There's nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen. But that is often the reality when starting an essay. Whether it's a narrative, a persuasive piece or a research paper, writing an essay is often quite challenging. The writing process as a whole is a long road of false starts and lengthy revisions. Not to mention dodging the bullet of writer's block and plagiarism. Correctly citing sources, writing a thesis statement and elaborating on ideas are a few common problems you may face. Knowing these pitfalls can help you remedy the situation as you complete your essay.
Difficulty starting an essay is often one of the first problems you may run into. Typically, this happens if you skip the pre-writing step. You can save time by first identifying the purpose of your essay, then brainstorming points you might make to achieve that goal. Brainstorming works best if you don't censor your thoughts; write down every idea you think of, even if you are certain it won't end up in the essay. Then, you can take this material and find the most important points to address.
A thesis statement is a sentence, usually located at the end of the first or second paragraph, that explains the essay's main point. Without a clear thesis statement, it can be more difficult to structure and organize your ideas. One good tactic is to draft your thesis statement before you begin writing the body of the essay, then show it to teachers and fellow students for suggestions on how to make it more specific.
Voice and Audience
Because academic writing requires an objective, third-person voice that fits the formality of an essay, you may struggle with omitting slang, colloquialisms and everyday speech patterns. Conversely, you may feel the need to use big words and complex language in order to sound "smarter." The fact is: good writing is written to express, not impress. You can accomplish good writing by selecting the clearest, most effective language within your vocabulary that will best fit the topic and will be best understood by your target audience.
Fear of Failure
If you struggle with insecurities about your writing abilities, you're not alone. It's okay to be apprehensive about writing, especially if you've had some negative experiences in the past. The first draft will never be perfect. Accepting that it is merely a starting point will help you gain confidence in the writing process. Simply getting through the first draft is often enough to lift your confidence level. Expressing your insecurities to your instructor can also increase your confidence; teachers want to see you succeed and will most likely be eager to offer encouragement.
Documenting sources through in-text citations and works cited pages is an important convention of academic writing. Unfortunately, confusion about how to properly cite these references can result in plagiarism. Because most universities punish plagiarism regardless of intent, even one mistake citing a source can be considered a violation. You can avoid plagiarism by carefully documenting sources as you do research. This gives you time to review the correct way to directly quote and paraphrase sources.
- Bright Hub Education: How to Write a Thesis Statement
- PBS: Misunderstood Minds: Writing Difficulties
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Prewriting
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block
- Harvard Writing Center: Strategies for Essay Writing
- The University of North Carolina Writing Center: Thesis Statements
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.