Writing an Essay


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Just about any state exam requires an essay. Writing an essay can be very difficult for some. There are simple steps to help with essay writing. However, the best way to write an essay that will pass the test, is to practice, practice, practice. By practice, I mean several things.

Anything that is worth having doesn't come easy. That applies to education as much as it does to anything else in life. To enroll in college courses, one must be able to write a decent essay. To write a decent essay, one must practice. To practice writing, one must read. Reading and writing are dependent upon one another. To be an effective writer, one must also write.

Reading is the best way to be prepared for any topic that might be given on an essay. You don't know which topic will be given on a test, so there is no way to "study" for it ahead of time. However, if you read a variety of materials, you will be prepared to write on just about any topic. Read the newspaper, read instruction manuals, read food labels, read clothing labels. Anything that has writing on it, READ IT!! This will help prepare you to respond to an unknown topic. You don't have to be an expert on any one topic, but you might need to be somewhat informed on current events, and you need to be able to comprehend the expectations of the topic assigned.

To become a better writer, one must practice writing. Writing is not a skill that develops out of thin air. It is a skill that takes practice. When you read things, practice taking notes about them. Think about what the author is trying to convey. Create alternative versions. Write about your opinion of the article, manual, food, clothing, whichever item you are reading. Write letters to your friends or family. You don't really have to mail the letters to them, unless you want input from them. Practice writing with pen and pencil. Many essays require pencil. Practice writing on a computer. Have someone look over your writing and give you ideas. There are proofreading services that offer discounts to students.

Now we are down to the actual process of writing an essay.

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The basic principles are simple:
Tell them what you're going to say. (Introduction)
Say it. (Body paragraphs)
Tell them what you just said. (Conclusion)

Tell them what you're going to say:
Your introduction paragraph will explain, or set up, what you are planning to write about. It will include the ideas you will present in the body paragraphs. The ideas should be listed in the exact order that you plan to write about them.

Say it:
The body paragraphs will describe the reasons why you chose those ideas. You should have at least 3 body paragraphs, depending on the length requirements (usually number of words) of the essay and the number of words in each paragraph.

Tell them what you just said:
The concluding paragraph (conclusion) will restate the introduction paragraph as well as the ideas that were discussed in the body paragraphs. CAUTION: The conclusion should not be written exactly the same as the introduction. The conclusion should tie all the details together, summarizing why you think the way you do about the topic. The ideas should be listed in the exact order that you wrote about them in the body paragraphs.

Essays are graded on a variety of scales, usually from 1-4 or 1-6. On a 1-4 scale, a one is the worst essay ever, a 4 is a perfect essay. On this scale, you need a 3 to pass. On a 1-6 scale, a one is the worst essay ever, automatic fail. A 6 is a perfect essay. Usually on this scale, you need at least a 4 to pass.

What are the expectations? If your essay is well-organized, has at least 5 paragraphs, provides details, and the reader can comprehend and recognize your perspective, you will receive a passing score. Grammar and mechanics are graded based on whether or not the reader can comprehend what you have written.

The rubrics used to score essays are usually simple. If the reader can comprehend your essay and read your handwriting, point deductions for grammar and mechanics will be limited to one point overall for spelling mistakes, one point for capitalization, one point for punctuation. For example, improper usage of homonyms like you're and your would be considered spelling mistakes and only one point overall would be deducted; improper use of commas and semi-colons would be a one point overall deduction. However, this depends on the type of essay. An SAT essay would be graded more strictly than a high school exit essay. A thesis for a college-level English course would be graded more strictly than an SAT essay. But, a research paper for a college-level history course might not be graded more strictly than the college-level English essay. It is all relative to the purpose for the essay and the standards required by the test administrator. Always make sure you understand the rubric and grading scale for any paper you write.

Be sure to follow the steps below for developing, planning and writing your essay. If you follow those steps and write clearly, you cannot fail.


Step 1: Develop a Topic Sentence

A topic sentence is: a sentence that expresses the main idea in a paragraph or passage. Not every paragraph has a topic sentence. Sometimes the main idea is implied in a paragraph. WHEN YOU ARE WRITING AN ESSAY, YOU EVERY PARAGRAPH SHOULD HAVE A TOPIC SENTENCE. EACH PARAGRAPH SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST 3 SENTENCES, PREFERABLY FIVE.

Always rewrite the essay prompt into a topic sentence. If the essay prompt is in the form of a question, convert it into a complete sentence. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS use complete sentences throughout your essay. Incomplete sentences reflect poor writing and make the essay difficult to comprehend.

Example essay prompt in the form of a question: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Conversion to a complete sentence: If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be ____________________.

If the essay prompt is already in sentence form, rewrite or paraphrase it. Example essay prompt in the form of a sentence: The federal government issued economic stimulus refund checks to taxpayers. Write an essay describing whether you agree or disagree with the stimulus refunds. Rewrite the sentence to paraphrase in your own words: I do/do not agree that the federal government should have issued stimulus checks.


Step 2: Plan the Essay

Create a graphic organizer or an outline to brainstorm about your topic. A graphic organizer is a diagram that is used to organize ideas about a particular topic. Many people prefer a graphic organizer over an outline because it is a picture from which they can organize. For example, using topic 1, "If I could live anywhere in the world it would be ...," write the name of the place in a circle. Outside of the circle, write the reasons you want to live there in smaller circles that are connected by dashes or arrows. You should have at least 6 reasons or ideas in the smaller circles. See the diagram below.


Each of the reasons you write become the body paragraph topic sentences. You should use at least 3 reasons for a 5 paragraph essay. Five is usually preferred and will give you a 7 paragraph essay, including the introduction and conclusion.

If you choose to create an outline, remember these things: if you have a I, you must have a II; if you have an A, you must have a B; if you have a 1., you must have a 2; if you have an a., you must have a b., etc. Below is a sample outline for Topic 1:

Title: Reasons why I would like to live __________________________.

Introduction: State topic sentence and list reasons. Each Roman numeral below is a reason. These reasons become the body paragraphs. They should be listed in the introduction in the exact order you want to discuss them in the body. Each letter represents the details that support the reasons.

I. Climate
A. I like (warm/cold) weather.
B. I like (wet/dry) climates.
C. I (like/do not like) sunny days.
D.
E.
II. Geography
A. Landforms: mountains, prairies, hills
B. Waterways: rivers, lakes, beaches
C. Other geographical descriptors
D.
E.
III. City/Urban
A. First reason you like city/urban
B. Second reason you like city/urban
C. Third reason you like city/urban
D.
IV. Activities
A. One activity available in the area
B. Another activity available in the area
V. Night Life/Family Life
A. First reason this location is good for night/family life
B. Second reason this location is good for night/family life
C. Third reason this location is good for night/family life

Conclusion: Restate topic sentence, listing the reasons, tying together the details behind the reasons.

You should create a new graphic organizer or outline for each body paragraph. If creating a graphic organizer, write the first idea you want to write about and put a circle around it. List the details that describe that idea in smaller circles that are connected to the main circle using dashes or arrows. You should have at least 6 details in the smaller circles. Repeat this for each idea.


Repeat the graphic organizer for each body paragraph in your essay.

Once you finish planning, your essay is almost finished. All that is left is to write the ideas in complete sentences, using all the details and adjectives you can think of. Think about how you would explain it to a friend of yours. Write it that way.


Step 3: Write the Introductory Paragraph

Create your introductory paragraph based on the graphic organizer or outline. You must have a topic sentence. Every paragraph in your essay must have a topic sentence. See Step 1 for a definition of a topic sentence. After you write your topic sentence, create sentences out of each of the ideas you listed in the graphic organizer or outline. These will become the topic sentences for your body paragraphs.


Step 4: Write the Body Paragraphs

Create your body paragraphs based on the graphic organizers or outlines you created in Step 2. Remember that every paragraph must have a topic sentence. See Step 1 for a definition of a topic sentence. After you write the topic sentence, create sentences out of the details you listed in the graphic organizers or outlines.


Step 5: Write the Conclusion

This may be the hardest part of the essay. You will have to rephrase the topic sentence in the introduction. You will also have to rephrase the "idea" sentences from the introduction. And you will need to tie together all the ideas and details used in the body paragraphs, summarizing the topic. To do this, re-read what you have written so far, taking notes on the things that are most important to you in each body paragraph. Create a compare/contrast chart to develop a proof, if necessary. Some essays will require you to prove your side of an argument or point of view. However, even if you are not writing a persuasive essay, you still must back up your point of view and why you feel the way you do. Once you re-read the essay, you should find a common theme that will help you tie all of the ideas together in the conclusion.


Step 6: Proofread, Edit, and Revise

Always, always, always proofread. Correct any mistakes in spelling, punctuation, or capitalization. Make sure your ideas are organized correctly and sequentially. Make sure your details are related to your ideas. Make sure your paragraphs are sequential. Make sure you provide enough detail in each paragraph to fully explain the main idea of that paragraph. Check for sentences that do not relate to the main idea. Check for details that do not relate to the paragraph. Make sure that anyone reading your essay will be able to read your handwriting and comprehend your thinking.

Some people will tell you to write a first draft and a final draft. If you write fast enough, that is fine. But, for most of us, that is not possible. If you create a rough draft that is poorly organized and difficult to comprehend and you are unable to finish the final draft, this will affect your grade. It is best to write the first draft and correct it as a final draft. That way, if you do not finish correcting it, at least you have most of the final draft complete, and the part that you do not finish proofreading is somewhat well written.






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