English Professor offers advice on how to write the best essays

March 16, 2016 Opinion, Write Right

Write-RightIn an interview about essay-writing advice for students, Dr. Jill Jones, a Rollins English Professor, said that most essays are, in a sense, an argument.

As writers, we are giving information to our readers. Just like when professors ask the “so what?” question, we need to keep the audience in mind and explain why the message matters to the readers.

When asked whether the thesis statement has to appear in the first paragraph, Dr. Jones mentioned there can be exceptions to that. Some people write a catchy first paragraph and put the statement in the beginning of the second paragraph, which is also fine as long as writers “keep in mind that readers need to know why they are reading.”

Dr. Jones also emphasized the extreme importance of specific examples and quotes, without which a passage becomes general and vague. Take graphic novel analysis as an example: it is necessary to discuss a specific scene, rather than giving generic commentary on the pictures.

As for sentences, Dr. Jones encouraged students to cut excess words: “I always tell students to simplify their sentences because I don’t care for wordy essays.”

And what are some ways to simplify a sentence?

The first tip is to get rid of extra phrases such as “it is for this reason that…” Look for extra words that can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence. The second suggestion is to utilize active verbs.

Writer should also make sure that there is a clear subject in each sentence. In terms of word choice, Dr. Jones recommended that writers be precise and not use words they are not comfortable using: “Make sure you say what you mean to say.”

She pointed out that some people use words they do not actually know, which makes their sentences less accurate.

When asked about revision, Dr. Jones suggested doing it “almost always.”

She emphasized this, saying, “The difference between a good writer and an average writer is how much revision they do.”

But should we revise after each paragraph or after finishing the whole piece?

Dr. Jones mentioned she does not mind messy first drafts. People can get good ideas after the first draft and sometimes you do not know whether a paragraph is necessary until you go through the whole essay once.

At some point, you will figure out what the argument really is. The truth is that some parts just do not fit into the main argument. In that case, they need to be thrown away, regardless of how well they are written.

Moreover, Dr. Jones addressed the purpose of writing. She pointed out that we need to discover what really interests us so that our writing will be more fun to read.

If the writer gets bored while writing, the readers will feel even worse. Dr. Jones believed that we should write for readers and not for ourselves.

“If you are writing, you are writing for an audience. Why do anything with it, such as publishing it, if it’s only for yourself?”

It is therefore important to consider whether your readers will understand your writing and whether you are actually delivering your idea fully and clearly.

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