Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall in the office of the person who evaluates your essay? You could see what he or she is doing while reading the essay you have submitted. Or even better, if you could know what he or she is thinking, evaluating and ultimately evaluating would be invaluable information.
Too bad the education world doesn’t work that way. What you can do is look at the typical comments evaluators make about written work before you begin your next essay, and perhaps use these tips as your starting point.
Common comments and criticisms:
- poor structure to the essay
- too descriptive, poorly expressed
- strays too far from the title that was set
- lacking in critical writing
- weak introduction and conclusion
- distractions to the reader from poor editing, typos and assorted fonts
How handy! Use this “What Not To Do” guide as your checklist for your next essay! It may be just what keeps your paper from the mediocre pile. Move it to the top graded one you want it to be!
Essay writing always begins with a comprehensive outline. Good planning is critical to effective flow of your writing that engages your reader and leaves them feeling you actually had something relevant and important to say.
Brainstorming is the best way to work your outline. Ask yourself about the main points you want to make. What reading and research do you need to do? What structure will the paper take? What kind of evidence will be needed to support your points, and how will you present or express the proof? Getting all these thoughts down in your brainstorming is where your outline will evolve.
Descriptions and Language
Evaluators are smart… and have written many essays themselves. They have likely graded multitudes more. They can spot filler or drivel, especially when it is disguised as padding to make the paper meet the required word count. Don’t go there! Just like an overly flowery compliment feels insincere, extra details and unnecessary descriptions don’t usually do your topic justice. You don’t want to describe your points. You want to express ideas, or expand on the thoughts of others you have cited.
Choose a language style that is your own. Trying to sound like something you are not will make your sentences stilted, not genuine and perhaps sounding plagiarized. Adjust the degree of formality depending on the assignment. A history paper shouldn’t sound like a science paper! Give it a levelheaded authoritative tone, and ideally have it read by another before submission.
The title or topic
When the topic is prescribed, it’s because it is the avenue of thought the instructor needs to see you have learned about, and garnered your own opinions about. Dig deep. A good topic poses a question. Somewhere in there is something to be addressed and hopefully answered. It can be helpful to post this “question” boldly over your workspace to constantly remind yourself and to stay on track with responding to it.
When you stray from the topic and go into another tangent, it can instantly make the evaluator feel negative toward your paper, even when the information provided or opinions expressed are of high quality.
When the topic is of your own choosing, you may feel you have more freedom to expound on that chosen title. Again, it can be tricky to stay the course. Double check your outline and rework or redirect the body and content of your paper.
Lacking in critical writing
No one wants to read an essay that reiterates information or descriptions. This is especially true of opinions that have been said before, argued before, and leave the reader with nothing new. You HAVE to develop your own opinion. Even when it is the same as someone else’s or perhaps formed from what you have read written by others, you HAVE to find an angle to make your own.
Once you have that angle, everything in your essay should stem from this position. Don’t be afraid to be wrong… an adverse position can still be critically analyzed and expressed. There are two sides to every opinion! When you read your rough work, listen carefully to what the argument is telling the reader.
Once you have developed a strong knowledge base from your reading, research, brainstorming and the all-important outline, start analyzing the argument. Define your claim; itemize the reasons and the evidence. Keep organized! Look for the weaknesses of logic and discover the strengths.
Introductions and Conclusions
We’ve all heard about the value of a first impression and how quickly it is made. Your essay represents you, and your voice, in written form. An essay is always read… in order! And a quality introduction is short, concise and to the point. The body of the essay is where these points are described, argued and debated with details and evidence, never in the introduction. It can be tricky, but a good hook at the end of the introduction could lead the reader effectively into your content with the right degree of interest.
Many successful writers suggest composing your introduction and conclusion after the body of the paper is mostly done. Referring back to the QUESTION of the topic or title is extremely important. And always leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction at the close of the paper.
Today there are plenty of online tools to help you present a paper that is free of distractions such as plagiarism checker for students, bad grammar and spelling, typographical errors and even bad print quality checkers. Follow the guidelines given which is usually: double spaces, single sided, 12 point New Time Roman font, on clean white paper. Keep data, charts and graphs efficient and easy to read and follow. Don’t go overboard on colour. Allow for ample space for Footnotes and Bibliographies.
Knowing more about the evaluation or grading of your paper should help you with some of the pitfalls of bad essay writing. Of course, not every problem can be solved with a checklist or guideline. Sometimes when you are writing, inspiration can strike you and some restructuring is necessary. Perhaps it will lead to a rewrite of your introduction or changing your opinion altogether. Regardless, ensuring your conclusion matches your thesis statement, which must be derived from the assigned topic is paramount.
There are quite a few techniques and exercises to can help you generally improve your writing skills. For instance, you can try stream of consciousness technique, a writing method that is based on associations and images.
Good luck with your essay!