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Composing an Essay - The Writing Process

Writing Process

Good writing is usually the result of a process of prewriting, drafting, reviewing, revising, and rewriting. It’s rare that anyone is able to express his or her thoughts in the best way possible on the first try although the more we practice, the better we become at it. Experienced, published writers readily admit that they have revised their writing several times before publication.

Revise means to see again. After we’ve done our first draft, it’s helpful to leave it for a while before looking at it again. While having others read the paper may help, the goal is to become self-editors and see the writing as others would see it. We need to be sure that it says what we mean to communicate in a way that will show the legitimacy of our position.

A good essay must prove the thesis: a one-sentence statement taking a position. Once you have a thesis, even though you may change it, it’s easier to formulate ideas about the body paragraphs since they just have to prove the thesis.

Proof paragraphs are just reasons why your thesis is right. Just as an essay has a controlling idea expressed is the thesis statement, paragraphs also have a controlling idea expressed in a topic sentence.

While experienced writers sometimes take poetic liberties in some contexts such as fiction or informal writing, good writers know how to use proper grammar and punctuation, and in college writing, it should be used.

Proofreading carefully helps to assure that the writing says what we want it to say and that it uses proper grammar. Sometimes, it helps to read the paper aloud. It’s easy to miss an error.

Whether you are writing a paragraph or an essay, here are key elements to remember.

  1. Subject, Audience, Purpose
    • Subject – (picking the right topic, narrowing the topic, supporting the topic)
    • Audience – For whom are you writing? (experts, teachers, general public?)
    • Purpose- (explaining, persuading, comparing, entertaining...)
  2. The Writing Process
    • Prewriting (freewriting, brainstorming, clustering, asking questions, keeping a Journal)
    • Organizing (grouping, eliminating, adding)
    • Rough Draft
    • Revising (self check, peer review, tutoring)
    • Final Copy (typed)

Prewriting

Prewriting consists of various strategies to help overcome a writing block, to get ideas, or just to get organized. One or more of the following may be used as needed.

  1. Focused Freewriting
    • More “poetic” than typical prose writing for college classes. Contains many vivid details and extra information that will need to be cut, added to, or rearranged.
  2. Brainstorming
    • A filled page of just word or sentence fragments. Complete sentences are not required, but a large amount of ideas should be present. Add details to fill the page.
  3. Clustering
    • Start with the topic in the center and draw spokes outward as thought take you in new, more detailed directions. A cluster typically takes a full page.
  4. Asking Questions
    • Ask the reporter’s six questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When, How? Use these questions to focus on what you really want to write about and what you know about.
  5. Keeping a Journal
    • Your journal is a private place where you can develop ideas and ability! When you see something interesting or have a new, exciting thought, write it down and use it for a later writing assignment.

Narrowing the Topic

A paragraph, an essay, or a research paper (also called research essay), each must focus on a point.

  • The point of an essay or research paper is called the thesis.
  • The point of a paragraph is called a topic sentence.
  • A thesis tells the reader what the paper will prove.
  • The topic sentence of a paragraph tells the reader what the paragraph will prove.

An essay has different types of paragraphs:

  • introduction (introductory paragraph) – gives a background and states the thesis. The topic sentence of an introductory paragraph is called the thesis and belongs at the end of the first paragraph.
  • body paragraphs – each of which gives a different reason with supporting details on why the thesis is accurate. The topic sentence of a body paragraph belongs at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • concluding paragraph – sums up the proof and restates the thesis and/or draws an implication from the information presented depending on instructor preference. The topic sentence of a concluding paragraph is a restatement of the thesis and may go anywhere in the concluding paragraph.

In some assignments, you are given a question to answer to form a thesis a thesis or topic sentence. This type of assignment usually does not present a problem in finding a focus. For example, if you assignment is to research what treatment is best for a particular disease or whether the cycles of the moon affect human beings, the result of your research will generate an answer to the question which will be your thesis statement: The best treatment for ovarian cancer is …. The topic sentences for your body paragraphs will each be one reason why that treatment is best.

In other cases, you are given a topic and you must narrow your topic to find a focus.

Here are some strategies to help develop a one-sentence topic sentence or a thesis:

  • Narrow your topic by thinking about what you know about the topic and a specific area that interests you if there is not a research component. For example, if the topic is about how computers have affected our lives, you may think about the various types of computers and focus in on personal computers. The question then becomes “How have personal computers affected our lives.”
  • If there is a research component, think about what questions you have about the topic and/or what your exploratory research has found. For example, if you research on the topic of how computers have affected our lives turns up information on the types of computers that are used in appliances that we use every day, you question for focused research may be “How have computers used in household appliances affected our lives?”
  • Think about your topic until you can find a main idea or question that is not as broad as the topic your instructor gave you if you were assigned a topic. This should be an idea that is interesting to you and something you know about.
  • A thesis statement should include both the subject and the controlling idea.

Generating Ideas for the Body

  • Use your brainstorm as an opportunity to generate many ideas. Don’t worry too much about the direction or the organization yet.

Selecting and Dropping Ideas

  • Look over your brainstorm. Are there any natural groups that you can arrange your ideas into?
  • Take the most promising groups and add information and details.
  • Any ideas that do not fit into these groups or don’t have many details should be discarded.

Essay

  • An outline is a plan of what your essay will look like.
  • Start with the thesis statement.
  • Then, list the separate reasons why your thesis is accurate as I, II, and so on. These will be the topic sentences for your body paragraphs. The number of paragraphs will be determined by the assigned length of the paper. These must be complete sentences.
  • Under each of the topic sentences, include the details that fit into this group.
  • More information and a nice example of an outline can be found here.

An essay can be written right from the outline. You would have to add background information before the thesis to complete the introductory paragraph. You would have one paragraph each for sections I, II, III, and IV, depending on how many sections are in your outline. Your concluding paragraph just sums up the proof in the body and restates the thesis.