Writing a good essay means following a few key rules about writing. Take a look at the following paragraph and try to identify what’s wrong with it.
Common Pitfalls in Essay Writing
What’s wrong with the paragraph you just read? The biggest problem is that it goes off topic. Granted, you’re only seeing the beginning of the essay, but you can tell from the way it ends that the author is about to go off on a tangent about the environment instead of discussing the topic. Remember, always stay on course.
What else is wrong with the sample paragraph? You might have noticed that it sounds very casual, almost like a conversation. Phrases such as “I mean” and “In my opinion” give the essay a tone that’s too familiar and too emotional. While you always want to present your opinion, you should do it in a detached, formal way, as if writing a newspaper article. Try to avoid “I” statements in your essay writing.
Brainstorming in Action
Take a look at the following statements. If it is an “agree or disagree” prompt, decide what position you would take and think of three examples you would use to explain or describe your topic. Take about 5 minutes to do each one.
Should free speech on the Internet be protected? Why or why not?
Do we learn more from our mistakes than our successes? Why?
My fondest memory is…
You’ve probably heard the saying that good writing shows rather than tells. What does that mean, and what do examples have to do with it?
Take the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Say you wanted to disagree with it. You could explain why you believe the statement isn’t true, what you think about teaching and old age, and so forth. Or you could use examples that illustrate the same point. You could discuss the fact that retired people now use the internet on a regular basis. The fact that people generally considered old by society are adapting to a new technology in large numbers serves to show that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.
What makes a good example? A good example illustrates the point you want to make. In addition, it comes from the world at large rather than from your personal life. While it may be true that your grandmother emails you, it is more powerful to say that many retirees use the Internet everyday.
Just the Facts
What do you need to do as you write your essay?
- Develop and organize your ideas.
- Use three paragraphs.
- Use appropriate examples.
- Write in standard English.
- Stick to the topic.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Work through this topic as though it were the real thing. Brainstorm your ideas, make an outline, write, and proofread. Time yourself–you have 25 minutes to write your SSAT essay.
Check out more information about the SSAT essay here.