Writing a Good Essay or Research Paper
I will suggest three ways to write a GOOD ESSAY or Research Paper. I’m sure there are many other ways, but you should find these helpful. All three are based on essays my children wrote in high school.
1. Tell an interesting Story.
The student, writing about his dog could have started with a short, funny story about his dog as part of his introduction. The teacher, bored and half asleep after reading dozens of ordinary stories about students with their dogs, cats, snakes, and other assorted pets might suddenly wake up. If the story really is funny, she might read it aloud to her husband, children or whoever is nearby. Everyone loves a good story.
Marco looks forward to this assignment. His little dog, Fuzzball, seems to sing along when Marco practices his clarinet. Fuzzball also sits under Marco’s chair during meals, always hopeful for something good to eat. The class will enjoy hearing Marco read his essay.
The story can be funny, surprising, sad, or even scary, but it should NEVER be boring. In the pet essay, a story might be a way of introducing the pet. It would take more creativity but the same story might continue in the conclusion. That would make really improve a simple essay .
The story can be used as a metaphor. My son, in a college application essay, described how he and his friends enjoyed sitting in a hot tub, then running around in the snow. It wasn’t much of a story, but it allowed him to describe the picture with vivid details. He pictured college being a lot like that hot tub party. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something similar to this.
In college, he would have new friends to share his experience. Like getting into a hot tub, it might be uncomfortable when you first put your foot in the water. Gradually you would adjust to the heat, feel at home and learn to work together. When college was over and begin looking for a job, it might be like leaving the hot tub and running out into the snow. You don’t feel so cold because you are still warm from being in the tub.
Picture the person reading boring essays all day and then coming to this one. It is refreshingly different. At the end of a long day, which essay would this person remember? We remember essays that are different.
2. Be CREATIVE by using an unusual point of view
My daughter had a history teacher who, as I remember, told the class that most student papers were dreadfully boring. You have often been told, I hope, to narrow your topic. His advice was to narrow the topic by taking a point of view that is unusual. This makes your paper more interesting to write and read. It also shows original thinking.
When I heard about his advice, I knew at once what dreadfully boring essays I wrote all through high school and much of college. They were well-organized and covered the topics well, but they had no sparks of creativity, no original points of view. I wanted to go back and rewrite them all.
Creativity here, doesn’t mean doing something weird or cute like writing it from your dog’s point of view. You should still write a strong academic paper but include original thinking.
The assignment was to write a paper on the industrial revolution. It took a lot of thinking to come up with an original point of view. Our daughter chose to study the Industrial Revolution and folk songs that were popular at the time. She wrote about how the music reflected experiences of the people at that time.
Someone interested in art, could have looked at the art of that period, relating the art to what was happening at the time.
Someone interested in literature could have used examples from the literature of the time. They might also have found a poem from that period that captured much of what was happening.
Another approach might have been to use multiple viewpoints. You might describe that period in history from the viewpoint of someone who was wealthy, a person of the middle class, and one of the poor workers.
You might also write your essay in first person, as if you were there. You could give vivid descriptions of what you see and hear and smell and feel. You could describe conversations you heard or participated in.
BUT, before you actually write something really different, check with your teacher. If your teacher likes her your idea, write the paper that way. If the teacher is skeptical, you should do something more traditional.
3. Understand and use a question and THESIS
This insight comes from a research paper my son, Tony, wrote in tenth grade English. You can and should use a thesis in nearly every subject..
Tony’s English teacher asked the students to each choose an author whose books they would like to read. The students were then to develop an original thesis and write a paper to defend it. I had never been asked to do this sort of thing.
After the students had time to read several of the books on their lists, they were asked write a list of questions they would like to ask the authors. Over a week or so, the students sorted through their questions, crossing out those that were too easy or just silly. They needed to choose a question they could attempt to answer by studying the books.
The answer to such a question is called your THESIS. Like a theory in science, the students wrote reasons and examples to support their thesis.
Tony read books by H.P. Lovecraft, an early writer of horror stories. Lovecraft often used actual historic events and real people in his stories. Other characters and events were obviously not real. Tony’s question was “Why does Lovecraft use real people and events in his stories?”
There was no possible way to find a library book or website that would provide an answer. He needed to answer it himself. His paper was called “Four Levels of Reality in the Writings of H.P. Lovecraft.”
His thesis was that the historical characters made the reader feel like they were reading a true story. There were other characters he called “apparently true.” They seemed as real as the first group but there was no proof they ever existed. The third group included the apparently fictional characters. They were often the main characters. They had experience with the last group, the unknowns who were monsters so terrible they could not be described, an interesting fact that Tony decided made them more terrifying. If you could describe them, they wouldn’t seem so bad.
A reader, beginning with the impression of a true or partly true story is more likely to experience the horror involving monstrosities so terrible they could not be described.
Tony’s paper, I realized, was better than anything I had written in college. In fact, both of my children wrote better papers in high school than I did in college. While many teachers asked us to write papers, none of them really taught us how to write.
A Note about Tony
Tony is severely dyslexic. When he was in third grade and still not reading at all, we had him tested for the second time. The conclusion of the school testing was that his only problem was a pushy mother. Sure, I pushed the schools to do something. But I knew better than to push a child who desperately wanted to be able to read – but couldn’t. That’s when we went to a neurologist.
The neurologist, after many tests, concluded he was extremely intelligent and also severely dyslexic. He might never learn to read or write. The important word there was “might: If you want to read more of his story: Tony’s Story.
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