How to Write an Essay

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Tips on writing that all-important A-grade college essay

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Avoid jargon when writing an essay

You should always write an essay to show your understanding of the subject. Theres a great temptation to pepper your essay with the impressive sounding vocabulary of experts. Look out for the overuse of noun phrases, acronyms and abbreviations, non-words and unnecessary specialist language in essays. Heres an example showing how bad it can get.

Example of academic gobbledygook
In situationist projects, the methods of instrumental science are inverted and replaced with a disturbing desire to make people suffer in order to experience the sensual, essentially alienated, narcissistic aspects of modern life. The poetics of weathering, mortality, etc, became, in situationist practice, as reactionary nihilist lament upon the death of reciprocity between individual and common creativity.

We can all recognize this as impressive-sounding nonsense. However, theres a difficult line to draw here. Does this mean you should avoid technical language? No. You can and need to use technical terms. Heres an example with the technical terms highlighted.

HIV is now becoming increasingly under control. However, the solution has been to treat patients with toxic drugs. The first effective drug was AZT, leading to a new class of drugs known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. The drug invented at Yale d4T is in the same class as AZT.

Patients received a cocktail of AZT and d4T and a protease inhibitor in a treatment called highly active antiretroviral therapy or Haart for short. This treatment does not rid the body of the virus but simply keeps the viral load low and stop it damaging the immune system. Because the virus mutates quickly if the dosage is not high enough, the patients must take the drugs at the right time in the correct quantity or there is a danger the virus in the body will develop resistance. The challenge for the pharmaceutical industry is to develop new drugs to match the threat of the mutating virus.

To a nonmedical person, the words highlighted in red would be jargon. But here the writer sensibly uses accepted medical terms to describe the information. HIV, AZT and d4T are acceptable because HIV is now universally recognized, AZT is a well-known medical drug and d4T is a product name. The phrases nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, protease inhibitor and highly active antiretroviral therapy are not jargon, but the precise terms. The phrases, viral load, immune system and mutating virus are all acceptable medical terms. However, what makes these all these terms acceptable, are three overriding considerations.

  • The reader, the tutor, has an understanding of medical terms.
  • The writer is not using these phrases to impress, but to explain and describe.
  • The style of the rest of the paragraph is specific and clear, with short sentences, active verbs and no wasted words.

Theres a great temptation in essays to show off your knowledge, leading to a stilted and abstract academic style.

Example of abstract academic style
Conceptualizing the multiple relations into which they enter, and which they mediate, through Serres notion of the parasite, the manifold and complex shifts between the semiotic and the material, the intersubjective and the interobjective (and permutations thereof), and the broader implications of this analysis for the theorization of the object will be explored.

It certainly sounds impressive. Youll find many academic experts write this way. You study what they have to say, but find it hard work to understand just what points they are trying to make. The result is usually the same. You have to dismiss the ideas because you cannot draw them out of the authors complex style. The author, no matter how good his or her ideas, has failed to communicate.

Its the same for tutors reading 30 essays. They are not going to award you a high mark because it sounds impressive if they cannot understand what you are saying. Tutors will not give high grades to essays they cannot fathom or have to work at to understand. They will give you a high mark for good information, well-reasoned ideas, presented in the clearest style.


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Essay Know your Essay Subject
Essay Structure your Essay to Help your Reader
Essay Answer the Essay Question
Essay Show your Analytical Skills
Essay Write in a Clear Style
Use active verbs
Keep your sentence length under control
Use simple words
Avoid jargon
Avoid abstract terms
Keep abbreviations under control
Avoid Padding
Use topic sentences
Link your ideas and paragraphs
Use examples to explain difficult points
Use quotations in your writing
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