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Writing Help for Students

Academic Writing


Planning is required before you start writing the paper so that it will be analytical and organized.

What My Readers Expect

  • Academic Voice: A formal tone is used. Avoid the use of slang, jargon, and abbreviations.
  • Formal Language: Use standard written English, correct grammar, and spelling.
  • Logical Presentation of Ideas: The language in your paper should have clarity and logical reasoning. An academic essay should also have unity and coherence.
  • Accurate information: Sources must be reliable, credible, and accurate to meet reader expectations. Scholarly sources (peer-reviewed journals) provide the most reliably accurate information.
  • Academic Integrity: Do your own work and commit to ethical and honest behavior in an academic setting.

Elements of an Essay

Successful college essays contain several essential elements:

Introduction: Get the reader's attention (Hook). The introduction should move from general to specific and set the tone for the discussion by telling your audience what to expect from the essay. The length should be about four to six sentences.

Thesis: Your introduction should end with a clear, specific thesis statement that reveals exactly what your paper will be arguing.

Body Paragraphs: An essay usually has at least three body paragraphs composed of arguments, evidence, and examples that support your topic sentence and thesis.

Topic Sentences: Each body paragraph begins with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of that paragraph. All of the information in that paragraph will be clearly and logically related to that topic sentence providing unity in the paragraph and essay.

Supporting Details: Primary support consists of major ideas or examples that back up your main points. Secondary support provides details that further explain your primary support. Use arguments, data, facts, analysis, quotes, and examples to support your topic sentences and complete your body paragraphs.

Transitions: Words and phrases (e.g. however, therefore, because, etc.) connect your sentences and paragraphs, so that your writing flows, providing coherence to an essay.

Conclusion: The concluding paragraph should contain a minimum of 4 sentences. It should refer back to the main point, but not simply repeat the thesis. You should include observations on what is written and emphasize the significance of the argument. The conclusion should not introduce any new ideas and create a sense of closure.

Start with a Plan

Getting started with an academic paper can often be difficult, but there are several ways to begin. Before you begin the paper, you should know the guidelines of the assignment and what type of paper your professor is asking you to write. Next, identify the purpose of the essay by recognizing key words, such as explain, describe, argue, classify, research, or investigate to determine the type of paper (e.g. argumentative, descriptive, classification, etc.) Once you have ascertained the requirements of the assignment, some or all of the following steps can help you get started:

  • Choose a topic that you understand and that you can research effectively.
  • Develop a working thesis or even a basic title to establish a starting point.
  • Try mind-mapping, outlining, or free writing on a sheet of paper.
  • Start small and build on your ideas. Try “chunking/dumping” ideas down on paper.
  • Don’t get bogged down trying to write the introduction first. Begin in the middle of the essay if necessary.
  • Don’t try to reach perfection from the start. Allow yourself to write badly in the beginning.

Staying on Track

Students often procrastinate, missing deadlines that cost them precious points or they turn in a paper that is essentially a rough draft at the last minute, resulting in a poor grade. The following strategies can help you maintain focus and stay on track to completing an academic essay:

  • Establish a writing routine and stick with it.
  • Commit to working on the paper at least a few minutes each day
  •  Allow time to gather sources
  • Create multiple drafts, developing and revising as you go.
  • Worry about editing when the body of your paper starts to come together.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Avoid first person (using “I” or “we”) unless it is a personal narrative or a response essay.
  • Avoid adding long stories to the essay as these can be rambling and off topic.
  • Avoid numerous long quotes, so that you maintain ownership of your writing.
  • Avoid copying and pasting material from the internet. Your professor wants to see your writing, not someone else’s.