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English Grammar Essays Writing Tips


Rule 1. Use concrete rather than vague language.

Vague:The weather was of an extreme nature on the West Coast.
This sentence raises frustrating questions: When did this extreme weather occur? What does "of an extreme nature" mean? Where on the West Coast did this take place?

Concrete:California had unusually cold weather last week.

Rule 2. Use active voice whenever possible. Active voice means the subject is performing the verb. Passive voice means the subject receives the action.

Active:Barry hit the ball.

Passive:The ball was hit.

Notice that the party responsible for the action—in the previous example, whoever hit the ball—may not even appear when using passive voice. So passive voice is a useful option when the responsible party is not known.

Example:My watch was stolen.

NOTE

The passive voice has often been criticized as something employed by people in power to avoid responsibility:

Example:Mistakes were made.

Translation:I made mistakes.

Rule 3. Avoid overusing there is, there are, it is, it was, etc.

Example:There is a case of meningitis that was reported in the newspaper.

Revision:A case of meningitis was reported in the newspaper.

Even better:The newspaper reported a case of meningitis. (Active voice)

Example:It is important to signal before making a left turn.

Revision:
Signaling before making a left turn is important.
OR
Signaling before a left turn is important.
OR
You should signal before making a left turn.

Example:There are some revisions that must be made.

Revision:Some revisions must be made. (Passive voice)

Even better:Please make some revisions. (Active voice)

Rule 4. To avoid confusion (and pompousness), don't use two negatives to make a positive without good reason.

Unnecessary:He is not unwilling to help.

Better:He is willing to help.

Sometimes a not un- construction may be desirable, perhaps even necessary:

Example:The book is uneven but not uninteresting.

However, the novelist-essayist George Orwell warned of its abuse with this deliberately silly sentence: "A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field."


Rule 5. Use consistent grammatical form when offering several ideas. This is called parallel construction.

Correct:I admire people who are honest, reliable, and sincere.
Note that are applies to and makes sense with each of the three adjectives at the end.

Incorrect:I admire people who are honest, reliable, and have sincerity.
In this version, are does not make sense with have sincerity, and have sincerity doesn't belong with the two adjectives honest and reliable.

Correct:You should check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Note that check your applies to and makes sense with each of the three nouns at the end.

Incorrect:You should check your spelling, grammar, and punctuate properly.
Here, check your does not make sense with punctuate properly, and punctuate properly doesn't belong with the two nouns spelling and grammar. The result is a jarringly inept sentence.

Rule 6. Word order can make or ruin a sentence. If you start a sentence with an incomplete phrase or clause, such as While crossing the street or Forgotten by history, it must be followed closely by the person or thing it describes. Furthermore, that person or thing is always the main subject of the sentence. Breaking this rule results in the dreaded, all-too-common dangling modifier, or dangler.

Dangler:Forgotten by history, his autograph was worthless.
The problem: his autograph shouldn't come right after history, because he was forgotten, not his autograph.

Correct:He was forgotten by history, and his autograph was worthless.

Dangler:Born in Chicago, my first book was about the 1871 fire.
The problem: the sentence wants to say I was born in Chicago, but to a careful reader, it says that my first book was born there.

Correct:I was born in Chicago, and my first book was about the 1871 fire.

Adding -ing to a verb (as in crossing in the example that follows) results in a versatile word called a participle, which can be a noun, adjective, or adverb. Rule 6 applies to all sentences with a participle in the beginning. Participles require placing the actor immediately after the opening phrase or clause.

Dangler:While crossing the street, the bus hit her. (Wrong: the bus was not crossing.)

Correct:
While crossing the street, she was hit by a bus.
OR
She was hit by a bus while crossing the street.


Rule 7. Place descriptive words and phrases as close as is practical to the words they modify.

Ill-advised:I have a cake that Mollie baked in my lunch bag.
Cake is too far from lunch bag, making the sentence ambiguous and silly.

Better:In my lunch bag is a cake that Mollie baked.

Rule 8. A sentence fragment is usually an oversight, or a bad idea. It occurs when you have only a phrase or dependent clause but are missing an independent clause.

Sentence fragment:After the show ended.

Full sentence:After the show ended, we had coffee.

Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.

According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:

1. Pick a topic.

You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.

If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?

Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.

Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.

2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.

In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.

To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.

If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.

3. Write your thesis statement.

Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?

Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”

Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”

4. Write the body.

The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.

5. Write the introduction.

Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.

Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.

6. Write the conclusion.

The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.

7. Add the finishing touches.

After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.

Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.

Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.

Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.

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