So true confession: I hate cooking. Come to my pad and be amazed by my exquisitely curated and decorated space, but open my fridge and prepare to be aghast. There is literally no food inside. I eat out virtually all the time, but once in a blue moon, I’ll try my hand at making something myself…like Instant Noodles.
Just kidding. See, the thing is I can’t bring myself to put so many different ingredients together…and then the dishes, ugh…the dishes. But if there were some magical key ingredient that makes all my foods better, you bet I’d try to use it all the time. Today, I want to tell you about that magical ingredient when it comes to essay writing.
It’s specificity. That’s the ingredient to success on your essay!
- Go beyond “yes” or “no” in your thesis
- Analyze prompt/define your terms
- Narrow the scope of your thesis
- Use specific & precise examples that demonstrate your narrow thesis
The key to a solid essay is specificity. The less someone can ask how, what, or why, the better off you (or at least your essay) will be. And specificity starts even before you begin writing. It starts with analyzing the essay prompt.
The SAT asks vague, open-ended questions on purpose. Answering the prompt is not a simple yes or no. It’s “yes” in some specific situation, or “no” in some other specific situation. I mean, yeah, definitely pick a side, but it needs to go beyond that.
For example, if the prompt asks you if being selfish is ever okay, your thesis (answer) should be something like this:
e.g. Although selfishness carries a heavy stigma, being selfish can actually be appropriate when it benefits a larger group.
So in the example above, my answer is yes, sometimes being selfish is good. But it’s not just yes. It’s yes when “it benefits a larger group.” This adds specificity, the flavor of life. Furthermore, I addressed the opposing side by acknowledging that, yeah, I know “selfishness carries a heavy stigma.”
Identifying the vague terms
in the essay prompt itself creates a perfect trifecta:
- It makes your thesis more specific by narrowing your essay’s scope
- It organizes your essay naturally and actually empowers your examples, letting your readers feel the full force of your analysis
- There’s actually no real third reason. I just wanted to use the word trifecta lol.
Let’s say the prompt asked whether a successful leader could be a quiet person. Identify the vague terms: successful
. Once you’ve identified them, define them within a narrow band.
If you write your whole essay never defining what you feel makes a leader “successful” or what you mean by “quiet,” then your readers will impose their own ideas of success and quietness onto your essay. Or worse, your readers will be utterly confused.
e.g. While many leaders are eloquent and verbose, a soft spoken leader who leads by example and inspires through actions rather than words can be a successful leader as well, one who accomplishes the goal he has envisioned. Not only does a successful leader achieve his mission, but he also garners the support of others who will follow and assist him on this task. (STRONG EXAMPLE)
Again, check out the key things going for this example above:
- Acknowledges the opposing side (“While many leaders are eloquent and verbose…”)
- Defines/specifies the vague terms of “quiet” and “successful”
- Quiet – a soft spoken leader who leads by example and inspires through actions than words
- Successful – one who accomplishes the goal he has envisioned…also garners the support of others
It’s going to be really hard to ask this writer how, why, or what. What makes a leader successful? Well, it spells it out right there…one who accomplishes his goal and garners the support of others who will follow and assist.
How does a quiet leader accomplish his goal? Leading by example and inspiring through actions rather than words.
Make your thesis (all your sentences, really) as bulletproof as possible.
With a much tighter thesis, your examples will now be much more focused and organized. You only have to spend your essay analyzing that narrow point. And trust me, it’s much easier to convincingly argue something small. Just don’t make your thesis so narrow that you can’t come up with at least two examples.
Going back to the quiet leader thesis…your examples would now have to show a leader who leads by example and has successfully accomplished his goal. Your examples are now organized around that idea. Can you think of someone like that? What about Gandhi, a taciturn leader who protested the tax on salt by peacefully walking to the beach.
The moral of the story is simple: make sure to analyze the essay prompt and define your terms. Be specific!