In the last part of this blog series on my best essay writing tips, I talked about Choosing a Citation Manager.
Don’t #MeToo me yet, bro. KISS can be the acronym that saves your sanity when it comes to writing an essay. It stands for “Keep it Simple, (non-gender specific) Son.” Back in the less-triggered era of my youth, it could also stand for “Keep it Simple, Stupid” or “Keep it Simple, Silly,” or my dad’s personal favorite, “Keep it Simple, S**thead.” (Yes, I am in therapy).
When it comes to writing essays, “KISS” means this: The purpose of the essay is to get it done. Be realistic. Your essay won’t cure cancer, or even the common cold. Your essay will not achieve world peace. The point of your essay is to hit arbitrary guidelines established by your teacher or professor. No more, no less. So when you plan, research, and write your essay, KISS-ing up means to keep your thesis simple and manageable, use what you have instead of chasing down resources, stick to the point, and write the essay your audience wants, not the one you want to research, write, or read.
One of my biggest tips for academic essays is to let go of your ambition, creativity, and curiosity. Yes, I just made kissing depressing for you. Sorry. But imagine how I feel – I gave up my youth because I wanted to inspire ambition, creativity, and curiosity in others, and, well, now I’m a permanently Unemployed Professor. Womp womp. Anyway. KISSing your essay stress goodbye can happen in only a few simple, and slightly soul-crushing, steps.
Step 1: Keep your topic & thesis statement simple and unambitious.
Here’s a secret based on my years of teaching and what I know about education. The best undergrad essays aren’t exactly fixing climate change or inciting world peace. The best ones deal with simple topics on smaller scales. The best undergrad essays aren’t even any good, as far as writing goes. They just adhere to the rubric. They don’t take risks or make complicated arguments about nuanced topics. Look for a medium-sized topic. Too big, and it’s hard to KISS. Too small, and you won’t find enough of the Peer-Reviewed™ sources your instructor doubtless requires. “Climate change is bad” is (probably) too big. So is “Gay marriage should be legal.” Yet “Our campus should let student Athletes Park anywhere they want for free” is too small, and yes, one of my students proposed that topic once. Good medium-sized thesis statements are specific, impactful, and researched (let’s call them SIR). A good one might be “The student loan interest tax deduction should be expanded,” or “YouTube should clearly mark videos that contain misinformation.” These are specific, they have an impact, and you can find quality research on them quickly.
Step 2: Stick to the point
In an ideal world, you’d be researching something you care about, and delve into all its nooks and crannies and the interesting things you find. We do not live in an ideal world and nobody is even trying to make it ideal anymore. Pick a topic you can stick with like a straight arrow. If you find interesting info, put it aside until later and come back to it on your own.
Step 3: Write What Your Audience Wants.
Write what your audience wants. Not what you would like to read, not what interests you. I know, I hate it too, but that’s just what modern universities are like. If you’re a strong writer, don’t take stylistic or content risks. Write a boring, vapid, 5-page / paragraph essay with all the rhetorical style of a glass of lukewarm water.
In practice, this means the following: Adhere religiously to the rubric. Never dare to slip an “I” or a “you” into your essay. Write clunky, predictable paragraphs that start with a clichéd topic sentence, contain 3+ sentences conveying information, and end with a sentence that transitions to the next point. Do not try to be interesting or funny. Do not try to actually propose actual solutions to problems.
Let me follow my own advice and wrap this up. I’ve described three simple steps to make your essay writing process a breeze – and hopefully, less of a total suckfest. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how to actually find sources for your paper (since that pesky “research” component is unavoidable), as well as ways to tame your inner perfectionist so you can actually submit something before your deadline. Until then, keep it simple, my friends and if you need a great essay writing service, try Unemployed Professors.