If you’re assigned to write a critique and your first thought is, “I have absolutely no idea how to write a critique,” that’s understandable.
But in all actuality, you probably already have a sense of how to critique.
Think about trying a new corner deli. The first time you visit, you evaluate the deli based on all sorts of things, such as the sandwich selection, cleanliness, atmosphere, and location.
Based on your dining experience that day, you critique the deli.
When you buy a new phone, you’re also completing a critique. You evaluate the phone based not only on its price but also on its features, such as its camera, battery life, and storage capabilities.
See? You’re already critiquing things. Your task now is simply to transfer your well-honed critiquing skills to a formal, academic essay and actually write a critique.
Here’s how you do it.
How to Write a Critique (That Doesn’t Suck)
I know writing can be stressful. Writing a type of essay that you’ve never tackled before can be even more stressful. But remember, you already know how to critique.
Simply translate your skills into writing, and follow these two basic steps to learn how to write a critique successfully.
Step 1: Know your purpose for writing a critique
It’s a given that you’re writing a critique because your prof assigned it, but that’s not what I mean when I say “know your purpose.” In this case, I mean that you need to know the purpose for the critique itself.
Let’s say you’re critiquing an article about poverty. The information you include will change depending on your purpose for the critique.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a sociology paper, and the purpose of your critique is to evaluate an article to determine whether it’s a useful research source. To do so, you might examine the writer’s arguments, evidence, and logic.
On the other hand, if you’re in a linguistics class and you’re critiquing the same article, your purpose might be to evaluate how well the writer uses language to convey his/her message. In this case, you might evaluate the tone, word choices, and sentence structures.
Knowing your purpose for writing a critique is also crucial if you’re in a lit class. Your critique of a novel, such as Fahrenheit 451, will change depending on your purpose for the critique.
For example, if you’re writing a literary analysis (or literary criticism) about Fahrenheit 451, your purpose might be to evaluate the novel and examine how it fits into the dystopian genre of literature.
In this case, you might look for elements such as a ruler or oppressor, a protagonist who fights to change society, and an ending that leaves readers wondering about the future of current society.
On the other hand, if you’re reading the same piece of literature and studying theme, your purpose might be to evaluate Fahrenheit 451 and write about the themes of technology or literature.
The takeaway: Your purpose for writing a critique will determine which elements of the work you’ll actually critique.
Your purpose for writing a critique determines what elements you’ll actually critique. Click To Tweet
At this point, you should have a pretty good sense of how to write a critique, but it’s just as important to know what you should avoid.
Avoid writing all-positive or all-negative critiques
When you critique something, you should objectively evaluate its merits. This means that a critique is rarely all positive or all negative.
Sure, if you’re evaluating a professional journal article, it’s easy to say that it’s well-written. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t disagree with something or that you can’t address the fact that the article fails to address important arguments.
The same is true with fiction. You might absolutely love The Hunger Games and claim it as your all-time favorite. But if you really think hard enough, there might also be one or two things that really irk you about the novel and don’t quite seem to work.
Avoid focusing too heavily on summary
Whether you’re critiquing fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to include some amount of summary. But you should assume that your audience has already read the piece you’re critiquing.
There’s no need to retell the entire story or rehash all the details of a research article. Doing so adds length in the form of useless content. It doesn’t add any value to your critique.
So where should you place the summary in the context of your paper?
It’s a smart idea to include a summary of the work toward the beginning of your critique (usually after the introduction paragraph).
The summary should be long enough to include the main points of what you’re critiquing—but much shorter than the actual evaluation section of your essay.
Avoid critiquing everything
Remember, when writing a critique, you should choose a few important points. You’re not trying to write about everything you can possibly think of.
For example, if you’re critiquing an opinion article in a conservative publication, it might be worth noting the intended audience. The writer wouldn’t only make specific choices about content but would also use specific word choices to reach a conservative audience.
On the other hand, if you’re critiquing an article published in a scientific journal, the writer is reporting factual information to a science-literate audience. In this case, discussing the intended audience isn’t as relevant.
Likewise, if you’re writing about literature and critiquing a novel with no symbolism, there usually isn’t any point of writing about the lack of symbolism.
If the focus of your critique is imagery, it usually wouldn’t make sense to devote the bulk of your critique to how the novel fits into the horror genre.
Avoid choosing random points to critique
While you’ll certainly need to select a few key elements to critique, don’t just pick the first points you think of that you believe will fill a few pages.
It’s crucial that you have a focus for your critique and tie your main ideas together with a strong thesis statement.
For instance, if you’re critiquing a newspaper editorial, you might focus on the writer’s arguments. Your critique could evaluate whether the writer does the following:
Uses enough evidence to create successful arguments
Makes persuasive arguments
Uses effective language to convince an audience
If you’re critiquing a short story, you might focus on theme. Your critique could evaluate the plot, characters, and ultimate resolution of the story to determine whether the writer successfully portrays the intended theme.
In both of these examples, the critique includes several main ideas but then ties them together with a common focus, such as argument or theme.
Critique by Example
If you’re thinking that all this advice sounds great but you’d still like to see a few finished essays to see how to write a critique and pull it all together, here are some example essays to help inspire your creative genius:
Of course, writing isn’t the only possible subject of a critique. You might critique (among other things) a work of art, a film, an advertisement, or a political poster. If you’re interested in reading an example critique of some of these topics, check out the following:
Ever go to a party with your BFF, and when you get there, the only person you know is the friend who invited you?
While meeting a whole bunch of new people is great, it can be a mental challenge to try to remember people’s names, what they do, or even if they’re the people hosting what has now turned into a pretty awesome party.
Reading a novel filled with tons of characters can feel just like walking into a party of strangers.
In both instances, it can be hard to keep names and stories straight.
It’s probably not a big deal if you see Andria at the party later and call her Arianna. But it probably is a big deal (at least to your professor) if you’re analyzing a novel, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, and you refer to the protagonist as Ofglen rather than Offred.
If you’re still trying get to know everyone in The Handmaid’s Tale, let me be your host, and I’ll introduce you to four key characters.
How to Analyze 4 Important Handmaid’s Tale Characters
The Handmaid’s Tale is filled with a variety of characters, so I won’t be introducing you to everyone. Instead, let’s stick to four important characters in the novel: Offred, Serena Joy, Aunt Lydia, and the Commander.
Handmaid’s Tale Character #1: Offred
Offred is the narrator and protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale. She tells the story of her life as a Handmaid: a woman who is forced to bear the children of infertile, elite couples.
While she sometimes reflects back on her life in the United States (before the rebellion and before it became Gilead), Offred is essentially complacent with her current existence.
Offred’s complacency is an important aspect of her character. She’s a prime example of how people learn to accept their lives, no matter what they’re like. She’s willing to accept (at least on some level) that the new society of Gilead is actually of benefit to women.
Like many others, she’s also willing give up her freedoms and does little to fight for herself. As a result, she (and others) loses all freedom, allowing the government (who, by no coincidence is composed of men) to have complete control.
Because Offred has given up control of her freedom, her identify, and her body, it’s clear that she can’t be labeled a feminist. Men control every aspect of her existence, and she allows men (including Nick, with whom she ends up having an affair) to control her.
Analyze one or more themes (such as feminism or complacency) in The Handmaid’s Tale.
When Gilead was still the United States, Serena Joy was an anti-feminist who advocated for traditional, conservative family values. In Gilead, she holds a high social ranking as she is the Commander’s wife.
Serena Joy, however, doesn’t live up to the name she has chosen for herself and is anything but serene or joyful.
She is angry because she too is completely controlled by men and is jealous of the Handmaids who are forced to have sex with her husband (and possibly bear the children she is unable to conceive).
Analyzing Serena Joy
Serena Joy is the quintessential mean girl. She’s at the top of the social ladder, so she thinks she can bully others.
Therefore, even though she too is miserable in her own life because she is controlled by men, she takes out her anger and jealousy on the Handmaids, including Offred.
The quintessential mean girl, Serena Joy takes out her anger and jealousy on the Handmaids. Click To Tweet
Aunt Lydia is part of a group of women called Aunts. Aunts work for the government and are assigned the task of essentially brainwashing women (like Offred and the other Handmaids) into accepting their new roles in society.
Aunt Lydia appears as a Handmaid’s Tale character mainly in flashbacks.
She is very much a part of Offred’s internal monologue as Offred often thinks back to what Aunt Lydia preached during the indoctrination. (Whether she believes all of Aunt Lydia’s words is debatable.)
Analyzing Aunt Lydia
In a world where women are oppressed, Aunt Lydia is certainly not a gal’s best friend or confidant—and most certainly not a Handmaid’s BFF.
Aunt Lydia works hard to convince Handmaids that they’re destined for their duties. She uses Bible verses in an attempt to illustrate that Gilead and its rules are God’s will and that the Handmaids are performing essential roles in society.
She seems to enjoy her power over the Handmaids and has little sympathy for their place in Gilead. Yet she does sometimes sympathize with the wives of the Commanders, asking the Handmaids to see life from their point of view.
Analyze the use of language (including language of the Bible) in The Handmaid’s Tale to illustrate how the government asserts power and control over its citizens.
The Commander is the head of the household in which Offred is the Handmaid. Though at times he feels trapped in society, he’s a powerful man who actually helped construct Gilead.
(I imagine at least one Handmaid saying things like, “You feel trapped? Ha! Try seeing life from my point of view!” or “Really? You’re not happy with society? You’ve got no one but yourself to blame!”)
Offred doesn’t see the Commander as all good or all bad. At times she even likes him because he actually shows some compassion toward her. They can sometimes even seem more like friends or lovers as they talk or play Scrabble together.
There is no doubt that the Commander holds the power. He is the head of the household and even helped construct the social order of Gilead. (It’s no coincidence that his title is actually “Commander.”)
The Commander appears to feel compassion for Offred as he allows her to play Scrabble and read. He also suggests that he enjoys her company and enjoys their conversations.
On the surface, this all seems well and good, but it can be argued that his motives are personal.
He treats Offred like a mistress. He tells her that his wife doesn’t understand him and asks Offred to dress up so that he can show her off at Jezebel’s (which is no more than a glorified brothel).
And he does all of this for his own satisfaction and doesn’t care if there are any consequences for Offred if she is caught breaking the rules.
Examine the Commander’s motives. Is he being compassionate by letting Offred break the rules with him? Or is he being selfish by not caring about her feelings or what might happen if she’s caught?
You’ve taken the required exams. You’ve filled out online and paper forms. You’ve sent in your high school transcripts. You’ve maybe even requested some letters of recommendation to help seal the deal.
But as those admissions deadlines approach, you still have one thing left–the dreaded personal statement.
Sure, you’re just one hopeful student in a big sea of college applicants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. And this post will show you how it’s done.
So without further ado, let’s tackle how to write a personal statement the right way.
In this post, I’ll walk you through just what a personal statement is, how to write one from A to Z, and some examples that can inspire you to get started.
What Exactly Is a Personal Statement?
Think of a personal statement, sometimes referred to as a statement of purpose or personal essay, as your chance to show college admissions officers why you’re a great fit for the school and perhaps even the program to which you’re applying.
It’s not unlike a cover letter you’d submit with a job application.
A personal statement also allows you to show admissions officers that you’re more than just grades and test scores.
A personal statement allows you show that you’re more than just grades and test scores. Click To Tweet
It’s an opportunity for admissions officers to see who you are as a person, what you can bring to the campus community, and how your experiences have led you to choose their school.
Often, when you sit down to write a personal statement, you’ll spend about one to three pages answering a question or prompt. Check out this blog post to see some some examples of what you can expect when this is the case.
Your personal statement will turn out much better if you follow these important steps before typing away at the keyboard. If you need to brush up on the essay writing process in general, this post can also help you out.
Get out a notebook or open up your laptop, and get ready to take some notes or create some outlines. This will ensure that your materials stay organized. You’re probably not going to be writing just one personal statement to send to all of your prospective schools.
You read that correctly–there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to writing personal statements. Admissions offices tend to have different guidelines or items they’re looking for in their instructions or prompts.
While you can probably reuse some of the main points in each of your personal statements, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you’re writing adequately answers the prompts given.
The most effective way to go about this is to carefully read the instructions on the statement of purpose submission form and make sure you clearly understand what’s being asked of you.
What specific questions does the form ask?
What situations or times in your life do the admissions officers want to know about?
Once you understand these guidelines, write them down in your notes or outline. Also take notes about what situations will apply to the questions/prompts and what you could leave out.
You’ve no doubt looked up information about certain topics and people online or in your favorite social media apps. It’s time to put those internet search skills to good use!
Each school you’re applying to has a website, which you’ve probably already used to start your application. A quick Google search can help you find each school’s mission statement.
One of your goals in a personal statement is to show admissions officers that your values and objectives make you a good fit for their community.
These values are what this university is looking for in its students. If you were applying here, you would cater your personal statement to show how you–as an individual and as a student–have and will uphold these values.
Because the mission statement of each school on your list will vary in values and goals, you’ll want to make sure that your personal statements shift focus to show that you represent the relevant items for each respective school.
What should you write about?
Questions/prompts on personal statement forms will give you a good idea of what to specifically focus on in your writing. But it’s also a good idea to brainstorm about what you have in your personal statement toolbox.
Alternately, some personal statement forms may not have any specific prompts or questions, which gives you the freedom to tell your story however you want. But that may leave you wondering where to start.
In either case, start making a list of the following, and you’ll have plenty of material to work with when you sit down to write the personal statement.
Awards or honors from your current or past schools
Job promotions or special responsibilities
Organizations you may belong to (clubs, church groups, etc.)
Any volunteer experience you may have
Any events or workshops where you attended or presented material
Your specific goals
Your top values
Any challenges you may have faced and overcame
Can I get a demo?
Before we dive into the structure of your personal statement, it’s a good idea to see what one looks like. This site has quite a few helpful examples of personal statements and even explains why they are successful. You can also check out a few annotated examples here.
With that out of the way, now we’re ready to dive into the how of how to write a personal statement.
How to Write a Personal Statement: The A to Z of Structure
When you think about how to write a personal statement, consider it as being a small structured essay that tells a little story about you. It won’t be unlike the five-paragraph essay format that you may already be used to writing.
Admissions officers also want to determine how strong your writing skills are, including how well you can start with a main idea and see it through to a meaningful end.
So like any essay, your personal statement should have an introduction that hooks the reader, a thesis, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion that ties everything together. Let’s break these down in order.
The introduction is probably the most important part of the personal statement. This is where you will try to hook your readers’ attention so that they’re ready to go along for the ride and read the rest of your statement.
To do this, focus on writing an honest and concrete sentence that shows off your personality. Start with the story that is unique to you.
Sometimes this can be difficult because not everyone’s life is very dramatic. But don’t let that discourage you. Even your night shifts at a fast food restaurant can be good fodder for why you want to get into a school or specific program.
Avoid vague language and clichés. Being specific to your experience is important here.
Bad opening sentence:
This summer was when everything changed, and I knew what I wanted to do.
Better opening sentence:
As a Cleveland Aquarium volunteer, I was responsible for an injured octopus’s feeding schedule, an experience that triggered my interest in marine biology.
The second sentence is better because it focuses on a specific scenario that gives a clear reason that the writer wants to pursue a specific goal. The first sentence is vague and could have been written by anyone. Being specific is key!
In the next couple of sentences, go into further detail and provide some context around the situation you’re describing.
Now is the time to craft your thesis. It will be the main point of your personal statement, and everything else you write will work to support it.
Because personal statements only allow for one to three pages of writing, you’ll want to focus only on one or two topics in your body paragraphs. And they should be absolutely relevant to the ideas in your intro.
Whether you’re writing a general personal statement or answering a prompt, make sure you don’t lose focus. You don’t need to tell your life story, and you don’t want to appear as though you’re rambling without purpose.
Start with the ideas in your intro and move forward.
What effect did that formative experience have on you?
What about your background, personality, and ambitions make you want to attend an institution of higher learning?
What goals do you have for yourself?
As you write, these are the items you’ll want to focus on. And you’ll want to make sure they all tie into the thesis or main idea. You want admissions officers to see how your experience has led you to their particular school.
Now that you’ve made it this far, don’t let your writing come to an abrupt stop! It’s time to finish the personal statement with a conclusion paragraph.
A straightforward way to bring all of the ideas from your intro and body paragraphs together is to have them work toward why you want to attend the particular school.
In this section of your personal statement, summarize your overall experience and traits while saying how and why they have led you to the school to which you’re applying.
What does the school (or program) have in common with your goals and values?
What will you aspire to be as a student there?
Now that you know how to write a personal statement, it’s also important to know what you can (and should) leave out.
What You Can Leave Out
Now that you know all the great things you should put into a personal statement, you may be wondering what you should avoid. These items tend to hurt personal statements in the eyes of admissions officers.
Repeating information from your application materials
Now is not the time to talk at length about your grades and course history. This is your opportunity to show admissions who you really are.
Opinions about religion or politics
These items are not totally off-limits if they relate to your story in a productive way. But strong opinions about either may offend the reader–you don’t know who will be reviewing your writing.
A grab for sympathy
Writing about a difficult experience, how you personally dealt with it, and the lesson it taught you is perfectly fine! However, don’t write in a way that asks for readers to feel sorry for you. Chances are, they will not.
As much as we all like a good joke, leave out the funny stuff. If the admissions officers suspect you’re not taking your personal statement seriously, then neither will they.
Don’t tell the admissions officers how great the school is–they probably already believe this about the school. You’ll just be wasting precious space in which you could be telling them more about you and what makes you great for the school.
Fancy fonts and funky formats
Admissions officers may be instructed to just throw out applications that don’t follow the rules, so don’t chance it! Be sure to read the formatting instructions on each application form, and set your font style and size to match.
Before You Submit…
Still think you need to see some examples of personal statements before getting started? Check out Kibin’s essay database!
Make sure you get an early start on this process so that you’ll have plenty of time to turn in a well-thought-out, well-written, and polished personal statement. This definitely includes proofreading and revision because strong writing always stands out.
And when it comes to editing, you have a few options:
Review what you’ve written (always!) to make sure that the information is accurate, clear, and void of errors.
Have a friend read over your work and listen to you read it aloud.
Take advantage of a service or guidance counselor (if your school has one) who can give you extra advice.
And as always, the pros at Kibin are here for you 24/7 to help that personal statement go above and beyond. They can help you make sure that, when your application is next in line, it will truly stand out above the rest!
While it is possible to write a uniquely fascinating research paper about one of the above topics, more often than not, papers about these types of topics are a real snoozefest for profs.
Want to impress your professor with something a little more interesting? Try one of these 20 unique research paper ideas to make your paper stand out.
20 Unique Research Paper Ideas
There are tons of interesting and unique research paper topics out there, so I can’t cover them all here. I have, however, divided my list of 20 research paper ideas into five separate categories.
I’ve also included a few links with more information about topics, writing suggestions to help you get started, and several example essays for added inspiration.
5 unusual laws
If you’re researching unusual laws, like those I’ve listed here, you can approach your research in a number of ways.
For instance, you might pick one of the laws included in this list and research it in-depth. You could examine the origins of the law and whether it’s even enforced today. You might also research laws in other states and compare and contrast various versions of similar laws.
If you’d rather discuss more than one unusual law in your research paper, try researching unusual laws in your state or city. You could also focus on a type of law, such as laws about profanity, music, or marriage.
Regardless of your approach, here are five unusual laws to get you started.
In Kentucky, when taking an oath, one must state he or she has not “fought duel with deadly weapons.” I’m pretty sure there aren’t too many duels anymore, and this section of the oath could probably be eliminated.
In Arlington County, Virginia, anyone swearing in public may be fined $250. (The same fee can be assessed for public intoxication.) This law is probably rarely, if ever, enforced as attitudes about language have changed since the law was written.
Forget taking a knee when the National Anthem plays. In Massachusetts, you can be fined $100 for dancing to the “Star Spangled Banner.” (I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of it as a danceable song.)
In 2012, New York’s then-mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed limits on the size of sodas that could be sold. In response to Bloomberg’s proposed bill, Mississippi passed a law stating that the Mississippi government would not regulate portion sizes of foods or drinks.
Though I’m not sure why anyone would do such a thing, in Rhode Island, you can be fined $20—$100 for impersonating an auctioneer.
5 hobbies, sports, and pastimes
Should you decide to write about a hobby, sport, or pastime, you could compare and contrast two somewhat similar sports, such as skiing and snowboarding or softball and baseball.
You might also choose two that seem to be completely different but actually require similar skills. For instance, try comparing the strategy and skill required to play football to the strategy and skill required to play chess.
Ever argue with someone over whether cheerleading is an actual sport? That dart throwing or maybe esports should be allowed as Olympic sports? Whether contests, such as competitive eating, should even be contests?
Not sure which topic to focus on? Here are five research paper ideas.
#6: The history of a sport
You might try researching your favorite sport from its beginnings or research the sport since it became part of a professional league. You could also steer clear of professional sports and only focus on a sport as a favorite pastime and how it has evolved through the years.
The U.S. is full of such displays of gluttony, from hot-dog-eating contests to restaurants that give away free food if you can eat a giant steak or a platter full of burgers in an hour. Should this type of competition be permitted? Does it contribute to obesity concerns? Is it just a fun, friendly competition?
I’m guessing not a whole lot of people are familiar with the ins and outs of eggshell carving. So researching this topic would mean that you’d need to provide your readers with a fair amount of background information to let them know how it’s done.
If you have an engraver, a few dozen eggs, and a whole lot of patience, you might even want to make eggshell carving one of your new hobbies.
If you practice endocannibalism, you’re eating the flesh of a dead person in your community, village, or tribe. When I think of people tearing at people and eating their flesh, I think of zombie films. This might be the perfect time to wow your prof with your expert analysis of zombie movies and endocannibalism!
Chocolate-covered crickets anyone? Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Though many insects are said to be quite nutritious, getting used to the thought of dining on bugs is a hard concept to swallow.
Chocolate-covered crickets anyone? Research entomophagy for a unique, if hard-to-swallow topic. Click To Tweet
Want to learn more about eating bugs? Read these example essays:
Flagellation is the practice of beating someone with whips (often as religious purification custom). People can also perform self-flagellation, a ritual some engage in for religious purification. However, it has also been imposed as punishment and penance.
Charles Deslondes led the largest slave revolt in US history. If writing about Deslondes, you could focus on biographical information and his role in the revolt or compare this revolt to others. Or you might include it in a larger context of revolts and uprisings.
It’s late at night, and you’re desperate to find a good movie. You start scrolling through the thousands of options offered on your favorite video streaming service.
What if instead of a short two-line summary of each movie, the service only offered a three-page detailed overview and analysis? Who has the time (or desire) to read an essay about each movie? All you really want are a few basics about the plot to help you decide whether you want to commit to spending the next two hours watching the film.
Policy briefs are kinda like the short movie summaries on a streaming service.
Movie summaries include plot basics to help you decide whether you want to watch the movie. Policy briefs include the basics about a social problem or government policy and help you make a decision about the problem.
Easy enough, right?
So what is a policy brief, exactly? Let’s unpack the definition above a little more, so you can get a better sense of what a policy brief is and how to write one.
What Is a Policy Brief?
What is a policy brief? It’s a short, concise summary of a social problem or government policy that helps readers not only understand a problem or policy but also make an informed decision about it.
The goal is not to provide every possible detail about the subject. The goal is to provide a concise overview (usually in a page or two) that helps an otherwise uninformed audience understand the problem.
What Do You Need to Consider Before You Write a Policy Brief?
As with any writing assignment, you shouldn’t dive into the project without at least some amount of planning.
Step 1: Find a topic
Start by finding a topic to write about.
Social problems and government policies can be pretty broad. So don’t try to write about an impossibly broad topic like smoking. Instead, start to narrow your focus to something more manageable, like a ban on smoking in public spaces.
As you work on narrowing your topic, make sure it is sufficiently narrowed. For instance, let’s say you’re writing about a ban on smoking in public spaces.
You might focus your discussion to your state and its specific policies regarding smoking in restaurants, bars, and tribal lands (such as casinos). Or you might focus on a smoking ban on college campuses or hospital campuses.
Step 2: Understand the topic and identify an actual problem
Once you’ve chosen your topic, you need to fully understand it and be able to identify an actual problem.
To understand your topic, you need to get to work researching. (Don’t forget to check with your prof to see if you should cite your sources in APA, MLA, or some other citation style.)
Your goal in researching is not only to look for credible sources to support your claims but also to identify an actual problem.
For instance, if you’re writing about smoking bans, what’s the problem?
Is the problem that a ban on smoking in all public spaces (including bars) causes businesses to lose customers and revenue? Does a statewide ban on smoking in public places exclude bars, therefore creating an unnecessary health hazard to both patrons and employees?
The problem you identify in this stage of the planning process is a little like the thesis statement in a standard essay. It focuses your topic and provides a clear statement of what will be discussed.
After you’ve narrowed your topic, researched the subject, and identified a specific problem to write about, you can start to draft your policy brief.
How Do You Write a Policy Brief?
You’ll need your essay-writing skills to write a policy brief, but a policy brief is not an essay. It’s organized with headings and written with the purpose of quickly and concisely explaining your subject.
How to organize a policy brief
A policy brief is generally organized by headings (and may contain some bullet points).
The type and order of headings for your policy brief will depend on your course assignment. Below I’ve provided a set of common headings.
Policy Recommendations: This section is the most detailed of the sections and should outline specific steps that need to be taken in order to most effectively address the issue.
Additional Resources (and/or Sources Consulted/Cited): This section isn’t always part of a policy brief but includes any additional resources for readers to review to learn more about the subject. It may also contain a list of sources you have consulted and/or cited in order to write your policy brief.
Appropriate word choice and tone
Policy briefs need to brief, factual, and concise.
This is not the time to include flowery language and grand metaphors in order to paint a picture. It’s not the time to try to tug on the heart strings and make heart-wrenching emotional appeals, either.
Not sure wording can make that much of a difference? Check out these two examples:
Poorly written description of the problem
Imagine going to work every day or going out at night and having to breathe in toxic chemicals. Imagine a business saying it’s okay to pump thousands of toxic fumes into a business, and no one says a thing about it. This wretched environment doesn’t even seem possible, but it’s exactly the kind of health hazard that servers and bartenders in bars face each and every time they go to work if their employers allow patrons to smoke inside the bars. It’s also the same terrible environment other customers face if they simply want to go into a bar to have a few drinks, and it is simply awful.
This example is too wordy. It also attempts to use an emotional appeal to paint a picture of terrible conditions for both customers and employees.
Allowing smoking in bars puts the health of patrons and bar employees at risk.
This example is concise and states the problem directly, ensuring that the audience will understand the problem being addressed.
And with that, (hopefully) you now don’t have to spend time wondering, “What is a policy brief?” Instead, you can tackle your assignment with confidence—and maybe even have time to stream a movie to boot!
Still staring at a blank screen and feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of writing a policy brief? Check out these example policy briefs from our database to see how others have tackled the assignment.
Have a completed policy brief but aren’t sure whether it’s too wordy (or maybe a little bit too brief)? Let a Kibin editor help.
Ask a surfer gal in SoCal about her life, and she might reply, “Livin’ the dream.”
Ask the same question to a survivalist living off the grid in Alaska or to an off-Broadway actor living in a 400-square-foot studio apartment in NYC, and they’re also likely to express the same satisfaction about living their American Dreams.
The point? Everyone has a unique version of what it means to live the American Dream.
With seemingly infinite definitions of what it means to be living the dream, it only makes sense that there are just as many ways to write about the American Dream.
So whether you’re already living the life you’ve always wanted or are still searching for your personal dream, here’s how you can inspire others with your American Dream essay.
Inspiring Ideas for an American Dream Essay
How you approach writing your American Dream essay might already be assigned by your prof. But if you have the freedom to decide what type of essay to write, there’s certainly no shortage of applicable essay types.
Here are a few topic ideas (organized by essay type) to help get your brain waves in motion for your American Dream essay.
The narrative essay is one of the stand-by essays you often write in composition classes. Its goal is to tell a story, so one way to make this type of essay inspiring is to tell your own story.
If you’re a U.S. immigrant or a Dreamer, your story is the American Dream: a person immigrating to America (by choice or through the choice of one’s parents) in search of a better life.
But you don’t have to be an immigrant to write a powerful narrative essay about the American Dream. Think about your goals, dreams, and hopes for your future. Think about how you define the American Dream.
The dream you share might not even be your own. If you’ve been inspired by others who have either struggled to achieve or have already achieved the American Dream, your narrative might tell their tales by weaving in how their actions shaped your own dream.
The key to writing a strong narrative essay
Keep the narrative short and to the point. If you only have three pages to tell your story, you can only fit in so many details. Make them count!
In need of a little more help with writing a personal narrative? Check out these posts:
History essays are just that—historical—but that doesn’t mean they have to be dull, history-report boring. In fact, history is full of colorful and interesting people and events, so use this opportunity to write about one of them.
Do a little research to learn about someone directly involved in the American Dream, such as James Truslow Adams, who actually coined the term “The American Dream” in his 1933 essay “The Epic of America.”
If 1933 is a little too historical for you, why not skip ahead to more recent times and examine what it meant to live the American Dream in the 1950s (or another decade).
If you’re examining recent times, you’ll likely be able to find primary sources—such as letters, photos, or advertisements—to help support your discussion.
This might also be an excellent opportunity to develop your ideas into a compare and contrast essay. You could compare the changing definition of the American Dream throughout the years. You could also compare the reality of the American Dream to the media’s representation of the American Dream.
Keep the scope of your paper in check. History (even the history of the American Dream) is a long time. Unless you want to write a 10-volume collection of books rather than an essay, you’ll need to select a specific subject and focus.
Writing an argumentative or persuasive essay is sort of like being a stand-up comedian. As a comedian, you need to wow your audience and keep them laughing. If your jokes fall flat, no one cares what you have to say. You’ll lose your audience in no time.
If you can’t support your arguments with credible evidence, you’ll not only bore your readers, but they won’t believe a word of what you say.
So what are some argumentative or persuasive essay suggestions that might convince readers of your arguments about the American Dream? Consider the ideas below.
Persuasive American Dream essay
If you’re writing a persuasive essay, you might attempt to convince readers that the American Dream is dead, that there’s no point in even trying to obtain it.
Want to be more more optimistic? You might try to persuade your readers that, although the American Dream has changed from one generation to the next, it’s still possible to achieve it.
Persuasive essay idea: The American Dream has changed over time, but it’s still achievable. Click To Tweet
Argumentative American Dream essay
If you’re writing an argumentative essay, you’re still attempting to convince your readers, but you’re doing so through use of evidence from credible sources. Again, you might argue that the American Dream is dead or that it’s still attainable.
(Don’t forget that an argument essay means that you’ll need to include a counterargument and rebuttal to strengthen your assertion and demonstrate that you’ve done your research!)
Of course, you don’t need to stick to the basic question of whether the American Dream is attainable. You might consider whether the American Dream even ever existed at all or whether the concept itself is completely outdated.
Argumentative essay idea: Has the American Dream ever really existed, or is the concept outdated? Click To Tweet
If you’re looking for another angle, you could examine the media’s role in the American Dream today. You could, for example, examine how the media influences the American public and whether this helps or harms people.
The key to writing a strong argumentative or persuasive essay
Like most essays, argumentative and persuasive essays can’t survive without a strong thesis statement. A solid thesis statement will help you create a focus for your paper.
It will also keep you on track as you develop your key arguments (and locate and/or develop evidence to support them).
Have an idea for your paper but are looking for a little help putting it all together? Take a look at these posts for some additional writing advice:
If you’re considering longer forms of literature, you might analyze the play Death of a Salesman or the novel The Great Gatsby and how the characters strive for their own American Dream.
You could also write a compare and contrast essay to compare the plot lines and how characters strive to obtain the American Dream. Or you might compare and contrast Gatsby and Loman in an in-depth character analysis and analyze why they never achieve their dreams.
In order to write an effective literary analysis, you need to include actual analysis. Don’t merely identify—analyze.
In other words, don’t write something basic like “point of view is important because it lets readers know who is telling the story.” This broad statement doesn’t tell your readers anything about why a specific point of view is important.
Instead, you might focus on the type of narration used. First, you could explain the type of narration. Then you could speculate on why the author chose this specific type of narration and explain how the narration affects the story and readers’ interpretation of the literature.
Want even more help with literary analysis? Check out these posts:
How would you feel if you went to the doctor with back pain that left you unable to function? After running a few tests, the doctor breaks the news to you: back surgery is needed in order to repair a ruptured disc.
The problem with this diagnosis? It’s completely wrong.
A handful of visits to a chiropractor would align your spine. No surgery needed.
Why were you misdiagnosed? Because your doctor plagiarized much of his work, including his dissertation. He faked his way through med school and ended up forging some of his licenses. Thus, he knows very little about medicine. His patients pay the price.
Sure, this is an extreme example, but it happens. People (like this guy) have been caught practicing medicine illegally, and still others (like this guy) have been caught performing surgeries as fake doctors.
I know–you’re saying that practicing medicine illegally and even plagiarizing in med school is a heckuva lot more serious than plagiarizing your argumentative essay in English class.
Yes and no. Your chosen career may never put someone’s life at risk. But if you plagiarize, your degree is just as fake as the fake doctor who forged his medical license.
Convinced of the seriousness of plagiarism? Here’s what you should know about avoiding plagiarism in your writing.
Q&A: What You Should Know About Avoiding Plagiarism
Q: What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is taking someone else’s words or ideas and trying to pass them off as your own. In the simplest of terms, plagiarism is stealing.
I’m sure you know that using someone else’s paper and submitting it as your own is plagiarism. But you can also plagiarize by doing any one of the following:
Omitting quotation marks around direct quotes.
Forgetting to include proper citation for paraphrases, summaries, or quotes.
Changing only a few words of a quote and writing a paraphrase that is too close to the original statement.
Remember, it’s not only the written word that can be plagiarized. You also can’t use ideas from media–such as artwork, music, or video–without providing proper attribution.
Q: Why do students resort to intentional plagiarism?
Some students plagiarize simply because they don’t want to do the work. Others plagiarize because they run out of time to write an essay.
Still others turn to plagiarism because they don’t understand the assignment. They’re struggling and likely staring at a blank page and end up plagiarizing because they know they need to turn in something.
To avoid a situation where you’re out of time or so confused that you don’t have time to ask for help, start your assignment early.
If you don’t procrastinate, you’ll have time to take good notes when researching, prewrite, draft, and revise. You’ll also have time to get help from your prof, the writing center, or a Kibin editor if you need it.
Q: What if I accidentally plagiarize?
Accidental plagiarism occurs when you incorrectly cite a source. For instance, you may, for the most part, be citing correctly, but you might miss an in-text citation for one of your sources (but include it on the Works Cited or References page).
If you’re in a first-year college composition class and just learning about citations, your prof is probably going to be pretty forgiving. Sure, you might lose a few points for the error. It’s doubtful, however, that you’d fail the paper or be kicked out of college for plagiarizing.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a PhD dissertation or submitting a paper for publication and forget a citation, people won’t be so forgiving.
Q: Can I be thrown in jail for plagiarism?
If you’re caught plagiarizing, you might fail the paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of college. You won’t be thrown in jail.
Of course, if profs aren’t relying on their own detective skills to catch plagiarism, they might also require you to turn in your sources with your research paper. They might even have you submit your paper to a plagiarism checker website.
Q: How do I actually avoid plagiarism?
The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure that you’re citing correctly. Not sure whether the information is common knowledge (and therefore doesn’t need to be cited)? Play it safe and cite anyway. It’s better to cite than plagiarize.
Celebrities throw tantrums, walk out, or simply blank and have nothing interesting to say.
Celebrity interviews can also go bad through no fault of the celebrities themselves. Sometimes it’s the interviewers who ask inappropriate questions or ask questions that can be only termed “stupid.”
Take, for example, the time when a Red Carpet reporter at the SAG Awards asked Mayim Bialik how many people actually think that just because she stars in The Big Bang Theory that she can solve calculus equations at the drop of a hat.
Mayim Bialik | Red Carpet | SAG Awards - YouTube
FYI: Mayim Bialik isn’t only an actress. She’s also a neuroscientist who can most certainly solve calculus equations (as she so politely informed the interviewer). Clearly, the reporter should have done a little research about Bialik before he asked such a stupid question.
Don’t be that interviewer. Here’s how to conduct an interview for a paper (and how to avoid asking stupid questions).
How to Conduct an Interview for a Paper
If you want to conduct a successful interview (and I’m sure you do), you need to be prepared. It’s kind of like being a stage actor. You can’t just glance at your lines once and say, “I’ll wing it.” The end result won’t be pretty.
Going into an interview without a plan won’t be pretty, either, so here’s what you need to do.
Talk to the Right People
If you’ve ever called a company with a question and been transferred at least three different times before you actually talk to an agent who can answer your question, you understand the importance of talking to the right person.
The same is true with conducting an interview. If you’re enrolled in a government class and your assignment is to learn about local government, interviewing a college intern isn’t your best option.
While interns certainly have some knowledge of local government, they won’t have the same knowledge as a local representative or county commissioner.
How do you actually get to the right people?
A little research can go a long way. Go online. Use social media. Make some phone calls. Decide who will be the best person to try to interview. If you’re absolutely stumped for ideas, ask your prof. He or she will be able to point you in the right direction.
Schedule an Interview
Remember all those times your parents told you to use your manners? This would be an excellent time to use them.
Remember when your profs told you that you need to use a formal, academic, and authoritative voice? This would also be an excellent time to use it.
When you’re contacting someone for an interview, you’re contacting the person as a professional, not as a student who wants to talk to someone.
In other words, don’t send an email and open with, “Hey, I was wondering if I could interview you for my class?”
While you still might get the interview by starting your email like this, it certainly isn’t professional. It also certainly doesn’t tell the potential interviewee anything about you, the class, or why you want to conduct the interview.
Here’s a better way to contact the person you wish to interview. (You might use this type of opening for an email, phone call, or in-person conversation.)
My name is Emma Ortez, and I’m a first-year student at ABC University, majoring in business. I am currently completing a research project about local entrepreneurs and would like to speak with you about your flower shop and the strategies you implement to sustain a successful business.
If you would be interested in speaking with me for 20–30 minutes about your business model, please contact me at (555) 555-5555 or email me at EOrtez@ABC.edu.
Within a few lines, Emma has told the potential interviewee about herself, the goals of the interview, and how long the interview might take.
Remember, people are busy. Even though you may be fascinated with their work and want to speak with them for hours on end, it may not be feasible to expect an hour-long interview.
Schedule a brief interview. If your interviewee wants to talk with you further, you can arrange additional meetings.
A note about email addresses: If at all possible, use your school email address when contacting people. This reassures them that you are, in fact, affiliated with a school. It also sounds a heckuva lot more professional than partyboy99@******.com.
Prepare for the Interview
Before you set out to do anything, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve.
You can’t, for instance, take a stack of boards and a handful of nails and simply start nailing things together. You need to know what you’re building before you actually start building.
Similarly, you can’t schedule an interview without knowing why you’re conducting the interview.
Establish a goal for the interview
When you’re planning an interview, you need to know what you want to learn.
For instance, you might want to learn about the interviewee’s childhood, her relationships, her education, her religious beliefs, her education, or her professional background.
On the other hand, maybe none of these points are important, and your true goal is to learn about how she became involved with saving penguins.
Once you’ve determined your goal, you can plan the entire interview around it. To begin, do some research.
In many cases, you can do a little online research about the person you’re interviewing. By knowing more about the person, you can ask more in-depth and relevant questions (and avoid asking stupid questions).
For instance, if you’re interviewing the CEO, her bio may be listed on the website. Thus, there’s no reason to ask questions about where she went to college or when she became CEO of the company.
Instead, you might ask how it felt to be the first female CEO of a corporation that has been in business since 1934.
Prepare appropriate questions
Don’t go into an interview blind and assume that you’ll figure it out as you go. Click To Tweet
Don’t go into an interview blind and assume that you’ll figure it out as you go.
If you do, there will be a very real chance that you’ll have wasted everyone’s time and will leave the interview with no useful information. That’s definitely not how to conduct an interview that gets the responses you need.
Not sure how to prepare interview questions? Here are a few tips.
Decide how many questions to ask
If you’ve scheduled a two-hour interview, you can’t exactly show up with three questions (unless, of course, you’re interviewing someone who loves nothing more than the sound of her own voice).
If you’re conducting a standard 30-minute interview, create 10–15 questions that you think will be useful. (Create more questions than you think you might need. There will be times when a person answers one of your planned questions without you asking.)
Ask a mix of open-ended and closed questions
Open-ended questions allow interviewees to answer questions in a variety of ways and will elicit longer answers. (For example, “Tell me about your trip to Antarctica to save the emperor penguins.”)
Closed questions require short, specific answers. (For example, “How many trips have you made to Antarctica?”)
Be prepared to ask follow-up questions
A successful interview resembles more of a conversation than an interrogation, so be prepared to chat. If you find something particularly interesting or want to learn more about a topic, don’t be afraid to ask another question.
This strategy is not only useful for when you want to learn more about a subject but also can be vital to help redirect the interviewee.
(You know, just in case you ask, “What do you do to pass the time in Antarctica when you can’t be outside?” and the interviewee gets sidetracked talking about how her kids get bored when it’s raining outside.)
Conduct the Interview
You’ve spent a ton of time planning and learning how to conduct an interview, so don’t waste it by not being prepared when you actually conduct the interview.
Follow the tips below to make sure your interview is awesome.
Dress to impress
Remember, you’re a professional conducting an interview, not a student who is required to interview someone. Dress like you mean business.
Choose your clothing based on the type of interview you’re conducting. If you’re interviewing someone on the beach, in the forest, or in a barnyard, heels or a suit might not be your best option. But if you’re interviewing a CEO, professional attire is a definite must.
Be prepared to take notes
If you talk with someone for 30 minutes or more, there’s no way you’ll remember everything, so be prepared to take notes on the conversation. Most people go old-school and take notes with a pen and paper.
In some instances, it may, however, be appropriate to take notes on a tablet or other device. You might even ask for the interviewee’s permission to tape the conversation. (That way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.)
If you’re conducting an interview, you have a few opportunities to ask questions, but in many cases, the majority of your time will be spent listening.
Take your role seriously. Don’t let your mind wander, and don’t simply stare off into space if your interviewee has already answered the core question.
Sure, there may be times when the person you’re interviewing rambles a bit about a topic, but this is a chance for you to steer her back on track, not tune out.
If you’re not listening to the person you’re interviewing, you’re not only being disrespectful but also wasting everyone’s time. (That means your own too!)
I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. Be nice. You’re asking someone to take time out of her day to speak with you, so be respectful by showing up on time, being courteous, and thanking her for the interview.
(It’s also a smart idea to leave your contact information with your interviewee in case she’d like to speak with you again.)
And that’s how to conduct an interview for a paper. But don’t leave just yet. It’s just as important to know what to do once the interview is complete.
After the Interview
After the interview, jot down any other important ideas that you didn’t have time to write down during the interview.
When you get home, review your notes again (and listen to the interview if you recorded it). Take even more notes to refresh your memory and begin to organize your ideas.
Next, draft a brief outline of what you want to include in your paper. Finally, get to work writing!