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What Makes a Good Essay?

Introduction Other writing guides usually fail to emphasize a simple point: a great piece of writing is a meaningful activity between the writer and the reader. An essay is not simply a beautiful piece of finished prose. It is an ordered set of paragraphs that does something for the reader. A great essay is an action with a purpose. Sometimes the choice is not yours: you might be required to show a single reader that you understand one thing in particular. But most of the time, even when you have strict guidelines to follow, you have a lot of choices. The main actions you can take are (1) to instruct or teach the reader something; (2) to delight the reader, or to give the reader something to appreciate or enjoy; (3) to move the reader, which means to inspire the reader to feel a certain way or to go out and do something. A good essay accomplishes one or more of these goals. A bad essay, even when it has a perfect structure, excellent spelling, and impeccable grammar, does not accomplish any of these goals. Great essays often but not always accomplish all three. The advice in these pages is unique to GradeSaver. Here is where you will learn how to write a good essay. Every page reminds you to do something for the reader. If you need to come up with an essay topic for a particular assignment, don't worry. Advice is here. And even if you don't really want to do something for the reader, you can find a topic that you like enough to share. Always Follow the Directions Before you start working on your topic or your specific interactions with the reader, make sure you understand the requirements for your essay. It might amaze you how many essays fail to follow simple directions. These directions normally come from your reader. Your reader will like you and have more patience with you if you follow the directions, not if you don't. The directions include everything from the recommended number of pages or words to the manner, place, and time at which you should submit your essay. Moreover, if you have been given a "prompt" or a specific essay topic, do not write about something else. Note that readers search for plagiarism more vigorously when they notice that an essay does not really answer the question or follow the prompt. Remember that an essay is an action. A prompt often gives you a specific activity to complete. Look for the key verb in the prompt. If you do not know what the verb means, numerous web sites provide insight about how to interpret verbs such as analyze, comment, compare, define, describe, discuss, explain, identify, list, prove, summarize, and so on. Note that if there is no prompt, you can use one of these key verbs to launch your essay. Can you think of something beautiful worth commenting on, something difficult or unusual that is worth explaining, something complicated that you should summarize, etc.? How to Instruct the Reader

Most admission essays, academic essays, and scholarship essays are designed to teach something to the reader. In truth, if you are writing an essay that involves class material and your teacher is the reader, your teacher may already know what you have to teach. So, you will write as though you really are saying something new. Who knows--maybe for your teacher, it really is! Admission and scholarship essays normally instruct the reader first of all about you, whether directly or indirectly. Even when your topic is about something else, such as your favorite role model or the best way to eat spaghetti while blindfolded, you are teaching your reader about yourself: this is what I find interesting or valuable; this is how I solve problems; this is why I would be a great member of your community. When you write to instruct, think about what is worth knowing about your subject. Then, (1) instruct the reader why this point is worth knowing, and (2) make the point. (1) Will your reader be impressed if you compare the novel's hero to a tree? Well, it depends: are trees or forests important in the novel? Does anyone in the novel get transformed into an inanimate object? Does the character act in a "wooden" manner? In other words, if you can make a good case for the knowledge being important in its context, your reader will be interested to learn what you have to teach. (2) You have had good teachers and bad teachers, right? There are many good ways to write an essay that instructs. You can choose to lead the reader through a chain of thoughts, provide the reader with a bunch of data that illustrates or proves a general point, explain to the reader how a particular detail fits in the big picture, compare various sets of facts so that your reader understands what's what, tell the reader a story about something worth knowing, and so on. See "Take Your Reader on a Trip" for more ideas. How to Delight the Reader Admission, scholarship, and academic essays, as well as some kinds of professional writing, often involve pleasing the reader. In admission and scholarship essays it is vital to please your readers about you. From the first sentence, your readers should feel that you are a person who is worth getting to know better. Give them every chance to enjoy what is best about you. By the end of the essay, your readers should feel glad that they came across such a wonderful person as yourself--they should want to give you whatever you have applied to get. To please these "institutional" readers, you should (1) get to know the institution and what it values, (2) determine which aspects of yourself best match those values, and (3) demonstrate those values in the essay. Those values are demonstrated both directly and indirectly in your essay. For example, readers from (1) a scientific institution that values people with a very specific scientific interest will enjoy reading (2) an account of a particular experiment you conducted or wish you could conduct, if at the same time you (3) show how enjoyable the experience was or would be. You would be demonstrating the genuine interest that the institution is looking for. In academic essays you normally delight readers by helping them appreciate something that is beautiful, good, or true. Note that if you genuinely believe something is beautiful, good, or true, you can rely on your own taste to find reasons why. Why waste energy on an essay about something that doesn't stir you up in any way? Readers won't be interested unless you are.

Delighting readers means (1) showing them the great thing and (2) showing how or why it is great. For example, if the costumes in a film seemed beautiful to you, help your readers imagine what they looked like, and draw their attention to the best parts. If you think a certain policy would be good for the nation, predict all the good results that will come to pass, and connect them to the policy. If you are amazed at the way an author of a mystery keeps the plot so exciting, recreate the suspense by quoting the most suspenseful passages, and point out what makes them so suspenseful. If you think a philosopher has really hit the nail on the head, explain the significance of the problem that the philosopher addresses and then show the reader what the philosopher has contributed toward a solution. In professional writing, you might want your readers to feel pleased with your work so far, with their business relationship with you, or with a particular product or service. A resume is like an admission essay in that your readers should become pleased with you. An advertisement encourages readers to be pleased with a product or service. Note that the reader is unlikely to keep reading once the magic is gone; an essay for a class will be read out of duty, but an ad can simply be thrown away. A business letter might demonstrate that you and your company are great at solving difficult problems efficiently, or that your company continues to value its relationship with your readers' company. Many business letters delight readers by being short, formal, and to the point--especially when the readers value directness and efficiency. How to Move the Reader An essay moves readers by persuading them to feel a certain way (angry, satisfied, afraid, etc.) or by activating them to do something. It is much easier to persuade someone if you genuinely feel the same feeling, and it is much easier to activate someone if you are motivated to do it too. If something is significant enough to make you angry or afraid, maybe you should write about it. But unless you are supposed to be writing about yourself, your readers normally don't want to know why you are moved. They want to know why they should be moved. If there's something out in the world to be afraid of, your readers will appreciate knowing about it. If someone has written something that they should be angry about, you might be doing them a favor by pointing it out. The three steps in moving the reader to feel something are (1) if you are feeling an emotion, figure out why; (2) show your readers the situation or give them the experience that has caused the emotion, emphasizing the key details; and (3) if it's not already clear, explain why that emotion is justified. For example, if the last scene of a play felt totally unsatisfying to you, and you feel unfulfilled, (1) why? Is it because there are so many loose ends? Because the villain doesn't get the proper punishment and the hero just lets him go? Or is it because the play was meant to be performed live, but all the energy was gone when you read it by yourself? (2) Suppose it was because of the loose ends. The thesis of your essay could be, for example, that the playwright created such a rambling plot that readers should find other ways to enjoy the play. (3) You can present plot lines from Act I and Act II that have no resolution in Act V. You might point out that if the play were a comedy, it would not matter so much, because the point is to laugh as one goes along--but this is supposed to be a serious play, and yet the author has let us down. At least, perhaps, we can appreciate the dialogue. You also can tell that an essay is effective if it activates your readers to get up and do something about what you wrote. Often, if you move the reader's emotions, you

can point the reader toward an action that can express, extinguish, or deepen the emotion. For example, if you persuade a reader to appreciate the character development in a particular book, you can point the reader to other books with a similar pattern. Or if you persuade the reader to be angry at the implications of something an author wrote, you can point out that someone else has been making those implications real--maybe the reader should go out and stop it! Maybe something that an economist wrote 50 years ago has an important bearing on how your readers should vote on a referendum in the next election. Or perhaps a moral philosopher is right that a popular practice is actually harmful, and you can persuade your readers through reason and guilt to stop doing the harmful thing. The point of a great essay intended to move the reader is that the reader actually moves in the right direction. Maybe the reader will stop reading halfway through the essay, get up, put on a coat, and do whatever it is you recommended. If you're right and it works out, you have an A, or a revolution, or you saved civilization. If your advice is bad and the reader figures it out, beware. Take Your Reader on a Trip These patterns help you structure an essay that effectively instructs, delights, and/or moves the reader. The Cruise: If you have a lot of material to tell the reader, make sure you do it in some reasonable order. Do not ramble about uninteresting things, and stay focused. A cruise ship does not set out from England, go south and then east to Turkey, west to Florida, east to France, northwest to Greenland, etc. It follows a reasonable path from place to place. A cruise is also supposed to be delightful: there has to be something worth your reader's time at each stop. The Elevator: Once you have a clear sense of the argument in your essay, make sure you keep the reader with you at every stage of the argument. A person normally rides an elevator in only one direction at a time. They also travel to every floor between the starting point and the destination. Don't skip an important step in your argument. Also, if your essay is designed to move the reader, don't let the emotion lag; let it build--or if the point of the essay is to show an angry reader why not to be angry, guide the reader down carefully to calmness. Don't jolt the reader into submission. The Space Shuttle: Maybe you're a broad thinker, not so good about keeping track of details. Soar over the details: take your readers with you on an amazing ride. Note that the scenery has to be good at this level, or else your readers will wonder why they came along. For example, maybe you don't have time to figure out what the status of women was in 18th-century England, but you do have some interesting ideas about the relations between men and women in general. Feature your general observations and dip down briefly, here and there, for examples. The Piggy-Back Ride: If you have some important things to show the reader in a nononsense way, load the reader on your back: the reader looks at the same things that are important to you, and from nearly the same perspective. Note that not all readers want this kind of ride. But when you have all the facts, you are the authority; you decide what your reader ought to know or feel. The Library: Good research essays are like guided trips to the library. Bring the reader a bunch of worthwhile, meaningful books, point out the key passages, and tie them together around the common subject of your research.

The Pilgrimage: When you want readers to really appreciate something worthwhile, lead them to all the best sites and point out what's marvelous. A poet's wonderful rhyme, for instance, connects the two main themes of the poem with perfect economy--and look! Here is the rhyme again in another poem about something else, evoking the first poem--and behold! See how the two poems actually form a series, leading us from one emotion to the next--and so on. The War Zone: In the strong form of the "compare and contrast" essay, you take up the implications of the differences you found and put them in opposition to one another. Give both sides their due, and let them duke it out on the page. Maybe there are two contrasting ways to interpret something; so what? Tell your reader why the contrast is important. If You Must, Send Them Down the Funnel: Many readers of this guide have learned how to write a standard five-paragraph essay in what teachers have called the "funnel" style. This skill is essential for standardized tests, where time is short and the point is to show that you can construct three meaningful paragraphs about the same topic. The funnel metaphor comes from the idea that your introduction makes some general observations and gradually narrows down to your three main points, one point to be discussed in each paragraph. Then the readers fall out of the funnel into ... well, instructors don't tell you what happens next. The conclusion is supposed to sum up and then provide one further idea that broadens back into the general point or extends somewhere else. Too often, readers feel like they have been dropped off nowhere. But for the computer grading your standardized test, that's ok. For a teacher who has to grade 50 essays quickly, that can be ok too. Let GradeSaver help you break out of the acceptable but uninspired funnel style and edit your essay to excellence. How to Make the Reader Like You Remember that your essay does something for the reader. If your reader appreciates what you've done, your essay will be more successful. If your reader wanted to be instructed but not moved, you may get a response such as, "Don't write so dogmatically." If your reader was expecting a "persuasive" essay but you chose to delight the reader, your reader will be disappointed. This is another reason why following the directions is essential. Readers like writers who seem to be engaging, interesting, funny or serious depending on the context, perceptive, studious, thoughtful, good at communicating, etc. For admission and scholarship essays, readers like writers who have a variety of positive character traits and who demonstrate that they fit well among the values of the institution. To show that you are interesting, choose an interesting topic. Normally this means choosing a topic that genuinely interests you and explaining why it is so interesting. The reader will be more likely to enjoy going on a "trip" with you. To show that you are engaging, engage the reader by working on a worthwhile issue in your essay. Choose a topic with significant implications, one where the outcome matters. "Did Romeo love Juliet after all? Let's look at the evidence!"--even if you conclude that he did totally love her, shaking up the issue for a while is likely to keep the reader engaged. If you choose to be funny and the context is appropriate, try out your jokes on a test audience (friend, family, roommate) before submitting the essay. Whenever possible,

give yourself 24 hours without thinking about the jokes, and then return to them to see if they still seem funny and appropriate. See the sections below for further advice. How to Show That You Did the Reading Show that you are studious by providing evidence that you completed the assigned reading or research. First, however, here are obvious signs that you did not do the reading: (1) you misspell an author's name, the title of a book, or the name of someone listed in a book; (2) you seem to have guessed what the book was about on the basis of the title and the first few chapters; (3) all of your quotations come from the same chapter or even the same page, or your quotations or main ideas come from ClassicNotes or another reading guide; (4) parts of your essay are plagiarized. (1) Make sure that all proper names are spelled correctly. (2) Read the book. If you have run out of time and cannot get an extension, look for a table of contents and an index. Learn what the book is about from these sources and from online reading guides such as ClassicNotes. You could choose a topic that involves the development of a theme throughout the book. (3) Many books are online as etexts. Try to find suitable quotations from throughout the book by searching for a theme word in the book's index or table of contents or by using an etext. (4) Do not plagiarize. You might be surprised how easy it is to get caught plagiarizing, and the consequences can be extreme. Beyond that, note that in general, novels have a plot, poems have a subject, social science texts, philosophical works, and works about the humanities have an argument, scientific and many social science texts have a finding, textbooks and technical writing have information, travel writing has observations, and political and business writings often have action items. Make sure you can state what the central points are of whatever you have read. Note that if you try to put a large number of the book's central points into your essay, the essay will seem uncontrolled because it ranges so widely. You can show you did the reading by tracing just one or two topics through the course of the book. How to Show That You Thought About the Reading Good writers usually place the specific subject of the essay in relation to one or more of the central points of the book. Doing this shows that you are thoughtful. Also, a thoughtful essay often challenges something that a quick reader of the book might think. For example, "The frequent jokes in the play lead many readers to think it is a comedy. But the jokes among the main characters hide a pervasive sadness that affects almost everything they do, which makes this play a tragedy." How to Show That You Did Additional Reading A great way to show that you are studious is to include sources that were not assigned. These should be appropriate to the level of analysis that you are expected to provide. See above on how to show that you actually read these other sources. And once again, follow the directions: some assignments require additional readings and ask you to use those readings in particular ways; other assignments require that all the ideas be your own, strongly recommending that you do not seek information elsewhere.

Remember that it is better to put quotation marks around a big block of text than to plagiarize and possibly get caught. If you must use a big block of text, break it into smaller pieces: "Smith says that 'xxx.' He adds, 'yyy.' To conclude this part of the argument, he points out that 'zzz.'" You also could add a few paraphrases along the way. Effective use of these techniques shows that you are analyzing the source as you go, rather than simply quoting it. Note that sources must be cited properly (if your instructor or area of study requires a certain citation style) or at least consistently. Other Ways to Make the Reader Like You (1) Figure out what kinds of topics the reader values, and choose one of those topics. Spending time in class and reviewing your notes might help you learn what interests your instructor. If you have been given a list of topics to choose from, this list can help you determine the interests and the literary, political, or ideological perspective of the instructor. Quickly checking out your readers list of publications (from an online resume or an online library catalog) can help too. (2) It normally helps to take a line of argument that the instructor would naturally be inclined to agree with. As you become better at making arguments and supporting them with good evidence, however, you can provide a carefully-reasoned defense of an alternative point of view. Of course you always have the right to take an alternative point of view, but in terms of grading and the readers perception of you as thoughtful, smart, or perceptive, you also have to be able to defend it successfully. (3) For readers who are longtime instructors or who have 50 or more students, choose a topic that differs from the most common and obvious topics. Beware that the most obvious topics are sometimes the most interesting; don't choose an uninteresting topic just to be different. (4) Proofread your essay carefully. Having an essay free of typos and grammar problems shows that you are prudent and careful. It also shows that you put extra effort into your essay. Most of all, it keeps the reader engaged rather than distracted. If you have any question about proper style or usage, either find the answer or seek another way to write the same thing. Let GradeSaver help you proofread and edit your essay to perfection in grammar and elegance in style. Five Ways to Turn Off the Reader (1) Don't make claims that you cannot support. Beware of "totalizing" words such as "all," "always," "never," "every," and so on. Even if you can't think of an exception, your readers often can--or they will be distracted while they try to come up with exceptions. (2) Don't talk down to the reader. Although in a business setting you might know more about your topic than your reader knows, in a classroom setting this is likely only if you have done significant extra research. Although a student essay normally should read as though the writer knows more than the reader, remember that this is just a healthy convention to help you learn to write better. Talking down often takes the form of an unnecessary definition, frequent repetition, or proving the obvious. (3) Don't distract the reader from the actual essay. Distractions include the following: lots of exclamation points, more than just a few words in italics, words in boldface other than essay titles and section headings, unusual margins, titles or section headings in special fonts or greater than 14 points high, any stretching or compression

of the text to fit a page minimum or maximum, and so on. Once in a while you can get away with an especially apt picture such as an editorial cartoon or a panel from a comic strip, but don't overdo it. (4) Don't over-generalize, especially in the first sentence or paragraph of the essay. "Funnel" essays (see above) are most often guilty of this problem. You might be startled to learn how many essays begin like this: "Every society has people in it. One of those societies, England, has millions of people. One of the most populated cities in England, London, has a great diversity of people. This essay will describe the main ethnic groups of London." Readers are put off by openings with bland generalities. Likewise, they are put off by openings that provide a common proverb or a dictionary definition of a term. (5) Don't write extremely long paragraphs. Readers tend to get annoyed at the prospect of having to wade through a big block of text. A paragraph that goes on for two thirds of a page looks daunting. Aim for eight sentences per paragraph as a reasonable maximum. And remember: one main point per paragraph, please.

Academic Essays
by Adam Kissel The First Sentence The first sentence matters most. It is where readers are won and lost. In this sentence you can persuade readers that you and your essay are worth their attention. Even a captive reader (such as someone who is required to grade your essay) decides early on how much effort to put into reading your work. Furthermore, the first sentence often sets up some of the key words or themes of the essay. Many non-captive readers are patient enough to read the whole first paragraph, so it often works out if you save your thesis and some key words and themes for later in the paragraph. But you should start getting the reader attuned to your frame of mind as early as possible. In fact, by the first sentence it is almost too late: the title of your essay has already determined whether or not you have the attention of potential readers. The point is that most writers should spend a lot more time on the title and the first sentence than they do. Too often, the title and the first sentence are holdovers from the first draft, several hours or days--even weeks--before the essay has been completed. In that time, the essay often has evolved beyond its original shape. Once a "final" draft of your essay is complete, if you have time to edit nothing else, at least go back and make sure that the opening truly reflects the direction of your essay. Let's examine for a moment this opening from a classic author: "Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions." -Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1) "novel objects": the writer has something new to show us; (2) "attracted my attention": these new things are worth the attention of smart observers; (3) "during my stay": he has firsthand knowledge of these new things; (4) "in the United States": anyone interested in the U.S. should be paying attention;

(5) "nothing struck me more forcibly": something is so striking that he wants to share it with us; (6) "general equality of conditions": this is a constant topic throughout the book. Try out Tocqueville's pattern for practice. For example: "Among the many flashy costumes that update the lifestyles of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew for contemporary audiences at the Shakespeare Theater, no costume is more striking than the biker garb that Petruchio wears to his own wedding." For further practice, check out another classic to see how the first sentence strikes you as a reader, and then try the same pattern with a theme of your own choosing. The Thesis While an essay is an activity between the writer and the reader, it is also about something. A thesis normally helps the reader understand what in particular you are trying to communicate. Some kinds of essays do not need a thesis statement to point out the subject--they may have a central theme, but that theme is diffused throughout the essay. Some kinds of essays have a subject but not an argument; the point may be simply to enjoy the subject. But almost every successful academic essay does have a thesis statement. This is because the reader is expecting you to relate (1) what the topic is and (2) what you are going to say about it. (1) Usually the overall topic is clear from the rest of the introduction (see below). The thesis then can be a little more specific; it can name the key topics you will discuss. The thesis statement can serve as a miniature outline of the essay, or you can use the rest of the introduction to serve as a general outline. (2) The introduction normally sets up the thesis statement, which occurs at or near the end. By this point, hopefully, you have caught the reader's interest in one way or another. The reader should be ready for you to announce your plans (see "Take Your Reader on a Trip" under "What Makes a Good Essay?"). Here, it is essential that you announce plans that seem worthwhile to the reader. If your thesis is obvious to any reader, easily proven, hardly debatable, or so common that it looks like you are just going through the motions of writing an essay that anybody could write, your reader will lose interest and might think that you are not daring enough. But if your thesis is controversial, important, provable if given the right evidence, unusual, upending conventional wisdom, startlingly precise, calling for action, or in any way promises that the trip will be worthwhile, you are likely to keep your reader's attention. Let's continue with our example to practice constructing a thesis. Here's Tocqueville's thesis: "I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress." (1) "I saw more than America": in fact the topic is even more striking than America itself; (2) "the image of democracy itself": America is just an example of a broader pattern; (3) "its inclinations ... its passions": these four themes specify what the first sentence only alluded to--they either outline or are central to the argument of the book; (4) "in order to learn": here is the significance of the book--we should be paying attention to the rise of democracy around the world;

(5) "what we have to fear or to hope": there may be things to fear or things to hope for--should we be fearful or hopeful? This book will show us what Tocqueville learned. Our version: "Indeed the biker garb of Petruchio does more than strike fear into the wedding party; his upending of formalwear, of weddings, of the solemnity of a religious service, challenges us to acknowledge the fragility of our most carefully scripted experiences." The Introduction Paragraph(s) In a short essay, you have space for only a one-paragraph introduction. Once your essay gets beyond about 10 paragraphs, you can consider a two-paragraph introduction. In Tocqueville's book, the introduction is an entire chapter, but it does the same things that a one-paragraph introduction does: the introduction to an academic essay (1) introduces the topic, (2) sets up the argument of the thesis, and (3) points forward to the rest of the essay. In fact, accomplishing these goals begins as early as the title of the essay. Consider the title a significant part of your introduction. Note that as you write, your idea of the topic, the argument, and the essay structure are likely to evolve. It is not a bad idea to write a quick setup of the problem and your solution as you understand it so far, write the rest of the essay, and then return to the introduction as the last section you carefully write. Just to get started, you need a topic. See "What Makes a Good Essay?" for advice on choosing your goals, on key actions you can choose to perform in your essay, and on the kinds of paths on which you can lead your readers. If you are getting stuck, strike up a conversation with someone about the material you are considering writing about, or at least the general subject area. Often a topic will come out of that conversation. This is because under the pressure of coming up with things to say in a normal conversation, you will naturally move toward the more interesting, provocative, instructive, delightful, or moving topics. Take this possible conversation starter as an example: "I loved how everybody at that performance of The Taming of the Shrew wore modern clothes. It really made me feel that the story could have happened in my old neighborhood. Then, when Petruchio came to his wedding as a biker, I could really see how he was trying to make a point. He wanted to show everybody that he could wear anything he wanted--that he was in control. That got me thinking how we always like to make every detail perfect at a wedding, but it's so easy for one thing to break up the whole experience." Once you have narrated some ideas and put them down on paper, turn the conversational style into a more formal academic style. Note that you often will have to specify vague terms that you used earlier. This version will be enough to launch the paper until you are ready to revise. Let's use Tocqueville's model: "Among the many flashy costumes that update the lifestyles of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew for contemporary audiences at the Shakespeare Theater, no costume is more striking than the biker garb that Petruchio wears to his own wedding. It might be hard to appreciate Renaissance formalwear, but everyone can understand the white dress worn by Katherine on her wedding day. When Petruchio matches her beautiful dress with black leather instead of a tuxedo, he draws the surprise of everyone. Petruchio uses this attention to show everyone that he is controlling the fate of Katherine. Not only that, he shows everyone that enjoyment of the wedding depends on him. In fact the biker garb of Petruchio does more than strike fear into the wedding party; his upending of formalwear, of weddings, of the solemnity of a religious

service, challenges us to acknowledge the fragility of our most carefully scripted experiences." By the end of the introduction, your reader should be able to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. In other words, what is at stake? Why should the reader read the essay? In the example above, readers might be interested to join you in working through the challenge presented in the last sentence, if they trust that you have thought enough about the challenge to lead them through it. One Point Per Paragraph A paragraph is a unit. It does something specific, and when it is done, you should move on to the next paragraph. You should be able to answer the question, "What am I doing in this paragraph?" You might be proving a point, providing a set of evidence, responding to counter-evidence, presenting a theme, explaining a phenomenon, or in general moving, delighting, or instructing the reader. In an academic essay, most or all paragraphs instruct. If it takes fewer than three sentences or more than eight sentences to accomplish your goal, consider broadening or narrowing the goal. If you have multiple goals, you probably should be writing multiple paragraphs. Make the point clear in the paragraph. It is usually best to put the point at the beginning or the end. Use the rest of the paragraph to focus attention on the point, elaborate on the point, prove the point, or, if the point comes at the end, prepare the reader to accept the point. In our example above, what should we be doing? It seems important to describe the biker outfit. It also seems valuable to explain the wedding scene in contextwhy are they getting married, and what is at stake for them? This context will help us explain the fear of the wedding party. Then we can turn to Petruchio and infer his motives from what he says and does, as well as what he wears. Then we can compare the wedding to other formal occasions, and suggest the implications for situations when we try to control the circumstances but cannot control someone who is an independent spirit. Can you imagine how some of these paragraphs might go? Consider how each one accomplishes a distinct goal. In an outline like this, don't worry if you get some of the paragraphs out of order. It is not unusual to rearrange the paragraphs as you write. Don't Forget the Point When you don't have an outline ahead of time, you can still be successful by writing as you go. Sometimes you may not quite know what you will write three paragraphs ahead until you get there. Whether or not you have an outline, one of the greatest pitfalls to avoid is straying from the point. You might get halfway through the essay and have a completely different direction. That might be ok, so long as you fix the problem: you can (a) throw out the irrelevant material, (b) make it relevant by relating it back to the point, or (c) change the point in a way that permits you to use the material. Another common problem in many essays occurs within a paragraph: you may start writing about one point and jump ahead to the next point. If your paragraph has more than eight sentences, you probably strayed ahead; split the paragraph in two. Be strict about the rule of one point per paragraph, and stay focused on the goal of each paragraph. Finally, an academic essay differs from a looser narrative essay in that the paragraphs normally do not merge into one another organically. In other words, some writers like

to use the last sentence of a paragraph to introduce the topic of the next paragraph. That model seldom works in an academic essay. Put such a sentence in the paragraph where it belongs. What Counts As Evidence? Readers of academic essays want you to support your ideas with evidence. What counts as good evidence depends on the subject area and the level of writing that you are trying to achieve. Sometimes information in a textbook is good enough, but sometimes you are expected to do original research to ground your claims. One standard that applies across disciplines lies in the difference between telling and showing. The fact that you believe something very sincerely, since you are the one who carefully thought about your topic, may be important to you. But readers don't want you simply to tell them what you believe or what you learned; they want you to show them so they can learn it too. When you present evidence, you should analyze it in terms of the point of the paragraph. That is, try to use some of the same words as the words you use in the sentence that has the point, as well as the thesis sentence. In fact, computer graders look for the integration of your key terms throughout the essay, in order to score it for consistency and unity. Human readers think in a similar way. Let's try out the paragraph about what is at stake for the wedding party. For the first draft, let's keep to a conversational style. Note that the point comes at the end, that there can be several layers of evidence, and that you can look for key quotations in a later step: "Katherine's family thought she was never going to get married because of her bad temper. In their society, this would mean that they would be stuck with her forever. Now that she is engaged to Petruchio, they have the chance for some peace; her own sister even says hopefully, 'xxx.' Even though they only had a week to plan, they clearly want the wedding to be perfect: the women wear beautiful dresses, the musicians are playing, and there are flowers everywhere. For once the family is united, and it seems like the future of the whole family depends on the ceremony going according to plan." Quote Your Sources Wisely Your readers often can figure out how much work you put into the essay by looking at your sources: (1) how many? (2) do you seem to understand what you read? (3) do you quote only the relevant passages? (4) do all your quotations come from the same page--or from throughout the book? (1) Try to get one or two sources into each paragraph, either in the main text or in a footnote. In literature essays and essays that use historical documents or interviews, quoting the original words is essential. (2) Normally it is not enough to insert a quotation; show evidence that you understand it. When the quotation includes words that exactly match the point that you are trying to prove with this evidence, you can get away with minimal or no analysis (in the example paragraph above, "hopefully" may be enough analysis of the quotation from Katherine's sister). Usually, however, a whole sentence (or two) of analysis should follow the quotation. Tell the reader why that quotation is important. (3) Avoid long quotations. Make use of ellipsis (...) to omit parts of a quotation that are less relevant. Use brackets [] to insert words that improve the flow of the

quotation. You also can replace several words with your own paraphrase inside brackets, in order to cut down on the length of the quotation. (4) When all your quotations come from the same page of a book, your reader might imagine that you did not actually read the whole book. Citing just one or two additional locations will put the reader more at ease. In every case, it is essential to put quotation marks around the words you quote or to set off the material as a block quotation. Whenever possible you should include the exact page number. The reader should be able to find your source easily. If you choose to paraphrase rather than to quote, it is even more important to include the page number, which is the most efficient way to signal that the ideas have come from someone other than yourself. Finally, follow the conventions in your field and in your class for proper citation of quotations within the text, in footnotes or endnotes, and in the bibliography or list of works cited. Five Ways to Get Caught Plagiarizing Plagiarism is especially tempting in academic essays. Quotations are essential, but you might be tempted to quote someone else's material and present it as your own. It is very easy to do this, but it is very easy to get caught. You won't get caught if you don't do it. In every case, you are better off adding quotation marks. Three or four unquoted words in a row can be enough for you to get charged with plagiarism. Here are five signs that you may have plagiarized. (There are other signs too, and experienced readers know to look for them. Suspicious sentences will send them straight to the Internet.) If you notice one of these signs, try to find the original source. If you cannot find it but it is essential to the essay, it is best to add quotation marks and to note in the essay that you can no longer find the source. (1) An uneven style. This sign mainly refers to a well-written sentence or paragraph in the midst of badly written sentences and paragraphs. When you move from your rough draft to an edited draft, you might find an eloquent sentence that has the ring of polished, previously published prose. It probably came from someone else. This sign also refers to vocabulary that shifts from basic words to advanced words from one section to the next. (2) An especially long sentence in the midst of many short sentences. Published essays tend to have longer sentences than academic essays written by students. (3) A paragraph or group of sentences that seem to be proving a point very well, but not the point that you advertised in the essay. When an entire essay does not adequately address the assigned prompt, the whole essay is suspect. Similarly, if you advertise that a paragraph is about A but there are several sentences about B that seem to belong better in a different essay, the paragraph will be suspect. Sometimes this is a matter of restructuring the essay, but sometimes it is plagiarism. (4) A level of sophistication or communication that exceeds the normal level for you and your peers. If you are in high school and you write a history essay that uses primary sources not discussed in class--without citing a secondary source--your reader will wonder how you possibly got the data. If you are in an introductory humanities course and you already seem to know several critics' opinions of the text--in contrast to your performance in class--your reader will wonder how you became so well read so quickly.

(5) Passages that use different formatting: font, point size, number of spaces after a period, color, etc. You might be surprised how many plagiarists get caught by an entire paragraph being printed in gray instead of black, or by a superscript number that used to refer to a footnote in an essay with no footnotes. Also, copying and pasting material from web sites often produces a lot of "nonbreaking space" characters, which look different on the screen from spaces that are typed directly; many plagiarizers get caught when they are asked to produce an electronic copy of their essay. Transitions: Getting From Point to Point Too many writers let each paragraph stand on its own. Yes, a paragraph is a discrete unit, but it is connected to other units through transitions. Normally a transition occurs in the first sentence of the new paragraph. Remember that while the paragraphs all accomplish discrete purposes, the reason they appear in a certain order is because of the particular relationships among those purposes. Make those relationships explicit for your reader. The easiest way to connect paragraphs occurs when you have a list of topics to get through. After the first paragraph, start the next paragraph with "Second, ..." Note that this structure can get boring rather quickly. Most essays require a more interesting set of transitions from paragraph to paragraph--from point to point. Repeating a key word or idea from the previous paragraph is usually enough. (For instance, in this paragraph, the word "connect" in the first sentence is another way of saying "make the relationships explicit." In the previous paragraph, the point was to advise you to connect paragraphs with transitions. In this paragraph, the point is to advise you how to do so.) Other web sites can provide lists of transition words that connect one paragraph to another such as Nevertheless, Even so, But, Moreover, Furthermore, and so on. Words to Use, Words to Avoid If your essay responds to a prompt, you are well advised to use the words and ideas in the prompt frequently throughout the essay. This shows that you have thought carefully about the prompt, that you are addressing it directly, and that you did not plagiarize. If there is no prompt, give your essay unity by continuing to use words that express the thesis. Here are several words you should seldom use in academic essays, although they might be perfectly acceptable in certain contexts and in other kinds of essays: (1) "totalizing" words such as always, never, everyone, all, every, everywhere, totally, absolutely, and so on. These words are hard to defend, because your readers tend to be good at finding exceptions. (2) "conversational" words and phrases such as you know, I feel that, I'm trying to, what's up with, and so on. This guideline includes almost all slang and almost all contractions. Note, however, that an essay should sound "smooth" when it is read aloud. (3) "judgmental" words such as stupid, dumb, awful, terrible, great, amazing, and so on, unless you explicitly defend your judgment. Some demeaning words such as dumb can almost always be specified better by using a less demeaning, more precise word. (4) socially or culturally "unacceptable" words. In some settings, calling an adult female a "girl" is appropriate, but in other settings it is inappropriate. Context often makes all the difference. Writers of academic essays are often taught to write in

"gender neutral" terms whenever there is no reason to write about males or females in particular, and more and more readers are requiring that this norm be followed. (5) Recognize that your words can have ideological meanings that please or anger your readers: the rise of the term "Democrat Party" in place of "Democratic Party" might tempt you to write "Democrat Party" in an essay about politics, but this trend has been limited mainly to political conservatives, so your use of the term will go over very differently with different readers. Whenever there is a genuine question about what is appropriate, choose the less controversial term. An academic essay about something else is not the place to fight an unrelated social or political battle, tempting as it may be. The section "Five Ways to Turn Off the Reader" under "What Makes a Good Essay?" gives further advice. Style Tips Many writing guides provide endless quantities of style tips. It is easy to be pedantic and require that certain rules always be followed. But in reality, just about every rule (even spelling rules!) can be broken under the right circumstances. Even so, reading a good style guide is a great way to start thinking about how to improve essays at the level of words, phrases, or sentences. Experience must do the rest. An easy beginning is the popular "Strunk and White" style guide; to take the next step, try the book by Joseph Williams called Style. As you read each book, look for principles rather than a simple list of rules. There are two general ways to improve your style. The quick way, which is also quite effective, is to read your essay out loud or to listen while someone else reads it aloud. Awkward sentences will become painfully clear, and they can be fixed in the same day. The harder way, although it can have better results in the long run, is to imitate the style of an accomplished writer, as we did in imitating Tocqueville above, until you can write in that style naturally. The Concluding Paragraph(s) Many writers run out of steam by the time they get to the end of a long writing session. They are tempted to skimp not only on editing but also on the conclusion. Too many writers simply rewrite the thesis or the whole opening paragraph, add the topic sentences from some of the key body paragraphs, and let the essay trail off. That is better than nothing, because a central function of the conclusion is to sum up the points of the essay. Slightly better is to add a sentence or two to suggest something new for the reader: an implication to follow up, an idea for further research, a challenge that must still be met, a recommendation for further reading, and so on. This material can be extended into an entire paragraph or two when the essay is long enough. In several fields, the concluding section is expected to take a certain form that does much more than sum up the essay. In social science fields, for example, an essay that presents your research results often should include a section on the limitations of the research (such as ways that the research method could be improved, or cautions about the applicability of the research). It is important to learn what standards apply to essays in your field. The Last Sentence

The final sentence is your last chance to send off the reader with your message. Captive readers have had to read your whole essay, like it or not, while non-captive readers have chosen to take the whole journey with you. Reward both kinds of readers with a sendoff that is well constructed and leaves a good impression. Let's examine Tocqueville's concluding sentence for a non-captive audience after hundreds of pages: "The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal; but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or to wretchedness." (1) "cannot prevent": be aware that equality is coming, like it or not; (2) "it depends upon themselves": here is something we can do; (3) "principle of equality": this is the central theme of the book; (4) notice the pleasing either/or structure of the last half of the sentence. Let's now conclude the Petruchio essay in the same style, for practice: "We never can keep perfect control over the ceremonies that mean the most to us; but at least we can advise planning over anarchy, prudence over haphazardness, and tuxedos over leather." Finishing Touches Give yourself at least 24 hours after you think you have "finished" a draft, and then edit it with a fresh eye. If you want a professional perspective on your essay to help you raise your essay to excellence, or if you are running out of time, let GradeSaver suggest a complete set of revisions for your essay. Whether you get help from a roommate, a friend, or GradeSaver, make sure that you personally understand and agree with all revisions that you accept and submit as your own work.

Admission Essays
What Makes Admission Essays Successful? Did you know that one-pass editing services almost never write new material for you? Their services are limited by the material you submit. How can you improve your material so that it is ready to be edited to excellence? This brief guide helps you get it right before you go down the wrong path. For further assistance developing your essay, consider GradeSaver's Deluxe Harvard Editing Service. How to Use a Writing Guide Wisely Many writing guides, in print or online, provide fairly good advice about writing admission essays. You do not, however, need to read every page of a guide. The following principles help you find and make wise use of the advice you will find here and elsewhere. 1. Use a writing guide to get into the culture of excellent essay writing. Admissions officers read and discuss thousands of essays with one another. They develop a highly refined sense of taste for what makes an excellent essay. Develop this taste for yourself using these three methods: a. Experience a lot of sample essays. You can read through a lot of college essay samples in an hour; graduate admission essays will take longer. After internalizing some principles and analyzing particular essays (see below), go back and read some

more samples. Make sure that you choose a guide with enough samples. See, for example, GradeSaver's 150+ samples of successful admission essays. b. Internalize the principles that those essays express. You often can find these principles stated just before each example. Become able to state the principles in your own words. c. Analyze essays according to the principles. Become able to explain why an essay is so good--specifically, what it does for the reader, what purposes it accomplishes, and what it signals about the writer. 2. Pay particular attention to the section headings within each chapter, as well as the chapter titles. Too many readers only glance at the headings and then jump straight to the text. (High school and college students might consider skimming quickly through Mortimer Adler's instructive How to Read a Book.) Use these headings to focus on the topics that you should be learning. Besides, you often can distinguish the better guides in a bookstore by their use of meaningful section headings. 3. Make contact with other applicants who are reading either the same guide or another guide. You don't need a formal reading group. But it will help you to talk through with others (1) the topics you are learning, (2) your own ideas for essay topics, (3) other people's essay topics (it can be easier to develop the skills of critique and improvement when someone else's essay is on the table), and later on, (4) actual drafts of your essay. Do You Know What the School Values? It is essential to persuade admissions officers that you are someone they should admit. You persuade them by demonstrating that you are the kind of person they want in their institution. Even if you are applying to one of the hundreds of colleges that use the Common Application, the following advice is very important: learn what the institution values and show that you either exemplify or can help the institution achieve those values. At most schools, a primary value is being able to communicate well. You signal proficiency in written communication by writing well-crafted, meaningful, believable essays. But your essay also instructs the reader about you, both directly and indirectly. Even when your topic is about something else, such as your favorite book or the best way to eat an ice cream cone while blindfolded, you are teaching your reader about yourself: this is what I find interesting or valuable; this is how I solve problems; this is why I would be a great member of your community. Many schools, especially those in the Ivy League and other elite schools, already expect that the essays of most admitted students will be written very well. What they are looking for is a match between your qualities and values and what they value. In addition to the specific values of each institution, just about every academic community values a lot of the same general qualities. You do not need to signal all or most of these values in your essay(s)--other parts of your application will signal several of them--but you should take care not to seem like the opposite of any of the things that the school values. Note that it normally goes over better to signal them through your narrative rather than to state them directly; avoid statements that merely announce, "I am great; look at me." The following list provides general qualities and values you could choose to express:

1. Strong traits of academic character. These are normally expressed elsewhere in an application, but a successful essay can show more details about (a) your excitement to learn, such as when you describe a particular research interest; (b) your hard work and other kinds of dedication, such as in an experience where you kept working in the face of a setback; (c) your interest in solving problems, such as when you noticed a problem and did something about it; (d) your creativity, such as when you did something unusual; or (e) your honesty, such as when you acknowledged that you had an important lesson to learn. An essay about a particular achievement, if it does not repeat too much material elsewhere in the application, might be ok so long as you use the achievement to show something new about yourself. 2. Traits that show potential for success. Good communication skills are fundamental. Beyond that, you can demonstrate that you will make good use of the resources at an institution to achieve your goals by showing explicitly (a) what your goals are and (b) how the institution's resources will help you achieve your goals. Or you can suggest implicitly that you have (a) ambition, such as when you imagine what your life will be like at some point in the future; (b) excitement about succeeding, such as when you relate how you felt after accomplishing something; or (c) skill in solving problems, such as when you accomplished a complex task for the first time. 3. Strong social skills. Remember that the institution is an academic community. Admission officers are especially hopeful that you will contribute to the overall life of the institution--in activities, in the dining halls, in the dormitories. A successful essay can demonstrate (a) your appreciation for social interactions, such as good times spent with friends and family, either in one specific incident or over the course of a season; (b) your leadership qualities (not your leadership positions), such as when you pulled people together to solve a common problem; (c) your engagement with interesting people who differ from you in important ways (don't simply discuss "diversity" but be specific), such as on an international trip or a trip to a different part of town or even a trip to your grandparents' house; (d) your commitment to community service, such as when you volunteered in a project to help people out; or (e) your interest in government, such as your involvement in a cause or your work for a political campaign on the basis of ideas about how to improve society. 4. Personal virtues. See below on "Which Personal Qualities Count As Good?" Furthermore, it is important to understand the specific values of the institution to which you are applying for admission. For example, some schools value applicants who are really quirky but also really smart; others look for strong ethical or religious commitments; still others look for particular academic interests; and still others will admit just about anybody with the right test scores or athletic abilities so long as the essay does not sour the application. As you decide which schools you prefer, you probably will encounter information about each school's values. Many schools include these values in admission materials and on their web sites, such as in a "Mission Statement" or in a "Letter from the President." As you learn about the curriculum, student activities, and other programs, you will find out where the school is putting its energy and what qualities the school is most proud to offer you. Which Personal Qualities Count As Good? From the first sentence, your readers should feel that you are a person who is worth getting to know better. Give them every chance to enjoy what is best about you. By the end of the essay, your readers should feel glad that they came across such a wonderful person as yourself--they should want to give you whatever you have applied to get.

When admission officers consider your case, they will focus not only on what you have done and might do in the future, but also on your personal qualities. They might remember you as the person who ate ice cream while blindfolded, or they might remember you as the one who showed tremendous "courage" or "fairness" or "hospitality." Successful essays often demonstrate one or more of the following personal virtues. You can construct an entire essay around one of these virtues: Prudence. Making good decisions; doing the right thing at the right time, in the right way. For example, perhaps you faced a difficult decision and made a wise choice, or you learned from a mistake and made the right choice on your second try. Justice. Being fair; being honest about a situation; looking for several sides to an issue; giving people their due. For example, perhaps you committed a small offense and then submitted yourself for punishment, or you changed your mind about a significant moral, political, or religious issue. Moderation. Being dedicated without overdoing it. For example, perhaps you used to practice a musical instrument for 5 hours a day, but you were really only productive for the first 3 hours, so you cut it down to 3 hours a day and had more time to accomplish some other goal. Moderation often involves self-knowledge about your abilities. Moral strength. Facing difficulties by taking a stand or without falling apart. For example, perhaps you faced the illness of a family member, poverty, a natural disaster, or racism by writing a blog about your experience and by getting support from your friends. Courage. Knowing not only when to act in a dangerous situation, but also when to retreat, and following through. For example, perhaps you escaped from a fire at home and chose not to return inside to try to save your pet, or you have just returned from military service where you put your training into action. Generosity. Giving your time, money, attention, or other resources to others, for their sake. For example, you might engage in community service or cook meals for your friends. Love/Honor. Enjoying and honoring what is good about yourself and the world, without too much pride or humility, and without too much critique. For example, you might be excited about a research project you completed and be ready to deepen your knowledge, proud of your achievements so far, but acknowledging that you still have a lot to learn. Or you might keep up with the lives of your family members by having dinner together seven days a week. Self-control. Only getting angry or emotional in the right circumstances, and then acting appropriately. For example, you might have become angry with someone who committed a crime against you, but you called the police instead of picking up a gun to even the score. Friendliness. Having friends and enjoying yourself; being witty; expressing your thoughts and feelings and paying attention to the thoughts and feelings of others; warming up to others quickly. For example, you may have struck up a conversation with somebody on the bus who turned out to be fascinating, or you go to the same coffee shop every week with your friends and never run out of things to talk about. Faith. Being true to what you believe in, even while you genuinely engage with others who believe in something else. For example, perhaps you gained new insight into your own moral position on an issue as a result of arguing with someone about it (or you changed your mind!), or you have explained to someone why you engage in a certain

religious practice, or you learned something important by carefully reading a sacred text. Understanding. Really knowing how something works. For instance, you might have worked on a sailboat and can explain why the sails are shaped a certain way, or you could have an insightful interpretation of a work of art or literature. Technical skill. Being able to do something well. For example, maybe you can pick 25 pints of blueberries in an hour without letting any bad ones in, or you can speak for 30 minutes on any topic someone suggests. Discernment. Being able to see general principles or trends in the details of life; being able to "see the forest for the trees." For example, perhaps something in everyday life strikes you as an example of a larger pattern in society. Knowledge. Knowing truth from falsehood; knowing facts rather than just having opinions; having clear and distinct ideas; being able to think something through and get the details right. For instance, you might have learned the Pythagorean theorem in algebra class, but now you can prove it, and something really clicks in your brain every time you go through the proof. Wisdom. Being able to go back and forth seamlessly between general principles that you have internalized and specific facts that you know. If you are applying to an institution of higher learning, you can suggest that wisdom is your aspiration and your hope rather than a quality you have already achieved. How to Be Remembered It is very helpful to be remembered by admissions officers--and to be remembered as favorably as possible. What are your strongest memories of other people? What are your strongest memories of characters on television or in a book? In many cases, these are the kinds of things that admission officers will remember about you. Keep in mind, however, that experiences of a person in real life involve data that can be hard to express in a short essay. Seeing a characteristic smile is different from reading about it. And yet an experience is gone in a moment, while an essay can be read again and again. Choose a topic that might lock something good into your readers' minds, and then write about it with the goal of locking it in. You are more likely to be remembered favorably when something good stands out in your essay. This usually means writing about something (1) specific, (2) unusual or startling, and (3) personally meaningful. 1. To be specific, choose a subject that can be treated in a short essay. Don't write, for instance, about the role of religion in the public schools, if you can write about a particular issue that serves as an example of your larger point, such as what you think about the "moment of silence" that begins the school day in many schools. Frame a scene using illustrative nouns and verbs: don't use "is" or "has" when you can use "stands out" or "features." In other words, make the characters in your narrative perform meaningful actions or think meaningful thoughts. Once you have constructed a strong set of subjects and verbs in your sentences, carefully and sparingly add or adjust the adjectives and adverbs. Consider adding dialogue at key points. 2. To make your essay unusual or startling, think about experiences that startled you or drew your attention to such a degree that you still remember them. These experiences can be good candidates for essay topics. Don't overdo the narrative, however, with melodrama or other kinds of exaggeration. It is enough to evoke the

scene and provoke some emotion. For example, see if you remember this story a week from now: "We were riding on a crowded minibus in Turkey about a week after another minibus was blown up in a neighboring city. A man ran up carrying a large object with protruding wires and tubes; it was labeled 'air compressor.' He put it on the bus right next to us, said something to the driver, and scurried away. We looked at one another: 'Should we get off the bus?' 'Why is the label in English?' None of the Turkish passengers seemed worried, however, and the bus driver accepted whatever the man had said, so we figured that this kind of event was not unusual. We traveled to the bus station with the 'air compressor' without incident, but with another travel story to tell when we arrived home." An admissions officer might remember this essayist as "the one who rode on the Turkish minibus with the air compressor"--but encoded in that memory will be the observation that the applicant is an international traveler who has demonstrated appropriate courage and intercultural understanding. Also, if you are good at writing humorously--that means being truly humorous--people actually laugh out loud at what you write, not just when they're being nice--a really funny essay can do wonders. 3. Essays that are personally meaningful are much easier to write successfully than essays about subjects that hardly move you. Something that stands out to you is likely to stand out to someone else. After you choose such a topic, the next task is to determine which details make your experience or your idea so meaningful. Here is where free writing--recording all of your thoughts about the experience or the idea you have--can be especially useful. You might type 1,000 words or more before you hit on the central detail that is the essence of the subject. Another method for getting to the most meaningful details is to spend time in conversation with someone about the topic. The pressure of coming up with things to say, combined with the need to answer questions about your topic, will help you focus on the most important points. Writing the Essay: The First Sentence For an introduction to writing the first sentence of an essay, see "The First Sentence" under Academic Essays. For an introduction to the different kinds of paths your essay might follow, see "Take Your Reader on a Trip" on the same page. The first draft of your first sentence should be just enough to get you started as you begin to write. Later, after you have a good command of your topic and have a good sense of the overall tone of your essay--this may not be until after you have written several drafts--you can spend time focusing on the first sentence. This point in your writing is a good time to go back to sample essays to see what they accomplish in the first sentence. Does one of them provide a model for a sentence that would work well in your essay? If you are having trouble structuring your essay, one good strategy is to look through everything you have written for the one best or most moving line. Try putting that sentence at the start and forming the rest of the essay around that primary idea. Note that this line might be the last point chronologically in your narrative--putting it first would give the whole essay an interesting "flashback" structure. Here are some sample openings that might fit your essay. 1. Dialogue. Dialogue usually gets a reader's attention. This is because dialogue gives a sense of present action. Even one sentence in quotation marks can be enough.

Example: "'I don't know where you get those ideas!' my mother said. I was drawing and explaining my latest, perhaps my craziest, back-of-the-placemat 'invention'..." This opening shows that the writer is thoughtful yet aware of the limitations of his ideas, friendly with his mom, and perhaps just the kind of person who can learn to focus his ideas with a good college education. 2. A short, striking sentence. Readers often appreciate writers who can pack a punch and then mellow out. You can be dramatic without being melodramatic. Example: "I held my gun firmly. The paintball field was covered in blue, yellow, and red splotches..." 3. A leisurely introduction. If the essay isn't action-packed but instead paints a beautiful picture for the reader, let the opening suggest a pleasant experience. Example: "Rowing out to the island on Lake Bled, dwarfed by the Slovenian Alps to the north and by an ancient castle high on the eastern hill, I was enjoying the best day of my summer vacation." Take the reader with you through this wonderful experience, using extra phrases and clauses beyond the simple subject and verb of the sentence. 4. A challenge. You can draw the reader into your argument if you advertise that you have learned something that goes against common knowledge. Perhaps you figured out that cats actually love to be petted the "wrong" way, back to front. Example: "Although my parents had warned me never to pet a cat from back to front, I recently discovered that Stitches can't get enough of my 'backward' attentions." This sentence suggests that the writer is willing to challenge cultural norms, which a lot of colleges want to see their students learn to do. Note that this kind of opening frequently starts out with the common knowledge but adds a challenging word such as although, but, while, or even though somewhere in the first clause, and then suggests the content of the challenge in the second clause. 5. A warning. A reader will pay attention when there is something to be concerned about. Examples: "I wish someone had told me two years ago that sometimes a pool of water on the road is really a mirage!" "When I worked for Representative Smith's political campaign last summer, I learned that pollution from factories in our state is far less of a danger to public health than runoff from farms." The second example shows that the writer knows something that readers should be aware of, that the writer did some interesting work, and that the writer learned something valuable from the experience. The First Paragraph The goals of your first paragraph should be (1) to communicate the thesis to the reader, and (2) to lead your reader to say, at the least, "this essay is a contender." 1. The thesis. Unlike an academic essay, sometimes the thesis of an admission essay does not assert an argumentative or aesthetic point. In many cases, it is a onesentence summary of the overall topic of the essay. Moreover, the first sentence often can serve as the thesis. Take, for example, the line above about rowing on Lake Bled. If the point of the essay is to describe the joys of the best day of your summer vacation, the words "I was enjoying the best day of my summer vacation" explicitly give the message of the essay. On the one hand, this message would fall short in an academic essay, because all you're doing is telling a story. True, you will be presenting evidence to support the thesis, but what's academically interesting about your great day? On the other hand, providing a message about what you value is just the kind of action that admission officers want you to perform.

But you could just as well take the admission essay in an interesting, more academic direction. Maybe the greatness of the day is just a backdrop for your real point: Lake Bled is so great because it hasn't been commercialized into a "tourist attraction." Your thesis could be something like, "The best part of my experience was the solitude, the feeling that I could enjoy the whole day without the presence of car horns, ice cream vendors, or tourists wearing 'Lake Bled' T-shirts." Or you could use that sentence to lead into an explicit thesis on the same topic: "I felt fortunate that Lake Bled is so much unlike 'tourist attractions' back home." 2. Becoming a Contender. In addition to choosing a meaningful topic and constructing a terrific first sentence, developing a crisp opening paragraph can impress your readers. This requires some ruthless cutting and perceptive editing. The shortest opening paragraph could be just one line of dialogue. In a narrative essay, occasionally a one-sentence opening paragraph can be effective. The shortest standard opening, however, is no shorter than three fairly short sentences. Beyond that, you could go up to eight sentences if you have, say, a two-page personal statement to write. But most uninspiring essays are top-heavy: they are too bulky in the first paragraph, so the reader has to wade through too much material before getting to the point. Here are two ways to keep your opening crisp: a. Classify the information in the first paragraph into either "explanatory" or "introductory" material, and then move all the explanatory material elsewhere in the essay. The introduction is for introducing, not explaining. b. Commit, at least for now, to cutting the paragraph by half. It won't be enough just to improve the style and "tighten up" each sentence; some sentences will have to go. Identify the weakest sentence, and cut it. Then cut the next weakest sentence. Maybe you can save a phrase by incorporating it elsewhere in the paragraph, but the rest of the sentence can go. Keep going until it really would feel quite painful to cut further. As you cut, think about what each sentence actually accomplishes for you and for the essay, and if it doesn't pull enough weight, wave it goodbye. The Body Since there are so many different kinds of successful essays, no guide can tell you specifically what material to include. You are the master of the details in your experience; you are the master of ceremonies as you present your words to the reader. Even so, the usual guidelines about essay writing apply: see "One Point Per Paragraph," "Don't Forget the Point," "What Counts As Evidence," "Transitions," and so on under Academic Essays. Even so, an admission essay is often much shorter than an academic essay. Try cutting every paragraph by half, just as in the introduction. Make sure you know what each paragraph is accomplishing, and be able to explain how each sentence contributes to the goals of the paragraph. For example, a lot of description of the scene is great when the point is to evoke the scene, but very questionable when the point is to do something else. Don't Get Caught In a Lie You might be surprised at how often admission officers spot exaggeration and outright lies in admission essays. An essay with such a flaw can quickly sink an application. The best way to avoid getting caught in a lie is not to lie. Don't discuss your friend's eye transplant (there is no such thing). Don't even change a sunny day to a rainy day in an attempt to heighten the drama; you may leave another

detail unchanged that depends on the day having been sunny. Don't say that it was pitch black outside and then name something that you saw. Don't describe how amazing it was on a certain night, with the stars shining, if you were in a major city where you can never see the stars. The lesson here is that you or your editor must be a very strict fact checker, or a good detective. All the details of your narrative must be consistent and believable, both within the essay and given the rest of your application. This does not mean that you shouldn't creatively interpret an experience. Remember that you can shape your readers' experience of your essay by drawing their attention to some details and not others. If you don't quite remember what people actually said and did, record what they probably would have said or done, on the basis of what you know about them--and that will be a genuine interpretation of what probably happened. This advice also applies to what you have said and done. If you did a good thing, for instance, you can frame your action as a sign of a particular moral quality. The person on the Turkish minibus above, for instance, may have been a lot more afraid and a lot less courageous than the paragraph expresses. On the sentence level, note that most adverbs are the writer's own interpretations of an action, and adverbs sometimes can reinterpret events just enough to make your point without stretching the truth. The Last Paragraph In a short essay, the last paragraph often can do a lot more than sum up the essay. In an academic essay the body paragraphs tend to lead the reader to a kind of plateau, followed by a "conclusion" with a markedly different feel: the reader knows the essay is ending. But a short essay like an admission essay often has a more organic structure: the reader can carry along in memory pretty much the whole essay at the same time. You can save the feel of a conclusion for the last one or two sentences. Finishing Touches It is possible to write a strong essay without having read any writing guides and without getting any help from others. But this is inadvisable. 1. At the very least, get the reactions of one student or peer reader and one reader above that level (a teacher, parent, boss, or professor). Try to engage them in conversation about the essay's strengths and weaknesses. 2. At the very least, read your essay out loud to catch typos and, more importantly, to hear the tone and flow of the essay. Try to read it in the presence of a peer and/or a superior, and have that person read it back out loud to you. Remember that the reader of your essay will read as the essay looks on the page, not the way you imagine it sounding in your head. 3. At the very least, put the essay aside for a minimum of 24 hours after it is "finished," don't even think about it, and then return to the essay with a renewed mind and a fresh eye. To make the most of that time, give others the essay so that they can suggest some editing improvements for you to consider. GradeSaver has extensive experience providing such advice; let GradeSaver give you specific directions for editing your essay to excellence.

Scholarship and Award Essays


Introduction Scholarship and award essays have a lot in common with admission essays, but the standards for winning essays are much higher. Hundreds or thousands of applicants

might be trying to win each spot. The grammar, spelling, sentence structure, organization, and content of your essay all must be impeccable. It is essential to persuade readers that you have the winning essay. Readers can spot losing essays a mile away: they contain errors or fail to follow directions, the title is boring, the first sentence or two are uninspiring, the thesis is common and boilerplate. Winning essays win with a combination of a solid, engaging, thoughtful, well expressed argument or topic; a meaningful title; an introduction that makes you stand out as a winning personality; a strong exposition that fits the institution's values; and perfect copy editing. How can you improve your material so that it is ready to be edited to excellence? This brief guide helps you get it right before you go down the wrong path. For further assistance developing your essay, consider GradeSaver's Deluxe Harvard Editing Service for scholarship and award essays. Follow All the Rules Before you start working on your essay, make sure you know all the rules. Do not test the patience of your readers by breaking even a minor rule. When it is possible to do so, get the latest set of rules from the organization's web site--they might have changed since the last time you checked--and look up the rules again before you submit your essay. Basic rules to watch out for include the due date (sometimes the deadline is extended), the length (maximum or minimum words or pages), margins and fonts (use standard ones if there are no explicit rules), and the title (sometimes a certain title is required). Most importantly, make sure you very clearly understand what you are supposed to write about. If the prompt reads, "Account for your opinions about the role of the United States in global warming," that is exactly what you are supposed to do. It would be wrong to frame your essay around global warming. It also would be wrong to frame your essay around the U.S. contribution to global warming, or even the U.S. role in general (in some ways contributing to it, in other ways reversing the effects). It even would be wrong to frame your essay around your opinions about the role of the U.S. in global warming. Indeed, the prompt asks you to do none of those things. You are supposed to account for your opinions on that topic. The real topic of your essay might be, for example, a book you read, a television show you watched, or a news report that led to your opinions about the U.S. role in global warming. Likewise, if you are required to include certain themes or sources in your essay, do not fail to include them. Meeting the Deadline Usually there is no real difference between submitting your essay weeks in advance and sending it by express mail on the last day. An office assistant will put your essay in the pile for your readers, all the same. The advantage of submitting your application early is that if there is a problem, you might be contacted early enough to be able to correct it. The advantage of taking extra time is that you might need it to improve your essay. If it looks like you are going to miss the deadline, it's worth a shot finding out if you can submit part of your application by the deadline and then the essay a day or two later. These exceptions are made for letters of recommendation all the time, because the applicant should not have to suffer from someone else's mistake. You never know

if the office assistant is going to be in a good mood and might generously let you sneak by, even when the mistake is your own. Make direct contact with the organization if you can, and see what you can do. Do You Know What the Institution Values? To stay with the example above, note that it might be ok to challenge the premise in the question: you might argue that global temperatures cannot be affected much at all by human action. Your startling thesis might be, "Since I have come to believe that global temperature change is an entirely natural process and almost nothing can be done about it, I am convinced that the United States has no significant role in global warming." But would this essay topic be advisable? It all depends on which organization asked you to write the essay. What does the institution value, and what beliefs do its members hold? Would the institution be proud to put your essay on its web site? It is essential to learn what the institution values and then to demonstrate in your essay that you support those values. An essay about you should show that you either exemplify those values already or aspire to achieve them through some aspect of your life and work. An essay about the values themselves can interrogate those values a little, but ultimately must come out in favor of the institution's central values (if not also the secondary values). If you do not genuinely share those values or at least tolerate them, consider carefully whether you really want to enter the contest. If you are a committed capitalist and win an award from a strongly communist organization (or vice versa) and put the award on your resume, what will this award suggest to potential employers? Maybe the $500 prize will come back to haunt you and you will lose a $50,000 job offer. Note that in many scholarship and award contests, the organization is a billion-dollar foundation with very general central values. It is hard to go against the value of "education" or "science" broadly speaking, and the organization will not expect you to address those kinds of values in a general way. Instead, the organization often values and honors the same kinds of values that you would demonstrate in an admission essay: academic excellence and strong academic character; potential for success; strong social skills; strong communication skills; or personal virtues. These values and virtues are explained in detail under Admission Essays. Indeed, some of these characteristics might be explicitly mentioned as criteria for the award. Read the scholarship or award announcement carefully to see if certain personal criteria are given explicitly or implicitly. Remember that even when you are writing about a topic other than yourself, your essay instructs the reader about you, both directly and indirectly: this is what I find interesting or valuable; this is how I solve problems and withstand challenges; this is why the institution should establish a relationship with me by supporting me. Most programs already expect that the essays of the top candidates will be written very well. What they are looking for is the winning essayist as well as the winning essay. How to Be the Cream of the Crop A lot of finalists will have perfectly edited essays with interesting titles and solid arguments, backed up by implications and other evidence that the candidates are smart, thoughtful, hardworking, and engaged. What will make your essay rise above the rest? 1. Do more research than the competition. On the practical side, note that some contests list the names of the judges. Look them up, learn what the judges value, and

write with those particular readers in mind. Keep in mind that only one judge might read your essay carefully before you become a finalist. On the research side, give yourself extra time to research the topic. When the topic involves something like global warming, you can get specific data to back up your arguments. When the topic involves yourself, make sure that you get the circumstantial details correct: is that castle at Lake Bled really 900 years old, and is it really on the eastern hill? If you are writing about a personal experience, engage in some honest introspection to truly understand and account for your thoughts and feelings. 2. Write more drafts than the competition. Give yourself time to look at your topic from additional perspectives. Try out the same basic essay from different points of view. Maybe you should tell a vacation story through the eyes of your younger brother or your mother, or from the perspective of all of you together, or you might explain the same experience from each person's perspective to note the differences, or you could narrate it in the third person as though from a distance. Keeping in mind the values of the institution, maybe you should write the global warming essay from the perspective of a fish, a U.S. Government official, a Louisiana citizen, or an environmentalist, or you could put some or all those perspectives in conversation, or you could write a clear and precise scientific account. You won't have a good idea of how it reads until you give it a try. Similarly, try different arrangements of phrases in a sentence, sentences in a paragraph, and paragraphs in the essay. As your experience develops and your style improves, you will gain a more intuitive sense of what structure will work best, so you will not have to go through all the permutations every time. 3. Get more help than the competition. It is not unusual for professional academics to spend a couple of years gathering information, writing drafts, and publishing a finished essay. During that time, a dozen people may have contributed directly or indirectly to the finished product: some of them have contributed ideas and provided research direction, while others have read multiple drafts, and still others have edited the "final" manuscript. (Check out the "acknowledgments" section of a book for a long list of names including family members, assistants, typists, and professional editors.) This process is completely acceptable, even though only one author's name might go on the finished project. This is because the author chose the thesis, maintained "creative control" over the project, and cited substantial contributions where necessary. You can do the same, limited by your time and other resources. Different people or services can contribute different skills. Let GradeSaver help you every step of the way. 4. Be remembered. You are more likely to be remembered favorably when something good stands out in your essay. As for admission essays, this can mean writing about something (1) specific, (2) unusual or startling, and (3) personally meaningful. See "How to Be Remembered" under Admission Essays for specific advice. Furthermore, an essay showing that you have mastered your subject will be remembered for sheer intellectual achievement. Would You Survive an Interview? Some competitions involve not just an essay or two but a resume, an additional writing sample, and even an interview for finalists. Think ahead of time about a potential interview. Will you be able to defend and corroborate the information in your essay? Will you have something worthwhile to say if someone asks you further about the experience or about the research you did? If someone presents an argument that goes against your position, will you be able to respond? Can you restate your argument

from memory? Could you speak about it intelligently for two or three minutes if necessary? Even if you are not going to have a formal interview, you will benefit from considering these questions. Imagine somebody interrogating you about your topic, presenting counter-evidence and counter-arguments. Make your essay solid enough to withstand the pressure, and show that you have considered alternative positions. Writing the Essay: The Title In scholarship essays, the title often makes a great deal of difference. A smart, catchy, relevant title marks the essay as worth reading and the essayist worth noting. 1. Usually it is not enough to name the subject of the essay in the title. It is especially important to go beyond the general theme in competitions where all contenders are responding to the same prompt. Give, in addition, a sense of the argument of the essay. 2. Write as specific a title as you can without going on too long or emphasizing only part of the argument. Remember that whatever you promise in the title must actually come through in the essay. 3. Consider using some of the words (or synonyms for the words) of the prompt, but do not simply restate the whole prompt, unless you are specifically instructed to use the prompt as the title of the essay. Even so, if you are submitting several essays in response to different prompts, make sure that the titles clearly suggest which essay goes with which prompt. 4. Presenting a promise often engages the reader. Titles that begin with "How" or "Why" promise that you will explain something worth understanding. Similarly, presenting a question in the title is basically a promise that you will provide some sort of answer in the essay. 5. A common practice in writing titles is to give two versions of the title separated by a colon. See the first example below. Example 1: Lake Bled. Not: "A Great Day in Summer," not: "A Summer Day Worth Remembering," not: "Lake Bled in Summer," not: "My Favorite Day in Bled." The fact that it was a summer day is not part of the argument. Instead, consider: "True Peace and Quiet: The Undiscovered Treasures of Lake Bled." Example 2: Global Warming. Not: "Global Warming," not: "My Opinions about Global Warming," not: "How U.S. Policy Contributes to Global Warming," not: "Accounting for My Opinion That U.S. Policy Causes at Least 40% More Global Warming than the Policies of Other Countries." Instead, consider: "Does U.S. Policy Contribute More to Global Warming than Any Polluter? An Environmentalist's View." The First Sentence The first sentence of an award-winning essay must look the part. In other words, aim for an award-winning sentence. It can be short, medium, or long, but it must orient the reader in terms of tone, content, and language. Use it to start preparing your readers for the "trip" that you have designed for their benefit (see "Take Your Reader on a Trip" under What Makes a Good Essay?). Tone. Choose a tone that is appropriate to the rest of the essay. Is this an investigative or instructive essay, or one where you examine different points of view? If so, consider starting with a question. In contrast, if you aim to move the reader

through an emotionally powerful essay, consider giving a sense of emotion from the beginning. Or if the point is to delight the reader with an engaging story, use narrative or dialogue from the first sentence. Or if you are entering a battle zone, decide whether you are a combatant or a neutral reporter, and show your perspective in the first sentence. Content. Just as in the title, the content of the first sentence should be preparing the reader to learn your perspective on your topic. This means, again, choosing a level of specificity that is not too broad. A broad first sentence that suggests a Funnel structure (see Take Your Reader on a Trip) automatically is at a disadvantage. Note, however, that an extremely specific first sentence (even a very carefully chosen statistic), while all but impossible in a title, can be an effective opening. Get right to the issue. Again, to use a familiar example, consider these alternatives. Not: "Global warming is fast becoming a problem that every nation will have to reckon with." That's too general. Instead, consider: "Not only has the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and reduce the U.S. contribution to global warming, but existing U.S. standards for greenhouse gas emissions also have failed to encourage polluters to decrease levels of emissions." This line could set up a thesis statement such as "No organization has done more to publicize the U.S. role in global warming than [an organization whose principles and goals match those of your readers], which has spent ... million dollars to convince me and millions of others that the United States should strengthen its emissions policies." Language. In the example above, note that the tone is somewhat combative (the essayist takes a side) and that the content is clearly signaled. But the combative language is still respectful: although the U.S. and its emission standards are said to have "failed," the writer does not challenge anyone's motives--perhaps there are good reasons why the failures have occurred--and does not name any specific "polluters." (Furthermore, when you get to the thesis suggested above, invoking the efforts of a well-endowed organization not only shows that the problem has been considered significant but also puts your words in the company of a group larger than merely yourself.) In addition, the vocabulary fits the subject: in an essay that concerns global warming, readers with a good education might expect references to "greenhouse gas emissions" and the Kyoto Protocol. These terms hardly need to be defined for the target audience of readers; the terms help show that you are familiar with the subject. Finally, note that no extreme language is used: the U.S. and polluters are not portrayed as "the problem" but just as contributors to the overall, complex situation. In any case, the first sentence of a great scholarship essay often is much like the first sentence of a great admission essay or academic essay. See "The First Sentence" in Admission Essays and Academic Essays for further important advice. Remember that early drafts of your first sentence should be just enough to get you started as you write and revise. Later, when you have a solid command of your argument and a perfect feel for the tone of your essay--this may not be until after you have written several drafts--you can spend time focusing on the first sentence. Don't get bogged down before the rest of the essay is in place. The First Paragraph In a great opening paragraph, every sentence does significant work. Each sentence requires significant attention to tone, content, and language. The two anchors are your opening sentence and your thesis sentence, but these do not lie apart from one another or from the rest of the sentences. Like an interlocking framework, all the sentences work together; even a small shift in one sentence could affect all the others.

For example, let's stay with the paragraph on global warming. "Not only has the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and reduce the U.S. contribution to global warming, but existing U.S. standards for greenhouse gas emissions also have failed to encourage polluters to decrease levels of emissions. Emissions from factories, cars, and ? [research a third item] have been increasing dramatically every year in the United States [check facts and cite], while most other industrialized nations have been able to hold emissions fairly steady in at least one of these areas in the years since the Kyoto Protocol [check facts and cite]. These other nations--x, y, and z in particular--have succeeded primarily by enforcing strict emissions standards and by simultaneously demonstrating a commitment to improving the environment. The United States, in contrast, has pursued some policies that have encouraged additional air pollution, such as XXX. No organization has done more to publicize the U.S. role in global warming than ..., which has spent ... million dollars to convince me and millions of others that the United States should strengthen its emissions policies." Again, note that the writer leaves some material for future research. Much of the content work can be performed later and added to the next draft. Just remember that when your research suggests an alteration in the argument, the argument should be changed accordingly. The Body The body of an outstanding scholarship or award essay has the same features as outstanding essays in general. Again, see Admission Essays and Academic Essays for significant advice. Remember that each body paragraph should be a discrete unit with a clear point, taking the next reasonable step as you proceed through a consistent line of argument. Dealing thoughtfully and intelligently with counter-claims and counter-evidence is often essential to award-winning essays. Readers want to know that you have considered your position carefully. This includes demonstrating that although you have considered other positions, you remain persuaded that your position is the strongest. The following advice also is essential for essays in which you do not take a position but present a variety of possible claims in order to demonstrate your knowledge or interest in a particular issue. When you treat any claim that is not your own, especially a counter-claim, present it fairly and, as much as possible, on its own terms. Give each position everything (but no more than) it deserves. You even should "help out" that position by making it as strong as it should be--if possible, stronger than even its defenders have argued. When you give an opposing position every benefit of the doubt, you show a great deal of thoughtfulness, honesty, and justice. Then, you will have the prerogative, and your readers will be likely to join with you as you proceed to show why, "nevertheless," that position is flawed and that your position or someone else's is stronger. At the same time, pay attention to the relative amount of effort that the essay expends on your position versus the other positions. Usually the majority of the essay should focus on your own position, so do not get bogged down in refuting other positions at length. Likewise, do not worry about responding to every potential challenge to your position; it normally is quite enough to include your responses to the best and most significant challenges that could be offered. In covering the ground of your own position, make sure that you are using a high standard of evidence. Remember that evidence is often a quotation from another

source. Do not cite a second-rate source, including most encyclopedias, dictionaries, newspaper articles, popular magazines, and most of the material on the Internet. Even a strong Internet source is suspect among readers, simply because it shows that you did your research from the relative ease of your computer rather than at the library. Whenever you can, find a published source (usually a book or journal article) to cite in place of an Internet source. It ought to go without saying that your evidence also should be (1) relevant, (2) interpreted thoughtfully and accurately, and (3) appropriate. (1) Relevant evidence is that which pertains to the particular point being made in the paragraph if not also the entire argument of the essay. When you are searching for and choosing from among relevant pieces of evidence, look for phrases that are memorable and which use some of the key words that are used elsewhere in your point or in the overall argument. (2) Accurate interpretation of evidence involves understanding the evidence in its larger context as well as in itself. Thoughtful interpretations also bring out the importance of the quotation in its new context, the particular location in your essay where the evidence is brought forth. (3) Evidence is appropriate when it has the right length (not too long or too short given the amount of weight that it carries), the right tone (objective, combative, or whatever is necessary for you to illustrate or develop the point), the right source (a trustworthy rather than a suspect source), and the right form (in some places it makes sense to quote a speech or lines of a poem, but in other places only written prose will do). Although the evidence in the body of your essay often will come from sources that you quote and statistics that you cite, some evidence may take other forms. Winning essays often rely on a wide variety of relevant and appropriate evidence. For example, sometimes the outcome of a minor line of argument becomes a piece of evidence, that is, one of the premises of your major line of argument. Sometimes your own observations are the most important evidence, such as in essays that describe your own experience or achievements (including many admission essays as well as reports on your own scientific experiments). And sometimes your evidence is so obvious or commonplace that it need not be cited, although it might be essential to your argument, such as the idea that Einstein revolutionized Newtonian physics with his theory of relativity. The Last Paragraph In a short admission essay, the last paragraph often should do a lot more than sum up the essay. In contrast, in a long academic essay the body paragraphs tend to lead the reader to a kind of plateau, followed by a "conclusion" with a markedly different feel: the reader knows the essay is ending. In long essays, the conclusion can consist of two or three paragraphs or even as much material as an entire admission essay. A successful scholarship essay, often having a length between that of a short admission essay and a long academic essay, exhibits the best of both kinds of conclusions. In other words, a strong scholarship essay does not need to make the conclusion do the double duty of providing additional content and providing an ending statement at the same time, which is characteristic of a very short essay. Yet the conclusion of a scholarship essay should do more than simply sum up what has been presented so far. Likewise, a strong scholarship essay seldom needs a long concluding section. Most of the points to score have already been scored by the time the conclusion begins.

Instead, consider the conclusion as your opportunity to move your readers from the plateau of your argument to the best place they should visit next. Remember the metaphor of taking your reader on a trip: from the plateau, you and your reader are best positioned to see the overall landscape and to make a decision about the next step. The summary in the last paragraph should be clear (or in some particulars, implied), but some kind of intelligent, witty, perceptive, motivational, or otherwise interesting further remarks also should appear. What kind of further remarks you choose will depend on what seems most appropriate to your particular essay. Finishing Touches It is possible to write a winning essay without having read any writing guides and without getting any help from others. But this is inadvisable. 1. At the very least, get the reactions of one student or peer reader and one reader above that level (a teacher, parent, boss, or professor). Best of all, try to find a reader who is most like the readers who will judge your essay. Try to engage them in conversation about the essay's strengths and weaknesses. 2. At the very least, read your essay out loud to catch typos and, more importantly, to hear the tone and flow of the essay. Try to read it in the presence of a peer and/or a superior, and have that person read it back out loud to you. Remember that the reader of your essay will read as the essay looks on the page, not the way you imagine it sounding in your head. Even so, note that one of the judges might read individual lines or sentences out loud in order to persuade other judges that your essay deserves to win (or not to win). Make sure that your worst three or four sentences are still readable. Just as important, make sure that your best three or four sentences are memorable and of prize-winning quality. 3. At the very least, put the essay aside for a minimum of 24 hours after it is "finished," don't even think about it, and then return to the essay with a renewed mind and a fresh eye. Give yourself 48 hours or more if you can. To make the most of that time, give others the essay so that they can suggest some editing improvements for you to consider. GradeSaver has extensive experience providing such advice; let GradeSaver give you specific directions for editing your essay to the level required to win.