Writing Aids

The Four Purposes for Writing

Your Audience Affects Your Writing

Logical Fallacies  We avoid these.

Scoring Guide for
Board Questions and Paragraphs

Sentence Beginnings

The Art of Styling Sentences for Sophomore English

The Art of Styling Sentences for those who know grammar

The New Strategy of Style

More Powerful Tools of
Rhetoric (Style) from the Web

Paragraph Modes of Development

Paragraph Styles


Good Essay Writing

Sample Essay with Labels

Essay Structure Explained

Introductions and Conclusions --one method

Writing Introductions and Conclusions with many examples

Transitional Phrases

Comma Help

The MLA Style

Sample Graduate School  Introduction from a Paper Written by Yours Truly

The Importance of Sound Writing



Writing Roden's Way

In a drawing class, thirty students drawing the exact same tree create thirty different versions of that tree. That is the nature of art; writing shares that quality. That is why teachers say "language arts" instead of "language science." Conseqently, the techniques for good writing differ from teacher to teacher since their tastes differ. What follows is one good way to approach writing, and, of course, others do exist. However, this method should insure a good grade in any class that requires good writing.

Good Paragraph Writing

1.     Read the writing prompt carefully. Make sure you know exactly what it's asking.  The prompt dictates which of the four purposes of writing you will use and who your audience is.  A very common mistake is not reading the prompt closely and writing something that completely off the mark.

2.     Brainstorm. Don't be satisfied with a sprinkle when a flood of ideas and choosing the best ones means an A. Brainstorming makes writing easier.  Brainstorming takes many forms.  Do a web search to see examples of mind maps and other brainstorming. I use the type shown in the link, but I usually have circles around each idea.  I think of this type as a thought molecule since it reminds of the plastic models of molecular chains.  A former student of mine called each circle on a brainstorming page a brain drop.  That's a very creative extension of the storm metaphor.

3.     Use some or all of the key words from the question/prompt to write your topic sentence. A topic sentence is the promise you make to the reader regarding your paragraph's content. It promises the reader you'll write about the idea or topic you present as the paragraph's main idea in its first sentence. If the question reads, "What effects did the setting have on the character's actions?" then a possible topic sentence would read, "The setting had several striking effects on the character's actions." If you actually use words from the question in your topic sentence, you're probably going to write about it.  In college it's not as likely that an instructor will give you a specific writing prompt. They will give you some general parameters and ask you to narrow the topic yourself.

4.     Write strong supporting sentences and separate them from the topic sentence. Supporting sentences are the bulk of your paragraph. They prove the point you made in your topic sentence by giving specific examples, details, reasons, descriptions, steps, causes and effects, definitions, etc. Don't combine the topic sentence with the first supporting sentence. If you write "The setting had several striking effects on the character's actions such as making him moody" then you're promising the reader that the paragraph will only address the moodiness factor, a promise you won't keep. Stop with actions.

a.      Use quoted phrases and MLA documentation when you write about something you have read. It shows you read the assignment and makes sure you're on target.

5.     Use transitions, repetitions, synonyms, and pronouns to show the connection between ideas. If you don't already have a nice list of transitions, ask for one. Refer to your subject by name or synonym or pronoun often. A paragraph about any subject will mention that subject often. These techniques tie a paragraph together.

6.     Use stylistic sentences from your worksheets. Too often students in high school write like students in the fifth grade unless they make a conscious effort to use some real style. You'll impress a college instructor with your mature style by using these patterns well.

7.     Vary the beginnings of your sentences. Variety is important. Starting all your sentences with the same part of speech or, even worse, the same word is borrrrrrrring.  Some of your style sentences target this.

8.     End your paragraph with a clincher. A clincher sentence uses key words from the question again to convey the same basic idea as your topic sentence, but it says it in a fresh, new way. For example, "Obviously, the setting affected the character in many ways." It has the same idea as the sample topic sentence in step three, but not exactly the same wording.

9.     Use descriptive adjectives and figurative language where possible.

10.  Inject your writing with your personality--the Wow! factor.  The EOC test especially requires this and refers to it as individiual perspective, freshness of thought, and complexity.  Basically, let some of your personality into your writing.   Using your sense of humor (where apppropriate) is a good example.  The writing term for the personality in your writing is voice. When you successfully include this, the reader should get a sense of who you are as they read your writing.  Take it from a writing teacher: personality makes the difference in liking a piece of writing.  Sounding like an encyclopedia is kind of boring, but it does have its place: in formal writing, voice isn't much of a concern. In formal writing, you need to write like you're an authority on the subject.

11.    Avoid these common mistakes.  I created this list as I graded a stack of papers.
  • Don't use you or your when you write. With formal writing you seldom includes every potential reader of your writing. In informal writing, as in a note to a friend, use these second-person pronouns as often as you want.
  • Don't use "I think" or "I believe" or "I feel" statements. They make your statements sound like mere opinions, not facts. Your name on your paper tells the reader whose thoughts, beliefs, feelings, etc. they are reading.  These opinion labels are redundant. State your ideas as facts, not opinions, and persuade your audience.
  • Don't use I at all unless the question/assigned topic allows for it.
  • Don't write about your writing. Phrases like "in this essay, I will discuss…" or "this paragraph will target…" are as silly as a conversation with a friend that begins with "The words I am about to say are…" Don't use indirect references to your writing either. "As stated previously…"
  • Don't use symbols like &. Use words.
  • Avoid the list effect. Again, imagine these common mistakes as a paragraph. Lists are boring to read. Avoid them by avoiding short, simple sentences in a series.
  • Always use complete sentences that have a subject and a verb since these relate a complete idea. If you don't know what a comma splice or run-on is, ask.
  • Don't put there or here in front of a verb. Only use them to indicate a location. For example, "I put my coat there" "Here is my coat." When you write, "There are many reasons for wearing a coat," you aren't discussing location; you're simply delaying the appearance of the subject reasons for no good reason. It's not grammatically incorrect; it's stylistically cheesy.
  • Use specific nouns. Don't use generic, meaningless nouns like thing or stuff.
  • Demonstrate a high school vocabulary, not a kindergarten one. Don't rely heavily on basic terms like good and bad.
  • Don't write like you speak. Don't begin sentences with well, yes, no, sure, etc. Don't use teenage slang.
  • Don't end a sentence with a preposition. Keep your preposition and its object together.
  • Don't use a colon immediately after a verb.
  • Don't use although when you really want however. If you use although, you create a subordinate clause that needs to be followed by an independent clause. If you don't write that independent clause, you create a fragment.
Here's a good way to visual a good paragraph:

The topic sentence begins the paragraph and tells what it's about.

The point that the topic sentence made is backed up, explained, proven, etc. by your supporting sentences.  The ideas in the support often need a transition to serve as a bridge from one idea to the next. If all your sentences start in the same way and have the same simple structure, it's time to add some variety and sophistication to your writing using the style sentences.

The clincher sentence gives the main idea one more time in a fresh way.

Good Essay and Long Paper Writing

1.     Write attention-getting introductions. In a stack of essays, it's the one with a creative introduction that makes the best impression. You have eight types from which to choose-don't use the same one every time!

Introductions and Conclusions

Introductions and Conclusions--One method

2.     Don't focus too much on the general-to-specific structure. When you consult my handout on introductions and conclusions, you'll see that while each sample introduction has the general-to-specific structure, that structure is not created with short, choppy, simplistic sentences. Your introduction shouldn't look like you discovered three or four ideas that gradually get more specific and wrote short sentences about them to get the points for structure. Discover these ideas, yes, but write high school level sentences about them, and make their ideas flow smoothly from one to another.

3.     Make sure your thesis specifically lists your three topics when it's possible or covers them with a general statement when it's not. Usually, it's a simple task to mention the topics of your body paragraphs in items in a series. However, sometimes these topics are complex enough that they can't easily be listed this way (that's seldom the case in my assignments). In this case, write a sentence that covers all three topics without mentioning them specifically.  For long papers, you will have more than three body paragraphs, so avoid the  list.

4.     Follow all the criteria for good paragraphs listed above in your body paragraphs.

5.     Use transitional phrases. Transitional phrases are placed in the topic sentence of body paragraph two and each subsequent body paragraph. These phrases mention the topic of the previous paragraph before stating the current paragraph's topic. In this way transitional phrases make changing ideas easier. You can also place them in the clincher sentence of the previous sentence.  This often works better.

6.     Write good conclusions. Don't make any new points in your conclusion. Restate and reword your thesis first. Again, don't get so careful about the specific-to-general structure of the conclusion that you begin writing short simplistic sentences. State the thesis and get more general as you continue to lead the reader out of your essay and to a good last sentence. If you used a special technique in your introduction, make a reference to that story, statistic, question, etc. in your conclusion. You may choose to use the same general subjects from your introduction in a reverse order in your conclusion to achieve the correct structure, but don't simply repeat the same ideas from the introduction. Again, consult my examples from the worksheet. Visit the sample essay with labels link above on the left.