Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org.

  • Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt
  • Asking Analytical Questions
  • Introductions
  • What Do Introductions Across the Disciplines Have in Common?
  • Anatomy of a Body Paragraph
  • Transitions
  • Tips for Organizing Your Essay
  • Counterargument
  • Conclusions
  • Strategies for Essay Writing: Downloadable PDFs
  • Brief Guides to Writing in the Disciplines

The Write Practice

Essay Writing Tips: 10 Steps to Writing a Great Essay (And Have Fun Doing It!)

by Joe Bunting | 118 comments

Do you dread essay writing? Are you looking for some essay tips that will help you write an amazing essay—and have fun doing it?

essay tips

Lots of students, young and old, dread essay writing. It's a daunting assignment, one that takes research, time, and concentration.

It's also an assignment that you can break up into simple steps that make writing an essay manageable and, yes, even enjoyable.

These ten essay tips completely changed my writing process—and I hope that they can do the same for you.

Essay Writing Can Be Fun

Honestly, throughout most of high school and college, I was a mediocre essay writer.

Every once in a while, I would write a really good essay, but mostly I skated by with B's and A-minuses.

I know personally how boring writing an essay can be, and also, how hard it can be to write a good one.

However, toward the end of my time as a student, I made a breakthrough. I figured out how to not only write a great essay, I learned how to have fun while doing it . 

And since then, I've become a professional writer and have written more than a dozen books. I'm not saying that these essay writing tips are going to magically turn you into a writer, but at least they can help you enjoy the process more.

I'm excited to share these ten essay writing tips with you today! But first, we need to talk about why writing an essay is so hard.

Why Writing an Essay Is So Hard

When it comes to essay writing, a lot of students find a reason to put it off. And when they tackle it, they find it difficult to string sentences together that sound like a decent stance on the assigned subject.

Here are a few reasons why essay writing is hard:

  • You'd rather be scrolling through Facebook
  • You're trying to write something your teacher or professor will like
  • You're trying to get an A instead of writing something that's actually good
  • You want to do the least amount of work possible

The biggest reason writing an essay is so hard is because we mostly focus on those external  rewards like getting a passing grade, winning our teacher's approval, or just avoiding accusations of plagiarism.

The problem is that when you focus on external approval it not only makes writing much less fun, it also makes it significantly harder.

Because when you focus on external approval, you shut down your subconscious, and the subconscious is the source of your creativity.

The subconscious is the source of your creativity.

What this means practically is that when you're trying to write that perfect, A-plus-worthy sentence, you're turning off most of your best resources and writing skills.

So stop. Stop trying to write a good essay (or even a “good-enough” essay). Instead, write an interesting  essay, write an essay you think is fascinating. And when you're finished, go back and edit it until it's “good” according to your teacher's standards.

Yes, you need to follow the guidelines in your assignment. If your teacher tells you to write a five-paragraph essay, then write a five-paragraph essay! If your teacher asks for a specific type of essay, like an analysis, argument, or research essay, then make sure you write that type of essay!

However, within those guidelines, find room to express something that is uniquely you .

I can't guarantee you'll get a higher grade (although, you almost certainly will), but I can absolutely promise you'll have a lot more fun writing.

The Step-by-Step Process to Writing a Great Essay: Your 10 Essay Writing Tips

Ready to get writing? You can read my ten best tips for having fun while writing an essay that earns you the top grade, or check out this presentation designed by our friends at Canva Presentations .

1. Remember your essay is just a story.

Every story is about conflict and change, and the truth is that essays are about conflict and change, too! The difference is that in an essay, the conflict is between different ideas , and the change is in the way we should perceive those ideas.

That means that the best essays are about surprise: “You probably think it's one way, but in reality, you should think of it this other way.” See tip #3 for more on this.

How do you know what story you're telling? The prompt should tell you.

Any list of essay prompts includes various topics and tasks associated with them. Within those topics are characters (historical, fictional, or topical) faced with difficult choices. Your job is to work with those choices, usually by analyzing them, arguing about them, researching them, or describing them in detail.

2. Before you start writing, ask yourself, “How can I have the most fun writing this?”

It's normal to feel unmotivated when writing an academic essay. I'm a writer, and honestly, I feel unmotivated to write all the time. But I have a super-ninja, judo-mind trick I like to use to help motivate myself.

Here's the secret trick: One of the interesting things about your subconscious is that it will answer any question you ask yourself. So whenever you feel unmotivated to write your essay, ask yourself the following question:

“How much fun can I have writing this?”

Your subconscious will immediately start thinking of strategies to make the writing process more fun.

The best time to have your fun is the first draft. Since you're just brainstorming within the topic, and exploring the possible ways of approaching it, the first draft is the perfect place to get creative and even a little scandalous. Here are some wild suggestions to make your next essay a load of fun:

  • Research the most surprising or outrageous fact about the topic and use it as your hook.
  • Use a thesaurus to research the topic's key words. Get crazy with your vocabulary as you write, working in each key word synonym as much as possible.
  • Play devil's advocate and take the opposing or immoral side of the issue. See where the discussion takes you as you write.

3. As you research, ask yourself, “What surprises me about this subject?”

The temptation, when you're writing an essay, is to write what you think your teacher or professor wants to read.

Don't do this .

Instead, ask yourself, “What do I find interesting about this subject? What surprises me?”

If you can't think of anything that surprises you, anything you find interesting, then you're not searching well enough, because history, science, and literature are all brimming   over with surprises. When you look at how great ideas actually happen, the story is always, “We used  to think the world was this way. We found out we were completely wrong, and that the world is actually quite different from what we thought.”

These pieces of surprising information often make for the best topic sentences as well. Use them to outline your essay and build your body paragraphs off of each unique fact or idea. These will function as excellent hooks for your reader as you transition from one topic to the next.

(By the way, what sources should you use for research? Check out tip #10 below.)

4. Overwhelmed? Write five original sentences.

The standard three-point essay is really made up of just five original sentences surrounded by supporting paragraphs that back up those five sentences. If you're feeling overwhelmed, just write five sentences covering your most basic main points.

Here's what they might look like for this article:

  • Introductory Paragraph:  While most students consider writing an essay a boring task, with the right mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
  • Body #1: Most students think writing an essay is tedious because they focus on external rewards.
  • Body #2: Students should instead focus on internal fulfillment when writing an essay.
  • Body #3: Not only will focusing on internal fulfillment allow students to have more fun, it will also result in better essays.
  • Conclusion: Writing an essay doesn't have to be simply a way to earn a good grade. Instead, it can be a means of finding fulfillment.

After you write your five sentences, it's easy to fill in the paragraphs for each one.

Now, you give it a shot!

5. Be “source heavy.”

In college, I discovered a trick that helped me go from a B-average student to an A-student, but before I explain how it works, let me warn you. This technique is powerful , but it might not work for all teachers or professors. Use with caution.

As I was writing a paper for a literature class, I realized that the articles and books I was reading said what I was trying to say much better than I ever could. So what did I do? I quoted them liberally throughout my paper. When I wasn't quoting, I re-phrased what they said in my own words, giving proper credit, of course. I found that not only did this formula create a well-written essay, it took about half the time to write.

It's good to keep in mind that using anyone else's words, even when morphed into your own phrasing, requires citation. While the definition of plagiarism is shifting with the rise of online collaboration and cooperative learning environments, always  err on the side of excessive citation to be safe.

When I used this technique, my professors sometimes mentioned that my papers were very “source” heavy. However, at the same time, they always gave me A's.

To keep yourself safe, I recommend using a 60/40 approach with your body paragraphs: Make sure 60% of the words are your own analysis and argumentation, while 40% can be quoted (or text you paraphrase) from your sources.

Like the five sentence trick, this technique makes the writing process simpler. Instead of putting the main focus on writing well, it instead forces you to research  well, which some students find easier.

6. Write the body first, the introduction second, and the conclusion last.

Introductions are often the hardest part to write because you're trying to summarize your entire essay before you've even written it yet. Instead, try writing your introduction last, giving yourself the body of the paper to figure out the main point of your essay.

This is especially important with an essay topic you are not personally interested in. I definitely recommend this in classes you either don't excel in or care much for. Take plenty of time to draft and revise your body paragraphs before  attempting to craft a meaningful introductory paragraph.

Otherwise your opening may sound awkward, wooden, and bland.

7. Most essays answer the question, “What?” Good essays answer the “Why?” The best essays answer the “How?”

If you get stuck trying to make your argument, or you're struggling to reach the required word count, try focusing on the question, “How?”

For example:

  • How did J.D. Salinger convey the theme of inauthenticity in  The Catcher In the Rye ?
  • How did Napoleon restore stability in France after the French Revolution?
  • How does the research prove girls really do rule and boys really do drool?

If you focus on how, you'll always have enough to write about.

8. Don't be afraid to jump around.

Essay writing can be a dance. You don't have to stay in one place and write from beginning to end.

For the same reasons listed in point #6, give yourself the freedom to write as if you're circling around your topic rather than making a single, straightforward argument. Then, when you edit and proofread, you can make sure everything lines up correctly.

In fact, now is the perfect time to mention that proofreading your essay isn't just about spelling and commas.

It's about making sure your analysis or argument flows smoothly from one idea to another. (Okay, technically this comprises editing, but most students writing a high school or college essay don't take the time to complete every step of the writing process. Let's be honest.)

So as you clean up your mechanics and sentence structure, make sure your ideas flow smoothly, logically, and naturally from one to the next as you finish proofreading.

9. Here are some words and phrases you don't want to use.

  • You  (You'll notice I use a lot of you's, which is great for a blog post. However, in an academic essay, it's better to omit the second-person.)
  • To Be verbs (is, are, was, were, am)

Don't have time to edit? Here's a lightning-quick editing technique .

A note about “I”: Some teachers say you shouldn't use “I” statements in your writing, but the truth is that professional, academic papers often use phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion,” especially in their introductions.

10. It's okay to use Wikipedia, if…

Wikipedia is one of the top five websites in the world for a reason: it can be a great tool for research. However, most teachers and professors don't consider Wikipedia a valid source for use in essays.

Don't totally discount it, though! Here are two ways you can use Wikipedia in your essay writing:

  • Background research. If you don't know enough about your topic, Wikipedia can be a great resource to quickly learn everything you need to know to get started.
  • Find sources . Check the reference section of Wikipedia's articles on your topic. While you may not be able to cite Wikipedia itself, you can often find those original sources and cite them . You can locate the links to primary and secondary sources at the bottom of any Wikipedia page under the headings “Further Reading” and “References.”

You Can Enjoy Essay Writing

The thing I regret most about high school and college is that I treated it like something I had  to do rather than something I wanted  to do.

The truth is, education is an opportunity many people in the world don't have access to.

It's a gift, not just something that makes your life more difficult. I don't want you to make the mistake of just “getting by” through school, waiting desperately for summer breaks and, eventually, graduation.

How would your life be better if you actively enjoyed writing an essay? What would school look like if you wanted to suck it dry of all the gifts it has to give you?

All I'm saying is, don't miss out!

Looking for More Essay Writing Tips?

Looking for more essay tips to strengthen your essay writing? Try some of these resources:

  • 7 Tips on Writing an Effective Essay
  • Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

How about you? Do you have any tips for writing an essay?  Let us know in the  comments .

Need more grammar help?  My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid . Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20

Coupon Code:WritePractice20 »

Ready to try out these ten essay tips to make your essay assignment fun? Spend fifteen minutes using tip #4 and write five original sentences that could be turned into an essay.

When you're finished, share your five sentences in the comments section. And don't forget to give feedback to your fellow writers!

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How to Write Like Louise Penny

Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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How to Write an Essay

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Essay Writing Fundamentals

How to prepare to write an essay, how to edit an essay, how to share and publish your essays, how to get essay writing help, how to find essay writing inspiration, resources for teaching essay writing.

Essays, short prose compositions on a particular theme or topic, are the bread and butter of academic life. You write them in class, for homework, and on standardized tests to show what you know. Unlike other kinds of academic writing (like the research paper) and creative writing (like short stories and poems), essays allow you to develop your original thoughts on a prompt or question. Essays come in many varieties: they can be expository (fleshing out an idea or claim), descriptive, (explaining a person, place, or thing), narrative (relating a personal experience), or persuasive (attempting to win over a reader). This guide is a collection of dozens of links about academic essay writing that we have researched, categorized, and annotated in order to help you improve your essay writing. 

Essays are different from other forms of writing; in turn, there are different kinds of essays. This section contains general resources for getting to know the essay and its variants. These resources introduce and define the essay as a genre, and will teach you what to expect from essay-based assessments.

Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab

One of the most trusted academic writing sites, Purdue OWL provides a concise introduction to the four most common types of academic essays.

"The Essay: History and Definition" (ThoughtCo)

This snappy article from ThoughtCo talks about the origins of the essay and different kinds of essays you might be asked to write. 

"What Is An Essay?" Video Lecture (Coursera)

The University of California at Irvine's free video lecture, available on Coursera, tells  you everything you need to know about the essay.

Wikipedia Article on the "Essay"

Wikipedia's article on the essay is comprehensive, providing both English-language and global perspectives on the essay form. Learn about the essay's history, forms, and styles.

"Understanding College and Academic Writing" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This list of common academic writing assignments (including types of essay prompts) will help you know what to expect from essay-based assessments.

Before you start writing your essay, you need to figure out who you're writing for (audience), what you're writing about (topic/theme), and what you're going to say (argument and thesis). This section contains links to handouts, chapters, videos and more to help you prepare to write an essay.

How to Identify Your Audience

"Audience" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This handout provides questions you can ask yourself to determine the audience for an academic writing assignment. It also suggests strategies for fitting your paper to your intended audience.

"Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content" (Univ. of Minnesota Libraries)

This extensive book chapter from Writing for Success , available online through Minnesota Libraries Publishing, is followed by exercises to try out your new pre-writing skills.

"Determining Audience" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This guide from a community college's writing center shows you how to know your audience, and how to incorporate that knowledge in your thesis statement.

"Know Your Audience" ( Paper Rater Blog)

This short blog post uses examples to show how implied audiences for essays differ. It reminds you to think of your instructor as an observer, who will know only the information you pass along.

How to Choose a Theme or Topic

"Research Tutorial: Developing Your Topic" (YouTube)

Take a look at this short video tutorial from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to understand the basics of developing a writing topic.

"How to Choose a Paper Topic" (WikiHow)

This simple, step-by-step guide (with pictures!) walks you through choosing a paper topic. It starts with a detailed description of brainstorming and ends with strategies to refine your broad topic.

"How to Read an Assignment: Moving From Assignment to Topic" (Harvard College Writing Center)

Did your teacher give you a prompt or other instructions? This guide helps you understand the relationship between an essay assignment and your essay's topic.

"Guidelines for Choosing a Topic" (CliffsNotes)

This study guide from CliffsNotes both discusses how to choose a topic and makes a useful distinction between "topic" and "thesis."

How to Come Up with an Argument

"Argument" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

Not sure what "argument" means in the context of academic writing? This page from the University of North Carolina is a good place to start.

"The Essay Guide: Finding an Argument" (Study Hub)

This handout explains why it's important to have an argument when beginning your essay, and provides tools to help you choose a viable argument.

"Writing a Thesis and Making an Argument" (University of Iowa)

This page from the University of Iowa's Writing Center contains exercises through which you can develop and refine your argument and thesis statement.

"Developing a Thesis" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This page from Harvard's Writing Center collates some helpful dos and don'ts of argumentative writing, from steps in constructing a thesis to avoiding vague and confrontational thesis statements.

"Suggestions for Developing Argumentative Essays" (Berkeley Student Learning Center)

This page offers concrete suggestions for each stage of the essay writing process, from topic selection to drafting and editing. 

How to Outline your Essay

"Outlines" (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via YouTube)

This short video tutorial from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows how to group your ideas into paragraphs or sections to begin the outlining process.

"Essay Outline" (Univ. of Washington Tacoma)

This two-page handout by a university professor simply defines the parts of an essay and then organizes them into an example outline.

"Types of Outlines and Samples" (Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab)

Purdue OWL gives examples of diverse outline strategies on this page, including the alphanumeric, full sentence, and decimal styles. 

"Outlining" (Harvard College Writing Center)

Once you have an argument, according to this handout, there are only three steps in the outline process: generalizing, ordering, and putting it all together. Then you're ready to write!

"Writing Essays" (Plymouth Univ.)

This packet, part of Plymouth University's Learning Development series, contains descriptions and diagrams relating to the outlining process.

"How to Write A Good Argumentative Essay: Logical Structure" (Criticalthinkingtutorials.com via YouTube)

This longer video tutorial gives an overview of how to structure your essay in order to support your argument or thesis. It is part of a longer course on academic writing hosted on Udemy.

Now that you've chosen and refined your topic and created an outline, use these resources to complete the writing process. Most essays contain introductions (which articulate your thesis statement), body paragraphs, and conclusions. Transitions facilitate the flow from one paragraph to the next so that support for your thesis builds throughout the essay. Sources and citations show where you got the evidence to support your thesis, which ensures that you avoid plagiarism. 

How to Write an Introduction

"Introductions" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page identifies the role of the introduction in any successful paper, suggests strategies for writing introductions, and warns against less effective introductions.

"How to Write A Good Introduction" (Michigan State Writing Center)

Beginning with the most common missteps in writing introductions, this guide condenses the essentials of introduction composition into seven points.

"The Introductory Paragraph" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post from academic advisor and college enrollment counselor Grace Fleming focuses on ways to grab your reader's attention at the beginning of your essay.

"Introductions and Conclusions" (Univ. of Toronto)

This guide from the University of Toronto gives advice that applies to writing both introductions and conclusions, including dos and don'ts.

"How to Write Better Essays: No One Does Introductions Properly" ( The Guardian )

This news article interviews UK professors on student essay writing; they point to introductions as the area that needs the most improvement.

How to Write a Thesis Statement

"Writing an Effective Thesis Statement" (YouTube)

This short, simple video tutorial from a college composition instructor at Tulsa Community College explains what a thesis statement is and what it does. 

"Thesis Statement: Four Steps to a Great Essay" (YouTube)

This fantastic tutorial walks you through drafting a thesis, using an essay prompt on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as an example.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement" (WikiHow)

This step-by-step guide (with pictures!) walks you through coming up with, writing, and editing a thesis statement. It invites you think of your statement as a "working thesis" that can change.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement" (Univ. of Indiana Bloomington)

Ask yourself the questions on this page, part of Indiana Bloomington's Writing Tutorial Services, when you're writing and refining your thesis statement.

"Writing Tips: Thesis Statements" (Univ. of Illinois Center for Writing Studies)

This page gives plentiful examples of good to great thesis statements, and offers questions to ask yourself when formulating a thesis statement.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

"Body Paragraph" (Brightstorm)

This module of a free online course introduces you to the components of a body paragraph. These include the topic sentence, information, evidence, and analysis.

"Strong Body Paragraphs" (Washington Univ.)

This handout from Washington's Writing and Research Center offers in-depth descriptions of the parts of a successful body paragraph.

"Guide to Paragraph Structure" (Deakin Univ.)

This handout is notable for color-coding example body paragraphs to help you identify the functions various sentences perform.

"Writing Body Paragraphs" (Univ. of Minnesota Libraries)

The exercises in this section of Writing for Success  will help you practice writing good body paragraphs. It includes guidance on selecting primary support for your thesis.

"The Writing Process—Body Paragraphs" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

The information and exercises on this page will familiarize you with outlining and writing body paragraphs, and includes links to more information on topic sentences and transitions.

"The Five-Paragraph Essay" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post discusses body paragraphs in the context of one of the most common academic essay types in secondary schools.

How to Use Transitions

"Transitions" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains what a transition is, and how to know if you need to improve your transitions.

"Using Transitions Effectively" (Washington Univ.)

This handout defines transitions, offers tips for using them, and contains a useful list of common transitional words and phrases grouped by function.

"Transitions" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This page compares paragraphs without transitions to paragraphs with transitions, and in doing so shows how important these connective words and phrases are.

"Transitions in Academic Essays" (Scribbr)

This page lists four techniques that will help you make sure your reader follows your train of thought, including grouping similar information and using transition words.

"Transitions" (El Paso Community College)

This handout shows example transitions within paragraphs for context, and explains how transitions improve your essay's flow and voice.

"Make Your Paragraphs Flow to Improve Writing" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post, another from academic advisor and college enrollment counselor Grace Fleming, talks about transitions and other strategies to improve your essay's overall flow.

"Transition Words" (smartwords.org)

This handy word bank will help you find transition words when you're feeling stuck. It's grouped by the transition's function, whether that is to show agreement, opposition, condition, or consequence.

How to Write a Conclusion

"Parts of An Essay: Conclusions" (Brightstorm)

This module of a free online course explains how to conclude an academic essay. It suggests thinking about the "3Rs": return to hook, restate your thesis, and relate to the reader.

"Essay Conclusions" (Univ. of Maryland University College)

This overview of the academic essay conclusion contains helpful examples and links to further resources for writing good conclusions.

"How to End An Essay" (WikiHow)

This step-by-step guide (with pictures!) by an English Ph.D. walks you through writing a conclusion, from brainstorming to ending with a flourish.

"Ending the Essay: Conclusions" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This page collates useful strategies for writing an effective conclusion, and reminds you to "close the discussion without closing it off" to further conversation.

How to Include Sources and Citations

"Research and Citation Resources" (Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab)

Purdue OWL streamlines information about the three most common referencing styles (MLA, Chicago, and APA) and provides examples of how to cite different resources in each system.

EasyBib: Free Bibliography Generator

This online tool allows you to input information about your source and automatically generate citations in any style. Be sure to select your resource type before clicking the "cite it" button.

CitationMachine

Like EasyBib, this online tool allows you to input information about your source and automatically generate citations in any style. 

Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA)

Here, you'll find the definitive and up-to-date record of MLA referencing rules. Order through the link above, or check to see if your library has a copy.

Chicago Manual of Style

Here, you'll find the definitive and up-to-date record of Chicago referencing rules. You can take a look at the table of contents, then choose to subscribe or start a free trial.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

"What is Plagiarism?" (plagiarism.org)

This nonprofit website contains numerous resources for identifying and avoiding plagiarism, and reminds you that even common activities like copying images from another website to your own site may constitute plagiarism.

"Plagiarism" (University of Oxford)

This interactive page from the University of Oxford helps you check for plagiarism in your work, making it clear how to avoid citing another person's work without full acknowledgement.

"Avoiding Plagiarism" (MIT Comparative Media Studies)

This quick guide explains what plagiarism is, what its consequences are, and how to avoid it. It starts by defining three words—quotation, paraphrase, and summary—that all constitute citation.

"Harvard Guide to Using Sources" (Harvard Extension School)

This comprehensive website from Harvard brings together articles, videos, and handouts about referencing, citation, and plagiarism. 

Grammarly contains tons of helpful grammar and writing resources, including a free tool to automatically scan your essay to check for close affinities to published work. 

Noplag is another popular online tool that automatically scans your essay to check for signs of plagiarism. Simply copy and paste your essay into the box and click "start checking."

Once you've written your essay, you'll want to edit (improve content), proofread (check for spelling and grammar mistakes), and finalize your work until you're ready to hand it in. This section brings together tips and resources for navigating the editing process. 

"Writing a First Draft" (Academic Help)

This is an introduction to the drafting process from the site Academic Help, with tips for getting your ideas on paper before editing begins.

"Editing and Proofreading" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page provides general strategies for revising your writing. They've intentionally left seven errors in the handout, to give you practice in spotting them.

"How to Proofread Effectively" (ThoughtCo)

This article from ThoughtCo, along with those linked at the bottom, help describe common mistakes to check for when proofreading.

"7 Simple Edits That Make Your Writing 100% More Powerful" (SmartBlogger)

This blog post emphasizes the importance of powerful, concise language, and reminds you that even your personal writing heroes create clunky first drafts.

"Editing Tips for Effective Writing" (Univ. of Pennsylvania)

On this page from Penn's International Relations department, you'll find tips for effective prose, errors to watch out for, and reminders about formatting.

"Editing the Essay" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This article, the first of two parts, gives you applicable strategies for the editing process. It suggests reading your essay aloud, removing any jargon, and being unafraid to remove even "dazzling" sentences that don't belong.

"Guide to Editing and Proofreading" (Oxford Learning Institute)

This handout from Oxford covers the basics of editing and proofreading, and reminds you that neither task should be rushed. 

In addition to plagiarism-checkers, Grammarly has a plug-in for your web browser that checks your writing for common mistakes.

After you've prepared, written, and edited your essay, you might want to share it outside the classroom. This section alerts you to print and web opportunities to share your essays with the wider world, from online writing communities and blogs to published journals geared toward young writers.

Sharing Your Essays Online

Go Teen Writers

Go Teen Writers is an online community for writers aged 13 - 19. It was founded by Stephanie Morrill, an author of contemporary young adult novels. 

Tumblr is a blogging website where you can share your writing and interact with other writers online. It's easy to add photos, links, audio, and video components.

Writersky provides an online platform for publishing and reading other youth writers' work. Its current content is mostly devoted to fiction.

Publishing Your Essays Online

This teen literary journal publishes in print, on the web, and (more frequently), on a blog. It is committed to ensuring that "teens see their authentic experience reflected on its pages."

The Matador Review

This youth writing platform celebrates "alternative," unconventional writing. The link above will take you directly to the site's "submissions" page.

Teen Ink has a website, monthly newsprint magazine, and quarterly poetry magazine promoting the work of young writers.

The largest online reading platform, Wattpad enables you to publish your work and read others' work. Its inline commenting feature allows you to share thoughts as you read along.

Publishing Your Essays in Print

Canvas Teen Literary Journal

This quarterly literary magazine is published for young writers by young writers. They accept many kinds of writing, including essays.

The Claremont Review

This biannual international magazine, first published in 1992, publishes poetry, essays, and short stories from writers aged 13 - 19.

Skipping Stones

This young writers magazine, founded in 1988, celebrates themes relating to ecological and cultural diversity. It publishes poems, photos, articles, and stories.

The Telling Room

This nonprofit writing center based in Maine publishes children's work on their website and in book form. The link above directs you to the site's submissions page.

Essay Contests

Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards

This prestigious international writing contest for students in grades 7 - 12 has been committed to "supporting the future of creativity since 1923."

Society of Professional Journalists High School Essay Contest

An annual essay contest on the theme of journalism and media, the Society of Professional Journalists High School Essay Contest awards scholarships up to $1,000.

National YoungArts Foundation

Here, you'll find information on a government-sponsored writing competition for writers aged 15 - 18. The foundation welcomes submissions of creative nonfiction, novels, scripts, poetry, short story and spoken word.

Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

With prompts on a different literary work each year, this competition from Signet Classics awards college scholarships up to $1,000.

"The Ultimate Guide to High School Essay Contests" (CollegeVine)

See this handy guide from CollegeVine for a list of more competitions you can enter with your academic essay, from the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Awards to the National High School Essay Contest by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Whether you're struggling to write academic essays or you think you're a pro, there are workshops and online tools that can help you become an even better writer. Even the most seasoned writers encounter writer's block, so be proactive and look through our curated list of resources to combat this common frustration.

Online Essay-writing Classes and Workshops

"Getting Started with Essay Writing" (Coursera)

Coursera offers lots of free, high-quality online classes taught by college professors. Here's one example, taught by instructors from the University of California Irvine.

"Writing and English" (Brightstorm)

Brightstorm's free video lectures are easy to navigate by topic. This unit on the parts of an essay features content on the essay hook, thesis, supporting evidence, and more.

"How to Write an Essay" (EdX)

EdX is another open online university course website with several two- to five-week courses on the essay. This one is geared toward English language learners.

Writer's Digest University

This renowned writers' website offers online workshops and interactive tutorials. The courses offered cover everything from how to get started through how to get published.

Writing.com

Signing up for this online writer's community gives you access to helpful resources as well as an international community of writers.

How to Overcome Writer's Block

"Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block" (Purdue OWL)

Purdue OWL offers a list of signs you might have writer's block, along with ways to overcome it. Consider trying out some "invention strategies" or ways to curb writing anxiety.

"Overcoming Writer's Block: Three Tips" ( The Guardian )

These tips, geared toward academic writing specifically, are practical and effective. The authors advocate setting realistic goals, creating dedicated writing time, and participating in social writing.

"Writing Tips: Strategies for Overcoming Writer's Block" (Univ. of Illinois)

This page from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Center for Writing Studies acquaints you with strategies that do and do not work to overcome writer's block.

"Writer's Block" (Univ. of Toronto)

Ask yourself the questions on this page; if the answer is "yes," try out some of the article's strategies. Each question is accompanied by at least two possible solutions.

If you have essays to write but are short on ideas, this section's links to prompts, example student essays, and celebrated essays by professional writers might help. You'll find writing prompts from a variety of sources, student essays to inspire you, and a number of essay writing collections.

Essay Writing Prompts

"50 Argumentative Essay Topics" (ThoughtCo)

Take a look at this list and the others ThoughtCo has curated for different kinds of essays. As the author notes, "a number of these topics are controversial and that's the point."

"401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing" ( New York Times )

This list (and the linked lists to persuasive and narrative writing prompts), besides being impressive in length, is put together by actual high school English teachers.

"SAT Sample Essay Prompts" (College Board)

If you're a student in the U.S., your classroom essay prompts are likely modeled on the prompts in U.S. college entrance exams. Take a look at these official examples from the SAT.

"Popular College Application Essay Topics" (Princeton Review)

This page from the Princeton Review dissects recent Common Application essay topics and discusses strategies for answering them.

Example Student Essays

"501 Writing Prompts" (DePaul Univ.)

This nearly 200-page packet, compiled by the LearningExpress Skill Builder in Focus Writing Team, is stuffed with writing prompts, example essays, and commentary.

"Topics in English" (Kibin)

Kibin is a for-pay essay help website, but its example essays (organized by topic) are available for free. You'll find essays on everything from  A Christmas Carol  to perseverance.

"Student Writing Models" (Thoughtful Learning)

Thoughtful Learning, a website that offers a variety of teaching materials, provides sample student essays on various topics and organizes them by grade level.

"Five-Paragraph Essay" (ThoughtCo)

In this blog post by a former professor of English and rhetoric, ThoughtCo brings together examples of five-paragraph essays and commentary on the form.

The Best Essay Writing Collections

The Best American Essays of the Century by Joyce Carol Oates (Amazon)

This collection of American essays spanning the twentieth century was compiled by award winning author and Princeton professor Joyce Carol Oates.

The Best American Essays 2017 by Leslie Jamison (Amazon)

Leslie Jamison, the celebrated author of essay collection  The Empathy Exams , collects recent, high-profile essays into a single volume.

The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate (Amazon)

Documentary writer Phillip Lopate curates this historical overview of the personal essay's development, from the classical era to the present.

The White Album by Joan Didion (Amazon)

This seminal essay collection was authored by one of the most acclaimed personal essayists of all time, American journalist Joan Didion.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (Amazon)

Read this famous essay collection by David Foster Wallace, who is known for his experimentation with the essay form. He pushed the boundaries of personal essay, reportage, and political polemic.

"50 Successful Harvard Application Essays" (Staff of the The Harvard Crimson )

If you're looking for examples of exceptional college application essays, this volume from Harvard's daily student newspaper is one of the best collections on the market.

Are you an instructor looking for the best resources for teaching essay writing? This section contains resources for developing in-class activities and student homework assignments. You'll find content from both well-known university writing centers and online writing labs.

Essay Writing Classroom Activities for Students

"In-class Writing Exercises" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page lists exercises related to brainstorming, organizing, drafting, and revising. It also contains suggestions for how to implement the suggested exercises.

"Teaching with Writing" (Univ. of Minnesota Center for Writing)

Instructions and encouragement for using "freewriting," one-minute papers, logbooks, and other write-to-learn activities in the classroom can be found here.

"Writing Worksheets" (Berkeley Student Learning Center)

Berkeley offers this bank of writing worksheets to use in class. They are nested under headings for "Prewriting," "Revision," "Research Papers" and more.

"Using Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism" (DePaul University)

Use these activities and worksheets from DePaul's Teaching Commons when instructing students on proper academic citation practices.

Essay Writing Homework Activities for Students

"Grammar and Punctuation Exercises" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

These five interactive online activities allow students to practice editing and proofreading. They'll hone their skills in correcting comma splices and run-ons, identifying fragments, using correct pronoun agreement, and comma usage.

"Student Interactives" (Read Write Think)

Read Write Think hosts interactive tools, games, and videos for developing writing skills. They can practice organizing and summarizing, writing poetry, and developing lines of inquiry and analysis.

This free website offers writing and grammar activities for all grade levels. The lessons are designed to be used both for large classes and smaller groups.

"Writing Activities and Lessons for Every Grade" (Education World)

Education World's page on writing activities and lessons links you to more free, online resources for learning how to "W.R.I.T.E.": write, revise, inform, think, and edit.

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A (Very) Simple Way to Improve Your Writing

  • Mark Rennella

essays about good writing

It’s called the “one-idea rule” — and any level of writer can use it.

The “one idea” rule is a simple concept that can help you sharpen your writing, persuade others by presenting your argument in a clear, concise, and engaging way. What exactly does the rule say?

  • Every component of a successful piece of writing should express only one idea.
  • In persuasive writing, your “one idea” is often the argument or belief you are presenting to the reader. Once you identify what that argument is, the “one-idea rule” can help you develop, revise, and connect the various components of your writing.
  • For instance, let’s say you’re writing an essay. There are three components you will be working with throughout your piece: the title, the paragraphs, and the sentences.
  • Each of these parts should be dedicated to just one idea. The ideas are not identical, of course, but they’re all related. If done correctly, the smaller ideas (in sentences) all build (in paragraphs) to support the main point (suggested in the title).

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Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

Most advice about writing looks like a long laundry list of “do’s and don’ts.” These lists can be helpful from time to time, but they’re hard to remember … and, therefore, hard to depend on when you’re having trouble putting your thoughts to paper. During my time in academia, teaching composition at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I saw many people struggle with this.

essays about good writing

  • MR Mark Rennella is Associate Editor at HBP and has published two books, Entrepreneurs, Managers, and Leaders and The Boston Cosmopolitans .  

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.

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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

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#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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How To Write An Essay

How to Write an Essay

essays about good writing

How To Write An Essay

‍ Start by thoroughly analyzing the question to grasp its essence. Define your central argument or thesis. Support your argument with a combination of solid evidence, logical reasoning, and references to scholarly works. Ensure the essay is well-organized, presenting ideas coherently. Maintain clear and concise writing throughout. Finally, accurately cite all sources and evidence used, adhering to appropriate academic referencing standards.

All you need to know about essay writing is right here. So, let’s take some consistent baby steps.

Read through our guide until the end, and in time, you’ll become an exceptional essay writer, and the process will become automatic and natural to you. ‍ ‍

Pre-writing Tips

Get to know pre-writing tips to help you figure out how to write a good essay. Before you start writing, consider all of the following without skipping any steps:

  • Truly understand your task : Make sure you grasp what the essay task is asking.
  • Brainstorming : You can try to use techniques like mind mapping and freewriting to let yourself generate ideas in a free flow.
  • Create an outline : You’ll save yourself some time and effort by outlining. This helps you structure your ideas and main points.
  • Consider your audience : Make sure you remember who you’re writing for.

Lay the groundwork for your essay writing by considering the points above. If you want a smoother process, then work smart and not hard. 

Learning The Importance of Essay Structure

Structure and adaptation are important when it comes to figuring out how to write a good essay.

Organizing Your Essay Writing Process Effectively

Make sure that your college essay is well-structured. This is crucial, and it ensures you are presenting your arguments as logically and comprehensively as possible. You need your ideas to flow smoothly and to engage your audience. 

By organizing your essay, you convey your ideas logically and creatively. This boosts your power to not just inform but to persuade as well. Master how to write an essay in an organized manner, and you've already mastered half of it.

Adapt To Different Prompts

Adapting to various prompts involves fitting your writing to the specific requirements. Do this by remembering these tips: 

  • Analyze the prompt.
  • Identify the essay type and topic.
  • Tailor your writing style, tone, and approach to the criteria.

If you need help to write an essay don't forget Studyfy, since you'll find plenty of writing help on the platform.

Picking Your Topic

Picking the right topic is a crucial element in how to write a compelling essay. The right topic captures your audience’s interest easily. Moreover, the right topic also resonates with YOU. Still confused? If you need help writing an essay, you know where to go.

And please, do be mindful of the following: 

  • Consider what you’re interested in and what you already have prior knowledge of.
  • Take into account who your audience is.
  • Take into account the essay’s purpose and aim.
  • Make sure that your chosen topic is actually manageable to write but also allows for in-depth analysis and exploration.

Creating A Good Title

If you want to draw your audience in from the get-go and if you want to come off strong, after choosing your topic, you’ll want to create a captivating title. It should be engaging and relevant. Does this confuse you? You can send a “ write my essay ” order on Studyfy right now, and it’s off your hands and into an expert’s hands.

Here are a few pointers to remember: 

  • Create a title that’s relevant to your essay’s thesis but is also capturing/engaging. The first impression you give to your readers can set the whole tone for how they take in your essay.
  • Be concise but also descriptive. Find the good middle. 

Building Your Thesis, Body, and Conclusion

Writing an essay can be rewarding once you get the hang of it. If you learn and apply effective ways to construct and write its parts, you can truly create something impressive. The three central pillars of your essay are your thesis, body, and conclusion.

Whether you're writing admissions essays, five paragraph essay, argumentative essays or other types of college essays, the paragraph structure is very similar for any particular topic.

Like acts of a play, each part is vital. We’re going to learn the exact ways in which you can write great theses, bodies, and conclusions. Read carefully. 

Crafting a Compelling Central Argument - Guiding Your Essay's Direction

Good essay writing means starting with an effective and well-thought-out thesis statement. Think of your thesis statement as a compass. It serves to guide your writing. It needs to be clear and have conviction. Remember these pointers when making one: 

  • Zero in on the best potential “core” idea : After brainstorming, you should have a list of ideas you can sift through. Find the best one with the most potential to develop.
  • Take a stance while being informative : Thesis statements should represent your stance. They don’t merely inform. It needs to open up to debate or a perspective you want to prove/convey in the entirety of your essay. 
  • Be precise and engaging : Be specific but engaging at the same time when writing your thesis statement.
  • Remain flexible : When you write, remember that the topic has a chance of evolving or changing. Your thesis should reflect/change with it. If you need to refine it as you write, you should. Just make sure it’s relevant/related to what you’re writing.

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How To Write A Great Academic Essay Body: The Main Arguments

  • Start with a Topic Sentence, setting the paragraph's focus like a mini-thesis.
  • Elaborate on the Topic Sentence.
  • Present Supporting Evidence.
  • Examine and Interpret the Evidence.
  • Establish how it supports your main argument.
  • Conclude with a Transition to the next point.

Your body paragraphs are where you’ll develop your arguments that support your thesis. This is where you will present evidence and examples in a cohesive and impactful way through your writing. Always reference back to your thesis statement so as not to go off-topic. Remember these pointers: 

  • Arrange your points logically : This means ensuring each paragraph transitions seamlessly to the next. By structuring logically, you strengthen your arguments and persuasiveness, and you remain coherent. You convey your ideas smoothly to the reader. 
  • Develop each point completely : You should finish exploring and developing a point in its wholeness. Use evidence, present strong examples, and show the reader your unique stance/thoughts on the argument. 
  • Use transitions : For seamless reading, use academically approved transition words, like “Furthermore” or “Additionally.” 

The foundation of learning how to do an essay properly is by understanding that each part of the essay is a cohesive whole. To provide context means to glue the first sentence to the main argument and, for example, tie the main stages with transitional phrases.

How To Write An Essay: Ending with Impact

Another crucial element of how to write essays effectively is writing a strong conclusion. You should reinforce your thesis statements and your main points in this part. Here is what you need to remember: 

  • Revisit your thesis statement : Rephrase, reiterate and showcase your developed arguments.
  • Emphasize key findings and thoughts : Rewrite and recap the key points in your college essay to help your audience retain your core arguments.
  • Conclude with a strong thought : Conclude with a call-to-action, idea, or provocative question that encourages the reader to explore the topic of your essay even after they’ve read your entire paper.
  • Keep it concise : Be concise and focused in your conclusion. Don’t introduce new information. 

Bonus Tips: Improving Your Style and Argumentation

We’ve gone through all the main information you’ll need for essay writing, but you should know some of these additional tips to truly step up your writing game. Another way to step up your writing game is to consider Studyfy’s admission essay writing service and other writing services. Let’s dive deeper into bettering your style and arguments.

Becoming A Master Persuader

To become a true master at essay writing and never need help with writing an essay, you’ll want to practice the art of persuasion. You want to sway and influence your readers by engaging them deeply in your arguments. Remember these points: 

  • Analyze your audience : When tailoring your voice and writing for your audience, you should also tailor your ARGUMENTS to them so they resonate. Try to speculate your audience’s perspectives, values, beliefs, and thought patterns. This will give you a deeper insight when developing your arguments. 
  • Use strong opening sentences : Make sure to grab your readers’ attention right from the start. 
  • Persuasive language : Using words and sentences that foster a sense of importance and urgency and ignite curiosity. Integrate persuasive language throughout your essay, like call-to-actions, emotional appeals, rhetorical questions, inclusive language, and testimonials. 

Appeal to Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

When writing an essay, a good way to strengthen your argumentation is to appeal to ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) in your readers. Take a look at these pointers: 

  • Establishing credibility (appealing to ethos) : Use reliable sources, cite experts, use strong evidence, and use testimonials. By showing your audience you're backing up your arguments with credible facts, you strengthen your persuasion power. 
  • Connect on an emotional level (appealing to pathos) : When you have their heart, you have them. Use vivid language, relatable anecdotes, and examples, and tap into the power of emotion.
  • Logical reasoning is powerful (appealing to logos) : Using facts and logical points to present clear data and statistics can strengthen your argument significantly. An argument that has solid evidence is hard to deny. 

Bonus Tips: Empowering Your Writing Skills

When pondering on how to make an essay better, it’s important to look beyond the obvious advice. In this section, we remind you to go above and beyond. Let’s find out some additional techniques that you can apply to your essay writing to improve it even further.

Infusing Your Voice Into Your Writing

Overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to learn for essay writing? You can always pay for essay services and get a professional’s help any time. Now, to infuse your voice into your essay writing, take note of these pointers:

  • Be authentic and share your perspective : Your beliefs, experiences, and values should not be completely avoided when writing. If relevant to the topic, your stance can provide a fresh and new angle on your essay, and it can help your essay stand out.
  • Do not be afraid to be creative : Play with language by using metaphors, descriptive language, similes, and other literary tools. It makes your writing memorable and enjoyable when done right.

Cross-Referencing

If you need help with writing an essay to make it better, try to integrate interdisciplinary concepts into your writing. Cross-referencing other fields like history, psychology, science, and literature to provide deeper insights into your arguments can strengthen your essay. Ensure your references add to your arguments, and don’t go off-topic.

Develop Flexibility In Perception

Another way to empower your writing skills and determine how to write an excellent essay is to view and present arguments and statements from different angles. This niche skill is invaluable. If you learn how to master it, you can be a very persuasive writer. Find ways to examine and defend both sides of a topic. Present counter-arguments, and so on.

This requires a lot of practice to use effectively but is easily one of the best things you can develop in essay writing and life. Usually, an argumentative essay is a successful essay if its body paragraphs create a basic structure of opposing context for a specific topic. Your writing process and your introduction paragraph can open the way for the entire essay to delve into opposing topics.

Make sure to do proper research, develop a good idea about what the topics are different or similar to, and, for example, explain your main thesis in a few paragraphs. A clear thesis makes the main body almost write itself - in any type of essay, including an argumentative essay.

Bonus Tips: Remaining Ethical In Writing

Remaining ethical and upholding integrity and credibility in your essay writing is key to passing academia since your professors will double-check your work to make sure you haven’t engaged in cheating. How do you write an essay while remaining ethical? Let’s find out.

How To Avoid Plagiarizing

You’ll need to avoid plagiarizing completely. The degree of punishment you can get for plagiarizing will vary from institution to institution, with some proving to be more lenient while others will be less forgiving. Need help? Try Studyfy’s custom essay writing service and get an expert writer to help you.

 Remember these points to save yourself the grief: 

  • Remember : Plagiarism isn’t only copying text; it’s also using other people’s data, ideas, concepts, and so on without properly crediting them. 
  • You SHOULD paraphrase : Master paraphrasing by reinterpreting the information you’ve examined. Use your own words. 
  • Improve research and note-taking skills : If you research effectively and take notes on the data you collect, it will be easier to distinguish your original ideas from your resources.

Essay Checklist

If you’ve read everything thoroughly and applied what’s been stated in our guide, you should be much better at writing essays. To further improve your experience, here’s an essay checklist you can use to make sure you’ve done everything you need to. 

Remember to focus on the formatting issues as well, including common mistakes, passive voice, too much everyday experience, and ambiguous word choice.

Checklist Item

  • Strong and Clear Thesis Statement
  • Effective Introduction
  • Well-developed Arguments
  • Evidence and Support
  • Paragraph Structure
  • Transitions
  • Strong Conclusion
  • Correct Citations and References
  • Plagiarism-free
  • Editing, Proofreading, and Revision
  • Complied With Word Count
  • Correct Formatting

Did you like our article?

For more help, tap into our pool of professional writers and get expert essay writing services!

Which key elements make up a strong essay structure?

A strong introduction that grabs the audience and introduces the thesis statement effectively. A body that presents ideas and arguments that support the thesis. A conclusion that sums up the main points of the essay and reintroduces the thesis in light of the arguments stated. This is how to write an essay in English effectively.

How do I write a clear and strong thesis statement?

If you’re asking yourself, “How do I write an essay that has a strong thesis statement?” We remind you to narrow your ideas and zero in on a key idea. This idea should be specific, and it should be an idea that you can fully develop and explore.

This blog is here to provide guidance and ease the essay writing process - we're here for you from the moment you start writing to the moment you reach the central point and reach the next paragraph.

What can I do to ensure my essay is engaging and persuasive?

Be sure your introduction is compelling and uses strong, active verbs. Your arguments should be presented logically, and you should back them up with strong evidence. Make sure to use persuasive language like rhetorical questions, analogies, metaphors, inclusive words, call-to-actions, etc. Varying sentence structures will keep readers interested.

To keep the reader on the hook, most essays use clever paragraphs, a clear thesis, a robust main body, and a polished final draft.

What’s the best way to write an essay?

The best way to write a college essay is to be prepared. Read our guide thoroughly and give yourself enough time to write the whole essay. Don’t start at the last minute. 

When you begin writing, your writing process is in its first draft. What's important is that you remember that an essay outline is not the final essay, and your college essay can change and adapt as you go. Whether an introductory paragraph, main points or conclusion paragraph, make sure to catch the reader's attention and lead with concrete examples.

And don't forget to focus on editing. Double-check the line spacing, structure, outline, number of paragraphs, word choice, and the cohesion of the final paragraph.

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Writing Forward

Eight Characteristics of Good Writing

by Melissa Donovan | Dec 2, 2021 | Better Writing | 31 comments

good writing

What’s the difference between bad and good writing?

How important is it for a writer to be able to discern the difference between good writing and bad writing?

Pretty important, if you ask me.

I know some writers aren’t concerned with quality. In today’s do-it-yourself and get-it-done-fast world, quality plays second fiddle to quantity. Who cares if your books are full of typos, bad grammar, and poor logic as long as you have published lots and made a bunch of money?

Readers care. Agents, publishers, and reviewers also care. And while you can still make a million with a bunch of badly written books and a stellar marketing scheme, your work won’t be taken seriously. Also (and this is critical), while it’s possible to make it big by writing badly, it’s not likely. It happens, but it doesn’t happen often. The better your writing, the better your chances for securing a readership and building a career.

The Characteristics of Good Writing

So, what constitutes good writing? Opinions on the matter vary widely. There will be different traits that make good fiction versus good poetry or good nonfiction. However, we can cull together a general list of the characteristics of good writing (in no particular order):

  • Clarity and focus: In good writing, everything makes sense and readers don’t get lost or have to reread passages to figure out what’s going on. Focused writing sticks with the plot or core idea without running off on too many tangents.
  • Organization: A well organized piece of writing is not only clear, it’s presented in a way that is logical and aesthetically pleasing. You can tell non-linear stories or place your thesis at the end of an essay and get away with it as long as your scenes or ideas are well ordered.
  • Ideas and themes: Is the topic of your paper relevant? Does your story come complete with themes? Can the reader visualize your poem? For a piece of writing to be considered well crafted, it has to contain clearly identifiable ideas and themes.
  • Voice: This is what sets you apart from all other writers. It’s your unique way of stringing words together, formulating ideas, and relating scenes or images to the reader. In any piece of writing, the voice should be consistent and identifiable.
  • Language (word choice): We writers can never underestimate or fail to appreciate our most valuable tools: words. Good writing includes precise and accurate word choices and well crafted sentences.
  • Grammar and style: Many writers would wish this one away, but for a piece of writing to be considered good (let alone great), it has to follow the rules of grammar (and break those rules only when there’s a good reason). Style is also important in ensuring that a piece of writing is clear and consistent. Make sure you keep a grammar book and style guide handy.
  • Credibility or believability: Nothing says bad writing like getting the facts wrong or misrepresenting oneself. In fiction, the story must be believable (even if it’s impossible), and in nonfiction, accurate research can make or break a writer.
  • Thought-provoking or emotionally inspiring: Perhaps the most important quality of good writing is how the reader responds to it. Does she come away with a fresh perspective and new ideas? Does he close the cover with tears in his eyes or a sense of victory? How readers react to your work will fully determine your success as a writer.

I want to add an honorable mention for originality. Everything has been done before, so originality is somewhat arbitrary. However, putting old ideas together in new ways and creating remixes of the best that literature has to offer is a skill worth developing.

Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Good and Bad Writing

To write well, a writer must be able to recognize quality in a piece of writing. How can you assess or improve your own work if you can’t tell the difference between mediocre and better writing in others’ work? This is why it’s so important for writers to be dedicated readers!

Writing is also an art form and therefore subject to personal taste. Can you read a book and dislike it but acknowledge that the writing was good? Have you ever read a book and loved the story but felt that the writing was weak?

A writer should be able to articulate why a piece of writing succeeds or fails, and a writer should also be able to recognize the qualities in a piece of writing even when it doesn’t appeal to their personal taste. These skills are especially necessary when writers are reviewing or critiquing other writers’ work and when revising, editing, and proofreading their own work.

Where do you stand? Do you rate other people’s writing? Do you worry about whether your own writing is any good? Would you add or remove any characteristics of good writing from this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

31 Comments

Michelle

I have had work published. I have even won a competition and still I lack the courage to really commit to it. It’s like I heard a character in a ‘soap’ once saying: ” If I dream of doing it I can always hold onto the dream and live on the’ I could have done it if I tried’, whereas if I go ahead and do it I just might not be ‘good’ and then everything will be gone then, dream and all ! ” Everything you say makes sense but it’s courage I now seek to acquire as well as certain’ devil may care attitude . Courage and self belief and wee bit of discipline. 2012 might just be the year ! Michelle

Melissa Donovan

Michelle, I actually think it’s healthy to have dreams that we don’t fully intend on pursuing. It’s good for the imagination! A person might be interested or passionate about dozens of things and cannot possibly make careers out of them all. But courage is something else… and I don’t think anyone can give you courage. You have to find it within yourself. The first step is to decide that you are going to brave the writing career. After that, you muster up the courage. It’s there inside you, and if you really want it, you’ll find it 🙂 Good luck to you!

Bill Polm

Good one, Michelle, and needed too.

So many blog posts on how to drum up business or write enticing posts or articles, or even how to avoid embarrassing grammatical errors (not that those are not important).

So little on just plain old good writing. Writing that is unusually good, that delights, that informs with impact,

I love the freedom an informal style of modern English. But sometimes I worry a bit that contemporary readers are being fed to many tiny sentences to appeal to an ever-diminishing attention span.

A good list you have there. Maybe I would add that I value fluency. That adroit facility of the accomplished writer who’s covered miles of (digital) paper and now can write not only accurate and clear words and sentences but also compelling and memorable prose.

Ah, fluency is definitely necessary to good writing, although I think it comes with experience, so it might only apply to older or more advanced writers. Great food for thought, Bill. Thanks!

Michael White

Loved this blog post. It actually reminded me of a quote by Oscar Wilde, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

That quote could spur a debate, I’m sure! Thanks for sharing it, Michael. I’m going to give Oscar Wilde’s idea some serious consideration.

PlumaDame

“A writer should be able to articulate why a piece of writing succeeds or fails, and a writer should also be able to recognize the qualities in a piece of writing even when it doesn’t appeal to personal taste”

I’m reading a book right now with a story line that I don’t particularly care for. Eight chapters into it, I’m not fully invested into the story. BUT, the author’s grasp of human emotion/interaction and her ability to explicate the nuances with clarity is brilliant. That fact alone keeps interested and pulls me forward.

Ah! I’ve been there too!

Sierra

This is a very well written blog, and the advice is good for teaching people how to get their points across. However, my problem is not that I can’t tell good from bad; apparently I’m quite good at assessing the quality of other authors’ writing and helping them iprove it. My problem is that though I love writing and am proud of my plot lines and characters, I don’t have a way with words and I just can’t write. Does anyone have any advice on how to make things WORK once you have everything planned out, or am I doomed to the life of an author who can’t write? That sounded really dismal.

Beckie

How do really know your writing is bad? If you’ve got a plot that you love, characters that are filled with layers and truth, set them free! Turn off those negative thoughts and just run with it. Write your story through to the end. If you believe in what you’ve got so far then let it lead you. You will surprise yourself. You proved with your post above that you can convey feeling, let your characters have their voice. Take a deep breath and jump/write!! Best of luck and courageous hugs!

Thanks, Beckie. Well said!

My guess is that your way with words isn’t as bad as you think. I didn’t have any trouble understanding what you wrote. However, if you want to strengthen your skills in vocabulary, word choice, and sentence structure, there are two things you can do: read as much as possible and engage with poetry. Pick up an introductory book on poetry and you’ll learn tons of techniques in this area (which you can apply to fiction and nonfiction). This one can be expensive but it’s worth every penny: Perrine’s Sound and Sense . Good luck to you!

Thank you, both you and Beckie. That’s really good advice. 🙂 I’ll try to be more positive.

Yes! Keep your chin up and stick with it.

Tina Ridgway

In my estimation, for what it’s worth, you write very well. You were clear and concise. I understood the points you were trying to convey. You even allowed a bit of your personality to shine through with self deprecation. Don’t be so hard on yourself, if you wish to be a writer then you should write. I am learning that for one to write compelling characters , one must be well acquainted with the characters they are creating. I am working on fleshing out some characters who are too one dimensional. Life is not black and white. I am trying to write in between the lines in gray. Good luck with your writing.

Paul Atreides

I’ve been perusing your site all morning. I’ve found some terrific tips, some very well-thought common sense approaches to working through difficulties in writing. And as soon as I push the submit button on this I’ll be subscribing!

Though I’ve been published and produced, I find myself in an almost constant state of questioning even the most basic ability to write. On the one hand, a local critic stated “proves he can write” and “there’s a simplicity in the writing that is quite refreshing.” On the other hand, I face a writer’s group (all women) each week who continually tell me my writing is sorely lacking because there aren’t enough issues (conflicts) in any given piece and therefore the characters do not exhibit enough “emotional levels.” Facing this type of weekly demolition has made me think I need to go back to doing what I used to do (before I became unemployed!): write for my own enjoyment and forget about any further publishing.

Where can one go to determine if there is even the slightest bit of talent worth further pursuit? I don’t mean a full-on critique of a piece, but a simple “I’d give it up if I were you.” or “This [writing] shows promise, keep learning and keep writing.”

Melissa McCann

Hmmm, Paul, possibly find a few dudes for your critiques? Also, are the women published? Have good reviews themselves? Read widely in your genre? Men and women do sometimes have widely varying ideas of what makes a good story. You may be writing good, solid, plot-driven adventures (I don’t know–maybe you’re into steamy historical romance) that don’t rely on a lot of emotional nuance. I’d look for beta-readers who understand what you are trying to accomplish.

Or take the girls with a big grain of salt and use what seems to deepen your own writing while recognizing that women’s brains are different. We have bizarre and incomprehensible ideas about relationships and whatnot. I read an interesting theory from the creators of the Dramatica Pro story outlining software about how a “masculine” character (or story) is about getting from point A to Point Z while overcoming every obstacle in between whereas a feminine character (or story) is about getting everything into balance and restoring chaos to equilibrium. Both perfectly fine stories. (I prefer the masculine-type storylines myself).

Post those good reviews and read ’em every day. I have some really nice rejections that I savor whenever I’m feeling inadequate.

Thanks, Melissa!

Two of the ladies have been published but have no reviews of their work. All have complimented the basic plot lines. Their big complaint would seem to fall into the theory from Dramatica Pro you mention; they are looking for every female character to make absolute sense to them strictly within their belief structure of how the characters should/must react to a particular situation. Otherwise, they give solid line-edit critiques and they do point out the occassional hole in content.

None of them read within my genre – if I even have one, that is. I’d classify my novels as “budscapades” (you like my mash-up moniker?) – in other words the main characters are male (female characters do show up along the way) and they are definitely plot driven stories. In entering the Amazon Breakout Book Award Contest, I classified the novel as “bromantic comedy” (plenty of action for guys with a hint of romance for women).

Both your suggestions are solid. I’m sticking with the ladies but will weigh their critiques carefully before implementation and I’ll have to find some men who can show the same amount of weekly dedication to the process.

Thanks, Paul! I think that critique groups can be immensely beneficial, but I also think that each writer has to decide which feedback to apply and which to discard. Objectively, there’s good writing and bad writing, but subjectively, we all have our opinions and preferences. I guess you have to decide whether you want to step up the emotional levels in your characters and add more conflict or if you want to keep your work minimalist.

Here’s what matters: once you do publish, unless you are looking for awards and accolades, the trick is really to find your audience. And there is an audience for everything (as popular culture demonstrates). You might also take a hard look at what the others in your writing group are producing and ask whether this group is a good match to your writing style and needs. You can also ask one of the women in the group to work more closely with you to bring those emotional levels up, if you think you’d like to stretch yourself and experiment a little.

Final word of advice: do not give up on writing or publishing. Forge ahead! You might even look for a creative writing class or workshop — you’ll get a broader range of feedback.

And thank you, Melissa (not Melissa-me, Melissa-you) for putting some analysis into the question of what makes good writing. I get so frustrated with the “Good writing is subjective; it’s just what you like or don’t like,” crowd. The more you study writing, the more you begin to see the difference between good vs bad.

The difficulty, I suppose, is because writing is as complex as any other language. It’s too complex to learn by having the rules explained to us by helpful parents, “Now dear, this is a verb. It always goes after the subject. Is it time to make a poo-poo?” We learn the rules of spoken language by hearing it at a time when our brains are primed and programmed to take it in. Many people don’t start learning to read or write until after that language window is closed. Those of us who learned to read at the same time we were learning to talk have an advantage.

Yes, I’d have to agree that the younger we are when we are taught to read and write, the more naturally it comes. There is much about writing that is subjective, but I believe there is plenty that can be assessed critically and objectively: grammar, spelling, and punctuation, for starters.

David L Scurlock

i tell every mother about my baby can read…they agree and then dont get it for their child..

Matt S.

I have to admit, I share a lot of the insecurities that I have read in the comments here. I’m pretty young and new to the game, and I’m worried that even if I somehow finish this idea that I have (non-fiction) I wont be taken seriously given my lack of a college degree. I have this internal conflict raging in my subconscious, so much so that I’m starting to have dreams about it. Do I go ahead and share my thoughts with others or should I keep them to myself?

It doesn’t help that I have a fear of failure, I suppose. Writing is where I clarify my ideas and feelings, and I’m afraid that my work will be ripped apart by people that dislike it or dismiss my thoughts, mostly because I’ll take it as them dismantling my soul. Does anyone else feel this way?

As I’m writing this I’m slowly realizing that I think that what I need is a little encouragement from people that don’t know me. Man, writing is awesome!

Even if you have a degree, people can still rip your ideas apart. I believe strongly in the value of higher education, but I also know (for a fact) there are plenty of folks with degrees who lack common sense or good hearts. And there are plenty of bright people with good hearts and common sense who do not have degrees. Then again, if you’re that torn up about not having a degree, why not just go get one?

Having said all that, I think you can simply shift your focus. Most of the best writers in the literary canon did not have degrees. Many did not even finish high school. Of your favorite authors, how many have BAs or MAs? Do you know? Do you care? (I don’t.)

As for failure, everyone’s afraid of it. I don’t think we’re meant to eliminate the fear. It’s more a matter of moving forward even though we are afraid. I would say that if you publish a book, some people are not going to like it. That’s just the way it is. So what? Focus your attention and energy on all the people who do like it. If you work hard and write, and put it out there (and do your marketing), you’ll find your audience. Embrace them, and don’t worry so much about everybody else. Good luck to you!

never worry about what anyone says…if someone takes the time for a a scathing review instead of just chucking it in the trash, then you must have struck a chord with that person…all publicity is good publicity…people will want to find out what made this reviewer so angry/….if they are intelligent…

Tony Vanderwarker

Writing well is the price of admission. But beyond the basics is where it gets squishy. Eudora Welty said something like “You’re only writing when you surprise yourself”. What does that mean? You write until you discover.

I don’t know–I would say you’re only writing when you’re putting words on the page. Surprises and discoveries are bonuses in the writing process for me. Maybe it’s because I write a lot of nonfiction, which isn’t full of discovery or surprise the way fiction is.

Sally Ember, Ed.D.

Great article. I’m going to link to it on Reddit!

i think another goal of writing is to use the fewest words possible to convey an idea…similies and metaphors fill this bill…but simple truth sticks with people especially when it is a parable for something much more meaningful.

I think that’s a good goal, although it’s not every writer’s goal. I love clear, simple language, but there are exceptions when I come across a poem or story that is dripping with rich language.

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What is Good Writing?

At the Writing Center, we’re often asked “What makes good writing?” or “What makes someone a good writer?” Instructors wonder whether anyone can really be taught to write and why their students don’t know how to write by now. To begin to understand what makes writing, and writers, “good,” we need to ask the larger question “What is writing?”

It’s easy to agree on the definition of writing if we limit it to something like “putting pen to paper” or “typing ideas into a computer.” But if we look more closely at the elements of the act of writing, the definition comes to life. The following paragraphs might prompt your thinking about how writing happens for your students and for you.

Writing is a response.

We write because we are reacting to someone or something. While writing can feel like an isolating, individual act—just you and the computer or pad of paper—it is really a social act, a way in which we respond to the people and world around us. Writing happens in specific, often prescribed contexts. We are not just writing—we are always writing to an audience(s) for some particular purpose. When we write, we do so because we want, need, or have been required to create a fixed space for someone to receive and react to our ideas. Understanding this social or rhetorical context—who our readers may be, why they want to read our ideas, when and where they will be reading, how they might view us as writers—governs some of the choices we make. The writing context requires writers to have a sense of the reader’s expectations and an awareness of conventions for a particular piece of writing. The context of the piece further determines the appropriate tone, level of vocabulary, kind and placement of evidence, genre, and sometimes even punctuation.

Writing is linear.

In order to communicate effectively, we need to order our words and ideas on the page in ways that make sense to a reader. We name this requirement in various ways: “grammar,” “logic,” or “flow.” While we would all agree that organization is important, the process of lining up ideas is far from simple and is not always recognized as “writing.” We assume that if a person has ideas, putting them on the page is a simple matter of recording them, when in fact the process is usually more complicated. As we’ve all experienced, our ideas do not necessarily arise in a linear form. We may have a scattering of related ideas, a hunch that something feels true, or some other sense that an idea is “right” before we have worked out the details. It is often through the act of writing that we begin to create the logical relationships that develop the idea into something that someone else may receive and perhaps find interesting. The process of putting ideas into words and arranging them for a reader helps us to see, create, and explore new connections. So not only does a writer need to “have” ideas, but the writer also has to put them in linear form, to “write” them for a reader, in order for those ideas to be meaningful. As a result, when we are writing, we often try to immediately fit our choices into linear structures (which may or may not suit our habits of mind).

Writing is recursive.

As we write, we constantly rewrite. Sometimes we do this unconsciously, as we juggle words, then choose, delete, and choose again. Sometimes we do this rewriting very consciously and conscientiously as we reread a paragraph or page for clarity, coherence, or simply to see what we’ve just said and decide whether we like it. Having read, we rewrite the same phrases or ideas to make a closer match to our intentions or to refine our discoveries through language. The process of writing and then reviewing, changing, and rewriting is a natural and important part of shaping expression for an anticipated audience. So while we are trying to put our words and ideas into a logical line, we are also circling round and back and over again.

Writing is both subject and object.

We value writing because it reveals the personal choices a writer has made and thereby reveals something of her habits of mind, her ability to connect and shape ideas, and her ability to transform or change us as readers. We take writing as evidence of a subject or subjective position. Especially in an academic environment, we read written language as individual expression (whether or not multiple voices have informed the one voice we privilege on the page), as a volley from one individual mind to another. That said, writing also serves as an object for us, a “piece” or a “paper” whose shape, size, and function are determined by genre and conventions. While we don’t think of writing as technology, it is also that; it allows us to remove a person’s ideas from the confines of her head and fix those ideas in another place, a place where they will be evaluated according to standards, objectively. Here is where our sense of what counts as “good” writing develops. We have created objective (although highly contextualized) ideals for writing that include measures of appropriate voice, vocabulary, evidence, and arrangement. So while writing is very personal, or subjective, it creates an objective space, a place apart from the individual, and we measure it against objective standards derived from the context. It creates space both for the individual (the subject) and the idea (the object) to coexist so that we can both judge the merits of the individual voicing the idea and contend with the idea on the page.

Writing is decision making.

It may seem obvious, but in order to get something on the page, a writer chooses the words, the order of the words in the sentence, the grouping of sentences into paragraphs, and the order of the paragraphs within a piece. While there is an ordinariness about this—we make choices or decisions almost unconsciously about many things all day long—with writing, as we have all experienced, such decision-making can be a complex process, full of discovery, despair, determination, and deadlines. Making decisions about words and ideas can be a messy, fascinating, perplexing experience that often results in something mysterious, something the writer may not be sure “works” until she has auditioned it for a real reader.

Writing is a process.

Contending with the decision-making, linearity, social context, subjectivity, and objectivity that constitute writing is a process that takes place over time and through language. When producing a piece of writing for an audience, experienced writers use systems they have developed. Each writer has an idiosyncratic combination of thinking, planning, drafting, and revising that means “writing” something. No matter how we each describe our writing process (e.g., “First I think about my idea then dump thoughts onto the computer,” or “I make an outline then work out topic sentences”), we all (usually unconsciously) negotiate the series of choices required in an individual context and produce a draft that begins to capture a representation of our ideas. For most people, this negotiation includes trial and error (this word or that?), false starts (beginning with an example that later proves misleading), contradictions (I can’t say X because it may throw Y into question), sorting (how much do I need to say about this?), doubt about how the idea will be received, and satisfaction when they think they have cleared these hurdles successfully. For most people, this process happens through language. In other words, we use words to discover what, how, and why we believe. Research supports the adage “I don’t know what I think until I read what I’ve said.”

Altogether these elements make writing both an interesting and challenging act—one that is rich, complex, and valuable. What else is writing for you? Think about what the definitions discussed here miss and how you might complete the sentence “Writing is like…” From your experience as a writer, what else about writing seems essential? How is that connected to what you value about the process of writing and the final pieces that you produce?

For more information about student writing or to talk with someone about your writing assignments, contact Kimberly Abels [email protected] at the Writing Center.

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How to Start a College Essay: 5 Effective Techniques

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Impressionable Openers

Descriptions and demonstrations, show vulnerability, be authentic, stay personal, fun & quirky, common mistakes to avoid in your college essay.

  • Ways to Overcome Writer's Block

Frequently Asked Questions About Starting a College Essay

College essays are a huge part of your college career. If not huge, one of the biggest, and for someone who has been there and done that, I know the amount of pressure the beginning of a college essay, as well as the entire essay, can put on your shoulders.

Not only are you trying to juggle things like word count and grammar errors, but you're also trying to create the perfect college essay introduction that will attract admissions officers to your application or professors to your writing skills. And that, itself, can feel impossible, fill you with dread and self-doubt, but just breathe. I am here to help all present and future students know how to start a college essay.

Today is all about starting a college essay. I have come up with five easy and effective techniques that will help you create essays so good you're going to leave your readers wanting more , starting with your opening sentence! So, this is for all college students and college applicants. Stress no more! This guide was created to help you write a successful college essay. Let's get into it.

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essays about good writing

The beginning of your essay should, first and foremost, always have a strong opening sentence . This sentence sets the tone for not only your readers but for the entire essay. Having a wobbly, almost interesting opener can steer an admissions officer and/or professor away, so you want it to be strong. And it doesn't have to be complicated! Less is more in this situation. Here are a couple of ways you can accomplish this.

  • Look within and be relatable
  • Use your real life for inspiration
  • Think about ways to evoke emotion

Here are some examples of impressionable openers:

  • Example 1: When I was 11 years old, my mother told me she had cancer over breakfast.
  • Example 2: Maybe yellow isn't my favorite color.
  • Example 3: I sat next to this girl in class who made me feel stupid.

DISCLAIMER : your opener should ALWAYS adhere to the essay prompts. These are just a few examples that can capture your reader's attention almost immediately.

In order to keep readers interested, visuals are key . Image-based descriptions will not only add value to your writing, it will give your readers front seats to your essay's journey. These descriptions let actions speak for themselves.

Here is an example of a description and demonstration in an essay:

  • Example 1: "I was sitting on a bar stool when the word 'cancer' hit me like the smell of her coffee brewing on the stove. The Rice Krispies were popping in my cereal bowl, and MTV Jams was playing in the background, yet all I could hear was the sound of doom all around me. The lips of my mother were moving, but I was frozen, crumbling on this stool like my mother's health. She was sick, and I didn't know how sick or what that even meant, and that terrified me."

Why This Works:

Here you can clearly feel the writers emotional state: shocked, still, scared. Not only is this moment at breakfast traumatic, you feel frozen in time with the writer. Using descriptions like this will evoke so much emotion and leave your reader wanting more.

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Something one of my teachers told me in high school was any good essay will have personal elements in it, no matter the topic. That always stuck with me and became the way I approached my college essays. Showing vulnerability in your writing will always guarantee interest. It also evokes emotion.

You can show vulnerability by:

  • Being honest
  • Explaining what's going on inside underneath the exterior
  • Describe what's going on around you at the moment
  • Letting go of the fear of being seen
  • Connecting with the topic
  • Being transparent about mistakes/flaws

Examples of showing vulnerability:

  • Example 1 : My mother telling me she had cancer over breakfast was not on my bingo card this year.
  • Example 2 : I never thought losing someone I love would change me.
  • Example 3: I had to lose everything in order to gain everything.

I know being vulnerable can be tough for some , but showing this side of you to college admissions officers and/or professors will not only make you stand out, but it can also help free you of things that might be weighing on your mind. Not to sound corny, but it can be therapeutic and make you a better writer . Just make sure you are staying on track with the essay prompt, and you're set!

Whether it's believed or not, an admissions officer wants to see pieces of you in your personal statement, so starting your essay by showing authenticity is a major major key. Along with being vulnerable, there are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Reflect : Take the time to reflect on your experiences, values, and beliefs that have shaped who you are today. Let your values, passions, and interests shine through in your writing.
  • Mind Your Voice : Write in your own voice and avoid trying to sound like someone you're not. Authenticity comes from being genuine and true to yourself.
  • Tell Your Story : Share personal anecdotes and insights that show your unique perspective.
  • Be True to You : Focus on what matters to YOU (as long as you're on topic!). Write about what is meaningful and important to you rather than what you think admissions officers want to hear.

Above all, be open . Showing introspection and self-awareness in your essay will show any admissions committee who you are beneath the surface, as well as your personal growth.

You can also begin your essay being as random and silly as you'd like . It goes hand-in-hand with other important factors like vulnerability and authenticity. But don't get too crazy . Beginning your essay with something strange will definitely draw readers in. Let me show you what I mean.

  • Example 1 : I start my mornings off in silence and solitude to keep people away from me.
  • Example 2 : Sometimes, I like to circle big words in complex articles to learn new words. Yeah, but to also keep one in my back pocket for later use.
  • Example 3 : Being the youngest child means getting away with everything you want, and that's exactly how I like it.

Do you see how each sentence draws you in? Not only are they light-hearted, but they also make you want to know why you want to keep people away in the morning and what kind of weapon you're forming against others with new words. And every youngest sibling will attest to feeling that exact same way. All of these examples are sure to make your essay fun, show who you are, and leave readers wanting more.

mistakes to avoid in college essays

Years of writing college essays have taken me through every high and low of the process possible. And when they're good, they're great! But for some reason, my mistakes stick out more than anything. So, I've compiled a list of common mistakes to avoid when writing your college essay .

  • Avoid Being Cliche - While you want to be captivating, you want to avoid overly used syntax and phrases that could potentially lose your reader's curiosity. For example, "in today's day and age," "follow my heart," "don't judge a book by its cover," etc. are all cliches that can be avoided by thinking outside of the box.
  • Using Vocabulary to be Impressive - I know you want to impress the admissions committees, but it's important to stick to what you know and not what you can allude to. That is, use verbiage that resonates with your personality. Using extravagant words can work against you, and they can also sound forced. College admissions officers want to see the real you, so show it to them.
  • Steer Clear of Controversy - Though it's not said enough, your college essay should tell your personal story and not touch on things that can stir the pot. For instance, talking about politics and religious beliefs may not be the route you want to take UNLESS it's called for in the college essay topic. And if so, stay on track with the essay prompts.
  • Procrastinating : Waiting until the last minute to start writing your essay will bite you in the butt. You will feel rushed and end up writing a poorly crafted piece. Give yourself enough time to complete an essay draft, edit the draft, and repeat this two-step cycle until your essay is complete.
  • Lack of originality : This goes hand-in-hand with avoiding cliches. Your college essay should exude a lot of your personality, so show admissions officers and teachers who you are! Include your cultural background, test scores that you're proud of, any future aspirations, etc. This all depends on the essay prompts, of course, but in my experience, every essay topic has room to show who you are.
  • Ignoring the prompt : This is a major key. STAY ON TRACK. Make sure to carefully read and understand the essay prompt, and write your essay accordingly. The last thing you want to do is write a college essay that has nothing to do with the prompt. Reading is essential here.
  • Lack of focus : If you want to know how to start a college essay, that means knowing how to stay focused. Find a quiet space, turn off electronics, hide your phone, and really nestle into how you want to capture your reader's attention. This will help you use your five senses clearly, keep your writing strong and not write an overly wordy essay. Focus is the tool here.
  • Poor organization : Make sure your essay has a strong structure with clear transitions between paragraphs. An outline will work best to accomplish this. If you go into starting your college essay without a plan, be prepared to hit all roadblocks.
  • Neglecting to Revise and Edit : Like procrastinating, don't fail to revise and edit your work. Always, always, always proofread your essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors , as well as clarity and coherence.
  • Not Seeking Feedback : Listen, I know that completing an essay is an accomplishment in itself, and you immediately want to submit it, but it's so beneficial to have others read your essay for feedback. You can only spot so many holes in your work when your eyes are constantly reviewing it, so a second, third, or even fourth set of eyes can help point out areas for improvement.

Above all, trust the writing process. Though I do want you to be aware of your jargon, don't get too wrapped up in thinking you're making a mistake. That's what editing is for! Once you complete your college essay, you should always revise and edit accordingly . What you thought sounded good might make you edit it to sound great. Just keep in mind that many colleges are looking for honesty and authenticity vs how well you can sound on paper . So, if you're aware of these factors, you'll be good to go.

ways to overcome writers block

Ways to Overcome Writer's Block

Take it from someone who has suffered from chronic writer's block, it's a pain to get through . Imagine being on a writing streak so good that when you stop, the entire essay writing process stops as a whole. It's definitely a challenge, but after 10 years of writing essays and really honing my craft, I learned a few things that have helped me get through even the thickest of writer's blocks, and I want to share them with you. Check them out:

  • Take a break : This works every single time. Take a short break and step away from your computer to clear your mind and come back with a fresh perspective. For me, 15 minutes is all I ever need. If you need more time, that's okay. Just try not to make your break a rest.
  • Freewriting : Sometimes, I'd start writing without worrying about my structure or grammar to get the ideas flowing, and surprisingly enough, I found my essay taking a pleasant turn.
  • Change your environment : Move around. Don't underestimate the effects of a different location or workspace to stimulate creativity. Try coffee shops, bookstores, a park, or a new room in your house. New environment, new energy.
  • Set small goals : This one is actually the most important. Some people get overwhelmed with the word "essay" for things like lack of proper writing skills, pressure to write a great essay, etc. But if you try breaking down your writing task into smaller, manageable chunks to make it less overwhelming, it can help. For example, set a goal of three paragraphs one day, take a day to edit those paragraphs, two more the next day, and so forth. Find a formula that works for you.
  • Brainstorming : Write down all your ideas--everything. No matter how small you think the idea is, write it down. Even if these ideas seem unrelated, they will help you generate new thoughts and connections.
  • Read or listen to music : It took me a while to realize this helps, but engaging in other forms of art can inspire new ideas and break through mental blocks. And new creativity can lead you to impress admissions officers.
  • Talk it out : As a writer, it's hard to let people in on the creative process, but discussing my ideas with a friend, family member, or colleague helped me gain new perspectives and insights.
  • Relax and Meditate : Hear me out: it works! Practice deep breathing and/or meditation to reduce stress and anxiety that may be contributing to writer's block.

I won't sugarcoat it: the college application process can be intimidating , but it doesn't have to throw you off your game. When it comes to college essays, I see them as opportunities to be fun and expressive. Trust me when I say if you have fun with it, you'll attract the reader's attention , paint vivid details, and write an essay that will leave the admissions officer wanting you at their school. So, take it one step at a time and watch your personal statement come to life.

essays

How can I make my college essay stand out to admissions officers?

Simply put, be yourself. As long as you stay on track with the essay's topic, showing pieces of yourself will allow admissions officers to know more about who you are. Essays are meant to show readers who you are, how you feel, and what you think naturally, not robotically, so be authentic in your writing, and you'll be sure to stand out amongst the rest.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when writing a college essay?

Some common mistakes to avoid in your essay are using cliches and boring wording. You also want to avoid procrastinating, wasting time, not focusing, not editing, etc. When writing your essay, you want to make sure you give your writing the time and attention it deserves, so make sure you're aware of what is pulling you away from your writing. This will help you stay focused. If you have any other doubts, refer to the section about mistakes in this article and let it guide you to success.

How important is the college essay in the admissions process?

Your college essay is key in the admissions process . It's an admissions committee's first impression of you as a writer and potential student, so it should be taken very seriously. Trying to cut corners or rush through the writing process will be obvious, and it will stand out more than things like test scores, academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and any other positive influence you've had in your life. So, don't take the easy way out and really work on your essay.

Feeling confident in your college essay skills and want to explore some other essay content? Explore our blog on the comma splice to enhance your technical writing skills!

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Getting Write Down to It: Passion and Purpose in Writing

A personal perspective: writing as an art form..

Posted June 2, 2024 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

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If we think about writing as having the privilege of entering a conversation and pushing it in the direction we think it needs to go, then writing—yes, even academic writing—becomes creative. It becomes our own art form, if you will. It gives meaning to our lives and is one of the ways that we contribute to the world.

Once we recognize that our writing is an art form, we need new ways to judge ourselves and our productivity . Should a painter’s worthiness as an artist be determined by how many pieces they landed in a juried show in the last year? When we think of an artist’s career , we see the arc of their art over time. Similarly, as academics, we write over the arc of our careers. It’s the way that we—as people involved in the front lines of knowledge production, construction, and consumption—make art.

Publishing monographs and articles in top-tier journals is a fine goal—in fact, even necessary sometimes to get or keep a job. But publishing isn’t the only reason for writing any more than juried exhibitions and winning awards are the sole reasons an artist goes to paint. The painter finds at least as much, if not much more, nourishment and fulfillment in the process of making art as in the external recognition, however validating and joyful those accolades. Indeed, dreaming of accolades is rarely why an artist sits down to paint. The painter makes art to thrive, to share the meaning they find in the world with others. So, too, if a writer recognizes their work as their art, they sit down to do it to share their gifts with other people and society in general. And the process of writing itself becomes a way to thrive, to contribute to the world.

To take our writing seriously, we must think about it as a core part of our life’s work. We often write for our peers, sometimes for our students, and sometimes for audiences outside of academia. Once we have confidence in our writing, that paves the way for more outward-facing scholarship, bolstering the possibility of becoming a public scholar.

Once we take seriously our art form—or craft, if the word sounds more apt or comfortable—we must make time for it. When we finish a research project, we must realize that good writing takes care, thought, and loving attention to words, phrasing, and paragraph construction. Knowing that it takes time, and is worth the time, can boost our confidence. Good writing brings our ideas, and our findings, to life.

With all of the competing demands that students, colleagues, and our increasingly bureaucratic administrations in higher education impose on us, writing can be something we can claim as our own. While our course material is housed in learning management systems with accompanying questions of control over our intellectual property, and committee work is in service to the institution, the writing we do is ours. And the time we claim for it—for cultivating and honing it—is time we’ve declared, if only to ourselves, as precious and sacred, reserved to nurture ourselves and our ability to contribute to those around us. There’s something very liberating about that.

In sum, while many faculty members see the “publish or perish” message as exemplifying the competitive pressure of an academic career, making the time to enjoy the process of writing is an antidote to some of what has become the drudgery of university life. It reminds us what turns us on in our fields of study and motivates our inquiry in the first place.

A version of this post also appeared in Inside Higher Ed with Barbara Risman.

Deborah J. Cohan Ph.D.

Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort where she teaches and writes about the intersections of the self and society.

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The Best Student Writing Contests for 2023-2024

Help your students take their writing to the next level.

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When students write for teachers, it can feel like an assignment. When they write for a real purpose, they are empowered! Student writing contests are a challenging and inspiring way to try writing for an authentic audience— a real panel of judges —and the possibility of prize money or other incentives. We’ve gathered a list of the best student writing contests, and there’s something for everyone. Prepare highly motivated kids in need of an authentic writing mentor, and watch the words flow.

1.  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

With a wide range of categories—from critical essays to science fiction and fantasy—The Scholastic Awards are a mainstay of student contests. Each category has its own rules and word counts, so be sure to check out the options  before you decide which one is best for your students.

How To Enter

Students in grades 7-12, ages 13 and up, may begin submitting work in September by uploading to an online account at Scholastic and connecting to their local region. There are entry fees, but those can be waived for students in need.

2.  YoungArts National Arts Competition

This ends soon, but if you have students who are ready to submit, it’s worth it. YoungArts offers a national competition in the categories of creative nonfiction, novel, play or script, poetry, short story, and spoken word. Student winners may receive awards of up to $10,000 as well as the chance to participate in artistic development with leaders in their fields.

YoungArts accepts submissions in each category through October 13. Students submit their work online and pay a $35 fee (there is a fee waiver option).

3. National Youth Foundation Programs

Each year, awards are given for Student Book Scholars, Amazing Women, and the “I Matter” Poetry & Art competition. This is a great chance for kids to express themselves with joy and strength.

The rules, prizes, and deadlines vary, so check out the website for more info.

4.  American Foreign Service National High School Essay Contest

If you’re looking to help students take a deep dive into international relations, history, and writing, look no further than this essay contest. Winners receive a voyage with the Semester at Sea program and a trip to Washington, DC.

Students fill out a registration form online, and a teacher or sponsor is required. The deadline to enter is the first week of April.

5.  John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

This annual contest invites students to write about a political official’s act of political courage that occurred after Kennedy’s birth in 1917. The winner receives $10,000, and 16 runners-up also receive a variety of cash prizes.

Students may submit a 700- to 1,000-word essay through January 12. The essay must feature more than five sources and a full bibliography.

6. Bennington Young Writers Awards

Bennington College offers competitions in three categories: poetry (a group of three poems), fiction (a short story or one-act play), and nonfiction (a personal or academic essay). First-place winners receive $500. Grab a poster for your classroom here .

The contest runs from September 1 to November 1. The website links to a student registration form.

7. The Princeton Ten-Minute Play Contest

Looking for student writing contests for budding playwrights? This exclusive competition, which is open only to high school juniors, is judged by the theater faculty of Princeton University. Students submit short plays in an effort to win recognition and cash prizes of up to $500. ( Note: Only open to 11th graders. )

Students submit one 10-page play script online or by mail. The deadline is the end of March. Contest details will be published in early 2024.

8. Princeton University Poetry Contest for High School Students

The Leonard L. Milberg ’53 High School Poetry Prize recognizes outstanding work by student writers in 11th grade. Prizes range from $100 to $500.

Students in 11th grade can submit their poetry. Contest details will be published this fall.

9. The New York Times Tiny Memoir Contest

This contest is also a wonderful writing challenge, and the New York Times includes lots of resources and models for students to be able to do their best work. They’ve even made a classroom poster !

Submissions need to be made electronically by November 1.

10.  Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest

The deadline for this contest is the end of October. Sponsored by Hollins University, the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest awards prizes for the best poems submitted by young women who are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school. Prizes include cash and scholarships. Winners are chosen by students and faculty members in the creative writing program at Hollins.

Students may submit either one or two poems using the online form.

11.  The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers is open to high school sophomores and juniors, and the winner receives a full scholarship to a  Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop .

Submissions for the prize are accepted electronically from November 1 through November 30.

12. Jane Austen Society Essay Contest

High school students can win up to $1,000 and publication by entering an essay on a topic specified by the Jane Austen Society related to a Jane Austen novel.

Details for the 2024 contest will be announced in November. Essay length is from six to eight pages, not including works cited.

13. Rattle Young Poets Anthology

Open to students from 15 to 18 years old who are interested in publication and exposure over monetary awards.

Teachers may choose five students for whom to submit up to four poems each on their behalf. The deadline is November 15.

14. The Black River Chapbook Competition

This is a chance for new and emerging writers to gain publication in their own professionally published chapbook, as well as $500 and free copies of the book.

There is an $18 entry fee, and submissions are made online.

15. YouthPlays New Voices

For students under 18, the YouthPlays one-act competition is designed for young writers to create new works for the stage. Winners receive cash awards and publication.

Scroll all the way down their web page for information on the contest, which accepts non-musical plays between 10 and 40 minutes long, submitted electronically. Entries open each year in January.

16. The Ocean Awareness Contest

The 2024 Ocean Awareness Contest, Tell Your Climate Story , encourages students to write their own unique climate story. They are asking for creative expressions of students’ personal experiences, insights, or perceptions about climate change. Students are eligible for a wide range of monetary prizes up to $1,000.

Students from 11 to 18 years old may submit work in the categories of art, creative writing, poetry and spoken word, film, interactive media and multimedia, or music and dance, accompanied by a reflection. The deadline is June 13.

17. EngineerGirl Annual Essay Contest

Each year, EngineerGirl sponsors an essay contest with topics centered on the impact of engineering on the world, and students can win up to $500 in prize money. This contest is a nice bridge between ELA and STEM and great for teachers interested in incorporating an interdisciplinary project into their curriculum. The new contest asks for pieces describing the life cycle of an everyday object. Check out these tips for integrating the content into your classroom .

Students submit their work electronically by February 1. Check out the full list of rules and requirements here .

18. NCTE Student Writing Awards

The National Council of Teachers of English offers several student writing awards, including Achievement Awards in Writing (for 10th- and 11th-grade students), Promising Young Writers (for 8th-grade students), and an award to recognize Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines.

Deadlines range from October 28 to February 15. Check out NCTE.org for more details.

19. See Us, Support Us Art Contest

Children of incarcerated parents can submit artwork, poetry, photos, videos, and more. Submissions are free and the website has a great collection of past winners.

Students can submit their entries via social media or email by October 25.

20. The Adroit Prizes for Poetry & Prose

The Adroit Journal, an education-minded nonprofit publication, awards annual prizes for poetry and prose to exceptional high school and college students. Adroit charges an entry fee but also provides a form for financial assistance.

Sign up at the website for updates for the next round of submissions.

21. National PTA Reflections Awards

The National PTA offers a variety of awards, including one for literature, in their annual Reflections Contest. Students of all ages can submit entries on the specified topic to their local PTA Reflections program. From there, winners move to the local area, state, and national levels. National-level awards include an $800 prize and a trip to the National PTA Convention.

This program requires submitting to PTAs who participate in the program. Check your school’s PTA for their deadlines.

22. World Historian Student Essay Competition

The World Historian Student Essay Competition is an international contest open to students enrolled in grades K–12 in public, private, and parochial schools, as well as those in home-study programs. The $500 prize is based on an essay that addresses one of this year’s two prompts.

Students can submit entries via email or regular mail before May 1.

23. NSHSS Creative Writing Scholarship

The National Society of High School Scholars awards three $2,000 scholarships for both poetry and fiction. They accept poetry, short stories, and graphic novel writing.

Apply online by October 31.

Whether you let your students blog, start a podcast or video channel, or enter student writing contests, giving them an authentic audience for their work is always a powerful classroom choice.

If you like this list of student writing contests and want more articles like it, subscribe to our newsletters to find out when they’re posted!

Plus, check out our favorite anchor charts for teaching writing..

Are you looking for student writing contests to share in your classroom? This list will give students plenty of opportunities.

You Might Also Like

Best Student Contests and Competitions for 2023

Best 2024 Competitions for Students in Grades K-12

Competitions in STEM, ELA and the arts, and more! Continue Reading

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Announcing TGC’s 2024 Essay Contest for Young Adults

Writers aged 16–22 can get published and win $500.

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essays about good writing

The Gospel Coalition announces its 2024 essay contest, inviting young adults (ages 16–22) to explore and write about God’s faithfulness, their relationship with technology, and their heart for full-time ministry in our secular age.

Winning authors will receive a prize, and their essays will be published on TGC’s website. In addition, every writer who submits an essay will receive a coupon code for $50 off the Gen-Z registration for our TGC25 conference .

Essay Requirements

Each 800–1,000 word essay must be original, previously unpublished, and must respond to one of the following three prompts. With each of these prompts, contestants should draw from their own experiences and convictions, and use Scripture to support their conclusions. (Want examples? Read the winning essays from 2022 and 2023 .) Contestants must give permission to TGC to publish their work, and each essay will be judged by TGC’s editorial team.

Submissions will be accepted from June 1 to July 1 and winners will be announced on September 2, 2024.

1. When did the Lord love you by not giving you what you wanted?

Many of us have unfulfilled desires. When was a time you saw the Lord’s love and kindness when he withheld something from you? What was it that you wanted and how did you see the Lord’s faithfulness through not giving it to you? Tell us what you learned from your experience, especially considering that our culture tells us we deserve to have all our desires fulfilled.

2. How has the gospel changed your relationship with your phone?

Today, phones are considered a necessity rather than a luxury. How does the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ change how you view your phone and how you use it? How has your phone been a hindrance and how has it been an asset to your relationship with the Lord? Tell us what you’ve learned in navigating how to use your phone for the glory of God.

3. Why are you considering full-time ministry?

There’s a greater need than ever for young people to pursue full-time ministry. Why are you considering making ministry your vocation? Tell us your heart behind it, why you think it’s important, and what influences in your life have led you to move forward in this direction.

The contest winner will receive $500; second place will receive a $100 gift card to the TGC bookstore; third place will receive an assortment of books. The winning essays will be published on TGC’s website, as will any other essays the judges select.

Read the full contest rules and upload your essay. Questions? Contact [email protected] .

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Guest Essay

Jamie Raskin: How to Force Justices Alito and Thomas to Recuse Themselves in the Jan. 6 Cases

A white chain in the foreground, with the pillars of the Supreme Court Building in the background.

By Jamie Raskin

Mr. Raskin represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He taught constitutional law for more than 25 years and was the lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

Many people have gloomily accepted the conventional wisdom that because there is no binding Supreme Court ethics code, there is no way to force Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from the Jan. 6 cases that are before the court.

Justices Alito and Thomas are probably making the same assumption.

But all of them are wrong.

It seems unfathomable that the two justices could get away with deciding for themselves whether they can be impartial in ruling on cases affecting Donald Trump’s liability for crimes he is accused of committing on Jan. 6. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, was deeply involved in the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” movement. Above the Virginia home of Justice Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, flew an upside-down American flag — a strong political statement among the people who stormed the Capitol. Above the Alitos’ beach home in New Jersey flew another flag that has been adopted by groups opposed to President Biden.

Justices Alito and Thomas face a groundswell of appeals beseeching them not to participate in Trump v. United States , the case that will decide whether Mr. Trump enjoys absolute immunity from criminal prosecution, and Fischer v. United States , which will decide whether Jan. 6 insurrectionists — and Mr. Trump — can be charged under a statute that criminalizes “corruptly” obstructing an official proceeding. (Justice Alito said on Wednesday that he would not recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases.)

Everyone assumes that nothing can be done about the recusal situation because the highest court in the land has the lowest ethical standards — no binding ethics code or process outside of personal reflection. Each justice decides for him- or herself whether he or she can be impartial.

Of course, Justices Alito and Thomas could choose to recuse themselves — wouldn’t that be nice? But begging them to do the right thing misses a far more effective course of action.

The U.S. Department of Justice — including the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, an appointed U.S. special counsel and the solicitor general, all of whom were involved in different ways in the criminal prosecutions underlying these cases and are opposing Mr. Trump’s constitutional and statutory claims — can petition the other seven justices to require Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves not as a matter of grace but as a matter of law.

The Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland can invoke two powerful textual authorities for this motion: the Constitution of the United States, specifically the due process clause, and the federal statute mandating judicial disqualification for questionable impartiality, 28 U.S.C. Section 455. The Constitution has come into play in several recent Supreme Court decisions striking down rulings by stubborn judges in lower courts whose political impartiality has been reasonably questioned but who threw caution to the wind to hear a case anyway. This statute requires potentially biased judges throughout the federal system to recuse themselves at the start of the process to avoid judicial unfairness and embarrassing controversies and reversals.

The constitutional and statutory standards apply to Supreme Court justices. The Constitution, and the federal laws under it, is the “ supreme law of the land ,” and the recusal statute explicitly treats Supreme Court justices as it does other judges: “Any justice, judge or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The only justices in the federal judiciary are the ones on the Supreme Court.

This recusal statute, if triggered, is not a friendly suggestion. It is Congress’s command, binding on the justices, just as the due process clause is. The Supreme Court cannot disregard this law just because it directly affects one or two of its justices. Ignoring it would trespass on the constitutional separation of powers because the justices would essentially be saying that they have the power to override a congressional command.

When the arguments are properly before the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Sonia Sotomayor will have both a constitutional obligation and a statutory obligation to enforce recusal standards.

Indeed, there is even a compelling argument based on case law that Chief Justice Roberts and the other unaffected justices should raise the matter of recusal on their own, or sua sponte. Numerous circuit courts have agreed with the Eighth Circuit that this is the right course of action when members of an appellate court are aware of “ overt acts ” of a judge reflecting personal bias. Cases like this stand for the idea that appellate jurists who see something should say something instead of placing all the burden on parties in a case who would have to risk angering a judge by bringing up the awkward matter of potential bias and favoritism on the bench.

But even if no member of the court raises the issue of recusal, the urgent need to deal with it persists. Once it is raised, the court would almost surely have to find that the due process clause and Section 455 compel Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves. To arrive at that substantive conclusion, the justices need only read their court’s own recusal decisions.

In one key 5-to-3 Supreme Court case from 2016, Williams v. Pennsylvania, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained why judicial bias is a defect of constitutional magnitude and offered specific objective standards for identifying it. Significantly, Justices Alito and Thomas dissented from the majority’s ruling.

The case concerned the bias of the chief justice of Pennsylvania, who had been involved as a prosecutor on the state’s side in an appellate death penalty case that was before him. Justice Kennedy found that the judge’s refusal to recuse himself when asked to do so violated due process. Justice Kennedy’s authoritative opinion on recusal illuminates three critical aspects of the current controversy.

First, Justice Kennedy found that the standard for recusal must be objective because it is impossible to rely on the affected judge’s introspection and subjective interpretations. The court’s objective standard requires recusal when the likelihood of bias on the part of the judge “is too high to be constitutionally tolerable,” citing an earlier case. “This objective risk of bias,” according to Justice Kennedy, “is reflected in the due process maxim that ‘no man can be a judge in his own case.’” A judge or justice can be convinced of his or her own impartiality but also completely missing what other people are seeing.

Second, the Williams majority endorsed the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct as an appropriate articulation of the Madisonian standard that “no man can be a judge in his own cause.” Model Code Rule 2.11 on judicial disqualification says that a judge “shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This includes, illustratively, cases in which the judge “has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party,” a married judge knows that “the judge’s spouse” is “a person who has more than a de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding” or the judge “has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision or opinion, that commits or appears to commit the judge to reach a particular result.” These model code illustrations ring a lot of bells at this moment.

Third and most important, Justice Kennedy found for the court that the failure of an objectively biased judge to recuse him- or herself is not “harmless error” just because the biased judge’s vote is not apparently determinative in the vote of a panel of judges. A biased judge contaminates the proceeding not just by the casting and tabulation of his or her own vote but by participating in the body’s collective deliberations and affecting, even subtly, other judges’ perceptions of the case.

Justice Kennedy was emphatic on this point : “It does not matter whether the disqualified judge’s vote was necessary to the disposition of the case. The fact that the interested judge’s vote was not dispositive may mean only that the judge was successful in persuading most members of the court to accept his or her position — an outcome that does not lessen the unfairness to the affected party.”

Courts generally have found that any reasonable doubts about a judge’s partiality must be resolved in favor of recusal. A judge “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” While recognizing that the “challenged judge enjoys a margin of discretion,” the courts have repeatedly held that “doubts ordinarily ought to be resolved in favor of recusal.” After all, the reputation of the whole tribunal and public confidence in the judiciary are both on the line.

Judge David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit emphasized this fundamental principle in 2019 when his court issued a writ of mandamus to force recusal of a military judge who blithely ignored at least the appearance of a glaring conflict of interest. He stated : “Impartial adjudicators are the cornerstone of any system of justice worthy of the label. And because ‘deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of judges,’ jurists must avoid even the appearance of partiality.” He reminded us that to perform its high function in the best way, as Justice Felix Frankfurter stated, “justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.”

The Supreme Court has been especially disposed to favor recusal when partisan politics appear to be a prejudicial factor even when the judge’s impartiality has not been questioned. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. , from 2009, the court held that a state supreme court justice was constitutionally disqualified from a case in which the president of a corporation appearing before him had helped to get him elected by spending $3 million promoting his campaign. The court, through Justice Kennedy, asked whether, quoting a 1975 decision, “under a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness,” the judge’s obvious political alignment with a party in a case “poses such a risk of actual bias or prejudgment that the practice must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented.”

The federal statute on disqualification, Section 455(b) , also makes recusal analysis directly applicable to bias imputed to a spouse’s interest in the case. Ms. Thomas and Mrs. Alito (who, according to Justice Alito, is the one who put up the inverted flag outside their home) meet this standard. A judge must recuse him- or herself when a spouse “is known by the judge to have an interest in a case that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding.”

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Chief Justice Roberts assured America that “judges are like umpires.”

But professional baseball would never allow an umpire to continue to officiate the World Series after learning that the pennant of one of the two teams competing was flying in the front yard of the umpire’s home. Nor would an umpire be allowed to call balls and strikes in a World Series game after the umpire’s wife tried to get the official score of a prior game in the series overthrown and canceled out to benefit the losing team. If judges are like umpires, then they should be treated like umpires, not team owners, fans or players.

Justice Barrett has said she wants to convince people “that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” Justice Alito himself declared the importance of judicial objectivity in his opinion for the majority in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overruling Roe v. Wade — a bit of self-praise that now rings especially hollow.

But the Constitution and Congress’s recusal statute provide the objective framework of analysis and remedy for cases of judicial bias that are apparent to the world, even if they may be invisible to the judges involved. This is not really optional for the justices.

I look forward to seeing seven members of the court act to defend the reputation and integrity of the institution.

Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He taught constitutional law for more than 25 years and was the lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Media Companies Are Making a Huge Mistake With AI

News organizations rushing to absolve AI companies of theft are acting against their own interests.

A newspaper glitching like a screen

In 2011, I sat in the Guggenheim Museum in New York and watched Rupert Murdoch announce the beginning of a “new digital renaissance” for news. The newspaper mogul was unveiling an iPad-inspired publication called The Daily . “The iPad demands that we completely reimagine our craft,” he said. The Daily shut down the following year, after burning through a reported $40 million.

For as long as I have reported on internet companies, I have watched news leaders try to bend their businesses to the will of Apple, Google, Meta, and more. Chasing tech’s distribution and cash, news firms strike deals to try to ride out the next digital wave. They make concessions to platforms that attempt to take all of the audience (and trust) that great journalism attracts, without ever having to do the complicated and expensive work of the journalism itself. And it never, ever works as planned.

Publishers like News Corp did it with Apple and the iPad, investing huge sums in flashy content that didn’t make them any money but helped Apple sell more hardware. They took payouts from Google to offer their journalism for free through search, only to find that it eroded their subscription businesses. They lined up to produce original video shows for Facebook and to reformat their articles to work well in its new app. Then the social-media company canceled the shows and the app. Many news organizations went out of business.

The Wall Street Journal recently laid off staffers who were part of a Google-funded program to get journalists to post to YouTube channels when the funding for the program dried up . And still, just as the news business is entering a death spiral, these publishers are making all the same mistakes, and more, with AI.

Adrienne LaFrance: The coming humanist renaissance

Publishers are deep in negotiations with tech firms such as OpenAI to sell their journalism as training for the companies’ models. It turns out that accurate, well-written news is one of the most valuable sources for these models, which have been hoovering up humans’ intellectual output without permission. These AI platforms need timely news and facts to get consumers to trust them. And now, facing the threat of lawsuits, they are pursuing business deals to absolve them of the theft. These deals amount to settling without litigation. The publishers willing to roll over this way aren’t just failing to defend their own intellectual property—they are also trading their own hard-earned credibility for a little cash from the companies that are simultaneously undervaluing them and building products quite clearly intended to replace them.

Late last year Axel Springer, the European publisher that owns Politico and Business Insider , sealed a deal with OpenAI reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars over several years. OpenAI has been offering other publishers $1 million to $5 million a year to license their content . News Corp’s new five-year deal with OpenAI is reportedly valued at as much as $250 million in cash and OpenAI credits. Conversations are heating up. As its negotiations with OpenAI failed, The New York Times sued the firm—as did Alden Global Capital, which owns the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune . They were brave moves, although I worry that they are likely to end in deals too.

That media companies would rush to do these deals after being so burned by their tech deals of the past is extraordinarily distressing. And these AI partnerships are far worse for publishers. Ten years ago, it was at least plausible to believe that tech companies would become serious about distributing news to consumers. They were building actual products such as Google News. Today’s AI chatbots are so early and make mistakes often. Just this week, Google’s AI suggested you should glue cheese to pizza crust to keep it from slipping off.

OpenAI and others say they are interested in building new models for distributing and crediting news, and many news executives I respect believe them. But it’s hard to see how any AI product built by a tech company would create meaningful new distribution and revenue for news. These companies are using AI to disrupt internet search—to help users find a single answer faster than browsing a few links. So why would anyone want to read a bunch of news articles when an AI could give them the answer, maybe with a tiny footnote crediting the publisher that no user will ever click on?

Companies act in their interest. But OpenAI isn’t even an ordinary business. It’s a nonprofit (with a for-profit arm) that wants to promote general artificial intelligence that benefits humanity—though it can’t quite decide what that means. Even if its executives were ardent believers in the importance of news, helping journalism wouldn’t be on their long-term priority list.

Ross Andersen: Does Sam Altman know what he’s creating?

That’s all before we talk about how to price the news. Ask six publishers how they should be paid by these tech companies, and they will spout off six different ideas. One common idea publishers describe is getting a slice of the tech companies’ revenue based on the percentage of the total training data their publications represent. That’s impossible to track, and there’s no way tech companies would agree to it. Even if they did agree to it, there would be no way to check their calculations—the data sets used for training are vast and inscrutable. And let’s remember that these AI companies are themselves struggling to find a consumer business model. How do you negotiate for a slice of something that doesn’t yet exist?

The news industry finds itself in this dangerous spot, yet again, in part because it lacks a long-term focus and strategic patience. Once-family-owned outlets, such as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times , have been sold to interested billionaires. Others, like The Wall Street Journal , are beholden to the public markets and face coming generational change among their owners. Television journalism is at the whims of the largest media conglomerates, which are now looking to slice, dice, and sell off their empires at peak market value. Many large media companies are run by executives who want to live to see another quarter, not set up their companies for the next 50 years. At the same time, the industry’s lobbying power is eroding. A recent congressional hearing on the topic of AI and news was overshadowed by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson . Tech companies clearly have far more clout than media companies.

Things are about to get worse. Legacy and upstart media alike are bleeding money and talent by the week. More outlets are likely to shut down, while others will end up in the hands of powerful individuals using them for their own agendas (see the former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s activist play for BuzzFeed ).

The long-term solutions are far from clear. But the answer to this moment is painfully obvious. Publishers should be patient and refrain from licensing away their content for relative pennies. They should protect the value of their work, and their archives. They should have the integrity to say no. It’s simply too early to get into bed with the companies that trained their models on professional content without permission and have no compelling case for how they will help build the news business.

Instead of keeping their business-development departments busy, newsrooms should focus on what they do best: making great journalism and serving it up to their readers. Technology companies aren’t in the business of news. And they shouldn’t be. Publishers have to stop looking to them to rescue the news business. We must start saving ourselves.

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  30. How to Write an Essay Introduction

    Step 1: Hook your reader. Step 2: Give background information. Step 3: Present your thesis statement. Step 4: Map your essay's structure. Step 5: Check and revise. More examples of essay introductions. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.