1: Getting Started
Quick Tips for Writing Top-Notch Essays
Writing is a process that consists of a series of stages. Those stages are broadly divided into three categories: prewriting, drafting and revising. Although we tend to think of these stages as distinct, it is not unusual to move back and forth between them because writing is recursive, not linear.
For example, you may have completed a first draft of an essay, and in the peer-review process, your editing partner may have suggested that a section of the paper needs further development. You now need to go back to the idea development/information gathering stage of the process.
Or perhaps in the revision stage you notice that one of your arguments could be bolstered by additional expert testimony. Now you must gather more information and draft a new section of the essay.
Although the movement back and forth through the stages can be frustrating, attention to the fluidity of the process will produce a stronger, better developed essay.
Where should you begin?
Before you even move to prewriting strategies, you should begin with the teacher's assignment. Your understanding of the assignment is the first step in creating a successful response to it. The following steps will guide you through the process:
- Read the assignment carefully. What is the paper's context? How does it fit into the readings and class discussions you've been working on? What kind of learning experience does the teacher want you to have? What are his or her goals in asking you to complete this essay?
- Look for terms that direct you. Is the assignment asking you to summarize, synthesize, analyze or make an argument? Or is it asking you to do all four? Do you have a clear understanding of the terms used?
- Does the assignment give specific suggestions to direct you? In the example below you are being asked to analyze two cultural variants of the "Cinderella" story and determine what cultural values and beliefs they communicate. The instructor suggests that examining the story's instructions to young girls might be a useful avenue of exploration. This suggestion might direct you in the prewriting/information gathering process.
- Does the instructor include any comments on his or her writing expectations? If so, make note of any comments that might be useful in the drafting and revision process. For example, the instructor who created the Cinderella assignment specifies a general audience and notes that analysis is the primary goal of the essay assignment. She specifies that summary should be brief and "only provide enough information to allow your reader to understand your analysis."
- Does the instructor include format expectations? Does the instructor include page length? If it is a researched paper, does the instructor specify the number and kinds of sources that should be used? Does the instructor require or suggest that you use specific data bases? Has the instructor provided you with a means of evaluating your sources? If not specified, ask your instructor for these guidelines.
Due date: October 16, 2009
Length: 4-5 pages
Review the six cultural variants of the "Cinderella" story read and discussed in class, and select two for analysis. Examine them specifically for the cultural values and beliefs they transmit. Think of the stories as containing a set of instructions to children on the endorsed behaviors of the time period and place from which the story emerges. Because the audience for "Cinderella" is primarily female, you might want to explore the gender expectations transmitted to young girls. Because you are writing for a general audience and cannot assume their familiarity with the stories you are writing about, you should offer a brief summary of each story. Remember, your summary should provide only enough information to allow your reader to understand your analysis. This is not a research paper. Your "Works Cited" page will contain only your primary sources, the two stories you choose to analyze. This essay should be formatted according to the guidelines on page L20 of the Loyola University Chicago Edition of the Bedford Handbook.