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College essay help: how to be specific

One of the most common criticisms that professors have is that their students do not get specific when they write. Unfortunately for students who receive that criticism, they often do not know how to remedy the situation. Learning how to be specific when you write is not a difficult skill to learn.

Avoid Vague Words

When you are given an assignment, there are a few words that you should always avoid. These words take away from being specific. These are the words you should not include in an essay:

  • stuff
  • things
  • very
  • lots or a lot
  • really

These words have no specifics to them at all. No one really knows what “stuff” is or what that “thing” is. If you have “a lot” of something, tell the reader exactly how many there are.

Limit Your Words, Only Use What You Need

When you are specific, you give an exact explanation of what you are writing about in your essay. Professors will want you to limit your words and take out every word that you do not need. However, when you write your rough draft, try not to edit as you go. It is better to get all of your thoughts on paper and then begin to remove the words and phrases that do not help move the essay.

Create a Vivid Picture with Your Words

Being specific involves creating pictures for the reader to understand. For example, if you are writing about about working hard in college, give strong examples. You could write about the spending three hours each night just reading for your literature class. You could write about having to memorize the steps of dissection before you cut into the fetal pig in your zoology class. When you include specifics, your readers will be able to see those specifics and have an easier time relating to you than if you just say you have to work hard in college.

Add Description to Bring Your Words to Life

You can practice being specific by taking single words and creating lists of detailed examples. For example, you could write about shoes and build a list full of different types of specific shoes. Your list might look like this:

  1. shoes
  2. high heeled shoes
  3. sneakers with frayed holes in the big toe
  4. highlighter yellow low-top scuffed sneakers

Even though professors will want you to remove the unnecessary words, they will not ask you to remove the descriptive words that actually help create the word pictures that show readers the specifics of your writing.

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