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What Makes a Top-Notch Essay
How does an excellent essay differ from a mediocre one? Are there any specific features that are responsible for it? Can you imitate them in your own writing? Everybody who ever had problems writing an academic assignment probably asked him/herself this question. Although it is hard to be completely sure when distinguishing such features, some common trends do crop up. If you study enough high-quality essays that receive top grades, you will notice certain similarities. What are they? Let us find out.
The choice of topic plays a significant role in determining the success of an essay. The topic should not just be good by itself; it should play to the strong suits of its author while making his/her weaknesses less pronounced. Good essay topics maintain a balance between getting into too much detail and being too general, between being too complicated and too simplistic, between being too obscure and too well studied.
Many students believe that an essay, being a relatively short type of writing assignment, does not need planning and does not benefit from it. While it may be true for some forms of writing (for example, if you want to achieve a specific creative effect by writing your essay as a stream of consciousness), most often it is not true. An essay can benefit from careful planning in a variety of ways – it helps you save time you would otherwise spend on backtracking, correcting, and repeating yourself; it prevents you from forgetting to mention something; it makes sure your essay is logically consistent before you even start writing it.
The more sources you use when preparing your essay, the better. You do not have to refer to all of them in your writing – it is enough that you read or at least skim through them. Every article you study in preparation for writing your essay deepens your understanding of the subject matter and allows you to look upon it from additional perspectives. The longer the list of sources you can plumb for information about your topic, the more well-rounded your essay will turn out.
If you want your essay to get a high grade, you should make sure it has a clearly defined central idea – the reader should not have to scan through it several times to understand what you wanted to say. Moreover, focus refers not to just the essay as a whole, but to its individual parts as well. Just like the entire essay is supposed to have a primary idea expressed in a thesis statement, each paragraph should have a recognizable main point represented in a topic sentence.
Steady Development of the Idea
Each paragraph and each sentence of your essay should support or further expand the main idea expressed in the thesis statement. In a sense, your essay should represent a hierarchical structure: individual paragraphs support the primary idea, while the topical ideas of paragraphs are backed up by evidence, statistics, examples, descriptions and references.
Unity of Elements
All elements of the essay (introduction, conclusion, points represented in body paragraphs, evidence, etc.) should be related to each other and to the primary idea. If any element is irrelevant for the task of moving the main idea forward, you will do better without it. The success of an essay is just as much determined by your ability to remove unnecessary elements and avoid introducing them in the first place as by what you write.
The essay as a whole should be organized in a logical manner. Its individual parts should flow into each other naturally. Paragraphs should not feel separate from each other – you have to connect them with transitional phrases that make relations between them obvious. After you finish writing, try rereading the entire essay and/or ask somebody else to read it. Does the essay seem logically consistent? Are there any gaps in your reasoning? Do any of your conclusions seem illogical when you perceive them in conjunction with the rest of the paper? If so, make the necessary corrections.
It may look self-evident, but you will be amazed how many students believe the correctness of their English to be a secondary concern, not nearly as important as the contents of their writing. However, the majority of teachers and professors have different opinions. To expect a high grade, your English should be free of at least the most obvious errors, the essay as a whole should be written in Standard English, individual sentences should be complete and grammatically correct.
Creativity and Style
This element is rather hard to pin down, but it boils down to adding your personal touch to what you write, imbuing your writing with personality and individual style. While you can easily find dozens upon dozens of tips, rules, suggestions, and conventions defining what is considered “high-quality” writing, you will never achieve true success if you simply mechanically follow them. To write a truly excellent essay, you have to create your own individual style, reflected in the words you use, the way you structure sentences, the mental imagery you invoke, and so on. You cannot achieve it by following guidelines – it only comes with practice.
Of course, top-notch essays come in many shapes and forms, and the qualities that are considered most important differ depending on the type of essay in question. However, the aspects we listed here are crucial for almost any type of writing – by striving to improve them, you will certainly start getting better grades in no time.