Amateur Hour:  Writing tips and tricks from fellow students

Here’s a  list of tips and rules for writing essays from fellow students, the Mountain News staff, and myself.


Writing is a complex art,

One shouldn’t take this struggle to heart.

It’s not like you can buy words at a H-mart,

So, it’s quite difficult to sound smart.


With years of classes they strive to mend,

The faulty English they should commend.

With every essay that we send,

A new variety of words to bend.


For those who seek to write in a way

That could potentially make your teacher’s day,

A list of rules to use, if you may,

Maybe you would find it easier if you stay:


My Opinions:

  1. Words on Inflation

Write with words you are comfortable with and use often. If your regular vocabulary does not include certain words, don’t use them.

  1. Finding the Perfect Phrase

Unless you are searching for a very particular word or phrase, don’t change your writing to make it sound ‘more impressive’. The goal of an essay is to express ideas clearly and precisely; changing your “and”-s to “in addition to”-s doesn’t do that.

  1. Be Consistent

If you spell out a number (ex. twenty-six) don’t write the next number numerically (ex. 45). If you use a contraction in one paragraph (ex. can’t), don’t write it out in the next (can not).

  1. Mind your Manners

This tip isn’t universal, so pay attention to your instructor’s standards, and your assignment’s specific instructions. Commonly, formal writing implies not using contractions and writing out numbers, as well as writing without pronouns referring to the audience or the author (you, I, me, you all, we, etc.).  Formal writing also rejects colloquial English phrases that people may use in conversation (Be Professional).

  1. Record Scratch

Here is a caveat to the Word Choice rule: if you repeat a specific word every few sentences, exchange it for a synonym. Unless strictly necessary, never follow a sentence with a reworded version of that sentence. It may add some writing to your page, but it makes your writing needlessly repetitive.

  1. Have Some Dignity

Don’t submit work you are embarrassed to put your name to, or something you feel doesn’t represent your skill and style of writing. Remember that everything you write is under your name and reflects you as a student.

  1. Don’t Get Caught with your Hand in the “Word” Jar

Copy and Paste is not a tool for writing, it’s a tool for quoting. Never use websites that claim they can reword phrases for you; especially if you want to copy and paste someone else’s work in place of your own work. That constitutes plagiarism and ruins your credibility. Above that, it sounds awful, and you can do better. Even if it is clear, you risk accidental plagiarism. 

  1. Don’t be a Chia Pet

Your writing should somewhat represent your own ideas and personality. If you’re writing something because it’s what your teacher wants to hear, something isn’t right. Argue your points, it’s why you’re writing your assignments in the first place. 

  1. Cook your Spaghetti 

More importantly, you should have thoughts and ideas on the subject before you start writing. You can’t throw uncooked spaghetti at a wall and expect it to stick.

  1. Comedic Timing and You

Avoid obvious transitions such as Firstly, Secondly, Then, etc.; Subtlety is of the essence. I recommend having someone else read your transition over to make sure the phrases you use provide a smooth transition.

  1. Words, Words, Words

There is no shame in using common words, and vice versa. Again, use words you are comfortable with. The first word that comes to mind is usually the best. 

  1. Welding Words

Keep in mind that language is a malleable tool; it is there for you to play with. Your writing should be distinctive and something you would be able to say.

  1. Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Many teachers will ask you to use strong wording or change phrases that imply inference into ones that claim opinions as fact. This is a very careful balance: make sure your opinions and biases are clear. Educated Opinions and facts should be treated separately.

  1. Checkow’s Writing

If you have a setup, make it pay off: If you have a section where you set something up to be important, explain why. People can not read your mind, so you have to express every relevant idea. The best way to test this is by asking why: it can force you to explain why and how your argument is relevant and right.

  1. Editing Your Methods

Write comments with fun facts and jokes if it helps you. Keep sections that you decide to cut out, and see if you can employ your ideas elsewhere. You don’t always have to kill your darlings, and if you do, they can be revived. The main purpose of editing is to help with clarity.

  1. One Track Mind

It can be difficult to ensure that all of your points are relevant. Ensure that your evidence is concise and clearly articulate why and how it is applicable to your point.

  1. Pull Out The Red String and Cork Board

Think about how you prefer to analyze. Do you like to print out your papers and annotate in margins, or do you prefer to summarize your materials while copying in some quotes? Remember the edits you make are for yourself, write as informally as you want (just make sure your final draft is properly written).

  1. Banking on Success

Sometimes Teachers ask students to turn in their bibliography ahead of writing assignments- this practice often means they want you to have finished the analysis stage of writing (Personally, I have never done that). Your original Works Cited page and your final paper’s page do not have to look the same. If you find more materials that work for you or decide to switch a material out for another one, that is your prerogative and will very much improve your paper. While this isn’t the case for major writing projects, most of the time, the Essays dictate the Bibliography, not vice versa; if you are limited because of the materials you chose ahead of time, choose new ones. 

  1. Cite your Sources

What do you do if you have similar titles of Sources and you cannot cite a name? You find a distinctive word referring to both of them: United States Vs. Korematsu and United States Vs. Wong Kim Ark, are long titles to cite in-text, and they shouldn’t be simplified to (United States) because it isn’t clear which one is being referred to. Instead, you can use (Wong Kim Ark) and (Korematsu). If you have trouble with a source, ask your teacher for help in citing it.


Tips from the News staff:


  1. Mood Setting

It isn’t easy to find motivation when writing a paper, especially if the prompt is confusing. To prompt yourself to work, you should simulate your normal writing environment. If you like to listen to music, or you do most of your work in a chaotic or loud environment, do that! Quiet isn’t always helpful. Put away unnecessary devices, set yourself up to work for a long time (even if you won’t). Maybe get a drink or a snack.

  1. Prepping the Ingredients

Writing should be the process of putting your ideas into words, not coming up with ideas. Before you start the proper writing process, you should already know what prompt you will be using and what you think about the prompt, and what sources you will use: You can always change them during the writing process, but it’s good to have an idea.

  1. Advising Against Adjective Abuse

Avoid overusing adjectives:  stick to one if possible. Writing needs to be descriptive sometimes, but subtlety is important. For example,  phrases like “pink fluffy flamboyant boas” should be simplified. 

  1. Adding Spice

Remember that your writing will be read. It should be engaging and flow well.


Tips From Other Students:


  1. “Spacing out your writing helps you to stay focused, and so does making the paper you’re writing personally relate to you. It helps you feel like you’re invested in doing this, and that it isn’t a burden or a random assignment you have to get done.”

-Maleki Vallejo, Sophomore

  1. “Jotting down all of your ideas and trying to analyze the true meaning of it all before you even start writing, that way you know exactly what to say each step of the way.“ -Angelica Rucker, Sophomore
  2. “Write down EVERYTHING! Any idea/any thought – don’t shrug it off as stupid or meaningless, you can always revise what you’re writing.” 

-Jordyn Blackburn, Sophomore

  1. “Planning out what you’re writing for an essay. This is an easy step that is so, so helpful!” 

-Ella Gonzales, Sophomore (mirroring what Ms. Winkle said)

  1. “Make sure all writing is clear, concise, and arguable”

-Brynn Ropelewski, Sophomore

  1. “Always write as if your Language Arts teacher is standing over your shoulder judging you.” -Brian Kerrigan, Senior