academic writing and editing / anthologies / non-fiction writing and editing

Essay Tips from an Editor

This editor’s response is to a young man who is planning to submit his essay to an anthology and wants some feedback:

*****

Thank you for your thoughtful essay. You are obviously a young man with high ideals, and I applaud you for that. I enjoyed reading your essay, and have attached my edit, including a variety of specific comments. Here are some overall suggestions:

  • Try to avoid “high-brow jargon” and use clear and concise language that is easily understood by other young people (I assume, by the final paragraphs, that is your audience).
  • I recommend you narrow your topic somewhat. In this essay, your topic is really quite broad (a book could easily be written on it), and in your attempt to cover a wide number of aspects, past and present, the essay, unfortunately, lacks a clear thesis, and the solution you offer at the end is not clearly related to some of your points throughout the paper. Perhaps you could use your solution–a good one, by the way–to help craft your thesis, which would then guide you in choosing relevant key points. Having a distinct, well-defined audience in mind will also help you define your thesis, and keep you on track.
  • I also suggest that when you plan your essay, you make a careful outline. You cannot go wrong by following the traditional “five paragraph essay” plan, and then expand it by adding closely related details in additional paragraphs. With that initial outline, you will also find yourself sticking more closely to your thesis.
  • And of course, I also recommend you start with a very clearly defined thesis statement, which ideally should be narrow enough to be stated within no longer than an 8- to 10-word sentence. (Just like writing a novel – you should be able to describe your essay’s thesis in one short sentence, and, ideally, in one very clear, succinct word!).

Essay writing is not easy, and I commend you for giving it such a good try. If you keep working at it and follow the suggestions above, you will continue to develop your essay skills. One of the best ways to learn to write strong essays is to read good examples of the craft. An excellent collection (with helpful comments and explanations of the essay craft) is in the anthology, The Art of The Personal Essay (edited by Phillip Lapate).

Comments and Responses: What other advice would you provide to those learning the craft of writing essays? Do you have a favourite essayist(s) you would recommend? What questions do you have about essays? Please share your responses in the comments. Thank you!

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