Welcome back to our series on the best essay tips for college students. Previously, we’ve covered topics as vast and diverse as editing, writing in sprints, citation managers, optimizing your work space, Taking Care of Your Body, and more. Today as we wrap up the series, we’ll talk about one very important tip, perhaps my best one: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In other words, don’t be so fixated on perfection that you ignore “good” and even “good enough.” What does this mean in essay world? Read on…
Write the intro last.
Too many students let themselves get caught up in agonizing over writing a great “hook” for their essays. Don’t spend hours trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence or paragraph. Perfection doesn’t exist, and let’s face it – school does not reward creative or innovative writers. You can do the intro last. The intro is a very important part of the essay, but it’s easiest to do last.
Are you struggling to come up with the perfect opening sentence for your essay? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. In fact, this is a common problem that plagues many essayists, both novice and experienced. Just start writing. Once you’ve got the body of your essay down, you can go back and craft a compelling introduction. So save yourself some time and stress, and start with the body of your essay. The intro will be a breeze after that.
Why chase perfection when most people wouldn’t know it if it hit them in the face with the Oxford English Dictionary?
We live in a time when people have access to more information than ever before, yet most people remain ignorant and unintelligent. Hm. So why worry about the specifics of the beautiful English language? A complete paper that has some subpar phrases is way better than one that’s not done. Chances are, your professor will just be happy you wrote a coherent sentence, and maybe what you come up with will be better than you thought it would be. Let’s all just relax and accept that mediocrity is the new standard. In that vein…
It’s easy to keep editing forever. Don’t do that. Don’t keep editing and re-editing your work. Don’t edit as procrastination. Set a clear, hard deadline to yourself – prior to the actual deadline – and choose to “let it go” at that point. So instead of editing as procrastination, decide that you will make no further changes after a certain date or time and then stick to it. It may not be perfect, but it will be done – and that’s the most important thing.
There really is such a thing as over-editing. Constantly second-guessing your choices and making small changes can lead to a never-ending cycle of revision. At some point, you need to step back and declare your work finished. I promise, your teacher or professor will probably find something to criticize about it no matter what. And if you edit forever, you run the risk of missing your actual deadline entirely.
Just get it done.
No matter what, in almost every situation, a complete paper beats out one that doesn’t exist. Try writing a philosophy paper on the ontology of that idea. Actually, don’t.
The age-old adage of “just get it done” is one that has been repeated so often that it has become something of a cliché. And yet, in spite of its overuse, there is still a great deal of truth to the saying. But think about it in the framework of a college essay: If you don’t turn in a paper at all, you’re guaranteed to get a zero. But if you turn in an incomplete paper, there’s at least a chance that the professor will be impressed by your effort and give you partial credit. So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by an assignment, remember: just get it done. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll end up with a mediocre grade. But the best thing that can happen is that you’ll surprise yourself with your own brilliance. So go forth and write!
Save perfect for your real life, not your college essays.
You should be proud of your work, but the little boxes you have to fit into for college may make that very hard. Pursue perfection in areas of your life that are lower-stakes, more enjoyable, and that do not rely on arbitrary and subjective authority. We all know that college is the time to perfect our craft. To hone our skills and become the very best that we can be. What if the best way to become your best self is if you put a B+ effort into papers and an A+ effort into doing what you really love, the things that let you be a whole human? Life is too short to waste time on college essay BS. The only perfection you should care about is the perfection that comes from your own standards and that bring you joy.
If you can just follow these five simple rules, you too can be a successful writer! Just kidding. The truth is, there’s no one right way to do things, and what works for one person might not work for another. But if you’re stuck on where to start or how to keep going, hopefully these tips will help. And remember: the most important thing is to get your work done and then let it go. So stop editing yourself into oblivion and put that first draft away already!
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