You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” And you know that this applies to almost anything you do in life: sports, music, debate, public speaking, dungeon master, whatever. Essay writing skills are just the same. You must practice to get better.
But practice only takes you so far. You’ll also need the right tools.
Batman wouldn’t be nearly as prepared to fight Joker without all of his fancy gadgets, and you won’t become a great essayist without rocking some serious writing skills in your utility belt.
In this post, I’ll walk you through 10 important writing skills you’ll need to know to write an awesome paper.
1. Essay Writing Skills: The Fundamentals
This is the most important part of the writing process. LeBron James can dunk like crazy, but without having some of the basics down, he would never have become such a great player. So let’s start small.
Read, read, read
Reading is one of the best ways to start working out those writing muscles. It becomes a skill when you’ve read a lot of different things that give you new perspectives or challenge your thoughts.
The more you read, the more you know, and knowing more will help you craft better essays.
You should also read plenty of sample essays in the category of your essay assignment. Seeing how a successful essay is put together can be super useful.
Know your interests
And dive into them. A lot of college English handbooks offer essay prompts to help students see what types of topics can work well for the assignment.
But don’t just take the easy way out: you’’ll have a much easier time if you focus on topics that interest you—things you care about.
2. Organizing Your Thoughts
Starting an essay without getting your ideas in order is like putting together a puzzle without the picture…and half the pieces are missing. It’s just not going to work, so brush up on these techniques before getting started.
In a nutshell, brainstorming is when you think about different ideas and make notes to just get the creative juices flowing. A simple way to do this is to answer these questions:
- “What might I write about?”
- “Why am I writing about this? Why is it important?”
- “Who’s going to care about this other than me? Why?”
There are plenty of useful brainstorming methods out there. If possible, try to conduct a group brainstorming session before writing an essay, so you can openly discuss your topic(s) with others and get feedback and ideas.
While brainstorming helps you generate ideas, outlining gives them a structure. Outlining your essay ahead of time will save you from writing yourself into a corner, not knowing what to talk about next.
When you structure the points of your essay from beginning to end, you set tangible goals for yourself, which is much easier than just winging it.
You might be a digital native, but how good are you at combing academic databases for resources? Have you ever performed a Boolean search before?
If this is uncharted territory, then it’s time to get acquainted with proper research techniques that will support your ideas, particularly if you’re writing an argumentative paper.
If you’re a college student, then it’s very likely that you have access to a number of great academic databases through your school library’s online portal.
This is important.
Popular sources, such as news and magazine articles and blogs, are usually not going to cut it when it comes to supporting an argument. Your professor probably wants to see something more official, such as a peer-reviewed source published by a credible academic institution.
This is where databases come in. To use these, make sure you can access them through your school or university library website. Get help from your professor or librarian if need be.
Some students have a hard time finding things in databases because they’re not searching with specific parameters.
If you were writing a paper on graphic novels and all you type in is “graphic novels,” you would get so many results that it would be impossible to find what you were looking for. Instead, try using built-in Boolean parameters, such as AND, OR, and NOT.
4. Tone and Voice
When writing your essay, always think about the tone. Whether you’re trying to explain something, make an argument, etc., focus on the language you’re using. Are you trying to be forceful or accommodating? Pragmatic or creative?
Whatever the case, knowing how to reach out to those in your audience and win them over is a great skill to have.
Also focus on academic writing. When you write an essay, you’re creating something that’s a far cry from how most of our daily communications occur.
An essay is not a Tweet nor a text, and your word choices matter.
Here’s a useful guide on writing in academic voice.
5. Starting an Essay
When you write an essay introduction, you have a few tasks to manage. You’re introducing the topic and summarizing the essay and its goals. You’re also usually writing a thesis, and you should always have a hook.
You write a summary to tell the reader what you’ll tell them. In a nutshell, your intro paragraph introduces the topic or issue you’re writing about and tells the reader how and why you’re writing about it.
While you can’t cover everything in a single intro paragraph (because you have to actually write the paper too), your summary should discuss the main points or major supporting ideas in your essay from beginning to end.
A thesis is your main argument wrapped up into one or two sentences, usually near the end of your intro paragraph. It should be specific in telling the reader exactly what your stance is and what main pieces of evidence or logic reinforce it.
There are different ways of writing a thesis for the various types of essays out there, so make sure yours fits!
Having a good hook prevents readers from seeing nothing but “boring blah, blah, blah” when they start reading your essay. A hook isn’t a cheesy clickbait headline. Its job is to intrigue readers so that they’ll want more.
Read How to Write Good Hook Sentences to get started with hooks.
6. Making an Argument
You can argue about almost any topic out there, but some are easier than others.
That said, your professor has probably read a million “Legalize Weed” papers, so being a little more creative or finding a more specific part of a big issue to argue will likely win you big points in the long run.
To start, do some initial research on a topic that interests you, and then look for an argument or “conversation” that’s happening within that topic.
Now, think of writing that argument essay like it’s a family conversation at Thanksgiving dinner. Every person at that table has an opinion about your topic, and you do too.
Writing your argument happens when you join the conversation and give your own ideas and opinions about the topic. You draw on others’ comments that support your ideas and debate those whose opinions are different from yours.
When you argue a topic, make sure you’re being smart and focused. Being overly simplistic won’t get you very far.
For example, let’s say you want to write an argument against GMOs. You wouldn’t just say that “GMOs are bad.”
Instead, you would want to refine your argument to say what—specifically—about GMOs are bad and why this is a problem. A smart and focused argument would look more like this:
GMOs pose a major threat to non-GMO crops due to their modified resistances. These modified crops can weaken and destroy neighboring non-GMO crops, thus financially burdening many farmers and decreasing biodiversity within the food chain.
7. Supporting an Argument
Just like Grandma’s roast, a good argument needs all the right ingredients to keep people coming back for more.
Ethos, logos, and pathos
Ethos is your credibility in your argument. If the reader doesn’t see you as an expert on your topic, then you need to show that your ideas are reinforced by credible voices—experts in the field of your topic.
Logos is your logical support. Make sure that any arguments you make to support your thesis don’t contain any logical fallacies. It’s a lot harder for readers to poke holes in your argument if the logic is rock-solid.
In the letter, King appeals to his audience by citing their common connection and goals as clergymen. Pathos brings humanity to the words you write, so make sure you have it in your paper.
Your argument needs a healthy balance of both logos and pathos. Have only facts, and your paper will seem boring and robotic. Have only an emotional appeal, and you won’t appear credible to the reader.
A good argument is never one-sided.
While you’ll be backing up your ideas with reputable sources from scholarly articles and the like, you also want to acknowledge the validity of another viewpoint.
Discuss another side of the argument, and show some examples from research that make sound points that go against your ideas. Just be sure to offer a strong rebuttal to continue supporting your side of the argument.
8. Concluding an Essay
This is where you tell them what you told them. Think about how you use summary in your introduction. You’ll do something similar when you end your essay in the conclusion.
The approach can be a bit different depending on the essay type, but for many of your essays, you’ll follow this formula for the conclusion:
- Topic sentence that evokes a “falling action” (e.g., “With the evidence against GMO use in sustainable modern farming, it is clear that another direction is required”).
- Review your strongest points of evidence or supporting logic, and briefly summarize them in several sentences.
- Restate your thesis. Not word for word—the language here should naturally flow from one sentence to the next. Don’t just copy and paste your thesis.
For essays that aren’t argumentative or persuasive, focus on leaving readers with a strong final impression—whatever message you want them to take away from your words.
Never EVER blow through a single draft of an essay and turn it in to your professor. One of the best essay writing skills you can develop is the ability to review and edit your essay for mistakes in grammar, typos, and logic.
Here are some ways to go about the editing process.
You’ve already spent a lot of time with the words you’ve written, so it can seem like a daunting task to have to read them all over again.
So if you need to take a break, even a day or two, before you’re able to sit down and review your work, that’s okay. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to do so.
Read through each sentence carefully to catch any spelling errors that Word may have missed. Check for punctuation issues, especially commas and end punctuation. Do you have any incomplete thoughts, awkward phrases, or run-on sentences? Correct them as you go.
Sometimes it helps to read your paper aloud—it’s way easier to catch awkward sentences this way. If you find yourself stumbling midway through a sentence, then you probably need to rewrite it to make it clearer and more coherent.
Have a good friend—one who likes to help—review your paper too. After all, two heads are better than one, and your friend may catch things that you missed.
Also ask your friend to be an objective voice and offer advice. If any parts of your essay seem weak or confusing, your friend can probably point this out to you so that you can fix these items before turning in your paper.
Ask a pro
Develop a good relationship with your professors. You’ll have an easier time asking them questions about your work, and they’ll be more willing and able to help you if they have a better understanding of your needs up front.
Your campus probably also has a writing center or some sort of tutoring program that can help get you on the right track.
Check to see if there are any free services for students. Usually, these tutors won’t edit your paper for you, but they can help point out mistakes and guide you toward success.
Kibin can do all of the above, of course! If you need your paper edited or if you need some advice on how to make it stronger overall, Kibin editors have got your back.
10. Learn to Accept (and Improve From) Failure
Some of the most heart-sinking moments in a college student’s life come from seeing that giant “D” or “F” scribbled in red pen at the top of an essay that took a lot of time and hard work to finish.
And while it’s important to try your best, don’t let a failed essay get you down. Instead, carefully review your professor’s comments and marks. They’re meant to help you improve.
No student is perfect—we all start somewhere.
And while improving your writing may seem like an uphill climb, every small step toward improvement is a step in the right direction. If anything is unclear, keep your cool, and ask to meet with your professor during office hours to go over your work.
You’ll be really glad you did.
Few students are “bad at English.” Instead, you may have some trouble with commas or tone or research, but these are all fixable things. Keep practicing your essay writing skills, and you will get better.
Get help from friends or professionals when you’re stuck, and enjoy small accomplishments along the way. Failure is, after all, just the first step toward your success.
Want some more inspiration for overcoming failure? Check out this blog post.
Writing at the college level can be a tricky process even for the smartest, most confident of us. But now you know all about these 10 really important essay writing skills, so you’ll be in much better shape the next time you sit down at the keyboard.
Be sure to check out other blogs and resources linked in this post—they’ll help you prepare for the various types of writing you’ll be doing throughout your college career.
And don’t forget that Kibin is here to help make those essays shine.