One of the first things that writers learn is that less is more. Sometimes this comes as a shock to many writers. This is a lesson any writer learns early in a creative writing, screenwriting or television writing class. Unfortunately, it is not always taught to students by English teachers in junior high and high school, where all the damage is done.
The first thing that every student should be taught in any English class in school is that writing is rewriting. Instead, all the emphasis goes toward grammar. While you certainly need grammar so your sentences make sense, you need to learn how to fashion all those sentences into thesis statements, introductions, topic sentences, arguments and conclusions. More importantly, to write a well-written essay, these elements of your essay need to be as clear and concise as possible.
Some of you may ask: why? Does everything have to be concise? The short answer is YES. If for no other reason, then think of it as self-preservation amongst your classmates. If your teacher is reading twenty or thirty essays and they are rambling diatribes, they will be ready to pull their hair out. They will also get bored. You never want your reader to get bored. If you lose them, the most likely occurrence will be that your grade goes down. Your teacher might not even realize that they are docking you for your boring and rambling paper. They just know it did not accurately address the essay question and they dock your grade.
The first and most important weapon in your arsenal is to learn how to effectively proofread. How does proofreading make your essays more concise? Proofreading trims the fat. Here are the top five things you should do when proofreading:
- Ask a friend, family member or even hire a tutor to proofread your paper. First, it is a great way to find typos and missing words. Second, it is an even better way to make sure that your arguments make sense. Ask them to tell you if they do not understand a part of your essay. This is a moment for you to learn about criticism and your writing. You should know that even professional writers including novelists and screenwriters are told to fix their writing all the time. And, for the most part, they do fix it. Before you get defensive (as I know I did, especially as a high school student and an undergraduate), you should realize that writing is always a work in progress. If more than one person cannot understand a concept, then you need to accept you should clarify your writing. It is not the end of the world. Most likely, your instructor or a tutor can help you clarify your ideas and sentences so that you will receive great grades and sound highly intelligent.
- Read your sentences out loud to yourself. This can be painful but it can also be helpful. You will immediately hear if a sentence sounds wrong. If you read it silently, you would be surprised at how your brain will compensate and simply correct minor errors. Reading out loud is one of the best proofreading practices you can do for yourself.
- When you are proofreading, be aware that sometimes you can have two or three sentences that are simply restating the same idea. This happens on your first draft when you are working through your initial arguments and concepts. If you identify two or more competing sentences, figure out a way to either join the sentences or pick the best one.
- Don’t stress out if your paper is slightly shorter than the assigned amount. If your paper is 9.5 pages and the amount 10, you should not get marked down as long as you have written an excellent paper. The rule of thumb tends to be that if you are only one or two paragraphs away from the fully assigned amount of pages, you should be okay, again, as long as it is a well-written paper. If, however, you have a two or three-page essay that you need to write, make sure it is for the full amount of pages. Those assignments are far too short to make short-cuts and your teacher will think that you were just being lazy. If you have any doubts, always ask your instructor. Everyone tends to have different policies.
- The most effective way to proofread is to write as much of your essay as early as possible so you can go back and re-read it at least two or three days later. It is amazing how different you will see your work after a small amount of time and perspective. If you write your papers in a whirlwind, then proofread right after that whirlwind, you will most likely miss what needs to be improved. Time gives you a far greater perspective on your writing than you would believe. The longer you give yourself between a rough draft and a rewrite, the better.