The secret to strong writing, no matter what kind of assignment you’ve been given, is to apply your personalized version of the writing process to the task. We’ll discuss the writing process in greater depth elsewhere in this course.
For now, here are some “quick-start” guides for how to approach writing with confidence.
Start with a Clear Identification of the Work
This automatically lets your readers know your intentions and that you’re covering the work of another author.
- Clearly identify (in the present tense) the background information needed for your summary: the type of work, title, author, and main point. Example: In the featured article “Five Kinds of Learning,” the author, Holland Oates, justifies his opinion on the hot topic of learning styles — and adds a few himself.
Summarize the Piece as a Whole
Omit nothing important and strive for overall coherence through appropriate transitions. Write using “summarizing language.” Your reader needs to be reminded that this is not your own work. Use phrases like the article claims, the author suggests, etc.
- Present the material in a neutral fashion. Your opinions, ideas, and interpretations should be left in your brain — don’t put them into your summary. Be conscious of choosing your words. Only include what was in the original work.
- Be concise. This is a summary — it should be much shorter than the original piece. If you’re working on an article, give yourself a target length of 1/4 the original article.
Conclude with a Final Statement
This is not a statement of your own point of view, however; it should reflect the significance of the book or article from the author’s standpoint.
- Without rewriting the article, summarize what the author wanted to get across. Be careful not to evaluate in the conclusion or insert any of your own assumptions or opinions.
Informative and Persuasive Essay Assignments
Write down topic ideas. If you have been assigned a particular topic or focus, it still might be possible to narrow it down, or personalize it to your own interests.
If you have been given an open-ended essay assignment, the topic should be something that allows you to enjoy working with the writing process. Select a topic that you’ll want to think about, read about, and write about for several weeks, without getting bored.
If you’re writing about a subject you’re not an expert on and want to make sure you are presenting the topic or information realistically, look up the information or seek out an expert to ask questions.
- Search for information online. Type your topic into a search engine and sift through the top 10 or 20 results.
- Note: Be cautious about information you retrieve online, especially if you are writing a research paper or an article that relies on factual information. Internet sources can be unreliable. Published books, or works found in a journal, have to undergo a much more thorough vetting process before they reach publication, and are therefore safer to use as sources.
- Check out a library. Yes, believe it or not, there is still information to be found in a library that hasn’t made its way to the Web. For an even greater breadth of resources, try a college or university library.
Write a Rough Draft
It doesn’t matter how many spelling errors or weak adjectives you have in it. This copy is just jotting down those random uncategorized thoughts. Write down anything you think of that you want included in your writing, and worry about organizing everything where it belongs later.
If You’re Having Trouble, Try Freewriting
Set a timer and write continuously until that time is up. You won’t have time to worry about errors and mistakes if you’re rushing to get the words out.
Edit for Your Second Draft
Review the rough draft and begin to put what you’ve written in the order you’ll want it in. Clean up misspellings, grammatical errors and weak writing such as repetitive words. Flesh out the plot and start thinking of anything you want to cut out.
- Edit ruthlessly. If it doesn’t fit in with the overall thesis, if it’s unnecessary, or if you don’t like what you’ve written, cut it out.
- Check for coherency. Do all parts of the essay make sense together? If so, continue. If not, consider revising whatever doesn’t fit in.
- Check for necessity. Do all parts of the essay contribute? Does each section give necessary background, advance the argument, address counterarguments, or show potential resolutions?
- Check for anything missing. Do the topic sub-points flow smoothly into one another, or are there some logical gaps?
Keep Rewriting until You’re Ready for a Second Opinion
This is an important step, as other people will see what you actually wrote, and not just what you think you wrote.
- Get feedback from people whose opinion you respect and trust, and who either read a lot or write themselves.
- Ask them to be honest and thorough. Only honest feedback, even if it’s a wholesale criticism of your entire story, can make you a better writer.
- If they need some guidance, give them the same questions you’ve been asking yourself.
- This is particularly critical if any aspect of your essay revolves around a technical area in which you’re not an expert. Make sure at least one of your readers is an expert in that area.
- Join a writer’s group in your area or online to share your writing, read others’ writing, and provide mutual feedback.
Evaluate the Response You Received
You don’t have to like or agree with everything that’s said to you about your work. On the other hand, if you get the same comment from more than one person, you should probably take it very seriously. Strike a balance between keeping aspects that you want and making changes based on input you trust.
- Re-read the essay with your readers’ comments in the back of your head. Note any gaps, places that need to be cut, or areas needing revision.
- Re-write using the insights gained from your readers and from your own subsequent critical reading.