Essay Writing Do's and Don'ts

A.  Plan your Essay

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 Know what you plan to say in your essay before you commit it to writing.

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Write down random thoughts on scratch paper; then organize them in the order in which you wish them to appear. A formal outline is not necessary; but by organizing your thoughts, you will have created a "roadmap" to your conclusion that will quickly become your best friend in the process.

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Your essay should "flow" from thesis to conclusion.  Don't regurgitate, wander, or bounce from one point to another. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Keep your essay in a straight line from opening to conclusion. 

B.  Remember that you are writing for an educated audience.

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Your reader already knows the facts so don't recite them.  He/she wants to know your opinion with regard to a specific historical problem, not how well you memorize.

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Analyze issues, rather than recite details. There are no specific "right" answers, although some answers can be "wrong."

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Don't include superfluous details that have no bearing on your argument. Excess baggage will materially deter from the effectiveness of your essay. If the reader asks you the time of day, don't tell him how to make a watch.

C.  Plan Your Essay

D.  Strictly and faithfully abide by all time limits specified in the writing prompt.  Some minor deviation by way of introduction is acceptable, but dwelling on facts or issues outside the time frame will substantially reduce your score.

E.  Plan Your Essay.

F.  Make sure your essay contains a Thesis statement that is specific but detailed.

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Address the question presented.  Don't create a new one or attempt to finesse your way through.  An essay full of sound and fury is a tale told by an idiot, and signifies nothing.  It will be scored accordingly.

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Your thesis is the culmination of your analysis of the problem.  Keep it concise, but don't shortchange the reader.

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It's a thesis statement; NOT a thesis sentence.  Your thesis may be comprised of several sentences, or even a paragraph. It need not appear in the last sentence of your opening paragraph; in fact it may serve you well as your opening statement.

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Get to the point. If you use introductory phrases, keep them to a minimum.  Your reader is not interested in window dressing, and may downgrade your score if you overdo it.  An exceptionally strong essay may actually employ a detailed thesis statement as an introductory statement.  Such essays instantly capture the readers attention.

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Avoid superfluous adverbs. (certainly, definitely, absolutely, perfectly, etc.)  They are verbal "dressing gowns" that hide the naked forcefulness of your thesis. ( They also have no place in the body of your essay.)

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If your essay is a DBQ, do not, under any circumstances, cite documents in your thesis or introduction.  They are the "evidence" which supports your argument. Remember, evidence is offered, not proven.

G.  Plan your Essay

H.  Support your thesis with solid factual information. 
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Consider yourself a lawyer pleading his cause.  Your thesis is the cause which you wish to prove, the facts are the "evidence" which proves your case.

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Make sure all factual support is relevant.  A laundry list of everything that happened before, during, and after the time frame will only hurt you.  Remember, your reader already knows more of the facts than you; it is your opinion that is desired.

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Make sure you provide support for each and every allegation in your thesis and that you do so sequentially.  Your support should follow the same order in which the elements of your thesis are enumerated. 

And, most important of all:

                Plan your essay.