The Writer's Toolbox is a collection of resources for students and educators that will assist in the writing process. The toolbox consists of six components.
This four-page handout guides students through the basics of the process of writing an essay. Using friendly language and down-to-earth examples, it provides a foundation for solid academic writing in virtually any genre.
This guide explains not only how to choose a topic for a particular assignment, but also how to use life experiences to build a library of possible ideas to use in the future.
Teachers know that a solid structure is crucial to writing clarity and effectiveness. Outlines often make the difference between an essay that rambles or inappropriately diverges versus one that meets its goal. This handout helps students learn the techniques of creating an outline, including an example.
The thesis statement of any essay sets out its controlling purpose, and a strong thesis statement guides and influences writing in a way a weak one cannot. This handout explores how to create a strong thesis statement through examples of what not to do with accompanying revisions.
An ability to truly revise, not just make superficial changes, is as rare as it is necessary. This handout has two parts. In the first, writers are guided on how to approach their drafts with fresh eyes and really revise it. In the second, a peer editing exercise is shared that will allow teachers to have multiple students give feedback to the writer on various components of the essay prior to the revision.
Moving smoothly from one idea or paragraph to another creates clarity and ease of idea flow. This comprehensive handout shares literally hundreds of transitions writers can use within sentences, paragraphs and sections of papers. They are divided into easy-to-use sections and listed in alphabetical order within those sections.
This handout explains the basic components of a basic essay. After you are comfortable with the structure of this essay, you will find your own writing voice and expand upon what you've learned.
Every essay begins with an introduction. Keep the following points in mind:
An oversimplification of the broad to narrow idea is: animals, pets, types of pets, dogs, my dog Bruno.
Example: Many unpleasant parts of growing up seem unavoidable. Pimples happen, voices crack and students worry all the time about their looks and their changing bodies. In time, the pimples disappear, the voices deepen and the worries recede. Unfortunately, one all-too-common aspect of growing up, bullying, can have lasting negative results. Young people must avoid bullying in any of its forms &mdsah; physical, verbal or social.
Ideas for your opening sentence include:
The last sentence of your introduction is your thesis. It states the general subject of the essay. This is what your essay is about. A thesis asserts the main idea you will develop in your writing. It summarizes your ideas and suggests your point of view toward it.
Your body paragraphs are the meat of your essay. They flesh out the idea you put forward in your thesis. They should be well-organized and clearly relate back to the thesis. Each body paragraph will begin with a topic sentence.
Each body paragraph will have a topic sentence, as well as details from the story and your thoughts on those details.
Example of body paragraph:
The commentary sentences are underlined. Do you see how the concrete detail is something that actually happened in the story? You don't have to say, "this shows"; it's just here to demonstrate the commentary. The conclusion sentence is the last one. It ties it all together and explains why what the earlier sentences said was important. You do not have to use this pattern (with the exception of the topic and concluding sentences — those are required); it's just one effective solution. The more writing you do, the less you will need to relay on a set structure.
The essay's conclusion leaves the reader feeling that you have covered your topic thoroughly. Avoid these "killer phrases:"
The purpose of the conclusion is to remind the reader of your excellent points you presented in the essay, to reinforce your ideas, and to reinvigorate your arguments, just in case the reader forgot how great they were. Don't start throwing in a bunch of stuff you wish you'd said. Save it for another essay. This one's done.
The form of the conclusion is important. Just as the introduction was an upside-down triangle, the conclusion is a triangle, too. This time, it's right-side up. You will begin with a restatement of your thesis. What does that mean? It means you will remind your reader what your thesis was in slightly different words.
After you re-write your thesis, now you have to write the body of this paragraph. It's so easy! You just remind the reader of your previous points. Mentally put the phrase "remember how" before each body sentence.
For example, let's say you are writing an essay about the character of Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet" and you have one paragraph on how immature Romeo is. In your conclusion you would mentally think, "Remember how," and then you would write, "Romeo reveals his immaturity when he sees no other way to deal with Juliet's death than by taking his own life." Now repeat this for every major idea in your essay.
At the end of the introduction, think to yourself, "If you remember all those things, then you will know that…" and then write what conclusion the reader should be able to draw from the ideas you discussed in your essay.
For example, let's go back to our Romeo idea. Let's say your essay talked about Romeo's character and you have reminded the reader about all of the points you brought out in your body paragraphs. Now, you think to yourself, "If you remember all of this, you will know that" and then you write something like, "The actions and attitudes of a single character can transform the lives of those around him."
This is a broad statement. It deals with broader issues that just those related to this particular essay. It's what we call a "universal truth." Think about it. How many of you know people whose actions have seriously impacted people around him or her? We all do. This is why it's a universal truth. To write one for your essay, you have to think about how what you wrote about applies to the world beyond your essay.
This may seem intimidating. You may be thinking that you can't do this. You may be thinking that you don't understand it. Writing is learned by doing it.
You can't learn to ride a bike by reading about how to do it in a book, and you can't learn to write by complaining about how you don't like it.
Pick up your pen and follow the directions. You can do it! Step by step, line by line, it will come to you. You will soon be writing better than you ever thought you could. You may even enjoy it!
A Swiss man, looking for directions, pulls up at a bus stop where two Americans are waiting.
"Entschuldigung, koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?" he asks.
The two Americans just stare at him.
"Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?" he tries. The two continue to stare.
"Pariare Italiano?" No response.
"Hablan ustedes Espanol?" Still nothing.
The Swiss guy drives off, extremely disgusted.
The first American turns to the second and say, "Y'know, maybe we should learn a foreign language."
"Why?" says the other. "That guy knew four languages, and it didn't do him any good."
In this joke, it didn't matter how smart the Swiss guy was, or how many ways he could say what he was saying. What mattered was that he didn't know where he was going. In an essay, not knowing where you are going is like being the guy in this joke. It doesn't matter how smart you are: if you don't know where you're going, you won't get there.
Your teacher may give you a topic, but sometimes you will have to select one. Sometimes you may need to further narrow or even expand the assigned topic. If you have to come up with your own topic, here is how you find and decide on a topic, how to narrow a topic, and how to keep your eyes open for topics in general.
One key idea is that must have something to say about the topic that is not simply repeating what everyone has said before. On a scale of 1 to 10, you should care about the topic at least a six or you will not have the cognitive energy to sustain the essay.
1. Brainstorming possibilities: If you need a topic to write about, you should simply begin listing as many potential topics as possible without taking the time to decide whether each one is good for your assignment or not. You simply want to get a list of as many topics as you can in the time that you have. No judging allowed! Just list.
2. Sentence completion: Complete as many of the sentences below as make sense in the context of your assignment in as many ways as you can. Try to word your sentence beginnings so that they lead you to a topic you can use for your writing. You can think of your own sentence beginnings to get your "topic brainwaves" flowing.
3. Be alert for "found" topics: These are topics which you find unexpectedly as you are shopping, walking, driving, eating lunch at McDonald's or hanging out with friends, or even listening to the lyrics of your favorite song. You might come across an unusual event, person, place, or conversation.
4. Experience: Experience as many different aspects of your community as you can. Visit museums, churches, parks, libraries, businesses, factories, schools, colleges. As you expand the scope of your world, you will naturally build a supply of ideas. Write in a journal on a regular basis, entering your personal feelings, opinions, and observations of your daily experience. All of your experiences are fair game for future writing.
5. Observe: Watch and listen carefully to everything and everyone when you are looking for a topic. Think about possible topics as you read. Talk to people (friends, parents, grandparents, neighbors, workers) about their ideas and experiences. People who are interested are interesting.
6. Read magazines and newspapers: The table of contents of your favorite magazine could help you discover an idea for a topic. A newspaper could give you a current event or interest topic.
If you are asked to write about literature, the ideas listed below will help you choose a specific focus for your analysis.
Theme: You can write about one of the themes presented in your selection.
Characterization and plots: You can explore aspects of character and plot development.
Setting: You may want to analyze the role of the setting in the story.
Style: You can give special attention to the author's style of writing.
Author: You can focus on the life and times of the author.
Goal: Find a sensible method of arranging your evidence in the form of an outline.
What is it? An outline is an abbreviated picture of the parts of your paper or project and the order in which they will come. You can think of it as a "road map" of your journey toward making a final product. A thorough outline will make writing the first draft much more simple.
Why do it? It helps you to…
How to do it: Take all of your research and ideas and separate it into subtopics. Figure out the most logical flow of information, the best order for the information to be in, using the subtopics you have created. Think about the different possible orders in which you could present each group of ideas.
Should the ideas in pile one be presented first, or those in pile three? Why? Look for relationships between the ideas and information in each subtopic, as well as between subtopics.
Put your subtopics, with the key points that support them, in words or short phrases, into draft outline form that shows how they will flow from beginning to end.
Draft outline form is a formal outline used as a basis for your rough draft. It can be in either sentence or topic (words, phrases, or clauses) form. Note that your outline:
Thesis: Steinbeck's novel expresses a strong political message warning that exploitation of migrant workers would cause them to rise up as a group against their oppressors, the state and the wealthy landowners.
Resources: McDougal Littell Writing Research Papers