Communication skills, including writing, are some of the most important soft skills (employable skills that have more to do with emotional IQ such as common sense, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration) that students learn when they are in college because most professions require high competency in written communication, which can be a chance for one to shine or to falter. With emails, memos, letters, texts, and even Tweets, most people spend a fair amount of time at work communicating via the written word. Whether you are messaging a colleague, writing to your manager, creating the company newsletter, or writing a press release to the media, your writing skills can boost or hinder your career easily, even if you do not have a “writing” profession. Basically, writing skills make a difference in how you are perceived in college and in the workplace. That is the reason it is important to be sure you are following expected guidelines, always using the steps of the writing process, and making sure that all of your writing is coherent, concise, credible, and correct.
No matter what type of writing you are doing, academic writing, professional writing, or personal writing, it can be made easier by using the writing process. The writing process consists of the different stages that a writer follows to produce a good piece of writing. Although different sources may label and group the stages in various ways, the stages of the writing process are essentially as follows:
Prewriting – Deciding what to write about (the topic) and gathering information to support or explain what you want to say about your subject, and planning how to organize your ideas in a way that effectively develops the topic.
Drafting -Writing the first copy of the piece (essay, article, etc.). This is often called the rough draft. Ultimately, you should have multiple copies or drafts of your work.
Revising -Reconsidering the ideas and content of the essay as well as refining the style and structure of the paper.
Editing/Proofreading – Correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics.
Publishing – Sharing the final draft with others.
Figure 4.1 The Writing Process
However, the writing process is not a series of neatly developed steps and may differ somewhat for everyone. Sometimes ideas do not flow easily, and the essay that you originally start out to write is not the essay that you end up writing. Often the stages proceed erratically and overlap; the important thing is to keep writing and improving until a final product is achieved. The more that you write, the better you will become as a writer.
Prewriting describes all of the thinking and planning that precedes the actual writing of a paper.
Much careful thought needs to be given to the assignment in general at the beginning of prewriting before focusing on your topic.
- First, understand the writing assignment and its limits. Consider the assignment’s length. Always know the expected length of a writing assignment. A two-page paper has a much narrower topic than a ten-page paper would have. If there is no page limit, consider the nature of the assignment to suggest its length. A summary of a chapter will be much shorter than the original chapter. An analysis of a poem may likely be longer than the poem itself.
- Second, establish the assignment’s purpose. It is important to know the reasons you are writing or the purposes you are trying to accomplish with the writing.
- Expressive writing conveys personal feelings or impressions to the audience.
- Informative writing enlightens the audience about something.
- Persuasive writing attempts to convince the audience to think or act in a certain way.
Other more specific purposes can include entertaining, analyzing, hypothesizing, assessing, summarizing, questioning, reporting, recommending, suggesting, evaluating, describing, recounting, requesting, and instructing.
- Next, determine the assignment’s audience. You must determine to whom you are writing. An audience can be an individual or a group. An audience can be general or specialized. Once you define your audience, you must determine how much the audience already knows about the subject to know how much or little background information should be included. You should also determine how best to approach your audience in terms of language, rhetorical strategies, purposes for reading, and background knowledge.
- Then devise the assignment’s occasion. The occasion for which you are writing will determine the formality and scope of a writing project. An in-class writing assignment will differ from an out-of-class formal assignment. A memo for fellow office workers will differ from a report written for the company’s president. A letter to an aunt will differ from a letter written to a bank to request a personal loan.
- Finally, assess your own previous knowledge of the subject. Before writing, you need to determine what you already know about a subject, what you need to find out about the subject, and what you think about the subject. Personal essays draw upon your own experiences and observations; research essays require you to gain new knowledge through research.
The next step in prewriting, and often the hardest, is choosing a topic for an essay if one has not been assigned. Choosing a viable general topic for an assignment is an essential step. Sometimes your instructor will give you an idea to begin an assignment, and other times your instructor will ask you to come up with a topic on your own. A captivating topic covers what an assignment will be about and fits the assignment’s purpose and its audience. There are various methods you may use to discover an appropriate topic for your writing.
Using Experience and Observations
When selecting a topic, you may also want to consider something that interests you or something based on your own life and personal experiences. Even everyday observations can lead to interesting topics. After writers think about their experiences and observations, they often take notes on paper to better develop their thoughts. These notes help writers discover what they have to say about their topic.
Have you seen an attention-grabbing story on your local news channel? Many current issues appear on television, in magazines, and on the Internet. These can all provide inspiration for your writing. Our library’s database (http://infoguides.virginiawestern.edu/az.php) Issues and Controversies is a first-rate source.
Reading plays a vital role in all the stages of the writing process, but it first figures in the development of ideas and topics. Different kinds of documents can help you choose a topic and develop that topic. For example, a magazine advertising the latest research on the threat of global warming may catch your eye in the supermarket. This cover may interest you, and you may consider global warming as a topic, or maybe a novel’s courtroom drama sparks your curiosity of a particular lawsuit or legal controversy. After you choose a topic, critical reading is essential to the development of a topic. While reading almost any document, you evaluate the author’s point of view by thinking about his main idea and his support. When you judge the author’s argument, you discover more about the author’s opinion as well as your own. If these steps already seem daunting, remember that even the best writers need to use prewriting strategies to generate ideas.
The steps in the writing process may seem time consuming at first, but following these steps will save you time in the future. The more you plan in the beginning by reading and using prewriting strategies, the less time you may spend writing and editing later because your ideas will develop more swiftly. Prewriting strategies depend on your critical reading skills. Reading prewriting exercises (and outlines and drafts later in the writing process) will further develop your topic and ideas. As you continue to follow the writing process, you will see how to use critical reading skills to assess your own prewriting exercises.
Freewriting (also called brainstorming) is an exercise in which you write freely (jot, list, write paragraphs, dialog, take off on tangents: whatever “free” means to you) about a topic for a set amount of time (usually three to five minutes or until you run out of ideas or energy). Jot down any thoughts that come to your mind. Try not to worry about what you are saying, how it sounds, whether it is good or true, grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Instead, write as quickly as you can without stopping. If you are stuck, just copy the same word or phrase repeatedly until you come up with a new thought or write about why you cannot continue. Just keep writing; that is the power of this technique!
Writing often comes easier when you have a personal connection with the topic. Remember, to generate ideas in your freewriting, think about readings that you have enjoyed or that have challenged your thinking. Then write about it. Doing this may lead your thoughts in interesting directions. Quickly recording your thoughts on paper will help you discover what you have to say about a topic. When writing quickly, try not to doubt or question your ideas, but if you do, write those, too. Allow yourself to write freely and unselfconsciously. Once you start writing with few limitations, you may find you have more to say than you first realized. Your flow of thoughts can lead you to discover more ideas about the topic as well as different perspectives on it. Freewriting may even lead you to discover another topic that excites you even more than your original idea. Freewriting can also be used to narrow a topic and/or to develop supporting ideas once a broad topic has been chosen.
Journaling is another useful strategy for generating topic and content ideas. Journaling can be useful in exploring different topic ideas and serve as possible topic ideas for future papers.
Some prewriting strategies can be used together. For example, you could use experience and observations to come up with a topic related to your course studies. Then you could use freewriting to describe your topic in more detail and figure out what you have to say about it.
Once a general topic has been assigned to or chosen by you, then you must decide on the scope of the topic. Broad topics always need to be narrowed down to topics that are more specific. Then you need to determine what you are going to say about a subject. Two ways to help narrow a general subject down to a narrower topic are probing and focused freewriting.
- Probing is asking a series of questions about the topic. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? As you choose your topic, answering these questions can help you revisit the ideas you already have and generate new ways to think about your topic. You may also discover aspects of the topic that are unfamiliar to you and that you would like to learn more about. All these idea-gathering techniques will help you plan for future work on your assignment.
For example, if you were writing about tattoos, then you might ask yourself the following questions: Who do you know that has tattoos or who are some celebrities with memorable tattoos? What kinds of tattoos do people usually get–what symbols and what words? Where do people place tattoos on their bodies or where do people go to get tattoos–tattoo parlors? When do people get tattoos–is it after some memorable event or life stage? Why do people get tattoos? Finally, how do people get tattoos–what is the actual process?
- Focused Freewriting is freewriting again and again with each freewriting cycle becoming more focused (also called looping), and it can yield a great deal of useful material. Try this by taking the most compelling idea from one freewriting and starting the next with it.
Developing a Topic
The following checklist can help you decide if your narrowed topic is a possible topic for your assignment:
- Why am I interested in this topic?
- Would my audience be interested and why?
- Do I have prior knowledge or experience with this topic? If so, would I be comfortable exploring this topic and sharing my experiences?
- Why do I want to learn more about this topic?
- Is this topic specific? What specifics or details about this topic stand out to me?
- Does it fit the purpose of the assignment, and will it meet the required length of the assignment?
Once the topic has been narrowed to a workable subject, then determine what you are going to say about it; you need to come up with your controlling or main idea. A thesis is the main idea of an essay. It communicates the essay’s purpose with clear and concise wording and indicates the direction and scope of the essay. It should not just be a statement of fact nor should it be an announcement of your intentions. It should be an idea, an opinion of yours that needs to be explored, expanded, and developed into an argument.
A thesis statement:
- tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
- is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
- is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
- makes a claim that others might dispute.
- is usually a single sentence somewhere in the introductory paragraph that presents the writer’s argument to the reader. However, as essays get longer, a sentence alone is usually not enough to contain a complex thesis. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the readers of the logic of their interpretation.
If an assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that the writer needs a thesis statement because the instructor may assume the writer will include one. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively.
How do I get a thesis?
A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. (See chapter on argument for more detailed information on building an argument.) Once you have done this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis,” a basic or main idea, an argument that you can support with evidence. It is deemed a “working thesis” because it is a work in progress, and it is subject to change as you move through the writing process. Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic to arrive at a thesis statement.
For example, there is the question strategy. One way to start identifying and narrowing a thesis idea is to form a question that you want to answer. For example, if the starting question was “Do cats have a positive effect on people with depression? If so, what are three effects?
The question sends you off to explore for answers. You then begin developing support. The first answer you might find is that petting cats lowers blood pressure, and, further question how that works. From your findings (research, interviews, background reading, etc.), you might detail how that happens physically or you might describe historical evidence. You could explain medical research that illustrates the concept. Then you have your first supporting point — as well as the first prong of your thesis: Cats have a positive effect on people with depression because they can lower blood pressure . . . .
When you start with a specific question and find the answers, the argument falls into place. The answer to the question becomes the thesis, and how the answer was conceived becomes the supporting points (and, usually, the topic sentences for each point).
How do I know if my thesis is strong?
If there is time, run it by the instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center (https://tinyurl.com/ybqafrbf) to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own.
When reviewing the first draft and its working thesis, ask the following:
- Is my thesis statement an opinion, and is it a complete thought? Beware of posing a question as your thesis statement. Your thesis should answer a question that the audience may have about your topic. Also, be sure that your thesis statement is a complete sentence rather than just a phrase stating your topic.
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it is possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
- Is my thesis statement provable? Can I establish the validity of it through the evidence and explanation that I offer in my essay?
- Is my thesis statement specific? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: Why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
- Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It is okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.
To create a thesis statement simply follow this formula:
TOPIC + CLAIM = THESIS STATEMENT
- Animals + Dogs make better pets than cats. =When it comes to animals, dogs make better pets than cats because they are more trainable, more social, and more empathetic.
- Movies & Emotions + Titanic evoked many emotions. = The movie Titanic evoked many emotions from an audience.
- Arthur Miller & Death of a Salesman + Miller’s family inspired the Loman family. = Arthur Miller’s family and their experiences during the Great Depression inspired the creation of the Loman family in his play Death of a Salesman.
For more information on bad, good and better thesis statements from the writing center at the University of Evansville, go here (https://tinyurl.com/y8sfjale).
Exercise: Creating Effective Thesis Statements
Using the formula, create effective thesis statements for the following topics:
- Fake News
- Drone Technology
- Fast Food
- Helicopter Parents
Then have a partner check your thesis statements to see if they pass the tests to be strong thesis statements.
Once a working thesis statement has been created, then it is time to begin building the body of the essay. Get all of the key supporting ideas written down, and then you can begin to flesh out the body paragraphs by reading, asking, observing, researching, connecting personal experiences, etc. Use the information from below to maintain the internal integrity of the paragraphs and smooth the flow of your ideas.
Once you have generated supporting ideas for the main idea of your paper, you need to arrange those ideas in some type of order. Clustering and outlining can help organize the ideas.
Clustering (also called idea mapping) is a way of visually arranging ideas. Begin clustering by writing the topic in the center of a sheet of paper. Circle the topic, and then surround it with words and phrases that identify the major points to be discussed in the paper. Continue the process until all supporting details and secondary details have been listed. Many writers like this method because the shapes show how the ideas relate or connect, and writers can find a focused topic from the connections mapped. Using clustering, you might discover connections between topics that you had not thought of before.
Figure 4.2 Clustering
Outlining lists the major supporting details in a tentative order and includes secondary supporting details.
Figure 4.3 Traditional Formal Outline
Before you write, you need to decide how to organize your ideas. You need to determine the rhetorical mode(s) that will be used and the order of the supporting ideas. Simplistically speaking, there are nine basic rhetorical modes. They are as follows: narration, description, exemplification, process, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, classification and division, definition, and argument. However, most complex writing begins with an argument of some sort and then uses a combination of modes to relay one’s message.
Structure of a Paragraph and Essay
All formal paragraphs and essays have a title, a beginning or an introduction, a middle-a body of supporting paragraphs, and an end or conclusion.
A title is at the top of your paragraph or essay, but it is often the last thing that you create because until the paper is complete, you do not really know what your final product will be. A good title makes people want to read your paper; it does not merely repeat the topic sentence or thesis statement; it hints at your main idea. It is not a complete sentence, but it is a phrase or phrases that indicate your topic.
An effective introduction captures your readers’ attention and arouses their curiosity. In a paragraph, it is often your topic sentence, and in an essay, it usually includes your thesis statement, which narrows your subject, claims something specific and significant, and conveys your purpose and often your form of organization. You can include a question, tell a story, use a quotation, give interesting facts or statistics, give background information, or outline a problem and/or a solution. Do not tell the reader what your topic is–show them. Do not be vague and mysterious. Do not refer back to your title. Do not apologize for what you are about to say, and be original. The important thing is that you hook your readers’ attention and motivate them to continue reading.
Your body of supporting evidence should be organized, unified and coherent. The support can be organized using chronological order, spatial order, or emphatic order. Each supporting detail should have its own topic sentence and be developed with valuable supporting details. In an essay, the supporting ideas should support your thesis statement. You should use transitional words or phrases to establish connections between paragraphs and different ideas. You should use parallel structure throughout your paper and use repetition sparingly and only when it is effective and necessary. Be consistent in tense, number, and person throughout your paper as well. The entire body of supporting evidence should be focused on supporting your main idea without straying off topic or including unrelated ideas.
Your conclusion should let the readers know that you are finished and not leave them with any unanswered questions. It may recommend a call to action, or it may just summarize a long and complex paper. The conclusion may repeat some of the ideas from the introduction, but it should not be a replica of that paragraph. It may restate your main idea. The conclusion can be either hopeful or hopeless depending on the mood of your paper. You may leave your reader with some final important facts, or a compelling example, or a final visual image. It is important that you do not go off in a new direction in your conclusion. Do not make sweeping generalizations, and again do not apologize for any of your ideas. Once these arrangements and ideas have been decided, then an outline should be constructed.
Figure 4.4 The Essay Structure
Using a Clear Organizational Pattern
Depending on your topic, you might find it beneficial to use one of these common organizational patterns, either within individual paragraphs or within the entire essay:
A process analysis paragraph is used to describe how something is made or to explain the steps for how something is done.
The first key to growing good tomatoes is to give the seedlings plenty of room. Make sure to transplant them to small pots once they get their first leaves. Even when they are just starting out in pots, they need plenty of light, air, and heat. Make sure to warm the ground in advance by covering it in plastic sheeting for a couple of weeks. When you are ready to plant them in soil, plant them deeply enough, so they can put down some strong roots. Mulch next, and once the stems of the tomato plants have reached a few inches in height, cut off the lower leaves to avoid fungi. Carefully prune the suckers that develop in the joints of the developing stems.
Chronological arrangement presents information in time order.
As soon as I arrived at the farmers’ market, I bought a large bag of lettuce. I walked around the corner and saw the biggest, most gorgeous sunflower I had ever seen. I bought it and added it to my lettuce bag. The flower was so big that I had to hold the bag right in front of me to keep it from being bumped. At the Wilson Pork Farm booth, I tasted a little pulled pork. You guessed it—I had to buy a quart of it. I went on with a plastic quart container in my left hand and my lettuce and flower in my right hand. I was handling it all just fine until I saw a huge hanging spider plant I had to have. Ever so gently, I placed my pulled pork container inside the spider fern plant pot. Now I was holding everything right in front of me as I tried to safely make my way through the crowd. That is when I met up with little Willie. Willie was about seven years old, and he was playing tag with his brother. I am not sure where their mother was, but Willie came running around the corner and smacked right into me. You are probably thinking that poor Willie had pulled pork all over his clothes and an upside-down plant on his head, but no, not at all. I was the one. Willie didn’t even notice. He was too busy chasing his brother.
A common paragraph format is to present a general idea and then give examples.
The displays at the farmers’ market do not lack for variety. You will see every almost every kind of fresh, locally grown food you can imagine. The featured fruits on a given day might be as varied as pomegranates, persimmons, guava, jackfruit, and citron. Vegetables might include shiitake mushrooms, artichokes, avocados, and garlic. Some vendors also sell crafts, preserves, seeds, and other supplies suitable for starting your own garden.
The reverse of the above format is to give some examples and then summarize them with a general idea.
Your sense of smell is awakened by eighteen varieties of fresh roma tomatoes. Your mouth waters at the prospect of sampling the fresh breads. Your eye catches a glimpse of the colors of handmade, embroidered bags. You linger to touch a perfectly ripe peach. Your ears catch the strain of an impromptu jug band. A walk up and down the aisles of your local farmers’ market will engage all of your senses.
A paragraph using spatial organization presents details as you would naturally encounter them, such as from top to bottom or from the inside to the outside. In other words, details are presented based on their physical location.
From top to bottom, the spice booth at our farmers’ market is amazing. Up high vendors display artwork painstakingly made with spices. At eye level, you see at least ten different fresh spices in small baggies. On the tabletop is located an assortment of tasting bowls with choices ranging from desserts to drinks to salads. Below the table, but out of the way of customers, are large bags of the different spices. Besides being a great use of space, the spice booth looks both professional and charming.
Make the Writing Process Work for You! What makes the writing process beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternatives to standard practices and motivates you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in the writing process:
- Begin writing with the part you know the most about. The purpose of a first draft is to get ideas down on paper that can then be revised. Consider beginning with the body paragraphs and drafting the introduction and conclusion later. You can start with the third point in your outline if ideas come easily to mind, or you can start with the first or second point Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader’s interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than the length of an entire double-spaced page.
- Write one supporting point at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.
- Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multipage report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest, but do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write.
- Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.
- Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.
- Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, for example, you will present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can for the particular audience you have in mind. If your audience dwells on logic, for example, points that use reason, facts, documented information, and the like, will provide the persuasion to which those readers best respond. Some writers find it useful to keep the purpose and audience at the top of every page, highlighted in some way, as a reminder of the targets of each point.
- Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know very little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to know to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas, so they are meaningful and memorable and your communication is effective?
- Write knowing that the revision and editing processes lie ahead, so leave plenty of time for those stages.
You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card that you clip to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself—perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know—so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or the subject about which you want to inform them or persuade them.
Writing at Work
Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like “organic romaine” and “free-range chicken” are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers’ tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.
Tips to Avoid Writer’s Block
Set up scheduled times to write and set deadlines to accomplish different parts of your essay, and avoid perfectionism–that comes later in the writing process.
Maintaining Internal Integrity of Paragraphs
A paragraph needs to provide links between the ideas, and here are techniques that you can put into practice.
Paragraphs with unity flow well so that readers can follow along easily. You need to present an idea and then link the rest of the ideas in the paragraph together. Do not leave any unifying for your readers to do mentally. Do it all for them.
Not all the booths at a farmers’ market feature food. One couple has a booth that sells only fresh flowers. They display some flowers in antique containers and sell the flowers, the containers, or both. A clothesline above our heads displays a variety of dried flowers. A table holds about fifty vases of varying sizes, and they are all full of flowers. Some vases hold only one kind of long-stem flowers. Others hold mixtures of uncut flowers. Still, others display gorgeous arrangements. Both the man and the woman wear a wreath of flowers on their heads. The whole display is so attractive and smells so fabulous that it really draws people.
Parallelism means that you maintain the same general wording and format for similar situations throughout the paragraph so that once readers figure out what is going on, they can easily understand the whole paragraph.
The history of this farmers’ market followed a typical pattern. It started out in the 1970s as a co-op of local farmers, featuring a small city block of modest tables and temporary displays every Saturday morning from April to October from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the early 1990s, with the help of a grant from the city, the market expanded its footprint to a larger, more centrally located city block with ample parking. It benefited greatly from the installation of permanent booths, electrical outlets, and a ready water supply. These amenities drew far more customers and merchants. Its popularity reached unprecedented levels by 2000, when the city offered to help with the staffing needed to keep it open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Recently, discussions began about how to open the market on weeknights in the summer from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
A paragraph with consistency uses the same point of view and the same verb tense throughout. In other words, if you are using third person in the beginning of the paragraph, you use it throughout the paragraph. If you are using present tense to start the paragraph, you stick with it.
There comes a time each year when you must begin the all-important step of actually harvesting your vegetable garden. You will want to pick some of your vegetables before they are fully ripe. Eggplants, cucumbers, and squash fall into this category because they can further ripen once you have picked them. On the other hand, you will find that tomatoes, pumpkins, and most melons really need to ripen fully before you harvest them. You should also keep in mind that you would need plenty of storage space for your bounty. If you have a good harvest, you might want to have a few friends in mind, especially as recipients for your squash and cucumbers.
Transitions within paragraphs are words that connect one sentence to another so that readers can follow the intended meanings of sentences and relationships between sentences. Transitions may also smooth the flow between body paragraphs. The following table shows some commonly used transition words:
after that, again, also, although, and then, but, despite, even though, finally, first/second/third/etc., however, in contrast, in the same way, likewise, nevertheless, next, on the other hand, similarly, then
To signal cause and effect
as a result, because, consequently, due to, hence, since, therefore, thus
To show sequence or time
after, as soon as, at that time, before, during, earlier, finally, immediately, in the meantime, later, meanwhile, now, presently, simultaneously, so far, soon, until, then, thereafter, when, while
To indicate place or direction
above, adjacent to, below, beside, beyond, close, nearby, next to, north/south/east/west, opposite, to the left/right
To present examples
for example, for instance, in fact, to illustrate, specifically
To suggest relationships
and, also, besides, further, furthermore, in addition, moreover, too
What Point of View Should Be Used in Academic Writing?
The dominant perspective in argument writing should be third person (he, she, it, and they). What do you gain by using third person?
- Third person puts the topic and argument at the center, where they should be.
- Third person implies a critical distance between the writer and the argument, which can reassure readers who might disagree with your perspective that you are not being overly swayed by emotional attachment, i.e., that you can be objective.
Figure 4.5 Point of View
What this means is that writers should minimize the first person (I, me, we, us). The use of I in writing is often a topic of debate, and the acceptance of its usage varies from instructor to instructor. Some instructors demand all removal of first person from argument writing, but other instructors do not mind it. (This is changing fast, though. Many academic journals now encourage first-person writing because it is more active, immediate, and interesting to read. The deciding factor is to follow the instructions of your instructor.) While you may feel more comfortable using first person because you still think of an argument as the same as an opinion, be aware that using first person in argument writing comes with damaging effects:
- Using I shifts the focus from the topic and argument to the one making the argument. You are not the focus of the essay; your argument and its support are. The insertion of I into a sentence alters not only the way a sentence might sound but also the composition of the sentence itself. I is often the subject of a sentence. If the subject of the essay is supposed to be, for example, smoking, then by inserting yourself into the sentence, you are effectively displacing the subject of the essay into a secondary position. Note the difference in these two sentences:
Smoking is bad.
I think smoking is bad.
In the first sentence, the rightful subject, smoking, is in the subject position in the sentence. In the second sentence, the insertion of I and think replaces smoking as the subject, which draws attention to I and away from the topic that is supposed to be discussed. Remember to keep the message (the subject) and the messenger (the writer) separate.
- Too many I-statements make your argument sound weak. Excessive repetition of “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe” will eventually make it look like you are overemphasizing your beliefs because you don’t have enough confidence in them. Perception is important. You may actually be incredibly confident in your argument, logic, and evidence, but your overuse of I-statements will undermine that.
- Too many I-statements make your argument sound biased. Too much use of I will make your readers think you cannot be objective, and they may doubt your support because they think you are too personally attached to the argument to reasonably and objectively weigh data and logic—even if you are doing that throughout the essay.
- I-statements make your sentences wordier. Good academic writing is shark-like, and when declaring arguments and supporting points, you especially want to cut through the noise and confusion with strong, straightforward, economic writing. Refer again to the two sentences above. The first is boldly declarative (Smoking is bad. Boom!). The second is wordier, which drains energy and punch from the claim.
Writers may use the first person POV in personal, reflective or narrative writing. However, the second person POV (using you) is usually avoided in any form of academic writing.
Consider adopting this rule of thumb: check with your professors for their preference, but even if they allow first person, use it sparingly.
Once a rough draft is created, take some time to step away from the essay to get a newer and better perspective. Then begin revising. Revising means reexamining and rethinking the first draft, adding and deleting ideas extensively; rearranging any of the ideas, sentences, or paragraphs in the first draft; rewriting sentences and paragraphs for more variety, better flow, and more precise word choices. Often times, you may have three or four drafts before you are finally satisfied with a final draft. For easier revision, follow the following tips:
- Take time between the first draft and the later revisions to approach it more objectively.
- Revise on hard copy rather than on the computer screen. Do not delete any drafts! Do label each successive one. Allow yourself and others to annotate (comment on and give suggestions to improve) your draft.
- Read the draft aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it aloud.
- Take advantage of opportunities to get feedback; however, do not become overwhelmed by feedback.
- Do not allow ego to get in the way of a successful paper.
- Revise in stages–
- Revise for overall meaning and structure. Does the essay develop a central point clearly and logically and are the purpose, tone, and point-of-view suited for the audience of the essay?
- Revise for paragraph development. Check that your paragraphs are logically ordered, unified, and specific.
- Revise sentence structure. Make your sentences consistent with your overall tone, varied in type and length, emphatic, and economical.
- Finally, revise for word choices. Aim for an appropriate level of diction, word choices that do not overstate or understate, specific rather than general terms, strong verbs, only necessary modifiers, and original and nonsexist language.
- When you get your essays back, read the essay and heed your instructor’s comments. They can help improve your future essays. If you do not understand your grade or the instructor’s comments, schedule a conference to discuss them with her. As you revise your future essays, revisit the mistakes made before and be sure you avoid repeating them.
- To edit, search for grammatical errors, check punctuation, check spelling, and look over sentence style and word choices one last time. See chapters 8, 9, and 10 for additional help.
- To proofread, look for surface errors, such as typos, incorrect spacing, or formatting problems.
- To format, be sure that you are following the formatting style your instructor requires whether it is Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), etc. For more information, see the Brown Library Citation Styles Guide (http://infoguides.virginiawestern.edu/citations).
- Overall, look carefully for any error, large or small, that may weaken the essay’s message or undermine its credibility.
There are many different types of writing that you will be asked to create during your academic and professional careers. Always be clear what your boss or professor expects in an assignment before you begin writing. Below is just a sample of the various assignments you may be given:
Personal/reflective writing assignment–personal expression about an experience, event, situation, or information.
Expository writing assignment–writing that explains, describes, or informs.
Case study–a written report about a situation, group, or person that one has studied.
Review–summarizing as well as analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of writing, a show, or an event.
Technical report–clear, detailed report of the procedures undertaken and the results obtained during a scientific or technical procedure.
Lab report–writing that details the steps taken and the results of a scientific experiment.
Book report–writing that summarizes the contents of a book as well as some commentary concerning the writer’s opinion of the book.
Critical analysis/critique–writing an informed review and an analysis of the significance of a piece of writing or an event.
Bibliography–writing a full list of all resources consulted during a research project.
Annotated bibliography–writing not only a list of all resources consulted for a research project, but also including a summary and analysis of each resource.
Literature review–writing that focuses on a specific research topic and the critical aspects of the literature consulted during the research process.
Research paper–the final product following an extended period of research, critical thinking, and composition that encompasses the writer’s own ideas supported by a combination of primary and secondary sources.
E-mail–writing in electronic mail
Web writing–writing web content, which needs to be direct, concise, and credible.
Oral presentation of written report–developing an effective summary of a project to be delivered in front of an audience; may include visual aids.
Midterm/final exam essay–exams often include short essay questions that need to be written in a short amount of time.
Resume & other ‘business’ writing–writing that must communicate pertinent information in a concise, easy-to-read format.
- All writers rely on steps and strategies to begin the writing process.
- The steps in the writing process are prewriting, drafting, revising, editing/proofreading, and publishing.
- Prewriting is the transfer of ideas from abstract thoughts into words, phrases, and sentences on paper.
- A good topic interests the writer, appeals to the audience, and fits the purpose of the assignment. Writers often choose a general topic first and then narrow the focus to a more specific topic.
- A strong thesis statement is key to having a focused and unified essay.
- Rough drafts are opportunities to get ideas down onto paper to get a first look at how your ideas will work together.
- Revising improves your writing as far as supporting ideas, organization, sentence flow, and word choices.
- Editing spots and corrects any errors in grammar, mechanics, spelling, and formatting.
- Regardless of the type of assignment you may be given in college or in work, it benefits you to follow a writing process, to put in the work necessary to understand your subject and audience, and to communicate your ideas confidently and coherently.
CC Licensed Content, Shared Previously
English Composition I, Lumen Learning, CC-BY 4.0.
Writing for Success, CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Figure 4.1 “The Writing Proces,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0, .
Figure 4.2 “Clustering,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 4.3 “Traditional Formal Outline,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 4.4 “The Essay Structure,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 4.5 “Point of View,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.