Writing essays for class is often considered one of the most painful aspects of school.
Ever get caught up staring at a blank page for twenty minutes before writing a single ugly starting sentence? On top of that, many students get caught up worrying that they don’t have any good ideas for the essay.
These problems are often a symptom of misunderstanding the basic requirements for a good essay. A good essay doesn’t always come from the classic mold everyone discusses.
When you break the classic mold of essays you get a number of advantages that make your writing more engulfing, more enjoyable, and much much easier.
1. Truth Is Hazardous
When writing essays for school, you do not have to write a journalistic essay that’s 100% true.
If your teacher is asking for a story about something that happened to you then you do not have to give a story about something that happened to you. You need your story to be told from that perspective.
The story doesn’t even need to be based on reality.
Sure… it helps if you have a story to tell.
Many teachers will allow this if you ask in advance. If you write the essay carefully, it will be completely impossible for any teacher to disprove anyway.
If your essay is based on history or something with an objective standard then you can’t just make stuff up on the fly but again, you can leave the traditional true/false narrative by making a certain case that isn’t typically made. You don’t even have to believe it. If you’re able to prove something with good citations then you’re writing a valid essay.
Most students get dragged into boring essays because they’re uncomfortable talking about themselves. If you don’t want to share what you’ve done or what you think then you don’t have to.
Given the choice between producing crap and being 100% honest or producing awesome, I’d always produce awesome. Naturally, that awesome is heavily inspired by the truth but truth is often just a single perspective anyway.
Writing is not math. Writing is wildly subjective no matter how you do it. Don’t let that keep you from starting. Just go crazy and start writing.
2. Make Any Case
Unless you have a reason not to, consider making interesting cases with your essays.
Most students write unbelievably boring essays. They write the same stupid and cliched theses and use boring evidence to make their cases.
Quite frankly, how writing teachers don’t go crazy is beyond me.
There is a quick way to instantly add flavor to your essay.
Make a different case than most people expect to hear.
If you’re writing about history then make a case that is completely contrary to the mainstream opinion.
If you’re writing about yourself then make a case that virtually no one would try to make.
As long as you’re not directly offending the teacher with your strange cases, your teacher will appreciate your essay more.
Interesting cases stand out to teachers (and they’re much more fun to write.)
3. Perception Is Important
I was working with another student on essay writing in college.
He had some of his old graded essays out in front of him. Bluntly, this student sucked at English.
His essays were filled with simple errors like capitalization issues and missing periods. I could see the errors from the other end of the table. Some of the papers were D’s and some of them were F’s.
Then I saw one of his essays. I pulled it out of the pile. At first glance, I didn’t notice a single capitalization error. The formatting was good. It looked like a well-written essay from a distance. That paper had a B on it.
“What the hell?” I asked. I thought my comment would make sense to him.
After a minute of clarifying my question, he responded, “Oh yea… I had someone edit it for me.”
I read through the essay. I could tell he wrote it himself because it still lacked quite a few important things he tended to miss. Despite the poor writing, he got a B. That’s when I started to realize this point. (And another thing I’ll go over later.)
If a teacher can look at your paper from the opposite side of their desk and tell you have errors then you’re in a much worse position grade wise. The difference between a crappy essay formatted right and a crappy essay formatted poorly can be as much as an F to a B. Not only that but….
4. Grades Are Subjective
Math is a tough class to catch up in. Math teachers can’t grade a student on their effort. The student is objectively doing it right or wrong in 99% of the cases. That means, if you slack a year or two through math class, you might start paying attention too late to actually have any idea what’s going on.
English is a little different.
The same essay handed in by two different students will get two different grades.
The exact differences depend on the teacher.
In my experience, a teacher is more likely to give a bad student an A than a good student an A. If the teacher expects an A out of a student then the quality standards for that A are increased. If the teacher expects a C from a student then the same essay that got an A student a B would give the C student an A. Phew… does that make any sense?
In other words, “good students” are expected to produce better papers to get the same grades.
This isn’t only limited to bad teachers. This is almost always the case.
Grades are highly subjective in essay writing. Little things can make a big difference in your final grade. Make sure to understand that a few points often come down to these factors that you can’t control.
5. Boring Is Unbelievably Boring
If you find an essay you’re writing boring then you’re probably right.
If you are writing a boring essay for yourself then it will probably be a boring essay to your teacher as well. They may write a friendly comment but they’re thinking about how much they hate their job.
Don’t write things that are boring if you can possibly help it.
Find a new subject that you care about. Make a different case that you find fascinating. Try to prove something that you don’t really believe if you want to. Do something that makes the essay less boring to you.
Writers that care about a subject can make boring subjects sound interesting to readers.
Enthusiasm and natural writing flow make a huge difference in the quality of your writing. If you’re unenthusiastic then you’re not going to be getting the best out of your essay.
6. Interesting Is Hypnotically Interesting
This should be rather obvious after the previous one but it’s worth emphasizing.
Focus on writing more interesting things. If you’re saying something that no one in the world would be the slightest bit offended by then you’re writing something that’s probably not worth reading. Sure, it may be a useful skill for mundane professions but writing teacher’s tend to hate to read it.
If you find something interesting then there is a good shot the teacher will find it interesting too. If you write well then the teacher will probably take on some of the enthusiasm you have for the subject from the reading.
7. Fast Is Natural
The faster you can write the essay you’re working on, the more natural it will sound.
When you struggle to write every single sentence perfectly, you’re giving up the opportunity of just writing the thoughts that come to your head. A perfectionist mindset creates a disjointed essay that doesn’t flow at all.
It’s impossible to create the perfectionist’s dream essay.
If you write the perfect words you’ll miss the perfect sentences. If you write the perfect sentences then you’ll miss the perfect paragraphs. If you write the perfect paragraph you’ll miss the perfect overall essay.
Writing perfect will take forever.
Writing natural is writing fast.
After some practice, you want to be writing about as fast as you’re capable of typing (or writing.) It’s easy when you think about how fast people talk. Just talk onto the page and let the way you’d explain it to someone in person flow out.
Writing a top notch essay requires a student taught for years but most students can dramatically improve their average score by focusing on these things. One of the most important things to take from this article is the following point: writing essays can be enjoyable. Sure, it won’t always float every student’s boat but when you focus on a different set of writing goals, you might just surprise yourself.
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8 thoughts on “7 Things They Don’t Tell You About Essays”
What do you think of this article?
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I’ve found that points one and two are really helpful when starting an essay. Getting the ball rolling when writing is the most important part for me.
Any tips for finding that different angle or perspective that will make a boring essay worth writing and reading? Sometimes prompts, especially those given outside of English classes are just so uninventive.
I agree about not overthinking writing. Nobody speaks perfect, why try? It makes you sound like a robot, and not someone relateable. Never thought about making the opposite case, though. That’s extremely cool idea, gonna try it out someday 🙂
I had one class where we were supposed to help edit one of our classmates papers. Boring is certainly boring. I don’t understand why some people would even waste their time writing some stuff. Just skip the assignment if you’re going to waste everyones time like that… lol
Yea. I dropped my English major for that reason.
Well… a number of reasons but that one too.
I don’t know if I agree with this one. Writing natural for me tends to be slow. I don’t know but it might be a person to person kind of thing.