Writing I: Introduction to Academic Writing
Lead Author(s): Brooke Archila
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Overcome writing anxiety, learn different forms of essay writing, and introduce basic research. A short grammar and mechanics section is also included.
Getting Started in ENG 101
In this chapter:
Overcoming Writing Anxiety
Whenever I tell people that I am an English Professor, I usually hear: "I hated English in school" or "Oh, I'm not good at writing" or they just grimace. Many students approach a writing class with a certain level of anxiety. After all, you are putting your writing out there for someone else to read and critique--and that can be a scary process.
Part of my job is to help you overcome (or at least manage) your writing anxieties so that you can complete this course successfully, tackle any writing projects you will be assigned in your college courses, and feel a little more confident in your writing abilities.
What are some anxieties you have about writing? What are some tactics you use to overcome these anxieties?
As you strengthen your writing skills this semester, it's important to understand that there are different ways to approach the writing process. You have to find a method that works for you. For example, some people find it easier to start writing the body paragraphs of an essay and then come back later to write the introduction. Other writers (myself included) cannot write the body of the essay until the introduction is perfect. Some writers do not worry about grammar or punctuation while writing. They just get everything out on paper and then go back and do heavy revising and editing. But there are writers (like me) who revise and edit as they go along so that not much revision or editing is needed at the end. You have to play around with it and figure out what works for you. You might need a completely quiet, distraction-free environment, or you might write better if you listen to music. Whatever your writing style, this chapter provides some good information to help you get started with essay writing.
Stages of Writing
Four Stages of Writing
With any type of formal writing, there are four stages you should go through in order to effectively complete your writing assignment:
How many times have you sat down at your computer or laptop to write an essay and end up just staring at the screen or getting distracted by Facebook or other things? Over and over, students admit that they do not do any type of prewriting before they begin their essay.
Prewriting should always be the first step of the writing process. This stage of writing allows you to brainstorm, gather your thoughts, and create a plan for your writing assignment. Your essay will flow more smoothly if you have a well-laid-out plan before you start writing. It's kind of similar to taking a trip. If you just get in the car and go without any plans, direction, or items of necessity, your trip is most likely not going to turn out well. Before we take a trip, we usually plan our destination, make sure we know how to get there, and pack the items we will need for a trip.
Prewriting is the stage that helps you plan and prepare for the essay so that the writing process goes more smoothly once you are ready to start writing the essay.
There are several different methods you can use for prewriting. Find what works for you and use it.
Methods for prewriting:
- On a piece of paper, write your topic down and then list anything that comes to mind that is connected to your topic.
- Tip: With prewriting, do not focus on format or correct grammar or mistakes. The goal is to keep the ideas flowing for now.
- When you’ve finished your list, look over it and see if there are any items you could group together to form main ideas for paragraphs.
2) Clustering or Webbing
- On a piece of paper, draw a circle in the center. Put your main idea in the center of that circle.
- From there, branch out into more circles. The circles that come out from the center should contain your main ideas for each body paragraph.
- From each main idea circle, you can branch out with more circles to add supporting details for your paragraphs.
The outline is more detailed and organized. You start with your thesis statement (main idea) and from there, list your main ideas for your body paragraphs. Under each main idea, list your supporting details. Use numbers or Roman numerals for main ideas and use letters for supporting details. The outline can be as detailed as you need it to be.
Tip: You can use these three methods together to formulate an organized plan for your essay. Start with a list. From your list, choose 3 or 4 points you want to use for your body paragraphs. Then, create a cluster that has your main idea and branches out with your 3 or 4 main points for your body paragraphs. Off of each main point for your paragraphs, add 2 or 3 supporting details. Once this is finished, take your information and turn it into an organized outline that includes a complete sentence for your thesis statement, complete sentences for each topic sentence in the body paragraphs section, and supporting details for each body paragraph topic.
What is your favorite prewriting/brainstorming method?
- During this stage, you begin writing your essay. The essay should be considered a “rough” draft at this point.
- Some people struggle with introductions. If you are stuck at the introduction and can’t figure out how to start the essay, try to start writing the body paragraphs. Some writers find it easier to write the body of the essay first and then go back and write the introduction and conclusion.
When I ask students what “revision” means in writing, they usually respond with “check for spelling mistakes” or “look for grammatical errors.” However, revising and editing are two separate stages.
In revision, you look specifically for ways to improve the content of the essay.
Here are some things to check for in revision:
- Thesis Statement: Is the thesis strong and specific?
- Topic Sentences: Do you have clear topic sentences at the beginning of each body paragraph?
- Development: Have you provided enough support and examples for your reader?
- Unity: Does everything in your essay relate back to your thesis?
- Coherence: Did you use transition words to help your essay flow more smoothly?
- Organization: Does the organization of the essay make sense? Are there any confusing parts?
- Introduction: Did you effectively grasp the reader’s attention at the beginning of your essay? Does your introduction explain the purpose of the essay and give a general idea of the main point?
- Conclusion: Does the conclusion summarize your main points and leave your reader with something to think about?
At this stage, you look for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos, mechanical errors, and formatting issues.
Tip: Read your essay out loud. When we silently read what we’ve written, our brain tricks us into reading what we think we’ve written. However, if you read it out loud, you are forced to hear what you’ve actually written. You will catch more mistakes this way and will also be able to tell if any parts are worded awkwardly.
Tip: It’s always a good idea to have another pair of eyes look over your essay. Take advantage of free tutoring available on campus. Just keep in mind that no one should change your essay except you. If a proofreader goes through and makes changes on your essay, that is considered plagiarism. Ask the reviewer to make suggestions for improvement rather than making the changes him/herself.
Tip: Take a break. Do your work early enough so that you can come back after a day or two and then do the revising and editing. You are more likely to catch mistakes this way.
Note: I've attached a checklist that you can use to help you revise and edit your essays this semester. See "Checklist for Essays" in our Top Hat menu. I recommend printing off multiple copies.
Thesis Statements and Essay Maps
A thesis statement is a sentence or sentences in an essay that expresses the main idea of the essay. Thesis statements are beneficial to the writer and to the reader.
For the writer, thesis statements guide the purpose of the essay. Everything in the essay should relate back to the thesis statement.
For the reader, the thesis statement serves as a guide to let the reader know what the essay is about and what to expect as he/she reads the essay.
A simple formula for constructing thesis statements is: main idea + purpose of the essay
The type of thesis you write will depend upon the type of essay you are writing.
- Evaluation Essay: For this type of essay, your purpose is to evaluate something, so your thesis will reflect that evaluation.
- Cause/Effect Essay: For this type of essay, you are analyzing either the causes of something or the effects of something, so your thesis will clarify this.
- Argument Essay: For this type of essay, you are taking a stance on a controversial topic, so your thesis will argue your stance plus your reasons for taking the stance.
Tips for writing strong thesis statements:
- Be specific! Thesis statements should not be vague. Your reader should know what the purpose of the essay is after reading your thesis.
- The best place for a thesis statement is at the end of the introduction paragraph.
- Consider your thesis a “working thesis” as you are drafting your essay.
You might start off with a thesis that is a little broad, but as you conduct your research and determine what specific points you want to make, your thesis should reflect that change.
Sometimes you aren’t exactly sure of what your thesis is until you come to the end of your essay. If this happens, simply go back to your introduction to change your thesis and make sure it reflects your main point.
Please answer the questions below.
The best place for a thesis statement is:
anywhere in the essay
the very first sentence of the essay
the last sentence of the introductory paragraph
nowhere in the essay
Match the items below to the correct answer.
making a claim about something and supporting it with evidence
Cause Effect thesis
closely examining a subject to make an overall judgment
Explaining why something happened or the results of something that happened
True or False: The thesis statement operates as a cue by letting readers know the overall main point of the essay
True or False: Readers don't really expect any type of thesis statement.
Why is this thesis ineffective: The University of Louisville is located in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nobody is interested in Louisville.
It's not true.
It's a factual statement and cannot be argued.
What is wrong with this thesis statement?
World Hunger is a big problem.
It's a boring subject.
It's too vague and broad.
It's just an opinion--writer's shouldn't have opinions.
Nothing is wrong.
What's wrong with this thesis? My sister's cat.
It's a subject instead of a thesis
It's too vague and broad
It's a fragment
all of the above
An essay map is the list of main points you will be making. Consider your essay as a map. You have to provide signs and directions for your reader to be able to navigate your essay. The essay map provides readers with the directions for navigation.
The essay map is typically included as part of the thesis statement. It can also be a sentence directly following the thesis statement.
The essay map also helps you stay on track in your essay.
Tip: Once you set up a particular order in your essay map, make sure the organization of your essay follows the order of your essay map!
Match the following thesis statements to the appropriate essay map.
The state of Kentucky should double the fines for texting while driving.
It is a free service and provides help in numerous subjects as well as helps improve student knowledge and grades.
Tutoring on campus is a valuable asset for students.
Such a move would reduce the number of accidents and lower the cost of car insurance and encourage responsibility in young drivers.
The rising cost of textbooks for college needs to be addressed.
Make sure plenty of cold beverages are available and take breaks to cool off and wear light clothing made from a breathable material like cotton.
Using precaution when working or playing outside during extremely hot weather can help someone avoid a heat stroke.
Students cannot afford the textbooks and the textbooks have little or no resale value. Furthermore many classes do not use the book enough to justify the cost.
Introductions and Conclusions
Many writers (yes, even professionals) struggle the most with writing the introduction. It’s hard to get started sometimes. Even if your essay is perfectly planned and you know how you are going to organize it, finding an interesting way to start your essay can halt your progress. However, there are several methods to try.
Remember that you need to start your essay with a hook (attention-getter). You want to grab your reader’s attention from the beginning so that the reader will want to finish the essay.
Tip: The very first place to grab your reader’s attention is the TITLE of the essay. Don’t forget the importance of a good, catchy title.
Elements of a strong introduction:
- Good hook
- General explanation about the topic
- Establish purpose of essay
- Thesis statement and essay map give specific and detailed main point and plan for the essay
Tip: Avoid “announcing” your essay or using language that sounds like you are giving a speech:
• “In this essay, I will…”
• “Today, we are going to discuss…”
• “This essay…”
Your reader knows that this is an essay. You don’t have to announce it. Just state your point.
A common structure is the inverted-pyramid:
Notice how the information starts broad and funnels down to specific. Here is an example.
Broad Statement: Many people have to wear uniforms.
Narrowed Thesis: Students should not be required to wear uniforms because they take away from individuality and because they are not cost efficient.
Methods for an interesting hook:
1) Use a quote
Look for an interesting quote that relates to your topic. Make sure you explain the significance to your topic, though. Don’t just drop a quote in and never mention it. (Keep in mind that all direct quotes must be cited.)
2) An anecdote (brief story)
This could be personal experience, a story that actually happened, or a scenario that is made up. This is a great way to establish pathos (emotional appeal) for argumentative essays.
3) A surprising fact or statistic
Make sure that you cite the source for this. Also, make sure the information is accurate or you damage your credibility as an author.
4) Ask a rhetorical question
This should be something that gets your reader thinking and sets the stage for your topic.
Another part of the essay that writers often struggle with is the conclusion. Sometimes you come to the end and feel like you’ve said all that needs to be said. Keep in mind, though, that when we read, the parts we typically remember is the first and last of something. It’s important to end on a strong note.
Elements of a strong conclusion:
- sums up the main points of the essay
(for this, don’t simply restate your thesis; be brief in your reminder of the main points.)
- brings the essay full circle
If you started with a quote, then you should come back to that quote. If you started with a question, come back to the question. Whatever method you used as an attention-getter, come back to it and show how your essay has connected to that.
- Leaves the reader with something to think about
Consider talking about the future of your topic—where do we go from here?
If your purpose is persuasion, make sure you emphasize the importance of your argument.
If your essay discussed a problem, leave the reader with possible solutions.
What questions do you have? Are there any parts of this chapter that need clarification?