4 Tips for Breaking the College Essay Writing Mindset

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When is casual writing okay?

Essay writing in college is usually long-form, formal, and highly technical. That writing style clashes with the relaxed, conversational style that reaches broad online audiences.

But if that is the writing style you’re used to, it can be hard to break the mold. Check out these four tips to make your writing more accessible and enjoyable to readers.

Tip #1: Avoid complex jargon.

Remember that you aren’t writing a term paper for your professor. Consider your audience. The average American adult has an 8th to 9th grade reading level, reports Harvard University. Your content’s reading level should land in that range. You can’t do that if you’re using complicated jargon.

Use the less complicated term if there is one. For example, most people know a myocardial infarction as a heart attack. Most people won’t know what respondeat superior or vicarious liability mean, but might understand company liability for employee behavior.

In some cases, there is no way around complicated jargon. If that is the case, always explain complex terms in more accessible language.

Pro Tip: Use the Fog Index and other tools to calculate reading level. The Fog Index will tell you the required reading level for your content, while the Hemingway App will also tell you the required reading level and identify opportunities to improve your content. Grammarly won’t tell you the required reading level, but it will rate your content and identify opportunities for improvement.

You can also measure reading level within Microsoft Word. The instructions might differ depending on your version, but this will work for Word 2016:

  • Open Microsoft Word.
  • Click File on the menu bar.
  • Click Options from the drop-down list.
  • Select Proofing on the left column.
  • Check “Show readability statistics”

Run your content through Spell Check and Word will tell you your content’s Flesch reading level.

Tip #2: Ditch the long paragraphs.

As a college student who went through five majors, I did my fair share of essays, case studies, literature reviews, newspaper columns, articles, short stories, and other forms of content. While each type of writing is different, essays, literature reviews, and case studies were similar in that they usually included long paragraphs – sometimes as many as 300 words!

Web content is much different. Your paragraphs can be a sentence or two long; sometimes a single word. I always try to consider what my paragraph will look like on the given medium. Your 100-word paragraph will likely look fine on a laptop screen, but remember it will look longer on a phone.

There are a few ways you can avoid this. You can cut your paragraphs down or use a bullet list or a table to present information vertically so it is more digestible and less intimidating.

Tip #3: Use short phrases.

“A paragraph should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences,” reads The Elements of Style. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case with college essays, as students sometimes use unnecessarily long phrases in an attempt to write more formally or to meet word count.

To make your writing stronger, avoid long phrases. Consider a few common offenders and their suggested revisions from The Elements of Style.

Long Phrase


He is a man who


The reason why is that


Owing to the fact that


Call your attention to the fact that

Remind/notify you

Whenever possible, use the less complex word or phrase.

Remember, Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker, the Hemingway App, and Grammarly may offer suggestions to make your writing more concise.

Tip #4: Delete fluff.

We’ve all been there. You have a 1,000-word paper due in the morning and you still need 200 words. You start running through your paper figuring out where you can add a few words or phrases (such as our examples in the section above) to get to 1,000.

Your professors probably didn’t appreciate the fluff, and neither will your readers.

You always want quality over quantity. If you can get to 1,000 words with information that is meaningful to your readers, that’s awesome. If not, stick to the lower word count.

And remember to edit. (I suggest waiting at least a few hours after you finish writing before you edit.) You might not have realized you included fluff. This is common at the beginning of the content when writers struggle to introduce the subject. Trim down your intro by getting right to the point; do not beat around the bush too much.

Consider the following intros for a page targeting people injured by distracted drivers:

Example 1: Were you injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver? Are you facing skyrocketing medical bills and months out of work? You need money to cover those costs. Let us help.

Example 2: Distracted driving accidents are far too common. Over 390,000 people suffered injuries in distracted driving crashes in 2015, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Distracted driving wrecks can result from texting, talking on the phone, changing the radio station, daydreaming, and other behaviors. If another driver was engaged in one of these behaviors when your accident occurred, you might be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries. This process is often quite difficult; call a lawyer for help.

Example 1 is more concise and gets to the crux of why the reader is on the page: to get money to pay for medical bills and other damages. Most readers who search for a lawyer for help after an accident caused by a distracted driver won’t care how many accidents occur each year; they care more about how they can get money for their damages.

While it can be difficult to get out of your college essay writing mindset, doing so can make your content more accessible.

For help with content writing, give us a call: 888-521-3880.