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How to Write an Outstanding College Essay

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

Staff Blogger at ProWritingAid and Corporate Content Specialist

Published Dec 04, 2019


Many college courses require a lot of writing. That's probably why so many students find writing daunting. 

The thing is, like any other skill, writing is learnable. All it takes is a little practice, patience, and focus. Today, let's explore a few ways to learn how to be better academic writers.

We'll start with the the differences between two classic types of academic writing: "American" and "European." Then we'll discuss the elements of excellent essays that could earn you an A+ in school.

  1. Understand the difference between an American essay and a European essay
  2. Understand the question and the issue
  3. State the problem and the thesis statement
  4. Craft a compelling introductory paragraph
  5. Develop the body of the essay
  6. End with a meaningful concluding paragraph
  7. Include citations and references
  8. Check for errors, inefficiency, and plagiarism
  9. Looking for more solutions to improve your writing?

Understand the difference between an American essay and a European essay

When writing a European essay, you're expected to describe and explain the various perspectives of an issue. When writing an American essay, you're required to choose a side of the multiple viewpoints. In other words, a European essay sounds neutral and objective without having to choose a specific position, while an American essay is more opinionated and argumentative, despite being objective in the overall approach and using reputable references.

Understand the question and the issue

You can only write what you know—there is no way around it. If you're writing about something you don't quite understand, it will definitely show. Writing essays involves analyses and syntheses, which must be presented with clarity. Thus, make sure to read the question several times to better comprehend what's asked and the issue(s) to cover. 

Most likely, you're expected to recognize the dependent and the independent variables of the problem first. Equipped with this information, you should be able to develop a strong thesis statement

State the problem and the thesis statement

A problem is developed based on existing information, which is explicitly or implicitly presented in the background issue. A thesis statement is derived from the new information that you bring into the essay. In a nutshell, a thesis statement is a single sentence that ties together the main idea of arguments in the body of the composition.

Your thesis can be either be informative or persuasive. In an informative thesis, describe your purpose and guide your reader to the conclusion with a descriptive or a compare-and-contrast narration. In a persuasive thesis, you present your opinion on an issue and support it with evidence.

In proving your points, you can use any means necessary as long as the stance and arguments are logically valid. Consider reading about logical fallacies to ensure your statements ring true.

Craft a compelling introductory paragraph

Include the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph along with a hook that draws the reader into the substance of the essay. This paragraph sets the tone and informs the readers of what it's all about. 

This introduction provides a background of the essay, which may include statistical figures, history, and other preliminary information about the problem. It also explains the problem being investigated. This part is necessary to limit the issue and frame the problem, so the discussion is presented within the proper scope. 

Develop the body of the essay

An American essay should consist of at least three pointers and arguments. A European essay should present a variety of viewpoints.

No matter which style you're writing, each paragraph must support the thesis statement and include a topic sentence. Be clear on each point and support them with correctly cited references. 

When the arguments seem to wander, remember to return to the thesis statement from time to time, so they remain within the framework. This is where the thesis statement serves as the skeleton of the essay, with which you can place each argument in its place.

End with a meaningful concluding paragraph

The final paragraph can include specific findings, conclusions, takeaways, recommendations, or further actions, such as more advanced research needed to be performed to find some answer. 

How the closing part is developed would depend on the purpose of the essay. Generally, an objective and valid conclusion based on the actual findings is expected. 

Include citations and references

Some statements require citations and some do not. In general, four types of statements that don't need any citation are your own ideas or findings, common knowledge, historical overviews, and your own conclusions. 

Common knowledge is information that can be found in many sources and is popularly accepted by the public, which includes undisputable facts, customs, traditions, and cultural phenomena. Historical overviews include events that are accepted as the truth and can be found in many references. However, in some instances, there are several versions of historical events, each of which requires its own citation.

This being said, if the information is only located in one source, make sure to cite it. Moreover, if you're unsure whether information or a phenomenon is common knowledge or not, be on the safe side and quote appropriately. 

When using facts and lesser-known information to support your argument, always quote. You can either paraphrase them for indirect citations or use quotation marks for direct citations. 

How you format your citation will depend on the style guide your school requires you to follow. An APA citation looks different to an MLA citation, looks different to a Chicago citation, etc. Always check your style handbook for its specific rules.

Check for errors, inefficiency, and plagiarism

Popular wordprocessing software like Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer, and LibreOffice Writer come with basic spelling and grammar checking functionalities, which is better than not using any. However, they aren't as advanced as a powerful app like ProWritingAid

This editing app offers much more than basic checks. With 25 types of reports, you have peace of mind that your work is polished professionally and plagiarism-free. These are the issues checked by ProWritingAid's algorithm:

  1. Writing style
  2. Grammar
  3. Overused words (wishy-washy, telling rather than showing, weak words dependent on intensifiers, nonspecific words, and awkward sentence constructions)
  4. Cliches and redundancies
  5. Sticky sentence
  6. Repeats
  7. Sentence length
  8. Pronoun
  9. Transition
  10. Consistency
  11. Pacing
  12. Dialogue tags
  13. Readability
  14. Vague and abstract words
  15. Thesaurus
  16. Diction
  17. Alliteration
  18. Homonym
  19. Corporate wording
  20. Acronym
  21. Complex words
  22. Eloquence
  23. Combo (multiple reports run simultaneously)
  24. House style
  25. Plagiarism

One caution about plagiarism. Despite your best effort in paraphrasing, sometimes "great minds think alike," where two or more writers use identical sentences. ProWritingAid's plagiarism check will find them among public websites and private databases so you can attest that your work is 100% unique and, hopefully, worthy of an A+.

Lastly, writing a school essay in this digital era involves much more than unique ideas and strong analytical skills. You're competing with students who utilize machine learning algorithms in the editing process. ProWritingAid is one of the most comprehensive editing apps out there, with which you can find errors and stylistic issues before the professor catches them. 

Enjoy writing A+ essays!

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Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

Staff Blogger at ProWritingAid and Corporate Content Specialist

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire,, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites.

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