How to Tell if You Bullshit in Your Essays (and How to Write BS-Free if You do)


Due to how much our society encourages bullshitting, many students BS on their essays without even knowing it. Here’s how to identify your BS, and change your ways.

Many students BS not because they’re trying to be sinister deceivers, but because they don’t know what they’re doing.

And if a BSer can discover that they’re BSing, it means they can be rescued. This is assuming, of course, that they are willing to be rescued.

So this article is all about determining what it means to BS and what BSing looks like, so that you can make sure you’re on team realness aka all the legit writers out there who have actual things to say.

And yes, I may as well mention here that I’m an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition teacher who has seen all kinds of BS. I have been so drowning in BS (I realize the literal visual of that is gross – sorry) that I have even assigned the BS-filled public relations statements of adults to my constantly BSing students, so that they can analyze and deconstruct the statements and perhaps even see that they, mere students, have it in them to be BS-free and better at writing than people more than twice their age.

Let us define BSing (short for “bullshitting”) as the tactic a person uses to fool others into thinking that he is knowledgeable in a given subject, and worthy of being heard and respected.

So here’s the three major examples of BSing I’ve seen.

Beating around the bush with abstract phrases

Instead of talking about the struggles of low-wage workers living in urban centers, a chronic BSer will tell you about the “various aspects of economically disadvantaged people living in major metropolises.” What’s the difference? The BSer is using broader, more abstract language to describe a phenomenon, rather than concrete, visually descriptive language. You’ll notice many of these abstract phrases are also bigger words with higher syllable counts. Bigger words and higher syllable counts are a disguise BSers use to hide the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s a pretty bad disguise if you think about it, sort of like if an undercover cop with a five o’clock shadow wore a Supreme t-shirt to bust some grade niners who were up to something illegal. Yet the disguise works on many people, due to how our politicians also BS a lot, which sadly validates BSing in our society.

Don’t write like this:

Joe Schmitt talks about various aspects of economically disadvantaged people living in major metropolises.

Instead, write like this:

Joe Schmitt talks about the struggles of low-wage workers living in urban centers.

I could spend an entire article talking about the differences above, but I won’t, so here’s a quick analysis:

“Low-wage” is two syllables compared to the nine of “economically disadvantaged.”  You’ll also notice it helps explain exactly how the economic disadvantage is working – it comes from low wages. “Workers” helps you visualize people actually working (maybe in a mine or a field or a warehouse) rather than “people,” which is more generic and open to interpretation.

Inventing illogical significance points

Including a significance factor in your essay is usually the most important thing you can do to bump yourself up to an A. But it’s difficult to pull off, which may lead to some BSing (whether accidental or not).

Here’s how it usually happens. Let’s say you’re writing an essay about whether or not the United States should add more nuclear power sources to their power grid. And you decide to side with the idea that yes, they should. So you’re trying to think up why it’s important for the US to be pro-nuclear power, and so off the top of your head, you say yes, they should add more nuclear power sources, as this would encourage more efforts at making nuclear power sources safer and less prone to accidents.

What’s wrong with the scenario above? Well, this is an idea that the student more or less pulled out of their ass – there’s no real process of logical reasoning behind it. We can even look at the example above in very simple equation-form to see if the logic checks out.

Basically the student is saying:

More nuclear power sources = safer nuclear power.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a logic mastermind to tell you this doesn’t make sense. And most English teachers, especially if they’re AP Language graders or college professors, will actually be logic masterminds, so you do not want to mess with them.

Don’t argue like this:

Yes, the US should adopt more nuclear power sources in their grid because more nuclear power sources = safer nuclear power.

Instead, argue like this:

Yes, the US should adopt more nuclear power sources in their grid because more nuclear power sources = a feasible approach to move away from fossil fuels – this is because we have developed the technology for nuclear already, unlike renewable sources like wind and solar, which we’re still trying to economize for higher scale production.

As you can see above, the corrected example has a significance factor that relies on the logic of possibility – it’s telling us the formula works because it is possible to achieve (possibility was one of Aristotle’s tips for logical argument), and it goes on to explain how the possibility works. Describing how your idea has a high possibility or feasibility-level is one great way to describe the significance of your argument.

So the bottom line here is: use a known and respected logical strategy to describe the significance of your argument, rather than something off the top of your head that’s maybe only vaguely related to the subject you’re writing about.

Simping the author

This is when, instead of discussing the subject an author is writing about, you put the author on a pedestal and praise the author for being great at writing. I’ll often see students do this when they’re trying to fill up an empty-looking sentence or paragraph.

For example, let’s say you’re writing on an author who wrote a creative non-fiction piece about life in an ethnoburb, (an ethnoburb is basically a well-to-do suburb with a unique, usually singular, non-white ethnic concentration). And you want to talk about a simile the author uses. Let’s say the simile is about how the import mangoes available in the mom-and-pop grocery stores in this ethnoburb are like being back in the home country, let’s say Pakistan, where you can climb mango trees in people’s backyards and taste unparalleled freshness and sweetness. So in your essay you talk about how the author’s simile about mangoes in the home country is such a great strategy to make the reader feel what it’s like to live in the ethnoburb, and you also say it’s really admirable how transported readers become when they read this author’s writing.

The problem is you sound like a suck up. And you’re not writing your essay to suck up. You’re writing it to contribute to the subject that this mango ethnoburb writer is talking about. It doesn’t matter that you’re just a student and the mango author is published and legit and in-the-workforce. Think higher of yourself and give this author a real critique. You don’t need to bash him – you can even just build off his idea or take an alternate viewpoint or move the conversation to a different, but related, subject. Your goal is to be an academic professional with a respectable viewpoint – not a suck up to other authors.

Don’t write like this:   

The author’s excellent simile about climbing mango trees is a great way to put readers in his mind.

Instead, write like this:

The author’s simile about climbing mango trees demonstrates the success of ethnoburbs in western nations – specifically how they’re a great way for immigrants to lay down new roots without cutting out the roots of their home countries.

You’ll notice in the corrected example above, I’ve moved the focus from praising the author to praising (or rather advocating) the thing that the author is praising: ethnoburbs. The validity of ethnoburbs in western nations is the subject of my essay; not the mango author. So if you’re someone who’s got this positive vibe energy that just can’t be stopped, channel that energy into praising a possible solution or angle in the subject. It’ll be much more academic and professional than putting another writer on a pedestal.

Your Takeaway – BSing is getting more dangerous

Moral Philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a book On Bullshit (that’s literally the title), where he suggested that BSers are more dangerous than liars because liars know the difference between truth and reality (they just choose to lie). Meanwhile BSers don’t care – they’re cool with making things up and actually believing in those things. Which takes us to where we are now in 2023 with the spread of fake news, and deep fakes, and any other buzz phrase with the word “fake” in it that I may be missing. And ChatGPT – one University of Toronto professor at the Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology argues that ChatGPT is the kind of BSer that Harry Frankfurt had in mind when he wrote his book, and this is because ChatGPT creates content for us without caring about the truth of its content (because that content comes from humans, who are full of BS). But obviously some content it creates will be truthful and correct, which gives it a kind of faux validity that might allow us to let its other BS slide (again, sorry about the gross literal visual).

ChatGPT ramifications can be especially dangerous when we consider the BSing strategy of inventing illogical significance points to push forward damaging ideas, such as accusing your country of committing election fraud, or arguing that climate change doesn’t exist. The same can be said of beating around the bush with abstract phrases – these abstract phrases can conceal violent realities that corporations or governments don’t want you to hear about. It might be the “upsetting event” where a United Airlines passenger got forced out of his seat and badly beaten by airline and airport staff, or the “threat reduction” that took place when policymakers and military officials ordered a drone strike that killed not just their living, breathing, human target, but all living, breathing civilians near the target too.

Which means this is needless to say, but I’ll say it anyways: don’t BS in your essays. And don’t think ChatGPT can help you ditch your BSing habits either.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *