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Writing basics

Writing essays, term papers, lab reports, etc.
no matter the topic, is a process:

Establish, narrow, and define your topic. State your thesis or theme in a sentence or two at most
Define your audience
Is it your instructor who grades you or a teaching assistant?
Your classmates who will critique your work?
A conference of professionals for review?  Keep your audience in mind as you write
Plan ahead
Set a time line and allow for unexpected developments and planned revision

Gather resources
People:  instructor, teaching assistant, research librarian, tutor, subject matter experts, professionals
References:  text book, reference works, web sites, journals, diaries, professional reports
read, interview, experiment, gather data, etc. and take notes completely as possible and document sources. Either use index cards or a system in word processing...
Organize your notes with a prewriting exercise: focused freewriting, brainstorming, mapping, and/or outlining

Write your first (rough) draft
Determine how you will develop your argument:  Use good logic in a reasoned argument to develop the theme and/or support the thesis. Will you compare or define?  Will you criticize or describe? See the definitions of writing terms in our Guides.
Your first paragraph

Introduce the topic!

Inform the reader of your point of view! Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper! Focus on three main points to develop
The first paragraph is often the most difficult to write.  If you have trouble, just get it down with the intention of re-writing it later, even after you have finished with the rest.  But remember this first entry draws your audience into your topic, your perspective, and its importance to continue with the rest. So:

Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
transition sentences, clauses, or words at the beginning of paragraph connect one idea to the next
(See the page on transitional words and phrases)
topic sentences in each paragraph, also near the beginning,
define their place in the overall scheme
avoid one and two sentence paragraphs
which may reflect lack of development of your point
Keep your voice active
"The Academic Committee decided..." not "It was decided by..."
Avoid the verb "to be" for clear, dynamic, and effective presentation
(Avoid the verb "to be" and your presentation will be effective, clear, and dynamic)
Avoiding "to be" will also avoid the passive voice
Use quotations to support your interpretations
Properly introduce, explain, and cite each quote
Block (indented) quotes should be used sparingly;
they can break up the flow of your argument
Continually prove your point of view throughout the essay
Don't drift or leave its primary focus of the essay
Don't lapse into summary in the development--wait until its time, at the conclusion

Read your first paragraph and the development ,Summarize, then conclude, your argument . Refer back (once again) to the first paragraph(s) as well as the development, do the last paragraphs briefly restate the main ideas?
reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
logically conclude their development?
Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
to better set your development and conclusion
Take a day or two off!

Re-read your paper
with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil.
Re-read aloud,
as if you want to communicate with a trusted friend or family member.  The person/people can be real or imaginary. You will be surprised what you find to change!

Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
Turn in the paper
Celebrate a job well done, with the confidence that you have done your best.
This last section is very important.

Writing Essaysin Literature Classes

Brainstorm the question/assignment:

' Restate key words in the assignment with synonyms or in your own words;
' Use these equivalent terms throughout your paper to keep focused.;
' Write down everything you can think of that is related to the assignment;
' Generate two or three specific sentences that answer a question posed by the assignment;
' Write your introduction last, after you've had a chance to work your way to a conclusion;
' Often it helps to take your conclusion, use what you've learned, and then write the introduction in the next draft.

Refine your focus:

' After writing your initial "guiding sentence" (thesis statement), write a draft, then go back to the thesis and perhaps re-write it;
' Include in each paragraph an explicit reference to the language you use in your thesis. If the paragraphs are not an extension of something in your thesis, either re-write your thesis statement, edit the paragraph, or cut it. Often you can revise the paragraph by adding words that more explicitly make the connection.
Make sure that your essay is developed out of your close analysis of selected passages found in the readings:

' Choose one or two short passages from the text(s) to help focus your paper;
' If using a quote, elaborate on its meaning using words from it. Don't leave it up to the reader to figure out how to interpret the language quoted.

Think about how to organize your paragraphs to create an effective argument.
' Is there a "scheme" you can use to organize your thoughts to help structure your paper?
' How will your examples "build" upon each other? Think of logical possibilities:
less important to more important,or vice versa;
similar ideas versus contrasting ideas;
' Is there a central concept or metaphor you can weave throughout your paper to add coherence?
For short papers, start fast.
' Provide an immediate, specific answer to a question posed by the assignment.
Adapted from: Ida Masters Hollowell, James A. Levernier, A. Franklin Parks, Structuring Paragraphs: A Guide to Effective Writing. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's,1986.

Transitional Words & Phrases

Using transitional words and phrases help papers read more smoothly by providing coherence.
A coherent paper allows the reader to flow from the first supporting point to the last.
Transitions indicate relations, whether from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph. This is a list of "relationships" which supporting ideas may have, followed by a list of "transitional" words and phrases which can connect those ideas.

Addition: also, besides, furthermore, in addition, moreover, again
Consequence: accordingly, as a result, consequently, hence, otherwise, so then, therefore, thus,thereupon
Summarizing: after all, all in all, all things considered, briefly, by and large, in any case, in any event, in brief, in conclusion, on the whole, in short in summary, in the final analysis, in the long run, on balance, on the whole, to sum up, to summarize, finally
Generalizing: as a rule, as usual, for the most part, generally, generally speaking, ordinarily, usually
Restatement: in essence, in other words, namely, that is, that is to say, in short, in brief, to put it differently
Contrast and Comparison: contrast, by the same token, conversely, instead, likewise, on one hand, on the contrary, on the other hand, rather, similarly, yet, but, however, still, nevertheless, in contrast
Sequence: at first, first of all, to begin with, in the first place, at the same time, for now, for the time being, the next step, in time, in turn, later on, meanwhile, next, then, soon, the meantime, later, while, earlier, simultaneously, afterward, in conclusion
Diversion: by the way, incidentally
Illustration: for example, for instance, for one thing
Similarity: likewise, similar, moreover
Direction: here, there, over there, beyond, nearly, opposite, under, above, to the left, to the right, in the distance

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