The 7 Deadly Sins of Essay Writing

For many first-year undergraduate students, adjusting to university essay standards can be a struggle. Suddenly, constructing something that resembles an argument doesn’t cut it anymore. Professors expect polished writing that actually creates an enjoyable reading experience.

Such were my thoughts when I sat down to mark my latest batch of midterm papers. Far from being a marksman out to shoot down essay attempts, I envisioned myself as a medic in the field, determined to help stop the bleeding. Some papers made it; others weren’t so lucky. When the smoke cleared and the marking ended, I resolved to do everything in my power to bring these mistakes to an end.

Rookie essayists, take note. Straight from my travel log, what follows is a list of the many horrors that I encountered on the marking road. Let’s call them the 7 Deadly Sins of Essay Writing.

The Low Count Word Count

This isn’t a Tim Hortons Drive Thru; massively shortchanging a professor of a required word count is never a good idea. Consider a word count check like a credit card check – get declined and risk losing all credibility.

The No Paragraph Special

This is more painful than “The Song That Doesn’t End” or The Neverending Story. Without paragraph breaks, readers turn into alien abductees, abandoned in the middle of a cornfield and completely lost. Marking the no-paragraph essay resembles a lengthy plane ride with no stopovers. By the end of the journey, I’m cranky, tired, hungry, and I smell terrible. It feels like these writers are endlessly relieving themselves on my brain. They can’t expect me to grade with a smile.

The Jackson Pollock Paragraph

This is where the writer turkey-bastes every conceivable idea at the page in the hopes that something will stick. Sentence spatter is everywhere and not even Dexter Morgan can analyze for meaning.

To avoid writing the Jackson Pollock, write each paragraph with focus and precision. The moment you stray, disengage and insert a break; it’s time to move on!

Scrabble Sentence Structure

These essays are big budget and use huge words like pyrotechnics in a James Bond movie. Each sentence unfolds with goals of double and triple word scores. Instead, they score a knockout of the reader.

Keeping communication simple shows that you really know what you’re talking about. It also prevents you from confusing yourself!

The No Quote Disaster

Much like George Bush Senior, an essay with no quotes has no soul. When I’m reading essays, I want substance. Don’t give me Coke Zero; I want calories! Attempts to make valid arguments without referencing direct evidence is so ridiculous that it isn’t even attempted by the District Attorney on General Hospital (if it’s beneath a Soap Opera, then it’s definitely beneath you).

The Novel Rewrite

Completely void of analysis, this essay simply retells the story. It’s as if the essayist is saying: “Alice Munro really needs to work on her writing style. Here’s a revised copy with all of my improvements!”

The Casa Loma

The Casa Loma is the essay that starts off great but runs out of steam. It’s as if someone has cut the paper’s funding mid-stream. By the end, the Casa Loma can barely cobble a conclusion together. The reader is left staring at the ruins, wondering what could have been.

Me after marking.

Me after marking.

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

3 Responses to “The 7 Deadly Sins of Essay Writing”

  1. Although expressed in jocular, informal terms, the message here is the same kind of misguided authoritarianism that informs high school writing teaching. Or, put another way, negative injunctions, directed against symptoms rather toward inspiring causes, are less helpful than they might seem.

  2. I agree with Michael here. I think many writers just beginning to gel ideas aren’t taught rewriting and the other techniques that will help them to express complex ideas. If the essays aren’t very good then maybe a few writing workshops during seminar is needed?

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