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This may be hard to believe, but great writers have been writing engaging, readable essays for

hundreds of years. And readers have read them not just willingly, but eagerly. Despite what our
familiarity with deadly-dull high school essay writing would lead us to believe, its possible to
write essays that people actually enjoy reading.

I read essays often, and I dont just mean the hundreds of high school papers I read in my role as
an English teacher. Essays by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and countless others have had a
powerful, life-long effect on my thinking and worldview. A good essay not only makes you
think, but can provoke you to laughter, tears, even wrath. The best are also beautifully crafted
works of literary art.

So why is it, when we think of an essay, that we think of five-paragraphs of formulaic

blandness? The simple answer is that our academic system has led us to believe that theres only
one way to write an essay. Thats not true, of course, and Im here to tell you that its possible to
write essays that readers will genuinely want to read. Below are ten tips for doing just that.

1. Remember that essays are meant to be read.

And I dont mean just by teachers. Dont be afraid to be engaging and creative. If you begin with
the assumption that the only good essay is a boring essay, you might as well give up from the
start. In both content and style, write the kind of paper youd actually want to read. Keep an
audience in mind; you want your tone and style to win over your readers. Dont assume your
humorless, nit-picky English teacher is the only person who will ever lay eyes on it. Even if that
ends up being the case, your essay only has a chance if you can imagine a broader readership.

2. Pick a topic that matters to you.

If you dont care about your topic, your reader wont either. Its too hard to fake passion, and
good writing always springs from sincerity. It may be obvious, but this means that you wont
ever write good essays if you dont care about stuff. You must have areas of interest that matter
to you. What gets your blood boiling? What keeps you up at night? What ideas distract you from
your daily responsibilities? These are the things you should be writing about.

3. Write with insight.

How else can I put this? You must have something to say. Something that is not obvious to
everyone. Good essays turn on light bulbs in readers minds. You want your reader to think,
Thats an interesting perspective; I never thought of it that way before. If you have nothing
original to add to the subject, you probably need a new topic.

If you cant be brilliant and original, at least make your thesis arguable. Dont write about the
benefits of friendship. Everyone knows its good to have friends. Dont argue that racism is
evil. We know that. Pick a topic that reasonable people may disagree about.

4. Experiment with form.

We should all learn the basic five-paragraph essay form. Its a useful blueprint for early writing:
Start with an introductory paragraph that includes your thesis. Support your thesis with three
points, each in its own paragraph, in the body of paper. Conclude with a summary paragraph.
Fine. But once youve mastered this most elementary of structures, try some new ways to
organize your ideas. Get out of the box.

Read some essays by great writers and pay attention to how they organize their ideas. Youll
notice that few, if any, follow the 1-3-1 model that we are all taught in school. Their ideas tend to
come more organically, one paragraph leading to another. Some essays are mostly narrative, with
only a line or two clarifying the point of the story or illustration. Some are circular, wandering
through several ideas before returning at last to the original thesis. Others are pure digression that
start in one direction and end up someplace you wouldnt expect.

Be careful here of course. If you are writing for a teacher who expects a certain form, by all
means do as youre told. But if youve got room to play with your organization, dont be afraid
to get out of the five-paragraph box.

5. Illustrate.

Stay away from supporting points that are nothing but vague, abstract thoughts. Dont just tell
the reader what he should think. Show him. Tell anecdotes. Paint pictures. Support your thesis
with colorful, concrete illustrations. Dont say that military families make great sacrifices. Tell
the story of a friend who lost his brother to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Dont talk about courage,
show someone being courageous. Never leave your ideas in the abstract. Illustrate your ideas
with real, concrete, tangible pictures.

6. Use lively, active verbs.

Verbs power your writing like the engine pulls along a locomotive. Strong, vivid, active verbs
inject desperately needed vitality into essay writing. We tend to limit creative verb selection to
creative writing narrative and descriptive pieces. But verb choice is important to all writing.
And essays, where the verbs tend to be the bland, passive kind, cry out for inventive, evocative,
action verbs. Populate your sentences with vivid, lively verbs. Minimize be verbs and avoid
passive constructions unless they are necessary. Fixate on verbs and watch how your writing
comes alive.

7. Find a voice and stick to it.

In most cases, its safest to keep a formal, distant tone, but English teachers these days are more
open to first person references and contractions. The important thing is to be consistent
throughout the paper. If you project a light-hearted or sarcastic tone early in the paper, youll
want to maintain it throughout.

8. Dont be controversial just to be controversial.

In your efforts to take an interesting position, dont go overboard. The opinion you choose to
defend in your paper should be arguable, but not laughable. You dont want to write that
friendship is a valuable thing, but neither do you want to write that friendship is worthless.
The first is too obvious to be interesting and the second is too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
Your task is to intrigue and enlighten you reader, not to shock or provoke him.

9. Avoid generalizations and overstatements.

If you want to defend an opinion effectively, dont leave yourself open to ridicule by making
indefensible sweeping statements. People who smoke cigarettes are idiots or Theres nothing
worthwhile on television today are just too strong and broad. They are therefore easy to debunk
by sensible people. Qualify your statements when necessary and state opinions that can be
logically defended. The negative effects of cigarette smoking are so numerous that intelligent
people should think twice before forming the habit or Television programming these days
offers little of value are strong alternatives that can be reasonably defended.

10. Do the little things well.

Write as well as you can. By that I mean take care to avoid glaring errors in grammar, spelling,
and punctuation. Proofread carefully and look things up when you are doubtful. If you arent
good at the fine details of usage, find someone who is and ask for their help. Watch your
pronouns and verb tenses in particular. Make sure you capitalize proper nouns and use commas
and apostrophes correctly. A single obvious error can be enough to ruin your whole essay in the
minds of some readers. Be diligent to remove these obstacles before you publish.

These are not the only rules of good essay writing, but they are an excellent place to start. Dont
let anyone convince you that essay writing has to be tedious and predictable.