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

There are different methods for writing and they all provide us with the same outcome – a well-thought-out essay! Some students write with strict plans and outlines while others organize their thoughts 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 when figuring out your writing process. Here are a few essay dos and don’ts of essay writing – whether it be for a college application, a high school class, or a college paper!

DO read over the prompt or syllabus 

Depending on what class you’re taking, your professor may have a clear prompt and 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 back the prompt and see if your writing answers it in a correct and concise manner. 

DON’T forget to look for formatting requirements

It is possible that you might get through college using whatever 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 it all together. Some professors won’t care which one 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 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.

DO your research

Whether you’re quoting from a literature book or citing a research paper, make sure you do thorough research. Always double-check that you’ve quoted information in an accurate manner. 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. Some colleges have zero tolerance for plagiarism so it’s important to check over your work a few times before submitting it. 

DON’T be shy about asking for help

There are so many resources available when it comes to writing essays. Many colleges have writing labs of some sort where other students or TAs can look over your essay. They can give advice, check for errors, and lead you in the right direction. Some professors are willing to look over a rough draft if you give them enough time. There are also online resources like Grammarly, JSTOR, and BibMe where you can look up formatting guidelines for citations and bibliographies. These resources help with grammatical errors, sentence structure, spelling mistakes, and run-on sentences. Academic writing requires attention to detail that is easy to overlook so asking for help can help avoid mistakes. 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 just as 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 sink in and focus on what you’re writing. If you’re using the internet while writing, check that the place has reliable wifi and outlets for you to plug in your laptop. You should limit distractions as much as possible. If that means turning your phone off, do it. You can always reward yourself once you’ve accomplished your goal or take breaks if you’re doing a longer essay.

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 go by fast during college especially when you’re having fun. Make sure you give yourself the time to write a good essay. As well, take the time to go over it for mistakes. Sometimes the hardest part about writing an essay is actually to start writing.

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. You should start on an early date and have the introductory paragraph and thesis written out. 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 good paper or when they wait until the last minute. Earn the respect and the grade for doing so.

It’s no secret you’ll be writing a plethora of essays throughout your high school and college career. Learning how to write a good essay will set you up for success in college and life. Your writing style and general writing skills will improve greatly over the years. Especially when you continue to put in hard work on your academic papers. Whether you’re working on an argumentative essay, admissions essay, or just a rough draft of a random college essay, following our dos and donts of essay writing will help you tremendously. Submitting work that you’re proud of and put in effort for should be your goal. As the semesters go by, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve improved in your writing with this practical guide of essay tips!

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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