If there’s one thing you need to master in college, no matter what your major is, it’s how to write a good essay. For some, it’s easy. Writing comes naturally and mistakes are rare. But that’s not the case for everyone. Even if you’re a good writer, writing essays can be hard. Creative writing and essay writing are two completely different things, and one might not help you with the other. I personally struggle with the latter, even if I think of myself as a good writer. I quickly realized that writing essays was an art which I had to master if I wanted to graduate. One of the things that helped me make it easier was using the right tools! There are many resources online and on campus that you can use to become the best essay writer ever!
Specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias
Research is part of the writing process. One of the things that will make writing essays easier is to have good content to work with from the start. If you’re having problems explaining certain concepts or you’re not sure how to include them in your essay, check out specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias! These tools cover the terminology of a particular subject field or discipline. Not only do they give you a better understanding of the concepts, but they’re a great way to show to your professor you know what you’re talking about.
What is the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopedia?
At first, when I started using specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias, I wasn’t sure what the difference between the two were. I mean, they both explain concepts, right? But the more I used them, the more easily I understood why they were helpful. You need to use them based on what you need.
A dictionary helps with linguistic matters. It focuses on the definition of word. You will find synonyms and antonyms in the entries, but you will not find in-depth explanations on the different usages of the word or its etymology. Specialized dictionaries go normally a bit more in-depth that general ones, but it still provides limited information, analysis or background of the word defined. Dictionaries are helpful when you are looking for the definition of a word and want to know in which contexts you can use it.
An encyclopedia focuses on the factual information relating to a concept. Encyclopedia articles are not limited by simple definitions. You will often find the history behind the concept, maps and illustrations, a bibliography, and statistics. It gives the extensive meaning of a concept in a field or discipline. Sometimes you will find what you’re looking for in general encyclopedias, but more often you will need to look up one in your field of study. Since it goes more in-depth, encyclopedia entries are normally longer and more detailed than those in dictionaries.
Specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias can both be found online and at your college library.
Another great tool for research is using databases. They will give you access to thousands of articles that can be great sources to include in your essay. If you’re looking for a way to include citations and the most recent discoveries in your field, databases are a great place to look at.
If you want some serious and reliable sources, make sure your articles are peer reviewed. What does that mean? It means that the article has been reviewed by other scientists in the field. If you’re writing a literature review, you will want to use scholarly articles written by professionals and reviewed by professionals. Professors will often ask for this!
Amanda has written a great post on how to use research databases if you want to know more about them!
If you are writing essays, you need to know about style guides. One of the most important things you need to know how to do in your college years is how to cite your sources properly. Plagiarism is definitely not the way to go in college! (or ever) Maybe your faculty is using MLA, APA or, maybe even their own style guide (like it’s the case for me). No matter what your faculty use, make sure you use the right one… and use it correctly!
I would suggest making a template with your most often used citation formats (books and articles are not cited the same way, for example). That way, whenever you have to cite your source, you just have to copy-paste the template and fill it out with your source’s information!
I know you can find citation generators online that use certain style guides (like MLA and APA). While I know it can be easy to use those so you don’t have to “waste” your time on citations, I suggest you take them with a grain of salt! It’s honestly not that complicated to cite your work. Like just anything else, it’ll become easier with practice! However, if you really want to use those, just do it. But make sure you revise the citations that are generated! You don’t want to be penalized for being lazy, do you?
Revising your paper is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, part of the writing process. I only recently discovered Grammarly, and now I cannot live without it! As a French Canadian, this is not something I use for college purposes. I personally use Antidote, which is kind of like Grammarly, but in French. But Grammarly is great when I correct blog posts or emails!
Grammarly is a free grammar checker that can instantly check for 250 types of grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. You can either download totally for free on Chrome, or you can use their website and upload your document there. You can also download the Microsoft Office add-in so Grammarly can correct your documents even when you’re offline! There’s also a premium version that includes some extra features, but quite honestly, I think the free version works wonders!
Dictionaries and thesauruses
I think that’s a given. If you doubt even a fraction of a second on a word, don’t take any chances. Look it up! Dictionaries are your friend. Nowadays, you don’t even need to buy one or to hit your library to have one, you can all find that online!
A thesaurus is a great tool to have if you’re looking for a way to spice your vocabulary up a little. I don’t know about you, but I tend to always use the same words, whether it is in my essays, blog posts or emails. Same adjectives, same nouns, same verbs… that can all get a little bit repetitive! Crack a thesaurus open and look for different words! Sometimes, you’ll find some colorful synonyms that can totally improve your writing!
Side-note: For key concepts that are specific to your field, I suggest not using synonyms. It’s okay if it gets repetitive. Using a different word could mean something completely different, which would make your professor think you don’t know what the concepts mean!
If you’re unsure of your structure or your arguments, I would recommend going to the writing center on campus! There will be students there who will be happy to answer your questions about anything writing-related. They can also revise your paper and give you feedback to improve your essay. Those students are normally really good writers. Some writing centers will require that they have a certain GPA or pass a test in order to work there, so don’t worry about it! They are competent and they can help you succeed. Plus, they’re students just like you so they know what it’s like to struggle with writing an essay!
Online posts and articles
If you’re just completely lost and confused when it comes to writing essays, look it up online! Browse Google or college blogs for tips and tutorials. The Internet can be a goldmine of information if you search correctly!
For instance, I stumbled upon this article today and I thought it would be perfect for this post! It’s basically a gathering of everything you need to know about academic writing.
Essay writing can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be! Using the right tools, any college student can become a good academic writer. Just use the resources at your disposal and you’ll already see an improvement in your grades, I promise!
Amelie is a blogger and communications major at University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada. When she’s not studying for school, blogging or working at her local library, you can find her reading a book or watching her newest obsession on Netflix. She loves chocolate, her dog Maggie, sweaters and browsing the alleys of her local bookstore. Amelie loves writing about being your best self in college and surviving adulthood.
Read Amélie’s last post on The Happy Arkansan all about how to create a college study guide.