A Guide for Writing Better Essays

Complex and long sentences do not mean you express complex ideas. So, forget it! On the contrary, they usually indicate that you do not grasp the key concepts of the course, and you cannot relate your ideas to the course material. The most important advice anyone can give you about writing a better essay is this: express your ideas in a clear and concise way. Use active rather than passive sentences. Do not write in a taken-for-granted manner: because something is discussed in the class does not mean that you just can refer to it without explaining what it means, and without relating it to your own arguments or to the readings. I am supposed to evaluate your understanding of course material, and I can only do so if you demonstrate clearly that you understand what the course is all about (which is not the same as agreeing with the material).

1) Read the instructions carefully and answer all aspects of the question. If a question asks you to do three things (discuss, compare and evaluate), you must do all three. Keep your paper within the specified limits – shorter papers are almost always more concise in presenting the main ideas and conclusions. Make a checklist of the requirements and compare your paper before you submit. Do not forget to put your full name on the paper. Also, put number on each page, and staple it together. I am not responsible for lost pages, if you hand it in as loose sheets.

2) Use the key terms but define them to demonstrate that you understand them.

3) Quotes are the most difficult part of an essay to manage. They help illustrate that a) you did the reading, b) you can relate your topic/paper to the readings, c) you have learned the academic conventions for citations.

•  Block quotes that are over three lines long. Italicize or underline titles of books, journals, films, and television shows. Do not italicize or underline but put quotation marks around the titles of articles or chapters. Check spelling of names.

•  All citations should include a page number and be integrated into your writing. Cite texts both when you quote and when you derive information directly from it. This is not a trivial matter. Sloppiness with quotations may cause accusations of plagiarism. Take a careful look at the course material and find examples of quotes and citations to see how quotations and citations are made.

•  Draw on not only the course material but also on texts not assigned in the course. However, if you fail to cite the materials you use, it may be considered as plagiarism. This includes Internet sources. Citations for Internet material should include the URL.

•  Provide a bibliography at the end of the paper with the references you make in the text.

And again: Clarity is the key issue here. And also proof-read and spell-check before submitting.