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year of the rabbit

Writing a Good Essay
by Rick

It is not an easy task to create an excellent essay especially during a test situation. You don’t always get to write on a topic that isimportant to you,and you don’t have the time to research or think about the topic. Consequently, you are often struggling with what to discuss, what examples to include, how to connect the subtopics and a lot of other considerations. That said, it may be helpful to divide your time that allows you to create the best essay you can. For myself, writing a good essay requires sufficient planning, proper drafting and thoughtful revision.

I like to start my essay by exploring my choices. If I can only choose from two topics, I will always pick the one that I know most about. Trying to talk about something you have not thought about already can be a frustrating experience. Regardless, even though you may not think you know a topic very well, you will actually be surprised at how much you can come up with by “brainstorming” I prefer to put the question or topic in the middle of a blank piece of paper. From there I write down as many questions relating to the topic as I can. For example, if the topic is, “Discuss character in ‘Alice in Wonderland’” I might ask myself the following : What were my favourite/ least favourite characters? What makes a good character? Do the characters remind me of people or other characters I know? What characters in other stories do I like and why? Which character do I relate to? Are the characters symbols of something else? After I have generated a significant number of questions,I try to answer to answer them. Surprisingly, some questions will stimulate further questions and some interesting answers as well. Suppose you are looking at the question, what is your favourite character? This is an easy question to answer, for usually we prefer one character to the others in any story. I personally liked the character of the Mad Hatter. When you prefer something, there are usually reasons for this preference. For instance, I liked the Hatter because he said some pretty interesting things. He recited the nonsensical poem “The Jabberwocky” with such emotion and intensity that he gave the poem meaning. Also, the character swung back and forth between sanity and insanity. It is interesting to note that when the Hatter was sane his voice deepened and his accent changed. As you can see this one question and answer has suddenly become the backbone of one of my three supporting paragraphs; it is focused, has examples, metaphores and personal feelings. Suddenly, your brainstorm has transformed into a category five “Brainhurricane”

After my braincyclone is complete and my paper is filled with many ideas, I choose the three best ideas. Usually “best” means the ideas that generate the most examples and strongest feelings.  Each chosen idea will become a body paragraph. As with all body paragraphs, each will have a topic sentence, supporting details with examples and opinions and a concluding sentence. You should all be quite familiar with the form of the body paragraph, so I won’t bore you with discussion about them. The important lesson to learn here is that rich sentences can be created from the products of your brainstorm. Just remember, although a good rhetorical question can stimulate the reader, using questions as topic sentences as topic sentences is not advisable. But don’t panic. Good interrogative sentences can be rewritten into good declarative sentences. Take the question “What did I like about the Hatter?”. This can easily be stated “ The Mad Hatter is the most interesting character in the film.” In fact, a good way to test whether your topic sentence is “on-topic” is to restate it as a question. If the restated question poorly matches the supporting details, you have two choices: come up with better support or create a new topic sentence that matches the support. The other important piece to consider when writing is the “hook” and the “clincher”. It is often difficult to find a good hook, so when I am creatively drained, I rely on a personal anecdote. In the conclusion, a prediction is always a safe clincher.

The final part of the essay writing process is the revision. If time permits it might be a good idea to write a second draft. Double spacing your writing makes revision a little easier for obvious reasons, and if you don’t have time a proofread and edited first draft is acceptable. Proofreading is looking for mistakes in grammar and spelling. If you are like me, you probably already know the biggest weaknesses in your writing. My advice is to choose your two main weak areas and focus on those. Editing is adding and removing information to help clarify and improve the essay. You will occasionally, come up with better examples than the one you used originally.Furthermore, you may need transitional sentences that connect one idea to the next.  Also, if you notice a lot of repetition in your essay, now would be a good time to think of synonyms, and varying sentence structure.

Writing a good essay takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. Read as much as you can and try to write on topics that are meaningful to you. In time your writing will improve and you will develop an approach to writing you will use for the rest of your life. Incidentally, I used the process discussed above to write this essay.



(February 7, 2011)

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