Your teacher hands you a graded essay. What do you look at first? Most college students turn their attention to the letter grade or percentage score. If it’s high, they are happy. If it’s low, they are disappointed. Many students end the review process at this point. What about you? If you want to write better essays, you will need to understand the criteria teachers use to score them.
A thesis is the essence of your paper—the claim you are making, the point you are trying to prove. All the other paragraphs in your essay will revolve around this one central idea. Your thesis statement consists of the one or two sentences of your introduction that explain what your position on the topic at hand is. Teachers will evaluate all your other paragraphs on how well they relate to this statement. To excel in this area, ask yourself these questions:
Have I clearly introduced my thesis in the introductory paragraphs? Does the body of my essay support my thesis statement? Does my conclusion show how I have proven my thesis?
A good essay presents thoughts in a logical order. The format should be easy to follow. The introduction should flow naturally to the body paragraphs, and the conclusion should tie everything together. The best way to do this is to lay out the outline of your paper before you begin. After you finish your essay, review the form to see if thoughts progress naturally. You might ask yourself:
Are the paragraphs in a logical order? Are the sentences of each paragraph organized well? Have I grouped similar pieces of information in the same paragraph? Have I included transitions to show how paragraphs connect?
Just as your clothes express your personality, the style of your essay reveals your writing persona. You demonstrate your fluency by writing precise sentences that vary in form. To illustrate, a child might write robotically: I like to run. I like to play. I like to read, etc. A mature writer uses various types of sentences, idiomatic phrases, and demonstrates knowledge of genre-specific vocabulary. To improve your style, ask yourself:
Will my sentences create an impact on the reader? Have I used various types of sentences (complex and compound)? Have I correctly used topic-specific vocabulary? Does the writing sound like me?
Conventions include spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and grammar. Having lots of mistakes suggests carelessness and diminishes the credibility of your arguments. If you make too many errors, your writing will be difficult to understand. Wouldn’t it be a shame for a teacher to miss the excellent points you made because of poor grammar? To avoid this, always use proofreading software, such as Grammarly, to weed out the major errors. Follow up with a close reading of your entire paper.
Finally, your teacher will examine your resources. Select information from reliable websites, articles, and books. Use quotes and paraphrases to support your ideas, but be sure to credit your sources correctly. Here are some questions to consider:
Have I demonstrated proof of extensive research? Are my main points supported by references, quotes, and paraphrases? Have I used the proper format for my citations? (MLA, APA, etc.)
Do you want to develop your essay-writing skills? Pay attention to the same things your teacher will evaluate. The grades you get on your essays are important, but you can never improve your writing if they are the only things you consider. Focus on improving the overall structure of your essays—the thesis development, form, style, conventions, and support. Learning to master these five elements will cause your scores to soar!