A. Select a topic or Study your assignment (Page 1)
B. Gather ideas and organize them (Page 2)
C. Express your ideas effectively, use structure and language to do that (Page 3)
D. Practice! (Page 4)
Source: Your teacher's notes from A New English Course by Rhodri Jones adapted to your learning situation.
Printer-friendly version of all 4 pages: How to Write Compositions (3 pages)
C. Express your ideas effectively
Approaching a subject (Approach = Enfoque). The approach is a crucial issue because it will help you to write a unified whole! It refers to the place where you're narrating from--the place where you are looking at the things you are talking about. YOUR EYE, the place where your vision is. If you stay in that place, your writing will be unified, it won't be broken up in unconnected pieces.
Good approaches for descriptions
• 24 hours: You could use a time-span as the unifying factor. You could begin your account at dawn, then follow the changing scene throughout the day, ending with nightfall.
• People: You could concentrate on people, describing each in turn.
• Activities: Or you could do the same with whatever people are doing.
• Panorama: Imagine you are taking a panorama photograph of the scene. Begin with a general scene and sweep your camera slowly to end with detailed descriptions.
• Contrast: You could treat the subject focusing in all the contrasts (more impressionistic).
Approaches for an argumentative essay
• The obvious way to organize your material is under pros and cons, points for and against the argument. A contrast between two different stands can help you write about the subject, make things easier.
• However, you could develop your own opinions. You will have to be clear about the point(s) you want to make and make those points. Then you'll have to explain your reasons for stating them (why do you say that?). Try to say things which are relevant (content) and not vague comments and opinions.
• Order your points under the headings pros and cons. Is this the best order for the various points? Decide which side of the argument you favour yourself, how best to counter the points put forward on the other side.
• What kind of conclusion will you arrive at? You will usually end with your own view, the one you have been leading up to in your presentation of the argument.
Almost any piece of writing is divided into paragraphs. A paragraph is a sub-section into which the material of the article, essay or story falls. It begins on a new line. The subject-matter of any reasonably long piece of writing can be divided into various sections, each of which can be dealt with in separate paragraphs. Within a particular paragraph, there should be a unity of material; in other words, all the information given in one paragraph should deal with one specific aspect of the subject. The purpose behind dividing writing into paragraphs is to help the reader: when she/he comes to the end of one paragraph and begins the next, she knows that she is moving on to another facet of the subject being written about. It also helps the writer to build structure. Paragraphs help to provide order for thought and understanding.
In a well-constructed piece of writing, you ought to be able to sum up the idea of each paragraph in a short phrase, and everything in the paragraph should be relevant to that idea or phrase.
Often, a paragraph has a topic sentence. This is a sentence which tells you what that particular paragraph is about. In many cases, it is the first sentence of the paragraph. It shows that the writer has moved on to another point in her argument and gives you a clue as to what the paragraph is about. When we have to make summaries, we usually underline key words in topic sentences, or even the topic sentence itself.
How is the writing constructed? Does it help the reader to follow the argument? Do you think it is ordered logically? If you are aware of its effectiveness you will be able to be critical.
Short paragraphs can be effective due to contrast with longer paragraphs. Variety of pace, especially in descriptions and dramatic narrative. Compare this effect with the more regular sort of paragraphs used in argumentative texts.
Beginnings & endings
The two most important aspects of any essay are how to begin and how to finish.
Opening sentence: If you don't begin in an interesting way, a reader will hardly be encouraged to go on reading. If you end weakly, any power you have achieved or interest you have aroused in the body of your essay will be dissipated. Examples:
How did that alligator get in the bath?' demanded my father one morning at breakfast. (The opening of a short story called «My Pet».)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
The night before young Larsen left to take up his new appointment in Egypt he went to the clairvoyante. («By Water», Algernon Blackwood)
There are two types of selfishness: doing what you wanto to do, and making others do what you want. (Book review in New Statesman, Michael Holroyd)
When Carmella gave me the present of a hearing trumpet she may have foreseen some of the consequences. (The Hearing Trumpet, Leonora Carrington)
As with so much of the knowledge we have inherited, women appear as deficient - or deviant - in studies of language and sex. (Man Made Language, Dale Spender)
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. (The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
Some guide-lines which emerge from these examples:
* Try the surprise attack or shock tactics.
* Use a quotation to introduce your argument.
* Try to use words to create an atmosphere.
* Begin with a wittily-phrased summing-up of an idea.
* Begin with a question.
* Begin pushing the reader to wonder why? or what happens next? or what's it all about?
How effective are they in arresting your attention? Do they make their effect by the idea or the expression of the idea or both? What do you think about them?
Bad beginnings: To avoid a bad beginning, get to the subject-matter straight away and stick to it till the end, but avoid obvious statements, they are boring for a beginning. Examples of bad beginnings:
Water has many uses. (Title: Water)
As with most questions, there are two sides of the argument. (Title: Capital Punishment)
It was a hot summer's day (Title: A Hot Summer's Day)
Endings: Begin at the beginning, said Lewis Carroll's King of Hearts, and go on till you come to the end; then stop. This is good advice. When you have said what you want to say stop, don't go rambling on repeating yourself. But how to stop?
If you begin your final paragraph with a sentence like this: Summing up then... In conclusion... So it can be seen that... you are almost certain to be boring and obvious, and you are very likely to be in danger of repeating what you have already said. Try to leave the reader with a surprise, a new angle , an original point of view which leaves her thinking. It must be relevant to the subject and to what you have already written but should give a new insight into the subject. Above all, end strongly and firmly. Don't just fade away.
What method can you use to make an ending effective - shock?, surprise?, firm conclusion?, inevitability?, fresh angle?, a climax?, an intentional anti-climax?