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7 Writing Tips From Professors to Help You Crush Your First Essays

Updated on June 2, 2022Students

So you just got to college, and you’re not sure you have a solid grip on this essay-writing thing—yet, anyway.

It’s okay. You’re there to learn, after all. And as you find your footing, Grammarly is happy to assist. Here are seven writing tips to help you crush your first college essays.

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1 Make sure you understand the assignment early.

There are a few reasons it’s wise to do this part well before your deadline. If you read back over your notes and check the syllabus and still need clarification, your professor will appreciate you asking for it early on, rather than in a panicky email the night before your paper is due.

Also, many college assignments require more than just writing—you first need to read something you’ll respond to, or hunt down research materials. By accounting for this in advance, you won’t have to barrel through so many steps in one marathon session. This means you’ll have more time to think through what you want your paper to say and make revisions—without staying up all night.

2 Your first draft won’t be perfect. Stick with it.

It may feel like writing comes naturally to some people, and you’re just not one of them. The truth is that writing is often a struggle, even for seasoned pros. Take it from the late William Zinsser, a writer and editor who taught at Yale and Columbia University:

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do. –William Zinsser, On Writing Well

It’s especially hard to go from a blank page to A+ sterling prose in one sitting, or even one day. This brings us to our next item…

3 Be deliberate about how you budget your time.

So you know you have to get some reading or research done before you start mashing out your paper. And once you get to the end, you’ll still need time to read back and make revisions. Taking breaks between these steps will help both the quality of work and your overall sanity.

At minimum, this means getting up, stretching your legs, and drinking some water. But ideally, you’re carving out time far in advance. This means that before Friday’s due date, you finished gathering sources on Monday, drafted an outline on Tuesday, wrote the thing Wednesday, and polished it on Thursday.

That might sound like a lot, but if you’re able to stay on task, none of these steps has to ruin a whole evening—let alone your week. With that in mind:

4 Writing doesn’t happen in the background while you’re distracted.

We get it. You’re in a new school, constantly meeting other interesting humans, and also this thing called the internet exists and is like a black hole but for attention instead of matter. Staying focused can be a challenge.

Joelle Renstrom, a science writer and MFA who has taught at several universities in the Boston area and Michigan, recommends several apps that can help you filter out digital distractions (Freedom), understand your habits (RescueTime), focus on your text (Dark Room) and manage tasks (30/30).

Ultimately though, it’s still up to you to write your paper. That’s true in more senses than one—read on.

5 Plagiarism will not endear you to your professor.

That’s actually an understatement; in some cases, a plagiarized paper can get you kicked out of your program. Such was the case for a student who tried to defend copying a Wikipedia entry and got busted by Sarah Hörst, then a teaching assistant and now a professor of planetary science at Johns Hopkins University.

In short: don’t steal other people’s work, give proper credit and cite your sources, and if you’re not sure what constitutes plagiarism, get guidance from your instructor or someone in your school’s writing center before it’s a problem.

Also, Grammarly’s Plagiarism Checker can help you make sure your essay is airtight.

6 Take pride in your work.

You’re in college because you want to expand your knowledge and abilities. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you just have to finish some dumb essay in order to skate through this semester with a B and move on in life.

Essays are a chance to test and argue your point of view, and it’s a lot easier to write one well when you’re not just pretending to be invested. Give it your all!

7 Grammarly can help you spot errors.

Whether you’re worried about redundant word choices or just want some added security to make sure you’re on point, Grammarly has you covered. Install it now for free.

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