Keys to Improving Your Essays

           WRITING TIPS

    1.  Importance of Pre-writing and Preparation:

The work you do on the paper begins long before you write it. Unless your paper is based on your  opinion, you will be required to read text and additional materials to prepare for your essay.  The importance of taking adequate time to do your reading and research cannot be emphasized enough.  Merely reading it is not enough for a good paper; you must understand the material and be able to interpret and analyze it.  Too many students tend to read too quickly, and fail to grasp the material in depth.

If you are doing an extensive research essay—such as using about 15 texts for a 3000 word history or sociology paper — it would not be unusual for you to spend twenty to thirty hours of research and preliminary writing time.  Before starting your essay, you should be able to put down your books and summarize what have you read without looking at them.  You should understand it well enough that you can easily paraphrase concepts and integrate facts and statistics rather than merely regurgitate them.  Additionally, paying attention to class lectures and making solid notes is also important.

If you are reading a book for a literature essay, a second reading is advised. If you are an non-native speaker, it may be of value to obtain assistance of a tutor who can help you to understand the material at the level required for in-depth analysis.

Adequate prewriting preparation will make your paper much easier to write.  Familiarity with your topic and materials will allow you to create a strong, clear and workable thesis; develop an organized and coherent essay; correlate and cross-reference ideas and information; support and strengthen your argument; and develop unique insights that are necessary for ‘A’ papers.

    2.  Choice of Topic:                                                                     

When possible, it is always best to choose a topic that interests you.

It is important to determine whether your paper is specific or general in nature.  If you are doing an overview of an issue or situation in the form of a ‘report’, a general topic may be workable. “Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace” or “Organizational Behaviour Traits of Small Businesses” or “The High and Low Points of Jean Chretien’s Rule in Canada” are examples of general topics.  this type of essay aims to present information in an organized and well-researched fashion, and if you have an argument it is also general – you may be suggesting that we need more stringent regulations on workplace chemicals, comparing small business functions to families, or defining the character of Chretien’s high and low points.

However, the general rule is to be focused and specific.  Even a general paper may  require you to narrow your topic of focus: “Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace Kitchen”, “Organizational Behaviour Traits Among Independent Retail Businesses”, or highlighting Chretien’s strengths and weaknesses as a Prime Minister.  For most interpretive or analytical essays, a narrow focus is preferable to a general view.  General background information may highlight your argument or research, but it needs to have a focus and a purpose.

A specific focus will support a clear and strong thesis, and make the essay easier to develop, as well as easier for the tutor marker/reader to follow and understand.  Of course, the scope of the essay as well as its length will determine the boundaries of the essay.  Basically you should be able to break the essay down into parts, or a logical sequence of development in terms of ideas and information.  This need not be repressive, especially if the teacher allows you the freedom to add your own interpretation and analysis. Your focus, thesis and outline are like the structure of an empty house that will be filled in with your own furniture, decorations and personal touches.  The structure of the essay will be colored by your voice, your writing style, your point of view, and details that stand out for you.

Teachers often provide detailed guidelines for how to proceed with their paper.

    3.  Tips for Argument Essays:

It is usually best to pick a topic you can make a strong argument about, one for which there is a counter argument to refute.  For example, ‘exercise is good for people’s health’ is not a good argument topic, whereas, ‘marijuana should/should not be legalized’ is an eminently arguable subject.

Research Tips:

  • Allow adequate time at the library, and seek all the help you need to get the best books possible.
  • Skim through your books at first, reading introductions and conclusions more carefully; choosing which ones are most suitable. Remember to bookmark important pages.
  • Go through the books you choose a second time more carefully, making detailed notes and identifying or copying important quotes.
  • It helps to list your authors by letter as you make notes, to save having to type out the same name again and again.  BE CAREFUL TO KEEP TRACK OF PAGE NUMBERS:  when you misplace a page number for a quote or citation you can waste precious time looking for it again.

A few tips to help us get you the A you want:

  • Follow your guidelines and get help from your teacher if you need it.
  • Have a clear thesis statement, in one or more sentences.  You should reinforce the objective and argument of your paper throughout the paper.
  • Have a strong intro, starting with an anecdote or general lead-in statement.
  • Develop an outline which functions as a road map for the paper; you may change directions upon editing, but you will have different sections coherently organized.
  • Demonstrate strong research skills and/or understanding of your primary and secondary materials.  An ‘A’ argument paper must support its premise well.  Very often, a perceptive and well-presented insight is necessary to separate your paper from the rest.
  • Interpret your materials with depth and the application of strong analytical skills.
  • Make no mistakes in style.
  • Reference and integration of material from class lectures may be helpful.
  • Remember to make sure all paragraphs are a self-contained unit.  I recommend you bold the main point of each paragraph to help you structure the essay.  Not all paragraphs require a concluding sentence, but often it is good to summarize the idea or add a significant or interesting detail.
  • Provide an excellent conclusion.  Unless advised otherwise, do not merely summarize your material, but discuss implications and research deficits.  You may be able insert your own opinion in the conclusion, or point to relevant and probing questions that you essay has invoked.
  • As you go through the paper, ask yourself:  ‘So what?’ in reference to various pieces of information and points you make.   If it doesn’t serve a purpose, maybe it shouldn’t be in the paper.

Ways to Transition Between Paragraphs:

  • A shift in ideas or change in focus/viewpoint, such as: “in contrast to”  “on the other hand”, “this ‘no’ faction disagrees”, or “recent research contradicts …”
  • A logical break in describing the details of an event.
  • A switch in text referenced, by “so and so supports the basic premise”
  • A change in focus identified by “the use of this symbol furthers this theme” or “this character also contributes to the overriding sense of despair in the novel”.
  • A development of an idea indicated by a transition such as: “Furthermore”, “Moreover”, or “In addition”.
  • Sometimes you may have to decide whether to use a transitional or topic sentence at the start of a new paragraph.  If you are making a transition, a transitional sentence is recommended.  Use of transitional words such as ‘furthermore’, ‘in contrast’, ‘however,’ ‘at the same time’ may smoothen the transition.  A topic sentence may follow your transition, if necessary.
  • Some structural developments in essay are implied.  The reader may understand the ‘topic’ of your sentence well enough without being told.  However, if you are not an accomplished writer, you should summarize the paragraph for yourself before writing it, after which you may be able to tell whether it has become redundant.

General Writing Tips:

  • Use active rather than passive sentences.
  • Apply variation to your sentence lengths.
  • Use lively verbs, rather than flat:  ‘created’ or ‘concocted’ a plan, rather than ‘made’ a plan.
  • Incorporate detail into your paper.
  • Use quotes well.  Do not use them excessively or just to fill up space.
  • Paraphrase, rather than quote.
  • Use strong ‘framing’ words, such as “implies”, “uncovers”, “evokes”, “demonstrates” or “explores”.
  • Integrate your quotes with your text; it is best not to have a quotation stand alone, nor to end one sentence with a quotation and then begin the next sentence with another quote.

Checklist for obtaining the best service possible from me:

  • Make sure you attach your guidelines, and other relevant materials such as website examples, grading guidelines
  • If you are unsure as to whether you are on the right track, see me before you begin your paper to work on your thesis and develop an outline.  Discuss your ideas with me by phone or email  or consult your teacher
  • Proofread your paper, and run a spell and grammar check on it before you send it.
  • Make sure all your quotes have start and end quotes;
  • Bold any sections that are unclear, or need particular attention.


All students are expected to know that they must not copy someone else’s work and try to pass it off as their own, which constitutes plagiarism.  This includes taking ideas from Internet sources and not attributing them.

I do not write students papers for them, nor will I rewrite a friend’s paper that a student wants to pass off as their own.

On some occasions students have sent me papers that are heavily plagiarized from one or more sources, with out adequate citation, and I have had to send them back as it would be unethical for me to edit them.