Believe it or not, there are people who actually enjoy writing essays. If you are not one of these people, that is completely ok. However, being able to write a solid essay is essential if you plan on studying in the U.S. As international students, it may be even harder for you especially if English is not your first language. However, the benefits of writing essays are numerous. Writing gives you the opportunity to explain your answers, research topics and gives you a voice. To help get you started, check out these 5 essay writing tips you need to know.

1. Create a 5 Paragraph Outline

Sometimes it can be good to go back to basics! Outlines are a great way to organize ideas in an informal way. For basic writing assignments, you should create a basic 5 paragraph essay. The 5 paragraph essay has the following headings:

  • I Paragraph: Introduction
  • II Paragraph: Body I
  • III Paragraph: Body II
  • IV Paragraph: Body III
  • V Paragraph: Conclusion

Once you have your essay prompt, you can start filling in the information that is associated with each heading. The first paragraph should always introduce the topic and establish the point that you are trying to make throughout the rest of the essay. Paragraphs 2-4 represent the body of the essay and should include the evidence to support the statement that you have made in your introduction. The last paragraph, or the conclusion, should tie up your essay like a bow.

Creating a 5 point outline is an important step when you are writing an essay. Your outline should be separate from your first draft and can include bullet points of the information that you need to write. Keep in mind that not all of your assignments will fit into that 5 paragraph mold. As you get into more advanced classes or research assignments, your essays will be far longer than 5 paragraphs and probably longer than 5 pages! Creating an outline can still be an effective tool to help you organize your thoughts and the information that you present in an essay.

2. Prepare a Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is one or two sentences where you express your position on the argument you are giving in an essay. The thesis statement is almost always in the middle-to-end section of your introductory paragraph. Your thesis statement should always be in the beginning of your essay because the body of your paper should support your view or opinion of the essay prompt. The very beginning of your essay should grab your audience’s interest. If relevant, you may consider starting your essay off with a quote that ties into your argument. Depending on the essay, you can also consider posing a thoughtful question that your thesis statement responds to.

Even though there is no magical formula for writing the perfect thesis statement, there is certain information that you should be sure to include. Most thesis statements should include the subject, the thesis idea and the three points that you will make that develops your thesis idea. Keep in mind that depending on the subject that you are writing can impact what each of these key pieces of information is.

Check out the following thesis statement examples to see how this is applied:

In Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, the complexity and solidarity of family dynamics is revealed by exploring sisterhood, marriage and mother-daughter relationships.

The Rosetta Stone provides key insight into the development of trade within society due to its location in ancient Egypt, it’s inscriptions and its historical context.

Jacqueline Schultz, a blogger for International Student, discusses how to write a compelling essay by providing technical tools, examples and humor (we hope!).

3. Avoid Passive Voice Like the Plague

Passive voice should be eliminated when you are writing an academic essay. Passive voice is a verb tense where a noun (other than the subject) performs an action. Active voice, as opposed to passive voice, is when the subject of the sentence performs an action.

Passive Voice: The essay is written by me.

Active voice: I wrote the essay.

College professors typically want you to write with an active voice. Writing in active voice tends to make your writing more clear, concise and organized. Active voice also tends to have shorter sentences, making your views more confident and direct. Passive voice can also be more confusing to understand, while active voice tends to move your thoughts along.

If you start to write an essay in passive voice, you will probably need to stop and restructure your sentences. It is important not to be discouraged. Everyone has written full essays in passive voice at one point or another. You may find it helpful to have a buddy proofread your essay for you. Ask them to look specifically at your sentence structure and highlight any sentences that sound incorrect. You can also try reading your sentences out loud. The act of speaking what you write can be an extremely useful method of catching any grammatical errors.

4. Never Include Personal Pronouns

Ok, I know, I know. I am not the best example of this tip. However, for an academic essay, you should never include personal pronouns. The only real exception to this rule is if you are quoting someone and they use personal pronouns. Some common personal pronouns include, “I”, “my”, “our”, “your”, and “we”. This tip may sound easy, but the implementation can be very difficult.

Although your essay is based on your opinion, which should be clearly stated, it is important that the essay should not be focused on you. It can, however, be challenging to persuade your reader that your opinion is correct without stating that it is your view. Though difficult, it is possible. To see a couple of key methods of expressing your opinion without using personal pronouns, check out the following:

Incorrect: “In my opinion” or “I think that”

Correct: “One can conclude” or “It may be concluded”

By substituting personal pronouns for generate nouns, you can effectively express your opinion. This can be an awkward way of writing at first. There is nothing wrong with slowly getting to this phase, though. Start off by writing your essay and using personal pronouns in your first draft. Once you have completed that draft, edit out the personal pronouns. This can be a great method of allowing you to get your opinion on paper, while also writing in a grammatically correct way!

5. When You’re Blocked, Take a Walk

It is no secret that every college student, whether they are international students or not, need three basic things: food, coffee and naps. It is also no secret that every student at one point in their college career is going to suffer from writer’s block. When that happens, rest assured that this is completely normal. Ernest Hemingway, author of some famous books like The Old Man and the Sea, had some key insight on writer’s block himself.

The best way is always to stop is when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

-Ernest Hemingway

Even if you have deadlines approaching, the worrying will not help get your creative juices flowing. Sometimes it is important to take a break from your work and unwind. It is important to have a well-balanced diet, get plenty of rest and exercise and do something you enjoy. Take a walk or go see a movie with a friend! Having a balance between your academic and personal life can make all the difference. You may even be able to use the experiences you have with your work. Hemingway certainly did.

Write a Little Every Day

Hopefully these 5 essay writing tips you need to know have made you excited about completing college papers. If not excited, at the very least they should provide some insight on how to get started with writing essays. Keep in mind that you do not have to write the perfect paper on the first draft. Chances are it will take multiple drafts before you are confident turning papers in to your professor. Be sure to check with your school’s student services office to see if there are any on-campus writing tutors available. Your school wants you to succeed and likely has varying resources at your disposal. One final tip that I would recommend is to write a little bit every day. Keeping a journal and writing a little bit every day will not only make you a better writer, but will give you the opportunity to enjoy it.

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Written by Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline joined the EIC team in 2017. She has a BA in International Relations from Rollins College. Prior to joining EIC, she has worked in sales and the nonprofit sector. Her passion for international education led her to Envisage.

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