Top 4 Tips for English Essays

What does your Professor Really Want?

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what your teacher really wants. It doesn’t have to be a mystery though. What should you be doing in order to ace your next essay? Look no further; I’m here to tell you. I majored in English, and now I’m a writer.

1. Start citing sources immediately.

And I mean immediately. Are you reading for class and find an interesting quote? Write it down with the page number. Are you in class hearing the professor talk about a particular chapter? Jot it down.

This way, you won’t have to go back into your book trying to find quotes to settle for. You’ll have your favorite ones already written with a page number.

When you’re doing any research, make a Word document. Copy and paste the quotes or retype them word-for-word. Put the page number you found the quote on. Put the quote cited in the style your professor wants it, and then put bullet points underneath with the quotes that interest you.

Above is an example of the notes I would take while reading. The “notes” section outlined the themes I was focusing on for the essay. I wanted the highlighted quote to be in my introduction.

I didn’t have the source cited in this example, because it was all from one book. However, I had the title of the essay I was taking notes on, along with the theme I wanted to focus on for this particular essay.

And then you can see that I put the exact quotes word-for-word on my Word document, along with the page number.

This saves so much time. I’m telling you. So. Much. Time.

And you need a proper Works Cited. I don’t care if your teacher gave you the reading. You’re citing everything.

2. Make a solid claim.

Before you start research I was talking about in the first point, you need to make sure you have a thesis in mind. Your thesis should be declarative. You don’t “think” anything about the book. You know it. You need to declare what you will prove throughout your essay. Strong language is a necessity.

But what do you make a claim about? Here are some ideas:

  • If you’re writing about two books, compare and contrast. For example, you might say one author wrote informatively, while another wrote based on emotions. Maybe you compare and contrast the tones of each book. For example, a somber tone in comparison with a hopeful tone. Don’t say you liked one better than the other. Your opinions really don’t have a place in the English essay, unless your professor explicitly said it’s more of a creative or opinion-based piece. You need to make a commentary about the author’s writing styles or ideas.
  • Consider writing about one or two critical lenses. Only write about two if they intersect. You don’t want to take on too much at once. I find that gender along with race and ethnicity theory are great to write about together. But if you can, pick what you’re interested in and what you know you can write about. If you’re a psychology major, pick the psychoanalytic lens. If you’re an economics major, pick the Marxist lens.

Most important questions to answer throughout your essay:

  • What is the piece saying? Remember, you would claim that the book is pushing a certain ideology, not necessarily that the author is.
  • The author spent a lot of time writing this book. How is the author illustrating your ideas? Dissect the writing craft of the piece.

Everything you write about in your essay has to prove your claims. Your thesis statement is the basis of your essay.

3. Use literary devices.

I swear, literary devices are the English professor’s weakness. They’ll be automatically impressed if you mention one of these:

  • Diction: the words the author uses.
  • Allusion: the person, place, event, or even previous literary work that your author references.
  • Alliteration: when the author uses the same letters or sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or title. This is most helpful in poetry.
  • Allegory: when abstract ideas are described using characters, events, or other elements.
  • Colloquialism: expressions, words, and phrases that are used in informal, everyday speech. This might say something about a character’s culture, upbringing, time period, or education level.
  • Euphemism: any terms that refer to something impolite or unpleasant.
  • Flashbacks: when the narrator goes back in time.
  • Foreshadowing: when the author places elements within the writing that gives clues about what will happen in the future.
  • Imagery: when the author uses visually descriptive or figurative language.
  • Personification: when authors give human-like qualities to non-human elements. Example: The wind cried out for help.
  • Juxtaposition: when authors place contrasting elements next to one another in order to emphasize one or both, including words, scenes, or themes (pro tip: say this in class to sound smart).
  • Metaphor/similie: comparisons used to create better clarification and understanding for readers.
  • Onomatopoeia: a word or phrase that shows you the sound something makes. 
  • Symbolism: I bet you’re tired of this one. But this is an essential element of every story. Symbolism is the use of a situation or element to represent a larger message, idea, or concept.
  • Tone: something that conveys the narrator’s opinion, attitude, or feelings about what is written.

My personal favorites and the easiest to write about: diction, imagery, juxtaposition, and tone.

4. Use enough evidence/quotes.

You need to provide evidence.

If I wanted to write that an author used diction to make a specific point, I would quote the exact words I was referring to.

Be extremely clear with your evidence. Use a good amount of quotes to prove your points, but not too many quotes that you’re not using your own voice enough. Introduce every quote properly and analyze it. What is this quote doing in your essay? Explain to your professor how the quote helps you prove your thesis statement.

Do you need help?

Writing English papers isn’t easy. But this is my passion and expertise. Leave a comment and I would be happy to answer any questions.

Happy writing, and good luck!

2 comments

  1. Thank you for your tips for English essays, I am a blogger and an autodidact writer, English is not my mother-tongue, and learned it abroad, longtime ago, so sometimes, I didn’t get it with slant and American idioms, literally, so I am writing some essays about writing, crafting and editing about small things of little importance, like endangered bird, like the goldfinch
    Thanks again

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! And of course, I will be posting more–stay tuned. And the endangered bird is important! I was also an environmental studies major. Good luck in your writing endeavors. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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