Getting Ready to Write

This section of this textbook will present information on preparing to write an essay. It includes the following topics:

  • understanding the assignment
  • generating ideas
  • introductions and thesis statements
  • body paragraphs
  • conclusions

How we organize our ideas reflects our culture and perspectives. There are certainly more ways to organize ideas in a essay than what is included below.

What have you learned about organizing ideas in writing? Talk to your instructor and classmates about your ideas to see what information and knowledge you can gather collectively about organizing ideas in writing. Together, your knowledge base is a powerful resource for learning!

Part 1: Understanding the Assignment

Good morning. Ready, set, write.
“Good morning. Ready, set, write.” by Mandajuice is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

A. Warm up: Think about the questions below to prepare you for the topic. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. Do you have any strategies you use when you read through the instructions of an assignment? What are they?
  2. What are some other ways to find support when the directions for an assignment feel unclear?

B. Five Steps > Looking for the Pieces: Reading the directions for an assignment can sometimes feel overwhelming. There are usually many important details to consider and it can be challenging to know where to focus and how to get started. Often, this may feel like you are trying to find the pieces of a puzzle, to put it all together. Imagine you are looking for puzzle pieces to understand the whole picture of the assignment. Use the following five steps to help you:

Puzzle
“Puzzle” by ellajphillips is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Five Steps!

  1. Use a highlighter to mark key words that seem important in the assignment details.
  2. Underline the phrases that show what you need to do in order to complete the assignment well.
  3. Talk with your classmate(s) about what you highlighted and underlined. Did you mark the same words and phrases?
  4. Review the assignment one more time. Circle anything that you have questions about or would like to know more about. Which parts did you circle?
  5. Ask your instructor and check with your classmates about your questions.

Note: Most often, your questions will help your classmates understand the assignment better and will help the instructor improve their assignment instructions and materials. Your questions are important! Do not hesitate to ask them!

C. Sample Assignment #1: Here’s a sample assignment from an English language class. Use the Five Steps in Part B to identify the key details you need to know in order to succeed. Check what you marked and noticed with your classmate(s).

Essay #1: Assignment Details

For your first writing assignment in this course, we will work on writing an essay and on using a source to support your ideas. Having read the article “Three Steps for Finding Your Perfect Job” by Lana Mena, think of the ideal job for you. Now think of reasons why this would be a good job for you. Write an essay to explain why this is your ideal job. Support your essay using your own ideas as well as some from the article.

Requirements:

  • Use MLA format requirements (refer to the syllabus for details)
  • Include an original title (and the Essay draft #)
  • Write an essay with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion
  • Edit for sentence structure and clarity of ideas. 
  • Refer to the article source in your essay.

D. More Practice! Choose another assignment from a  course you are taking. Practice finding the “puzzle pieces” using the Five Steps strategy to help better understand the assignment. Talk to the instructor, a writing center tutor, or classmate(s) about your notes.

Part 2: Generating ideas: Brainstorming

'The Journey', Australia, Wilson Promenade
The Journey’, Australia, Wilson Promenade” by WanderingtheWorld. CC BY-NC 2.0.

A. Warm up: How do you usually come up with ideas for a topic? Do you have any strategies that help you generate thoughts, feelings, and examples related to a topic? Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

B. Getting Started: The first step in beginning to write, whether you are writing a paragraph, an essay, a letter, or any other type of longer piece of writing, is to make time to think deeply about the topic. This requires time to think of your ideas. Teachers sometimes call this “brainstorming.”

idea
“idea” by Tony Dowler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tip! Consider brainstorming in whichever language you feel most comfortable in. You could even brainstorm using multiple languages together. This is called code meshing (combining two languages for communication). You may also try code switching (switching from one language to another based on the topic, situation or environment). Many multilingual speakers find code meshing, code switching and other mixings of language helpful and natural for communicating freely.

The main goal of brainstorming is to allow yourself space and time to think without boundaries, limitations, or judgments. Do what you need to make that possible and see how many ideas you can think of. In the brainstorming phase, you should not worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. This is because, when we start to think about rules like these, we create a limit to our thinking. The most important part of brainstorming is the ideas that come from the practice!

C. Brainstorming Styles: There are many ways to brainstorm on a topic. Try a few different brainstorming styles to see which fits you best. Here are some brainstorming techniques to try:

Style 1: Listing

List your ideas using bullet points or numbers with short phrases or words.

  1. _____________________
  2. _____________________
  3. _____________________
  4. _____________________
  5. _____________________

Style 2: Clustering

Use a web diagram with circles to show your ideas related to your topic.

Career-Mind-map-Chalk
“Career-Mind-map-Chalk” by flazingo_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Style 3: Freewriting 

Write about the topic without stopping to see what ideas come to mind. Try to keep writing without thinking too carefully about grammar, punctuation or vocabulary.

#Freewriting
“#Freewriting” by giulia.forsythe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here are some additional ways to generate ideas.

  • Some learners generate ideas about a topic by using their body to help them think. You might go for a walk or do some stretching and then come back to the topic to see what ideas came to mind as you connected your mind and body.
  • Others might prefer to talk and think out loud with a partner (a family member, a classmate, a friend, etc.) about the topic. You might consider recording yourself using an audio recorder to keep track of the ideas that come to your mind.
  • Refer to this helpful resource to find out more about brainstorming techniques.

Note: If you are finding it difficult to think of ideas related to a topic, it might be a good idea to consider another topic that you have more to say about. Talk to your instructor if and when you feel stuck or unsure about brainstorming on a topic. Sometimes the first step is the hardest one, so please don’t hesitate to ask for support!

Part 3: Introductions

Think
“Think” by aftab. is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A. Warm up: What type of information do you usually include in the first paragraph, the introduction, of an essay? List a few things that you would expect to see in an introduction. Then check your notes with your classmate(s) or with your instructor. Did you list the same things? Talk about your ideas.

B. Multiple Ways of Building an Introduction: An introduction in an essay introduces your reader to the topic you will be writing about. Imagine that your goal is to help your audience become familiar with the general topic of your essay. It also delivers the goal and focus of the body paragraph(s) of your essay. In this section, we will explore different ways of building an introduction to help your reader follow your ideas and plan for writing. Some of the items that are usually included in the introduction of an essay are:

  • an attention getter (sometimes called “a hook”, making the reader want to read more)
    • a quote, a statistic, an interesting fact, a question, a brief story, a scenario, etc.
  • general information about the topic
  • a thesis statement (see Part 4 for more information about what a thesis statement is)

The order and length of these items can vary. For longer essays and research papers, for example, an introduction, sometimes will include multiple paragraphs . For now, we will work on multiple organizational patterns that can present the topic and thesis statement to your reader. It is important to note that there is no one way to write an introduction, but rather, multiple ways to build on your ideas and prepare your reader for the body paragraphs of your essay. Here are some example styles using the topic of community organizer Dolores Huerta, from a chapter in this textbook. Notice that the thesis statements have been underlined.

Style 1: Hook, General Information, Thesis Statement

Have you heard of Dolores Huerta? What about Cesar Chavez? In the United States, most people are familiar with Cesar Chavez, but not many people know who Dolores Huerta is or what her contributions have been to the farmworkers movement. Dolores Huerta is the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (now called the United Farm Workers). She created the union chant ¡Si, Se Puede! and was a key leader in negotiating farm workers´ rights in California. She has also been awarded multiple national awards. There are three major contributions that civil rights activist Dolores Huerta has made to the community.

Style 2: Thesis Statement, General Information

Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta has made remarkable contributions to our community. In the United States, most people are familiar with Cesar Chavez, but not many people know who Dolores Huerta is or what her contributions have been to the farmworkers movement. Dolores Huerta is the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (now called the United Farm Workers). She created the union chant ¡Si, Se Puede! and was a key leader in negotiating farm workers´ rights in California. She has also been awarded multiple national awards.

Style 3: General Information, Thesis Statement

In the United States, most people are familiar with Cesar Chavez, but not many people know who Dolores Huerta is or what her contributions have been to the farmworkers movement. Dolores Huerta is the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (now called the United Farm Workers). She created the union chant ¡Si, Se Puede! and was a key leader in negotiating farm workers´ rights in California. She has also been awarded multiple national awards. Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta has made remarkable contributions to our community.

Style 4: Hook, Thesis Statement, General Information

Have you heard of Dolores Huerta? What about Cesar Chavez? In the United States, most people are familiar with Cesar Chavez, but not many people know who Dolores Huerta is or what her contributions have been to the farmworkers movement.  Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta has made remarkable contributions to our community. Dolores Huerta is the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (now called the United Farm Workers). She created the union chant ¡Si, Se Puede! and was a key leader in negotiating farm workers´ rights in California. She has also been awarded multiple national awards.

C. Reflection: Are some of the sample styles in Part B more familiar or comfortable for you than others? Which style(s) do you think you would like to try? Are there any additional patterns for organizing an introduction that you know about?

Part 4: Thesis Statements

Kennington goal
“Kennington goal” by tubb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A. Warm up: Discuss the questions with a partner or in a small group. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. What do you think a thesis statement is?
  2. What do you think is the purpose of a thesis statement?

B. Thesis Statements: A thesis statement is a sentence (sometimes more than one) that tells your reader the focused topic you will write about in the body paragraphs of the essay. A thesis states the topic and what you will say about the topic. Generally, thesis statements can be divided into two types: implied or stated. Keep in mind that as with most writing, there certainly are other approaches to writing a thesis statement. Think of the following styles of thesis statements as building blocks to get you started and feeling confident. Your instructor may have other samples and styles to share.

Implied Thesis: this type of thesis names the general focus of the essay and is usually shorter in length.

EX 1: In this essay, I will explain the key elements of my identity.

EX 2: There are three key elements to my sense of identity.

Stated Thesis: this type of thesis names the focus and exact points of the essay and is usually a bit longer. Note: A stated thesis may also involve using a colon “:’ to introduce the points that will follow in the body paragraphs)

EX 1: There are three key elements to my identity: my Latina heritage, spoken languages, and collectivist culture.

EX 2: My Latina heritage, spoken languages, and collectivist culture are important parts of my identity.

It may also be helpful to think in threes when you are creating a thesis statement. In other words, think of the 3 points (or 2 or 4, etc.) you will develop in your essay. This might look like three parts of a story, three causes, three characteristics, three effects etc., depending on the topic. Imagine the thesis as a road map  that tells your reader which direction you are going so that they can join you on the journey you are taking them.

C. Practice! For each (writing topic below), write one stated and one implied thesis. Then reflect on which thesis style you think will work best for you.

Topic 1: What does it mean to be successful to you? Does it mean having a lot of money, being healthy, being happy, having a lot of friends, changing the world? Explain what your personal definition is of happiness.

  • Implied:
  • Stated:

Topic 2: What is a social justice issue that you care deeply about? Tell why you care about this issue and how our community can help address it.

  • Implied:
  • Stated:

Topic 3: Taking an online class can be both exciting and challenging. Explain the benefits or disadvantages of taking classes online. Give reasons to support your opinion.

  • Implied:
  • Stated:

Part 5: The Body Paragraphs 

Flying in the same direction
“Flying in the same direction” by Infomastern is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A. Warm up: Discuss the questions with a partner or in a small group. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. What is a body paragraph?
  2. Where is it usually located in an essay?
  3. What types of information do body paragraphs usually provide?
  4. What questions do you have about writing the body paragraphs in an essay?

B. The Body Paragraph(s): The body of the essay is made up of one or more paragraphs. Each of these paragraphs has a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and sometimes a concluding sentence. Each of the body paragraphs supports the thesis statement. There are many ways to support a thesis statement in the body paragraph(s). Read the sample thesis statement. Then review the topic sentences as well as some of the supporting points for each body paragraph .

Sample Thesis Statement: My mother is the strongest person I know; There are so many reasons why I admire her.

First, my mother cares deeply for everyone in our family.

  • Support/Detail: Sends notes of love and support to her daughters
  • Support/Detail: Makes special meals for our family

Second, she worked hard to get a good job and faced many obstacles.

  • Support/Detail: Did not finish college
  • Support/Detail: Passed the court interpreter’s examination – bilingual

Also, another reason why I admire my mother is that she speaks her mind.

  • Support/Detail: Not shy, has strong opinions
  • Support/Detail: Teaches me to stand up for myself

C. Developing Support: It can sometimes feel difficult to know what type of support we can include in the body paragraph(s) of an essay. Imagine that your reader does not know about the topic and it is up to you to help guide the reader through your points by showing examples and details that will make your points clear.

Here are some ways to support the points of a body paragraph:

  • With a story that shows your point or ideas
  • With detailed language that describes something (adjectives and figurative language)
  • With metaphors, analogies, or similes
  • With examples from your life or imagined examples to show your point
  • With research, quotes and/or statistics

D. Practice! Read the sample implied thesis statements below. Imagine you are preparing to write an essay about the topic using the thesis statements provided. Write a topic sentence for each supporting body paragraph and add possible supporting details for each point.

Note: The underlined sections in each sample thesis show the topic/focus of the essay. The italicized words show the way you might organize the body paragraphs.

A college education should be free for all students for several reasons.

1. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

2. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

3. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

My culture has many strengths and values that I feel very proud of.

1. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

2. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

3. ____________________________________________________________

Support/Detail:

Support/Detail:

E. Reflection: There are many different ways to provide support. Can you think of other ways to support the body paragraphs of an essay? Do you have any questions about developing support in an essay?

Part 6: Conclusions

A. Warm up: Discuss the questions with a partner or in a small group. Talk about your ideas with your classmate(s).

  1. What is a conclusion paragraph?
  2. What types of information does a conclusion usually provide?
  3. What questions do you have about writing a conclusion paragraph in an essay?

B. The Conclusion Paragraph(s): To conclude means to finish or end something. A concluding paragraph ends the essay for the reader. This may include:

  • using a key phrase to show your essay is ending (i.e. In the end, In conclusion, Finally, etc.)
  • repeating the key points you have made in the essay to be sure the reader understands and remembers them (try using alternative language here to rephrase the thesis points).
  • adding a final comment about the topic in general, giving your reader something to think about or reflect on in the future (this could be a prediction, a personal reflection, a piece of advice for your reader).

There is no exact formula for what a conclusion must include. It can be one paragraph or sometimes more than one paragraph (usually this depends on the overall length of the essay). The main goal is to be sure your reader is reminded of what your essay focused on and why it matters. Here is a sample conclusion based on a sample thesis statement:

Sample Thesis: My sister has several characteristics that make her a wonderful person.

Sample Conclusion: In conclusion, there are many great things about my sister. She is kind, intelligent, and serious about her goals. I have learned a lot about what it takes to be a good person from her. In the future, I hope I can model after her examples and make the same impression on others.

C. Practice! Read the sample thesis statement (see below). Imagine you need to write the concluding paragraph about the topic using the thesis statement provided. Write your sample conclusion in the space. Keep in mind the examples and notes in Part B to guide you.

Sample Thesis: My classmates in this English language class are some of the most intelligent, hard-working, and kind students at our community college.

Sample Conclusion: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

D. Reflection: There are certainly more ways to write a concluding paragraph than what has been presented in this section. Can you think of other ways to finish an essay? Do you have any questions about writing a conclusion paragraph?

License

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Writing for Change: An Advanced ELL Resource by Inés Poblet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.