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Home > Undergrad > Free Essay Tips and Advice > Writing the Essay

Paragraphs and Transitions
Word Choice
The Verb Test
Sentence Length and Structure

Paragraphs and Transitions

Paragraphs are the pillars of the essay – they uphold and support the structure. Each one that you write should express a single thought and contain a beginning, a middle, and an end. And again, this holds true whether you are writing a traditional or a creative essay.

The first sentence of every paragraph (after the first, which is called the lead) plays the important role of providing a transition. An essay without good transitions is like a series of isolated islands; the reader will struggle to get from one point to the next. Use transitions as bridges between your ideas.

As you move from one paragraph to the next, you shouldn't have to explain your story in addition to telling it. If the transitions between paragraphs require explanation, your essay is either too large in scope or the flow is not logical. A good transition sentence will straddle the line between the two paragraphs.

The transition into the final paragraph is especially critical. If it's not clear how you arrived at this final idea, you have either shoehorned a conclusion into the outline, or your outline lacks focus. You should not have to think too much about consciously constructing transition sentences. If the concepts in your outline follow and build on one another naturally, transitions will practically write themselves. To make sure you're not forcing your transitions, try to refrain from using words like: "however," "nevertheless," and "furthermore."

If you are having trouble writing transitions between paragraphs or are trying to force a transition onto a paragraph that has already been written, it may be indicative of problems with your structure. If you suspect this to be the case, go back to your original outline and make sure that you have assigned only one point to each paragraph, and that each point naturally follows the preceding one and leads to a logical conclusion. This may result in a kind of "back to the drawing board" restructuring, but try not to get frustrated. This happens to even the most seasoned writers and is a normal part of the writing process.
Word Choice

Well-structured outlines, paragraphs, and transitions are all an important part of creating a solid essay. But structure isn’t everything. An essay can be very well organized with balanced paragraphs and smooth transitions and still come across as dull and uninspired. Adding lots of colorful details to your essays is a good place to start making them interesting. Second is word choice.

Rule #1: Put your thesaurus away. Using a thesaurus won’t make you look smarter, it will only make you look like you are trying to look smarter.

Rule #2: Focus on verbs. Keep adjectives to a minimum. Pumping your sentences full of adjectives and adverbs is not the same thing as adding detail or color. Adjectives and adverbs add description, but verbs add action – and action is always more interesting than description.

One of the admissions officers on our panel advises using the following test to gauge the strength of your word choice:
The Verb Test

Choose a paragraph from your essay and make a list of every verb you have used. Compare your list to the following:
Column 1

had been living
had attended
  Column 2

has met
can say
are usually
may have heard
may not be involved
try to perform
These are lists of the first ten verbs found in two of the essays in our packages. One list was taken from one of our admissions team's favorite essays. The other was taken from one of their least favorite. Can you guess which is which? The essays were not being graded on verb use, obviously, and yet the correlation between strong verbs and high scores is undeniable. Think of it this way: If you had to choose an essay based solely on the verb list, which one would you rather read?
Sentence Length and Structure

Another way to analyze the strength of your writing is to examine the pacing of your sentences. This is a good time to read your essay out loud. As you read, listen to the rhythm of the sentences. Are they all the same length? If each of your sentences twists and turns for an entire paragraph, try breaking them up for variety. Remember that short sentences have greater impact.

One way to determine whether you are using a variety of different sentence lengths is to put S, M or L (for short, medium and long) above each sentence in a paragraph. A dull paragraph can look something like this:


On the other hand, an interesting paragraph may look more like this:

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