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 Writing1. 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.
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
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.
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
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.