Best Harvard strategies for essay writing

Looking for a good place to find writing advice? Then obviously the Ivy League universities are the place to go. While you’re at it, why do things in half measure? Let’s go all out by looking at what Harvard has to say. A lot, it turns out.

Here are some of their best points of advice, in a condensed form (Follow this link to get the whole bees wax).

Start at the beginning – how to read an Assignment

It seems so obvious. And yet, a lot of people go flat on their face at the first hurdle. They don’t read the assignment correctly and end up answering a question that was never asked. If you’re serious about doing well, that simply does not fly – not at Harvard and certainly not in the business world (though you’ll do great in politics).

For that reason, make sure that you re-read the assignment plenty of times even while you’re drafting your essay. In that way, you’ll make sure that your essay does not drift off topic and that you answer the question that was asked.

Close reading

“Most essays, especially academic essays, begin with a close reading of some kind of text—a painting, a movie, an event—and usually with that of a written text.” The people at Harvard said. To correctly do your close reading, you need to pay attention not just to what the author is trying to say, but also what he or she is actually saying as well as what has actually been said. This means you pay attention to rhetorical, striking features, as well as what has been avoided.

The best way to do this is to actually go through the text armed with a pencil or pen so that you can make observations. This will help you remember what’s going on, think more critically and remember the observations that you made.

Develop your thesis

The thesis is the central argument that you’re trying to make with your essay. It decides where you start your essay as well as where you finish it. For this reason, it’s important that you’ve got one of these before you even set pen to paper.

Be aware, sometimes as you’re going through your essay you’ll find that your thesis evolves. This is because you might become aware of holes in your argument, or might find that some of the research that you thought supported your position, in fact, says something slightly different.

That’s fine. Let your thesis evolve. It will only get better as you do so. Do note, however, that if you change your thesis as you go through, you have to go back to the beginning of your piece and adjust your introduction, so that it accurately reflects your new ideas.

In that way, you’ll write an essay that’s excellent, no matter if you’re writing for Harvard, a local community college or a top essay writing service.


After you’ve got your thesis, you need to start working on your outline. I’ve known some writers whose entire work process consists of writing ever-more fleshed out outlines. They’ll start with their introduction, body, and conclusion. From there, they’ll add in more and more details with each pass. They keep this up until eventually, they’ve got the whole thing written down.

The great thing about this strategy is that you never lose track of what it is you’re trying to do. At the same time, it can be quite a labor intensive. For that reason, I can understand you might not want to go this route. Still, it’s always a good strategy to remember.

Personally, I’ll often use fillers for bits I don’t feel I can argue yet. I’ll write something like explain outlines here and then fill that in later when I’m in a better headspace to do so.

Counter arguments

The best papers don’t just argue their position well, they also refute the counter arguments that you may come up with as you come up with them (or even before you did). If you can do that, you’re really going to stick out head and shoulders above the rest.

The best ways to get the counter arguments is to ask other people to read your piece and note down everything they say. You do have to ask them to be critical as many people won’t naturally be.

One more draft

You know what the biggest secret is to writing well? Edit everything. Really, it is. Sure, sometimes you’ll be able to create great content on the first draft, but it isn’t often. And if you want to write great content consistently, you have to go back to the text again and again.

What’s more, the time that your writing will improve the most isn’t when you’re just freeballing ideas. It’s when you take those ideas under the loop and consider what does and what doesn’t work. That allows you to judge objectively what you do and don’t like. In other words, editing won’t just make your current essay better, it will make all of your writing better. So do it. Always.

Last words

There is a lot of good advice out there by universities like Harvard. Read it, study it, and consider it. But then you have to do one more thing. And that applies it. For you can’t internalize writing advice until you’ve actually applied it.

For that reason, always write. It’s only in that way that these kinds of instructions will become second nature. And only then will you end up writing like a Harvard student. After all, Harvard isn’t just filled with brilliant minds. It’s filled with people who are willing to work harder than anybody else to stay there.

And that’s probably the best writing advice Harvard and I can give you.


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