by Muranda Mendez
As a college student, I’ve learned new tips and techniques that have made me a stronger, more efficient writer—and even made the writing experience more enjoyable. Sometimes I’ve found myself thinking, “I wish I’d known this earlier!”
So, here are five writing secrets that I’ve discovered in college that I wish I’d known as a high school student.
1. Find something you like about the topic
It can be hard to write if you don’t think the topic is interesting, or if you’re only writing with your teacher (and their gradebook) in mind. Of course, sometimes a paper topic is just uninspiring. But if you strive to find something you find personally interesting, the writing process will be a lot more enjoyable, whether it’s a literary paper or a research paper. If you find something you like, the writing process will be easier, and the end product will be more fun and interesting to read.
In high school, I dreaded Shakespeare. I found his writing dense, even more so when I knew I’d have to write about it. In college I also encountered Shakespeare, but I learned to pick something about his plays I actually enjoyed exploring. Rather than focusing on the entire play, I picked pieces such as nature symbolism or gender relations. It made writing about Shakespeare a lot easier.
2. Write five sentences
Figuring out where to start can be more difficult than actually writing the essay. If you’re having trouble, try writing out five sentences that could compose your essay. Here’s an example:
- Thesis: This is the sentence that states your argument and how you’re going to prove it.
- Example: A lot of students view essay-writing as a tedious task, but it can actually be fun and a great way to express themselves.
- Body #1: This is the sentence that begins the process of proving your argument.
- Example: Students focus mainly on achieving a good grade or pleasing the teacher, rather than the writing itself, making it seem more tedious and boring.
- Body #2: This sentence proves your argument in a new way.
- Example: If students focused more on what interested them, their writing would improve and the process would be more enjoyable.
- Body #3: This sentence is either a counterargument or another way to show how and why your argument is right.
- Example: They would express their opinions with more passion, making the final product more well-rounded and interesting to read.
- Conclusion: This sentence summarizes your argument.
Example: While many students view essays as a boring task, with the right mindset and set of tools it can actually be an enjoyable and enriching experience.
Often, the hard part of writing is actually organizing your thoughts. Once you have the outline sentences written, the paragraphs will be easier to fill in!
3. Use sources
Before college, I viewed the requirement to cite sources in my papers as an obstacle to overcome. In college, though, I’ve discovered that sources can actually be a valuable writing resource.
If you’re struggling with what to say, try finding sources on the topic. Often when I’m writing, I find a source that helps me think about the topic in a way I haven’t previously. This not only gives me more ideas about what to write, but it also helps me argue against potential counterarguments to my thesis.
While you don’t want to make your essay too “source heavy,” using sources to support your argument shows that you have research skills and makes your writing more sophisticated. Just make sure to accurately cite, whether you’re using Chicago style format or MLA style!
4. Focus on the “how”
When writing an essay, it’s easy to get stuck on the “what” or the “why.” If you focus on the “how” instead, you’ll have more to write about and your analysis will go deeper.
For example, instead of writing about “what” theme the author is trying to convey, write about “how” the author conveyed that theme. If you focus only on the “what,” you’re just reaching the surface of the argument. Writing about “how” allows you to write about symbolism, metaphors, foreshadowing and more for a literary analysis essay, or historical context, social implications and more for a research paper. You might find yourself exceeding your teacher’s word count!
5. Jump, jump, jump around
It might seem like it would be easiest to write your essay from beginning to end. However, jumping around helps keep you engaged on your assignment and makes it easier when you get stuck.
This is where the five sentences trick also come in. After you write the five sentences, you can go back and forth filling them in. Sometimes an idea for a different paragraph might come to mind, and it makes sense to write that idea in rather than feeling obligated to stay on the paragraph you’re currently writing. When you edit and run a grammar check, you can make sure everything fits well together. Sometimes I find that my essays have a stronger, more cohesive argument the more I jump around, because an idea from one paragraph inspired the next paragraph.
Becoming a better writer is a process that’s unique to everyone. However, these five tips and techniques have helped me enjoy writing more than ever before, as well as getting better at it. Try them in high school, and you’ll likely find you’re more prepared for college writing!