Making the most of your study time
At University you may often be required to work independently and you will need to learn how to effectively manage your workload to ensure you submit your essays and other work on time.
A short guide to managing your time
However obvious it may seem, time management is of the utmost importance. You should buy a diary and use it. Work out how much time you should allocate to each element of your course and try to stick to a timetable.
You should aim to study in a regular pattern, perhaps by working a set number of hours a day. Make sure you allow sufficient time to plan and write your assignment so that you do not have to work into the small hours of the morning.
Watch this short video on time management.
Tips for essay writing
The ‘essay crisis’ may be an Oxford tradition, but you are unlikely to produce your best work this way. Watch this video to learn about interpreting questions you may face, and watch this video for advice on planning and structuring your essays.
Essay writing in science subjects
Writing an essay for a science subject requires you to consider additional areas including how to present any evidence and diagrams. Watch this video for advice on how to approach the reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your audience. You can find additional material in the PDF on the right of this page.
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Writing essays is a predominant part of the learning for many courses here at Oxford. This essay-writing guide is intended for students who want to learn more about the skills associated with crafting an essay, as well as those seeking out course-specific advice. This resource is particularly useful for incoming or first year students who want to learn more about planning and writing tutorial essays. If you are a prospective applicant you can read our guide for writing essays for admissions tests here .
The resource is split into four parts, shown below - The ‘General Advice’ section has information that can help you develop key skills, such as active reading and structuring an essay. Course-specific advice can be found under their division heading. For example, if you want information about writing a History essay, you can find the History guide page in the ‘Humanities’ section.
- Reading and Note-taking
- Classics and Modern Languages
- Classics and Oriental Studies
- Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
- English and Modern Languages
- History Ancient and Modern
- History and Modern Languages
- History and Politics
- History of Art
- Modern Languages
- European and Middle Eastern Languages
- Oriental Studies
- Politics, Economics and Philosophy PPE
- Scientific Essays for Tutorials
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Your Step-By-Step Guide To Writing An Academic Essay (& Review Checklist)
Writing a formal essay can be scary! It requires a lot more work and research than other assignments, and there are many rules to follow when writing it. It’s difficult to know where to start, and even the thought of writing it can be stressful.
However, with the right information and tips or even with the aid of services like the essay writing service reddit , preparing and writing your essay becomes a lot easier. Check out our guide for essay writing below to help you write a paper you can be proud to hand in.
Before You Start Writing The Essay
1. pick your topic.
Unless your teacher has given you a very specific topic, you will need to pick one. If possible, choose a topic that interests you. Once you have a topic in mind, narrow it down to make your paper more specific. You want to be able to prove a point with your chosen topic.
Example: “Golden Retrievers as therapy dogs” is too broad of a topic. A topic that is narrower, such as, “Golden retrievers as therapy dogs for residents in nursing homes” keeps your research and ideas focused.
2. Determine Your Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement is the main point you are trying to prove in your essay—it ties all of your ideas and arguments together into one or two concise sentences. A good thesis statement gives your reader a preview of what you will be discussing in the body of your essay.
Example: Golden Retrievers are ideal therapy dogs for seniors in nursing homes because they provide emotional support and companionship to residents.
How To Write A Strong Thesis Statement
- Ask yourself, what are you trying to say about your topic in your paper? Is there something you are trying to prove?
- Focus these ideas into one or two sentences.
- Make sure you introduce your topic and give the reader an idea of the direction you are taking. Include your topic/opinion and your supporting arguments/reasons.
- Finally, make sure you are able to back up your thesis with evidence/supporting resources.
3. Find Sources
Once you have an idea of what you want to say in your essay, start finding sources you can use to back up your points. Aim to have at least 2-3 credible sources in your paper, unless your teacher says otherwise.
Some examples of sources include:
- Published articles
- Academic Journals
Always check with your teacher to find out what kind of sources he or she is looking for. Once you have found (and read) your sources, take note of pieces of information you think could back up your thesis.
4. Create An Outline
Creating an outline of your essay will help make the writing process much easier. It is a way to organize your thoughts and structure them in a way that makes sense. Try to come up with three arguments that support your thesis. These arguments will form the body of your essay.
Example: Arguments to support the thesis could be:
- Golden Retrievers can sense emotion in humans.
- Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent and easy to train.
- Golden Retrievers are more calm and gentle than other breeds of dogs.
Writing Your Essay
All essays, regardless of length, have an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each of these sections serve a different purpose in your paper.
The introduction of an essay is one paragraph that introduces your topic and gives an overview of what will be discussed in the body of the paper.
The introductory paragraph is where you will state your thesis and the arguments that you will be presenting in the body of the essay. Avoid talking about the conclusion or findings in the introductory paragraph—you will be discussing those in the rest of the essay.
Helpful Tip: Even though it appears at the top of your essay, write your introduction last. This way, you can summarize the rest of your essay easily—it’s difficult to summarize something you haven’t written yet!
The body of your essay is where you present your arguments/evidence that back up your thesis. Each paragraph in your essay should have:
- A topic sentence: What is this paragraph about? What are you trying to prove in this paragraph?
- Supporting sentences: How can you back up the topic sentence? What sources can you use to support your claim?
- A concluding or transition sentence: How will you keep your reader engaged? How can you link this paragraph to the next?
Every paragraph in your essay should have a unique claim/argument that supports your thesis. Always structure your essay to have the strongest argument in your first paragraph, and the next strongest argument in the final paragraph of the body. Your other argument should be sandwiched between your stronger paragraphs.
The conclusion is the last paragraph in your essay. This is where you wrap up your findings from your discussion in the body paragraphs.
Start your paragraph by restating your thesis (although not in the exact same words). In a few sentences, summarize your arguments from the body paragraphs, and avoid discussing any new ideas that you didn’t talk about in the body of your essay. Finally, wrap up your findings in one final sentence.
Helpful Tip: Your final sentence should convince your reader that you proved your thesis.
The final page in your essay is the references page (sometimes called the bibliography). This is where you document all the sources you have cited in your paper. There are several different formats that can be used to reference sources, such as APA or MLA style. Your teacher may have specified a certain format he or she would like in your paper. If you are unsure, double-check with your teacher before starting.
Polishing Your Work
After writing the first draft of your essay, take one or two days before you go back and read it so your mind is fresh. Make any changes you think are necessary to improve your paper, such as reordering sentences, adding extra information, or taking out sentences that don’t add value to your arguments.
If possible, ask another person to review your essay for spelling, grammar, and clarity. A second set of eyes is helpful to catch small errors you may have missed.
Helpful Tip: Read your essay out loud to make sure it flows and your sentences are clear.
The Oxford Learning Essay Review Checklist
Use our essay review checklist to make sure your essay is polished and ready to go before the deadline!
More Essay Writing Tips
- Don’t force yourself to write your essay in order—start by writing the body of your essay first. Your introduction and conclusion should not be written until the main points of the body are completed first.
- Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism is taking other people’s ideas, thoughts, or work and presenting it as your own (or not citing your sources correctly). Always give credit where it is due.
- There is no such thing as starting too early! Get a head start and prioritize writing your essay so you have plenty of time to review and edit well before the due date.
- Avoid using slang terms and contractions. These words make your writing appear less formal.
Time To Get Writing!
Writing an essay can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Give yourself plenty of time to pick your topic, find your sources, and preparing your outline. Once you are happy with your ideas, just start writing! If you begin your essay well before the due date, you will have lots of time to edit and rework your essay. This way you can be confident in your work when it comes time to hand it in.
If you need more help with writing your essay, Oxford Learning is here to help!
Writing And Essay Help Time Management Help
11 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage A Lot Of Homework
How to study at home (without getting distracted), related checklists resources.
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Academic resolutions and action plan for the new year.
Tips to develop stronger organization skills at home.
Checklists, English, High School, Writing
Your step-by-step guide to writing an academic essay (& review checklist).
Back to School, Checklists
How to start the school year off right (plus back-to-school checklist), find an oxford learning ® location near you, we have over 100 centres across canada.
Oxford and Cambridge Essay Competitions
We have gathered together some of the key essay competitions to enter, hosted by colleges at oxford and cambridge university..
If you are applying for Oxbridge or a top UK university that interviews, it is worth noting that many of the competition questions are very similar to interview-style questions. You may only have time to enter one competition, but check out similar ones relating to your course of application, and practise brainstorming/ verbalising an answer to the question.
Could you be interested in having an Oxbridge-educated mentor support your writing process? Minds Underground™ is the brainchild of the wider educational company, U2 , with offerings curated by a team of 700+ Oxbridge-educated mentors , who would be able to support both your essay competition entry and wider Oxbridge application (sessions from £75/h).
Do also check out online Oxbridge Summer Schools , hosted by our team of Oxbridge graduates, with 12 different subject categories! (Registration deadline in June 2022)
Course-wide Oxbridge Essay Competitions:
Robinson college, cambridge’s essay prize.
2020 Essay Questions:
Discuss, with reference to any academic discipline, any area of interest raised by one of the following quotations/ questions:
1. "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (Benjamin Franklin) Do you agree?
2. Does the theory of evolution by natural selection tell us anything interesting about how we should live?
3. Watch the following TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. TED Global . (2009) Available online via: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story . What are novels for? Answer in light of the TED talk and any one or two text(s) you have read recently
4. “A true war story is never moral. […] If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever.” (Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried , 1990). Write about any piece of war literature or art about war in light of O’Brien’s claim
5. There is no such thing as ‘untranslatable’. Discuss
It is designed to give students the opportunity to develop and showcase their independent study and writing skills
Girton College, Cambridge’s Humanities Writing Competition
Aimed at giving Humanities applicants an insight into research at university level - candidates expected to produce extensively researched, clearly written and well-referenced essays ranging well beyond the set curriculum
Fitzwiliam college, cambridge’s archaeology essay competition.
Past questions: What are the challenges in reconstructing cultural identities from the archaeological record?// How does reconstructing diet help us understand past societies?
Fitzwilliam college, cambridge’s architectural design competition.
This is an exciting opportunity for secondary school students to analytically approach a design problem and creatively develop architectural design solutions. Students will design and communicate their design solutions through drawings and a design narrative
Oriel College, Oxford’s Lloyd Davies Philosophy Prize
2019 questions included: Is anything special about the present moment?// Can one be mistaken about one's own state of mind?// Which is more important in determining the wrongness of a person's action: the person's intentions or the action's effects?
Trinity College, Cambridge’s Philosophy Essay Prize
2020 Question 1: If you learn that humanity will be extinct in twenty years, what difference should it make to what you value?
Question 2: Could you be friends with a robot?
Newnham College, Cambridge’s Philosophy Essay Prize
Designed to give students the opportunity to think and write about philosophy and philosophical matters in the broadest sense, while developing their independent study and writing skills. This prize may be of particular interest to those either currently studying, or considering studying, Philosophy, but welcomes entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
2020 Question: 'Amid all the profuse waste of the means of happiness which men commit, there is no imprudence more flagrant than that of Selfishness in the ordinary sense of the term' (Henry Sidgwick). Are we happier if we are unselfish? Does this show that ethics is indirectly a matter of self-interest?
St. Hugh’s College, Oxford’s The Julia Wood Prize
Trinity college, cambridge’s robson history prize.
2020 Questions : E.g. Can one write a history of women in Ancient Greece? Is it meaningful to speak of a ‘renaissance’ in intellectual life in twelfth-century Europe? What can historians learn from coins?
Peterhouse College, Cambridge's Vellacott History Prize
Newnham college, cambridge’s history essay prize.
May be of particular interest to those studying History, Politics, English Literature, Philosophy or Sociology, but welcomes entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
St. Hugh’s College, Oxford’s The Mary Renault Prize
At least one prize will be awarded a pupil who is not studying either Latin or Greek to A-level standard
“Essays can be from any discipline and should be on a topic relating to the reception of classical antiquity – including Greek and Roman literature, history, political thought, philosophy, and material remains – in any period to the present; essays on reception within classical antiquity (for instance, receptions of literary or artistic works or of mythical or historical figures) are permitted.”
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge’s Ancient World/ Classics Essay Competition
Trinity college, cambridge’s gould prize for essays in english literature.
“This Essay Prize has the following aims. First, to encourage talented students with an interest in English Literature to explore their reading interests further in response to general questions about the subject.”
Peterhouse College, Cambridge’s Thomas Campion English Prize
Newnham college, cambridge’s the woolf essay prize, queen’s college, cambridge’s the estelle prize for english.
Example question from 2019 competition: The following two poems, (a) 'To Autumn' by John Keats, and (b) 'Halcyon Days' by Walt Whitman, might be said to create for their readers an experience as well as an understanding of time. Making reference to the distinctive temporality of one or both poems, write about the experience of time in any other poem or poems you like
Trinity college, cambridge’s linguistics essay prize.
It may be of interest to students taking A-Levels in Modern Languages, English Language or Classics, but also to students taking Psychology or Mathematics
Newnham College, Cambridge’s Medieval & Modern Languages Essay Prize
May be of particular interest to those currently studying languages, but welcomes entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
Fitzwilliam college, cambridge’s land economy competition.
Past questions: ‘Governments should be accountable to their citizens for loss caused by climate change’. Discuss.// Critically analyse the costs and benefits of a large-scale infrastructure project of your choice. In making this assessment, consider in particular any regional disparities and how they are affected by such projects
Trinity College, Cambridge’s R.A. Butler Politics Prize
Aims to encourage students with an interest in modern politics and world affairs to think about undertaking university studies in Politics, International Studies or a related discipline; it is not limited to those already studying these subjects or indeed other social sciences
Trinity College, Cambridge’s Robert Walker Prize for Essays in Law
Aims to encourage students with an interest in Law to explore that interest by researching, considering and developing an argument about a legal topic of importance to modern society.
2020 Question': ‘Should legal disputes be determined by artificial, rather than human, means?’
Newnham College, Cambridge’s Music Essay Prize
This prize may be of particular interest to those currently studying Music or History, but welcomes entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
Peterhouse College, Cambridge’s Kelvin Science Prize
Newnham college, cambridge’s engineering essay prize.
Intended to encourage students to think creatively about how some of the scientific knowledge gained at school may be applied in later life, in particular in industry, so as to improve matters (the aim of most engineers)
The Weston-Smith Physical Sciences Essay Prize and The Biological Sciences Essay Prize
May be of particular interest to those studying Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics or Geography but we welcome entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects. Entrants are invited to submit one response to either a Physical or Biological title
Newnham college, cambridge’s computer science essay prize.
This prize may be of particular interest to those studying Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, or Chemistry, but we welcome entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
The Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Essay Prize
The prize may be of particular interest to those studying Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, or Sociology, but welcomes entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects
Are you applying to Oxbridge? Join our Summer “Beyond the Syllabus” Classes for Oxbridge Preparation
Oxford and Cambridge offer environments where individuals are enriched through constant interaction and discussion with the world’s leading academics in intimate tutorial sessions of 1-3 students. At interview, prospective applicants are expected to demonstrate how they would perform in a tutorial session – they must exhibit high performance capability in their specific academic field as well as creative or abstract thinking. This means your preparation must go beyond school learning and activities. Excelling in an academic field or skill to the level required by Oxbridge, whether that be in the Social Sciences, Humanities or STEM subjects, requires exploring new material and ideas outside the standard curriculum, verging on 1st year university level learning.
Which is why our Oxbridge subject specialists have curated summer courses in 17 subjects, replicating the Oxbridge style of teaching and learning.
Our Online Summer Schools are specifically designed to encourage university level thinking and give you exposure to a range of exciting topic areas outside the curriculum
You’ll learn from our all-Oxbridge team of subject specialists
Let us know if you have any questions via email or call (+447772211241). We would be delighted to have you join us
Do also check out our free Oxbridge resources on our tuition division website, U2 Tuition! We have new blogs on MLAT, BMAT and HAT preparation, Psychology personal statement writing and more!
University of Oxford
Tips from my first year - essay writing
This is the third of a three part series giving advice on the essay writing process, focusing in this case on essay writing.
Daniel is a first year BA History and Politics student at Magdalen College . He is a disabled student and the first in his immediate family to go to university. Daniel is also a Trustee of Potential Plus UK , a Founding Ambassador and Expert Panel Member for Zero Gravity , and a History Faculty Ambassador. Before coming to university, Daniel studied at a non-selective state school, and was a participant on the UNIQ , Sutton Trust , and Social Mobility Foundation APP Reach programmes, as well as being part of the inaugural Opportunity Oxford cohort. Daniel is passionate about outreach and social mobility and ensuring all students have the best opportunity to succeed.
History and its related disciplines mainly rely on essay writing with most term-time work centring on this, so it’s a good idea to be prepared. The blessing of the Oxford system though is you get plenty of opportunity to practice, and your tutors usually provide lots of feedback (both through comments on essays and in tutorials) to help you improve. Here are my tips from my first year as an Oxford Undergraduate:
- Plan for success – a good plan really sets your essay in a positive direction, so try to collect your thoughts if you can. I find a great way to start my planning process is to go outside for a walk as it helps to clear my head of the detail, it allows me to focus on the key themes, and it allows me to explore ideas without having to commit anything to paper. Do keep in mind your question throughout the reading and notetaking process, though equally look to the wider themes covered so that when you get to planning you are in the right frame of mind.
- Use what works for you – if you try to use a method you aren’t happy with, it won’t work. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment; to the contrary I highly encourage it as it can be good to change up methods and see what really helps you deliver a strong essay. However, don’t feel pressured into using one set method, as long as it is time-efficient and it gets you ready for the next stage of the essay process it is fine!
- Focus on the general ideas – summarise in a sentence what each author argues, see what links there are between authors and subject areas, and possibly group your ideas into core themes or paragraph headers. Choose the single piece of evidence you believe supports each point best.
- Make something revision-ready – try to make something which you can come back to in a few months’ time which makes sense and will really get your head back to when you were preparing for your essay.
- Consider what is most important – no doubt if you spoke about everything covered on the reading list you would have far more words than the average essay word count (which is usually advised around 1,500-2,000 words - it does depend on your tutor.) You have a limited amount of time, focus, and words, so choose what stands out to you as the most important issues for discussion. Focus on the important issues well rather than covering several points in a less-focused manner.
- Make it your voice – your tutors want to hear from you about what you think and what your argument is, not lots of quotes of what others have said. Therefore, when planning and writing consider what your opinion is and make sure to state it. Use authors to support your viewpoint, or to challenge it, but make sure you are doing the talking and driving the analysis. At the same time, avoid slang, and ensure the language you use is easy to digest.
- Make sure you can understand it - don’t feel you have to use big fancy words you don’t understand unless they happen to be relevant subject-specific terminology, and don’t swallow the Thesaurus. If you use a technical term, make sure to provide a definition. You most probably won’t have time to go into it fully, but if it is an important concept hint at the wider historical debate. State where you stand and why briefly you believe what you are stating before focusing on your main points. You need to treat the reader as both an alien from another planet, and a very intelligent person at the same time – make sure your sentences make sense, but equally make sure to pitch it right. As you can possibly tell, it is a fine balancing act so my advice is to read through your essay and ask yourself ‘why’ about every statement or argument you make. If you haven’t answered why, you likely require a little more explanation. Simple writing doesn’t mean a boring or basic argument, it just means every point you make lands and has impact on the reader, supporting them every step of the way.
- Keep introductions and conclusions short – there is no need for massive amounts of setting the scene in the introduction, or an exact repeat of every single thing you have said in the essay appearing in the conclusion. Instead, in the first sentence of your introduction provide a direct answer to the question. If the question is suitable, it is perfectly fine to say yes, no, or it is a little more complicated. Whatever the answer is, it should be simple enough to fit in one reasonable length sentence. The next three sentences should state what each of your three main body paragraphs are going to argue, and then dive straight into it. With your conclusion, pick up what you said about the key points. Suggest how they possibly link, maybe do some comparison between factors and see if you can leave us with a lasting thought which links to the question in your final sentence.
- Say what you are going to say, say it, say it again – this is a general essay structure; an introduction which clearly states your argument; a main body which explains why you believe that argument; and a conclusion which summarises the key points to be drawn from your essay. Keep your messaging clear as it is so important the reader can grasp everything you are trying to say to have maximum impact. This applies in paragraphs as well – each paragraph should in one sentence outline what is to be said, it should then be said, and in the final sentence summarise what you have just argued. Somebody should be able to quickly glance over your essay using the first and last sentences and be able to put together the core points.
- Make sure your main body paragraphs are focused – if you have come across PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain – in my case the acronym I could not avoid at secondary school!) before, then nothing has changed. Make your point in around a sentence, clearly stating your argument. Then use the best single piece of evidence available to support your point, trying to keep that to a sentence or two if you can. The vast majority of your words should be explaining why this is important, and how it supports your argument, or how it links to something else. You don’t need to ‘stack’ examples where you provide multiple instances of the same thing – if you have used one piece of evidence that is enough, you can move on and make a new point. Try to keep everything as short as possible while communicating your core messages, directly responding to the question. You also don’t need to cover every article or book you read, rather pick out the most convincing examples.
- It works, it doesn’t work, it is a little more complicated – this is a structure I developed for writing main body paragraphs, though it is worth noting it may not work for every question. It works; start your paragraph with a piece of evidence that supports your argument fully. It doesn’t work; see if there is an example which seems to contradict your argument, but suggest why you still believe your argument is correct. Then, and only if you can, see if there is an example which possibly doesn’t quite work fully with your argument, and suggest why possibly your argument cannot wholly explain this point or why your argument is incomplete but still has the most explanatory power. See each paragraph as a mini-debate, and ensure different viewpoints have an opportunity to be heard.
- Take your opponents at their best – essays are a form of rational dialogue, interacting with writing on this topic from the past, so if you are going to ‘win’ (or more likely just make a convincing argument as you don’t need to demolish all opposition in sight) then you need to treat your opponents fairly by choosing challenging examples, and by fairly characterising their arguments. It should not be a slinging match of personal insults or using incredibly weak examples, as this will undermine your argument. While I have never attacked historians personally (though you may find in a few readings they do attack each other!), I have sometimes chosen the easier arguments to try to tackle, and it is definitely better to try to include some arguments which are themselves convincing and contradictory to your view.
- Don’t stress about referencing – yes referencing is important, but it shouldn’t take too long. Unless your tutor specifies a method, choose a method which you find simple to use as well as being an efficient method. For example, when referencing books I usually only include the author, book title, and year of publication – the test I always use for referencing is to ask myself if I have enough information to buy the book from a retailer. While this wouldn’t suffice if you were writing for a journal, you aren’t writing for a journal so focus on your argument instead and ensure you are really developing your writing skills.
- Don’t be afraid of the first person – in my Sixth Form I was told not to use ‘I’ as it weakened my argument, however that isn’t the advice I have received at Oxford; in fact I have been encouraged to use it as it forces me to take a side. So if you struggle with making your argument clear, use phrases like ‘I believe’ and ‘I argue’.
I hope this will help as a toolkit to get you started, but my last piece of advice is don’t worry! As you get so much practice at Oxford you get plenty of opportunity to perfect your essay writing skills, so don’t think you need to be amazing at everything straight away. Take your first term to try new methods out and see what works for you – don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Good luck!
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Oxford University Stating that think it’s unfair that some people can’t get a visa, does not count as much. However, urging you not to use I in essays can fail in two ways. Firstly, you could still write about your own feelings and opinions using different phrases, and secondly, not all uses of the first person are bad.