Writing essays


I am not a naturally good writer. It took me writing a 450-page book and countless pages of notes, reports, essays and posts to only start building a sane mechanism to identify the exact flaws in my writing (and in the text creation process itself). I found an introductory document on writing essays by J.B.Peterson to be of a great use for me. I think it is valuable for someone like me who has to write a lot of text for his PhD, albeit the domain is computer science. These are my notes for it.

General concerns

  • Eating well is important. Proteins and fats are good for breakfast.
  • You have a daily limit of several hours of productive work. This is why working every day is so important.
  • Try to concentrate for 15 minutes straight, if you succeed the concentration will persist.
  • If you have writer’s block, read. It gives food for thought.
  • Separate writing (create) from editing (reduce, arrange).
  • There are rules for writing, which work most of the time. They are dictated by empirical evidence on providing the best reading experience and by the experience of other writers.
  • First draft should be longer than the final version (probably 25%).
  • Better grab the reader’s attention immediately, so do not forward reference in the beginning.
  • Write often to structure your thoughts.

Levels of perceptions

There are many choices we make when we write. These choices affect the text semantics. We can categorize them based on the “level of resolution”:

  • Selection of words.
  • Sentence structure.
  • Order of sentences in a paragraph.
  • Order of paragraphs in an essay.
  • The essay as a whole.
  • Essay as seen by a reader (prism of his mind and personal experience).
  • Essay in a context of culture the reader is in.

Method

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Make a reading list and read; take notes (probably 2-3 times the amount of final text you need).
  3. Write an outline (10-15 sentences). Stock introductions/conclusions are ok, but should be thrown away after.
  4. Write a paragraph per outline heading (10-15 sentences). Do not edit too much. A paragraph should present a single idea.
  5. For a single paragraph: place each sentence on its own line. Rewrite each sentence to make it smoother and better. You can read it aloud and listen to yourself. Try to cut length by 15-25%. Do for all paragraphs.
  6. Repeat by looking at each paragraph as a whole. Sentences that are no longer necessary are to be eliminated here.
  7. Read your essay. Try to make an outline without looking at the text. It will help throwing some sentences away, rearrange them etc.
  8. Wait a few days and re-read everything. When you are rewriting something but you are not sure it becomes better anymore, it is time to stop.

Related Posts

Variance in programming languages

Advice for programming students

Why every programming student should learn Coq

Taking notes in markdown: insert a part of a screenshot

Bigger sphere inside of a smaller one

Memory in CompCert: overview

A beautiful intuition on associativity

On teaching mathematics -- a summary of Kudryavtsev's book

On teaching programmers and mathematicians

A word about René Magritte