A writer’s-blocked student asked me to post a blog on how to write a college essay in today’s blog, so here are some steps that you should find helpful.
First, read the assignment. What does the assignment require you to write about? If there is anything you don’t understand, ask your instructor for clarification IMMEDIATELY! Do not wait until the last minute because your ability to comprehend the assignment will diminish the closer you get to the due date. Panic sets in and it obscures even the simplest of instructions.
Next, gather research about the topic at hand. Make sure that it is legitimate, quality research, not something that you googled. Note that, while many instructors allow you to use Wikipedia these days, my students know that it is just a STARTING point in their research, not the end zone.
After reading and taking notes on the words of the experts, figure out what three main points your paper will have. Now it is time to approach your Word document. Please notice that we did not start with the Word document, because the research MUST come first! Type in your headings for name, course number, and due date, plus the any other information your instructor wants.
Leave a space in your document for the first paragraph, but do not attempt to write the introduction yet. Type in any research you want to be sure to include in the document, placing it in the document as part of the three main points that you will be making in the essay. Here’s an example of what I mean:
The essay is on the importance of exercise, so your three main points might be:
Exercise keeps you young longer.
Exercise helps you maintain a good body weight.
Exercise keeps your heart healthy.
Put your research that talks about youthfulness as a sub-point under point one, research that discusses body weight under sub-point two, and research that mentions heart health under sub-point three. Put your in-text citations in the document as you write it, so that you won’t forget to do so and end up being thrown out of college for plagiarism.
Please note that you no longer have a blank screen staring at you in the face; you are on a roll now. Keep writing.
Put a thesis statement at the beginning of the paragraph on each individual point. Analyze what your research says. Place transitions between the points. Write a conclusion that does NOT introduce any new information but which DOES summarize what you have said in the paper.
Read over your paper closely and fix any typos or poorly worded sentences. Read it OUT LOUD and you will probably catch more mistakes. When you are totally satisfied with the paper, go back and write the introduction because now you know where the paper “went” as far as its discussion. Do not copy and paste your conclusion into the introduction- instructors find that to be lazy. And boring.
Set your paper aside for 24 hours and then read through it again before you submit it (see why you can’t wait until the day before it’s due to write it? You have to let it marinate for 24 hours). Fix anything that needs fixing and you are ready to print it off and turn it in. Congratulations, your paper is done!