expository writing

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The beauty of a reverse outline
Are you having trouble organizing your thoughts for an essay in your Humanities class or for an application? Have you tried outlining before writing only to feel defeated before you even get started? Do you struggle with editing a paper you’re sick of looking at, one that you know has some gaps that need to be addressed? Look no further than your ...
5 easy steps to good writing
Great chefs don’t cook wonderful meals on the first try. They’ve been in the kitchen for many sessions trying things out before they put a dish on the table. Writers need to do this too. Plan, practice, and prepare for the writing project you have in front of you. Break it into manageable chunks of about 2-3 hours each. These chunks need to be ...
How to ask for feedback that will actually improve your writing
We’ve all received feedback on our writing that just wasn’t very useful. Maybe you wrote a paper for class and received back a list of grammar and spelling mistakes that you’ll never look at again. Maybe you showed your personal statement to three different people and were confused when you received three contradictory pieces of advice for ...
What makes a good descriptor?
Cliche is natural; originality, not so much. Pre-packaged phrases like “bring to the table,” “at the end of the day,” or “read between the lines” are overused and now lack their meaning, becoming a kind of automatic thinking, according to George Orwell. But why? Because triggering automatic thinking in a listener is helpful to a speaker if he or ...
Five steps to flawlessly edit your writing
There is no such thing as a perfect essay, but there certainly are imperfect ones. Botched grammar, careless typos, and ineloquent wording will be sure to raise the eyebrows of admissions committees, teachers, and professors alike. When the stakes are high, careful editing can make all the difference.
How to organize a paragraph: the MEAL plan
Composing a clear paragraph is a foundational skill in academic writing. In high school, you may have been taught that a paragraph requires a certain number of sentences – maybe three, maybe five. But paragraphs come in different lengths, and rather than follow strict rules about word count or a requisite number of sentences, it’s important to ...
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition essays: part 1
More than any other test, the AP English Language and Composition Exam is dominated by essays. Three timed essays—the Synthesis Essay, Rhetoric Essay, and Argument Essay—will take up most of your time on the exam, and count for more than fifty percent of your score. In this three-part guide, I’ll walk you through the process of writing timed ...
Top grammar errors to avoid
Throughout the years I’ve spent reading and writing, I’ve seen my fair share of grammar errors. But few are peskier, or more pervasive, than the two I’ll discuss in this post. So common are these two grammar errors that I regularly encounter them in professional writing—sometimes even in articles by full blown professors! These two errors often ...
Sentence structure tips from William Shakespeare
Good writers always plant important words in strong positions. 
How to revise your work
Before anything else, congratulate yourself. You wrote something! That’s huge! Writing is hard. Having something is so much better than having nothing. Something can be revised. And revising can be a lot of fun, as long as you have the right support. Here are some tools to help you navigate the revision process:
Up close and personal: how to prepare for a close reading paper
Close reading? Shouldn’t we already be reading “closely” for class? Correct! But the term “close reading” also describes a very specific type of literary inquiry in which one pays careful, prolonged attention to a small chunk of text (or art object) in order to produce an argument about that text and how it works. Close reading is the ...
How to “find your voice”
You will often hear writers talk about “finding their voice.” It sounds like a simple task, but honing one’s voice can take years of practice, study, and trial and error. When you are putting together your applications for college or graduate school, you are likely facing a fast-approaching deadline—so time is a luxury you don’t have.
Start anywhere: overcoming your fear of beginning to write
I have a friend working in journalism who keeps a Post-it stuck to his laptop that says: “START ANYWHERE.” For him, and for a lot of us who write, the scariest part of writing is staring down the blank page and blinking cursor, wondering how exactly you’re going to get to a finished product. If you’re like me, this is where you slip into ...
What I learned about the writing process from bread baking
Working from home means I can adapt myself to the capricious schedule of bread making. Dough waits for no one (and it will not rise more quickly if prodded!). I’ve loved baking since childhood, but I discovered bread more recently.
Why vulnerable writing is good writing
Writing Should Be Messy Writing is hard. Believe it or not, this statement holds true for even the most experienced writers. When readers see an example of ‘good writing,’ they tend to think about the finished product in front of them instead of the process that went into making it. This engagement with writing speaks to a common, but misguided ...
Using theory to think about history
When writing a history essay, applying a theoretical lens can help you make a sophisticated argument and earn high marks. You always want to be mindful of your essay structure and the substance of any original documents, but, particularly for advanced classes and seminars, bringing in different historical theories can elevate your paper to the ...
Choosing a paper topic: 3 foolproof techniques to go from indecision to a great essay
We’ve all been there - you get an essay assignment and you’re just…not inspired. Stuck finding something to write about? I’ve got your back! First things first, read the book. I’m serious. If you’re low on time, read a thorough summary, and then actually read the important passages. Writing an essay on a text you haven’t read will only hurt your ...
How to revise anything
The most important part of writing is rewriting. Whether you’re working on a term paper, a personal statement, or a lab report, getting words on the page is just the first step. Even if you’re writing from an outline, the process of writing inevitably leads you to unexpected and interesting places. That’s part of the joy of writing, but it’s also ...
5 Tips to make you a more successful writer!
Like many other tutors, what has been most useful for me is building myself up to writing. I use a lot of “tricks” to get around my anxiety about writing, and it often takes me several tries to get started. And with the pandemic, there are even more reasons to be distracted. Here are some tricks that have worked for me!
The middle school writers’ workshop: 3 steps to a great literary essay outline
Writing literary essays can be scary. Learning how to analyze texts through writing is one of the most challenging but fundamental skills that you’ll need in your academic career. Particularly for younger students, this task can be daunting. However, if you follow a few simple steps, it doesn’t have to be!
How to write more clearly in six steps
Whether you’re writing a medical school admissions essay, a high school book report, a college research paper, or a personal statement for graduate school, clarity is key. But writing clearly is trickier than it looks. In my ten years of experience as a writing teacher and tutor, I’ve found that there are a few steps that students can take to more ...
Revising - Demystified
“There is no such thing as good writing. There is only good rewriting”
Five quick and easy English words to elevate your writing
Anyone studying English will at one point or another recognize that the language is quite a hodgepodge. Centuries of outside contact – from Viking and Norman invasions to importations of Latin during the Renaissance – led to what would become the rich vocabulary of Modern English. But what should a savvy writer do with so much variation when ...
Why writing concisely is really, really, really important (really!)
“Omit needless words.” William Strunk, Jr. wrote this succinct mantra in The Elements of Style, the classic writing manual that was later amended to and published by E.B. White (it’s now commonly referred to as “Strunk and White”). He then wrote, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same ...
6 Ways to Brainstorm More Effectively
At its core, writing is about discovering and exploring relationships between words and ideas. Your brainstorming process can and should reflect that central goal from the very beginning of the writing process. Here are a series of investigative approaches to help you expose and explore these relationships:
Editing for parallelism: one writing lesson from the shortest literary form
When I teach my students to become their own editors, I often tell them to be on the lookout for opportunities to use parallelism. Parallelism is the repetition of the same grammatical structure in successive parts of a sentence. (Grammatical structure is just a fancy way of saying some combination of nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech.)
Embracing the Messiness of Writing This Summer
The dawn of inspiration is such a lovely, romantic concept. Someone says something or a bird chirps in a funny way; you freeze in your tracks; you slowly intone, “…say that again.” You run to the nearest laptop, and you write down your masterpiece in the matter of hours to the sound of a swelling rock anthem. Alas: if I only wrote my doctoral ...
8 Steps Toward Writing an Effective Research Paper in Any Discipline
You have just been assigned a paper, and you don’t know what you want to write about or where to start. We’ve all been there.
Tone and mood
When attempting an analysis of a text for the IBDP English course, some of the advanced features that students have to understand concern tone and mood. It is customary to associate tone with dialogue and speech, and mood with the setting of novels. However, tone and mood are not just features of fiction and can also be found in non-fictional ...
How to Craft a Successful Curriculum Vitae
Like a firm handshake or a greeting, a CV can oftentimes serve as a first impression – a way for prospective employer to get a sense of you at a glance. CVs oftentimes are gatekeepers for an interview, and as such, are extremely important. It is worth it to take some time to think critically about your CV’s structure and content. Read the ...
Two common grammatical mistakes to avoid in polished writing
There are no hard and fast rules in writing. But even if an experimental poet or an avant-garde novelist has dispensed with capitalization or written an entire novel without the letter E (yes, a novel like this really exists!), this does not mean that you should follow suit. Your personal statement is not the place to defy the conventions of ...
Writing: Knowing Your Audience
“Where do I even begin?” is probably the most common question students ask me about writing—and understandably so! Many writing projects can seem almost impossible to visualize, much less to get started on. So what to do when facing that blank screen?
Crafting a Strong Thesis Statement
There are few concepts in essay-writing more important—and confusing, to the uninitiated—than the thesis statement. Let's start out with what it's not:
Confronting commas on the SAT writing and language section.
You see commas everywhere when you're reading, and you may put them everywhere when you're writing, but do you really know when to properly use this tricky punctuation mark? The SAT requires you to know exactly when a comma is either necessary or obstructive, so it is important to take the time to learn comma rules as you prepare for the writing ...
Two Common Stylistic Flaws of Undergrad Prose Writing
Over the course of nearly fifteen years as a full-time academic, I have edited and graded thousands of pieces of writing from undergrads and grad students alike. Over these years I have identified a range of common mistakes that I would say are typical of undergrad writing. As an instructor and editor, I have a range of stylistic rules and best ...
4 ways to beat writing anxiety
Writing is a daunting task. To transform your nebulous thoughts into a linear string of words requires a special kind of concentration. And when it comes to writing personal essays, like those required for most undergraduate and graduate applications, you are asked to not only concentrate but also be introspective. It’s no wonder that many of us ...
Five strategies to improve your writing
Writing is at the center of our daily lives. From coursework to communicating with colleagues or loved ones, writing is how we share our voice. Here are five simple strategies to improve the quality of your writing:
Four ways to become a (better) writer
The title of this post might seem presumptuous to you. Surely you don’t become a writer: you’re born one. That’s a common assumption about artists. We believe that people who write or sculpt or sing are born with an innate ability for their craft, that perhaps their education had less influence on their artistic success than the capabilities ...
5 tips to improve your writing
I was recently helping someone with a comparative essay they had to write for school. This person did not like writing—a common enough state of affairs. They felt that they had no talent for it. The process frustrated them. I could see that they were struggling in part because they were trying to do everything at once (come up with ideas, write ...
How to write with clarity and brevity
1. Harshly criticize everything you write as you write it Ask yourself: is this sentence necessary? Could it be five words instead of ten without losing meaning? Is it a digression into something you find interesting useful, or a distraction?
How to Draft an Essay in College in 4 Easy Steps
Making the switch to college-level writing can be tough, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Aside from the fact that papers in college are often long (although the short ones with strict word limits can be tricky, too!), the subject matter is often complicated and requires a good deal of analysis. Professors often expect that you already have a ...
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write in college should have it. Sometimes professors call this a “thesis statement,” sometimes a “claim,” and sometimes they don’t really specify what it is. But it’s essential — and sometime elusive. But it shouldn’t be! 
The importance of keeping it simple: clear and concise writing
When I was a high school AP Biology student, my teacher used to walk by my desk during multiple choice exams and whisper, “You didn’t really mean to circle B there, did you? Keep it simple.” He knew I was an overthinker. Instead of circling the simplest and most obvious answer—which I often knew to be the right one—I would overthink the question, ...
How To Strengthen Your Writing In One Easy Step
Very few rules of good writing are without exceptions, and this one is no exception, but I think it might be close:  You can always — or nearly always — make your writing stronger, clearer, and sharper if you follow the word “this” with a noun.*
The power of anecdote: creative strategies for academic writing
Many of the freshmen I instruct at CUNY enter the first few sessions of my Expository Writing class wearing metaphorical top hats and monocles, armed with—and comforted by—the five-paragraph essay structure and other basic compositional building blocks. College-level essay writing, in their understanding, requires a stuffy, exacting formality—a ...
How to write a killer essay in 3 easy steps
We’ve all been there: staring at a blank document, practically able to feel the creeping imminence of our paper’s deadline. For so many of us, it’s really hard to sit down and actually channel our thoughts into a coherent form, let alone one that’s structured and based on an argument worthy of praise.
Fake News: How To Make Sure Your Research Papers Are Fact, Not Fiction
I’m going to tell you something embarrassing: I… sometimes… get my news from Facebook! I know, I know, I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m a tutor! I should be waking up three hours early to read every single paper from around the world while looking through a reference dictionary. I’m not perfect.
How to write an excellent history paper
I love the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and I've seen it more times than I can count. It is about two teenagers on the brink of failing high school, unless they ace their final history exam. The Hollywood twist? The protagonists acquire a time machine that allows them to travel through different eras of history. Throughout the film, ...
Turn back the clock on that grade! How to revise a bad college paper
After you receive your grade and read your professor’s comments, you might have a lot of those “if only” thoughts. “If only I had looked up that concept.” “If only I had taken extra time to proofread that.” “If only I had read the assignment more carefully.” “If only I had started earlier and done more research.” “If only I had realized I was ...
One for all and all for none? Grammatical rules for one, neither, and each!
  In this blog post, our resident grammar girl reviews the impossibly confusing rules for singular subjects that refer to plural groups; subject-verb agreements involving"each", "all", and "none"; and last (but not least!) "neither", "neither", and "nor" and how they relate to your verb choice.
Semi-colons, colons, and commas: how and when to use them
One advisory that students hear a lot, especially in earlier years of English class, is "avoid a comma splice." A comma splice is an excessive use of commas without the proper elements of a complete sentence to justify the commas. When to use a comma versus a semi-colon depends on the type of sentence you have. Below are the sentence types that ...
Three essential things to remember when citing parenthetically
For a lot of students, parenthetical citations may seem like the bane of their existence. You've just written a ten-page essay, you're happy with your argument and the conclusion you thought of in the middle of the night before it was due to submit, but you still have to check all the quotes. Especially in today's digital age, in which reading and ...
Punctuate Your Point, Correctly: How to Punctuate Dialogue
They may seem small, but punctuation marks can make all the difference in how we read and understand the English language. The title of what has become an iconic little book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, exemplifies the level of ambiguity that can result from the presence or absence of a comma. This chapter focuses on several oft-mistaken categories ...
Did I Read The Same Text Everyone Else Did?!
This has happened to all of us in high school, in college, even in graduate school. You did the reading but then the questions the instructor asks don’t make sense to you or you can’t answer questions about details she seems to think you should know.
5 Habits for Improving (and Maintaining) Reading and Writing Skills
The first few months after my college graduation, I began my 9-5 job and was disappointed by how much less time I had to read.  After majoring in English and becoming accustomed to finishing multiple novels a week during the semester, I wished that I could dedicate more time to that hobby.  Furthermore, after a few months of working 40-hour weeks, ...
The Best Ways to Prepare for an Essay Exam
College students are often intimidated by essay exams, a common final exam format for courses in the humanities and social sciences. Because the exam itself provides so little structure for your answers, it can feel impossible to get all of your thoughts on paper in an organized way without running out of time. As someone who has graded a lot of ...
How to close read a passage of text
Whether you are an incoming freshman in your first expository writing class, studying for the SAT, or simply a lover of literature, close reading a passage of text is one of the most essential skills a critical reader can master.  Close reading requires us to read beyond the immediate or superficial meaning of the text by forcing us to interpret ...
Four types of questions and when to ask them
When a toddler asks why to an infinite regress, their line of questioning inevitably becomes annoying. The reason is not that their questions individually are inherently uninteresting—or if answered seriously will not illicit fascinating information—but rather that the line of questioning that that toddler embarks on is without end.
It's Not What You Say But The Way That You Say It: Tips For Developing Voice
Have you ever accidently texted the wrong person? Sent a text meant for your best friend to your dad or to your boss? I have; it’s horrifying. Horrifying because I was being a person that this other person didn’t know.
Proofread Using the Top Five Most Useful Techniques
Ouch! Follow the rules below and you're sure not to end up in the same position. Proofreading is a drag—after having come up with a thesis, found evidence to support that thesis, and structured the essay to best support your ideas, you have to find and fix all of the mistakes you made along the way. I also find proofreading stressful; I worry that ...
What books can I read to help me write my college personal statement?
What is a personal essay? What does a college personal statement sound like? You’ve looked at tons of sample personal statements, but none of them are particularly inspiring. How do you find your voice as a writer?
How to Write and Edit a College Paper: A Roadmap
Step 1: Write your paper. Step 2: Graduate. Step 3: Roadtrip across Australia. [image source] Why is college-level writing so hard? Making the switch to college-level writing is tough, and doesn’t happen overnight. Papers in college are often long (although the short ones with strict word limits can be tricky, too!). The subject matter is ...
How do I write a good thesis?
Writing a good thesis is simple: pick a position, then defend it like crazy. Your English teacher likes to talk about writing a thesis. You've learned about this every year, it seems, and yet somehow, when you get your paper back, your teacher has always marked all over it, and said that your thesis is "not an argument" or "not specific enough" or ...