Essay essentials

Image via Disney
Image via Disney

Three things students forget to do when writing an essay

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor


As reading break concludes, most people have either just gone through, or are still going through their mid-terms. This could mean tests, projects, presentations—but most of the time it means you’ll be writing an essay.

This is an important time, because it is generally when your first major essay is due. The first essay always serves as a means of evaluating your teacher’s grading style. Are they harsh? Do they deduct marks for improper formatting? You don’t know until you get everything back and see what you did wrong, and by then it’s just too late. And, unfortunately, sometimes an instructor isn’t always entirely forthcoming with comments or reasoning behind the grades they give. So, as someone with a lot of essay experience under her belt, here are the top three things I see essay writers forget to do.

First—and probably the most important because it ensures absolute clarity in regards to your thesis—immediately after your introduction paragraph, devote a paragraph to definitions. What I mean by this is that, depending on your topic, certain words will pop up repeatedly. Things like “intertextuality” or “gender” must be defined if they are important in understanding your thesis. These definitions do not have to be official ones, they can just by an explanation of how you interpret the word, but it is important that your reader understands your exact use of the word, especially if it is one with varying definitions based on context or interpretation. If you do use an exact definition from a specific text or dictionary, then also remember to cite it.

Second, if you are overburdened and running low on time it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with citing videos. So many times I have been peer-reviewing, and I can tell that the student has watched a recap or summary video, and then has gone back and tried to link things they’ve seen in the video to a textbook or online article. Cut-out the middle man. Citing videos is actually amazingly easy; it’s just that most people aren’t taught how to do it in class so they assume they can’t. Check with your instructor first, but most of the time, as long as the source is legitimate, they’ll be fine with it.

Third is a really easy one, but one that people forget about. Consistency! This is actually related to two very different things. For the actual set up of your essay, make sure that your formatting is consistent and to the specifications of your instructor. If a teacher gives you specific guidelines as to what your essay should look like, they will probably deduct marks for improper formatting—and even if they don’t, not following their instruction could put them in a bad mood while they grade your work. Not good! The second bit of consistency is making sure your citation style remains consistent, not only to the type of citation you use—MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.—but also to the version of that citation style. These styles are constantly changing as they become refined or updated, so, generally, instructors are fairly understanding if you use an outdated version that you’re more comfortable with. The asterisk on this is that you should, and sometimes must, remain consistent with that version.

Hopefully this handy-dandy list gives you something to help you out the next time you have a major paper due. Good luck, and God speed, cadets!