What makes an Essay Good?

the Unspoken Heirarchy

(Writing Advice)

If there is something I have learned in my 10+ years for teaching College level writing, it is that not all grading criteria is weighted equally.

Where is the rubric?!

Let’s face it, some teacher give you a point-for-point breakdown, and some don’t. If your teacher is from an education background, you will probably get a rubric. If your teacher is from and English background, you probably will not. Why?

Teaching people want to guide you and tell you exactly what they are looking for. English people want you to guide yourself and make holistic improvements. Is it fair? No! We always get accused of grading subjectively. Yes! Sometimes that is true. Bet here is the unspoken weight of things.

If you suck at grammar, this should bring you relief.

Typically, I break writing difficulty up into these categories:

1. Focus and Ideas:

This is worth the MOST value when writing and applies to ANY writing. These issues have to deal with selecting a topic, writing a thesis, having good ideas, and staying on topic.
For issues related to focus, I would have you refer to any assignment sheets you may have received, or talk to your teacher to make sure you understand the topic.
The more narrow the topic, usually, the easier your essay will be to write. Try to ensure your essay answers a specific question. For example, “How did the introduction of the plane affect War for the Americans during World War I?” this is a much more manageable topic than “World War I” or even “Military Tools of WWI.”

2. Development:

These issues have to deal with supporting your ideas, having enough to say, finding research to support your thoughts, clearly explaining ideas with examples, and meeting length requirements.
Your family and friends might be the best people to help you with concepts related to development. Find someone who knows little or nothing about your topic, and ask them if you can get feedback from them about your topic.
The less they know, the better. Your goal is to move your audience from zero knowledge to expert. Then you know you have developed your ideas.
After each main point or your essay, ask them to summarize what you said. Then, you can gauge if they understand. DO NOT ASK YES OR NO QUESTIONS. Ask them to rate the clarity of your examples on a scale of 1–4. Ask them what information might help to make your ideas more clear.
For research help, librarians are AMAZING. They are the nicest people, and they love helping you find what you need. Ask them to teach you how to use a database. Even if you do not have access to a database through your school, almost all public libraries have a subscription to databases.

3. Organization:

These have to deal with putting your essay in a logical order, grouping like ideas, transitions between paragraphs, and structuring your essay.
I always suggest color coding here. Buy a multi-pack of highlighters and color-code each of your sub-points. Print out your essay, and start highlighting. This will help you catch ideas that are out of place. Ideally, all ideas in the same color will be grouped together with transitional phrases between each section.
Once you have done this, a tutor might be helpful here too.

4. Mechanics:

This one is about spelling, punctuation, grammar, and citations. Honestly, people freak out about mechanics and think this is the determiner of being a “good” or “bad” writer. It is the LEAST important factor of a good essay.

As people above have suggested, I recommend Grammarly. If you often, it is worth the paid version. I even recommend it to professional writers.
For citations, the best source I have found is the Purdue OWL. They are always up to date and provide ample examples.
To remember this order of importance, you can remember FREEDOM (F-DOM). It will help you gain independence and freedom from rubrics! For the really nerdy, you can remember FANDOM (F-DOM). Maybe you will become a member of my fandom after reading this! Email if you have a specific question about writing or need help.
Happy Writing!

About the Author:

Kelli Lycke

Kelli Lycke

Kelli spent more than 9 years as a professional writing tutor before she went on teach AP writing classes. Now, she travels to word helping companies and individuals with their writing needs.

24 April, 2017