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Best American Essays Wikihow

The Best American Series

In our age of “trigger warnings” and jeopardized free expression, The Best American Essays 2014 does not shy away from shocking extremes, ambiguities, or dualities. As guest editor John Jeremiah Sullivan notes, the essay “assumes many two-sided forms,” and these diverse pieces capture all the conceptions of what an essay can be: the loose and the strict, “the flourish and the finished, the try and the trial.” His choices embrace the high and the low, the memoirist’s confession and the journalist’s reportage, and all the gray area in between. From a hotel in Mongolia to a Clockwork Orange–like Baltimore, from a Rome emergency room to Burning Man, these diverse pieces surprise and entertain, inform and titillate.

The Best American Essays 2014 includes Kristin Dombek, Dave Eggers, Leslie Jamison, Ariel Levy, Yiyun Li, Barry Lopez, Zadie Smith, Wells Tower, James Wood, and others.

[INSERT AUTHOR PHOTO] John Jeremiah Sullivan, editor, is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the southern editor of the Paris Review. He’s been the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, two National Magazine Awards, a Pushcart Prize, an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and a fellowship at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He is the author of Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son and Pulphead: Essays.

Robert Atwan, the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986, has published on a wide variety of subjects, from American advertising and early photography to ancient divination and Shakespeare. His criticism, essays, humor, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous periodicals nationwide.
 

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  • 1

    Wait a day or so and re-read your essay. Get your essay done a couple of days before the due date so that you have time to go back and revise it to make it polished. Avoid turning in a first draft that you haven't double-checked for errors.

  • 2

    Correct errors related to grammar, punctuation and spelling. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semicolons, apostrophes or commas. Avoid using exclamation points.

  • 3

    Check your statements.
    • Look for mistakes involving than/then, your/you're, its/it's, etc. Make sure you know how to use apostrophes correctly.
    • Look for mistakes involving general punctuation. Check for run-on sentences, commas and periods inside quotation marks, as well as sparely-used dashes, colons, and semi-colons.
  • 4

    Remove any repetitive or unnecessary words.Vary your language with the help of a thesaurus. Also, consult a dictionary to make sure that you're using unfamiliar words correctly.
    • At the same time, try to keep your language short, sweet, and to the point. A thesaurus is a great tool, but don't just use big words to sound fancy. The best essays are clear, concise, and easily understood by a wide audience.
    • Focus on writing killer verbs for sentences. Verbs communicate the action in a sentence and drive the action. A great verb can be the difference between a bland sentence and a beautiful one.
    • Use adjectives lightly. Adjectives are great descriptive words, but when used indiscriminately, they can burden an essay and make it less readable. Try to let the verbs and nouns do most of the heavy lifting before you focus on adjectives.
  • 5

    Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations (e.g., don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, could've, or haven't). Your essay should have a serious tone, even if it's written in a light or lyrical style.

  • 6

    Analyze how your essay flows. Does each sentence lead smoothly to the next? Does each paragraph flow logically to the next? Good connections will help your ideas to flow:
    • When events happen in sequence: I first started to realize that I was in the minority when I was in middle school...My realization was confirmed when I proceeded to high school.
    • If sentences elaborate on each other: Plants need water to survive...A plant's ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
    • When an idea contrasts with another idea: Vegetarians argue that land is unnecessarily wasted by feeding animals to be eaten as food...Opponents argue that land being used for grazing would not be able to be used to create any other kind of food.
    • If you're relaying a cause and effect relationship: I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college...I am inspired to continue my family's progress through the generations.
    • When connecting similar ideas: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment . . . local food is believed to achieve the same goals.
  • 7

    Cut information that's not specifically related to your topic. You don't want your essay to ramble off-topic. Any information that doesn't directly or indirectly support your thesis should be cut out.

  • 8

    Have someone read your paper aloud to you, or record yourself reading it aloud and play it back. Your ears are sometimes better than your eyes at picking up mistakes in language. The essay should sound like it has a good flow and understandable words.

  • 9

    Rewrite any problematic body passages. If needed, rearrange sentences and paragraphs into a different order. Make sure that both your conclusion and introduction match the changes that you make to the body.

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