Master these 10 most common writing tasks and you're set for life
You need to write something and you don't know where to begin. You've come to the right place! We've assembled expert advice on how to tackle life's toughest writing assignments, from essays to cover letters to thank-you notes and more.
First things first: writing is about words—so choose the right ones! Be precise. It's the best way to communicate clearly. Take advantage of our dictionary and thesaurus.
Often, the hardest part of any writing project is just getting started. If you don't know what the final product is supposed to look like, it's difficult to choose a direction. That's why we've included guidelines, templates, and samples to help you get to the point where you can start putting words on the page. After that, you'll usually find that the whole process becomes much easier.
Use the resources that follow to write confidently and effectively, whatever you're working on.
The Essay. It's the staple of a student's writing life. If you can master the structure and major elements, you'll have no problem producing effective essays throughout your academic life, and beyond.
What is an essay?
According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), "essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition."
An essay consists of three core elements: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction should include a clearly stated thesis statement, around which the entire essay will be based.
How to begin
The best way to start is by drafting an outline. Think of it as the skeleton of your essay, which you can then flesh out with the supporting facts you gathered in your research.
Every good essay is built around a strong thesis statement.
"A given assignment may not tell you that you need to come up with a thesis and defend it, but these are the unspoken requirements of any scholarly paper," says the Harvard College Writing Center.
According to the Harvard Writing Center, "a good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should ‘telegraph’ how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay."
Crucially, the Harvard Writing Center also states what a thesis is not: a question, a list, or vague. "An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim."
Formulating your thesis
"A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself," according to the University of North Carolina Writing Center. "The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel."
"So much is at stake in writing a conclusion," says the Harvard College Writing Center. "The end of an essay should... convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off."
Yikes. That's quite a lot to distill into the end of an essay! The University of North Carolina Writing Center agrees that "conclusions can be the most difficult parts of papers to write."
"While the body is often easier to write, it needs a frame around it," the UNC Writing Center says. "Your conclusion can provide a bridge to help your readers make the transition back to their daily lives. Such a conclusion will help them see why all your analysis and information should matter to them after they put the paper down."
To test whether your conclusion achieves these goals, the experts at UNC recommend playing the "so what" game.
You've written the paper, but you still need to add the bibliography. No problem.
First, answer these questions: Do you need a "works cited" page, a bibliography, an annotated bibliography, or a different kind of citation page? What documentation style is required by the assignment?
"A documentation style," according to the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, "is a standard approach to the citation of sources that the author of a paper has consulted, abstracted, or quoted from. It prescribes methods for citing references within the text, providing a list of works cited at the end of the paper, and even formatting headings and margins."
The Writing Center offers a comprehensive guide covering several styles, including APA, Chicago, and MLA.
Next, gather all the sources you used in your research so you have access to the pertinent information. What information needs to be documented? Good question.
Relax. You're going to get through this. No one has ever died writing a college application essay (that we know of).
The first step is just to start writing. The College Board advises you to "let your first draft flow."
"Don't worry about making it perfect," they say. "Just get your ideas flowing and your thoughts down on paper. You'll fix mistakes and improve the writing in later drafts."
Now that you have a draft, how do you make it perfect?
Writing a good resume might change your life. But what makes a "good" resume?
A good resume effectively displays your skill set and communicates how it will be a perfect match for your potential employer's needs.
To achieve this, you need to hone several elements of your resume, including the objective, career summary, and employment history.
Monster.com's resume writing experts have broken down every part of the resume to offer detailed advice about how to maximize your impact in each section.
"The first step to creating a high-impact resume is determining what you're trying to accomplish," says Monster Resume Expert Kim Isaacs. "With a clearly defined career objective, you can write a resume that conveys the experience, skills and training that best serve your overall professional aspirations."
Is an objective always needed?
You've perfected your resume, and now you need a cover letter.
Your cover letter will be your first impression, and you want to "balance confidence with humility," according to the experts at Monster.com.
There are several things you can do to ensure that you stand out among all the other applicants.
First, try your best to get the name of the hiring manager, or whoever will be reviewing the applications, and address that person by name in the letter.
Now you're getting to the most important parts.
Writing an appropriate letter of resignation can be tricky.
"Whether you’re leaving your employer on good terms or not, it’s proper protocol to submit a letter of resignation. You might be tempted to quickly write your resignation letter and move on, but this formal good-bye is worth further consideration," says Monster Resume Expert Kim Isaacs. "While the purpose of the resignation letter is to inform your employer that you’re quitting, you can use it as an opportunity to build relationships and leave on a positive note."
You can achieve this by following a few simple steps.
If you're having trouble writing a thank-you note, you're not alone.
"Since the dawn of time, people have struggled with the right way to say thank you," says Hallmark Editor Jeanne Field.
But taking the time to put your gratitude in writing is worth it. A well-written, thoughtful thank-you note "tells our friends and family that we went out of our way to sit down and write just to them," says Field, "because they're worth it."
So why is it so hard to write a simple note?
"The hardest part of writing a thank-you note, for many, is just starting it," says Field, who advises using a template to simplify the process.
Follow these easy steps, and you'll be done in no time—and feeling good about sending a proper thank-you.
The legendary etiquette experts at The Emily Post Institute say it best: "With all the new technology of today, the golden age of handwritten letters may be past. But receiving a long, newsy letter is still a treat, and there are times when nothing but a mailed letter will do."
The Institute offers tips on proper formatting, but, more importantly, how to write an engaging letter that you would be glad to receive.
"The best letters will share news and information, mix good with bad news, respond to the questions asked or news shared in a previous letter, and ask about the recipient."
Now that you have an idea of what you might say, it's time to get pen to paper.
What are your favorite things to write? What are the most difficult things for you to write? Tell us your writing horror stories, or leave tips for other writers!