Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Write an Essay 1 - General Advice

Notes from The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker, 7th Edition

Why Writing Matters:

1. Writing is a way to organize and clarify your ideas.

2. You learn as you write, because it helps you think.

3. Writing is a chance to impress and persuade people––it can be powerful. Good writing shows people your intelligence and education.

General Essay Writing Advice:

1. Good writing is meaningful. Write about what you care about, and learn to care about what you write.

2. The biggest opponent in every essay is boredom. Your challenge is to make whatever you write important, whether it be topical, exciting, funny, or just plain interesting. The longer a piece of writing, the harder it is to keep one's interest, so keep your work as short as possible, while maintaining clarity and accuracy. You'll never win an argument if you put your readers to sleep.

3. Establish a firm viewpoint. Have a point to make, even if your essay is mostly informative.

4. Acknowledge and dispose of the opposition. In some essays, for example, when you describe a poem or story, there won't be much to argue about. But, on controversial topics, you must show your understanding of the opposition, or it will seem that you haven't really studied the subject.

5. Also know that your opposition will vary. "Some of your audience will agree with you but for different reasons. Others may disagree hotly. You need, then, to imagine what these varying objections may be, as if you were before a meeting in open discussion."

6. Consider your readers, and prepare your writing for "the invisible public." An essay is not a letter to your teacher or a diary entry. Think about the questions these readers might ask you, or what they might object to. "You imagine yourself addressing slightly different personalities when you write about snorkeling and when you write about nuclear reactors."

7. Never talk down to your audience. Don't assume they're inferior, don't insult them. Assume they're just as intelligent as you.

8. Don't lose your personality or voice in an overly-serious attitude. Work like a scholar or scientist, but write like a human being. Organize it logically, but keep the tone and movement of a good conversation, in your own voice.
9. Plan to Rewrite. Your writing always improves with each rewrite and it helps you as a speaker and test taker. Ideally, you'll write four drafts for every essay. Take some time between each draft, so you return with a fresh mind. Then, it will be easier to see mistakes. Your essay is your voice. If you don't take it seriously, why should anyone else?
10. Don't take yourself too seriously. No one knows everything. Don't act like you do, and don't be embarrassed that you don't. Your job is simply to present evidence, enough to show that what you think is probably true. Treat your investigation like a science experiment, with your thesis being the hypothesis. Draw your own conclusion, then leave it for others to debate.

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