How to Write Better Essays: 6 Practical Tips

20 March, 2014

Image shows a young woman writing in a notebook, sitting in a field.

The best students enjoy writing essays because they’re a chance to shine; they’re an interesting intellectual exercise in which the writer must craft thoughtful arguments on complex topics within the confines of a prescribed and often restrictive word count.

For many such students, each essay brings with it the challenge of making it that little bit better than the last one. The problem is that when you write essays regularly, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of repeating the same formula each time – particularly when you already receive good feedback from the teachers who read them. So how do you take your essays to the next level and go from great to brilliant? Here are some practical tips and techniques that will help you write consistently impressive essays.

1. Read other people’s essays

Image shows two students. One is peering over at the other's laptop.

Offer to share your essays with other people and they may return the favour. Even better: start a study group.

Just as the books you read subconsciously help mould your own writing style, so reading other people’s essays can help you develop and build on your own essay-writing style. Try to read a range of other essays, including those of your peers and of academics. Read essays on a wide variety of subjects, not necessarily just those that you’re studying; different disciplines might apply different kinds of arguments or styles, so the wider you read, the more possible techniques there are for you to pick up and use in essays of your own.

As you read other people’s essays, don’t just take them at face value. Be critical: what do you like about them? What don’t you like about them? How persuasive do you think they are? Is the argument a balanced one, with points adequately supported with evidence? Has the writer used any techniques you’ve not seen before?

Another good source of essays is the broadsheet newspapers. Read the opinion pieces and dissect how the writer has supported their points with evidence, and again, be critical; note where they’ve left things out to try to persuade you to a particular opinion. Essays should be balanced, so you can learn from the best of these writers and pick up some techniques to help you shape a balanced piece.

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2. Build your vocabulary and use it properly

Image shows two stacks of dictionaries and thesauri.

Make use of dictionaries and thesauri.

A good vocabulary will allow you to express exactly what you mean, as clearly and concisely as possible. Economy with words is a characteristic of all good essays, because readers (and essay-markers) don’t like having their time wasted with long, rambling points that could have been expressed in half the number of words.

One way of ensuring that you can communicate clearly and to the point is through accurate and effective use of advanced vocabulary. A good essay writer should never rest on their laurels when it comes to vocabulary; it’s something you should be working on continually, as there are always new words to learn that could help convey a point more effectively. What’s more, deploying a good vocabulary displays intelligence and allows you to be more persuasive in your essay-writing. Here are some ways in which you can build your vocabulary:

– Subscribe to a ‘word a day’ email (such as this one from Merriam-Webster). Create a folder in your email account for new word emails, so that you can file each email away and have them all in one place ready to flick through and learn from in an idle moment.

– Read widely, and refer to a dictionary for words you don’t know as you go along; this way, you’ll learn the new word as well as seeing it in context so you know how to use it properly. Read different genres of fiction, and non-fiction covering a range of topics, and you’ll have the added bonus of widening your general knowledge as well as your vocabulary.

– Use a thesaurus – if you find yourself using the same words over and over again, add variety to your language by looking up those words in a thesaurus and finding other words that mean the same thing. A word of warning: words you find in a thesaurus can’t always be used interchangeably; even words with similar meanings can differ subtly in a way that makes them inappropriate in certain contexts, so find examples of a word used correctly before you use a new word for the first time.

– Learn prefixes, suffixes and roots – it sounds boring, but this shortcut will help you learn a great many more words. Many roots come from Latin and Greek words, such as “bene” in Latin, meaning “good”, which gives rise to words such as “benefactor”, “benevolent” and “benefit”. It’s often possible to deduce the meaning of a new word if you know its root and read it in context. Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word to change the meaning, such as “semi” or “ante”, while suffixes are added to the end, such as “-able” or “-ance”.

– Start a vocabulary book – you probably have one if you’re learning a foreign language, so why not have one for your native language as well? Buy yourself a nice notepad and use it to collect new words and their meanings. The act of writing down the definition will help you remember it, and you could include an example of how the word is used to increase your chances of memorising it for use in essays. It may help to have different sections for words on particular themes; you could have a general section, and then further parts of the notebook could be dedicated to words of use in history essays, science essays and so on.

Image shows a waffle piled with chopped strawberries.

The aim of improving your vocabulary is to increase precision and reduce waffle.

Put the new words you’ve learned to good use right away, perhaps setting yourself the challenge of including a minimum number of new ones in each essay you write. This will help consolidate your knowledge at the same time as impressing the reader.

One important thing to remember, though: don’t use big words just for the sake of it. Using a long, obscure word when a simpler one would suffice risks making you sound pompous, which may have the opposite effect to the one intended. What’s more, be wary of adding words for the sake of it; cut the waffle by reviewing each sentence and removing any words or sentences that don’t add anything to what you’re saying. Ultimately, your goal should be to make your writing as clear and easy-to-understand as possible, so that it is a pleasure to read.

3. Words to help develop an argument

Part of sounding intelligent in an essay is not repeating yourself; as you’re writing, focus on using language effectively to help build an argument and create a sense of structure. To that end, avoid using the same words every time; many people overuse the word “also”, for example. Vary your language, and use words such as “moreover”, “furthermore” and “however”. Such words help develop your argument and make the reader feel they are being guided through the problems on a sort of ‘journey’ to your conclusion.

4. Elevator pitching your essays

Image shows rows of blue-lit buttons inside an elevator.

Would you be able to summarise your essay between floors?

We’ve probably all had it hammered into us that we should write an essay plan before we start writing, but before you even do that, you need to know what the argument you’re going to make actually is. Only then can you start writing the structure for an essay that builds up to your overall conclusion. To condense what you’re trying to say into a short, snappy summary for you to work from, try making an ‘Elevator Pitch’ style summary of what you intend to write and why readers should be interested in it.

The Elevator Pitch is a technique used by salespeople when condensing the arguments for buying a product into the shortest possible summary of why a customer should consider a purchase. The salesperson is told to imagine themselves in a lift; in the time it takes for that lift to reach the desired floor, they should have given a compelling argument in favour of that product that would result in the customer buying it, or at least wanting to know more. Your Elevator Pitch for your essay should sell the idea of it to a reader, leaving them wanting to read the essay in question. This is quite a tough exercise, as it forces you to be ruthlessly concise in your thinking and choice of words; but you can use this summary to help you write your introduction, and it’ll help you achieve clarity in what you’re trying to say.

5. Tell the reader what other people say

Image shows a state of a dragon against a deep blue sky.

Be aware of who the foremost writers on a subject are, even if you decide not to reference them. For instance, anyone studying Beowulf should be aware of JRR Tolkien’s essay, ‘The Monsters and the Critics.’

We’ve mentioned this on a previous article on essay writing, but it seems pertinent to mention it here too. Essays are a chance for you to show off how widely read you are, so make sure you quote other people’s opinions, and original sources, on what you’re writing about. For example, if you were to write a history essay on early religious practices in Britain, you could quote original texts on that topic (such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and also mention what a range of modern scholars have to say about the topic. Contrasting views should be sought; it’s unlikely that everyone agrees on the topic, so show you’ve looked at all the possible angles.

For each of the subjects you’re studying, start a page in a notebook for important people in that field, with a summary of when they lived and what their views are. That way, you’ll have something to refer to when you’re writing an essay and want to consult appropriate scholars or other writers whose opinions you might wish to include.

Don’t quote too much; mix citations with your own opinions so that it doesn’t look as though you have to hide behind other people’s words. It’s fine to disagree with a scholar you quote, provided you can give evidence and reasoning for doing so. This shows that you have thought about it and made your own mind up, rather than blindly accepting what that scholar has said; this demonstrates strong critical reasoning skills, one of the hallmarks of brilliant students.

6. Syntax, punctuation and tone of voice

Image shows a student falling asleep over her essay.

Be honest: do you find your tone of voice interesting?

You may not consciously realise it when you’re reading, but sophisticated sentence structures make the world of difference to how intelligent you sound. As we’ve already said, the most important consideration when you’re writing is making yourself easy for readers to understand; but you can still do this and utilise a range of interesting syntax at the same time. Employ a variety of sentence structures, long and short, but don’t let your sentences become too long and rambling, or they become difficult to read. Effective punctuation is vital in conveying your arguments persuasively; the last thing a teacher or lecturer wants to read is an essay riddled with poor grammar. What’s more, the reader shouldn’t have to read a sentence more than once to understand it.

You probably already have a tone of voice you use for writing essays, but is it interesting and engaging? Read through some of your old essays and ask yourself honestly whether you find them absorbing. If they’re not, it could well be because you’ve not established the right tone of voice. Essays constitute a formal, academic context, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring. A confident tone of voice will help show the reader that you know what you’re talking about and reassure them that they’re in safe hands.

Writing in the active rather than the passive voice is a well-known trick of the trade that writers use to give their writing a sense of immediacy and make it more compelling; you too can deploy this technique in your essays by steering clear of the passive voice (for example, rather than writing “Much work is being done to…”, say “Scholars are putting a great deal of effort into…”). Over the course of an entire essay, you’d be surprised what a difference this makes to your tone.

We hope you’ve found these tips and techniques useful and that they help you take your essay-writing to new heights. If you have any tips you’d like to share with us, do let us know by leaving a comment below!






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74 Responses to “How to Write Better Essays: 6 Practical Tips”

  1. June 10, 2014 at 4:16 pm, Jedi Santos said:

    Thanks for the tips!I’m looking forward for more! 🙂

    Reply

  2. October 15, 2014 at 6:22 am, preeti said:

    thanks for advice ……

    Reply

  3. October 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm, Rosanna said:

    I am so bad in my English essays, and speech. My teacher thinks I’m stupid and now i don’t know what to do.

    Reply

  4. February 11, 2015 at 11:12 pm, Prisca.Lingtamat said:

    thanks for the tips…please email me more.thank you

    Reply

  5. February 15, 2015 at 7:00 am, Qaistoorie said:

    It is accurate way to improve our Eassy.

    Reply

  6. February 15, 2015 at 7:01 am, Qaistoorie said:

    Wonderful

    Reply

  7. March 17, 2015 at 12:22 am, nermeen said:

    thats really helpful

    Reply

  8. March 18, 2015 at 5:10 am, Abdullllahi said:

    This is great work done and very important.

    Reply

  9. March 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm, ibrahim sinsakala said:

    ur tips are so helping
    thanks much.

    Reply

  10. April 30, 2015 at 8:00 am, maria bhatti said:

    I really need such kind of instructions thank u….

    Reply

  11. May 07, 2015 at 12:19 am, SYLVESTER OUMA said:

    I need the writing tips

    Reply

  12. May 27, 2015 at 7:33 pm, Prabhjot said:

    Well you cleared by all doubts and I will surely try to put these teachings in my writing ! 🙂
    Thank you

    Reply

  13. July 09, 2015 at 7:29 pm, Rbert said:

    Good work, a great deal of help. I am able to move forward.

    Reply

  14. July 10, 2015 at 4:19 am, kaushik varsani said:

    Thank you for the tips.

    Reply

    • April 09, 2016 at 2:33 pm, Genevieve said:

      Nice work!! >

      Reply

  15. July 26, 2015 at 3:21 am, Imey said:

    Thank you so much for the tips! Very helpful and I would definitely apply these tips in my writing soon! 🙂

    Reply

  16. July 30, 2015 at 11:56 am, folashade said:

    Thanks so much, will work on it

    Reply

  17. September 14, 2015 at 6:17 pm, Tsetan Namgyal said:

    Thinks for sharing a wonderful information..

    Reply

  18. September 16, 2015 at 7:39 pm, SwagataSwagata Khan said:

    I’ve received help from it. But still I have problem in vocabulary. The thing is I do memorize new words a lot. But when I come to write something they stay out of my mind, I can’t use them. So enriching vocabulary power is therefore of no use. How I can get rid of it? To use what I’ve learned.

    Reply

  19. October 02, 2015 at 9:44 am, jacob lawrence said:

    Wow, wonderful. I’m helped a lot and I’m looking forward for more.

    Reply

  20. October 16, 2015 at 7:31 pm, Flora said:

    Wonderful but my English is bad. Please send me tips on vocabulary.

    Reply

  21. October 31, 2015 at 9:56 am, godfreygodianus said:

    Your teachings are good I have enjoyed and I learned something

    Reply

  22. November 01, 2015 at 3:22 pm, nurwahyuni said:

    thanks for the tips..

    Reply

  23. November 02, 2015 at 3:23 am, Campbell Paul said:

    your tips are improving my essay writings. thanks, really did more tips.

    Reply

  24. November 04, 2015 at 3:01 pm, Patrick Berg said:

    Cheers lads. Really useful

    Reply

  25. November 05, 2015 at 8:14 am, Anna said:

    Thanks for the helpful tips. I believe this article can help many students.
    By the way it is a very good idea to subscribe to a ‘word a day’ email . I recommend it to everyone.

    Reply

  26. November 06, 2015 at 3:45 pm, Sunday said:

    Thanks for this set of tips. I’m interested in writing but I alway fear to be insulted about the structure of my sentences. However, I do underestimate myself.
    Please to whom may concern, what can I do to correct these acts?

    Reply

  27. November 11, 2015 at 4:47 am, iqra khan said:

    Thanks for this article… but if you have any other please let me know…!!! I always get low marks in my essays …

    Reply

    • November 11, 2015 at 1:59 pm, ORA Admin said:

      Dear Iqra Khan,

      Thank you for your comment. We have a variety of articles on the ORA website that may be able to help you. Follow the link to this article
      14 Ways to Improve Your Grades if You’re Underperforming and see point 7 regarding essay writing skills. There are a list of links in this section to many of our essay writing articles. You will be sure to find something to help you in there!

      Best of luck,

      The ORA Team

      Reply

  28. November 22, 2015 at 6:11 pm, NjQ said:

    Omg thanks so much, really helped! 😀

    Reply

  29. November 25, 2015 at 7:28 am, Dan said:

    These are great writing tips. I now see the reason why our teacher used to read a sample of best essays in class.
    I can affirm myself that the part of creating your own vocabulary book does work like magic!

    Reply

  30. November 26, 2015 at 7:31 pm, eben said:

    i find it difficult to write essay,how could i become master in english

    Reply

  31. December 05, 2015 at 2:12 pm, Atul kumar said:

    I was very bad in english essay writing competion but after reading this i think it is useful for me

    Reply

  32. December 26, 2015 at 5:16 am, Rajesh said:

    I am very poor in English vocabulary so please guide me for better English speak and write

    Reply

  33. January 07, 2016 at 1:14 pm, ary prastiya said:

    truly help me … thx

    Reply

  34. January 15, 2016 at 2:58 pm, Tom said:

    I think my writing skills will improve after reading this article! Thanks to author!

    Reply

  35. January 16, 2016 at 11:48 am, E. Writings said:

    I want to become a good writer but is hard to me. Hope this article helps me!

    Reply

  36. January 23, 2016 at 4:23 pm, Roohullah khalil said:

    it is very fruitful for me i read this article and i have learnt many steps that how to write a good essay. And now i am able to write a good essay. Thanks for sharing good material. I have no words for thank you.

    Reply

  37. January 24, 2016 at 7:19 am, Adrish adhikari said:

    I was very impressed by this teaching skills. I was very happy to say that this will help in my future. A lot of thanks from me to the author who had published this article. Again, Thanking you.

    Reply

  38. January 24, 2016 at 7:21 am, Adrish adhikari said:

    I was very impressed by this teaching skills. I was very happy to say that this will help me in my future. A lot of thanks from me to the author who had published this article. Again, Thanking you.

    Reply

  39. January 29, 2016 at 9:46 am, aysha said:

    it could have been more efficient if they were more creative.

    Reply

  40. February 21, 2016 at 10:20 pm, Bempong Charles said:

    Encouraging, keep it up

    Reply

  41. February 27, 2016 at 11:09 am, Cherian Johny said:

    My college Prof. once told us that Jack London used to stick new words near his mirror so that he could learn them while shaving, combing, etc. I found it pretty useful and I hope it helps others too.

    Reply

  42. February 29, 2016 at 3:36 am, katalinae said:

    This really helped me thank you very much I think this what I needed all along now I know what to do and if I do all these things I’ll be excellent .

    Reply

  43. March 07, 2016 at 6:43 am, Shahid Vistro said:

    Very informative tips. What should we do with narration. Should we change the sentences of direct narration into indirect narration while writing essay?

    Reply

  44. March 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm, andualem said:

    thank you

    Reply

  45. March 27, 2016 at 1:12 pm, Sulaiman said:

    Good suggestion. thanks

    Reply

  46. April 18, 2016 at 8:21 am, Lee Sue-Anne said:

    Thanks for these advice, I hope I can pass my o-level exams this year.

    Reply

  47. April 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm, christopher said:

    thank you for the tips

    Reply

  48. May 11, 2016 at 11:09 am, Shivam said:

    I am always confused about how to start writing an essay …. So ,please tell me how I am able to write an good essay …..

    Reply

  49. May 13, 2016 at 11:28 am, Debendra said:

    Its useful and guide me practically to start and end the essay. There are number of ways to present the essay, however, the tips provided here is awesome.

    Reply

  50. May 17, 2016 at 11:19 am, maya maya said:

    I want to write an essay on how to improve your writing

    Reply

  51. June 08, 2016 at 6:49 am, Camel said:

    Thanks for your tips! Really appreciate it.
    😉

    Reply

  52. June 19, 2016 at 9:23 am, Efrem bin Pascal said:

    exactly it’s helpful, I appreciated it.

    Reply

  53. June 24, 2016 at 8:07 pm, Mouhcine said:

    I have come thru the website while trying to learn different tips for elevating my and others’ writings skills and I think the aforesaid are great tips!
    Thank you so much for sharing this comprehensive post.
    Mouhcine

    Reply

  54. July 02, 2016 at 6:34 am, Md Bicky said:

    really it is nicely explained each and everything in a lucid manner. Thank you for helping to the millions of newbies like me!!!

    Reply

  55. July 06, 2016 at 2:16 pm, kashish kogta said:

    Thanks for your nice tips ,it clears my all doubts really it is so good website

    Reply

  56. July 10, 2016 at 8:21 pm, Olutayo Dorcas said:

    Am so grateful for these wonderful tips. It has opened my eyes to some overlooked essential tools for writing a brilliant essay.

    Reply

  57. July 19, 2016 at 5:59 am, Usman lawal said:

    thank you so much for the well done job.

    Reply

  58. July 19, 2016 at 6:01 am, Usman lawal said:

    thanks

    Reply

  59. July 28, 2016 at 1:22 pm, David T C said:

    quite insightful

    Reply

  60. August 11, 2016 at 3:49 pm, Vineet k said:

    Practical l food for thought , useful tips. Thanks

    Reply

  61. August 23, 2016 at 2:17 pm, Chang Otillia said:

    About this tip – Elevator pitching your essays, wonderful, try to use it later, please, write more tips, original like this)

    Reply

  62. August 25, 2016 at 5:19 pm, RICHARD E. STONER said:

    I’M NEW AT WRITTING ESSAYS. I HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE ESSAYS. I’M LEARNING TO BECOME A PHOTOJOURNALISM. AND IT’S STILL HARD FOR ME TO WRITE ESSAYS. MAYBE I’M TAKING UP THE WRONG COURSE. I DON’T KNOW. SO IF ANYONE CAN HELP ME OUT THAT WILL BE GREAT.

    Reply

  63. August 28, 2016 at 5:13 am, faris said:

    All the information above help me to improve my writing essay.

    Reply

  64. August 28, 2016 at 5:15 am, faris said:

    I have a problem with phrasal verbs

    Reply

  65. August 29, 2016 at 10:12 am, Lucky said:

    I find this article full of those things every writer needs. Please email more to me. Good one there!

    Reply

  66. September 06, 2016 at 7:08 pm, Ogene onyinye Mary said:

    I studied English and literary studies, but still having lots of problems with my essay. Don’t really know what to do because it really perturbs me. Am eager to learn

    Reply

  67. September 07, 2016 at 12:25 pm, Gopal Saxena said:

    thanks sir
    i am looking for job in backend profile.
    but i always get reject due to my essay writing is poor . So could you please help me out what to do . how can I improove my writing skill..

    Reply

  68. September 11, 2016 at 6:29 pm, Nazir Muhammad said:

    Thank you so much to give me such incredible essay tips ‘ I will followed all these tips.

    Reply

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