Getting a 1st for your essay

This page is for people aiming for that 1st - it contains the best essay writing tips to improve and polish your essay, some of which have been adapted from a professional editor.

Use strong verbs and nouns.

A verb is a word that usually denotes an action (bring, read), an occurrence (decompose, glitter), or a state of being (exist, stand).

So verbs are action words.

They "put things in motion".

You need to aim to make yours as strong as possible.

The verb to be (am, is, are, was, were) is weak and so you should eliminate it as much as possible.

Nouns name the people, places, and things in our world.

English has multiple words for almost everything.

Choose the noun that does the best work for you.

Short words are usually best.

They have more punch.

They hit the gut hard.

The paragraph above has only one word with more than one syllable.

Be wary of adverbs and adjectives.

If your verbs and nouns are strong, you can get rid of many adverbs or adjectives.

Don't know what they are? They are the "describing words" your primary school teachers told you to use to make your writing "more interesting.

" The boy ran to the store.

The tall, tanned boy ran quickly to the store.

The teacher gives you a check mark.

The reader goes to sleep.

Wake up your reader with The surfer raced to the store.

Be particularly wary of words ending with -ly.

Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar Yes, there is a time to turn on the proofreader.

An essay is like housework.

No one notices when it is done well, but they see your mistakes clearly.

The guest who comes for tea concentrates on conversation and a developing friendship--unless the windows are streaky or a cobweb hangs in the corner.

She is polite so she says nothing, but her attention is divided.

Those pesky flaws in your essay will make some readers turn away in disgust.

Mistakes distract even the most sympathetic reader.

The reader does not necessarily even know the rule you've broken, but he feels uneasy.

There are plenty of tips on this website to help you improve your grammar.

Include plenty of detail.

Your ideas come through more clearly when they are supported by details.

Sensory details bring a scene clearly to mind.

Most of us rely on sight, so visual details are most common in writing.

But use other senses, too.

Psychologists tell us the most evocative sense is smell.

Give specific names for things.

The pine is better than the tree.

Give evidence for your point of view.

Anecdotes, quotes from reputable sources, statistics, all add credibility.

Prune your work.

Writers often fall in love with their own words and phrases.

Cutting them can feel like killing a person.

It only feels like that.

Cutting words from writing is like pruning in the garden.

When we get rid of the dead, diseased, and ugly, we are left with a stronger, more beautiful, fruitful plant.

Be ruthless with your writing.

Chop out every unnecessary word.

How do you know what can go? Read what you've written leaving out parts you question.

If the piece still makes sense, leave out the excess.

Compressed writing packs a punch.


Technically, active voice puts the active agent first, followed by the verb (the action), followed by the object of the action.

Passive voice reverses the order.

Active - The boy hit the ball.

Passive - The ball was hit by the boy.

If you take care of the verb to be you will be using active voice more often.

(Notice was in the example.

) Active voice is stronger and moves the action along.

Passive voice sounds like someone is trying to hide something or to avoid responsibility.

We find passive voice in many government documents.

Use parallel structure.

Doing the same thing in the same way creates a pattern that helps a reader follow along.

On this page I've used a parallel structure for the tips.

Each one is written as a command.

I used the imperative mood (the command) because these tips are vital parts of writing.

I used it in each case because that creates a pattern your brain picked up by the time you reached the third tip.

If I had changed a later tip to "Details are important," your brain would have registered the shift in structure and for a moment would have flickered away from what I want you to do:

  • keep reading,
  • accept these tips,
  • use them
  • become a stronger writer, advance the general quality of written English in the world.

If it's a sermon your reader wants, there are churches to oblige.

What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like? When you describe a person or event, your reader is there with you.

When you tell, the reader relaxes to the point of mental slumber.

Not sure of the difference? Telling: John was sad after Susan broke up with him.

Reader: Yawn! Showing: John shut his cell phone and leaned against the wall.

He heaved a sigh and dropped his head into his hands.

Hear the reader's mind working: "What's with John? Oh, I get it, he feels Susan let him down.

" In nonfiction, details show, generalities or opinions tell.

Telling: Children are out of shape these days.

Reader: "I don't think that's true.

My neighbor's kid plays Little League.

" Showing: Forty percent of 5 to 8-year olds are obese.

The reader's mind kicks in: "Wow! Children are out of shape these days!" Use humor when you can.

Not everyone cracks jokes all day long.

But a light touch from time to time lowers a reader's guard and opens her to your ideas.

Be careful that your humor is kind and tasteful, unless of course you are writing for seven-year-olds, when bodily function humor is high on the list.

Build to the end.

In English we expect the most important item to be at the end.

When you write a list, put the most important, unusual, or powerful item last.

The final sentence in a paragraph ties up your ideas in a neat package or hints at what is to come.

Your most powerful paragraph comes at the end of the chapter.

Poets labour over their final word.

Let yours linger in the mind.

Choose a beckoning title (if you have the option).

A good title is catchy and says, "Read me.

" Depending on your topic, you may want to steer clear of a "cute" or "witty" title in favour of one that makes a clear promise of what is inside.

Writers often discover a title as they write.

Sometimes a phrase or reference in the essay comes to stand for the whole work.

Take your time to find a good title.

You want one that calls to a reader.

Print out a hard copy and read your work out loud.

Many people compose directly onto a computer.

That's what I'm doing as I write this.

Even if your learning institution wants an electronic file, and most do, print yourself a hard copy.

It is easier to read and to find your mistakes on paper.

Worried about the trees? So am I.

I print my work on the backs of pages as often as possible.

I use flyers, form letters, fax cover sheets, any piece of paper with a blank side.

I've discovered even loose leaf paper will go through my printer.

Read your work aloud Really.

No cheating.

Read all the words out loud in the order in which you've written them.

This is the single best self-editing technique.

You will find awkward places or unclear references as soon as the words are out of your mouth.

Some writers stop immediately to fix the problem.

Others mark their paper and keep reading, going back later to fix things.

Either way, read every word out loud.

After you've fixed the problems, read it aloud again.

Keep doing this until you can't find any more problems.

Find an editor.

Professional writers edit their own work, share it with trusted friends, and then submit it to a publishing house.

There another editor is selected to read the work closely, looking for areas that need improvement or a special polish.

In fact, more than one editor will check every piece of work to be published.

Professional editors know these writing tips and many more.

Furthermore, they recognise strengths and weaknesses in writing.

As a student you are in the precarious position of making the final decision about what to submit.

If you hand your work in too soon, your essay will not be all it could be.

No one wants to have an inferior submission attached to his or her name.

Once an essay is submitted, that's usually it - there's no chance for resubmission.

You are a writer and you are close to your own work; that closeness can blind you to its flaws.

Trusted friends can encourage you and those with good English skills can find mistakes.

If the friendship is robust and the friend fearless, you can get good feedback from a friend.

If you can find - or build - a writing group where people critique each other's work, I strongly recommend attending.

You will learn from other writers as you watch their work evolve.

You will have help with your own writing.

Some of these tips have been adapted from Audrey Owen.