Essay Writing Tips for High School English

keep things simple

I've observed that many Alberta students do not know what is expected of them on an essay. Part of the problem is that many students are not paying attention. However, some teachers are partly to blame as well. Some teachers make essay writing sound more complicated than it is or the teacher has a very particular style that they want the students to follow. (However, if you want the marks, you'd better follow your teacher's style.) Either way, I can help you understand what is going on, learn the rules and learn the styles


So how do you write a good essay? See the details below, but basically there are three simple steps to writing a good essay: Planning, Writing and Editing.


I didn't say, easy steps, I said, simple steps. None of this will be "easy." You will need to think and rethink each step of the way. But at least you will not find it complicated.

FIRST STEP: Planning

It seems like common sense, but you need to plan out an essay. But when it comes to essay writing, many students do not plan.


Planning an essay with include four parts: a) figuring out the question, b) brainstorming answers, c) gathering examples and d) outlining the entire essay. Here we go...


- a) reading the question

You will laugh but the MAJORITY of bad essays start here. The student (you) didn't read the question. You "looked" at the question and ran off with the first idea (not the best idea) that came into your head and starting writing. Wrong.

You need to read the question and understand each word. Write synonyms for each word in the question. Now, re-write the question in your own words. (And nothing is wasted: these synonyms you will use again another time. All is recycled.) If you don't answer the question, you get zero!

- b) brainstorming

I recently heard that 'brainstorm' is a bad word in the Calgary Board of Education. Can you believe it? Talk about making things more complicated for students. Why? (Anyway, that is my rant for today.)

Brainstorm (and I love the word) means that now that we understand the question, we

and guts, witches and weird words; there is a lot in William Shakespeare's tragedy. If you want more help, call for a private tutor with experience.

- c) gathering examples

Most of your pre-writing time will be spent looking for examples and brainstorming. 


- d) outline the essay

Now you decide how many ideas you have and which comes first, second and third. Here is where you look at your ideas to see if you have three great ideas or just 2 small ideas. Perhaps you can take something that looks like one idea and make it into two different ideas. Or perhaps you see that 

SECOND STEP: Writing your essay

The second step to smart essay writing is getting it down on paper, with a particular structure.


Because you have planned your the essay, writing it will be simpler. Because you have sacrificed so much time thinking and planning, you won't need as much time to actually write your essay. How smart is that!!


Therefore, when writing, stick to your plan. If you do have to change something, be sure that your changes are consistent throughout the essay.

THIRD STEP: Editing the essay

Here you must stop writing and sacrifice the class time that you have left and start editing. (Right now, I want you to raise your right hand and solemnly swear that you will always stop early and re-read and edit your essay. Thank you. Put your hand down now.)


You cannot hand in your essay before you edit it. I promise you an extra ten to 15% in your mark, if you edit your paper before handing it in.


When you edit your essay, check for the following items.

- did you read the question and did you answer the question [Sounds dumb, but everybody messes up at this point.]

- use "literary present" (talk about Hamlet or Willy [in Death of a Salesman] -- in the "present tense" -- don't use past tense

- do not use contractions (e.g., "don't, isn't, won't, can't, he'd, etc.)

- recycle the words from the question in your introductory paragraph so that your essay is on topic (ignore this rule if your teacher said, "Don't recycle the question words".)

- editing is when you get rid of "baby words" and use the fancy, $10 words that you have in your head (or in your thesaurus!)

- vary your word choice and vary the length of sentences

- double- and triple-check the introductory paragraph and the first body paragraphs, to be sure that they--in particular--are clear and faultless 

- did you constantly refer back to your "thesis" and the essay question?!?!? 

Essay Writing: CRT / PRT?

There is not a great deal of difference between the structure of a critical response essay (CRT or CART) and the structure of a personal response essay (PRT). At least, there is a way to keep the two similar and save time trying to learning the two types.


Firstly, while the CRT is pretty straightforward, there are three "flavours" for the PRT. One type of PRT is the 'analytical' PRT. If you try to always follow the structure of the analytical PRT, then you will simplify things in your life because it resembles a CRT.  


If all else fails, call for a private English tutor

fair is foul and foul is fair (Macbeth)

Writing an essay isn't gory and full of blood and guts and witches and weird words. But essay writing is a lot of work (and some weird words). So if your essay is about Shakespeare's, Macbeth, or anything else, and you would like some face-to-face help, call for a private tutor with experience.

Take Macbeth for example

- it won't cost an arm and a leg to learn essay writing

  • Duncan lost his kingdom to Macbeth, but you'll only pay $45/hr for a private essay writing class
  • (high school courses are GST exempt)
  • all materials are included for most classes
  • simple, flexible payment plans

Great Writing Links

Commentary on Shakespeare's play, Macbeth