Tuesday, September 28, 2021

High School Writing Tip Sheets - The Essay Writing Process

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For the past few years I have been teaching high school writing in our homeschool tutorial co-op. Having seen several groups of students through the courses, I've noticed some issues and questions coming up regularly. I hope these Tip Sheets will be helpful to my students, their parents, and perhaps to other students and parent/teachers as well.


You've been given a writing assignment - let's say it's an essay of at least 500 words. You've decided on a general topic for your essay, but now you're staring at a blank screen or page and you don't quite know how to get your thoughts on paper or where to start. Sometimes maybe it comes naturally and the writing just flows, but honestly that is pretty rare. More often than not, you'll need to put in some planning and preliminary work before doing the actual writing; and your work will go through a few revisions before it's polished enough to submit. Plan on putting in the time and effort for every assignment, because using a solid writing process will help you stay on track and produce quality writing.
I only write when I'm inspired, so I see to it that I'm inspired every morning at nine o'clock. ~Peter De Vries

What are the first steps in the writing process?

Before you start, make sure you understand the assignment and expectations. What type of essay are you to write? Persuasive, compare and contrast, research, analysis, how-to, descriptive . . . Choose your topic and your approach so that it suits the assignment parameters. Obviously, a compare-contrast essay will require you to have two subjects that can be compared in order to draw a conclusion. A research or how-to essay topic may need to be broadened or narrowed depending on the assignment word count. (See: High School Writing Tip Sheet - Word Count Requirements for more on that.) When writing a persuasive essay, remember that you will need to close with a specific and measurable call to action. If you don't have any idea what that call to action might be, maybe you need to reconsider your topic. 

You may be assigned a topic, or you may have one in mind right away. Or you may have a couple of ideas and need to think which one would be best. Brainstorm a bit - what supporting arguments do you have? What aspects can you compare and contrast? Once you've decided on your topic, you can start plotting the essay outline. Start with your purpose statement - what will you be attempting with your essay? For this article, my purpose statement was:
I am going to help students understand the writing process and persuade them to use it for their assignments.
A purpose statement helps the writer focus on what points should be included and gives direction to the essay, especially if it's to be a persuasive essay. Write a working thesis statement, which states the main idea of the essay and let the reader know what to expect. You may need to adjust your thesis statement as you research and write.

You'll need to do some brainstorming and some research to gather the information that supports your purpose. Choose your best points and plan what order to present them for best effect. The supporting arguments you use, and the order in which you present them should be chosen with your target audience in mind. If you're writing about the risks or benefits or teens working part-time, your arguments may be slightly different depending on whether your audience is the teens, their parents, or the prospective employers.
If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write. ~Martin Luther

Do I need an outline?

Yes! If you're an experienced writer, or the essay isn't a particularly long one, you may not need to write down your outline. But you probably have one in your head! Practice using an outline, even if it's just scribbled in the margins of your notebook. Plan what you need to say and the order to say it before you start writing. Most high school essays will be organized with an introduction, at least three supporting points, and a logical conclusion. A common visual aid for this organization is a Greek temple, with the introduction and thesis statement as the roof, the supporting points as the pillars, and the conclusion as the base. 

Where does the thesis statement belong?

In most essays, the thesis statement appears at the end of the introduction paragraph. Or paragraphs, if the introduction and essay is longer. Did you find the thesis statement of this article? It's this:
Plan on putting in the time and effort for every assignment, because using a solid writing process will help you stay on track and produce quality writing.

Now you're ready to start writing!

Start with your supporting arguments or points. Write those paragraphs and get them in the best order for your purpose. Then write your introduction and your conclusion. Remember that your thesis statement will usually be the last sentence in the introduction. Make sure your introduction captures the reader's attention and makes the subject clear. If it's an opinion or persuasive essay, your opinion or position on the topic should be made clear in the introduction. 
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect. ~Benjamin Franklin
Write a conclusion that sums up your essay's argument and issues a clear call to action if appropriate. The conclusion should reiterate the main idea in your thesis statement without repeating it. Don't bring up a new reason or supporting point in the conclusion, and don't do a repeat of everything you've said. If you can relate your conclusion to your introduction, that can be a very satisfying way to bookend your essay. Answer a question posed in the introduction, or finish up an anecdote or example that was used in the introduction. 

The final step is always proofreading!

I'll repeat a point I make in High School Writing Tip Sheets - Proofreading Properly - Writing and proofreading are separate processes. You cannot skip the proofreading step. Always go back and read your paper, checking for any errors and double checking that you've fulfilled all the assignment requirements.

Once you've finished proofreading, and have made any necessary corrections or edits, you will have a polished and well-planned essay to submit. Putting in that time for planning and crafting your paper should pay off in the satisfaction of completing the assignment to the best of your ability, and in a good grade. 


High School Writing Tips Sheets - Proofreading Properly

I've based most of my suggestions on ideas shared in the wonderful textbook The Power In Your Hands from Writing with Sharon WatsonThis textbook is the one I've taught from in the co-op for several years, and I highly recommend it. You can find out more in one of my full reviews. The most recent is: 

That review article was adapted and updated from our previous full review here: The Power in Your Hands (A Schoolhouse Crew Review) and an update in the Blogging Through the Alphabet series here: The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet).

The Power in Your Hands (Writing Non-Fiction in High School) from Writing with Sharon Watson - A Homeschool Coffee Break review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew on kympossibleblog.blogspot.com  The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

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