Ah, essays. They have been a part of your education since elementary school. Few students actually like essays, but, unfortunately for most students, the essay remains a part of your educational experience all the way through college and definitely in graduate school.

But the essay does not have to ruin your semester. Essays can be an opportunity for you to show off your smarts. To help you out, we have provided our five best tips for writing a college essay:

1. Read the instructions carefully.

Often, instructors will be very specific about the papers they assign: how many pages, margins, formats, etc. It’s not uncommon for student to lose credit on essays not because they wrote bad essay, but because they failed to follow the instructor’s directions.

This is a dumb way to lose points, so don’t let it happen to you. Read the instructions for the essay before you start to make sure understand the instructor’s requirements.

2. Start with a strong thesis.

Every good essay starts with a good thesis. But what makes a good thesis? You know you have a strong thesis if you can state it in one sentence, you are passionate about it, and you can back it up with something more than just emotion.

The most important ingredient here is passion. If you don’t have any strong feelings for your thesis, you won’t have the passion to build a solid essay around it. If you aren’t passionate about it, neither will your readers. So make sure you choose a thesis that you care about enough to defend it passionately. This passion will show through in your research and writing.

Also, do some preliminary research before you decide which side of an issue you will defend. Your research will tell you which side has more information to back it up and which one you agree with. You don’t want to pick a side and find out a week later that you don’t really agree with it. This makes it very difficult for you to be passionate about your thesis.

3. Decide how you will defend your thesis.

There are a few different ways to convince people of your thesis. You can appeal to their emotions (Ex: with heart-wrenching stories) or to their logic (Ex: via statistics or logical arguments). It helps to use a few of these approaches to make your case.

4. Stick to the facts.

College essays aren’t like political speeches. You can’t just get all riled up, without any substance, and expect your instructor to be happy about it. At some point, you have to use solid evidence to prove your point.

While you are researching, you’ll start to gather information to help you support your thesis. Don’t get so carried away in impassioned pleas that you forget to find statistics to support your thesis. It is a good policy to find at least one irrefutable piece of evidence for each of your major points.

5. Get a formatting style guide.

College instructors are very particular about formatting. MA, MLA, or AP formatting are just some of the formatting styles you will encounter. These tell you how to punctuate your sentences, cite your sources, and more. Often, failure to format properly will hurt your grade.

To avoid this problem, get yourself a style guide in your instructor’s preferred style and stick to it like glue.

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