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How to Write a College Level Essay If you follow these steps, you will be able to create a standard, five paragraph college essay. This is a basic essay. You will be, however, able to expand and add to it as you move from your lower level class to your upper division classes. STEP ONE – Brainstorming In this step, you want to think about your topic and generate ideas about the topic. A good place to start is the scratch outline. Here you write the main idea and jot down ideas under it. Then, take a look at what you generated. Can you begin to group your ideas? Do your ideas generate any other ideas? Once you have completed your brainstorming, walk away! Come back to it with fresh ideas. Can you take your ideas and make a “scratch” outline? A scratch outline is the main idea and then groups of your points: For example: I. How to write an effective essay A. prewriting 1. brainstorming 2. outlining 3. organization B. writing process 1. thesis statement 2. paragraphs 3. content C. revising process 1. revision 2. editing 3. easy to read? OR How to write an effective essay **prewriting – brainstorming, listing, outlining, clustering, free writing – get ideas on paper **writing process – thesis statement, topic sentences, paragraphs, introduction, conclusion, examples, explanation **revising process – revision, editing, peer review, read out loud, grammar check on computer Choose a method that works for you. Your goal is to really focus your ideas and have a clear idea of where you want to go with presenting your ideas in your paper. STEP TWO – Working Thesis Statement The best way to start learning a thesis statement is to learn the three-point thesis statement. The three-point thesis statement is the main idea and three key points. For example: To learn how to write an effectively, a writer must understand the prewriting process, the writing process and the revising process. This will give you an idea for organization in your paper. Remember, the thesis is the foundation and the road map. It gives a solid picture of what information you will present and how you will present it. The thesis statement must be a statement – a declarative sentence. The thesis statement should use a noun for the main idea and key points, and you should use active voice. You want your thesis statement to make a strong impression of your ideas, your organization, and your intent. Be very specific in your thesis statement. STEP THREE – Paragraphs There are three types of paragraphs within your essay – the introduction, the body paragraphs and the conclusion. The introduction is where you introduce your reader to your topic. The first sentence is called the reader grabber. It is should grab the reader’s attention and encourage them to read on. Then, you want to give your reader information that will give them a solid foundation on how you will treat your main idea. In many cases, the easiest way to end your introduction is with your three-point thesis statement. Keep in mind that the introduction is your reader’s first impression with your ideas. You want the introduction to be accessible – easily understood, well organized, and specific. The body paragraphs follow the introduction. They will be where you put the meat of your ideas. Remember, each body paragraph will represent a key point that supports your thesis statement. A body paragraph starts with a topic sentence. The topic sentence will give your key point and how it relates to your main idea. FOR EXAMPLE: A writer must understand the prewriting process to complete an effective essay. The topic sentence gives the reader a clear idea of what key point you will discuss in your paragraph. It will give a clear indication of how it relates to the main idea. More importantly, it will anchor your paragraph. The paragraph should completely explain your key point. It should answer the question SO WHAT? A great way to make sure you fully (completely!) explain your key point is to use the RULE OF THREE. The rule of three means you want to give three examples for each key point. Think back to our topic sentence: A writer must understand the prewriting process to complete an effective essay. What three ideas can you use to explain your topic sentence? This is where your earlier brainstorming will come in handy. FOR EXAMPLE: prewriting – brainstorming, listing, outlining, clustering, free writing – get ideas on paper From your brainstorming, you can see that you want to use some of your ideas as explanation. Remember, when you brainstorm, you are listing ideas. This comes in handy later (in the paragraphs) to help you explain your key point FOR EXAMPLE: A writer must understand the prewriting process to complete an effective essay. The main part of the prewriting process is brainstorming. When a writer uses brainstorming, they are generating ideas. Brainstorming can be as formal as outlining and as informal as free writing. The goal for the writer is to get all ideas on paper so they can start to see a bigger picture of their idea emerge. Another part of the prewriting process is organizing ideas. Once the writer has all their ideas on paper, they can begin to organize ideas into groups. These groups can become the body paragraphs in an essay. Each group will have a focus. That focus is the key point. The ideas are the examples that explain the key point. Finally, the prewriting process is a chance for the writer to see if they have enough information to move forward to writing the essay. When the writer brainstorms, they are able to see everything they know about their topic. This shows them how much information they have. Enough information means move forward and not enough information means that the writer must rethink their ideas. The prewriting process is the foundation for the writing process because it gives the writer clear direction to begin writing. Look at the example. There is a clear topic sentence and three examples that support the topic sentence. There are also other important aspects in the paragraph. One of those aspects is explanation through examples. Each of the examples has a few sentences that show how the example relates to the key point (your topic sentence). This gives the reader a clear understanding of how each example relates not only to the key point of the paragraph but to the main idea as well. Another important aspect of the paragraph is organization. Each idea is logically presented. The reader can move from one idea to the next and can see the logical progression of your ideas. Finally, the paragraph uses transitions (this also ties into organization). Each transition moves the ideas forward. They also show how the ideas relate to one another. When the paragraph contains a topic sentence, three examples, transitions and solid organization, it is considered a complete paragraph. A college level paragraph is generally agreed to be at least ten sentences. Look at the number of sentences in the example – there are 16 sentences. When you use the aspects of an effective paragraph, writing a college level paragraph is quickly accomplished. The conclusion is the briefest paragraph you will write. In the conclusion, you will summarize and give closure to your reader. You want to reiterate the thesis statement. That does not mean, however, that you will copy your thesis word for word. You need to find a fresh way to give an overview of your main idea. Your conclusion must also give a clear indication that your paper is complete. Never start the conclusion with IN CONCLUSION. That is not effective and takes the focus off your main idea. STEP FOUR: Revision After you have written your paper, you want to take a break. Walk away from your paper and clear your mind. When you come back, you want to tackle revision. Revision concentrates on what are called “higher order” concerns. Those include content, organization, and logic. The best first step here is to make a post draft outline. That very basic outline roughly looks like: THESIS body paragraph 1 topic sentence body paragraph 2 topic sentence body paragraph 3 topic sentence (** add how many ever body paragraphs you have**) Look at your post draft outline. Are your body paragraphs in logical order? Do they match the order in the thesis statement? Do they move easily from one to the next? If you are comfortable that your paper meets these expectations, you have organization and the first steps of logic. The next step is to look at each paragraph. Your topic sentence should be a declarative sentence that shows your key point and its relation to the main idea (remember, you have already checked your topic sentences in the post draft outline). Next, look at the examples you provided in the paragraph. Do you have three examples? Are they introduced and explained? Do they show a direct relation to the key point of the paragraph? Have you provided transitions to link the ideas? This shows you content. If your paragraph meets these criteria, then you have complete content. Finally, look at the thesis statement. Is it brief? Does it summarize the main idea and key points of the paper? The biggest thing to note in your conclusion is if you have included any new thoughts or information. Remember, you DO NOT want to throw in new information. This will confuse your reader and take the focus off the points you presented. Now, you are done with revision. Put your paper down and walk away. STEP FIVE: Editing The nest to last step in writing a paper is editing. Editing is concerned with the “lower order” concerns. These concerns are things like spelling, grammar and sentence structure. A good start here is to run the grammar check on your word processor. In WORD, you want to check the highest level (formal in most case). Look at what is underlined (usually in green). If you right mouse click on the sentence, you will see what the error is and how to correct it. Passive voice is OK as long as it is not in excess. The next step is to read your paper aloud, word for word. Note where you stumble and then go back and look critically at the sentence. The next step is to look over your sentences. Is there a variety? Do you have a good mix of simple sentences, compound and complex sentences? Do you use a variety of words to start sentences? If your sentences meet these requirements, you structure is good. Remember, the coordinating conjunction sheet is a great tool for sentence structure. The last step in editing is to spell check. Use the WORD spell checker. Do not always trust Word as it can be confused on your and you’re. Before you choose to change a word, look it up in the dictionary and look at how you used it in the sentence. That’s it! Now that you are done with this step, take a break and come back for the final step. STEP SIX: final read This step can be a tricky one. By now, you have read your paper quite a few times, so you may not be able to give it a final, critical look read. If you are able, have someone read your paper and tell you what they think. This will give you a good reader’s perspective. If your reader tells you the paper is good to go, turn it in! Congratulations! You have completed your essay. SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: references If you are expected to have references in your paper, you need to pay careful attention to the requirements. How many references do you need? Do you need a variety of references? Are you allowed to use web sites? Must you use a book? Once you have a firm understanding of what kind of references you are required to have, you can start your research. The first step is to you the university’s library. You want to choose to find electronic articles. This will take you to the EBSCHost database. The easiest place to start is with a key word search, where you type in your main idea. This should bring up articles that meet the criteria of your main idea. If you have no “hits” (returns), expand your idea a little and see what come up in that search. You can also look to the left side of the search screen and see keywords. These are alternative that the search engine gives you to the words you put in on your original search. Remember, when using journal articles, you want to stick to the last five years. This will give you the most relevant information. The next step to take is a web search. Google is a great place to start. Goggle Scholar will give you academic only sources. Dog Pile is a good metasearch. When you are searching on the web, remember, you have to look out for credible sources. Be wary of commercial (.com) sites. You should always double check any information you find on the web. There are certain sites like government (.gov) sites that are more reliable. Would you want census information from a .com or .gov site? Think about those issues as you search. Remember, in academic writing, you use sources to support your ideas. The sources should always be secondary to your ideas. If you find that your sources outnumber your ideas, take out the sources, explain your ideas and then look at how you can reincorporate your sources into your paper. Always document in text and provide a complete citation in the Reference page. Remember, the more you write, the more you will challenge the basic method and break out of the formula.
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