Do’s and Don’ts: Writing an Essay

A student writing a paper. There are do's and don'ts of writing a paper

Flickr user Francisco Osorio

We all have different methods for writing essays. Some people write with strict plans and outline, others organize as they go. Regardless of whether you write from beginning to end in a straight shot or skip around in a hodgepodge until the essay is done, there are a few things that the essay-writer needs to keep in mind.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for writing an essay–whether it be for college admission, a high school class, or a college paper!

DO read over the prompt or syllabus carefully.

Depending on what class you’re taking, your professor may have a clear prompt for your essay. However, some professors only offer a rough idea for what they expect from you. It is important to look over the expectations carefully, and repeatedly, as you write to ensure that you stay on the correct track.

DON’T forget to look for formatting requirements.

It’s entirely possible that you might get through college using whatever essay formatting you used in high school. MLA, APA, Chicago-style, some professors won’t care which one you use. Others will have font, spacing, and layout requirements, but nothing after that. It is important to make sure you follow those requirements, as they are easy points. If the syllabus doesn’t have clear formatting requirements, you can always ask your instructor.

DO research.

Whether you’re quoting from a literature book or citing a research paper, make sure you do your research carefully. Always make sure to quote things accurately. Plagiarism is a big deal in college; with so many universities and colleges using online dropboxes, essays are often run through plagiarism programs. Forgetting to cite where a quote comes from or paraphrasing without giving credit is an easy way to get into major trouble.

DON’T be shy about asking for help.

There are so many resources available when it comes to writing essays. Many schools have writing labs of some sort where other students or TAs can look over your essay. They can give advice, check for errors, and possibly help you find a direction. Some professors are willing to look over a rough draft provided you give them enough time. There are also online resources (my go-to was always Purdue OWL) where you can look up formatting guidelines for citations and bibliographies. And of course, you can always find a friend to read your essay over and answer the question “Does this make sense?”

DO make sure to find a good place for you to write.

Much like finding perfect study spaces, it is vitally important to find a space conducive to writing. It might be the same spot in the library where you study for those big exams. It might be a new coffee shop that a friend mentioned. Wherever it is, make sure you can really sink in and focus on what you’re writing. You should limit distractions as much as possible. If that means turning your internet and phone off, do it. You can always reward yourself once you’ve accomplished your goal.

DON’T take your time for granted.

Sure, you have an entire semester to write that twenty-page essay. That’s plenty of time, right? The truth is, the semester will slip away faster than you would believe. It’s easy to think that those due dates are weeks away, but weeks fly by fast during college. Make sure you give yourself the time to write a good essay, as well the time to go over it for mistakes. Professors can tell when students take the time to craft a good paper. Earn the respect–and the grade–for doing so.

With these tips in mind, go out and write an awesome essay!

2 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts: Writing an Essay”

  1. Those sorts of tips on composing are extraordinary. More often I lose my emphasis on my composition and it makes me squander my time. I know I’m just one of the many authors out there and I get what you mean about “DON’T take your time for granted”. I could easily lose track of time resulting to a low output and not meeting the deadlines as well.

  2. Carmen says:

    Very informative. Great help.

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