22
May

How To Succeed at Essay Writing

It’s the moment every parent dreads: when your child sits there, glum-faced, looking at a blank piece of paper in front of them. They have a rapidly-approaching deadline for their essay, and nothing, but nothing you do as a parent seems to help them get any closer to completion. What can you do to help? The answer is: quite a lot.

Producing a successful essay can be one of the most arduous parts of the schooling process, and yet, the need to write an essay is everywhere: from English literature, to economics, to physics, geography, classical studies, music, and history. To succeed, at high school and in tertiary study you must master essay writing.

Getting students over this barrier was one of the reasons I put pen to paper four years ago and produced a book called Write That Essay! At that stage, I was a senior academic at Auckland University and a university examiner. For nearly 20 years, in both course work and examinations, I had counselled everyone from 17-year-old ‘newbies’ to 40-year-old career changers with their essay writing. Often, the difference between a student who might achieve a B-Grade and the A-Grade student was just some well-placed advice and direction.

I then visited over 50 New Zealand High Schools and spoke with over 8000 kiwi kids about essay writing. These students reported exactly the same challenges as I had previously encountered, and more. The result has been two books and a DVD that have helped kids achieve some of the potential that sits inside all of us.

In this article I am going to deal with some things you can do as a parent to help your child succeed at essay writing. Because writing great essays is well within every child’s grasp.

Tips for essay writing success:

1. It’s an argument

Remember that an essay is an argument: the task in an essay is not to write a story or to recount a plot. The teacher knows all of this information. In an essay your child’s job is to present a compelling argument-using specific evidence-for the point they are trying to make.

2. Write a plan: you’ll be pleased that you did

Get your child to write a brief list-plan of the topics that their essay needs to cover. Even a short plan is better than no plan at all, and will start to give the writer a feeling that completing an essay on that topic is well within their grasp.

If your child is a visual learner, move away from the desk and go to a neutral space. Grab a large sheet of blank A3 paper and some coloured pens, and brainstorm a mind map or sketch plan of what the essay should contain. Using pictures, lines, circles, and arrows will all help the visual learner grasp the task at hand and help them see what they have to do.

3. Getting Started

A challenge many kids (and adults) face writing essays is getting started. The person sits there waiting for inspiration to hit them like a lightening bolt and it never happens. What can you as a parent do to help?

Encourage them with the thought that great essays are never written the first time over. Get them to view essay writing as a three-part process. The first draft is only to get out the ideas and words in rough form. In the second and third effort, they will add to their essay where there are blanks, clarify ideas, and give it a final polish. Realising that an essay isn’t supposed to be perfect the first time you write it, really helps some people.

4. Having enough to say

If your child is still stuck, find out if they have read up enough on the topic. Some inertia with writing can be due to lack of knowledge. They will find writing so much easier if they spend another day or two reading more on the topic and gleaning some additional ideas.

5. Try using a neutral sentence

Suggest starting the essay with a neutral sentence: a sentence that merely states an interesting fact on the topic being written about. Here’s one: ‘Mozart was one of the most important Austrian composers of the eighteenth century.’ First sentences in essays don’t need to be stellar – you just need to start!

Now, go write that essay!

Titles available in this series:

Write That Essay! (for tertiary students)

Write That Essay! High School Edition

Write That Essay! High School Edition Box Set (includes book, DVD and worksheets)

30
Dec

Writing comparison

Writing comparison and contrast essays presumes the conduction of comparison between two subjects. A comparative part should display the similarities between the discussed subjects, whereas a contrast part shows the differences. While choosing a topic for comparison/contrast essay, it is necessary to make sure that the chosen subjects are not totally unrelated.
Airplane AutomobileFast SlowExpensive CheapHi-tech SimpleBounded MobileAny distance Limited distanceLong voyages

Everyday trips

The complete list of differences and similarities will enable an author to formulate the thesis statement that takes into account the identified purpose of the comparison/contrast essay. In case of Airplane/Automobile comparison, the thesis statement might look like this: “Although transportation by airplane is much more expensive than that by automobile, airplane’s ability to cover long distances quickly is a considerable advantage”.

Introductory paragraph of a comparison/contrast essay should include the brief description of both subjects finalized by the formulation of a thesis statement. Further organization of an essay is possible in two ways. On the one hand, it is possible to divide the compared subjects and discuss the descriptive details in separated paragraphs. On the other hand, a writer can choose to alternate the discussed subjects from paragraph to paragraph. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that an alternating structure may make an essay look somewhat confused, especially if the compared subjects are poorly related.

Sometimes is a comparison and contrast essay it is possible to provide the reader with a list of the benefits and drawbacks of the things or phenomena that are being compared. When doing so, the writer should not only explain what are the two things or objects and how they are different, but also consider their positive and negative features and state in conclusion which is better (to his opiion) and why.

Body paragraphs should be ended by a conclusion that outlines the identified correlations between two objects and restates the previously formulated thesis statement.

19
Dec

Making Better Word Choices – 4 Examples

Choosing the wrong words can have a poor effect on your writing and on you. Whether you are writing a cover letter for a job, a business proposal, or an application essay for graduate school using words poorly can result in negative feedback. One could find entire books regarding word choices for writers, this article will touch on some fundamental, but important ways to choose the correct word for your situation.
Our starting point will be the use of “There are” or “There is” to begin sentences. Consider this; the word “there” indicates “not here” (in other words, some other place). Now look at the sentence below and think about what the meaning is and what might be intended.

There are four dogs playing with a ball.

If the writer meant that four dogs are over there and they are playing with a ball, then this would be technically correct. If the intention was merely that four dogs are playing with a ball, here, there, or anywhere, then the sentence could be worded better. The following sentence would show better wording on the writer’s part.

Four dogs are playing with a ball.

The next two words that writers often confuse are “which” and “that.” If the goal of your writing is to describe something and you have used commas to separate the phrase from the rest of the sentence you want to use “which.” When a writer wants a word to define and the reference is restricted then you want to use “that.” The first sentence below shows the correct use of “that” and the second sentence shows correct use of “which.”

The Yodo is the river that runs through Osaka.
The Yodo, which is a major waterway, runs though Osaka.

Our next word choice is between “while” and “although.” Another way of thinking about the word “although” is to look at its meaning, as found on Merriam-Webster Online dictionary the meaning is, “in spite of the fact that : even though.”1 The definition of “while” indicates a relation to time, such as during a period when something else is happening. Two correctly worded sentences are below.

Although he is not tall, he is a good basketball player.
While he listened to the radio, he finished his homework.

A writer’s choice between “since” and “because” also involves the possibility of a reference to time. Many people use “since” when they really mean “because,” this is rarely a correct use of the word “since.” When choosing a word to suggest “from a definite past time until now”1 use “since.” If you are not referring to time, “because” should be the word you choose. Try using “because,” if your sentence doesn’t make sense then you probably want to use “since.” In the examples below the two incorrect sentences do not sound correct, while the correct sentences actually sound better.

Incorrect:He had few friends since he was too annoying.
Correct:He had few friends because he was too annoying.
Incorrect:He has not ridden a bicycle because 1990.
Correct:He has not ridden a bicycle since 1990.


Whether you are writing an essay for school or you are writing a speech for your CEO, choose your words carefully because what people hear or read from you can make a big difference in their opinion about you and your intelligence. For anyone writing, regardless of topic, length, or purpose, ask for assistance if you need it, not doing so can have serious repercussions on your reputation.

1 Merriam-Webster Online. 20 January 2005. http://m-w.com/

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