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Essential Skills

Types of Writing

NARRATIVE/DESCRIPTIVE ESSAYS: When writing a descriptive narrative, students must learn to fully convey an experience.  In order to effectively convey that experience, students must learn to employ sensory details (known as imagery) and figurative language (such as personification, metaphors, and similes.)   Students must also be conscious of how they convey the sequence of events – or time

PARAGRAPHS: Paragraphs are still the central unit of organization in a descriptive essay.  While topic sentences in a descriptive narrative may not convey the “claim” of the story, they are still vital in establishing the tone, mood, action, or setting of the paragraph.  Each paragraph must have a specific function within the whole of your narrative.  Are you conveying action?  Are you reflecting?

  • Tip: Craft each sentence so that it needs to be exactly where it is in the paragraph; each sentence should need the sentence that directly precedes it and directly follows it.   The strongest paragraphs will develop the narrative with each sentence. 
  • Tip: Model your descriptive narratives after the most effective passages from your reading.  Most published authors construct sentences that combine action with description and reflection; how can you use your favorite passages as models for your own writing?

SENSORY DETAILS: Sensory details put the “descriptive” in descriptive narrative.   As you brainstorm and draft your essay, try to develop as many sensory details as you possibly can, engaging each of the senses: 

                Tactile: touch                                                 Visual: sight

                Olfactory: smell                                              Auditory: sound

                Gustatory: taste                                             Kinesthetic: movement

                Organic: internal bodily sensations

Then, select only the best or most unique descriptions—the descriptions you’ve only ever seen in your essay.  The way you describe the concrete setting of your narrative can help communicate how you felt about the experience.  Avoid clichés, or descriptions you’ve heard a thousand times, but also know you may have to write a few clichés in order to get to a special description. 

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: Develop figurative language to make your narrative rich and layered in meaning.  As you brainstorm and draft your essay, try to develop as many unexpected comparisons as you can.  Then, select the descriptions which best fit the tone and mood of the experience you’re trying to convey.

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS & TIME: The “sequence of events” is essentially the plot of your narrative.  While you do not need to present the events in the order in which they took place, you should map out the sequence well before you begin to draft your essay. 

  • Tip: Focus on a small moment and delve deeply into the space of that moment.  A common mistake is to try to portray an “event” which happened over months or years.  By focusing on a particular moment, you will force yourself to reflect deeply on that experience, thereby conveying something meaningful to your reader. 


Thesis/Idea-Driven Essays:  When writing an essay, students must present and defend an IDEA (thesis, claim or hypothesis).  Everything in the essay, its organization and content, must relate back to this central IDEA.  If it does not, then the idea is lost and the essay is less effective. 

  • Tip:  Remember that the purpose of the essay is to persuade the reader that your idea is valid.  To do so, you must clearly present your idea, tell the reader how you will defend it, and then do it.  While not all writing needs to be highly structured, learning to write persuasively is much easier if you follow a logical structure.

Structure:  Essays are comprised of 3 types of paragraphs: (1) thesis or introductory paragraph; (2) body paragraphs; and (3) conclusion paragraph.

See below for more information on the components of a strong essay.

Formal Lab Report Guidelines

Typed Document Report

Cover Page Must include your name, experiment/laboratory title, partners’ names, instructor, date of report, and graphic or picture relevant to experiment (optional).

Abstract This section provides a very brief look at your lab and its results.  Briefly summarize the purpose of your experiment and your results.  Do not provide any explanation for your procedures or results.

Introduction/Background This section will include two paragraphs.  In the first paragraph, you will include background information about the topics (and related material) used in the experiment.  You are to complete some type of research to find this information.  Please use your research to construct at least eight sentences describing your topic(s). In addition, the information should help explain your results in the Conclusion paragraph; thus, don’t just pick random information about your topic(s). You are to use a minimum of three sources (at least one database) to complete this section.  In the second paragraph, you are to include your hypothesis, independent and dependent variables, and a description of your control group. 

Procedure  A narrative description (paragraph form) of the steps you took to set up, conduct the experiment and clean up.  You should use past tense to describe your procedure It should be specific – “we added 10.3 mL of water to the 5.2 grams of sodium chloride.”  It should not be a numbered list or a bulleted list.  It should not be a rewriting of the original laboratory handout.

Data  Table that reflects the raw data that you collected in lab.  Be certain to provide all of the proper parts to a data table.              

Graphs and Calculations This section should all graphs.  Graphs should only be constructed on Microsoft Excel ® or any other graphing software. In addition, if you had to complete any type of calculation (sums, averages, differences, etc.), you must provide a sample of your work indicating how you completed the calculation.

Questions & Answers If there are associated questions in the laboratory handout, the answers to these questions should be included at this point. This section may not always be used. Please be certain to answer all questions in complete sentences.

Discussion Three paragraphs

1) Conclusion paragraph. In this paragraph, describe the results for all of the experimental groups,  provide data for all of the groups, and provide an explanation as to why the results occurred.  In addition, address whether or not your data supports your hypothesis.

2) Errors paragraph.  In this paragraph, describe two errors (or possible errors) that your group made during the experiment.  Then, specifically describe how these errors affected your results.

3) Improvement paragraph. This paragraph should state appropriate suggestions for conducting the experiment with greater accuracy and precision in the future.  How would you improve it or make it better?  (This is not personal i.e., I will learn to read the graduated cylinder more accurately but things related to the experiment itself.  Different equipment or better layout, added features…).  Please make at least two suggestions. DON’T MENTION THAT YOU WILL CORRECT THE ERRORS from the above paragraph.  Your improvements should not be the same as your corrections to your errors.  In addition, with each improvement, describe how it will improve the lab.

Works Cited/BibliographyUse MLA format for all sources (including pictures), Wikipedia may be consulted but it does not count as one of your required sources.

Blog posts: Blogging can serve a variety of purposes so be sure to know your specific audience. It is important to remember that the rules of academic writing still apply: Appropriate grammar, sophisticated sentence structure and subject-specific language are expected. One of the benefits to blogging is the ability to hyperlink. A hyperlink is an embedded reference that allows your reader to travel to a different site to gather new information, either as an explanation of something you have referenced or an elaboration you do not have time or space to provide. Be sure to select these hyperlinks with a discerning eye: there is no reason to hyperlink to Wikipedia as your reader can easily search there himself. Also, if you include quotations, you may cite them using MLA in-text citations or you may hyperlink to the source. Make sure your reader understands if the information provided is not yours. If you embed images cite those images from the website and not simply by using the Google search address. To be clear, blog posts are one of your most public forms of writing. Be sure that you present you best self in both writing and thought.


Blog comments: Oftentimes you will be asked to comment on your classmates’ blog posts. This is not meant for you to provide an evaluation of their work, so comments like “Good work” or “Great idea” are not appropriate. Rather, your task is to expand the discussion that your classmate has begun. It is an online debate so you can offer evidence the supports or challenges the ideas presented in the post. You can also expand the discussion by bringing up other topics that are related to the original topic. Throughout your comment writing process please remember that what you say is public and show be respectful both of the author of the post as well as to the audience of the blog.


Objectives:  Writing is a tremendously valuable skill and a major focus in the Upper School.  To do it well, students must be able to clearly present and defend an idea.  This requires students to differentiate between evidence and ideas, as well as explain how the evidence supports or refutes the larger concept.   To become a good writer, students must orient themselves and think analytically.

Orient yourself:

What is the purpose of the writing in terms of subject, topic, and/or audience?

How can I best present and defend my idea(s)?

How can I break down this writing assignment into manageable tasks?

Think Analytically:

  1. What larger idea am I presenting?  (Thesis, Claim, Argument, or Hypothesis)

  2. What evidence do I need to support my idea? (Facts, Data, or Details)

  3. Why does this evidence support my idea?  (Relevance or Analysis)

Habits for Success:

Use the writing process!

  1. Understand the Task: Good students will prepare by reading carefully assigned reading. The reading will provide the working knowledge needed to better understand the prompt. Good students will mark up the prompt and create a checklist to help with the phases below.

    1. Students must understand what the assignment is asking the student to do

      1. What is the central question being asked?

  2. Generate: Good students will generate a NUMBER of ideas through a reliable method like powerwrite, mindmapping, directed powerwrite, or focused discussion. Good students will also begin researching at this stage--gathering evidence from readings and other sources--to narrow their idea and take a position.

  3. Plan: Good students will rely on their understanding of the assigned task and the research to begin organizing a logical answer to the question. This can be done through outlining, notecards etc. but should identify what the students argument is (thesis, hypothesis, claim, etc.) as well as the supporting information that has been collected to prove this claim.

  4. Write: Good students will rely on their plan for the writing phase and transfer their plan into a well written paper that incorporates appropriate grammar, spelling, tone, transitions etc.

  5. Proof: Good students will always reread their written work and edit accordingly to ensure that he/she has effectively answered the questions and has avoided grammatical errors. Some examples of proofing can include spell check, grammar check, individual editing, or peer editing.

Thesis or introductory paragraphs present the argument of the essay and explain how that argument will be defended.   To accomplish this, the paragraph must contain the following elements:

  • Contextualization or hook:  You should have one or two sentences that give the essay context.  For a History paper, this can involve historical context.  For an English paper, this can be a hook designed to grab the reader’s interest. 

    • Tip:  This should be very short, one or two sentences at most.  The point of the paragraph is to present your idea, not distract the reader with unnecessary facts or concepts.

  • Essay map:  Essay maps tell the reader how you will defend the thesis (without actually doing the defense in the intro paragraph).  Essentially, the map breaks the thesis into logical sub-parts. Each sub-part will then have its own body paragraph.  Unlike the thesis sentence, the essay map may contain a list, but the separate items in the list must be connected in some way.

    • Tip:  The essay map will likely be more than one sentence.  Usually, an essay map will have one sentence per body paragraph.

    • Tip:  Read each part of your essay map separately, followed by your thesis.  Make sure that each part of your essay map connects to your thesis.

  • Thesis statement:  Your paragraph must include a statement that addresses the question asked.   Answering the question is not the same as restating the question; the key is to demonstrate understanding of the big picture by connecting ideas in interesting and sophisticated ways.  Put simply, your thesis should do more than simply make an observation or list possible explanations; you must make an argument.

    • Tip:  This is the hardest and also most important part of your paper.  Because everything else flows from your central thesis, most of your time and energy should be spent here. 

    • Tip:  When first learning how to develop a thesis statement, limit the statement to one sentence. Occasionally, the thesis can be developed over the course of 2 or 3 sentences. This is only necessary when the idea is particularly nuanced.

    • Tip: The thesis should NOT be a list, and it should NOT re-state your essay map.  Instead, it should be the overarching idea that ties the parts of your essay map together.

While there is much to do in this paragraph, it should be done relatively quickly and efficiently.  Thesis paragraphs should be between five and seven sentences.  If you exceed seven sentences, you should spend time thinking about cutting unnecessary information.   While many students are reluctant to cut content, it is an important skill to develop.  Remember, the point of this paragraph is to present your idea and explain how you will defend them.  The point of the body paragraphs is to defend your ideas.

Since your essays must focus on a central idea or thesis, developing a sophisticated thesis or introductory sentence is critical.  The organization of your body paragraphs and the evidence which you select to incorporate into your body paragraphs must all relate back to your thesis or introductory statement.  Therefore, it makes sense to explore the elements of a good thesis / introductory statement.

 1.    THINK FIRST.  Formulating a thesis or introductory statement is not the first thing that you do.  You can only develop your ideas after you understand the question, review what you know and organize your thoughts.

 2.    Understand the question.    Since the purpose of your essay is to answer a question, you must understand the prompt before you do anything else.  To help you understand what you are being asked to do, please see the following chart.


3.    Review.  Once you have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish, review your notes, readings, etc..   As you review, look for significant patterns that will help you answer the question asked.

4.    Organize your thoughts.  After looking over all of your material and identifying potential patterns or sub-topics, consider your options and narrow your thoughts onto a manageable amount of material.

5.    Develop your thesis.  Once you have organized your thoughts; turn your idea into a sentence.  You should then critically review your sentence and test its strength.  Some good questions for you to consider as you review your thesis are:

    • Do I answer the question?  Re-reading the question after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.[1]
    • 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’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.[2]
    • 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.[3]
    • 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.[4]


The follow examples and explanations are taken from the UNC Writing Center (Links to an external site.)


Suppose you are taking a course on 19th-century America, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: Compare and contrast the reasons why the North and South fought the Civil War. You turn on the computer and type out the following:

The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

This weak thesis restates the question without providing any additional information. You will expand on this new information in the body of the essay, but it is important that the reader know where you are heading. A reader of this weak thesis might think, “What reasons? How are they the same? How are they different?” Ask yourself these same questions and begin to compare Northern and Southern attitudes (perhaps you first think, “The South believed slavery was right, and the North thought slavery was wrong”). Now, push your comparison toward an interpretation—why did one side think slavery was right and the other side think it was wrong? You look again at the evidence, and you decide that you are going to argue that the North believed slavery was immoral while the South believed it upheld the Southern way of life. You write:

While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Now you have a working thesis! Included in this working thesis is a reason for the war and some idea of how the two sides disagreed over this reason. As you write the essay, you will probably begin to characterize these differences more precisely, and your working thesis may start to seem too vague. Maybe you decide that both sides fought for moral reasons, and that they just focused on different moral issues. You end up revising the working thesis into a final thesis that really captures the argument in your paper:

While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

Compare this to the original weak thesis. This final thesis presents a way of interpreting evidence that illuminates the significance of the question. Keep in mind that this is one of many possible interpretations of the Civil War—it is not the one and only right answer to the question. There isn’t one right answer; there are only strong and weak thesis statements and strong and weak uses of evidence.


Let’s look at another example. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.

Why is this thesis weak? Think about what the reader would expect from the essay that follows: you will most likely provide a general, appreciative summary of Twain’s novel. The question did not ask you to summarize; it asked you to analyze. Your professor is probably not interested in your opinion of the novel; instead, she wants you to think about why it’s such a great novel—what do Huck’s adventures tell us about life, about America, about coming of age, about race relations, etc.? First, the question asks you to pick an aspect of the novel that you think is important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.

Here’s a working thesis with potential: you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation; however, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal. Your reader is intrigued, but is still thinking, “So what? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?” Perhaps you are not sure yet, either. That’s fine—begin to work on comparing scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions. Eventually you will be able to clarify for yourself, and then for the reader, why this contrast matters. After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:

Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.

This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.


[1] Thesis Statements. The Writing Center, n.d. Web. 24 May 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

According to William Strunk and E.B. White:

"The paragraph is a convenient unit; it serves all forms of literary work.  As long as it holds together, a paragraph may be of any length—a single, short sentence or a passage of great duration."

The paragraph, essentially, is a unit which conveys an idea.  The secret to constructing strong paragraphs lies in recognizing that each paragraph must perform a specific function. Determine through brainstorming and outlining your central ideas.  Then decide which ideas deserve their own paragraphs.

In general, paragraph structure is as follows:

1.  Intro Sentence: You must communicate the central idea of the paragraph.  If the assignment is for a single paragraph this will be your thesis statement.  If the paragraph is part of a larger essay, the intro sentence should introduce the idea of the paragraph while also connecting to the thesis.

  • Tip:  The topic sentence must be broad enough to cover all the material in the paragraph, but specific enough to present an idea.

  • Tip: Avoid beginning paragraphs with context or evidence.  First, establishing the purpose of the paragraph.

Ex: Too Broad: The Silk Road was an important historical trade route.

Too Narrow: The Silk Road, created during the Han Dynasty, allowed for the trade of silk between China and Europe, brought Christianity and Buddhism to new parts of the world, and allowed for new types of dance, dress, and art to spread.

Just Right: The Silk Road not only connected different regions of the world, but also helped to spread people, goods, and ideas.

Ex: Just Right: The tragic downfall of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart begins with the death of Ikemefuna.

2.  Presentation of Evidence: Introduce the evidence (details, quotations, facts, and data) you have selected that best supports or informs your central idea.  After you clearly present the purpose of the paragraph, introduce the evidence.

  • Tip:  Supporting evidence is not the same as supporting ideas.  Evidence cannot be refuted, while ideas are conclusions drawn from evidence.

  • Tip:  There is no set requirement for how many pieces of evidence per paragraph. Two to four pieces of evidence is a good starting point. Remember the point of the paragraph is to present a strong argument.  

  • Tip:  Just because you know a fact does not mean that you should use it. Do not list everything that you know on the topic. Teachers are not impressed by students who fact-dump, and fact-dumping will lower your grade. It shows that you have not thought deeply about the topic and identified which pieces of evidence are the best to use for the point you are making.

  • Tip:  For English, always refer to the prompt or your teacher for guidance as to how many text quotations you should include and how long they should be. Don’t forget to integrate your quotation properly.

Ex: The Buddhist religion originated in northern India and was adopted by many Chinese people as they were introduced to it through travelers along the Silk Road.

Ex: Okonkwo is afraid of his emotions getting in the way of fulfilling his duty, and he becomes “dazed with fear” as Ikemefuna runs to him yelling “My father, they have killed me” (Achebe 61).

3.  Analysis/Explanation of Evidence: Explain what your evidence shows and how this evidence relates to your central idea (topic sentence for the paragraph and thesis for the entire essay).

  • Tip:  The discussion of evidence usually takes up at least as much space as the evidence itself.  A common error is to assume your reader will understand the significance of the evidence.  Always take care to explain exactly what you think the evidence shows, its significance in proving your idea.

  • Tip:  Re-read your paragraph’s intro sentence, as well as your essay’s thesis, after each piece of evidence, and ask yourself if that fact actually proves your ideas/argument.  If it doesn’t, remove it.

4. A summation OR a transition:  Know if you intend for the paragraph to stand alone or if you intend to incorporate the paragraph in a larger piece.  This will dictate how you end the paragraph.

  • Tip:  If the paragraph is part of a larger piece, consider using transition phrases to frame the function of the following paragraph.

  • Tip:  If this paragraph is the final piece, consider ending with a statement which shows deep reflection of the idea you’ve just discussed in detail (what is the greater significance of your main idea) or with an image or metaphor for your reader to consider.   

This arrangement may alter slightly depending on the function of the paragraph. What matters most is that each idea you present is directly related to the topic of the paragraph, and that each sentence builds into the subsequent sentence.

Use Key Phrases to help you highlight important ideas, make comparisons clear, and transition between ideas.  These transitions may occur both within a paragraph and between paragraphs.

Before you use a key phrase, ask yourself about the nature of the relationship you are trying to describe.  Are you showing similarities?  Are you showing differences?  Are you changing subjects?  Are you about to present your first example to support your claim, or are you presenting an additional example to support your claim? 

Here are some useful key phrases to get you started:

  • To show addition: and, also, besides, further, furthermore, in addition, moreover, too
  • To give examples: for example, for instance, to illustrate, specifically, in fact, to enumerate…
  • To compare: also, similarly, likewise, in the same way, in the same fashion, analogous to...
  • To contrast: but, however, in contrast, nevertheless, still, even though, on the contrary, yet, although, conversely 
  • To summarize or conclude: in other words, in short, therefore
  • To show time: after, as, before, next, during, later, finally, meanwhile, since, then, when, while, immediately
  • To show place or direction: above, below, beyond, farther on, nearby, opposite, close, to the left
  • To indicate logical relationship: if, so, therefore, consequently, thus, as a result, for this reason, because, since, moreover, above all, certainly…

Having just explained and defended individual parts of your thesis, the conclusion paragraph refocuses the reader’s attention on the paper’s central idea.  It should therefore restate the thesis or main topic (but not verbatim), as well as how the idea was defended.  Strong conclusion paragraphs will also include two to three sentence that synthesize – that is, they try to connect the point you made in the essay into something broader or make a wider application.  Essentially, you should answer the question “So What?”

  • Tip:  Often times, students will not start the writing process with a clear focus, but will develop it as they write their essay.  Since your goal is to write a thesis or idea-driven essay, failing to clearly present your thesis/idea until the final paragraph of your paper will negatively impact your grade.  To avoid this, always reread your thesis after completing your essay and edit if necessary.

  • Tip:  When possible, make a reference back to your attention grabber in the introduction.  This ties up an essay nicely.

  • Tip:  Conclusions should rarely be longer than four to five sentences.

The Writing Process

Step 1: Mark up the prompt


What is the assignment?  What facts or data are necessary to write this assignment?  What questions do you still have about the data?  Are you being asked to reflect, analyze, or argue?  Where do you have freedom to think for yourself in the assignment? Where are you being asked to demonstrate your understanding of the subject?

Step 2: Create the Checklist

The checklist is to be used in the planning, revising and editing phases of the writing process.  The checklist should contain the essential elements of the assignment, along with possible subcategories (e.g. not just the assigned Sentence patterns, but have separate checks for correct punctuation in them, and perhaps that it is used purposefully --not just correctly--and finally, if required that you have marked it as asked for).  Check the prompt and established class expectations to make a complete and useful checklist.   Keep the purpose of the checklist--making sure you have the essential aspects of the assignment in the final copy-- in mind when composing it. You might also make a "to do" list, but that is a separate document from the editing checklist.   


Sample Checklist for English Analytical Essay:

  • Introduction

    • Hooks the reader, mentions genre, title, author, brief summary of the plot, and a strong thesis.

    • Ends the introductory paragraph with the thesis which encapsulates the argument you want to make about the text.

  • Evidence:

    • Cites the source of the quote by section and line number (i.e. III.4-5) in parenthetical format.  Preserve line breaks in your quotation of poetry either by simply including them or by using the slash mark  /  to indicate where the lines break

    • Quotes no more in the re-quoting of the block quote than is necessary to make your point.

    • Includes no plot summary; assume your reader has read the literature you're examining.

    • Includes correct in-text citation and a Work Cited page.  See Purdue's Online Citation guide for details.

  • Transitions/Structure

    • Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence

    • Identify and analyze at least two elements of the poem not discussed in class. Highlight them in a different color than the sentence patterns.

    • Analyze function of metaphor, diction, images, symbols, etc and tie them to lessons/themes:

      • Paragraph 1:

      • Paragraph 2:

    • Be attentive to transitions between each idea and especially between paragraphs.

  • Proof:

    • Uses four sentences following patterns 1-10 from The Art of Styling Sentences.  Highlight and identify the pattern number [in brackets] after each appropriate sentence.

    • Is consistent with verb tense. Stay in present verb tense if writing about fiction (what we call the “literary present”).

    • No clichés and colloquialisms, such as in the nick of time, or the calm before a storm.

    • No common errors in punctuation, usage, mechanics, etc.

  • Conclusion: Use a 4-6 sentence concluding paragraph to present a forceful statement about what the audience can learn from this poem.

  • Title: Create an abstract, original title with a subtitle that acts as a scholarly explanation. Follow this model for the complete title:    Bloody Tyrant:  The Destructive Effects of Ambition in Macbeth

  • Formatting Requirements:

Before you write, you must GENERATE a number of ideas.  Think of this step of the process as a kind of brainstorm.  Effective students spend a great deal of time in this phase of the writing process, and use many different techniques to stimulate and generate their thinking.  Here are a few techniques we recommend:

1.  POWERWRITE.  View in a new windowSet a timer, write continuously, don't use periods, and don't backspace.  You don't need to have specifics in order to make this exercise effective.  Your goal is to use the powerwrite to clear your mind and center your thinking on the topic.  Then, hopefully, you will be able to generate some thoughts or ideas regarding the topic toward the end of the exercise.  This exercise will allow you to write close to the speed at which you think, and is a very powerful tool for understanding your own thinking.

2.  MINDMAPPING.  Sometimes called a "brainstorm tree," this technique can help you visualize connections between ideas.  Start with a topic or question, write it out, and put it in a bubble.  Then write out everything you associate with that topic, putting each of those in bubbles.  Fill in details as they come to you, see gaps in your understanding, and see where your understanding is strongest.  

3.  DIRECTED POWERWRITE.  In a directed powerwrite, you begin with a focus or a specific question, then write continuously in response to that specific idea.  Directed powerwrites are particularly useful in the drafting and revision phases of the writing process.

4.  FOCUSED CONVERSATION.  In a focused conversation, you broadly discuss the topic with others who are knowledgeable about the subject.  This may take place in class during discussion, or begin casually outside of class. 

5.  NOTE TAKING.  Sometimes, we just need to quickly write down our thoughts in note-taking form.  If you know the topic in advance, pay close attention in class; you may arrive at good ideas that will help with your paper, so write them down immediately!

6.  NOTE CHECKING.  Reviewing class and reading notes before you write can help you to distinguish between what you already know and what you need to know in order to complete the assignment.

7.  RESEARCHING & REREADING.  You may need to look up definitions, or return to previous reading assignments in order to have a deep understanding of the writing assignment.  Take the time to do this EARLY.  Warning: Most assignments will not require research outside of the assigned reading, so be careful.  Research is NOT the equivalent of reading other people's essays online or reviewing Sparknotes, (which is a big no-no!)  If you want to do additional research to gain a better understanding of the material, always consult your instructor first. 

Once you have adequately prepared by completing the reading, understanding the prompt, and generating a number of ideas in response to the prompt, you are ready to plan your paper.  You have three central goals in this phase:

1.  Decide on a direction.

  • Review the material from the GENERATION phase.  Decide which idea is the strongest, or has the most potential. This will become your Central Idea.  

  • You should not include everything you created in the generation phase, but instead, select the ideas which best support your central idea.

2.  Organize your ideas.

This can be formal or informal.  You may find it useful to make a complete outline, and include topic sentences and quotations.  You may also find it best to simply make a list of the ideas you have, or write numbers on your MindMap so you know how to put your brainstorm in order.

  • Decide on the BASIC order in which you will present your ideas.  What comes first?  What comes in the middle?  How do you want to end?

  • Consider how you will transition from one idea to the next.

3. Collect supporting evidence.

  • Now that you have decided on your central idea, begin to collect details which directly support your central idea.  If you are collecting quotations, be sure to keep track of the sources and page numbers.

When outlining, always include full intro sentences for each body paragraph.  Remember that each intro sentence should 1) lay out a clear idea – not a fact – that sums up the paragraph as a whole and proves your thesis and 2) mimic that part of your essay map, without repeating it verbatim.

For your individual facts, use bullets or abbreviated sentences.  While you may be tempted to include quotes as your facts, be careful – remember that you do not want to extensively quote in your essay.  Quotes should generally be limited to 5-7 words, and emphasis should be on paraphrasing as much as possible, rather than quoting.  Remember to include a citation or each fact, so that you can easily cite your facts when it’s time to write your essay.  Underneath each fact, include analysis – that is, make sure that you show how that fact relates to your intro sentence, and your thesis as a whole.

  1. Body Paragraph #1 Intro Sentence

    1. Fact #1 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #1.  (Connect Back to Intro Sentence & Thesis)

    2. Fact #2 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #2

    3. Fact #3 & citation (if needed)

      1. Analysis of Fact #3

  2. Body Paragraph #2 Intro Sentence

    1. Fact #1 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #1.  (Connect Back to Intro Sentence & Thesis)

    2. Fact #2 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #2

    3. Fact #3 & citation (if needed)

      1. Analysis of Fact #3

  3. Body Paragraph #3 Intro Sentence

    1. Fact #1 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #1.  (Connect Back to Intro Sentence & Thesis)

    2. Fact #2 & citation

      1. Analysis of Fact #2

    3. Fact #3 & citation (if needed)

      1. Analysis of Fact #3


You've read the materials.  You've taken good notes on the reading and during class.  You've read the prompt, and asked questions so you understand the task before you.  You've spent a good deal of time using your favorite generation activity, and have a couple of powerwrites and a mindmap.  You've decided which of your ideas are strongest, and you've collected quotations and facts and put all of this into an outline.  Now, you're ready to draft.


Open your two blank word documents - the "working draft" and the "junk" document.  Copy your outline into the "junk" document.  Then, set a series of small goals. Here is an example:

Goal 1: I am going to write three sentences about X.

Goal 2: I am going write a topic sentence for idea X, then write about the quotation I've chosen which supports idea X. 

Goal 3: I am going to take these sentences, and fit them together in a paragraph, and see what it looks like.  If I have time, I will try to make these sentences flow smoothly. 

Goal 4: I am going to set a timer for 15 minutes, and move onto the next paragraph as soon as my time is up. 

Begin typing.  Strive to write one complete sentence at a time.  After fifteen minutes, see how far you've gotten, and don't worry too much about word choice right now.  If you're close to completing a draft of the paragraph, go ahead and copy and paste what you have from your "junk" document into your "draft" document.  Building your paragraphs in the "junk" document will help keep you from getting too attached to your first draft, and copying your work into a clean document will help motivate you as you see your paper begin to take shape. 

Continue to move back and forth between setting small, concrete goals and writing out sentences.  You may need to pause and "generate" again. Make space to complete this step if you need.  Make sure to note any adjustments to your Plan. 

Eventually, sentence by sentence, you will complete a first draft of your paper. 

*Helpful hint: If you have time, put your writing away for a while.  Take a break.  Then, move on to the next step - Revision.


Once you have completed a first draft, reread the Prompt.  Then, copy and paste your essay into a fresh document, and title and save this document REVISION 1.  Try printing out your essay, and read it with a pen.  Before you begin to change words and phrases, read your paper for the Big Picture. Consider what you might "re-envision" as you read your paper. 


  • Have you fully responded to the prompt?
  • Have you met the requirements of the paper?
  • Do you have a central idea?
  • Does each topic sentence support your central idea?
  • Does each body sentence support your topic sentence? 
  • Have you chosen evidence that is strong and convincing? 
  • Have you challenged yourself in your thinking in writing this assignment?


If you are not satisfied with your ideas or evidence, return to the GENERATION phase of the process.

Effective writers employ generation at multiple stages of the process in order to challenge their own thinking. 

With pen in hand, make notes on the draft.  Resist making changes right away until you have read and marked your entire paper, focusing on the structure and content of your writing.  Then, make these Big Picture adjustments.


Next, consider your writing on a Sentence Level:

  • Is your word choice appropriate?
  • Do you use an appropriately formal voice and tone?
  • Can you find words that better communicate your ideas? 
  • Pay attention to verbs: do you use active verbs? 
  • Is the subject of each sentence clear?  Have you chosen the best nouns for each sentence?
  • Read your paper aloud.  Does it make sense, or are there moments that sound awkward?  Make note of these glitches, then once you are finished marking  your paper, return to rework these sentences. 
  • Are there sentences which are good, but maybe don't fit?  Either edit them to better fit your paragraph, or cut them entirely from your draft.  If you're unsure if a sentence belongs, cut the sentence and paste it into your "junk" document so it's available if you need it.  Then, reread your draft to see what you think.  
  • Have you employed sentence patterns to help you organize your thinking? 

Make these sentence level changes, then reread your entire draft. 

If your draft is organized, complete, revised, and edited, you are ready to proof. 


Finally, consider you sentences on a grammatical level. 

  1. Attend to any grammatical and spelling mistakes caught by your Word Processor, but don't simply accept all recommended changes!  Only you know what you intended to say.  If the processor recommends something that doesn't seem right, refer to your Hacker Pocket Style Guide to find the answer.
  2. Check for errors you commonly make. For example, if you know you struggle with comma usage, read your paper once through, just focusing on how you use commas.  Are you following the rules in the Pocket Guide?  Do you have any very, very long sentences with  no punctuation?  Do you randomly insert commas when you feel like they should be there?  Mark places in your paper where you have questions, and ask your teacher to review the rule with you.
  3. Read your paper backward, sentence by sentence. This is a trick professional editors use to proofread for errors.  Many times, we have spent so much time with our paper, we get caught up in what we think we wrote instead of reading what we actually wrote.  You can find lots of errors this way, because your brain doesn't expect what's coming next.
  4. Examine your use of Sentence Patterns.Double-check the structure of each pattern by actually opening up your Art of Styling Sentences Book.
  5. Examine your use of quotations. When you include a quotation, have you integrated the quotation properly?  Remember, no quotation should stand alone; it must be introduced or integrated.  Does each quotation have opening and closing quotation marks?  Have you properly cited each quotation, using MLA formatting?  Refer to your Pocket Style Guide.
  6. Examine your choice of punctuation.  Do you use commas, colons, semicolons, and dashes as appropriate?  Make changes that will benefit the fluidity of your prose.