If you know the uncomfortable feeling of writing an English paper at the last minute - a long night of skimming the text, paraphrasing plot and inserting insights - you know this isn’t the formula for doing your best work. The truth is, writing essays is the heart of high school and college English classes (not to mention most other subjects) and requires a level of planning and attention to detail that’s nearly impossible when you’re cramming it into one feverish night of reading and writing.
The argumentative paper is the most common type of essay in high school and college English classes; mastering this essay will bring you a long way towards getting an A in English. In an argumentative essay, you present an argument backed up by evidence and analysis. This differs from what you likely learned in elementary school, where students are taught to craft papers in the form of a book report, usually only requiring a basic summary and display of comprehension.
Writing high school and college-level papers, however, involves quite a bit more creative license. Rather than simply summarizing the text, you must construct an original argument with a cohesive flow throughout the paper, and employ strong writing and editing skills. So if you’re aiming to raise your English grade to an A, here are some suggestions for taking your argumentative essay from “meh…” to masterful.
The most important aspect of writing an argumentative essay is a strong thesis revolving around the significance of a work (or works) of literature. The thesis informs the reader what you will be writing about and alludes to the basic structure of your paper. When writing an A-worthy thesis, accuracy, clarity, and coherence are essential to convince your reader that your understanding of the text(s) in question is interesting, thought-provoking, and worth reading. Here’s a common thesis format:
“Although___[fact/assumption]____, ______[argument]______, because ____[reasoning]____.”
For example: Although Mrs. Arable is the actual mother in Charlotte’s Web, it is Charlotte who presents as the most admirable mother-figure because of her undying devotion and love for Wilbur compared to Mrs. Arable’s dismissal of Fern.
Harvard has a helpful guide to writing a compelling thesis statement. Learn more here.
2. Clear and Concise Prose
To get an A on an English paper, avoid fluffy generalizations and obvious repetition. Intelligently phrasing your argument depends on developing a clear focus with an emphasis on precision. Avoid over-using verbs like “is” and strive for active verbs that offer your essay more eloquence and detail. The same applies to non-specific adjectives like “interesting” or “significant.” Adjectives like these provide minimal insight into your assertions, instead, when choosing your words, ask why and how is it interesting? Improving your vocabulary will help you incorporate compelling language into your writing.
For example: Instead of saying, “Charlotte’s attitude towards Wilbur is very significant,” make sure you explain why, with something like, “Charlotte’s motherly attitude towards Wilbur aids and comforts him as he learns to cope with the realities of the world.”
A great way to elevate your paper to A-status is to make sure your transitions from paragraph to paragraph are seamless and sensical. Avoid simply jumping from topic to topic as you progress to your next paragraph and instead, consider how the two paragraphs relate to one another. How are the topics related to each other? Do they contrast? Complement one another? Extend off of a previous point? Seek to highlight these connections in a compelling way, rather than simply writing “also” or “in addition to.” An over-reliance on these temporal transitions often indicates an unwelcome descent into plot summary.
UNC Chapel Hill has useful tips on their writing center’s website; learn more about essay transitions here.
Quotes are often critical for offering evidence of the argument you’re asserting. To get an A in English, quoting effectively and efficiently is a very important skill. A common mistake when including quotes is to over-quote or rely too heavily on the quote itself rather than explaining its relevance to the argument in your own words. You can’t assume that the addition of a quote is enough evidence in itself. To get an A, you must detail the specific features that contribute to and embolden your argument.
It is also essential to provide a quick context to your evidence, which can be done by citing the passage and writing a brief (one sentence max) summary of where in the text the quote appears.
For example: When Fern tries to tell her mother about her experiences with the barn animals and the conversations she’s witnessed, Mrs. Arable reacts not with understanding, but instead commands, “Stop it! Stop inventing these wild tales!” (Charlotte’s Web 106).
Often, students have interesting ideas for argumentative essays but struggle with structuring and writing them. It is not enough to simply think of a compelling argument. By paying attention to each of these suggestions, you can easily elevate your papers to A-status.