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How to Write an Essay That Stands Out

by Van Thompson

Whether writing an application essay for college or graduate school or just trying to get a high grade on a term paper, an essay that stands out can get your reader's attention. You need to make sure, however, that your essay stands out for the right reasons. A rambling essay that shares too much personal information, makes outlandish claims or plagiarizes another's work might be memorable, but not in a way that leads to good results.

Interesting Topic

No matter how strong your writing is, your essay will not stand out if your topic is boring or cliched. Pick a unique topic that your reader will not have seen a dozen times before. For an admissions essay, for example, tell a personal story only you can tell. For an academic paper, develop a novel argument or address a little-known fact. You might, for example, argue that a popular interpretation of a work of literature is wrong or that a philosopher's arguments actually prove themselves wrong.

Compelling Thesis

Without a thesis, your essay has no clear direction or structure. Your thesis should be a clear, succinct sentence that states your central argument and most compelling evidence. Even a personal narrative needs a thesis. For a college admissions essay, you might argue that you can offer something to the school that no one else can, but be prepared to back it up. Rather than claiming to be the smartest applicant, emphasize that you have a strong commitment to service or that you have a history of combining multiple disciplines to create novel research.

Clearly-Written Body

Each paragraph in your essay should expand upon an argument in your thesis. For a personal story, use each paragraph to introduce new information and analysis that supports your central argument. Each paragraph should make your story more interesting and complex; don't waste time and space on irrelevant details. Use clear, precise language and avoid cliches and generalizations. Rather than telling your readers something, demonstrate it to them. For example, if you are writing about a day in which you were anxious, discuss the causes of the anxiety or the physical sensations rather than just saying you were anxious. When making an argument, always supply reasons why your reader should believe you rather than simply stating your point of view.

Strong Conclusion

Your conclusion should demonstrate why your essay is important and, in the case of personal essays, add some emotional weight. You can discuss the potential ramifications of your argument or suggest possible future research. For a personal narrative, you might discuss what you have learned from your experience, and if you can provide a surprising lesson, this can make your essay more interesting.

General Writing Tips

Varying the length of your sentences and using a variety of transitional phrases can help you avoid sounding repetitive. Avoid overuse of excessively long words, but choose words that precisely convey your meaning. Edit and proofread your paper and ask at least one other person to read it for clarity, grammar and structure.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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