If you’re interested in writing for pay or passing entrance exams conducted by certain Jesuit-run academic institutions, you’ll have to deal with the reality of writing under time pressure. Writing an essay while the clock is ticking can be a very stressful experience—if you’re not used to it.
The good news is that writers are made, not born. Here are a few tips to get you started down the path of skillful essay writing.
Uncensored, then Organized
Let’s say you’re taking the ACET and you’ve been given a topic to write about. The first thing you need to do is to spend a little time generating ideas. Pause, think, and write down any and all ideas that pop into your head. Don’t worry about how “stupid” or “ridiculous” they may seem. The idea is to generate a lot of ideas without censoring yourself—save the editing for later.
Next, organize your ideas into a mind map diagram or an outline. If you’re more of a visually-oriented person, having a diagram with the main idea of your essay in the very center will help you a great deal.
Toss out the ideas that do not support your main idea in any way, and subsume supporting, specific ideas under general ones. Once you’ve arranged everything into a cohesive big picture, it’s time to move on to the next phase, which is…
Thesis the Police! Open Up!
Remember that main idea I kept on mentioning earlier? The statement that encapsulates it is your all-important thesis statement. This is the point you’ll be making in your entire write-up, so start writing the body of your prose with it in mind. Do not write it on your essay first; save it for later. I’ll explain why in a little while.
Every sentence you write should develop and/or support your thesis statement somehow. If you did your mind map or outline well, you should have no problems with run-on sentences (sentences that don’t support your thesis statement in any way).
The End of the Beginning
Remember how I asked you to save the intro and conclusion for last? They are special in the sense that they can make or break your essay. They can grab your reader’s attention and deliver much of your message’s impact, or utterly fail to do so.
If there’s only one thing you to take away form this article, take this: audiences tend to remember the first and the last part of your presentation most clearly, so save the juiciest parts for first and for last.
There are many ways to go about writing your introduction and conclusion. For example, you can do the orthodox thing and simply state your thesis plainly, or you can get creative and throw in a question or anecdote to spice it up. It’s an arbitrary thing, depending on who you are and who your audience will be.
The Only Constant
Do remember to edit your essay. A good rule of thumb is to proofread it at least three times: the first time for correcting typos, the second time for double checking the flow of ideas, and a third time for fixing the format, if ever.
Finally, know that essay writing is a learned skill. If you constantly practice the right habits, you’ll find that you’ve nowhere to go but up.