Writing can include a variety of components and writers can use a variety of tools in their writing to create a text targeting a certain audience with a particular purpose. Here are some of the most commonly used components and tools that you should have in your writing arsenal.
A thesis statement is one of the most important components of an essay. The thesis statement is the anchor for the rest of the text. Without a clear, strong, specific thesis statement, the rest of the writing will fall flat. The purpose of a thesis statement is to introduce the reader to the main idea or claim that will be examined through the course of the text. In theory, if something in the text doesn’t directly tie back to supporting or proving the thesis statement, then it doesn’t belong in the text.
A thesis statement should be concise and clear, identifying exactly what the writer’s claim, position, or topic is and it should only be a sentence or two in length. Generally speaking, the thesis statement is found at the end of the introduction paragraph, after the general subject has been introduced, background information provided, and a connection with the audience made.
The thesis statement should be the writer’s position with regard to the general subject or their insight into the subject. The thesis statement is not set in stone. If, as you are writing, you find that your original thesis statement is not meeting the needs of your writing, it is okay to change or modify the thesis statement. It must work for you, your purpose, and your audience, and modifications are okay as long as the thesis statement remains concise, clear, and focused.
Paragraphs are the building blocks of an essay. They are the vehicle by which the thesis statement is supported and proven. Arranging your writing into paragraphs creates an organized piece of writing that is easy for your audience to follow. Paragraphs are the part of the text where the writer develops his or her ideas and includes the details, evidence, and explanation of his or her interpretation of the subject. Paragraphs generally focus on one main idea each; when you switch ideas, make sure that you switch paragraphs.
There is no magic number of necessary paragraphs. One of the most popular writing maps sets up a five-paragraph essay where the first paragraph is an introduction and includes the focused thesis, then three body paragraphs each with a different main idea that links back to the thesis statement, and then a conclusion paragraph that restates the thesis and reviews all of the main points delivered in the body paragraphs. But five paragraphs is not the only way to write. Some writing tasks require only one paragraph, some will need many more to include more support, evidence, or examples.
Within the paragraph itself, a good rule of thumb is to start with a topic sentence to introduce the reader to the focus of the paragraph (and it should relate back somehow to the claim made in the thesis statement). Then supporting sentences are used to introduce evidence or support for the claim (something to prove you’re not just making things up). It is not enough to just insert evidence and let it sit there; you must analyze the evidence for the reader and explain why you are including it or how it supports your claim. What does it mean? What does it prove? How did you come to this determination? Paragraphs generally end with a transition sentence that will move the reader to the idea presented in the next paragraph.
Most importantly, paragraphs must have unity and coherence. Unity means that all sentences in a paragraph focus on a single topic or idea. There are no wandering thoughts or random ideas stuck in by the writer. And in looking at the bigger picture, all of the paragraphs in a text will have unity, all linking back to the thesis statement. Coherence means that all of the sentences within a paragraph “work” together and are linked in a way that makes sense to the reader. This often includes the use of appropriate transitions so that the reader can see the connections the writer is making.
Transition words and sentences are vital tools to help a writer create a text that will be accessible and understandable to an audience. They help guide the reader so that he or she does not get lost in the text, but can navigate easily from one idea or example to the next. Transition words and sentences provide connections between ideas, sentences, and paragraphs. They help a text flow better and help to create a sense of unity. They can be found within a paragraph, moving the reader from one sentence or idea to the next; between paragraphs, linking one main idea to the next main idea; and between sections of text in longer pieces of writing.
For more about transition words and a list of them, go to the bottom of this page in our HiSET Writing Study Guide.
Ethos, pathos, and logos are rhetorical devices that date back to ancient Greece and the philosopher Aristotle. They are still used by writers today because they are effective forms of persuasion and appeal to an audience and convince them to agree with a writer’s claims.
Ethos is a persuasive technique whereby the writer sets him or herself up as a credible source, as someone who has the authority to speak on a particular matter, in order to convince the audience to listen to what he or she has to say. Ethos is intended to convince the audience of the character or credibility of the writer, which can be established by explaining the thought, consideration, research, or experience that has been undertaken by the writer in presenting his or her material. Because the writer has this level of knowledge or experience, the audience should trust him or her and believe what he or she says.
Logos are appeals to the logical, rational, thinking side of a reader’s brain. Certain things just make good, logical sense. Logos is often presented as factual information and an audience’s sense of reason will accept it as trustworthy because it is presented as a logical, reasonable statement of fact. When you are reading for logos, beware! Sometimes those facts are fallible, so you must test them and make sure that they are the result of sound reasoning.
Pathos are the emotional appeals a writer can use to elicit an emotional response from an audience. The audience is exposed to loaded language and particular diction that creates an emotional reaction from the heart or the gut that may or may not agree with what the rational, logical response might be. Pathos is going to make the reader feel something, whether that is hope, guilt, reassurance, fear, or any other number of emotional responses.
Strong writers know that they must use support and examples to prove their claims. It is not enough to just make a claim and then cross your fingers and hope no one questions it. However, if you include support and examples that relate to your claim, then the number of questions diminish. Support and examples should be from reliable, credible sources or personal experience. Do not make up support or examples because you never know who will read your writing and call you out on something. If you need to, do some research and apply your own prior knowledge or personal experiences and use that to support your claim.
Anecdotes are short stories used by a writer to make a more personal connection with the audience or to help them understand and relate to a concept more easily. Anecdotes help to engage readers because they are usually interested or amusing in some way. Writers include them to support or demonstrate a point they are trying to make, which may become more clear through a short story. While anecdotes can be engaging and draw a reader in, they should be used sparingly as the text is probably intended to be focused on a particular topic and too many anecdotes can lead the reader offtrack.
All writing needs some sense of ending, some type of conclusion. Whether it is a sentence that captures the essence of what a text covered or a fully developed conclusion paragraph, never leave your readers hanging at the end. Always provide them with a sense of closure. When you are writing a conclusion paragraph, be sure to restate the thesis statement to remind the reader about the overall topic, review in summary the main ideas you presented and how they support the claim you made in the thesis statement, and provide some sort of closing remarks, whether a specific call to action, a suggestion or recommendation, or a philosophical rhetorical question to ponder. Your reader will walk away from your text feeling much more satisfied if you provide them with something to think about or do as a result of reading your text.