Academic Support Center Online Writing Lab

Welcome to the DeVry Addison Online Writing Lab (OWL).


Grammar and Mechanics Parts of Speech Punctuation Sentences Writing
Additional Resources

Did you not find what you need here? Do you need more help? Following is a brief list of additional writing resources. Each OWL in this list has links to other sites. The largest OWL on the Internet is the Purdue University site. One of the most student friendly OWLs is the Grammar and Writing Guide site.



The rules for abbreviations in academic writing are simple.
Spell out words, except standard abbreviations, in formal writing.

Wrong: We will meet Sue & Doc. John in the SUB at 6 on Fri.

Right: We will meet Sue and Dr. John in the Student Union Building at 6:00 p.m. on Friday.


Writers in different disciplines follow various rules for presenting numbers in print. In college essays, the rules are simple.

  1. Spell out any number that can be written in one or two words unless you are writing a paper that contains many figures. Seven million nine hundred eighty-seven 764,745 forty-two percent 250.
  2. Do not start a sentence with a number.
  3. Use numbers for dates, addresses, time.
    Our class will start on October 15, 2000, at 9:00 a.m.
    I live at 700 Main Street, Orlando, Florida 32807.

Adjectives and Adverbs

We cannot describe anything without using adjectives and adverbs. These words specify item, color, size, place, time, extent, etc. Adjectives usually come before the nouns and pronouns that they modify, but they may also follow them, and they answer many questions:

What kind? Which one? How many? What color? What size?

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They also answer many questions:

When? Where? How? How often? How much? To what degree? Why?

Most, but not all, adverbs end in ly. The best way to recognize adverbs is to understand how they work in sentences.

We must be careful not to misuse adjectives and adverbs. Although many words in the English language can be a noun in one sentence, a verb in another, an adjective here, and an adverb there, we must be careful not to misuse some words.

Good is an adjective. It is never an adverb. One cannot play good.

Well is an adverb. It is never an adjective. One does play well.

Adjectives and adverbs are often used for comparison.

  • The positive degree is the simplest form of an adjective or adverb; it involves no comparison.
    This red book is big.
    The small dog runs fast.
    The child quickly opened the present.

  • The comparative degree shows a relationship between two things. To form the comparative degree, we add er to a word, or we use the word more or less with the positive form of a word.
    This green book is bigger than the red book.
    The medium dog runs faster than the small dog.
    The child opened the bigger present more quickly.

  • The superlative degree shows the relationship among three or more things. To form the superlative degree, we add est to a word, or we use the word most or least with the positive form of the word.
    Yes, but this yellow book is the biggest of the three.
    The big dog runs the fastest of all the dogs.
    The child opened the biggest present most quickly.

Of course, in English some words change completely when compared. Good becomes better and best. Bad becomes worse and worst. Many becomes more and most. Be aware of changes, and keep a dictionary handy.

Do you remember my telling you that we should always strive for clarity in our writing? Trouble sneaks in occasionally when we work with adjective and adverb phrases and clauses (Do you remember the difference in a phrase and a clause?), and we create confusion for our readers. This trouble appears when we place modifiers in positions where they may be misread. Look at the following sentence:

Running down the sidewalk, the garden hose tripped Junior.

Who was running down the street? The garden hose? We know that a garden hose cannot run, but that's what the sentence says. We need to revise the sentence:

Running down the sidewalk, Junior tripped over the garden hose.

We can also create trouble by placing any word in the wrong place. Look at the differences in these sentences.

The almost exhausted man finished the marathon. (The man is not quite exhausted.)

The exhausted man almost finished the marathon. (The man is exhausted, and he didn't quite finish the race.

We almost won a million dollars in the lottery. (We didn't win anything.)

We won almost a million dollars in the lottery. (We won a lot of money, but less than a million dollars.)

Be aware of the placement of words. Say exactly what you intend to say.


The boy went to the store, and the boy bought some bread because the boy wanted to make a sandwich for the boy and the boy's girlfriend before the boy and the boy's girlfriend went to a movie that the boy and the boy's girlfriend had been waiting to see. The boy and the boy's girlfriend ate quickly so that the boy and the boy's girlfriend would not be late, but when the boy and the boy's girlfriend arrived at the theater, the boy and the boy's girlfriend discovered that the boy and the boy's girlfriend had the boy's and the boy's girlfriend's dates mixed up. The movie would not arrive at the theater for another week. The boy and the boy's girlfriend went home disappointed.

Wow! Did you read that paragraph? Doesn't it sound awful? Why? Don't you gettired of seeing/hearing "the boy and the boy's girlfriend"? Does the following paragraph sound better?

The boy went to the store, and he bought some bread because he wanted to make a sandwich for himself and his girlfriend before they went to a movie that they had been waiting to see. They ate quickly so that they would not be late, but when they arrived at the theater, they discovered that they had their dates mixed up. The movie would not arrive at the theater for another week. They went home disappointed.

What is the difference in the two paragraphs? That's right! Pronouns! Without pronouns, what we say can be awkward, wordy, and complicated. We must respect pronouns, however. We can't just throw them around haphazardly. Like everything else regarding the English language, we have to follow rules.

Verbs - Tense, Mood, Voice

Verbs are arguably the most important words in sentences because they indicate exactly what happens. They also indicate time-when the action takes place. When speaking of verbs and time, we use the word tense. The three basic tenses are past, present, and future. Not all actions fit neatly into those three categories, however. Sometimes actions start in the past and continue into the present, and they may go on into the future. To properly state action, we must sometimes use the helping verbs has and have. Probably no one will ask you to tell whether a verb is in the present tense, past perfect tense, or future progressive tense. You will simply need to use verbs correctly in your writing. The key is consistency; if you start in one tense, you should stay in it and not jump back and forth between tenses.

Another little piece of verb knowledge regards the mood of verbs. Mood expresses the attitude of the writer. Verbs have several moods:

  • Indicative - used for statements of fact and for asking questions
  • Subjunctive - makes a statement contrary to fact
    • This is the only mood that may sound strange, so you need to be aware of it.
    • Example: If I were you, I would stay in school.
      • I can never be someone else, so this is contrary to fact.

  • Imperative - expresses a command
  • Conditional - used for statements that depend on each other; one statement is true only if another statement is true

We have one other item to cover regarding verbs: voice. Voice tells us whether the subject of a sentence is the actor or is acted upon. Most of the time in formal writing we want to use active voice because it is more immediate and places the reader closer to the action. Rarely will we use passive voice because it distances the reader from the action. Wouldn't you rather attend a good party than have someone tell you about it? It is more exciting, more fun to be in the center of the action. Active voice is more exciting, more fun. Passive voice allows us only to hear about the excitement and fun.

  • Active voice example: John ate the whole pie!
  • Passive voice example: The whole pie was eaten by John.


Punctuation - Commas and Semicolons

When we speak, we pause for emphasis or to catch our breath. In written sentences, commas show these pauses. Commas also work like road signs to guide readers to the message that we want to convey. The textbook gives us many comma rules, too many to remember. Some of them simply state specialized cases of other rules. If you learn the basics, everything else will fall into place. As always, we strive for clarity so that readers receive the precise message that we send.

  1. Place a comma before a conjunction in a compound sentence

    Mary went to the store, and she bought some bread.
  2. Place a comma after an introductory phrase or clause

    When I was in school, I turned in every assignment on time.

    If you want to succeed in this class, you must complete all assignments.

    Consequently, you will receive a good grade.

    Daniel, what are you doing?
  3. Use commas to set off parenthetical words, phrases, and clauses (words, phrases, and clauses that you can remove and still have a good sentence)

    Martha, my older daughter, teaches math.

    She rushed, holding the report in her hand, down the hall to the office.
  4. Use commas to separate items in a series.

    The college raised fees, reduced maintenance, fired assistant professors, turned down the heat, but went bankrupt anyway.

    Mathilda tried on prom dresses of red, blue, and yellow, and green polka dots.

    HOT TIP: Grammar rules say that the comma before the conjunction and final item of a series is optional. As you can see in the last example, if we don't put a comma after yellow, we might have a yellow-and-green-polka-dot dress instead of a yellow dress and a green-polka-dot dress. If you put the comma before the conjunction, you will never be wrong; if you don't put the comma before the conjunction, readers may misinterpret your writing.
  5. Use commas with quotation marks to set off direction quotations from the clause that names the source of the quotation (except when other punctuation is used)

    "I'm sorry," she said, "but all sections of the course are closed."

    "Are you sure?" he asked.

  6. Use commas to separate parts of dates, addresses, and numbers

    Susie lives at 601 Main Street, Orlando, Florida, and has for ten years.

    (Notice the comma after Florida.)

    Jody enlisted on April 15, 1983, and began boot camp on April 16.

    (Notice the comma after 1983.)

    Based on the last census, Orlando has a population of 1, 784, 693.

    HOT TIP: Avoid overusing commas. Learn the rules and apply them consistently.

Semicolons are stronger than commas, but not as strong as a period. If you think of road signs, a comma is a Yield sign, and a period is a Stop sign. Consider a semicolon a rolling stop. We use semicolons in two conditions:

  1. To join closely related independent clauses

    Mary needed bread; she went to the store.

  2. To separate items in a series when one or more items contain commas

    Several people went to see Cirque du Soleil at Downtown Disney last night: John, my older brother; Adam, a friend; Mary; and I.

Without the semicolons, we wouldn't know whether my older brother is Adam, John, or a separate person; or whether the friend is Mary, Adam, or another person.

Commas seem to give some people fits, and semicolons seem to intimidate. Learn a few rules and gain control over these punctuation marks. They will make your life easier....


Other Punctuation

This section deals with punctuation other than commas and semicolons. We'll start with end punctuation: periods, question marks, and exclamation points.

Place periods at the ends of sentences that make simple statements, give mild commands or make mild requests, or ask indirect questions.

Use question marks after sentences that ask clear, direct questions.

Exclamation points appear at the ends of sentences that show shock, surprise, or some other strong emotion. Use them sparingly.

Other punctuation marks include apostrophes, quotation marks, dashes, colons, parentheses, brackets, slashes, ellipses, and hyphens.

We use apostrophes to show possession and to indicate that words, numbers, or letters have been deleted.

  • Possession:
    • Singular words-add an apostrophe followed by an "s"
      Judy's car Mr. Jones's house
    • Plural words:
      • If the plural is formed by adding an "s," just add an apostrophe
      • If the plural does not end in "s," add an apostrophe and an "s"
        The Joneses' house
        The children's room
        The boys' bicycles

HOT TIP: It may help to remember that the item belongs to whatever is to the left of the apostrophe.

  • Contractions:
    • The apostrophe goes where the omission occurs.
      do not = don't
      1999 = '99
      it is = it's
      you all = y'all

Quotation marksenclose titles of poems, magazine articles, newspaper articles, songs, short stories, essays, and other short works. They also enclose words spoken in dialogue, words taken verbatim from someone else's work, and words and phrases to which you want to give emphasis.

Did you read John's essay titled "How to Make an 'A' in English Class"? John said, "Making an 'A' is easy if you know how." Anyone can make an "A" if he or she works at it.

Dashes set off words, phrases, sentences for special emphasis. They are dramatic markers and should be used sparingly.

I can write-and I write well-but I don't like to write.

Use the colon to introduce lists, to indicate the time of day, to separate a title and subtitle of a work. Colons also follow salutations in business letters.

We need three things: paper, pen, and a desire to succeed. Our plane leaves at 7:03 p.m. tomorrow. Have you read Composition: Staying Composed While Composing? Dear Dr. Edwards:

Parentheses always work in pairs. Use them to set off information that breaks the flow of thought within a sentence or paragraph.

You should receive your paycheck on Wednesday (or as soon thereafter as the mail carrier delivers it).

Square brackets set off material within quoted matter that is not part of the quotation, and sometimes they enclose editorial notes, page numbers, or other documentation inserted in a text.

In formal writing, we use slashes only to separate lines of poetry when the lines do not occur as originally written.

An ellipsis indicates omitted words, phrases, or sentences-usually in quoted material.

Hyphens are bridges between words. We use them to form compound words like mother-in-law and terms like state-of-the-art.

My brother is a one-of-a-kind-food-consuming machine.

You will rarely use these last punctuation marks, but you should keep a grammar handbook handy so that you can look up the rules governing them if you need to use them.


Phrase, Clause, Sentence

Although no one out there in the real world will ever ask you to pick out the subjects and verbs in sentences, and no one will ask you if a pronoun agrees with its antecedent, you need to understand these and other grammatical things so that your professors and you can discuss your writing, what you're doing well and areas on which you need to focus. In school, we concentrate on standard formal English. That means that we follow the conventions set forth by the Modern Language Association (MLA), the collection of scholars, the "they" who make all rules governing the English language. We may speak in our various dialects and use our colloquialisms in conversations, but we must write formally. Things acceptable in informal oral communications are taboo in formal written communications.

We'll start with phrases, clauses, and sentences. How do we differentiate these three items?

  • A phrase is a group of related words.
  • A clause is a group of related words that contains both a subject and verb. We have two primary types of clauses.
    • An independent clause expresses a complete thought, so it can stand by itself.
    • A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, expresses only part of a thought, so it cannot stand alone.
  • A sentence is an independent clause that may or may not be combined with other clauses to convey a complete, and sometimes complex, thought.

You must be able to recognize phrases, sentences, and clauses so that you can tell whether you have written complete sentences and so that you can punctuate your sentences correctly.

To determine whether a group of words is a phrase or a clause, you must be able to find the subject and predicate. (Predicate is another term for a verb.)

  • The subject is the part of a sentence that tells who or what the sentence is about. To find the subject, ask who or what is doing something.
  • The predicate is the part of a sentence that asserts something about the subject. It expresses action or state of being. To find the predicate, ask what the subject is doing.

HOT TIP: Because verbs change form to show time (tense), you can locate verbs easily by forcing a change in a sentence. If you use a word like yesterday, today, or tomorrow at the start of a sentence whose verb you're trying to identify, the only word that changes will be the verb.

Mary writes letters to her grandparents.
Yesterday, Mary wrote letters to her grandparents.
Tomorrow, Mary will write letters to her grandparents.
Since writes is the only word that changes, writes is the verb.

Once you find the verb, you can easily find the subject by asking who or what does the action of the verb.

Example: Who writes? Mary writes, so Mary is the subject of the sentence.

HOT TIP: The subject of a sentence will NEVER be in a prepositional phrase. This is important to know because subjects and verbs must agree in number (singular/plural). Sometimes the object of a preposition comes between a subject and verb, making the subject a little more difficult to find and causing agreement errors.

In the example sentences, we also have a direct object and an indirect object.

  • A direct object is something or someone that directly receives the action of the verb.
    Example: What does Mary write? She writes letters, so letters is the direct object.
  • An indirect object is someone for whom or to whom the action is done.
    Example: To whom does Mary write the letters? She writes to her grandparents, so grandparents is the indirect object.

Many other elements occur in sentences. Our language would be pretty boring if we had only subjects and verbs, direct objects and indirect objects in our sentences. We couldn't say all that we want to say without other parts of speech.

While we're discussing sentences, you should know that there are four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. The number of independent and dependent clauses determines the type of sentence.

  • A simple sentence contains one independent clause.
    Example: Mary went to the store.
  • A compound sentence contains two independent clauses that usually are joined in one of two ways:
  • A comma and coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet)
    Example: Mary went to the store, and she bought some bread.
  • A semicolon
    Example: Mary went to the store; she bought some bread.

HOT TIP: Omitting the comma makes this a run-on sentence. Because this is the number one error in student writing, you should pay close attention to this rule. Notice that there is a subject and verb on both sides of the conjunction and semicolon.

  • A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
    Example: Mary went to the store because she needed bread.
  • A compound-complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
    Example: Mary went to the store, and she bought some bread that she needed.


Run-on and Fragment

In formal writing, we must write in complete sentences, and we want to increase the level of sophistication. In our efforts to construct sophisticated sentences, however, we sometimes fail to include proper punctuation. When this happens, we create run-ons and comma splices. We must pay close attention to our sentence structures, because run-ons and comma splices will quickly destroy an otherwise good piece of writing.

Remember that every independent clause has a subject and verb set, so a run-on sentence has more than one subject-verb set without proper punctuation between the sets.
Example run-on: Mary went to the store she bought some bread.
Corrected: Mary went to the store; she bought some bread.

Example run-on: Mary went to the store and she bought some bread.
Corrected: Mary went to the store, and she bought some bread.

We can correct run-ons in several ways:

  • Separate simple sentences
  • Semicolon between the clauses
  • Comma and coordinating conjunction between the clauses

We use the above correction methods when the ideas in each clause carry equal weight. Sometimes, however, we can make one clause depend on another by using a subordinator like when, because, although, if, etc.

Example: Mary bought some bread when she went to the store.
Example: When she went to the store, Mary bought some bread.
Example: If she goes to the store, Mary will buy some bread.
Example: Mary will buy some bread if she goes to the store.

Notice that when the dependent clause begins the sentence, a comma separates the clauses. When the dependent clause comes at the end of the sentence, no comma is needed.

HOT TIP: When you start a sentence with a subordinating word, you set up a condition. When you get to the end of the condition, you put a comma and then say what will happen if the condition is met.

Example: If she goes to the store, she will buy some bread.
What will happen if she goes to the store? She will buy some bread.

Occasionally in our efforts to eliminate run-on sentences, we create fragments. A fragment can be a phrase without a subject and verb; or it can be a dependent clause, which has a subject and verb but cannot stand alone because it does not express a complete thought. You must proofread carefully to find and eliminate fragments. Following are some ways to correct fragments:
  • Join the fragment to the sentence that comes before it or the sentence that follows it. Your intended meaning will determine where the fragment goes.
  • Add or remove words to convert a fragment into a complete sentence.
  • Change the form of words (look particularly at verbs) in the fragment to create a complete sentence.

HOT TIP: Reading your work slowly and aloud will help you find sentence errors. Read only what is on the paper; neither add words that are not there nor omit words that are there. Your ears will detect problems more easily than your eyes.


Coordination, Subordination, Parallelism

One of our goals in college is to improve our writing, to make it more sophisticated. One step toward achieving this goal involves sentence structures. We want to write well-constructed compound-complex sentences so that we can express multiple layers of thought. If we write only simple sentences, our work will sound elementary. To achieve our desired level of sophistication, we can combine thoughts through coordination and/or subordination. We must be careful, however, that our combinations carry their intended weight.

We can establish equal emphasis between parts of a sentence by using coordinating conjunctions or suitable punctuation or both. Coordination gives equal emphasis to words and ideas as well as clauses.

Example: John and Mary rode their bikes and swam in the pool for exercise, and they were tired at the end of the day.

Coordination (equal emphasis):
  • John and Mary
  • rode their bikes and swam in the pool
  • John and Mary rode their bikes and swam in the pool for exercise, and they were tired at the end of the day.
HOT TIP: You must be careful not to create comma splices and run-on sentences when you join independent clauses.

When you coordinate, you must assure balance by using the same form in each part. We call the repetition of grammatical structure parallelism. To be parallel all the items must match, must be in the same part of speech, and must follow the same form.
  • Example: John and Mary rode their bikes and swimming in the pool. This sentence sounds strange because the verbs are not parallel.
    Corrected: John and Mary rode their bikes and swam in the pool.
  • Example: They like to ride, swim, and cooking together.
    This sentence sounds strange because cooking has an ing, and ride and swim do not. These words are not parallel.
    Corrected: They like to ride, swim, and cook together.

In some sentences, one idea depends on another. One condition or event may cause another; one event may come before another; one observation may explain another. Subordination establishes the dependence of one idea on another by shifting emphasis away from supporting elements so that major statements emerge clearly. You can subordinate single words, phrases, and clauses by using subordinating conjunctions (like after, because, if, since, when, although, unless, etc.) or by embedding words and ideas. Embedding compresses a great deal of information into a few words by establishing subordination.

Example: John and Mary exercised. They have bikes. They rode them. They swam in the pool. They got tired. The day ended.

  • After riding their bikes and swimming in the pool for exercise, John and Mary were tired at the end of the day.
  • John and Mary were tired at the end of the day because they had ridden their bikes and swum in the pool for exercise.
  • John and Mary, after riding their bikes and swimming in the pool for exercise, were tired at the end of the day.


Subject-Verb Agreement

You have identified subjects and verbs in sentences. Now we will discuss some specific details regarding those subjects and verbs, specifically agreement. Subjects and verbs must agree in person and number.

Number refers to whether a subject and verb are singular or plural. If a subject is singular, the verb must be singular also. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural. For most speakers of English, this agreement occurs automatically; however, we do have rules that control the forms of subjects and verbs. Of course, the English language contains many, many exceptions to the rules.

Most singular nouns do not end in s; most singular verbs do end in s.
  The baby wants her toy.
  The teacher writes on the chalkboard.
  The child plays happily.

Most plural nouns end in s; most plural verbs do not end in s.
  The babies want their toys.
  The teachers write on the chalkboard.
  The children play happily.

As you know, not all subjects of sentences are nouns. We can also use pronouns as subjects. When we use pronouns, we must address person when checking for subject-verb agreement.

First person : I (singular)    we (plural)
Second person: you (singular)    you (plural)
Third person: he, she, it (singular)    they (plural)
  • Third person singular pronouns require singular verbs.
  • First person I requires the plural form although it is singular.
  • Second person you requires the plural form in both singular and plural instances.
  • Plural pronouns require plural verbs.
  • Two singular nouns or pronouns joined by and create a plural subject and require a plural verb.  Jami sings beautifully.
      Jackson sings beautifully.
      Jami and Jackson sing beautifully.

HOT TIP: Words can come between the subject and verb in a sentence. Remember that the subject is NEVER in a prepositional phrase, and it is NEVER in a phrase or clause that is set off by commas. (Grammar Check often chooses the noun closest to the verb as the subject of the sentence, so you need to be smarter than Grammar Check.)

  • The words or and nor indicate choice. If both words in the choice are singular, then the verb is singular.
    Either the teacher or the student writes well.

    If both words in the choice are plural, then the verb is plural.

    Either the teachers or the students write well.

    If one word is singular and one word is plural, then the word closest to the verb controls the form of the verb.

    Either the teachers or the student writes well.
    Either the teacher or the students write well.

  • Indefinite pronouns (anybody, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, one) are singular and require singular verbs.
    Everyone loves his or her teacher.

  • Relative pronouns who, that, which can be singular or plural, depending on the noun to which they refer.
    The student who completes the work early will receive a reward.
    The students who complete the work early will receive rewards.

  • Collective nouns refer to a unit and require singular verbs.
    The jury reaches a verdict.
    The team plays its last game next Saturday.

  • Some nouns look plural although they are singular.
    Economics is a difficult class.
    Politics is a subject that I avoid.
Always check your work for subject-verb agreement.


Spelling and Capitalization

Correct spelling is a sign of literacy. Errors in spelling and grammar give people the impression that you are careless or ignorant, which invalidates anything you have to say. Now you will not learn to spell every word in the English language in one easy lesson, so I will not try to convince you that you can. I can only recommend that you keep a good dictionary handy - and use it. Also, take advantage of your computer spellchecker, but remember that the computer does not identify words that are misused. If it recognizes a group of letters as a word, it will accept that word even if it is used incorrectly. You must be smarter than the spellchecker.

We may not be able to fix all the spelling problems, but we can work on capitalization by noting a few rules:
  • Capitalize proper nouns and their abbreviations
         Mary     Uncle John     January     Sept.     House of Blues
  • Capitalize historical events, names of movements, and titles of literary and art works
         the Civil War     Louisiana Purchase     Romanticism     Star Wars
  • Capitalize the first word of dialogue
        She cried, "Help!"


Underlining and Italicizing

Italics give words a special designation. Anything that should be underlined in writing may be italicized when using a word processing program. Underlining and italicizing are the same thing, but you never do both. So what do we italicize?

  • Titles of books, magazines, newspapers, movies, paintings, ships, television shows (series, not individual episodes), ships, aircraft, court cases
  • Foreign words and phrases
  • Letters used as words
  • Words that we want to emphasize


Introduction to Writing and the Writing Process

I don't like to write . . . but I love having written!

I am Miss. S. A. Writer, your guide to grammar, writing and research. Students frequently inform me that they don't like to write. They don't like all the time required to get their thoughts on paper. They don't like having to make their writing conform to "all those stupid rules." They don't like hearing the criticisms of their peers and teachers. They don't like receiving papers "bloodied" by their teachers' red pens. They don't like seeing the words, sentences, and paragraphs that they placed on their papers overruled by comments of "frag," "agmt," "RO," "logic," "punct," or other problem indicator. I listen to the students, and as they speak, I nod my head in agreement because I share their sentiments. Writing, for me, is a painful process. My mind races with ideas, and my thoughts run in all directions. It takes me forever to gather them and get them down on paper. When I finally accomplish that goal, I look at my work and think "What a mess!" It takes me hours to write a paper and get it to an acceptable level-not necessarily perfect, but something I can live with. In college, my professors always complimented my work, and my grades indicated writing excellence. I've published a couple of pieces, so apparently I do write well. Although I can accept that fact, I still don't like to write . . . but I love having written. I enjoy the satisfaction of completing a task. I enjoy seeing other people read my words, accept them, and validate my thoughts by their acceptance. I enjoy moving people to laughter, tears, introspection, action, or whatever emotion the piece evokes. I love the power of the written word.

Why do I tell you all this? Whether you like writing or hate it, you can write-and you can write well. You may have much to learn about writing, but you can learn. If you already write well, you can become even better. Even the most successful contemporary writers-Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Danielle Steel, Maya Angelou, and others-readily admit that they learn something new with every project they undertake. Writing, like any other skill, requires practice. So, let&'s begin.

Writing is a process that consists of five steps: prewriting, writing, revising, editing, and publishing (also delineated in a PowerPoint presentation). Each step moves you closer to your final product.

  • Prewriting: Generating ideas and details
    • Questioning
    • Freewriting
    • Listing
    • Diagramming
    • Outlining
  • Writing: Assembling ideas and details into sentences and paragraphs
  • Revising: Working with content-reorganizing sentences and paragraphs, adding details, deleting superfluous details, including transitions-to achieve your writing purpose.
  • Editing: Proofreading and checking sentence skills: grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and usage
  • Publishing: Printing your final paper

This process is recursive, which means that the steps may be repeated as many times as necessary to achieve a satisfactory final product.

HOT TIP: When proofreading, read your paper aloud. Read only what is on the paper; do not add words that are not on the paper or delete words that are there. Reading aloud enables your ears to pick up problems that your eyes overlook.


Thesis Sentence

Basic Requirements of a Thesis Sentence
  1. It states the essay's subject, defines the limited subject, and provides a test for what material should go into the essay.
  2. It reflects the essay's purpose, a clear and definite commitment that expresses the writer's stand on the topic.
  3. It includes a focus, an assertion that conveys the writer's point of view.
  4. It uses specific language, wording that is precise, unambiguous, and grammatically correct.
  5. It is a single declarative sentence that contains both the subject and main point about the subject.
  6. It usually appears in the first paragraph of the essay. At DeVry DuPage, the thesis sentence will always be the last sentence of the first paragraph. It establishes the structure of the essay. By writing the main thought in one sentence and placing it at the beginning of the essay, the writer will be better able to stay focused during additional drafting stages, and the reader will quickly have a clear sense of the purpose of the essay.
  7. It may give the major subdivisions of the essay's topic.
What a Thesis Sentence Is Not
  • It is not a question: Will the Gators win the national championship?
  • It is not a title: The National Championship
  • It is not simply a statement of fact: The Gators will win the national championship.
  • It is not an announcement: In this essay I will discuss why the Gators will win the national championship.

Thesis: The University of Florida Gators will win the national championship because of a superior offensive line, an aggressive defense, and a seasoned quarterback.


Writing a Paragraph

As you write papers for class or for any reason, ask yourself two questions, and then make sure that anyone who reads your papers can answer them: "What is my point? What is my support for that point?" Clearly state your point and support it with specific details.

A paragraph for a formal academic essay should contain 150 words or more. It does not necessarily consist of five sentences. It does have a topic sentence, a sentence that states the main point, followed by other sentences that provide specific details that support the main point.

A slideshow summarizes the process for writing a paragraph.


Writing an Essay

The basic process for writing an essay is the same as the one used in writing a paragraph. We follow the same steps. An essay, however, requires more thought and effort not only because it contains more information but also because we must provide road signs to guide our readers to a shared understanding of our thoughts.

An important part of any essay is the introduction. Like most areas of life, we want to make a good first impression. We must stimulate readers' interest and place the thesis in a meaningful context. Five strategies help create a context:

  • Supply background information: This is like setting the scene for a play. You lead up to the thesis by identifying a situation, events, or issues that are relevant to your point.
  • Relate an anecdote: An anecdote is a brief story or narration of an event. The story may illustrate your thesis, or it may show how you arrived at the idea for your essay.
  • Use a quotation from a book, poem, newspaper or magazine article, expert in a field, famous person, personal interview, etc. If you begin with a quotation, you need to explain what it means and how it relates to your thesis.
  • Use interesting facts and figures: Facts and figures such as dates, times, names of people, places, and statistics add interest and realism to your writing.
  • Ask a rhetorical question: A question used in an introduction should be new, surprising, or something readers may not have thought to ask.

Once you create interest and tell your audience what you intend to discuss, you must develop the body of your essay. You must state your message clearly and completely so that readers can identify with you and follow your ideas. You must move logically from one point to the next. Transitions play a major role in moving the reader along with you.

A good conclusion brings your essay to a close that satisfies readers and does not leave them hanging. Have you ever watched a movie that just left you hanging at the end? It gave no clear resolution of the conflict and left you disappointed? Well, similar feelings occur when an essay has no clear conclusion. The reader gets to the end, turns the page, and finds nothing there. You need to make clear that you have said all you intend to say about your topic. You don't want to say, "That's all, folks," or "The end" or "In conclusion." You should be more creative than that. You can end an essay in many of the same ways that you start one-anecdote, quotation, facts and figures. You should never simply repeat your introduction, but you can state the same ideas in different ways.


Revising an Essay

When students write paragraphs and essays for class assignments, they frequently and quickly throw something on a piece of paper and turn it in, thinking it is good enough. Sometimes it is good enough-when a student has innate writing talent. More often, however, the writing is not good enough, the student receives a low grade, and the student's distaste for writing increases. Only when students become involved with their writing will their skills improve. To become involved, students must care about what they say and how they say it. They must also want to become better writers, and they must be willing to look critically at their work and to accept suggestions for improvement. They must revise and rewrite until they overcome weaknesses. Just as athletes must train constantly to improve their skills, so must writers train constantly. It takes time to develop good writing skills and habits.

Most of the time when we talk with our friends, family, and coworkers, we don't worry about the grammatical correctness of what we say. As long as we communicate, we're okay. People overlook, or are unaware of, our mistakes. When we write, however, we must write correctly. We must be aware of our mistakes so that we can eliminate them. The revision process forces us to focus on finding and eliminating errors. It forces us to look critically at our work.

When we receive papers that have low grades on them, we must review them, look at our most serious problems, look at repeated problems, examine the rules for correcting those problems, and apply the rules to our writing. When we prepare our next piece of writing, we should look back at our previous work, review the rules and corrections that we made, check specifically for those kinds of errors in our current work, and correct them. This process seems tedious, but it pays off. It is the only way that we can become better writers and receive those high grades that we desire.

Following is a checklist for revising your papers. Print it and keep it handy so that you may refer to it often.

Revision Checklist
  1. Review your goals. Study your outline. Read any instructions your instructor may have given to make sure your paper meets the assignment.
  2. Does the introduction grab the reader's attention? Does it set up the rest of the paper?
  3. Is the thesis clear?
  4. Are there enough facts and details to support your thesis?
  5. Are your ideas clearly organized and transitions logical?
  6. Are there repetitive or irrelevant details that could be deleted? Are there missing or confusing ideas?
  7. Is the language precise? Are there vague phrases that could be more sharply stated?
  8. Does the tone or "feel" of the paper suit your audience?
  9. Does the conclusion bring the paper to a logical end?

HOT TIP: Read your paper aloud. It is far easier to hear errors than to see them.


Writing an Argument-Persuasion Essay

Argument and Persuasion

What is it?

Arguments are assertions designed to convince readers to accept an idea, adopt a solution, or change their opinions. Writers use reason and facts to support their arguments, often disproving or disputing conflicting theories or alternative proposals in the process.

Three basic appeals:

Logic: reasoned arguments and evidence that support a point of view or proposed action:
  • Test results
  • Statistics
  • Expert testimony
  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Surveys
Emotion: images, sensations, or shock techniques that lead people to react in a desired manner by calling on their deeply felt needs and desires:
  • Creativity
  • Achievement
  • Independence
  • Conformity
  • Endurance
  • Fear
Ethics: combination of reasoning and deeply held convictions that reflect shared values:
  • Religion
  • Patriotism
  • Standards
  • Humanitarianism

Note: Effective writers frequently mix factual details with emotional appeals.

Appealing to Hostile Readers
  • Openly admit differences
  • Address opposing viewpoints
  • Avoid judgmental statements
  • Stress shared values, experiences, problems
  • Ask readers to maintain an open mind
  • Overcome negative stereotypes


Comparison and Contrast

A Compare/Contrast paper shows how things are alike or different. It does not have to address both sides; it may simply indicate similarities, or it may address only differences.

  1. To explain by drawing distinctions between related subjects
    1. Eliminate confusion
    2. Inform: fairly show both subjects, but do not choose one over the other

  2. To persuade readers to make a choice
    1. Eliminate confusion
    2. Persuade: show how one subject is preferable to the other
      1. TV commercials-product superiority
      2. Political ads-one candidate is better than another
      3. Business proposals-one product/service is better than another
Selecting Topics:

Be sure subjects share enough common points for meaningful discussion. If a point is addressed on Subject A, it must also be addressed on Subject B.

When comparing broad or complex subjects, carefully limit the topic.

  1. Subject-by-subject
    • Divide the paper into two sections
      State all information about Topic A
      State all information about Topic B
    • Actual comparisons usually occur in the second part, where B is discussed in relation to A.
    • Simple, straightforward method suited for short papers and abstract topics

  2. Point-by-point
    • Compare Topic A and Topic B on a series of specific subtopics
    • Following an introduction, discuss A and B in a number of comparisons
      Discuss one aspect of A and B
      Discuss second aspect of A and B
      Discuss third aspect of A and B
    • Useful for long papers that can be broken into units
    • Allows easy comparison of specific information

  3. Blending
    • Combine the Subject-by-subject and Point-by-point methods
    • Clear organization is essential to avoid confusion.


Writing a Description Essay

Description is the soul of writing and the source of much surprise. Writers surprise us when they suddenly make us see familiar objects in new ways, describe people who seem to come alive on the page, or recreate places and events so that they seem real. Whatever you write, descriptive words and phrases give it life and create interest for the reader. Description is rarely used alone; it almost always combines with other patterns. The ability to describe is a skill that you can develop. By carefully choosing descriptive details, you can create pictures in your readers' minds, engage their interest, and give them a sense of being there.

Describing comes naturally to people. Description is a familiar means of self-expression you use whenever you want to tell a friend about a movie you have seen, a book you have read, a person you care about, or a place you have been. You describe your symptoms to a doctor. You describe previous work experience to a prospective employer. These people can ask questions for clarification when they don't understand something. Readers of your essays, however, do not have opportunities for questions; they have only your words on a piece of paper. Your descriptions must enable them to "see" what you are talking about.

When describing something, you should try to involve as many sensory details-sight, sound, touch, taste, smell-as possible. You can be objective and report information without bias or emotion, or you can be subjective and explain by expressing your feelings and impressions. Whether you choose to be objective or subjective, you need to include in your thesis a controlling idea that provides an overall impression of whatever you are describing. Then you must support that idea with details


Writing a Process Essay

If you are a mother or father, you probably have had to assemble a toy for your child. If you work in an office, perhaps you have had to change the ink cartridge in a printer, clear a paper misfeed in a copier, or fax a document. At home, you probably follow directions for preparing meals; you may read the directions on a box or follow a family recipe. Have you ever had to give someone directions to reach a certain destination? If you receive financial aid, you had to apply for it. All of these activities are processes. Even writing an essay is a process. For each process, there is an expected outcome, a goal to reach, a good reason for performing each process, and definite steps to follow.

Process is a pattern of thought and organization whereby the writer explains steps or stages that lead to an outcome. In some processes, like a recipe, the sequence of steps is essential. You cannot fold blueberries into the muffin batter before you put in the flour and egg. In other processes, like how to manage time, the sequence of steps may not matter.


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