Elizabeth Gehrig By Elizabeth Gehrig • January 25, 2017

How to Write With Style and Impress Your Mentor

For students, essays are like taxes: they are unavoidable.

Throughout your educational career, you’ve probably had to write more than a few essays. But, although you know the basics of writing a good exam essay - like organization, grammar and focus - there’s a whole other issue to consider that you may not have thought of before:

How can you write in a way that impresses your mentor?

It all comes down to your writing style. From the way your voice comes through in the essay to the words you choose, a unique writing style is what makes any piece of writing more compelling. Use these tips to enhance your writing style and get the grade you deserve on your next exam. 

1. Write Economically

It takes a lot of skill to express yourself in just a few words. But when you use shorter sentences, your points become clearer and easier to follow. So try to write simple and concise sentences instead of hiding behind complex, lengthy ones. Your mentor will notice. Plus, it will save you time.

If your essay is supposed to be two-to-three paragraphs long, keep it to that length. Then keep each paragraph to just a few sentences for maximum impact. Like this one.

Most importantly, avoid diverting from the topic or rambling in your essay. That means don’t try to lengthen your essay by saying the same thing three different ways. Because, your mentor will notice this too.

When you’ve finished writing a paragraph, re-read it and ask yourself: can I say this more succinctly? Are there words - or even a whole sentence - that I can remove without sacrificing meaning? Can I reduce the number of times I’ve used filler words like “very” and “also”?

2. Project Confidence

Sometimes students rely on phrases like “studies show,” and “it is widely known that,” or even “in some ways…” These are called “weasel words,” and they undermine your writing and your argument. Remove the weasel words, own what you’re saying and say it directly. One way you can do this is by changing your sentences from the passive voice to the active voice. For example:

Passive: The Dewey Decimal System was invented by Melvil Dewey.

Active: Melvil Dewey invented the Dewey Decimal System.

When the sentence is written in the active voice, the subject - Melvil Dewey - performs the action. When written in the passive voice, Melvil Dewey receives the action. Obviously, one sentence reads stronger than the other. So stick to the active voice for sentences that are clear and concise.

Another way to avoid weasel words is to use clear transitions. Create an argument that your mentor will easily follow by using words such as, “moreover,” “on the other hand” and “however.”

Moreover (see what I did there?), use a varied vocabulary to project self-assurance in your writing. It shows that you are comfortable with your topic. If you are writing about experiments, for example, you could also use “investigations,” “analyses” or “studies.” Using some of these alternative words may also prove stronger for the point you are trying to get across.

3. Write a Killer First Sentence…

Your first sentence sets the tone of your writing and indicates the direction of your piece. It should engage your mentor. Try an attention-grabbing first sentence, like a quotation, question or a statistic. If you were writing about journalism, for example, you might say: 

Today, 60 percent of adults in the United States get their news from social media.

Don’t worry about creating the perfect first sentence right away — time is of the essence, after all — but keep it in mind as you write your essay. Before you hit “submit,” revisit your first sentence. What can you do to make it more meaningful or pointed? If it takes you a couple tries, that’s ok too; poets often delete their first lines altogether. 

4. …and a Unique Last Sentence.

Close your essay by referring back to the most important points of your essay; just don’t repeat the same words. It should be a conclusive statement about your topic.

Ultimately, the end of your essay should be memorable and tie everything together neatly. This is your last chance to convince your mentor that you know your stuff and can communicate your point of view.

By writing efficiently and confidently with a clever opening sentence and a strong concluding statement, you’re on the way to impressing your mentor. Just combine your writing style with your knowledge of the subject matter, and you’ll have no problem composing an engaging and thoughtful essay on your next exam.

Elizabeth Gehrig

Written by Elizabeth Gehrig

Elizabeth Gehrig is a senior assessment development specialist in the Center for Learning and Technology. Passionate about high-stakes testing, her career spans more than 10 years in language testing, credit-by-exam and outcomes assessment. Email her at clt@tesu.edu.

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