Some Essay Tips

As a humanities or social science student, you will be plagued by essays. In fact, essay season is upon us and the month will soon be filled with sleepless nights, coffee and hours of staring at your laptop monitor. In any case, for you froshies or science students out there who feel that writing isn’t their strongest attribute, here are a few things you should always remember while writing an essay.


I have written that in capital letters because without a thesis, you have no essay. Your thesis should be coherent and tell the reader exactly what you’re trying to argue. Unlike what you learned in high school, theses don’t need to be one sentence long. They can be two or three sentences depending on what you’re trying to express.  If you’re stuck writing your essay, go back to your thesis and see what you’re arguing about. You might need to tweak your argument or your thesis to fit each other while you write your essay, which is perfectly normal. For the standard 8-page paper, your thesis should appear on or near the bottom of the first page.

5 paragraph essays are NOT allowed at university

I used to confuse myself completely and utterly in high school because my English teachers always demanded a 5 paragraph essay. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever to me because you start a new paragraph when you started writing about a new idea. In any case, 5 paragraph essays (or one paragraph essays) are not allowed BUT, essays with an introduction, 3 arguments and a conclusion are fine. Just don’t write about one subject and then start talking about another in the same paragraph.

Professors and TAs value a good writing style

As a result, grammar and spelling mistakes are unacceptable because firstly, it shows that you don’t have a good command of the language, which is important in an academic setting, and it’s also detrimental to how you express your ideas. Your arguments can be well thought out, but it’s hard to either understand or appreciate them when your essay is full of spelling or grammar errors. If you’re not confident about your writing style, get a friend to read it over. Better yet, bring it to your college writing centre where you can get constructive critique on the logic of your arguments as well as your style.

Also, having a good writing style also lets you get away with the offense of writing over the word/page limit.

General things

Remember to number your pages, have 1 inch margins. Some profs/TAs will demand that your name be in the header or footer of your essay. This may sound simple, but staple your papers together because they can get scattered and lost easily. The standard text is typed in 12 point Times New Roman or Aerial font. (Although the newest versions of Microsoft word use Calibri size 11 as their default, which I believe is acceptable to most professors and TAs.) Make sure you have a bibliography written in the proper style if needed.

Rules, rules, rules…

Just remember, contractions such as I’m, didn’t, haven’t and aren’t are not allowed. Personal pronouns are rarely used but allowed in certain cases, like in an introduction where the author declares what they’re arguing.You should also stick to one verb tense. History essays are often in past tense while essays on literature and current politics/issues are in the present. Present tense is also used in the literary present, when you’re writing about a source or a book. For example, if you’re writing a history essay on primary sources, despite the fact that you’re writing about the past, when you write about the primary source, you should use the present since it is still giving out information. So rather than saying, “The manuscript revealed such and such…” you’ll have to write, “The manuscript reveals…” since the manuscript has never stopped revealing information to its reader.


Quotations two lines or under in length are always sandwiched between two quotation marks while quotations longer than two lines must be indented, centered in a sort of mini-paragraph, made into a smaller font but without any quotation marks. However, be warned that long quotations are often frowned upon because your prof or TA doesn’t want you to regurgitate the text, they want you to analyze what you’re reading and know that you understood it.

Make sure to cite your sources

At the beginning of every year, professors and TAs will give you the plagiarism talk, no matter what year you’re in. You need to cite your source if you’re directly quoting a source or if you’re paraphrasing a text. If you aren’t sure whether or not you should cite, be on the safe side and cite it. Plagiarism is a serious offense that can lead to suspension or expulsion, which are things that go on your academic record even if you apply to another university. Also, be sure to cite in the style recommended by your prof or TA. If they don’t have a style preference, just make sure you use one style and stick with it.

On another note, professors and TAs are now obligated to accept double-sided essays

Since the summer, U of T libraries have defaulted their printers to print everything double-sided unless you tell your computer not to print double-sided. As a result, U of T has implemented a policy to support this act of environmentalism by making it mandatory for all profs to accept double-sided papers.

Happy writing!

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