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May 16, 2006

DIY: How to Write a Good College Essay

Hello Readers,

Recently, someone left a comment to an essay on this blog that basically asked, "what does this have to do with ESL?" (see comments HERE). Since the subject matter of the essay itself was not an ESL topic per se, I understood (as did some of the subsequent commenters) that the actual question might have been directed toward the art of essay writing, or composition in general. I, for one, believe that composition and essay writing in particular have everything to do with ESL learning even if this blog does try to target English, as a discipline, in a very broad sense far beyond the confines of ESL-only.

Both Patricia Dean and Dr. Brenda Townsend Hall - on Hall's ESL School blog, have commented twice on student writing in English classes.

In the first article (HERE), Dean discusses how some students in today's classes seem reluctant to write and in another (HERE) Hall emphasizes the real need for students to be capable of writing an academic paper.

In "When ESL Students Won't Write," she says:

Reluctance to write has many possible causes. Writing may seem the most artificial of the language skills unless the writing tasks reflect the reality of the students’ worlds . . .

This concerns her because, as Hall suggests in "The Need for Academic Writing," there may be cause to wonder how well prepared our ESL students overseas are to follow degree courses in English-speaking universities. She says that the last time she "taught English for Academic Purposes [EAP] in a British university, what struck [her] about the problems students faced in writing was not so much their deficiencies in language structure (although they were serious enough) as their almost total lack of awareness about what an academic paper is."

Hall's opinion is that:

Academic writing must be firmly grounded in demonstrable fact; sources must therefore be cited to prove the authenticity of the facts and to avoid any suggestion of plagiarism. Students need to learn how to cite these references using one of the accepted style manuals . . . The academic essay is not the platform for personal opinion but for reasoned argument. If the student has a point to make, it must be made only as a considered conclusion that follows logical argument after consideration of the available evidence.

She then goes on to list and expound upon the different types of expository essays expected in the western university tradition. Today's "How to," or DIY article builds on this concept from the perspective of a new college student. The thoughts are provided here courtesy of English-blog contributor Daniel M.:

The Process of Writing a Good Paper

I don’t know many people who enjoy being forced to write a paper. Being able to write clearly and concisely is a very important skill, especially for people those who are in school, college, or in the business world. A person’s writing ability is frequently made obvious by looking at how the idea or concept is portrayed. There are five basic steps in writing a good paper: creating a thesis, outlining, drafting, proofreading, and editing.

The first step to writing a good paper is coming up with a topic or thesis, if one has not already been given. Brainstorming is a great technique to get the “creative juices” flowing. This technique consists of jotting down ideas on a piece of paper and from those ideas coming up with a topic. If a topic was already given, I explore it. I like to know as much as possible about my topic before deciding my argument. Once I know or understand the topic I develop a thesis, or a sentence that describes what the paper will focus on. Although some may find this step too time consuming or irrelevant, I find it the most helpful.

The next important step to writing a good paper is outlining. Outlining is like a road map, it gives a clear direction of where the paper is heading and in what order it will be informing the reader. Before I begin writing a paper I make an ordered list of how I am going to write it, with each word or sentence summarizing a different subject or paragraph. I start with writing the introduction, along with a thesis, and then right below that I start another bullet. In the second bullet, I write a topic sentence. Then, I begin another bullet and so on until I cover all the topics or subjects I would like to and reach the conclusion. It is not always necessary to stick to an outline, it’s simply there to help the writer and assist in giving direction.

The third step is drafting, actually writing the paper, and it brings together the first two steps. While drafting a paper, I make sure to stay on my topic that I received from brainstorming. I attempt to stay true to my outline, but it is not always necessary, it is just there to help. While drafting a paper I never worry about grammar errors or, how it sounds that is covered in a later step. The point of drafting is to get all of the ideas down. Drafting a paper is very stressful if I let how a poorly written sentence sounds bother me, it does not matter how it sounds as long as the idea it is expressing is understood. Writing a draft, or even several drafts, is crucial to writing a good paper.

I now move onto the fourth step which consists of proofreading. This is a very significant step, this is where the “best” draft is read and checked for errors; including grammar, structure, and flow. While proofreading I like to read out loud, it helps me pick up misused, improper, or even misspelled words. It also assists in picking out wordy or confusing sentences. Proofreading is one of the final steps taken to make a paper sound professional.

The fifth and final step of constructing a good paper is editing. This is where I use all the marks and notes I have made on a proofread paper and put them into use. I retype or change sections of the paper where it is needed and finish all the adjustments that the marked draft has to offer. This is the last and one of the most vital steps to make a paper sound its best. After revising the paper I go back and read it again to ensure that, with all the changes and alterations, the paper flows well and makes sense. If necessary, after re-reading the revised paper, I make small changes to enhance the final product.

Writing a good paper is a critical skill to have in the world today. A well written and strong paper shows the audience that the author has a very good idea about what he or she is talking about. A good paper can also sway opinions and show the authors true knowledge of what they are writing about. These five, easy to follow steps of creating a thesis, outlining, drafting, proofreading, and editing have helped me greatly in my high school and college career create solid and convincing papers.

~Daniel M.

*NOTE: For more English-Blog DIY or "How to . . ." articles, please click HERE!

Comments for Daniel's article "The Process of Writing a Good Paper?" Please leave them below:

Posted by lhobbs at May 16, 2006 10:59 PM

Readers' Comments:


Hmmmm....perhaps I am too naive, but I am always baffled when, in the midst of serious critical analysis and thoughtful expression,the question comes up "What does this have to do with ESL?"

I guess my bias is that, if there is anything a learner of a language needs to see, and be inspired by, it is the artful and persuasive use of language.

For example, when it comes to music, I love to hear music as I have never heard it before - where the familiar becomes mysterious and opens a door to thinking and appreciating when I thought I knew all the places music could take me.

Is ESL about grammar and correct usage? Yes, of course, but it can never be limited to that. True language expertise equips the learner to comprehend and express more than he or she thought possible. And we all, I would hope, keep learning.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it:
Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.

That's how I see my job as a teacher.


Posted by: Morf at May 18, 2006 06:02 PM

Note from Lee:

Thanks Morf. That's a great quotation by the way!

Posted by: Lee Hobbs at May 20, 2006 01:35 AM

"How to Write a Good College Essay". Much descriptive article. This is an fully loaded with guidance.

Posted by: Writer at May 12, 2008 05:58 AM

nice site this www.english-blog.com brill to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor :)

Posted by: meangem at April 16, 2009 09:15 AM

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