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Lisa Lepki

Want to Nail Your Next Essay? Try This One Trick…

You know the feeling: you just powered through an essay for class, you try to edit it yourself, and you can’t tell if it’s good or not. All the typos and grammatical errors auto-correct in your brain. Well, our friends at ProWritingAid have a free resource that can help you edit your essays. Take it away, guys!


Unless you’re an English aficionado who spends most of their spare time diagramming sentences, writing can be hard work. But it is an essential skill to develop.

Good writing is clear, concise, and to the point. It rings with authority and makes your argument more believable. When you write well, you sound like you know what you’re talking about (even if you don’t!), which leads to better grades.

Bad writing distracts your reader from understanding your ideas. When your teacher is irritated by errors in your essay, you can have the most valid argument you’ve ever created, but she won’t be impressed.

How an Editing Tool Can Help

Running your essay through an editing tool before you hand it in will make an enormous difference to the quality of your writing. Try a free one like ProWritingAid. It will scan your writing and highlight some of the most common writing pitfalls. It’s a bit like a super-powered spelling and grammar checker, but it also searches for the more stylistic errors that drive teachers crazy like writing in the passive voice or overusing adverbs.

Learn About Your Own Writing

The editing tool doesn’t fix your essay for you, rather it highlights potential problems and asks you to reassess if you can say it in a better way. As such, each time you use it, you learn something new about good writing. Your work’s readability will improve, and you’ll learn to catch these errors yourself or to stop making them altogether.

Examples of Editing Tool Reports

Let’s look at a couple sample reports from ProWritingAid’s editing tool:

Vague and Abstract Words

There are two types of words that muddy the waters for clarity and concise writing: vague and abstract words.

Vague words are too subjective in meaning, like tall, pretty, a little, slightly, or good. Each of us has a different worldview to help us define what “pretty” means. And we all know “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Pretty doesn’t tell us much, does it? It’s better to choose words with clear denotations instead of a vague term open to interpretation.

An abstract noun denotes an intangible, such as a quality or state, whereas a concrete noun denotes the person or thing that may possess that quality or be in that state. For example: man is concrete and humanity is abstract, brain is concrete and thought is abstract. Like vague words, abstract words are open to interpretation. When you use common nouns like house or child, your reader knows exactly what you mean. When you use words like kindness or improvement, their meaning is more open to interpretation.

Vague and abstract words sometimes muddy your meaning and leave it up to your reader to guess at what you’re trying to say. The editing tool finds all of those vague and abstract words that detract from a clear, concise paper that teachers love.

Here’s a screen shot of a typical report pointing out where you need to be more succinct.

essay writing resources


Sticky Sentence Report

A sticky sentence is one that is full of glue words. Glue words are the empty space that readers need to get through before they can get to your ideas. Generally, your sentences should contain less than 45% glue words. If they contain more, they are probably overly cumbersome and should probably be re-written to increase clarity. Let’s look at some examples.

    Original: Dave walked over into the back yard of the school in order to see if there was a new bicycle that he could use in his class. (Glue index: 60.7% – Sentence length 27 words)


    Redraft: Dave checked the school’s back yard for a new bicycle to use in class. (Glue index 42.8% – Sentence length 14 words)


The second sentence is much easier to read. Unnecessary information has been discarded, and the wording is more concise. The point of the sentence comes across clearly. Using software to look at the percentage of glue words is a surprisingly effective way to pick out those sentences that are unwieldy or awkward.

Sentence Length Check

Same length sentences are dull. You need variety in length. Variety provides flow in writing.

That previous paragraph was rather stilted, wasn’t it? When you vary the length of your sentences, you can create a rhythm for your reader. Inter-mingle short with average and long sentences to keep your reader engaged.

Here’s what a sample Sentence Length Check report looks like in ProWritingAid:

more essay writing resources


There are Many More Reports Available

In fact, ProWritingAid’s editing tool catches 19 different issues plaguing your writing and lowering your grade and it’s free to use the online version.

An editing tool is one trick that not only shows you what needs fixed in your essay, it teaches you how to be a better writer. Better writer = better grades.

Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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About Lisa Lepki

Lisa Lepki is the Editor of the ProWritingAid blog. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself. She is also a freelance writer, communications consultant and indie author. Her writing can be found on bookbaby.com, The Write Life, Writers Digest, Our Write Side and DIYAuthor.

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