Hey, high school students! We here at LearnPHC would wager that writing 1,000-word essays is not your favorite thing about school.
But what if we told you we could make writing assignments a little bit easier?
We talked to professors at Patrick Henry College and asked them what characteristics make a great writer. Read on and see how you can develop more confidence in your writing, no matter what college application essay or history research paper comes your way. Scroll to the bottom of the post for a useful infographic.
1. Clarity is key.
Your number one goal is a clearly worded paper that your readers—whether they are college admissions counselors or high school English teachers—are able to understand. However, Patrick Henry College history professor Dr. Robert Spinney says clarity is lacking in many of his freshman students’ papers.
“Students universally assume that their writing is easy to understand, but fewer than half of my freshman essays display clear sentences and paragraphs,” Spinney said.
Here are a few tips for making sure what you write is clear.
1. Read your paper out loud during the editing process. Hearing the words that you have strung together will help you weed out awkward and confusing phrases.
2. Always ask someone else (an older sibling, parent, or teacher) to read your writing. Listen to them when they say a paragraph or word choice seemed out of place, and you’ll have them to thank when you get a higher grade on that assignment!
2. Be concise.
It is easy to be wordy or repetitive when you have a minimum word count to reach, but try to avoid those mistakes at all costs. Here is a suggestion from PHC history professor Dr. Douglas Favelo.
“One characteristic of a great writer is to develop the discipline of reflecting on each sentence one writes, indeed, each word,” he said. “This is not quite the same as proofreading—it is much deeper (though if you do this, you will likely catch most mistakes). It is asking of each word, ‘Do I really need you? Do you add to the paper/assignment/etc., detract, or do nothing (which is really detracting)?’ Great writers look for economy of words, while keeping to the original vision of the writing assignment.”
3. Kill your darlings.
You know that alliterative phrase in your paper that you are really, really proud of? This professor thinks you should probably hit the delete button. Oftentimes your “darlings” bog down your writing, Dr. Favelo said.
“Students sometimes think piling on word after word, or reiterating a position more than once, is beneficial. It is not,” he said. “But I have seen great writers here at PHC — typically upperclassmen — who take seriously the quip, ‘Murder the beasties.’ They ask, ‘Does this paragraph actually help my paper, or is it maybe just a nicely-worded heap of protrusion into the paper? ’”
4. Read great writing.
Want to be a great writer? Read great writers. In fact, check out this post about books that impacted PHC students when they read them in high school.
Professors and teachers do not assign reading because they are mean…it is because they know good literature grows your mind! Below, PHC journalism professor Dr. Les Sillars explains why he recommends that his students read as much as they can.
“Great writers love to read great writing and learn from it,” Dr. Sillars said. “There’s no secret ingredient that turns you into a great writer and no substitute for doing the hard, creative work to develop writing skills; but you can’t become a great writer if you don’t know what you’re aiming at.
“Recently a student came into my office looking for advice on how to become a better narrative writer. I lent him books by a couple of my favorite journalists, really great stories, and his eyes just lit up when I told him about them. A day later he asked me, ‘You can write dialogue in journalism? I didn’t know that.’”
5. Have the right resources.
Sure, you can google answers about punctuation or formatting, but most high school and college classes will require you to refer to a certain style manual. Get familiar with a few in high school, and you will be well-prepared for your more rigorous college classes.
PHC literature professor Dr. Steve Hake recommends that you add Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” or Kate Turabian’s “A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations” to your personal collection.
“No matter which one(s) you choose, you certainly should aim at an ability to write clear, clean, grammatical prose,” Dr. Hake said. “The point is not to be Christian eggheads. Our lives should be godly, balanced, and rich. Our culture is indulgent and nearly illiterate. It is critically important that we not compare ourselves with them, or allow them to squeeze us into their mold. Rather, we must be transformed as our minds are renewed by the word of God.”
Want more high school help? Click the link below to download our super informative High School Resource Guide: