How To Write Better Essays (12 Best Tips)

By: Rafal Reyzer
Updated: Oct 4th, 2023

how to write better essays - featured image

Writing better essays doesn’t have to be difficult.

Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to churn out a decent essay within an hour by supporting yourself with online tools and research. But what if you want to write a great essay that’ll have depth and impact? One that will change your reader’s minds or get you accepted to a top college? In this article, I’ll share some of my best ideas on how you to write better essays.

Here’s How To Write Better Essays:

1. Start with why. Why do you want to write better?

Let’s do some quick introspection. Why do you want to write awesome essays? Do you want to shine during your English class? Do you want to get into one of the top colleges in your country? You want to crush your academic assignments? Or maybe you’re preparing for a major exam like the ACT or SAT? Reasons give you motivation, and there’s no real improvement without a strong, burning desire.

I suggest you list a couple of reasons you want to improve and the benefits you’ll get:

  • Clear communication
  • Better persuasive skills
  • Good grades and education
  • Admiration of others
  • Changing the world one essay at a time
  • Sharing your innermost feelings and convictions

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche

2. Read the best essays to write the best essays

It’s difficult to improve at any skill if you don’t know what the benchmark is. You may think your essays are amazing, but try to read some of the best essays of all time or the best college essays, and you will quickly change your mind. I’m not saying that I’ve mastered this subtle art either. Humility keeps my desire to improve burning slowly. I know I have to pay my dues, learn from those who came before me, and try to do better with every essay I produce. You should do the same. When checking out houses of famous writers, you’ll notice they all have huge libraries. Maybe there’s some correlation there?

3. Know exactly which type of essay you’re writing

Analytical, argumentative, descriptive, reflective, or personal. They come in many forms and shades. An essay you would write as a part of your college application process differs greatly from the one about your childhood dreams. You may need to write from the first person’s perspective, or the third person’s. The language may be formal or informal. The style is argumentative calm and objective. It could be 500 words long or 5000 words long. It all depends, you see. Learn about different conventions in essays. If you’re in doubt, just ask your professor or simply Google it. You may also want to check one of my articles with the 20 best essay-writing tips.

4. Know how to start an essay properly

The beginning of your essay is like sending an invitation for a virtual meetup with the reader. You’re asking them to leave whatever they were doing and spend five, ten, or twenty minutes reading your piece. In the world of constant digital distraction, that’s a big ask. Your readers have plenty of other things vying for their attention. So your essay intro better be good. In the world of journalism, it’s called “the lead” because it leads the reader into reading the whole thing (or at least 50% of it). Spend some good time thinking about how can you make the introduction interesting, enticing, and tantalizing. You can start by shocking your readers, inspiring them, or raising curiosity. Whatever you do, don’t let them think “So what?” after going through your lead. Check out my collection of essay introductions to get some inspiration.

5. Use acceptable essay formats and present ideas in a logical order

When you read famous, well-written essays, you’ll notice that they don’t follow a strict format. You don’t feel like, “OK, that was the introduction and now I’m moving to the first body paragraph”. It’s much more fluid and beautiful than that. Yet if you’re just getting started and want to improve your skills, it’s good to know and follow the basics. You start with an introduction that contains your thesis and hooks the reader. Then you continue with three body paragraphs where you lay out your argument and provide supporting evidence. Finally, you draw your piece to a conclusion and bid your readers farewell. This is a great place to get started, and I even wrote a whole article about how to format a college essay. But once you master the basics, it’s time to break the rules and develop your distinctive style.

6. Use great sources and references to write your essay

If you’re simply writing your memories and experiences, you don’t need to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and support yourself with other people’s knowledge. But if you’re writing an argumentative, analytical, or descriptive essay, you better make damn sure you cite great sources. In the words of Alonzo Harris: It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove. And don’t just copy stuff from other people’s work. That’s called plagiarism. Give credit where credit is due and always put your work through a plagiarism checker before you submit it.

When collecting sources for your essay, make sure they’re:

  • Unbiased – this is especially important – make sure you consult different sources and then make up your mind.
  • Relevant – they should directly relate to the topic you’re writing about.
  • Authoritative – written by authors with good credentials – not a random author from a little-known website.
  • Up to date – some sources (especially historical or literary) are timeless, but if you’re writing about science or technology, make sure your info is still relevant today.
  • Useful – the source will bring additional insight to your argument.

Just in case you need it, here’s a good guide on how to cite other works in your essay.

7. Check the best books on essay writing (as well as books on writing)

Great authors spent their lifetime mastering the art of writing. They saw (and perhaps even edited) thousands of essays and other written works. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to learn from them? Some books even give you ready formats, step-by-step instructions, and wonderful examples to draw from. In the beginning, it’s good to emulate and learn from others so that in the future you can develop your style.

If you need resources for better writing and want to learn from the best, I recommend my two lists:

8. Watch your grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling

This comes as no surprise. You should familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling. Fortunately, these days you can use technology to help you out. With tools like Grammarly or the other ones I listed in this article, you’ll be fully covered. Even so, attempt to follow the rules of the English language. If you fail your instructors or the college admissions committee by using bad grammar, your grades and the assessment of your essay will suffer as well.

9. Improve your style of writing

It’s mighty difficult to shed light on writing style. It’s not something you can get from others. Rather, it’s something you develop with time and effort. And it makes all the difference for your readers. You could probably identify the style of your favorite writer even if you could not look at the cover of the book. Some of them are precise and logical. Others are direct and confident. Yet others are brilliant and erudite. Or crass and iconoclastic. Or highly intellectual, mystical, warm, friendly, personable, cold, or mysterious. These are all qualities that come out with time. Writing thousands of words is like an alchemical process that will sublimate your style. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any skill. So go for it because the time will pass, anyway.

Some basic essay-writing style tips:

  • Use short, punchy sentences
  • Strive to be clear in your communication
  • Follow the conventional formats
  • Break your essay down into paragraphs
  • Check your Flesch–Kincaid readability score and make sure your prose is understandable
  • Omit needless words
  • Be hard on yourself during the editing stage
  • Avoid too much of the passive voice
  • Get rid of as many adverbs as you can. They make the prose weak.

10. Make sure your thesis is clear and strong

Your thesis sits at the core of your essay. It’s the one idea that binds the whole thing together. It’s something you wish to put across, explain and prove. You put it in the introduction and then use your supportive paragraphs to expand on it and prove it beyond any doubt. Are you worried about the lack of freedom of speech in the USA? Your thesis could state: “It’s harder than ever to speak your mind on a college campus in the USA without getting ridiculed, de-platformed, or having your character assassinated”. If that’s the case you want to fight for, you would give specific examples and share well-documented stories of how these things come to pass. You would compare today’s situation with similar instances from the past and show a growing trend. Your essays are best when you fight for something, and you seriously want other people to understand it and care about it.

11. Use a wide variety of vocabulary in your essays

When you read a piece by a master essayist like Christopher Hitchens or Susan Sontag, you’ll often have to check your dictionary along the way. You’ll also realize that the advanced words aren’t there just to bolster the writer’s ego. They exist because they convey meaning better than the simpler alternatives. They also add beauty and flavor to the prose. They make you feel you’re among the literati. But there must be a purpose behind using them. In their classic, The Elements of Style, Strunk, and White claimed that you should: “Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.” And they were right. So study words with flashcard apps like Anymemo or Magoosh Vocabulary Builder.

12. Use technology and writing tools to improve your writing

In the distant past of essay pioneers like Voltaire, Francis Bacon, or John Locke, the only tool available was your mind, your books, and the muse who occasionally bestowed her graces upon you. But the game has changed. Writing evolves, and in the fast-paced world, we hardly have time to write in longhand by candlelight (although it’s not such a bad idea). Now we have tools and technology, which can transform a mediocre essay into something more readable, but not into a masterpiece.

Here’s a quick rundown of the top tools you can use to write better and organize your materials:

  • Grammarly – to seamlessly take care of grammar and syntax.
  • The Hemingway App – to keep your sentences clear and concise.
  • Feedly – to gather the best information from the web in one place.
  • Anymemo – to learn new vocabulary.
  • One Look Dictionary – the best online dictionary I’ve found.
  • Evernote – to gather your materials easily.
  • Google Keep – good for writing and keeping notes.
  • Coach. me – if you need motivation and support as a writer.
  • Pomodoro Tracker – for productivity and writer’s block.
  • Basecamp 3 – for project management.
  • Freshbooks – to manage invoices if you’re a freelancer.

Conclusion

Never stop living. Never stop learning. Live your life to the fullest, my friend. Do all you can do. Be all you can be. Take risks and plunge into life with love and energy. And it will let you write better essays than ever before. Next up, you may want to explore a guide on how to write an informative essay outline.

Rafal Reyzer

Rafal Reyzer

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time blogger, educator, digital marketer, freelance writer, editor, and content manager with 10+ years of experience. I started RafalReyzer.com to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to become a proficient writer and achieve freedom through online creativity. My site is a one-stop shop for writers, digital marketers, and content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money, and create beautiful things. Dive into my journey here, and don't miss out on my free PDF guide 80+ AI marketing tools.