I’m sure many of you have been in the same place I am right now: Staring at a blank document and trying to figure out what to write and how to start. We’ve all felt like Spongebob before, desperately trying to write an essay but not being able to get past the word “the.” The blank-page phenonenom is a headache and a half. Writing anything important can be terrifying, especially when your grade is on the line.
But essays aren’t impossible, and you can ace your W course (or whatever class you have an essay for) this semester.
Firstly, figure out what you’re going to write about. This step looks different depending on what kind of class you’re taking, but, in general, it’s always a good idea to do some research first. Figure out what other people are writing about the subject, and then come up with a thesis or general idea of what it is you want to argue. Most papers want you to prove something, so try to pick an idea that isn’t obviously true. Otherwise, it isn’t an argument, and you’re gonna get stuck telling your professor what they already know.
Likewise, try to come up with something new. If half the essays you found online and half the students in your class are all writing about the same thing, then don’t just join the crowd. That idea has been done before and your professor is tired of reading about it. Try to come up with something unique or put a new spin on the topic. It will look a lot more impressive to your professor, and you’ll probably be graded well for your originality.
Once you have an idea, find your sources and pick out the main ideas you’re going to use for your paper. Then, find the quotes you want to use. Make a list of them and separate them into the main ideas they support.
Write a rough draft of your thesis and the general idea of your intro. Both will need to be edited by the time you finish writing your main paragraphs, so don’t worry too much about them. Give a little bit of background, get your ideas down and don’t look back.
Next, copy and paste your quotes into your essay. Since the quotes you picked out were chosen to support your thesis, you should already have a pretty clear idea of why they’re important to your argument, so just write around them. Introduce the quote and then explain how it is relevant to your thesis. Writing around the quotes makes the paper seem much less daunting because most of the hard work is already done. Your essay is pretty much already there; all you have to do is connect the dots.
When you finish explaining your main ideas, write your conclusion. Tie together all the points you made in the body of your paper. Make references back to your thesis, and then explain why any of this is important in the first place. There’s a lot of ways to end papers, but your goal is to have some kind of lasting effect on whoever is reading your work. You need some kind of profound statement, some kind of reason why your paper was important enough for them to spend their time reading. Hone in on your thesis. Make them believe it.
After that, go back and edit your introduction. Often, you’ll discover new things while writing your body paragraph or one of your ideas may not have panned out correctly, so update your thesis to reflect these changes. You might have also learned something else while writing your conclusion, so add some more specific material to your intro.
Then reread the entire paper. Make sure your points are clear and elaborate where you need to. Add transitions between your paragraphs that tie them together. Try to avoid the passive voice and cut out any excess words or lengthy phrasing. Keep your writing simple and concise.
If you still feel worried about your paper, have a friend in your class edit it and do the same for them. See if your professor or TA offers any kind of office hours when they’ll answer any questions you have about your paper. And, if you don’t feel like doing either of those, you can always stop by the W Center and have them help you out.
In general, the most important thing to do is just write the essay. Get a draft done, no matter how terrible it might be. Once you have something written, you can edit it a million times over. You just have to start.
Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.