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Practicing Essay Writing to Get Better at Writing

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  • 0:05 Practicing Essay…
  • 0:51 Know Your Weaknesses
  • 1:58 Focus on Essay Structure
  • 2:55 Start Writing Timed…
  • 5:36 How to Evaluate Your Writing
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

It can be tough to practice your essay-writing skills on your own without a teacher's feedback. With some time and practice (and by using this game plan), you'll be on your way to practicing, evaluating and improving your writing.

Practicing Essay Writing to Get Better

Did you know that Ernest Hemingway wrote his first novel without ever having written anything before? Did you know that Steven Spielberg directed his first big Hollywood movie without ever having been behind a camera before? Of course you didn't know those things, because they're not true!

Great creative geniuses have gotten where they are through hours of honing their crafts and practicing their techniques. Your goal might not be to become a transcendent essay-writing master. Perhaps you just want to get a decent grade in your English course, or, better yet, to test out of an English course altogether.

Achieving those goals, of course, will take work - work as in writing sample essays and strengthening your skills over time. And, unless you have your own personal writing teacher just waiting around to give you feedback each time you do a practice essay, you'll need to develop a routine to practice your skills and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Know Your Weaknesses

If writing isn't your favorite subject, then I'd guess that dwelling on your own weaknesses when it comes to writing isn't your favorite way to spend your time. But, there can be a real pay-off for finally taking a bit of time to conquer the trouble spots in your writing. Being able to test out of a college writing course could be one of those pay-offs.

Think back to some of the comments that you've seen show up again and again on essays that you've turned in to teachers in the past. Have your English teachers constantly been after you for never putting apostrophes in the right place, littering your essays with comma splices, never using transitional sentences at the start of your paragraphs or all of the above?

You won't become a master essayist overnight. But, conquering a few of the most persistent problems that show up in your writing will be a huge help in terms of strengthening your writing overall. Building your confidence is key to becoming a practiced, better writer. Study.com Academy videos and a writing textbook - if you have one - can be great tools for this. Select just one writing concept at a time, take thirty minutes to review the rules for that concept and do a few short practice exercises to see if you can get the rules down. Remember: try to take on concepts one at a time to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

Focus on Essay Structure

Think next about essay structure. For those of us who get scared by the idea of having to write, essays might seem like big, mysterious blobs of words, the secrets of which only a select few people understand.

Not true. There are distinct ways of structuring different types of essays. For example, if you'll be required to write a persuasive essay, think about the fundamental building blocks that would go into that essay's structure.

You may have learned the basic 5-paragraph essay structure in classes you've taken. It's not a requirement that you always use this structure, and some writers find it less useful than others. But, if you're just starting to work on mastering the craft of essay writing, you could practice the five-paragraph structure, which consists of an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement, three body paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.

It's also a good idea to get into the habit of outlining the structures of your essays before you begin writing. This will help you ensure that you include all applicable points and important information in your paper. Outlining will also help you focus on structure as you practice writing essays on your own.

Start Writing Timed Practice Essays

No one enjoys sitting down and working on timed essays, except maybe this person. For most people, it's hard to commit to setting everything else aside, going into a quiet room, setting an alarm and completing a practice essay exam. While setting a timer for yourself might seem to make the task more unpleasant, it's actually a way to guarantee that you'll be replicating an actual essay exam situation and that you'll get through with an essay without letting it drag on for days.

Because many exams require that you write persuasive essays, it may be a good idea to start your practice with one. Give yourself an hour and a quiet room. You can hand-write or type your essay. Because many standardized exams offer only the option of completing your test on a computer, it's not a bad idea to practice on one.

For a timed exam, you'll be presented with an essay topic. For your practice session, you can do a quick online search for persuasive essay topics to come up with one that you're comfortable writing about, but with which you're not overly familiar. Remember that you want to capture the experience of taking an actual essay exam.

For some exams, you may be provided with some short excerpts of sources weighing in on each side of an issue you'll have to write about. So that you'll have some source material to work with for your practice session, take a few minutes to do a bit of quick, informal research through online searches to get an idea of a couple of points on each side of the issue. Make a note of those points. As you write your practice essay, you can use them as you discuss points in favor of and opposed to your position.

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