7 ways to improve your essay writing skills
Writing an academic essay is complex. A good essay should provide a solid, debatable argument that is well structured and supported by relevant evidence. It's why focusing on your essay writing technique is key to gaining optimum marks. Here are seven ways to improve your writing skills.
Whether it's fiction, non-fiction, classical literature, newspaper reports or essays, the more you read, the better your essay writing skills. If you are struggling with a specific subject, read relevant journals or papers and observe the style, language, structure and grammar. This will help you mimic the style and structure when you write. Reading more essays, in general, will also subconsciously help to mould your writing style, so try to read a range of essays, including those by academics.
Active reading is when you read something to evaluate its relevance to your needs. Meaning, that as you read other people's essays think critically. What do you like about the writing style? How persuasive is the argument? Is the essay structured clearly, and are all points adequately supported with evidence? What can you learn and use in your essays?
Write a checklist of your most common mistakes
Knowing what loses marks in your essays is key to improving your work. Look at examination marks on past papers and ensure that you fulfil what the examiner wants in your essays. Ask your teachers and professors for feedback on what could be improved and judge for yourself where you feel you are going wrong. Common mistakes include weak structures with no clear conclusion, lack of evidence in arguments, too many ideas and no transitions between paragraphs.
Be clear about how to structure an essay
Before writing your essay, always spend five to ten minutes planning an essay structure. If you're unsure how to do this effectively, work with peers and tutors to see what technique works best for you.
Then practice with past paper questions. Start by considering your main argument and how you can break down your answer into logical paragraphs. Then plan your introduction and the conclusion. Remember the introduction presents your topic, the main body contains your argument, analysis and evidence, and a conclusion wraps up your idea.
Practice, practice and practice
It's only with continuous practice that your essay writing will improve. Practice with essays works particularly well if you constantly struggle to formulate a logical argument, get writer's block or find it tricky to organise your thoughts on paper.
The aim should be to create a clear essay writing process for yourself; this means approaching every essay question in a way that helps you. This might be reading the question, brainstorming your argument, formulating a structure of how you will express your ideas and then starting your essay.
Review, edit and check your work
There are two ways to check your essay. Firstly, there is nothing like reading your essay aloud (in your head) to help you see if your work correctly flows and makes sense. It's also a good editing tool as it allows you to identify the parts that are repetitive and common grammatical errors.
Secondly, get used to checking your essay after you have completed it, as this will get you into the habit of always leaving time to check your work. When re-reading your essay, remember you are both sense checking your argument (have you answered the question?) and looking for spelling mistakes and errors.
Get expert feedback
Writers have editors for a reason, and that's to get feedback. If you want to be sure, you are improving your style and your essay technique, always ask an expert who can give constructive feedback on your essays. Try teachers and tutors.
If you are struggling, a tutor provides bespoke help and takes you through the process of writing essays in a step-by-step way to tackle your problem areas. Specific support like this will give you a template to work within every exam and with every essay you write.