How to Write an Essay in College: Advice From Your Friendly English Major

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In college, your professor will assign you an essay to write on a topic they claim to have covered in their lecture three weeks prior. As you peruse the prompt, you glaze over the mundane rules associated with any college essay: Times New Roman, 12pt font, double-spaced. It isn’t until you reach the end of your prompt that your eyes widen: 10 page minimum requirement. Naturally, you sigh externally while screaming internally. It’s only your second year and there’s no way you’re prepared to tackle something so in-depth and arduous. You weren’t trained for this! Fear not, because your friendly, neighborhood English Major has just the thing to cure your aching case of essay blues. Here are some tips to tackling that term paper.

1.Turn off your phone.

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Yes, turn OFF your phone. Do not silence your phone. Do not set it on ‘Do Not Disturb,’ turn it off. At this point in your college career, you should already know how dangerous a cell phone can be to your grades and attention span. You can be in the middle of a fantastic streak of integrated quotes and flawless idea structuring when BAM that boy from across the hall wants to “borrow your notes.” Don’t fall victim to your cell phone.

 

2. Seclude yourselves from friends and loved ones.

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As dark as it sounds, your mom and best friend are also a source of procrastination. Without fail, they will attempt to, and may succeed, at postponing your writing of the greatest essay known to mankind about why it’s important to floss after brushing your teeth. Keep them at bay until the first draft is done.

 

3Quiet the need for social media on your computer.

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Use a website like ColdTurkey if you have Windows, or Focus Mask if you have a Mac. While the latter does cost 99 cents, it is a small price to pay for a passing grade on your paper.

 

4. Print your sources.

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Printing allows you to physically hold the information in your hands and not need to switch between windows on your screen. Your computer inherits the sole purpose of typing the essay. Don’t just print your sources ahead of time, read and highlight them too. Do this with all of your sources and you’ll be on the fast track to the concluding paragraph. Speaking of paragraphs…

 

5. Outline your paper.

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Organize your thoughts, sources, and clever word play into the right boxes. Personally, I like to outline my paper because with every section complete, I get to check something off. Before I know it, I’m halfway through the outline and almost done with the essay.

 

6Write a crappy intro.

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The intro doesn’t matter (right now); the point is to get writing and to get as much crap out as you can early on. There is always room for improvement. Just remember to get back to it in the next rounds of edits.

 

7. Don’t think about time or length.

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Again, the point is to write the essay. Don’t dwell on the fact that it may take you all weekend or that you’re on your last paragraph and you’ve only hit nine pages.

 

8. Set achievable goals and reward yourself.

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This tip not only helps your mental health, but your physiological health as well. After every paragraph you’ve completed, you rest your eyes for five minutes—just don’t fall asleep. Another fun one is having a solo dance party after every paragraph or two complete. Blast a good song and remember that you’re one step closer towards completion.

 

9. SAVE. SAVE.  SAVE.

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You’ve crossed the finish line. Confetti is raining down from the ceiling in celebration of this beautiful essay, and you feel accomplished that you got it done before 5 a.m.! Did you hit save? Hit save. Then hit it five more times because you can’t be too safe. Once you do that, reward yourself with a good night’s rest.

10. Proofread.

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Once the essay is done, you will feel a disconnection from the paper. You’ve regurgitated your thoughts and quotes and analysis on ten pages and now you want nothing to do with it. It’s understandable. But be sure to thoroughly check your work for grammatical errors and accidental usages of slang. The last thing you want is to turn in a term paper that reads, “I kinda think hamlet was hella insane.” Your professor may get a laugh, but it can still hurt your grade.

BONUS: Please do not attempt to reach the page requirement by increasing the font size of the periods from 12pt to 13pt. It’s a little desperate and your professor will see that when you barely reach the ten page requirement. If you follow the tips above, you will never have to stoop so low again.

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Jason Credo is a fourth-year English major at San Diego State University. He hopes to one day be able to write an Emmy award-winning TV show that gets ten seasons and then becomes syndicated.

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