A paper that is attractive and easy to read will often be received more favorably. When we write we want to attract the grader’s attention to the things we did well and to the aspects of our writing that deserve marks. When our writing is unattractive and difficult to read, we can do exactly the opposite. I know, from my personal experience in marking massive mountains of text, that boring, obtuse work can be exhausting to mark. Decent points that might well deserve positive attention can be lost. So, what is good for your writing is also good for your grader and what is good for your grader is good for your results. Let’s get started and look at 5 good tips that will improve the attractiveness of your writing and give you better results.
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1. KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid
This is a mantra repeated in many spheres where information sharing is critical, such as in the military and high-level business. Likewise, there are good reasons for its importance in the academic world. Unnecessary complication is often seen as time wasting, at best, or obfuscation, at worst. Obfuscation is when meaning, or a lack of it, is hidden under excessive complexity.
It is not smart to try to sound smart. Intelligence does not necessarily translate into great writing. However, trying to persuade your reader that you are clever or that your argument is sound by using excessively complex sentences and ‘smart’ words from the thesaurus will take the greatness out of your essay.
The smartest way to write is to express your arguments clearly and as simply as possible, while maintaining a formal style. Notice that simplicity and clarity will allow you to deliver your argument with greater persuasive power. You want to be succinct and engaging, and you want your points to be easy to identify and critique. You can’t hide a lack of argument underneath mountains of words and a maze of complex clauses. It is just boring and frustrating.
2. Trim the Fat.
Do you have a word limit that you need to meet? Some students tend to ‘pad’ their papers when they have run out of ideas. This tip runs on from the previous, but it is so important that it deserves its mention. It is better to fall below your word count than to stretch your sentences out with lengthy explanations and strings of words which don’t add anything to the strength of your argument. This is called ‘padding.’ It is obvious to the reader, boring and a waste of time.
3. Attitude Attitude Attitude
If you come to a task without interest, you are setting yourself up to write an uninteresting essay. Your attitude filters through your writing. A writer needs to sell their subject and support their arguments. Fostering some enthusiasm for the topic will make this much easier to achieve.
Natural interest might not be your immediate response to the task, but an interested writer makes for interesting writing. Consider finding some interesting facts connected with the topic. Look for examples of how people's understanding of the topic has had some practical effect on the world, for better or worse. It can be a good idea to include some of these real world examples to demonstrate your interest and encourage your reader’s interest. Search the internet for people who show their interest in the topic on forums and blogs; attempt to relate to their interest. Form an opinion and do not be afraid to show that you have one. Make a decision that yours is an interesting topic and decide that it is fun to write about, at least until you have submitted the paper. Choose your attitude.
4. The Golden Thread
I like to imagine a golden thread when I am writing or marking papers. The golden thread is the coherent progression of logic that takes the reader from your introduction of the topic, through the construction of your arguments and leads them to your conclusion. The first step to spinning a nice golden thread is your plan or outline. Identify the foundational concepts and decide which parts of the argument build upon which. Some concepts may depend on others to be established, and others add something important if included at the right moment.
The primary tools which we use to deliver our thread of logic are topic sentences, closing sentences and linking words. Topic sentences express to our reader that our paragraphs do not stand alone but demonstrate how our main ideas lead into or build upon others. Linking words are also a vital part of how we tie our ideas together. Too many students use linking words such as ‘insomuch,’ ‘nevertheless’ and ‘moreover’ as ‘smart’ words which they think will make their writing sound more formal. Understand the linking words you use and employ them in specific ways to guide your reader to see your perspective on the relationship between ideas.
Linking words, and topic and closing sentences, are the keys to threading a valuable strand of logic through your essay. However, another hint to help you sew your thread through your work is not to start with the introduction. Try starting with your arguments, or body paragraphs. Write your introduction after reflecting on the end result of your efforts. Use it to sell your overarching argument and to highlight the golden thread the reader can expect as they follow your train of thought.
Then, after everything, write your conclusion. The conclusion should be a reflection of the introduction. In the introduction you told the reader about the logical progression you would use to make your argument and in the conclusion you need to summarize how you achieved the goals you set out in the introduction. You tell the reader exactly how your ideas will tie together, you link them all together through the paper, and then explain how your progression of ideas worked to articulate your argument. This is when you have come full circle and achieved the symmetry and coherence required to write an attractive essay.
5. Color Your Writing; Water Colors Flow Better.
Dry writing with a monotonous rhythm does not a formal piece of writing make. While I don’t suggest using a thesaurus with the intention of finding ‘clever’ words, it is great to learn new words so that you don’t have to keep repeating the same word countless times. Avoid using the clichéd turns of phrase that everyone else has already worn out and certainly don’t use the same phrase twice in a paper. Sometimes your sentences will be long but break them up whenever you can. Vary your sentence structure so that the rhythm of the text does not become as predictable as a metronome. Try employing figurative speech by illustrating ideas with metaphors and analogies. Have you ever tried using rhetorical questions to invite your reader to think with you? Diversity and variation are the spices of life.
Even an argument we don’t agree with can be interesting to read if the argument is compelling. Even a dry topic can be engaging if we show the reader why we are interested and sell it as an idea worth a thought or two. Even repetition, when avoided, can surprise a reader and give a reason for interest. Even you can write an attractive and interesting essay if you think about your reader and try using some of these tips.