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- How do I write an essay?
An essay may have an argument, or it may be purely informational. It should try to prove or teach something -- develop a single "thesis" or a short set of closely related points. Your first effort should be to formulate the questions you will seek to answer in your essay. Then you will need to form a thesis or hypothesis. An essay’s organization — how it begins, develops, and ends — should be designed to present your reasoning or explanation clearly.
- How do I find a topic?
Brainstorm! Sit for five minutes and think of some things that interest you. Is there anything controversial that you’d like to discuss? Is there anything you’d like to research? Is there anything that you know a good deal about that you would like to teach your peers?
- How can I narrow my topic?
First of all, choose the broad topic of interest. The next step will be to narrow the topic by adding restriction of one or more of the following types: a particular time span; a particular place; a particular person or group; and one aspect of the topic. After that combine the things you have chosen to make a new, narrower topic. An example of a broad topic is "cats." Hundreds of books have been written about cats! A narrower topic could be "my cat Fluffy." If you told us all about your cat, you may be able to write about 6-8 pages, depending on how interesting Fluffy is. However, a very narrow topic (and one which would probably suit you for a Composition I class) is "the tricks my cat Fluffy can perform."
- What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is one sentence, typically located at the end of your introduction, which the rest of your paper will prove. It is the one main idea of your paper. Without a thesis statement, your paper has no focus or purpose.
- Why do I need an outline?
An outline helps organize your ideas. It also presents your material in a logical form and shows the relationship between the ideas in your writing. An important part of outlining your ideas is to remain consistent. For example, if you are presenting information or ideas in a certain order at the beginning of your paper, don't switch that order half way through your paper. This may confuse your reader.
- How do I clarify my organizational plan?
Use clear topic sentences at the beginning of each main point of your essay to let the reader know what you are going to discuss. Transitions are also useful. It is also a good idea to use an essay map at the end of your thesis statement to clue the reader in as to where you’re going with the paper.
- How can I make a smooth transition?
A transition serves as a bridge connecting one paragraph, sentence, or word with another. An easy way to go about making transitions between paragraphs is to use the 1/2 and 1/2 method. When you begin a new paragraph, the first sentence of that paragraph should be half of what you just said and half of what you are now going to say. However, the trick is that you need to find the connecting idea between the two paragraphs.
- How do I start my essay?
Your introduction should capture the attention of your reader and lead directly to the thesis statement. Here are some ideas for openings:
- A quotation, which illustrates your point.
- An interesting and brief illustration, application, or example of your thesis.
- A generalized statement or question that will make the reader want to discover what you have to say on the topic.
The introduction begins generally and ends with the thesis statement; that is where most readers expect to see the thesis.
- Why do I need an introduction?
An introductory paragraph is necessary to grab your reader’s attention — without an introduction, your reader would have to launch right into the body of your work; it’s rather confusing to the reader without one. An introduction allows us a little time to understand what you’re talking about, and it also provides a little background information on your topic, so that the reader has a frame of reference to begin from.
- What can I include in my introduction?
You can begin writing any way you'd like (some writers don't write their introductions until last)--but drafting an introduction sometime before you complete your first draft will give your reader (and maybe you) a sense of where your paper is going and why your topic is important. Your introduction should also culminate in a thesis that synthesizes the major points of view that your paper will cover.
- Why do I need a conclusion?
The answer to this question is simple. Watch a movie, and fifteen minutes before it’s over, turn it off. The film’s not satisfying anymore, is it? A paper without a conclusion, just like a film without one, is not very effective — it doesn’t prove much. A conclusion is your last opportunity to influence your reader, and you should use that last paragraph to tie all of your information together, proving your thesis one last time. Use it to summarize your work, make a recommendation based on the information in your paper, forecast the future based upon the synthesis of your information, or warn the reader, if it’s that kind of paper. Be careful, though: you are not to introduce new information into your conclusion.
- How can I conclude my paper without repeating what I've already said?
Try saving some particularly relevant quotation, fact, or idea for last. You can sum up your main points in a final paragraph, but avoid simply restating your thesis or duplicating exact language that you used earlier in your paper.
- My paper isn't long enough. How do I make it longer?
Sometimes a paper is too brief because the subject about which you are writing is too specific and needs to be expanded. However, some papers are too short because the writer does not provide enough concrete evidence. Examples, when accompanied with meaning full analysis, always add strength to the paper. If you are trying to prove psychology is beneficial for most people, rather than just give general reasons this is true, providing examples of people benefiting from psychology takes up space and makes the paper more interesting and meaningful besides proving your point more effectively. You cannot have too many well-analyzed examples; it can only make your paper stronger.
- What are the most important and least important concerns to keep in mind when writing?
The things you’ll want to keep an eye out for when you’re writing are, in order of highest importance to least importance: your thesis statement, your style in regard to your audience, the organization of your paper, your sentence structure and grammar, your spelling, and punctuation.
- How can I write more concisely?
One of the most efficient ways to improve your writing is to avoid "wordiness" including: doubling of words ("future prospects", "mutual agreement"), intensifiers ("very", "extremely", "really"), formulaic phrases ("for the purpose of", "with regard to"), and catch-all terms ("thing", "quality", "matter"). Cutting out unnecessary words from your writing focuses the reader's attention on your most important points and gives the reader a clearer idea of your meaning.
- How do I choose a title?
Wait until you have written your essay to choose a title for it. Try to think of something witty and creative, something that will catch the reader’s eye. Remember, it is the first thing your reader sees!
- How should I format the title of my essay?
When there is no title page to your essay, your title will appear centered directly above the first line of the introduction. Capitalize all major words (words like the, an, for, are not). Do NOT underline, italicize, or otherwise change the format of the font used to write the paper, unless the title of something else appears there. The only difference that should occur between the title and the text is that the title is to be centered.
- How should I format my paper?
Make sure that your margins are one inch on all sides. Use a 12-point font unless your instructor tells you otherwise. Headers and page numbers will often be placed in the upper right hand of the page. A title page will count as the first page of your paper, but not for the total number of pages, of course. Your Works Cited page also does not count towards the page requirement. Paragraphs should be indented five spaces, and they should be at least four sentences long.
- How can I proofread better?
When you are finished with your essay, let it sit for a few days. Then pick it back up and read it out loud, slowly, and from bottom to top, sentence by sentence. In this way, you can separate grammar from content in your mind, allowing you to see and correct the grammatical mistakes you may have made.
- What is the difference between revision and proofreading?
Proofreading is a system of reading through your paper after it is written and making corrections on the grammar and style elements within. Revision is re-vision — a system of seeing your paper all over again, in order to see what you could do differently or better. It is, in essence, a complete overhauling of your paper.
- When do I use a/an and when do I use the?
A/an: with descriptive or general nouns, with something mentioned for the first time, and with the meaning of one, not more. "A" is used when a consonant sound follows; "an" is used when a vowel sound follows. The: when the noun has been previously introduced or when you and the reader know what you are referring to, when the noun is unique, and when an ordinal number or superlative comes before the noun.
- How do I correct an awkward sentence?
To correct an awkward sentence, look at the structure of the sentence. Does it have a complete subject and verb? Is everything there? Ask yourself, "What am I trying to say?" Don’t try to be too wordy, as wordiness often leads to awkwardness.
- How do I correct run-on sentences?
There are many ways to do this. These are the two easiest ways to do this: first, you can simply make the sentence two sentences by using a period (a semicolon can also be used). Second, you can insert a comma with a coordinating conjunction, such as and or but.
- What is a sentence fragment?
A sentence fragment is a group of words that is incorrectly punctuated as a complete sentence. For example, "Because it was important to me." would be a sentence fragment. "Because it was important to me." is called a dependent clause - it is "dependent" on more information in order to be a complete thought. However, "I studied for the test for hours, because it was important to me." would be a complete sentence. The dependent clause has been hooked on to an independent clause (a group of words that can stand alone as a complete sentence) in order to make a complete thought.
- What is a tense shift?
When you are writing a paper, use either the past tense or the present tense, but use whichever tense you choose consistently. Shift tenses only to signal a time before or after the tense you have chosen to use. When you are referring to a work of fiction, a poem, a play, or a film, use the present tense consistently, even though the work was written in the past, and even if the author is no longer alive. When you write your own narrative, use the past tense to describe actions that already happened.
- What is subject/verb agreement?
Subject/verb agreement is a term referring to how a noun (subject) connects or "agrees" with its verb, which depends on whether or not the noun is plural. An example of proper s/v agreement:
"Tony and Hank are going to the store." An example of improper s/v agreement: "Tony and Hank is going to the store."
- What is parallelism?
Parallelism is just a fancy way of saying that each part of your sentence needs to match the other parts when you are listing items or actions, or when you are comparing or clarifying relationships between ideas. For Example:
Incorrect: Many students try to take classes that interest them making their semester more enjoyable.
Correct: Many students try to take classes that interest them to make their semester more enjoyable.
- What are comma splices, and how do I correct them?
Comma splices are comma errors in which two phrases that should be separate sentences are instead joined by a comma. Example: "I went to the bank to cash my paycheck, the tellers are so rude there." The easiest way to fix a comma splice is to just replace the comma with a period or a semicolon. Sometimes, you can use a coordinating conjunction to fix it, but be careful: you must make sure that the coordinating conjunction fits.
- When should I use commas?
Here are the most common applications:
Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.
Common introductory words that should be followed by a comma include yes, however, first, second, et cetera.
- Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet. E.g.: The game was over, but the crowd refused to leave.
- Use a comma when beginning a sentence with yes, however, well. E.g.: Well, perhaps he meant no harm.
- Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series. If these clauses require commas within them, use semicolons instead to separate them.
- Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.
- Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift. E.g.: He was merely ignorant, not stupid.
- Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names. E.g.: January 12, 1993; David Jones, Ph.D.; Houston, Texas.
- Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation. E.g.: John said without emotion, "I'll see you tomorrow."
- Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading. E.g.: To George, Harrison had been a sort of idol.
- How do I summarize?
Read the passage you are to summarize as many times as necessary before you begin, until you feel that you totally understand the passage. Paraphrase the main points of the author’s argument, making sure to give proper credit to the author. Make your summary as thorough as possible in the shortest possible length. Then verify your information against the author’s to make sure you have explained the passage properly.
- How do I write a critique?
There are many ways to tackle a critique paper. The method most often used is as follows: the first 30-40‰ of the critique is a summary of the author’s main points, thesis, et cetera. The rest of the paper is a reaction to the paper. Ask yourself these questions: did the author express himself/herself well? Was the author fair to the opposing view? Did the author commit any logical fallacies in the work? Did you agree with the author? Why/why not? There are many other questions you can ask yourself, but make sure you remain fair to the author’s view. You are not required to agree with the author, but do not resort to logical fallacies or other unfair attacks on the piece you are critiquing.
- What is a synthesis?
A synthesis is a paper which you construct (or synthesize) using information from other sources. Your thesis statement is yours, but the evidence supporting any claims you make to reinforce or prove your main point will usually come from other sources. Make sure to be careful to avoid plagiarism in your synthesis by citing your sources!
- Where do I find sources for my research paper?
There are plenty of places you can go. The library at any major university is an excellent place to go for sources. Interviewing people who are experts in the subject is a great way to go. Public libraries are also good. Informational shows on television occasionally provide information you may be seeking. The internet, too, is a great place to go, but watch out for sources which may not be credible; that is, that may not have real or established credentials (such as Dave’s Influenza Website vs. the CDC website).
- How can I rephrase my sources more substantially in my own words?
Take notes on what you read, and take time to rephrase a source's main points in your own words. Turn your source upside-down, and summarize your source's main points out loud. Write down what you said. Then look back at your source, and compare what you wrote against the original. If the two are too close, rewrite your summary until it differs substantially. Check your summary against the source again.
- When should I use citations?
Always cite a source when the information you are writing is gained from a source outside of your own head, unless that information is considered common knowledge (information gotten anywhere, such as "Pepsi is a popular soft drink.").
- How do I cite a Web site?
The rules for citation of electronic sources are still not set in stone. However, you want to make sure that your Works Cited page includes all the necessary information, in this order: the author, if any, the title of the article, if any, the date of the post, the name of the website, the exact web address, and the date you accessed it.
- How do I use internal documentation to refer to a Web page?
In the same way that you'd do so to refer to any other source that doesn't have page numbers. Simply refer to the author in your parenthetical citation -- or, if you already refer to the author in your attribution phrase, omit the citation altogether.
- How do I keep my paper focused, rather than just reporting one source after another and creating an unsynthesized lump of information?
Try the following strategies:
- Keep your paper focused on the question you hope to answer
- Break your sources down in relation to how they answer your issue question, and how they argue with and "speak" to one another
- Avoid using lengthy quotations unless doing so is absolutely necessary
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