As a future English teacher, I am an extreme essay nerd. I never used to be good at writing them, until I began thinking of essays as a formula. I have some pretentious tips for you to get better grades on your essays.
HAVE A STRONG AND STRUCTURED THESIS STATEMENT.
Your thesis statement is the back-bone of your essay. It must be clear, and state what your essay will be about. You should make a statement, give the reasons for why you think so (without examples) and use those reasons in your body paragraphs. For example (from an actual essay I wrote):
Spongebob SquarePants Movie movie focuses on the inner-search Spongebob and Patrick face about whether they are goofy goobers, i.e. children, or adults. Even with such a loaded plot, the film is driven by characterization, symbolism, and metaphors. Each of these devices help drive the theme of the film which is that the transition into adulthood should be embraced, rather than feared.”
Then, for instance, the body paragraphs would talk about how the devices of characterization, symbolism, and metaphors drive the film.
Paragraph 1 would be about characterization
Paragraph 2 would be about symbolism
& Paragraph 3 would be about metaphors – and in each paragraph, provide examples to prove your thesis.
2. PROVE YOUR POINTS!
Be sure to back-up your claims with quotes as examples. If writing an average-length essay, it is appropriate to have approximately three examples of your main point per paragraph, backed up by quotes, and describe how those quotes relate back to your point. It’s difficult, though, because sometimes it’s obvious about how the quote proves your point, but you just gotta do it. I suggest dissecting the quote or example you are providing word for word. Talk about diction (the use of words, the author’s choice to use the word) – teachers love diction.
3. REMEMBER THAT EVERY ESSAY SHOULD START WITH A GOOD QUESTION! (THOUGH NOT LITERALLY!)
It helps to ask yourself a question before you write your essay and then answer it. Though do not literally type out a question in your intro paragraph… especially in your first sentence! This question is just to guide yourself, but NOT TO ACTUALLY ASK IN THE ESSAY. For example, you can ask yourself: Which characterization techniques does J.D. Salinger use to portray Holden Caulfield as an annoying, whiny sap in The Catcher in the Rye? (For example, his narrative voice). Again, do not type this question out. But think of ways to answer it – such as citing his frequent use of “and-all” and providing examples of how Holden Caulfield throws a constant pity-party. Using the questions you have created, work from there to prove your point and guide your essay. Also, don't start your essay with a philosophical statement, such as "If the world were flat, could we fall off the earth?"
4. MAKE SURE YOUR CONCLUSION RELATES TO YOUR INTRO AND SUMS UP YOUR ESSAY!
To be honest, I have actually copied and pasted my intro into my conclusion (since high school) and re-worded it significantly. The point of a conclusion is to summarize what you talked about throughout the essay. In addition, don't end your conclusion with "In ___________ by ________" (or in your intro, for that matter). Also, don't end it with "In conclusion". Maybe write, say, "The tone of the movie Shrek 2 was clearly influenced by folklore and pop culture" and summarize the points in your essay. The intro of your conclusion can also be an adaptation of your thesis, if you wish. Just be sure to tie it all together! That way, if someone were to read just the intro and conclusion, they should know what you were talking about.
Other Helpful Tips:
- Pretend that the reader never read the book before (even though it is your professor reading it, and presumably they did). So, you should put everything in context. For example: "Elizabeth Bennet, the intelligent twenty year old heroine of Pride and Prejudice..." instead of just saying Elizabeth, because a reader who had never read Pride and Prejudice would not have any context as to what you were talking about.
- Do not summarize.
- Have fun! Even though you probably won't.
Hopefully this blog post helps everyone during the semester! Good luck!