Whether it is a narrative, a persuasive piece or a research paper, writing an essay can be challenging. The writing process is often a long road of false starts and lengthy revisions, where students must confront their assumptions of who they are as writers and dodge the bullets of writer's block and plagiarism. Correctly citing sources, writing a thesis statement and elaborating on ideas are a few common problems student writers face, and knowing these pitfalls can help you remedy the situation as you complete your essay.
Difficulty starting an essay is often one of the first problems student writers run into. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, this is usually because they have launched into the project without pre-writing. You can save time by first identifying the purpose of your essay, then brainstorming points you might make to achieve that goal. Brainstorming works best if you don't censor your thoughts; write down every idea you think of, even if you are certain it won't end up in the essay. Then, you can take this material and find the most important points to address.
A thesis statement is a sentence, usually located at the end of the first or second paragraph, that explains the essay's main point. Without a clear thesis statement it can be more difficult to structure and organize your ideas. One good tactic is to draft your thesis statement before you begin writing the body of the essay, then show it to teachers and fellow students for suggestions on how to make it more specific. Bright Hub Education also suggests evaluating your thesis to see if it is simple, declarative and limited to just one clearly stated main idea.
Voice and Audience
Because academic writing requires an objective, third-person voice that fits the formality of an essay, many students struggle with omitting slang, colloquialisms and everyday speech patterns. Conversely, they may feel the need to use big words and complex language in order to sound "smarter." Lincoln University advises students that "Good writing is written to express, not impress." Writers can accomplish good writing by selecting the clearest, most effective language within their own vocabulary that will best fit the topic and will be best understood by their target audience.
Fear of Failure
Many students struggle with insecurities about their writing abilities. Whether they just don't like to write or have had negative experiences in the past, they may be self conscious about expressing themselves. The Purdue Online Writing Lab reminds students that the first draft will never be perfect and that it is merely a starting point. Simply writing out a draft can often lift your confidence level. Expressing your insecurities to your instructor can also increase your confidence; teachers want to see their students succeed and will most likely be eager to offer encouragement.
Documenting sources through in-text citations and works cited pages is an important convention of academic writing. Unfortunately, confusion about how to cite correctly can result in plagiarism. Because most universities punish plagiarism regardless of intent, even one mistake citing a source can be considered a violation. Duke University explains that students can avoid plagiarism by carefully documenting sources as they do research. They can create a schedule for researching and writing the paper in order to limit stress and then review the correct way to directly quote and paraphrase sources.
- Duke University Thompson Writing Program: Working With Sources: Avoiding Plagiarism
- Bright Hub Education: How to Write a Thesis Statement
- PBS: Misunderstood Minds: Writing Difficulties
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Prewriting
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block
- Lincoln University: Editing for Formality
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