High School: Writing

Tips on how to get through nightmarish essays quickly and efficiently.

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One of the most feared and hated aspects of high school is the writing. What’s worse than having an essay due? In this list of tips, I will mostly be going over ways to complete analytical essays, though some tips will be applicable to all kinds of writing. These five steps will help an average high school essay become a great high school essay.

The 5 Truths of Writing:

  1. Follow every instruction with your dying breath

When someone asks, “What’s the most important aspect of writing?”, perhaps your immediate response would be “creativity” or “flow”. In high school writing, the answer is “filling all of the paper’s requirements” and “instruction-following”. Those two things will get you an A. Keep a careful eye on the prompt and go through your paper with the rubric after. If something doesn’t match with the teacher’s instructions, fix it, even if it worsens the quality of your essay. Some teachers will reward you if you betray instructions in a paper to better it in an act of rebelliousness. I regret to inform you that those types of teachers are few and far between. Quality of Paper < Instructions, if they conflict.

Example of this maxim: I used the present tense in a history essay because I thought it sounded better, even though my history teacher explicitly banned the present tense. It did sound better, but I lost a point.

In short: Follow instructions to succeed and watch that rubric.

     2. Use Your Resources: Grammarly and Writing Labs

One of the instructions for the paper will probably involve “standard written English” which equates to: “don’t you dare make any spelling mistakes”. It’s a real pain and waste of time to comb through essays looking for mistakes. Do a quick read-through of the essay and then put it through Grammarly. Grammarly catches 99% of all grammatical errors and that’s enough to keep all your points. In fact, I’m using Grammarly right now.

Now, realistically, these five tips aren’t going to make your writing perfect. If you have trouble writing or a particularly tough teacher, try going to Writing Labs. You can get help on all sorts of things from people who’ve already mastered the skill. Writing help is everywhere throughout high school (and college, from what I’ve heard), so check and see what kind of resources your school can provide you with.

Note: if you need help citing sources, use EasyBib.

In short: there’s a lot out there to help you in your paper, including programs like EasyBib and Grammarly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

     3. Introduction Paragraphs: Hook & Thesis

Now to focus on the composition of the paper. High school teachers typically demand a “hook” as the first sentence to grab the reader’s attention. This requirement is very vague and I’ve found myself sitting and pondering what my first sentence should be. Writing a good hook can be very challenging. If you’re having trouble and need a quick hook, I recommend one of these three things: a quote, a worldly-sounding statement on how important the topic is, or a statement that attracts readers based off of its shock value. Those three seem to work as a “hook” the best.

As an example, say I’m writing an essay about whether high schools are effective in teaching their students. I’ll write out the first few sentences for you to see how each introduction sentence works.

Example of Quote: “Einstein once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is what high school does: it utilizes the same teaching methods class after class in the hopes that it makes students brighter. But judging by how much knowledge high school students retain later in life, these teaching methods do not make students any smarter.” (Make sure the quote is relevant to the topic. If it first seems to be unrelated, like that Einstein quote, make sure to explain it in some kind of analogy.)

Example of Wordly Statement: “High school is one of the largest-run governmental institutions run in the United States, loved by some and hated by many. But it high school really worth all the money, time, and effort put into it?” (These are basic facts and simple questions but it makes your essay seem very important because it says that you’re writing about a controversial topic that is very big in scale.)

Example of a “Shocker”: “High school is one of the least controversial wastes of money ever implemented by society.” (Nobody says things like that! Saying something very unexpected can work well as a “hook” in an essay. You also better back up this claim in your paper. I also warn against saying that in a high school essay.)

In short: There are many different ways to introduce a paper, but those three are generally reliable ways to start. Use someone else’s words, say something really fancy-sounding, or say something so unexpected it draws the reader in.

But that’s not all! After the introduction sentence, you have a few more sentences in the introduction. You can use this space to explain key terms, argue your point, or clarify your introduction. After those, we move onto the thesis: Then we move on to the thesis, the last sentence of your introduction.

The second important part of an introduction is the thesis. This sentence tells the reader what you’re going to be arguing for. It should be relatively simple and give a bare overview of what you want to argue. In a five-paragraph essay where the teacher demands three body paragraphs, your thesis can be: I believe [opinion] due to Evidence X, Evidence Y, and Evidence Z. In a freer essay, it just has to explain what you’re arguing in your essay. Example: High school is worth the time and money put into it because it prevents crime, teaches students discipline and gives graduates better jobs later in life.

In short: The thesis should give a clear and precise summary of what you’re going to say in your essay. (Phew! On to body paragraphs!)

     4. Body Paragraphs: Evidence & Analysis

Body paragraphs will be the bulk of your high school essay. Teachers will usually demand that you provide “evidence” and “analysis” to back up your claims. Usually, you can get this down with a formula called CER. CER is basically a paragraph creator: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, in that order.

Claim: Make a claim, assert something.

Evidence: Use statistics or sources to back up your claim.

Reasoning: Explain why the sources/statistics back up the claim, and comment upon this.

If you do this repeatedly and tie it back in with your thesis (“reminding” your audience what you’re really arguing for by mentioning it again a few times) you’ve found yourself an automatic paragraph generator. You can create body paragraphs other ways, but this is an easy way to get all your points.

In short: Use Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning to make paragraphs by making a claim, backing it up with evidence, and then explaining that evidence.

     5. Conclusion: Restated Thesis & Concluding Sentence

It is usually required that the first paragraph of a conclusion be a restated thesis in high school. This becomes easy once you get the hang of it. Just write the thesis again, but this time in a little different and starting with “in short”, “in conclusion”, or “despite what some may say”.

Example: “In short, high school is the most effective way to increase your odds of success in the labor market.”

Example: “Despite what some may say, high school is a waste of money based on how little it actually teaches students.”

A little bit more difficult is the concluding sentence. I recommend using the “worldly statement” or “quote” technique from the introduction sentences. The “shocker” doesn’t work since you’ve already argued your radical point of view and the shock value has worn off.

Example of Quote: “High school allows students of all ages to pursue their true callings. As Walt Disney once said: ‘All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.'”

Example of Worldly-Statement: “High school is hated for a reason: school’s endless hours of sitting still and working tirelessly are indeed terrible for the students that school tries to help.”

In short: Restate your thesis for the first sentence and use introduction sentence techniques when creating a conclusion.

Bonus Tip #6: “Got”, “you”, and other hated words. 

Many high school teachers have a persistent obsession with keeping with words “got” and “you” out of any writing. Maybe this is because the word “got” is weak and could be replaced, or “you” seems too informal. Whatever the case, listen carefully and take note if a teacher says they don’t like a word. Be sure not to use them. If you’re writing online, you can use ctrl-F to make sure they aren’t anywhere in your paper.

With these tips, I believe you can succeed in all types of writing. Fulfill your dream of acing every one of your high school essays! After all, as Walt Disney once said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

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