Category Archives: Essay Advice

All Knowledge Helps

All Knowledge Helps

When writing an essay on, say, recommended marketing strategies for a startup business, you might think that only business, financial, or other directly related knowledge will be helpful. But consider some other factors, other areas of knowledge that may be useful:

What? Yes, philosophy. Every business has one. In short, it’s simply the way of thinking that translates to how a business decides to conduct itself. Its marketing, management, HR, and other components will necessarily adhere to a specific philosophy.

In today’s world, some computer knowledge is almost indispensable. For example, in marketing a business, you’ll probably want a website. You might also want to invest in search engine optimization (SEO), so that your site will rank higher in search engine results. A shortcut to this would be to use Google AdWords or something similar.

Arts and Literature:
How can this possibly be business-related? If you are a wordsmith, your advertising and other copy will read better—this is true for websites, promotional materials, sales letters, etc.

If you are up on tax law and other regulations, you’re ahead of the game. Many small business owners find such things out too late.

So, let’s consider how the above skills may help in writing about marketing strategies for a startup company…

A company’s philosophy should more or less follow a utilitarian approach. In other words, do whatever works. However, an organization would also do well to adhere to the Categorical Imperative, which, in effect, is more or less a restatement of the Golden Rule.

This is certainly more colorful and interesting than the average essay instructors read. If you show knowledge and make your writing interesting, you’re more likely to get a good grade—and get noticed for your knowledge and writing skills.

So, be “well-rounded” in your essay writing, where appropriate. Let your knowledge in many areas shine through. Your paper will likely be much richer and more readable than many of your peers.

Address the Opposing View

Address the Opposing View

If you’re writing a paper about women’s rights, and your sources consist only of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Molly Ivins, you will no doubt be branded a committed liberal. On the other hand, if your sources are only Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh…well, you get the idea.

The point is, to write a compelling essay, you’ve got to tackle both sides of the issue. And face it—there are (at least) two sides to nearly every issue. Successful debaters know how to not only make the case for their own side’s views, but are also able to persuasively defend their position against the viewpoint of their opposition.

How is this done? With plenty of facts backed up by persuasive writing. But to be persuasive, it helps to acknowledge that there are other perspectives and that in some measure they may have a certain amount of validity—only your view happens to be better (and then explain why).

Do the research

Part of a teacher’s job is to play devil’s advocate to your position. So, you need to know what the opposing views are, and what their arguments are. You need to know their positions as well as you know your own, if you’re going to be able to defend against them.

Give the other side credit

Unless you’re arguing against something truly reprehensible (such as child abuse), the counterview to your position will likely have merit in some areas. Be sure to give due respect to these areas. If you don’t, your arguments will look weak, as though they cannot stand up to any serious scrutiny. You might also come across as mean-spirited or immature.

So, know your stuff. And know the other side’s stuff, too. Your writing will be far more interesting—and possibly persuasive—if you make the effort to be fair-minded and well-informed.

Be Consistent with Your Citations

Be Consistent with Your Citations

How’s this for a bunch of acronyms: APA; MLA; CBE. Add Chicago to that, and what do you get? Several different methods for documenting your paper’s sources. Are they really all that different? Well, let’s take a look…

If you’re using APA, your in-text citations will look something like this:

Lowman (1995) points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (p. 4).

However, the same quotation in MLA formatting would look like this:

Lowman points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (4).

Why the difference? In using MLA, the Works Cited page (where you list all the works you cited in the paper) will contain all the details about Lowman’s writing that you’re making reference to. So, it will be clear to the reader what you’re referring to when you use the author’s name and page number. Note: the APA equivalent of a Works Cited page is a References List.

Many students (understandably) have trouble keeping all the rules straight. For example, a student may cite a source in MLA fashion in one section of the essay, and then use APA formatting in a different section. This is not intentional, of course, but it does become confusing for the reader (normally a professor who will be assigning a grade).

Which citation style should you use? The most important thing is to use the same style throughout your paper. But most instructors will say which style they prefer for a given assignment. If they don’t have a preference, you will most likely want to use APA or MLA. These are the two most widely recognized (and more-or-less intuitive) styles.

In general, it is standard to use APA for social sciences, while MLA is used more for work in the humanities. However, most professors, unless they specify a style preference will be quite happy if you just make sure to use your style of choice throughout the paper.

Incidentally, if you don’t have time to deal with the tedious job of putting in all those citations, you may want to consider an online editing service such as Papercheck.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Feedback

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Feedback

Sometimes when we write, we really don’t want to face criticism for our ideas. This can lead us to be overly insular, shielding our work from honest review. After all, it can be tough to hear that there are problems with what we’ve written, especially if we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into it.

It would be a mistake, however, to take constructive criticism as a personal attack. No one can know everything, and sometimes the infusion of a different viewpoint can be just what a paper needs. It is, therefore, a sound idea to seek and give due consideration to the perspectives and advice of others.

Here are some helpful tips to remember when seeking feedback:

Remember that other people have a life, too. It’s best to avoid giving them too short notice. Try to allow for at least a couple of days, as this will also give them enough time to really look at your work and give a worthwhile evaluation.

Everyone may have an opinion, but…not all of those opinions are going to be worth listening to. While it’s true that you can learn something from just about anyone, it’s best to primarily seek feedback from someone qualified to give it in the area you need it. You can ask a history professor about how to unclog your drain, but wouldn’t it make more sense to ask a plumber?

Don’t be afraid to actually use the advice you get. When you started your paper, you may have had a pretty clear idea about what you wanted to do. Then, after inviting feedback from a well-informed person or two, you see that their ideas about your work have merit. At this point, you can either embrace your pride and ignore what they said, or you can choose to benefit from their knowledge; the latter approach is recommended.

So, don’t be afraid (or too proud) to use feedback. In fact, time permitting, it’s a good idea to make it a habit when writing essays. Who knows? Someday someone may ask you for help in writing their paper.

Writing from the “You” Perspective

Writing from the “You” Perspective

With time being today’s most prized commodity, you need to be sure to capture—and hold—your audience’s attention. Generally speaking, the only chance you have to succeed at this is to write from your audience’s perspective.

In other words, you can write all you want about how this or that experience was good/bad/dull/interesting, but you have to escape from the persistent danger of your audience having the all-too-common reaction of “So what?”

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you’re writing a paper about the benefits of owning a pet. Some writers might come up with something like this:

I like my dog. He’s a good dog. He has spots and a tail. He’s fun to be around and he likes to lick my face. I take him out for walkies and he does his job. It makes me happy to have good old Spot the dog as my best friend.

Other (perhaps more proficient) writers might instead write something like this:

They say that dogs are man’s best friend. Well, I think there’s something to that. My dog has been like a member of the family for many years; it’s hard to imagine life without him. Many studies have shown that having pets can add years to one’s life. Having enjoyed Spot’s company all these years, I can understand why. Life’s just better with a good pet.

Note that in the first example, the writer wrote entirely from the “me” perspective: I like my dog, etc. The second example, however, is much more interesting, as it brings a broader perspective. It better answers the question, “Why should I consider getting a pet?” While the first example tells how one person enjoys his pet, the second example is much more persuasive and complete.

So, consider your audience’s point of view. Don’t bore them by being too self-absorbed in your writing. Put yourself in the audience’s place and write from a perspective that will be relevant and interesting to them.

Keep Your Focus

Keep Your Focus

When doing a lot of research, you’ll probably end up with a lot of notes, annotations, highlights, etc. That’s fine, but sometimes it can be a challenge to get everything together on paper. Here are some tips to help you stay focused and produce a high-quality essay.

  1. Have a vision:
    If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be pretty hard to get there. You should have some idea—perhaps a thesis statement—of what your essay’s final form will show.
  2. Define the scope:
    You may decide to write an essay about how Kant’s philosophical views were foundational and groundbreaking. But how much of Kant’s views do you want to cover? If you’re writing about the Categorical Imperative, how much of Kantian ethics should you cover? Or if you’re writing about whether a priori synthetic judgments are possible, will you restrict your essay to this topic only, or will you do an overview of The Critique of Pure Reason?

    Scope is very important. Without a clearly defined vision, you won’t know where to go with your essay. But without limits on what you’ll cover, you may find yourself wandering aimlessly, trying to cover way too much material. Remember that it’s much better to have a 5-page paper that clearly defines your perspective, than a 50-page paper tome that doesn’t really make a point.

  3. Be flexible:
    Sometimes essays, like most writing, can take on a life of their own. You may start out wanting to cover one thing, only to realize that your research and writing have led, logically, to something else. While you should definitely have a vision, you should not allow it to prevent you from modifying your direction—or perhaps even your scope—as logic would dictate while writing certain essays.

So, define your vision and determine your scope. Be flexible, making adjustments to your original plan as conditions merit.

Get It Down—Edit It Later

Get It Down—Edit It Later

Many a great idea, profound insight, or creative vision may have been lost because it was not written down in time—and was then forgotten, sometimes never to be retrieved.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge classic, Kubla Khan. The author had fallen asleep and had experienced vivid and unusual dreams, which he thought would amount to several hundred lines of great poetry. Upon awaking, he eagerly began writing down what he had dreamt about. Then, having been called out by someone on business, he was detained for over an hour. When he returned, he found that he could remember very little of what was so fresh in his mind only a short time ago.

Addressing the subject of the fragility of inspired thoughts, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in his essay, On Noise, asks the following question:

How many great and splendid thoughts, I should like to know, have been lost to the world by the crack of a whip?

Schopenhauer laments noise, particularly unnecessary noise (such as the cracking of whips, which was commonly done by chariot drivers in his day) since it could cause a thinking person to completely lose his or her train of thought.

But it doesn’t require an imposing visitor or an excess of noise to cause a writer to lose a good thought. All that has to happen is for one to get too involved in the mechanics of writing. Proper proofreading and editing are essential, but they should not be done in the beginning. Rather, this is a time for creative flow, for one’s thoughts to come pouring out onto the page. Get them out, and then clean up the grammar, etc. later.

In fact, there’s a way to avoid the tedium of the editing process entirely. Companies such as Papercheck make it possible for writers to write (the fun part) and editors to edit (the not-quite-as-fun-but-still-frightfully-important part). Whether you choose to self-edit or have your documents edited professionally, remember to get it down—edit it later.

The Importance of Correct Citations

The Importance of Correct Citations

If you’re doing an essay, it’s very likely you’re going to be citing quotations from works by other authors. Sometimes these works will be from conventional sources, such as books and journals. At other times, it may be necessary to use more contemporary sources such as websites, blogs, online conferences, PowerPoint presentations, etc. Whatever the sources of your information, it is very important to use correct procedures when using citations.

There are actually two parts of this to consider: in-text citations and references. But before we get to that, it should be pointed out that there are many different style guides, and different places have varying preferences. The two most common, however, are APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). Of these two, APA seems the more commonly used, although MLA is prevalent at many universities. For the purpose of this short discussion, we’ll look at APA.

One of the most common citations you make will look something like this:

According to Smith (2003), “Adhering to all APA guidelines when writing can be somewhat tedious.” (p. 199).

At the end of your paper, you’d have a References Cited page, and on that page you would have the necessary information about the work you’re citing from:

Smith, M. A. (2003). Why citing sources is so time-consuming. Using Time Wisely Journal, 85, 110-115.

The main problem you’ll find when writing essays that use quotations from other authors is this: it can really take awhile. And you have to follow different citation procedures, depending on which type of media source you’re using.

Because of this, the complete rules are impossible to remember. That’s why it can be a good idea to invest in a style manual, which will let you know just what you need to do. There is another option, however. To avoid the tedious, time-consuming mess of confirming your references, let a pro from an editing company like Papercheck handle it for you.