Ask Life: How do I write a professional essay?

Ways to polish your essay and write like a pro



Improve your essays and your grades.

JULIA MESSEGEE, Evergreen reporter

Dear Life Section,

I graduated high school last May, but I am still not confident in my essay-writing skills at all. Do you have any tips on writing a professional-sounding essay?


Please Improve My Writing


Dear Please Improve My Writing,

Essay requirements vary based on writing styles, course rubrics and professors. I can assure you, requirements aside, that your ability to construct a smooth, professional essay will earn you respect and a higher grade.

First, paragraphs can sound choppy without transitions. However, when using transitions, try to alternate them; if you catch yourself using similar transitions and cannot think of distinct ones, only start some paragraphs with transitions. A transition does not need to begin every paragraph.

An especially good place for a transition is the start of a topic. If numerous paragraphs explain different things but revolve around the same topic, transitions for paragraphs after the topic is introduced are unnecessary.

For example, a paragraph introducing a fresh topic, such as the rising cost of housing, could begin with, “Shifting to the financial aspect of housing, the cost of living has increased in recent years…”

I suggest using a transition phrase like “on the topic of” to proceed to your next subject. Other transitions include “furthermore,” “similarly,” “ultimately,” “thus,” “hence,” “in addition” and “for example.”

These should only be used inside a paragraph or for a paragraph whose predecessor discusses a similar topic. Use transitions in the meat of a paragraph sparingly; utilizing too many will sound tacky.

Moving onto word choice, try alternating between fancy and simple words. A classic adjective like “good” can be replaced with “beneficial” or “superior,” depending on the context. However, do not start spitting out words like “felicitous” and “propitious.” Some may know these words, but many will rush to Google instead.

Try to use complex words that are universally understood. Sometimes bland words, like “great,” can make a paragraph smoother. However, if possible, do not use them in sequential sentences.

When faced with a simple word with massive and bizarre synonyms, stick with the simple word.

In addition to alternating word choice, try alternating sentence length. If you notice five long consecutive sentences, attempt to split some into separate sentences. If you notice several short consecutive sentences, try combining a few.

Other tips to make your sentences flawless include shortening phrases and avoiding filler words. A sentence like, “She used to walk up to the store every day before it closed,” should be condensed to, “She made daily trips to the store before it closed.” Cutting unnecessary phrases and information will polish your essay. 

Check for run-on sentences. Read a sentence over and make edits until it flows effortlessly off of the tip of your tongue. My rule is the faster you can read something out loud, the less broken it will sound to readers.

If a sentence has three or more commas and is not a list, consider splitting it into multiple sentences.

Shifting to your essay’s information, assume readers have limited knowledge. Remember they cannot read your mind; you must explain your information and assert your intentions.

A method to write a more understandable essay is pronoun attribution. If there is a possibility your reader will confuse who “he” is pointing to, replace “he” with the name of the person you are referring to.

Object attribution is as crucial as pronoun attribution. If you describe two objects and use “it” afterward, replace “it” with the specific object’s name.

Two common errors I notice are in the use of tense and “where.”

Confirm you use the same tense throughout your paper and do not accidentally switch from past tense to present tense. An essay with “they said” should not also include “John explains.” In this scenario, apply past tense to “John explains” and modify it to “John explained.”

When speaking of places, use “where.” When speaking of something that is not a location, use “in which.” Do not write “the movie where the dog could speak.” Write “the movie in which the dog could speak.”

Keep in mind, my tips do not apply to direct quotes. Do not modify anything straight from a source; quotes are quotes.

Speaking of quotes, try to use in-text citations without disrupting your essay’s flow. Using “according to” is one such way to achieve this. “According to” is usually a seamless transition and has a nice ring to it.

When quoting someone, you should also switch up your sentence structure.

If your last quote introduced the source with their name followed by “said,” try swapping their name and “said” for their next quote. If you state a source’s name and immediately provide another quote from them, repeating their name is unnecessary; use one of their pronouns and “said” instead.

Replace “said” with an alternate phrase such as “according to” if your use of “said” becomes overwhelming.

The above tips are very generic and only encompass some of my thoughts. There are many other tips to write a graceful paper that can be researched and applied to most essays.

Ensure you read your paper at least twice to make the most of your edits.


The Life Section