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Write-ups on Writing
Common Problems with Essay Writing
Don’t assume that readers are defining your terms the way you are. Make sure you clarify how you define key analytical terms and keep you definitions consistent to avoid the equivocation of un-alike terms
Don’t give claims or arguments that can’t be supported from other examples within the text. One example does not constitute “proof” of an argument or claim. Look for more support before making a claim or argument.
William of Ockham, a philosopher and theologian in the 1300's, stated that when making a claim, it is best to base your reasoning on simple premises; that the more complicated your premises are, the more likely your arguments will be easily refutable. The implication of this is what is known as "Occam's Razor", which basically says that if there are two possible answers to a question, assume the simplest solution is the best unless you can find extra evidence to support the more complex solution.
Arguing from the Negative
Avoid basing your arguments on what the author doesn’t say or on the abscence of something in the text. Rather, base you arguments and claims on what the author actually wrote.
A comma cannot be used to combine two complete sentences / independent clauses. Instead, use a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon.
(Incorrect) My mom is great, she makes me peanut butter sandwiches every morning.
(Correct) My mom is great because she makes me peanut butter sandwiches every morning.
(Correct) My mom is great; she makes me peanut butter sandwiches every morning.
Commas with complex sentences
When beginning a complex sentence with a dependent clause, put a comma after hat clause before attaching the independent clause.
Example: Because I like fish, I work on a tuna-boat.
When beginning a complex sentence with an independent clause, do not use a comma when attaching a dependent clause
Example: I work on a tuna-boat because I like fish.
When using verbs to introduce or explain citations, keep verbs in the present tense.
(Incorrect) In the play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo told Juliet that she was “the sun.”
(Correct) In the play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo tells Juliet that she is “the sun.”
Subject – Verb agreement
Make sure that the noun correctly corresponds to the verb. If the subject is singular, the verb should be as well.
1. When the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and, use a plural verb. (John and his girlfriend are in love)
2. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, use a singular verb. (The money or the watch is under the drawer)
3. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer the verb. (The boy or his friends play every day)
4. Do not be misled by a phrase that comes between the subject and the verb. The verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase. (The woman who owns all the dogs walks down the street)
Voice: Essays require the use of an objective voice. To accomplish this, use indefinite pronouns in an essay rather than 1st or 2nd person pronouns.
(Incorrect) From the evidence you can see that Shane is an heroic figure.
(Correct) From the evidence one can see that Shane is an heroic figure
Gender: When trying to avoiding sexist language in writing, avoid awkward pronoun usage by making the subject plural rather than singular. For example, substitute “they” for “he/she” or “them” for “him/her”.
Passive voice occurs when the subject of a sentence receives the action rather than performs it. Though not grammatically incorrect, it makes the writing less clear. When proofreading correct errors by making sure the subject does the action of the verb of the sentence (active voice).
(Passive) The villain was killed by the hero.
(Active) The hero killed the villain.
Always introduce your quotes. Quotes should not stand by themselves as separate sentences. Your quote should tie the quote to your meaning by referring to your larger point.
(Incorrect) Joe understands the nature of Shane’s dilemma quite well. “Don’t you think I know, Marian?”
(Correct) Joe demonstrates that he understands the nature of Shane’s dilemma quite well when he tells his wife, “Don’t you think I know, Marian?”
When introducing quotes, avoid stating that the quote is a quote (“in this quote”); it is redundant.
Use single quotes within regular quotations when characters speak within quotations.
Use ellipses (…) when editing quotes so that just a portion of the whole quote is used.
Problems with Citation________________________________________________________
After any citation or quote from a published text (a formal source), use parenthetical citation at the end of the quote or citation.
Parenthetical citation should include the author’s last name and the page number of the citation or quote.
To punctuate quotes using parenthetical citation, put the quotation marks just after the quote and the period that ends the quote after the parentheses.
“’ Dead shot…’ echoed Jem.
‘ That’s what I said, Jem Finch. Guess you’ll change your tune now. The very idea, didn’t you know his nickname was Ol’ One Shot when he was a boy?...’” (Lee 98).
Essay introductions are sometimes difficult to write. This is because they often delay getting to the point, or they lose the reader in a florid barrage of superfluous verbiage (this last sentence is a prime example). Often, students are told to write opening introductions that “hook” the readers’ interest, but what, exactly, does that mean? It may sound artistic and aesthetically convincing and all, but how does it address the abilities of a reluctant writer who lacks the natural talent for writing (or, rather, it often seems, a talent for “laying it on with a trowel”)?
The objective of this write-up, then, is to give systematic and, yes, formulaic assistance towards the writing of an effective opening introduction to an essay. Formulas get a bad rap, but I would offer that math equations express perfect truth and they are based on formulas. These formulas are logical, sequential, comprehensible, and easily duplicated. Why should writing not be equally effective?
There are, generally, five types of introductions writers tend to use as effective introductions to essays. They are:
Writing topic sentences
All essay paragraphs begin with topic sentences. A topic sentence tells the readers on what the paragraph will focus. Topic sentences can be very straightforward, as in the following example:
"A primary theme in the novel, The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, is the struggle for mastery."
This is a simple and effective topic sentence. However, there are times when a topic sentence should have a bit more sophistication to it, especially when the subject is more complex. One suggestion is to use what is called an "Occasion-Position" statement
Occasion-position statements as topic sentences
If the school adopts this policy, the consequences could be horrendous.
Even though students should have some homework, giving an excessive amount can have detrimental effects on students.
In order to better understand the poem, one should analyze Dickinson's use of metaphor.
While the gods are the main focus of the Greek myths, the human heroes often demonstrate the most admirable moral lessons found in them.
Since all Greek myths are humanist in nature, analyzing these myths can reveal universal lessons in the human experience.