One of my favorite parts of my job is reading student essays. I love the surprising juxtapositions and insights, the pop culture references that have to be explained to me, and seeing students experiment with tone and style. Every essay is different, but many share a few common and easily remedied flaws.
The purpose of most essays is to answer a question, but sometimes, especially on timed essays, students are distracted by their compelling examples and do not clearly state the argument—they do not answer the question. Avoid this mishap by restating the question (prompt) in the form of an opinion in your opening paragraph. When timing is tight, this can serve as your thesis and guiding argument.
Another problem writers run into is how much analysis to do for each example. Examples are much easier to describe, and students tend to spend a lot of time with interesting details about each example. Remember that each example must not only provide evidence supporting your thesis, but also include insightful analysis as to exactly how or why it’s a good example. Connect the examples to the thesis. For a timed essay, you should have at least as many sentences of analysis as you do of examples. The analysis, rather than the example itself, is where students should spend their time: go ahead and make those interesting connections and compelling arguments.
Finally, we all know that writers should proofread their work. I have caught small but significant mistakes in my own writing; remember that one word can mean the difference between a crash and a crash landing. When writing a timed essay, though, it’s easy to skimp on this step or skip it entirely. Try to leave a few minutes to reread what you’ve written. You may be surprised at the corrections you can make.
These refinements will improve your papers and strengthen your writing. Keep those essays coming!