5 Do’s and Don’ts: Writing an Essay

Do you think of yourself as a writer? There are many different essay writing methods but they all provide the same outcome—a finalized essay! It doesn’t matter how you get the essay written, it matters that you produce a resourced-packed, well-written paper. Regardless, you should keep a few things in mind when figuring out your writing process. Your professors will be looking for specific criteria. We want to help you hit the mark every time, so we’ve laid out a few do’s and don’ts for essay writing!

Read over the prompt or syllabusForget to look for formatting requirements
Research ThoroughlyBe shy about asking for help
Find a good writing spaceTake your time for granted
Edit thoroughlyPlagiarize
Be descriptiveOverthink

The Do’s and Don'ts of Writing an Essay

The 5 Essay “Dos”

1. Do: Read over the prompt or syllabus

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

Flickr user Francisco Osorio

Depending on what class you’re taking, your professor may have a clear syllabus or outline for your essay. However, some professors only offer a rough idea of 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. Once you’re finished with your essay, read the outline again to see if your writing touches every point correctly and concisely.

For shorter essays, your professor may only give you a prompt. While these may not be as formal, your professor is noting how well you pay attention to detail and if you can clearly explain your thoughts on a certain topic. After you’ve written your essay, reread the prompt to make sure you have responded appropriately and that your thoughts are coherent.

2. Do: Research Thoroughly

Whether you’re quoting from a literature book or citing a research paper, make sure you do thorough research and always cite your sources. Always double-check that you’ve accurately quoted information. Your professor may want your sources cited in a specific way, so always ask about that if that information is not included in your syllabus.

Plagiarism is a big deal in college, and essays are often run through plagiarism detection software. Forgetting to cite where a quote comes from or paraphrasing without giving the source credit is an easy way to get into major trouble. Some colleges have zero tolerance for plagiarism, so it’s important to check over your work a few times before submitting it.

3. Do: Find your writing space

Much like finding perfect study spaces, it is just as important to find a space conducive to writing. It might be the same spot where you study for those big exams in the library. It could be a new coffee shop that a friend mentioned. Wherever it is, make sure you can sink in and focus on what you’re writing.

If you’re using the internet while writing, check that the location has reliable wifi and outlets to plug in your laptop. You should limit distractions as much as possible for maximum productivity. You can always take breaks or reward yourself once you’ve accomplished your writing goal!

4. Do: Edit Thoroughly

When you’re in writing mode, it’s possible to skip words, make typos, or leave thoughts unfinished. Once you have your first draft down, proofread your essay. During this time, edit any grammatical or formatting errors you see. You don’t want to lose points for a simple mistake that is easy to correct!

5. Do: Be Descriptive

A good way to show off your writing skills is to use descriptive language while staying within word count and format. Saying, “I was startled,” and, “I breathlessly stopped in my tracks,” mean the same thing, but the latter keeps your reader engaged and better shows your ability to express ideas.

…And 5 Essay “Don’ts”

1. Don’t: Forget to look for formatting requirements

You may be able to get through college using the same essay formatting you used in high school. MLA, APA, and Chicago-style are the most popular formats you’ll be introduced to if you haven’t been already. Almost all essays are the same in that they require a thesis and introduction, supporting ideas and paragraphs, and a conclusion to tie them all together.

Some professors won’t care which style you use, while others will only read your writing if it is in their preferred format. It is important to make sure you follow those requirements, as they are easy points to receive and get deducted from your essay if you skip over them. If the syllabus doesn’t have clear formatting requirements, you can always ask your professor to ensure a high-quality piece of writing is submitted.

2. Don’t: Be shy about asking for help

There are so many resources available when it comes to writing essays! Many colleges have writing centers where other students or Teacher Assistants can look over your essay. They can give advice, check for errors, and make suggestions. Some professors are willing to look over a rough draft if you give them enough time to do so.

There are also online resources that allow you to look up formatting guidelines for citations and bibliographies. These resources can help with grammatical errors, sentence structure, spelling mistakes, and run-on sentences. Academic writing requires attention to detail that can be easy to overlook, so asking for help can help you avoid mistakes. If all else fails, you can always find a friend to read your essay and answer the question, “Does this make sense?”

3. 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 think. Those due dates seem to be weeks away, but weeks go by fast during college. Make sure you give yourself the time to write a good essay and go over it for mistakes. Sometimes, the hardest part about writing an essay is simply getting started.

4. Don’t: Plagiarize

Your professors don’t want a formulated response to their prompt—they want you to be authentic and show original thoughts and ideas. Many professors can spot plagiarism, or they may run your paper through a plagiarism detection platform. Even if an essay isn’t your best work, your original thoughts are better than copying someone else’s.

This is why proper citation is so important. When you find information you want to use, cite the source correctly so you can give credit where it’s due and show your professor that you have taken the time to research well.

5. Don’t: Overthink

College can be overwhelming at times, especially when you have a lot of assignments due at once. If you are feeling frazzled or cannot think clearly enough to write, it’s okay to take a break and come back to it when your head is clear. Writer’s block will not produce a good essay. Take a break, clear your mind, and come back to writing when you have calmed your nerves.

For the best use of your time, we suggest planning out parts of your essay and creating smaller due dates for yourself. For example, if you have a paper due at the end of the semester, then create a timeline for it. Start early and have the introductory paragraph and thesis written out by a certain time. At a later date, you can work on some of the body paragraphs along with citations and inclusions of journal articles, if needed. Then, you’ll write the conclusion paragraph and have your rough draft completed! Professors can tell when students take the time to craft a thought-out paper or if they wait until the last minute. Earn the respect and the grade for taking initiative.

It’s no secret you’ll be writing many essays throughout your college career. Learning how to write a good essay will set you up for success in college and your professional life. Your writing style and general writing skills will improve greatly over the years when you pay attention to requirements, ask for help, and continue to put in hard work on your academic papers.

Whether you’re working on an argumentative essay, an admissions essay, or just a rough draft, following these do’s and don’ts of writing an essay can help you produce a better paper. Submitting work that you’re proud of and put in effort for should be your goal.

And if your current essay load has you second-guessing your career field choices (we’ve been there!), we have a comprehensive list of college majors that can help you figure out which is best for you.

2 thoughts on “5 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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