Fundamentals of Writing
Sometimes books and teachers can make writing seem harder than it really is. While there are several considerations to keep in your mind when you are writing, there is no reason to make written communication a chore.
The process of writing can be simplified into five steps:
In the prewriting step, a writer simply gathers together and organizes his thoughts. These are some prewriting techniques that work for many people:
- Freewriting: The writer pours out all his thoughts on paper without stopping to edit or perfect the manuscript. Some of what is written down will be terrible and unusable, but some will flow easily and generate a basis for later revision.
- Clustering: The writer makes a "bubble chart," writing his topic in the center bubble, then drawing lines to new bubbles with related thoughts. In this way, a large topic can be broken into smaller subtopics, much as an outline. Each new bubble can branch off to a new bubble, each branching becoming more specific. This technique is also called "branching" because of the similarity to the branches of a tree.
- Outlining: This is a more formal way to start generating and organizing your thoughts. It is not quite as "free form" as clustering, but works well if you already know the major divisions of your topic.
- Questioning: Asking ourselves the standard journalist's questions who, what, when, where, why, and how can often be helpful in revealing the different aspects of a topic and in defining our approach to our subject.
- SOAP: Thinking about our Subject, the Ocassion of our writing, the intended Audience, and the Purpose of our writing can often help us to generate ideas and to organize our thoughts and writing.
But the prewriting technique I most use is what I call the "Snake Model of Writing." I call it the snake model of writing because each of the major considerations begin with the letter "S."
- Subject: Always choose your subject with your audience in mind. Your teacher is NOT your audience. Your peers are your audience. When you write for a teacher, you are writing for a grade. Forget that. Learn to write in order to better communicate with other people. When you write for a specific audience, you learn how best to relate to them, their needs, and their interests.
- Structure: Your brain is structured on the cellular level. We do not store information in our brains haphazardly. Since you are communicating with other humans, you must meet their needs for order and structure. The structure you choose can help you communicate your ideas. Learn to select a structure that is appropriate to both your audience and your subject.
- Support: Though you are not an expert on many topics, you are still responsible for your own credibility. Your writing reflects you. Your audience will draw conclusions about you based on how you present your topic. Always leave the audience with the impression that you have taken the time and effort to learn about your topic, and that you are not merely spouting your personal opinion, but are able to back up what you say with facts.
- Specific: Specific words are more interesting, more informative, and more accurate than vague or generic words. Specificity in writing also boosts your credibility. It is presumed that if you know the details of a topic, you must have some in-depth knowledge of the topic, knowledge the audience can trust.
- Significant: Learn to distinguish the important from the unimportant. The audience initially trusts that you are not wasting their time. If what you write is either unimportant to the audience, or unimportant to the topic, the audience will not read further.
- Sufficient: If a restaurant serves delicious meals with well-prepared dishes, great. If the wait staff is courteous and attentive, without crowding you, excellent. If the price is competitive and reasonable, fine. But if all these are present, yet the portions on your plate are too small, you will still be hungry when you finish reading--I mean eating. Students have been conditioned (unwisely, I believe) to ask "How long does my essay have to be?" The answer is this: as long as a piece of string. String, you know, only comes in three lengths: too short, too long, or just right. It's what I call the Goldilocks and the Three Bears method of writing. If your writing is "just right," your audience will "eat it all up." Sudents must learn to focus on quality, not quantity. Take care of quality, and quantity will take care of itself. For this reason, I do not assign a length or a number of words to my essay assignments. When teachers do assign a specified number of words, students write, then stop and count, then write some more, then stop and count some more etc. In order to "fill up" the required number of words, students weakly repeat what they have written and/or stray off topic into other areas that do not belong in their essays, merely to fill space. This stripes your writing, each stripe getting worse. In the end, instead of writing a few good words that communicate, students write many words that are not any good. The reader is quickly bored. If you are going to write trash, keep it short! It is better to take one sack of garbage to the curb than to have to haul twenty bags to the curb! Same thing here.
If you have invested your time wisely in prewriting, the actual writing will not be difficult. Remember your audience. What do they need to know? Why is this topic important to them? Why should they be interested? Keep structure in mind; have a good "attention getter" and a good thesis statement. Use topic sentences. Be specific. Make your writing significant and sufficient. Remember: Quality beats quantity.
No matter how well you write, when you read back over your manuscript, you will find parts that need to be changed. There are three changes you can make to your first draft:
- Add necessary details.
- Delete insignificant details.
- Rearrange the order in which you present your information.
Add, delete, move. You are the real word processor!
Check your spelling, capitalization, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and pronoun-antecedent agreement--come on; how long can it take! But look what an improvement proofreading can make to your reader's experience. Writing isn't just about you. Your audience should be your main concern! Make reading a pleasure. Making reading easier to follow and to remember. Be nice!
Writing is a form of communication between two people. That means there should be somebody on the other end of the line! If you want to talk to yourself, put it in a diary or a journal.
I am NOT your audience! I have read too much and know too much to be your audience. You are not likely to impress me (though some students have impressed me greatly with their writing ability). Write to your peers. Communicate, not with a gradebook, but with real human beings. This is not a game. Learning to communicate well is serious business. That brings us to class presentations.
You will read all of your essays aloud to the class. The class will give you feedback, telling you what was effective, what they enjoyed, etc. They can ask you questions. Perhaps some of their questions will indicate that parts of your essay are not complete, or perhaps unclear. After students have responded, I will point out parts of your essay that are good examples for everyone; then, I will make suggestions on how you can improve your writing. Everyone will learn from everyone!
- Each essays must be typed using 12 point Arial font.
- Each essay must be double-spaced.
- Turn in two copies of your essay on the due date. One copy is for you to read to the class. The other copy is for me to follow and annotate with corrections and helpful hints on revising your essay.
- After your presentation, the class response, and my analysis, exchange the copy you read with the copy I have annotated
- Revise your essay as many times as you wish in order to raise your grade. You will receive the highest grade earned.