I consider my English degree to be like a unicorn tattoo on the lower back. Itâ€™s something I did when I was young, and now I have to live with it.
Still, unlike the unicorn tattoo (which is hypothetical â€“â€“ really) I sometimes find a use for my
English degree. Every few weeks someone mentions an essay is due shortly, and they hate writing essays. As a former English student, I wrote a fair number of essays and have developed a number of foolproof strategies that make writing an essay as easy as a drunken walk into a tattoo parlor one fateful August eve.
The first thing you must do is select a topic. Sometimes this will be from a list of pre-approved topics or a single pre-selected topic. A younger teacher will sometimes give free-reign to students, allowing any topic. After the resultant deluge of â€˜legalize-potâ€™ and â€˜why I like to skiâ€™ papers, they usually do not repeat this experiment.
If no list is available, try to remember what youâ€™ve heard the teacher say and write about that. A topic should be selected based on personal interest, in that it should be something you have little to no personal interest in. If you enjoy a topic, you may spend more time than is absolutely necessary researching and writing and that would make you a dork.
After selecting a topic, you must do some research. If reading a novel was involved, I recommend starting your research there by finding out what novel you were supposed to be reading. The class syllabus is an excellent source for this, but I must strongly discourage you from asking the teacher directly. They are touchy about that kind of honesty.
It can be a bother, but additional research may be required. Naturally, Wikipedia is a one-stop shop for all the worldâ€™s information, but again, there are some unreasonable attitudes about relying on a single source for all information ever. The best tactic is to go to the library, grab a book with a title that appears to match, select a random passage, and quote it out of context without doing any checks on reliability. Like you were a reporter for the right/left wing media.
The key to a great grade is a great opening. Picture yourself as the teacher or, more likely, TA grading the paper. Itâ€™s late, youâ€™re tired, and there are a hundred more papers to read. The only thing youâ€™re likely to remember is the first 20 and last five words. And if Iâ€™ve learned anything from my career as a journalist, I know the best way to get attention is through proactively shredding decency.
Donâ€™t start out with a hum-drum, â€œMy essay will discuss the ways in which Huck Finnâ€™s journey was an allegory for adolescence.â€ I lost half my audience to Failbook.com just giving that example. Start out with, â€œHuck Finnâ€™s racist, sociopathic swath of destruction was Twainâ€™s final condemnation of the human race. Titmouse.â€
The middle of the essay is the longest and least important part. Itâ€™s really hard to justify spending much time on it, but regrettably many people get stuck here and are unable to simulate an in-depth discussion.
A useful trick is to pretend that you are explaining the topic to a friend, only that friend is texting and saying, â€œUh huh,â€ and so you want to see if theyâ€™re really paying attention, so you say the same thing six times but with different words. This is called â€˜being clear.â€™
Conclusions are supposed to be concise summaries of the facts you covered tied together with a punchy line that grabs attention back and says, â€œGive me an A.â€ Given the essay so far, I recommend taping â€œaâ€ 50 times there.
Johnathan Kastner is in his second year of his second bachelorâ€™s degree, majoring in computer science. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.