Essay Writing Tips: Be Careful with Your ‘But’!

The little conjunction, “but” can get you into a lot of trouble. Why? Because at best it marginalizes, at worse it totally negates what has come before it. If that is your intention, great. If not, our college essay writing tips will be of help.
What do I mean? Most of us have experienced the following kind of conversations:

  1. A friend says to you “I don’t mean to be personal, but…” You know that the conversation is about to become personal.
  2. Your boss writes an e-mail saying to you “That’s a great report you’ve sent me but…..” You know you had better prepare yourself for criticism or contradiction. Incidentally, that is why so many managers are poor at giving feedback. They give the positive feedback first, then say “but” (wiping out the positive effect of the feedback) and then give negative feedback. It demoralizes staff and next time, the manager may only want to give positive feedback but the recipient is waiting for the sting in the tale.
  3. A parent who says to their child “Daddy loves you very much, but….” Children learn from a young age that “but” means trouble and they begin having trouble believing the first part of the sentence.

There are a couple of valid uses for the word. The first is when you put forward a point of view that is opposite to the one you want to promote. You then use “but” and write your position. Using “but’ in this way reduces the impact of the counter argument for the reader(s). Therefore, I might write, “I know that you have concerns about the cost of my idea but when you see the benefits and long term advantages, I’m sure you’ll agree that its money well spent.”


The second is when you are writing a presentation or speech. “But” is a useful linking word to help with the flow of the presentation and in particular if you want to demonstrate that you are looking at both sides of an argument.
Oh, and before you think you can be clever and replace “but” with “however”, the latter has exactly the same effect!
A variation on this is to link two clauses with “even though”. This has the opposite effect of using “but”; whatever comes after “even though” has its impact reduced.
So, keep an eye on what you are writing in instant essay and listen when you are talking; do you mean to undermine the impact of what has been written or said before the conjunction, or have you used it inadvertently? Be careful with your buts!
This is not the full list of tips for writing an essay; however we believe this little advice will be useful.


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