crunch time, shut your Internet off, hunker down, and crank that paper out, distraction-free.

Save Your Sources As You Go

In order to make sure that you keep all your sources in order, get each citation ready after you've found the source and decided it was worth including in your final draft. This serves two purposes. First, properly cataloging your sources enables you to be much more organized as you write, since you'll have a handle on what you have and haven't yet covered in your research. Additionally, this method of researching allows you to better group your sources based on content. When your sources are organized well, the rest of the essay falls in line nicely. 

Find Multiple Viewpoints

When you're researching, make it a point to find a source or two that refutes the argument you are trying to make. The ability to view all the angles and not let bias rule your work is essential for good academic writing. Showing multiple sides of the same issue not only makes your paper seem more complete, since you're covering multiple viewpoints relating to the topic you've chosen, but also makes you look like a smarter writer for being cognizant of differing opinions. If you want to impress your teacher or professor, play devil's advocate and find conflicting sources that, in tandem, allow you to illustrate your argument or point.

Research First, Then Outline

Once you've finished choosing your sources, you can sit down and outline the direction that your essay will take. Your research will help dictate how you divide up your points and paragraphs, making structuring the essay a snap once you've got all the individual pieces gathered. Outlining in advance also makes the writing process much less difficult, since you are essentially just filling in the blanks to complete your work. It's easier to flesh out an outline into a full essay than it is to write a paper from scratch. 

Write A Good Title

It may not seem like much, but a strong title can provide a nice summation of your paper, letting your teacher or professor know the most basic ideas about what to expect from your work. There are two routes you can go: informative or clever. Choose wisely - it's probably a bad idea to have a punny title in a paper about the Holocaust. Whichever route you take, make your title clear in order to start your paper off on the right foot. 

Use Strong Verbs

After a while, it can become a bit difficult to keep from repeating yourself as you continue writing your essay. A simple way to prevent this is to choose strong verbs for your sentences. Replacing commonly used verbs with uncommon ones can aid your writing's ability to evoke images, portray points, and further arguments, since your words will carry more weight. Find ways to incorporate verbiage beyond an elementary school level. You're writing for an intelligent audience, so use intelligent language instead of common verbs like "do" or "think".

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Don't Misuse Abbreviations

While abbreviations are always more than okay to use in your essay - we're talking the kind of abbreviation you don't use in text messages - always make sure that you use them correctly. Fully spell out the meaning of the abbreviation in advance so your teacher or professor knows exactly what you're referencing, use the abbreviation in reference, then feel free to abbreviate the term or phrase for the rest of your paper. 

Don't Quote Too Much

While it is important to make sure you properly cite your sources, and to use direct quotes from them to further your point, it's always possible to use too many quotes. Watch out for that. If you over-quote, it makes you look lazy and uninspired. Why do you deserve a good grade if the brunt of your essay isn't even attributable to you?

Tip: No more than 17% of your paper should consist of direct quotes.


Err on the safe side and quote sparingly so your own thoughts and ideas aren't buried underneath someone else's point of view. 

Avoid Passive Language

As you write, make a concerted effort to use the active voice. Too much passive language gives your words less weight, denying them their full potential to evoke images and viewpoints. Always keep this in mind: the subjects of your sentences are the ones who act on objects, not the other way around. (e.g. The dog food was eaten by the puppies. VS The puppies ate the dog food.) This simple fix will make your sentences crisp and clear, while also preventing them from getting too wordy and muddled. 

Keep "Me" Out of It

An academic paper should certainly contain your thoughts and opinions, but those thoughts and opinions should be expressed formally, which means keeping usage of "I" or "me" talk to a minimum. Even when discussing your own opinions and ideas, simply declare your views instead of prefacing things with "I think..." or "In my opinion..." This will make your work sound more assured. It is also a good idea to avoid "you" statements in academic writing. Instead, use a more general term, such as "one" or "people". "One might..." sounds much stronger than "you might..." in an academic context. 

Take Breaks

Sitting in one spot for hours working on your essay is not just unhealthy - it's also a surefire way to keep your creative juices from flowing freely. Studies show two things: productivity drops when you force yourself to work for too long, and taking occasional breaks drastically improves one's ability to focus. Break up your workflow at least once an hour with ten to fifteen minutes of relaxation time. Do whatever you like - take a walk, make a snack, watch cats do something funny on YouTube - as long as it's not working on your essay. 

Think For Yourself

As you write, ensure that you're putting in some ideas of your own throughout your essay, and not simply parroting whatever you dredge up over the course of researching. Whether you do that by incorporating relevant anecdotes from your life, or being bold enough to pontificate on the topic and showcase your critical thinking and reasoning abilities, throwing your point of view in the mix in a tactful manner is a surefire way to impress. 

Provide Answers, Not Questions

It's important to sound like you're coming from a place of authority as you write. An easy way to ensure this is by making sure that you're not asking a lot of questions in your essays. If you raise too many questions, it can become increasingly difficult to adequately answer them. Instead, focus on answering questions raised by others. Your job as a researcher and writer is to provide answers to the topic provided, not to bring up further questions. There are stronger rhetorical tools out there than asking a question and immediately answering it, so find a better way to bolster your argument or point of view than by openly wondering about it in your essay. 

Double-Check For Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a capital sin in the world of essay writing, and when your teacher or professor catches you in the act, swift punishment is sure to follow. If you're reading this, you clearly care enough about writing well and probably won't purposefully plagiarize. However, watch out for the occasional accidental instance of plagiarism that may slip through the cracks. It's easy to slip into directly quoting your research without realizing it, so keep a vigilant eye on any section of your essay that involves paraphrasing or quoting parts of your research. Nobody wants their brilliant thesis paper thrown out just because they inadvertently lifted some sentences from an outside source when they simply meant to paraphrase.

Read Your Words Out Loud

If you really want to make sure that your writing sounds as good as it looks - not to mention that it makes sense - then you should take the time to read your essay out loud either as you go along, or after you've finished a draft. This simple trick will help keep your work sounding fresh and understandable. You don't have to go shouting from the rooftops or anything; reading your essay aloud to yourself is just fine. The goal is to make sure that your sentences sound natural and have good syntax, while also achieving the desired level of formality. By reading aloud, you nullify your chances of turning in shoddy work since you have an exact idea of how your writing reads instead of leaving it up to chance. If you think your words sound good, then there's a good chance your teacher or professor will too. 

Don't Turn In Your First Draft

You've finished writing, and now you feel accomplished. Time to relax, right? WRONG! Turning in your first draft, especially if you haven't even done a second glance at the essay for a simple spelling and grammar check, leaves too much room for error. Always take the time to re-read your paper, tweaking what needs to be tweaked as you go. Perhaps you need to rearrange sections to make things flow better. Maybe you need to rewrite your introduction to set your paper up better. Could be that all you need to fix are a handful of misspelled words. Regardless, don't ever turn in an unedited first draft. Your GPA will thank you later.

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This post was written by Ultius.

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