by Nicole Washington
Sit back, relax, and take a sip of your Starbucks, Monster, or whatever gives you a buzz that gets your brain going. If you’re like me, all you need is one really good idea to make everything come alive. However, not many individuals have the ability to just write off the top of their head. Often, we find ourselves sitting in front of the laptop, chewing the rubber eraser off of the Number 2 pencil we won’t even be using. It’s time to write that midterm or final essay for your literature or English writing class. Before we even begin, we, as writers, typically ask ourselves a few questions:
How do I get started?
How do I know if it’s good?
How do I format this essay?
These are just some of the questions we ask ourselves when we begin to feel the panic rising in our stomachs. However, I’m here to tell you that writing a college essay is not as bad as it seems. In the words of Alanis Morissette, the famous alternative rock artist, “What it all comes down to, is that everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine”.
Take a deep breath. Close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing. Let everything leave your mind and let the essay come to you. A well-written essay cannot be forced, it must be found within your thoughts. Let the creative half of your brain take over, and leave the analytical side behind. Remember when you were a kid and you used to doodle all over everything? Your imagination seemed to know no bounds. Let that inner-child you lost so long ago come out. Let it be free. Once you have done so, you will be ready to begin writing your essay.
My first suggestion would be to map out what you want to write about. If you have a topic that is given to you by your teacher, then feel free begin “mind mapping”. What is mind mapping, you ask? Mind mapping is simply a type of brainstorming tool that allows you to come up with key ideas and phrases. Another version of brainstorming that is often used is to write down everything you can think of in a minute, whether it relates to your essay or not. There are many different kinds of brainstorming, use what works best for you.
Once you have chosen the ideas that appeal to you the most, you will use those as the three to five sub-topics that you will relate back to your thesis statement. Every professor will have a different way of how they want you to create your essay. If your professor allows you to take creative license with your essay, feel free to begin however you wish. I, personally, like to get my thesis statement done first, then I work on my main points after. Also, an important tip for writers is to get all necessary research done immediately. Whether you have to write an analytical essay on a piece of work, or you are writing an opinion essay, getting your research done will save you a lot of time in the writing process.
When writing your main points, always make sure to connect each point back to your thesis statement. Introduce your main point (which can be a single paragraph or many paragraphs) with the information that you provided in the thesis statement. For example, say your thesis statement is: “There are many different varieties of dogs, and they all have fur, teeth, and claws”. For your first main point regarding the fur of dogs, you can begin with something to the effect of, “All varieties of dogs have different kinds of fur, from soft to wiry and long to short hair.” By writing an introductory sentence such as this, you have effectively connected the main point that you have just made back to the thesis statement. In addition, you will want to conclude your main point paragraph or paragraphs by making a summarizing connection such as, “Through our exploration of the textures and lengths of dogs’ furs, we have been able to realize the varieties and similarities of this feature.” By summarizing the sub-points at the end of each paragraph, you can bring the readers attention back to what your main point was.
Another important tip to remember when writing a college essay is to always keep the audience in mind. Recognize whether the person reading your paper is your teacher, fellow classmate, or friend, among other possibilities. In recognizing this, you can have an accurate and respectful tone in your writing.
There are many ways to include quotations in your essays, which are typically used to provide evidence and support to an argument. In MLA, a format that most professors follow, you can introduce your quote by giving the author’s name and book title before the quote. Another way you can include a quotation is by including the author’s name and the page number the information was found on in the citation after the quote. For example: “As Nicole Washington points out, ‘dogs typically have sharp, pointed teeth’ (7).” One might also write, “‘Dogs typically have sharp, pointed teeth.’ (Washington 7).” This parenthetical citation is the main way to cite in the MLA format.
When concluding your essay, always bring it back to the information you provided in your introduction. Include mention of your thesis statement, but don’t write it all over again. Also, be sure to include a one sentence summary of each main point in your conclusion. Typically, it is effective to also make connections between the main points you made in the essay, and discuss the significance of the information, if it is fitting to do so.
If your teacher requires a works cited page, include your sources there as well, using the standard MLA bibliographic format. Information regarding this format can be found on the Internet. You have many wonderful tools and resources at your disposal, don’t be afraid to use them. The Reading and Writing Center is just one of these great resources. Another great resource that focuses on formatting citations is: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.
As a final word of advice, remember to have fun writing your essay. Let your mind open up, and as Natasha Bedingfield, a singer and songwriter, so eloquently puts it,
“Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find”
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