Writing advice for undergraduates


in Daily updates, Rants, Teaching, Writing

I am in the middle of grading stacks of undergraduate essays. If I could give one piece of advice to the students, it would be that they should read their essays aloud to themselves when preparing the final version.

For each sentence, they should ask:

  1. What is the argument I am trying to make with this sentence?
  2. Do I make my point clearly?
  3. Is there any way I can make the sentence simpler or more specific?

Most essays I have looked at have included sentences that no person would leave unchanged after reading them aloud. All the essays have featured sentences that are unnecessarily convoluted or too vague to express much of anything.

Particularly when your essay is destined to end up in a stack to be assessed by a grad student teaching assistant, it is essential to make sure that your sentences are comprehensible and advance the overall argument you are making.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon November 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Also – if the topic of your paper isn’t made clear in the first paragraph you’re doing something wrong.

alena November 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

These are good suggestions for sure. If you have a clear thesis, it also helps you to formulate effective arguments and unobscured messages. Too many words often mean that you are not clear what you want to say or what position you are taking. that said, some literary masterpieces do not follow this formula at all. Faulkner comes to mind for me.

Milan February 3, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Draft of a longer version: “Essay writing tips for undergraduates”


Milan February 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm

With minor revisions: Essay writing tips for undergraduates (PDF)

Milan February 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm
Milan February 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm

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