Strong writers know that good writing is not a “one and done” kind of thing. Good writing is the result of a process of prewriting, writing, rewriting, revising, editing, and publishing. It is technically a never-ending circle, but usually “ends” when the deadline hits and the writing is due. Below are some ideas to help you in your writing process.
The writing process is just that, a process. When you have identified a topic, know your purpose for writing, and have a target audience in mind, you brainstorm what to say about it, what points you are going to discuss, what evidence you are going to use, etc. When you brainstorm, you just jot down on a piece of paper everything that comes to your head about your topic, your ideas or opinions about that topic, evidence or examples that relate to your topic, and so on. This is not the time to evaluate your thoughts, just to record them as they pop into your head. Don’t worry about recording things using complete sentences, spelling, or organizing notes in any particular order; just get the ideas down on paper as they come to mind.
The next step is to filter your brainstormed notes, cutting out the ones that don’t speak to your purpose. It’s okay if not everything makes the final cut; you want to select the strongest examples or arguments or ideas and work on developing those. If you tried to include everything in your brainstorm, your writing would become unwieldy and probably unfocused. When you have filtered out the best from the rest, you develop a firm writing plan and organize the remaining thoughts into a map or outline. The writing can then begin.
While writing, you expand and develop the ideas in your plan, providing details, description, and commentary to support your claims. After you finish the first draft, you read and reread what you have written to check for clarity, flow, and development. If there are places where you, as the writer, get lost, then certainly your audience is going to get lost as well. When you recognize one of those rough spots or a place where something seems to be missing or where you are repeating yourself, then you rewrite that part. As you reread, you reconsider and make necessary alterations. This is revising.
When you reread it again, now that you have the content down, you are looking to edit. What words can you replace with more vivid or specific language? Which sentences can you combine? Where do you need to restructure a sentence? This is your opportunity to polish your writing and make sure there are no silly typos, spelling mistakes, missing punctuation, or incorrect grammar.
Once you have read, reread, rewritten, revised, and edited, then your work is published. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it ends up being bound in a book or on the front page of a newspaper. The publication step means that you are releasing it to your audience so that they can read it. This means submitting it to your teacher for a grade or sharing it with your peers for review.
Ideally, you would get feedback from your audience and then take that feedback and go back to the revising step, continuing to make adjustments and improvement based on feedback. Eventually you have to call it “done,” but technically a piece of writing can continue to go through the process of revising, editing, and publishing indefinitely.
The first six letters of the SOAPSTone acronym stand for:
Subject—who or what a text is about
Occasion—why a particular text was written by this author at this particular time (Was it triggered by a current event? Is it an anniversary of something? Is the author just looking to share his or her opinion? If so, why and why now? Why would the author want to write about this subject at this point in time?)
Audience—who is intended to read this text? What bias or prior knowledge do they have? What rhetorical devices will appeal to them?
Purpose—why did the author write this piece? Is it to inform? Explain? Entertain? Persuade?
Speaker—who is this author? What credentials does he or she have to write about this subject? Does he or she use reliable information from credible sources? What bias does he or she show in the text?
Tone—what is the author’s tone? What attitude does the author convey through his or her diction, choice of subject, and style?
Addressing these different aspects of a text, whether you are the reader or the writer, is a good idea. When you are writing, you need to be aware of all of these things and ensure that you are addressing them as you plan and write.
A CEI paragraph is a paragraph that includes a Claim, Evidence, and Interpretation. This acronym will help you remember to include all of these important elements into each of your body paragraphs.
The first sentence of the paragraph (also known as the topic sentence) should include your claim (C) about the topic or subject. In a multiple-paragraph essay, it will tie directly back to the thesis statement from the introduction paragraph. An example of a claim statement might be, “One of the ways Shakespeare presents love in Romeo and Juliet is the love between friends,” and then your reader knows your claim—that Shakespeare shows friendly love between his characters—will be the focus of this paragraph (presumably the thesis statement for the whole essay is something like, “Shakespeare presents love in multiple forms throughout the play Romeo and Juliet”).
The E portion of the paragraph is the evidence. It is not enough to just make a claim and assume that your reader will accept it without question. You must provide evidence to support your claim. This evidence should come from observations, experiences, and/or research depending on the prompt. When you are writing about literature, for example, teachers usually like to see you using the words from the text itself to make your point, not just making claims about what the text says without including quotes.
It is also not enough just to stick evidence into your paragraph and assume that your reader will interpret it in the same way you did. That’s where the I, the interpretation, comes in. The interpretation part of your paragraph is where you connect the dots for your reader and walk them through how your evidence supports your claim. You must state, in your own words, the connection of this piece of evidence to your claim. That usually means restating the evidence in your own words (if you pulled a quote directly from the text) and explaining your interpretation of its meaning so the reader can understand and appreciate your application of it to your claim.
Structurally, essays and most writings are organized into paragraphs. It is how those paragraphs are organized, however, that can vary. Here are some common ways to organize writing.
One approach to organization is to use the compare/contrast pattern. In this organizational style, there are two common formats: point-by-point or block. In the point-by-point method, you use each body paragraph to compare and contrast one of the similarities or differences between the subjects. In the block method, all of the information and points of comparison and contrast about one of subjects is given first, in one block of text, and then all of the information and points of comparison and contrast about the second subject is given afterward, in another block of text. While block format is considered easier to write because you get out everything about one subject and then move on to the second subject, the point-by-point format is sometimes more clear because the points of comparison or contrast are each contained within each paragraph.
The cause and effect approach to essay organization can also take on two formats. One approach is to organize all of the causes regarding a topic are in one block of text and all of the resulting effects are explained in a following block of text. The second approach is the “chain” structure where each cause is followed immediately by its effect, which then leads into the next cause, followed by the resulting effect, creating a sort of “chain” linking these events. There is no preferred method, necessarily, but be sure that, whichever model you choose to follow, you are consistent. Don’t start in block-mode and then stick in an effect but go back to block. Select the format you think will be more effective based on your target audience and your writing style, and remain consistent.
Take a stand organization is generally used for persuasive or argumentative texts. When you take a stand, you are choosing a side, as a writer, and you are arguing your position to your audience. By doing so, you attempt to move them to consider your position as a valid one (argumentative) or to agree with you (persuasive). The organizational format is to introduce the subject, explain to your audience why they should care about this subject or how it impacts them, state your position, and then argue your position using personal experience or anecdotes (persuasive) and/or research from credible sources (argumentative). A closing that includes a call to action (persuasive) or restates the argument (argumentative) should end the essay. You want to leave your reader with something to really consider and think about after reading.
Chronological organization means putting things in order of time. This can be done from earliest event to most recent, or backward, from most recent to things that happened in the past. Chronological order is used most often in narratives, biographies, autobiographies, or memoirs—in any text that tells some sort of story. Nonfiction texts that include a lot of dates or cover events that happen over a period of time are also often organized chronologically.
Spatial order is a type of descriptive writing whereby information is described, explained, or introduced based on its relationship to other ideas in the text. When you apply spatial organization to your writing, you might group together like things, describe them in terms of their physical position or relationship to one another (how they connect). For example, if you were writing about a social issue in the United States, you might organize your writing to explain how people living on the West Coast tend to view the issue, then move on to the thoughts of people living in the Midwest, and then how those on the East Coast tend to feel about the issue. Though the geographical divisions created certainly don’t mean that everyone in that region feels the same, the reader can understand that different locations in the country may lend themselves to different viewpoints about a particular topic based on how it affects that community or their experience with the topic.
As another example, think about how you would describe your kitchen to someone. You probably wouldn’t just randomly list all of the things in your kitchen, but move through your description methodically, maybe describing from left to right what someone would see if they walked in the door of your kitchen.
Advantage/disadvantage organization is much like cause and effect formatting where you can either cover all of the advantages first and then all of the disadvantages (block form) or go back and forth between a perceived advantage and its possible disadvantage, back and forth until you cover all major arguments (chain format). Regardless of which approach you use, you must first introduce the topic, then objectively present both the advantages or benefits and the disadvantages or drawbacks to the topic. The prompt may or may not ask you, as the writer, to weigh in with your own opinion about which is better. Make sure that you read the prompt and determine whether you are supposed to include your personal opinion or not.
In a problem/solution approach to organization, you must start by interesting the reader in your topic and making him or her feel connected to the issue. Explain to your audience why they should care about the issue, how the issue impacts their lives (either directly or indirectly) or the lives of people about whom they care, and convince them that the issue is, in fact, an issue that needs to be addressed and somehow solved.
Once you have a strong introductory paragraph, hooking the reader into believing this issue is an issue about which he or she should care, your next section of text should be proposing a clear, plausible solution, with justification and explanation provided. You must convince your audience that your solution is possible. For example, training unicorns in defense of the nation is probably not going to be a viable solution to the problem of national security; but training bomb-sniffing dogs to be on duty at major transportation centers or border crossings may be. You must also convince the reader that it is cost-effective. The biggest counterargument to plans for change include the cost and the ensuing conversation about who should have to pay for it. Prove that your solution, regardless of cost, will ultimately be worth the cost and be fair and reasonable about who will pay for it. You may also want to include research you have done on the issue or on previous attempts at a solution to point out aspects that may have been previously overlooked or not considered (which is probably why it’s still an issue).
The problem/solution organizational structure wraps up by convincing the reader that your solution is better than other solutions or proposals others have made in the past. Prove that it is reasonable and will be more effective than previous attempts at addressing the issue. End with a convincing statement to show that your solution is the best by projecting the benefit it will bring to people if implemented, and leave your reader thinking, “Wow! This is a good idea!”
Sequential formatting means organizing your writing based on the steps of a process. Used to describe a series of related events or to illustrate some kind of process to the reader, sequential organization requires ideas be organized in a similar manner to chronological order, in that the first step of the process must be described first, then the subsequent step, all the way through the process to the last step. The last paragraph of sequential organization should include a summary of all of the steps outlined in the essay and what the projected outcome should be so the reader can get a sense of the “big picture.”