Presumably, you are familiar with basic essay structure. Let’s now look at how to fine-tune your essay and make your writing stronger. We’ll discuss some problems that can weaken your writing, as well as how to correct those mistakes.

1. Get the Right Attitude
One of the easiest things in the world to spot is a paper where the writer does not believe in his or her essay. Even though you have to write the paper, develop an attitude where you believe in what you write. Find a thesis that will interest you and attack that thesis with all your might.

2. Know Your Audience
Write for a mixed group of reasonable and intelligent people. Don’t write down to your audience, and don’t write for graduate school. Find the right tone for the particular essay topic (Somber? Humorous? Persuasive? Reasonable? Sarcastic? Concerned? Informal?)

3. Come Across as Strong and Authoritative
Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert on your topic, you need to come across with a strong voice, as someone who is convincing and who has done his or her research. In other words, in terms of your voice, it’s better to be assertive and wrong than to be right but meek and hesitant. (Of course, you’re going to have to back up that attitude in the body of the essay.) While it’s fine to use “I” in your papers, it’s better to reserve that for personal experiences you are discussing (“I once witnessed an accident...”).

Look at these two sentences and tell me which sounds stronger: “Hamlet is the greatest play ever written.” “I think Hamlet is the greatest play ever written.” They both mean the same thing “I think” is implied in the first statement. But the first statement comes off as more authoritative. Try to avoid such phrases as “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe” (“I feel that handguns should be banned” vs. “Handguns should be banned”).

4. Do an outline
Do not underestimate the value of an outline. An outline helps you organize your thoughts, lets you see the direction and flow of your essay, and ensures that you will include sufficient details in each section of your paper. Professional writers and teachers make an outline before writing papers – why shouldn’t you? An outline is your road map that keeps you from getting lost.

5. Use evidence to prove your point.
The best essays include lots of details and examples from a variety of sources. Go beyond the Internet. Go beyond just a couple of examples. If you’re analyzing a work of literature, use details and quotations from the text. Explain the significance of the examples you use – show that you know why you’re including that example. The details are the meat and potatoes of your essay.

6. Explain your evidence.
It's not enough to just give examples. You need to offer analysis -- your explanation of why that evidence is meaningful and relevant to your thesis. After each example, imagine the reader saying, "So what?"

7. Use transitional phrases.
Help your reader follow the threads of your thought. Transitional phrases are like bread crumbs on the floor of the forest: they help the reader to follow and connect the trails that make up your essay. Phrase such as "for example," "on the other hand," and "in addition" clarify where you're going with that point. There’s no use having good ideas if your reader can’t follow what you are saying.

8. Genius comes in the second draft
Few of us are inspired sufficiently so that the first draft of an essay is pure gold. Do a first draft early, and put it away for a few days. Then look at it with fresh eyes. Change phrases that are awkward add more details to bolster your arguments. Let someone objective read and give you feedback on your first draft. If you are not willing to make changes in your writing in the second draft, your writing will not get better.

9. Proofread.
Why ruin a thoughtful essay with poor grammar, poor spelling, poor punctuation? You might not think it’s a big deal, but, believe me, it is a big deal. It’s like having a gorgeous car with lots of little dents all over it.