Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

How do I improve my ability to write an English essay? I can understand what you write, but I can’t write it by myself.

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Here’s a trick that I developed over time:

  1. Don’t think of it as an “essay”—but as something that you need to explain to a good friend of yours at the school cafeteria (because fundamentally, that’s what all essays do). You do this all the time, effortlessly—when it’s something you know about. So you first job is to research the subject till you know it just as well.
  2. Sum it up as a single sentence—e.g.: “The Middle Ages were not really the Dark Ages: the first three centuries were bad, but Charlemagne made things better, and new technologies in the tenth and eleventh centuries improved things further, which paved the way for the Renaissance in the 14th and 15th centuries.”
  3. Then expand each of those parts of the sentence into a full paragraph, with its own heading.
  4. The expand each paragraph into however many paragraphs you need to fill in the necessary detail.
  5. When you have finished, add an introductory paragraph at the beginning which gives an overview of the rest of the text, then add another, summary paragraph, at the very end.
  6. Use an essay template such as an APA Essay Template: this will ensure that you’re using the right font, text styles, line spacing, etc.

The advantages of this approach are three:

  1. Having to sum up the whole essay in a single sentence forces you to work out what is the main point you’re trying to make (if you don’t know what that is, work it out first)
  2. It breaks down the task into manageable small chunks
  3. It enables you from losing track of losing sight of the whole or getting side-tracked.

Good luck!

(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).

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Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

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