Page 2 High School English I: Writing Study Guide for the STAAR® test
Special Revision Points for Expository and Procedural Texts
Expository and procedural texts are non-fiction writings that explain or “expose” the reader to an idea or issue or provide the reader information on how to do something. While all types of writing can be revised, here are some elements of expository and procedural texts to keep in mind (though these textual elements can also be revised in other types of writing—they are not unique to this genre).
The introductory paragraph should do just that—introduce the reader to the topic of the text and provide any necessary background information needed for the reader to understand the topic and the thesis (or main idea) to be discussed in the text. Details and evidence should not be included in an introductory paragraphs. Test questions may ask you which sentence from an intro paragraph should be deleted or where another sentence should be added. Depending on what the sentence is, the introduction paragraph may or may not be the appropriate place for it.
A concluding paragraph is the author’s opportunity to wrap up loose ends, remind the reader of the thesis statement, review the information presented in the body paragraphs, and synthesize the main points to draw a conclusion. As with an introductory paragraph, you may be asked to determine which sentence doesn’t fit in a conclusion paragraph, which paragraph would make the best concluding paragraph, or which statement would be the best way to end the passage. Understanding the purpose of a concluding paragraph will help you determine the correct answer.
The sentence structure of expository and procedural texts tends to be shorter and to the point, without extraneous description or details. Because these texts are explanatory in nature, the sentence structure is usually basic and clear even though simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences may be used. For a thorough review of sentence types, visit this page, scroll down under “Writing Any Essay,” and find “Sentence Structure.”
Sentences in procedural texts, like manuals, may be extremely short as they provide step-by-step instructions. Authors still usually like to use some sentence variety even in procedural texts because multiple simple sentences in a row can make the writing sound choppy and disjointed.
Authors use a wide variety of rhetorical devices to engage their readers and influence their reactions to a text. Three common ones in expository writing are analogies, anecdotes, and imagery. Using these effectively allows an author to connect with the reader and lead them to conclusions or expose them to ideas they might not have considered before.
Analogy— An analogy is a comparison an author makes between two things in order to explain or clarify one in terms of the other. The idea is that if a reader knows about one of the things in the comparison but is unfamiliar with the other, he or she will be able to make some connections with what is already known or understood.
For example, an analogy might be “Life is a roller coaster ride.” The idea behind this analogy is that the reader will know that roller coaster rides have lots of ups, downs, twists, and turns and can be exhilarating and exciting but terrifying, too. This compares to life because life has those same ups and downs, twists and turns, emotional highs and lows, etc.
Anecdote— An anecdote is a short story an author tells about an interesting, amusing, or noteworthy event to make a larger point about the main idea. Anecdotes are often found in the introductory paragraph as a way to engage the reader, but they can also be used within the body of a text if the author feels the need to pull the reader back in to the text or needs to make a point that hasn’t been made yet.
Imagery— Imagery is the descriptive or figurative language used by an author to help the reader create a mental “image” or picture of what is being described in the text. Imagery might describe how something looks or smells, or what it sounds, feels, or tastes like. Too much imagery bogs a reader down, but, in expository texts, it can be used sparingly by an author to help explain something to the reader.
Transitions Between Paragraphs
Transition words are the words or phrases that help the reader move from idea to idea and paragraph to paragraph. They are important because they show the relationship between ideas to the reader. For example, a sentence that says “However, Laura and Joe did not agree with this plan,” indicates there is a shift from whatever came previously. The reader is stopped and alerted to the contrast since Laura and Joe do not agree with the plan. The transition word however sets up a much different relationship than “In addition, Laura and Joe did not agree with this plan.” In this sentence, the transition suggests agreement, not contrast—the reader keeps going and the ideas build momentum rather than being stopped in their tracks by however.
For a list of commonly used transition words and phrases and their purpose, please look here and scroll down to the bottom of the page. On the STAAR® test, these questions are often posed as “The writer has used an ineffective transition in sentence number
__. Which word or phrase could best replace the ineffective transition in this sentence?”
Controlling Idea or Thesis
A thesis statement is the anchor of any good piece of writing. It is the statement to which everything in the text should link and support or address. The thesis is the controlling idea of a text and guides both the author and the reader through the passage. It helps to organize the author’s ideas, creating a pathway for development, and helps the reader follow the author’s train of thought.
The writing questions dealing with thesis statement may ask you to determine which answer option would more effectively state the position of the author or which answer option could replace specified sentences and provide a more effective thesis statement. Remember that the thesis should be a statement not only about the topic of the text, but the author’s position or ideas regarding that topic. It is usually found in the middle or at the end of the introductory paragraph.
Expository writing is organized based on the audience and context. Organizational patterns for expository writing depend on the audience (what will make sense to the people intended to read the text?) and context (a newspaper article may have a different organization than an academic journal).
Common organizational patterns for expository writing include: cause and effect, order of importance, chronological, and compare and contrast. On the STAAR® test, you may have to determine whether the organization of a particular passage makes sense or where sentences should go to improve the overall organization. You may be given a sentence and asked where it should be placed. You would need to determine this based on the organization you see in the text.
An author’s purpose in expository writing is to get the point across to the reader, to explain or expose the reader to something new. To do this effectively, an author wants to make sure that he or she only includes relevant information in the writing. Extra details, statements that don’t tie back to the thesis statement, and irrelevant information just serve to confuse the reader and will make him or her to stop reading or misunderstand the purpose or point.
When you revise the writing provided on the STAAR® test, be sure that all of the information is relevant and supports the thesis in some way. If not, it’s probably extraneous and should be deleted.
Valid inferences are conclusions that can be drawn with a pretty high level of certainty based on the evidence provided. They also draw conclusions based on reliable evidence that makes sense based on what is known. When authors draw conclusions that don’t seem to have anything to do with what they’ve been talking about, or they ask their readers to draw those conclusions, they are probably invalid inferences—conclusions based on faulty logic or inadequate evidence.
When revising questions, be sure to only allow valid inferences to remain in a text. Questions that ask which conclusion is best or what inference can be made require you to determine if the conclusion seems valid based on the evidence presented in the text.
Special Revision Points for Persuasive Texts
Revising persuasive texts means keeping in mind their purpose: to persuade or convince the reader of something he or she may not accept as true or valid right away. In addition to the revision points presented above for expository texts, it is important to evaluate these elements of persuasive texts when you are revising for clarity and cohesion.
A clear thesis statement is critically important for a persuasive (and really any kind of) text. The thesis statement is the focus that all other aspects of the text must address. Think of a thesis statement as the center of a bicycle wheel and the support as the spokes. All the spokes connect to that center. But if the center isn’t strong or well-made, the spokes won’t remain linked.
A clear, concise thesis statement is critical as a building foundation for the rest of the text. It should tell the reader what the text will be about, but also give the author’s position with regard to that topic. In a persuasive text, the thesis should be a statement with which not everyone will agree (otherwise, who will the author be persuading?).
To be persuasive, an author must convince the reader to trust him or her. If an author wants a reader’s trust, he or she must prove themselves to be trustworthy. In persuasive writing, that means providing trustworthy support for claims. Support is the evidence provided by the author with regard to the position or claim made. Often, support is logical or factual, though it can also target a reader’s feelings.
Logic of Reasoning— It is easy to make a statement of fact. It is also easy to make a statement of opinion that sounds like fact. This is why it is important to be a critical reader and test the logic of the reasoning put forth by an author. If the author makes a claim, or states a “fact,” does that claim or fact actually make sense when you think about it? Or has the author provided only part of the story? Do the connections the author is trying to make the reader accept make sense? These are the questions to consider when determining the author’s logic of reasoning: does the conclusion the author asks the reader to adopt make sense, based on the support the author has provided? If not, the text may not be effectively persuasive.
Precision of Evidence— When revising persuasive writing, it is important to consider how precise the evidence is that the author provides. Does the author give specific numbers or examples? If so, where did he or she get them? Are they from a reliable source the reader can trust? Is the evidence more vague or general, and does the author seem to just hope the reader will just accept it, no questions asked and no details demanded?
Questions of this type on the STAAR® test might ask you which answer option best supports the claim made in sentence number
__ or which is the most effective revision to make in sentence number
__ (because they want you to select the most precise example or support). Remember that the most effective evidence that is the most convincing and persuasive to the reader will be the evidence that is the most logical, the most relevant to the topic, and the most precise or specific.
Relevance of Evidence— Some people are very impressed by “facts” and statements that seem like facts. It is important, however, to weigh the relevancy of the evidence against the author’s position. Does this claim, statement, or fact really provide evidence and support of what the author claims it does? Is it relevant to the main claim or is it there to distract the reader in some way?
Questions on the STAAR® test regarding the relevance of evidence might be something like “Which of these details could best follow and support sentence number
__?” You must be able to discern which statement has relevant evidence that would, in fact, help to support that sentence.
The whole point of persuasive writing is the understanding that some people will disagree. It is the author’s purpose to convince or persuade those naysayers to agree with him or her. One way to do this is by anticipating the other side’s counter-argument. What will those naysayers say in response to the argument or claim put forth by the author? How should the author counter that argument to explain why those people are misunderstanding some aspect of the claim and are, unfortunately for them, wrong? This does not mean that the author should get into a back-and-forth with the opposing side, but anticipating objections and having ammunition for return fire may help the author convince more of the audience.
Value of Evidence
The value of evidence refers to the relative value of the evidence to the argument put forth. In revising for the value of evidence, consider: is this the best, strongest, most appropriate evidence the author could include? Does it work to support the claim in a meaningful, persuasive way? If not, it doesn’t belong there and should be replaced with more relevant evidence.