I'm an English major. I enjoy writing.
Wait. Let me rephrase that: I enjoy having written. Because, in all honesty, the writing process sometimes makes me want to bang my head against the desk until my brain finally gets the necessary words and inspiration to form a coherent thought.
"But you're an English major; doesn't that mean you're already really good at writing?"
Not necessarily! I love English (which is a gift in and of itself) and that motivates me to write well and write better. That being said, here are five tried-and-true tricks to produce quality essays and develop your writing skills.
1. Read it out loud.
A major problem with writing is that sentences can sound unnatural, forced, or too long. Maybe you used the adjective "eclectic" in every other sentence. Maybe you chose words that are overly long and will confuse your reader. When you read your writing out loud, you get a feel for how your reader (often a professor or TA) will hear your words.
2. Action verbs are better than passive verbs.
Is, are, was, were, had, have, has, be, been, being.
These are all very useful words, to be sure. How else am I supposed to say, "I am about to fall asleep while writing this article"? There are a few different ways to say it, but in this case, the word "am" states my sentence clearly and concisely.
In contrast, read the sentence: "The ball was spiked by our team captain who is named Katie."
Now read this one: "Katie, our team captain, leapt into the air and spiked the volleyball over the net."
Notice the difference? In the first sentence, the action is done by Katie, but Katie is not the subject of the sentence. In the second, I placed Katie as the subject, so that the verbs of the sentence communicate the action going on.
3. Use the "Find" feature in Microsoft Word.
After reading step two, you may be wondering how to remove every use of passive verbs in your latest paper... Never fear, the "Find" feature is here!
In Microsoft Word, you can use the "Find" feature to search for words in your essay. I use this most often to locate passive verbs in order to reword the sentences to contain more action. Simply type in words like "be," "is," or "had been" to find and replace them.
4. One paragraph = one idea.
Keep it clean, folks! Each idea deserves its own paragraph, and you'll only weaken your argument by combining two ideas into one.
5. Say what you want to say.
Like, yes, please do say what you want to – or at least what will get you an A.
But also, if you're having trouble explaining your point clearly, take a break for a second. Shut your laptop and simply say what you want to say out loud, as if you were explaining it to a friend. Oftentimes, you will find that your thoughts come out much more coherently when spoken because speech is the primary mode of human communication.
If you want to record your thoughts while talking, pull out the voice memo feature on your phone and record what you have to say. When you're done, pull out your laptop, play the voice memo, and see how much more clearly your thoughts flow!
And when all else fails, when you've stressed and edited and written and rewritten, sometimes all you can do is bite the bullet and submit it!