Writing Rundown: Finding Your "However"

It takes practice to find your writing style, whether it be in fiction, research papers, or analytical essays. The best piece of writing is both grammatically correct and organized, but also contains the essence of the person who's writing it. When I correct students' papers, I try to avoid suggesting alternate sentences in their entirety, since a paper written by you shouldn't sound like one written by me. Even if we are answering the exact same prompt in the exact same way, the tone and character of each paper will be distinct, unique to each of us. Finding your style is a slow process, and generally comes about organically as a result of experience. Write more papers and you will begin to zero in on what makes a paper sing for you.

This is not to say that there aren't tips and techniques I can give to help you find your writing style. By far one of the most useful techniques in my own experience has been working with what I call “Finding your 'however'.” The name comes from my sister, who always used to incorporate the word 'however' into practically every sentence in her paper, even when it didn't make sense. It was just a quirk of the way her brain liked to formulate thoughts, so it ended up in her rough drafts a lot because it was in her head while trying to sort out what she wanted to say. I had a similar experience, but in my case it was not 'however' but 'I believe that'. I used to start every sentence in an opinion essay with “I believe that,” since that's how my brain formulated thoughts. In an opinion piece, though, the idea that these statements are your beliefs is implied – you don't need to keep telling the reader that. It was hard for me to remember that I could just state my opinions as fact and with confidence, and the reader would understand implicitly.

We all have these little quirks in the way we write, and they're different for each person. It's a natural reflection of the way our brains process information. Usually these quirks end up detracting from the strength of the overall paper, throwing the difference between spoken and written English into stark contrast and sounding stilted or affected when read. Catching yourself in the process of falling into a quirk is difficult, though, so my strategy is simply to recognize and acknowledge your little 'however'. In my case, I recognize the fact that I like to start every sentence with “I believe that,” and that this quirk will need to be dealt with before my paper can be considered finished.

But here's the key – ignore it when writing your rough draft. It's easiest to get the information out on paper if you're not worrying about editing, so just get it all out and don't censor yourself. On your first round of editing, after you have a completed draft, go through methodically and remove all of those little 'howevers.' In my case, when it's time to edit I start by going through and cutting out every single instance of “I believe that,” adjusting sentences where necessary.

And don't worry – if you work in this way long enough, your brain will eventually figure out that you don't need those quirks and you'll find they stop making their way into your paper in the first place. I hardly ever start sentences with “I believe that” anymore, but I still make a first pass through the paper and check for them anyway. In fact, far from being a detrimental quirk, my little 'however' has become a tool that I use to help me generate content. When I'm having trouble articulating a point, I'll say it to myself starting with “I believe that” - and then simply write the rest of the sentence without those first three words. Find your 'however' and keep on top of it, and you'll be well on your way to writing a great essay.
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