How To: Write an efficient essay as a college student

Photo: Meghan Findley
College students spend a substantial amount of time researching and writing essays during their college career.
Tips to write efficient

By Tracy Geibel
Staff Writer/Spectator

Students have been writing sentences, paragraphs, and even essays from an early age, but when coming to college, the writing is different than how they have learned to write in past years.

One important thing to realize when writing an essay is the importance of a strong, specific thesis.  An article posted on wlac.edu, “Seven Rules of College Level Writing,” by Holly Bailey-Hofmann, states, “You cannot start writing and hope that a thesis will emerge; in order to be a successful writer, you must have your thesis in mind from the beginning.”

By choosing a specific thesis, essays become more focused.  Often in high school, it is acceptable and encouraged to make generalized statements, but in college, using this strategy won’t impress professors enough that they will scribble the letter “A” on the top of the page.

Freshman student, Marah Morrison has seen a significant difference between college and high school writing.

“In high school, it’s just general,” Morrison said.  “They give you a prompt, and you write about it.”

Likewise, another student, James Palo, felt that there was a large gap between high school and college writing. “In high school writing is, in my opinion, regurgitating information that you learned or you think you’ve learned, towards an ultimate goal of (putting in) a minor amount of effort,” Palo said, “so I think of high school writing as a good starting point, but…college writing is definitely more beneficial.

Dr. Robert Holderer, Assistant Chair of the English and Liberal Studies Department and Director of the Writing Center, recommends that students write entire paragraphs without pausing, as it helps the sentences to flow together more effectively.

“Don’t keep on stopping yourself, looking up spelling and stuff, because language is in short-term memory,” Holderer said.  “You pull out things...like from a row full of file cabinets, and you have 15 seconds to work on that information before it starts disintegrating.”

Yet, when handed an assignment, many aren’t sure where to begin. To do this, Palo uses mind maps.  He uses them in his creative writing, but the same strategy can be used in essay writing. 

During this brainstorming phase, you don’t need to worry about how well an idea relates to the thesis.  After writing down many different thoughts, examples and possible points to make in the paper, then you must proceed to choose only the information which directly relates to the thesis statement.

It is important to research your topic and become an expert on it. In “Ten Steps to Writing an Essay,” from Schoolatoz.nsw.edu, the research step is second; you begin research after reading the question thoroughly.  

Resources can be found through online through search engines or databases.  The BaronForness Library’s on-line resources can be accessed by choosing the book icon on your MyEdinboro account.  Interviews with people who have occupations or interests related to the essay’s topic can also be useful.  

After all the research is found, outlines might become a helpful tool.  Outlines can give students a way to bring together their ideas and figure out which organization tactic is most effective. 

“Use one-line sentences to describe paragraphs, and bullet points to describe what each paragraph will contain…Map out the structure of your argument, and make sure each paragraph is unified,” according to “How to Write an Essay: Ten Steps,” on aucegypt.edu.

Once your ideas are organized in an outline, you can begin writing the essay.  By writing more often, your writing will improve.   

“I give seven assignments in a semester, one is the final exam which is take home, but six assignments over two week periods; I will have students tell me that they did more writing in that semester than they did in their whole high school career,” Holderer said.

This means the writing done before students enter college was spread out over a large amount of time. 

“Even though they do research writing supposedly in high school, a lot of it is like brand new to like college freshmen,” Holderer said, “In high school, when students did the longer papers, they broke it up.”

On campus, the Writing Center helps students learn to write at a college level.   It is located on the second floor of the Library.  According to Edinboro University’s web page on the Writing Center, it is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday 2-5 p.m., but is closed on Saturday.  

People can stop by, but appointments are recommended. When students go to the Writing Center, students discuss their writing with a professor or volunteer.

“Discussion is the best way because it is really helping students to clarify their own ideas,” Holderer said.

Tracy Geibel is staff editor for The Spectator. She can be reached by lifestyles.spectator@gmail.com