Improve Your Essay Writing Skills

A close-up of a female student at a desk; she is writing on a pad of paper. The desk is covered in balls of crushed up paper. She is trying to improve her writing skills.
The editing process will help you refine your essay
and improve your writing skills.

If you've been told time and time again that you express great ideas in your essay writing but your writing needs polishing, you aren't alone. The following tips will help improve your writing skills and turn you into a great writer.

Avoid repetition: It's an essay killer

Though it may seem difficult when writing a five-page term paper on a single idea or character, avoiding repetition is essential to improving your writing skills. When you use the same words ad nauseam, your reader views it as a sign of laziness. Here are three tactics that will help eliminate wordiness and eradicate repetitive words and phrases:

  1. The simplest approach to improving your writing skills is to eliminate the repetitive word or phrase from your essay.
  2. If you feel you need to keep the idea, replace the word or phrase with something similar. This may mean substituting a pronoun for a proper name, such as he instead of George; or it may mean searching for an alternative. Use a thesaurus only to remind you of words you already know but have temporarily forgotten. Don't select unfamiliar words that merely sound good; this risky path often leads to the use of words with different underlying meanings, which ultimately can hurt you more than the original repetition.
  3. The last of our techniques for improving your writing skills is more difficult, but usually the most effective. Begin by crossing out the offending repetition. Next, circle key words in the sentence (skip words such as a, of, while, it, etc.). Now craft a new sentence that retains the circled words but discards the repeat ones. This may require you to add more ideas to round out the thought, but our term paper editors have found that expanding on your new sentence in this manner will improve your paper.

Active voice: Breathe life into your essay writing

In order to improve writing skills, we encourage students to write in the active voice. For those of you who have misplaced your grade school grammar book, this means that the subject of the sentence performs the action; it does not receive the action. Compare the following examples:

  • Tom tossed the ball (active)
  • The ball was tossed by Tom (passive)

To find the dreaded passive voice, look for a "to be" verb (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, or been) followed by a past participle (often a verb ending with -ed). Ask yourself who is performing the action (the verb). Move that person or subject in front of the verb and make the necessary grammatical changes.

Trite phrases: Banish the banal

In order to improve your writing skills, force yourself to delete all idioms and clichés. Your reader wants original thoughts, not processed or canned sentiments. Yes, this means you must replace those mundane words with something clever of your own. Reduce—perhaps to zero—the number of similes and metaphors, particularly if they are common ones. There may be instances in which you have devised the perfect comparison, one that highlights the essence of your argument, but chances are that an experienced reader won't be as impressed with your creativity as you are. While certain types of writing (advertising, speeches, etc.) may call for this, such phrases are anathema in formal writing. Eliminate these to improve your writing skills.

Literary present: Just do it

When writing about literature, you must write in the literary present. Your natural inclination will be to write:

The river symbolized freedom and enlightenment for Huckleberry Finn.

But the literary present demands that you write:

The river symbolizes freedom and enlightenment for Huckleberry Finn.

A key tip to improving your writing skills is that everything should be in the present tense. It doesn't matter that you read the book last week, or that the author wrote it a century ago. Write about the characters and events as though they exist in the here and now. This is one of those conventions that is just easier to accept than to question.

Mechanics: Sweating the small stuff is important when improving your writing skills

Always run a spell check. It only takes a moment, and it will save you the embarrassment of turning in an analysis of Julius Caesar in which you consistently misspell Caesar. Pay attention to the suggested replacements when editing your essay, however, as these canned wizards do not always understand your meaning. Even Bill Gates can't turn "it" into "in" or "you're" into "your" for you, so you also need to comb through the paper carefully with your own eyes to find every error before handing it in. Brilliant essays receive lower grades if simple mistakes are left unchanged.

Ask for a second opinion

If you're thinking that this seems like a lot to remember, you're right. But focusing on one or two areas at a time will help you steadily improve your writing skills. If you need more help along the way, try our online essay writing course.

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