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Paragraphs & Essay Basics

===============Paragraphs: Definition & Rules===================
Almost all forms of writing are structured into paragraphs. Watch this video lesson to learn not only the definition and purpose of a paragraph but its proper structure and how to make a paragraph effective.

What Is a Paragraph?

Throughout your education, you have heard it all the time: ''Read the two paragraphs,'' ''Write a 5-paragraph essay,'' ''Organize your paragraphs''… but what is a paragraph?

You are constantly required to deal with paragraphs, either with your own writing or with reading. It is a huge help with these types of activities if you truly understand the definition of a paragraph. A paragraph is a section of a piece of writing covering one topic and indicated by indentation.

Let's look a bit closer at that definition. The first part states a paragraph is 'a section of a piece of writing.' This means paragraphs break down larger pieces of writing. For example, imagine you are reading a chapter in your history textbook on President Abraham Lincoln. Each section of that chapter will be broken into paragraphs. The paragraphs will help you follow along with the ideas throughout the entire chapter.

The second part of the definition states 'a paragraph covers one topic.' Within that larger piece of writing, each paragraph should explain just one concept related to the larger topic. For example, in that chapter on President Lincoln, you may read one paragraph that describes his childhood. That paragraph should focus on only his childhood and not the other parts of his life.

The final part of the definition is 'indicated by indentation.' This makes paragraphs easy to identify. The first line of all paragraphs need to indented, or moved further from the margin than the other lines. This way you can visually see how the topics may change or how a chapter will be broken up.

Purpose of a Paragraph

Now that you know what a paragraph is, let's discuss why paragraphs are important. As we saw earlier, paragraphs help to keep a large piece of writing organized. Since each paragraph should cover one specific concept, they provide a flow to the writing overall. When you write assignments or essays, paragraphs will help you keep your ideas organized. You should even decide the topic for each paragraph before you begin writing. Then you can organize the whole piece of writing by deciding the order of the topics, and thus, the paragraphs. If you do this and stick to one main idea per paragraph, then your paper, and your ideas, will not be confusing.

Besides helping writers, paragraphs also help readers. Imagine you are reading that chapter on Abraham Lincoln. What if the first few sentences were about how he was elected, the next few were on where he was born, the next on his death, and the next on the start of the Civil War? Wouldn't you be completely confused? Having one paragraph for each of those topics will help you, as the reader, comprehend the author's ideas. Furthermore, you will not be overwhelmed with information and will remain interested in the writing.

Structure of a Paragraph

Now that you know the definition and purpose of a paragraph, let's look at the structure. We have already discussed how the first line of a paragraph should always be indented. This helps the reader visually see when topics will change.

Besides indenting, there are some other things to keep in mind when structuring a paragraph. The first is to begin a paragraph with a topic sentence. The topic sentence serves as the introduction to the whole paragraph. For example, imagine you are writing that paragraph on Abraham Lincoln's childhood. Your topic sentence should be some broad statement about this main idea. Look at this example: ''Abraham Lincoln had a rough childhood.'' If this is your topic sentence, then the whole paragraph must be about challenges he faced when he was young.

The middle of a paragraph should contain supporting sentences, which support the main idea of the paragraph. This should include any details, evidence and examples that prove your point. For the paragraph on Lincoln's childhood, the supporting sentences need to describe where he was born, what his family life was like, and anything else that happened in his childhood. These details should also support the idea of his having a rough childhood.

Finally, each paragraph should end with a closing sentence. You can think of this as the opposite of the topic sentence. This sentence needs to end the paragraph and provide a close to that main idea. For example, ''These events show the early struggles Abraham Lincoln faced in his life.'' could be a possible closing sentence for that paragraph. It summarizes the main idea and provides closure.

What Makes an Effective Paragraph?

Knowing the definition, purpose and structure of a paragraph can help you when reading a piece of writing, but if you want to be a successful writer, you need to know how to make a paragraph effective.

Firstly, you need to use the proper structure. Indenting and having only one main idea per paragraph are both good ways to keep your readers' interest and prevent confusion.

In addition, you need to make sure that you not only have topic and closing sentences but that they provide a transition between the ideas of the different paragraphs. For example, if you plan on writing a paragraph about Abraham Lincoln's struggles in early adulthood right after the paragraph on his childhood, then your closing and topic sentences should indicate that change in topic. You can end the childhood paragraph with ''These events show how Abraham Lincoln was able to learn the skills that will allow him to overcome obstacles in his later life.'' This indicates that the next topic you will be discussing relates to struggles he faced in his adulthood. In this way, that closing sentence connects or transitions to the next paragraph.

Lastly, an important way to create an effective paragraph is to include relevant and convincing supporting details. In each paragraph, the middle sentences need to contain the evidence for whatever is your main idea. For example, if you were writing the paragraph on Lincoln overcoming obstacles in his early adulthood, then you need to share details of him succeeding in elections, or in his family, or in any circumstance where he overcame the odds. These ideas support your statement that he had struggles but succeeded anyway. If you have relevant evidence to support your claims, then your paragraph will be effective.

Lesson Summary

To review, a paragraph is a section of a piece of writing covering one topic and indicated by indentation. It must have one main idea and have a first line indented from the margin more than the other lines.

Paragraphs help writers to keep their ideas organized and provide a flow to their writing. For readers, paragraphs help keep them interested in the writing and able to comprehend the writer's ideas.

Paragraphs should also have a specific structure. Each needs to have a topic sentence to introduce the main idea of the paragraph, supporting sentences to describe the evidence and examples, and a closing sentence to provide an end to the paragraph.

Finally, to be effective, a paragraph needs to have relevant and important supporting details. The structure should be clear and properly indented. Also, the topic and closing sentences should connect to previous and following paragraphs. If you keep these ideas in mind as you write, your paragraphs will be strong and credible.

Learning Outcomes

You should have the ability to do the following after watching this video lesson:

  • Define a paragraph
  • Identify the purpose of paragraphs
  • Describe the structure of an effective paragraph
  • Explain the importance of relevant and supporting details to an effective paragraph

==============Writing: Main Idea, Thesis Statement & Topic Sentences=================

What exactly is your essay about? Writing great thesis statements and topic sentences that align with your main idea will help readers to understand the theme, ideas, and central focus of your essay.

Main Idea, Thesis Statement, Topic Sentences

Have you ever been really excited about a movie? I mean so excited you go to the theater, get popcorn and other snacks, and sit down waiting for an hour and a half of wonderful cinema bliss? Then it happens - it's an hour and a half later and you realize you have no idea what you just watched! Even when you try to explain it to people, the words escape you. The most you can say is that it had no plot and it made no sense. It's a terrible experience when you watch a movie with no plot, and reading an essay with no main idea, no thesis, and no cohesive points tying it all together is no less aggravating of an experience. The best way to avoid such a tragedy in your own writing is to get great at setting the stage for your writing.

Main Idea

The first place to start is with your main idea. The main idea is the key concept being expressed or examined. Putting this in our movie frame of reference, the main idea would be the broad context on what the movie is about, or the genre in which the movie will be viewed. Is it a romantic comedy about high school sweethearts? Maybe it's a historical drama about the Battle of Waterloo or the sinking of the Titanic. The main idea is the overall gist of what the piece will be dealing with as a whole.

Thesis Statements

Okay, so now that we have the main idea, we need to prepare ourselves to clearly explain it to our audience, the reader. What we need is a thesis statement! A thesis statement is a one- or two-sentence condensation of your argument or analysis that will follow in your writing. The thesis statement is our narrowing of our overall main idea.

Moving along with our movie idea, let's say our main idea is a romantic comedy about two high school sweethearts. While that helps narrow things a bit from the entire genre of romantic comedy, it doesn't really help give us the detail we need to truly understand what is unique about our movie. However, I can add the thesis statement of Two high school sweethearts ready to embark on the wonderful world of college. Will they follow their dreams and end up at separate colleges, or follow their heart to the same school? Now we can better understand what this movie is about!

Topic Sentence

Of course, there is a bit more narrowing that can be done in this process. Sometimes space does not allow us to give a longer explanation. Sometimes people really need us to get to the point quickly. This is where our topic sentence comes into play. A topic sentence is generally at the beginning of the opening paragraph and gives a one-sentence summary of the main point. Think of the topic sentence as our movie blurb that everyone grabs a hold of. It's that bit of information the producers want us to hold onto that will allow us to build excitement for the movie and remember with ease the main point of the film.

In our fictional romantic comedy, our topic sentence might be Jordan and Willow must decide if their high school love is big enough to span not just one college, but two. In this sentence I now clearly see that this movie is about two high school students named Jordan and Willow. They are about to go to college, and they may even end up at two different colleges. They will be analyzing if their love really is big and broad enough to move from being a high school romance to an adult, long-distance relationship. In one sentence I have given a summary of the film - without giving away the neat surprises viewers may find along the way. The hope is that it generates interest and leaves the person wanting more. The same is true with the topic sentence. People are much happier reading an essay when they understand what it is supposed to be about. They can grab a hold of the context and read with purpose, thereby allowing a much easier and memorable reading experience.

Lesson Summary

So let's wrap up what we've covered in this video. We found that the main idea of a piece is the overall gist of what the piece will be dealing with as a whole. We look at this as the overall genre and plot of our essay. Next we saw that the thesis statement is a one- or two-sentence summary of your essay. We can look at the thesis as a more developed plot statement that allows us to bring some context to our piece. Finally, we moved to topic sentences - the one-sentence summary of the main point. While the thesis statement summarizes the genre and overall plot, the topic sentence summarizes the overall specifics in your piece itself.

Remembering our movie example, we went from our main idea of a romantic comedy to a thesis statement of two high school sweethearts trying to figure out if they would go to different colleges to pursue their careers or the same college to focus on their relationship. We finally moved to the topic sentence, where we were introduced to Jordan and Willow, who would decide if their high school love was strong enough to span not just one college, but two. This process allows for a narrowing of our topic for the reader to get a proper introduction to the context through which our writing should be examined.

Now you have the tools necessary to utilize main idea development, thesis statements, and topic sentences in your own writing as well.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to implement main idea development into your own writing, along with creating effective thesis statements and topic sentences for your readers.

==============How to Write Strong Transitions and Transitional Sentences=================

Transitions are the words and sentences that tie a work of writing together. They guide the reader from idea to idea, making connections that turns pieces into a whole. Find out more in this lesson.

Writing Signs

Let's say you're on a road trip. You see a billboard saying the world's largest cow is at exit 72. Awesome! How can you miss that?

So where are you? Well, you're just passing exit 68, so exit 72 must be close. Wait, now you see exit 12. What? Are you going the wrong way? Now you pass exit 93. Did you miss it? No, there's exit 84. What's going on here? Why are they hiding the world's largest cow from you? Not cool, road.

Road signs are much like transitional words and sentences in your writing. They help take the disparate parts and make sense out of them. They help explain the order of the pieces in a logical, orderly manner. Well, not on this road, but on most roads; that's how it works. Let's look at how transitions work.

Transition Words in Fiction

In writing, a transition is a word, phrase or sentence that connects one section to another. A transition can be as simple as a single word. In fiction, you might see the word 'meanwhile' used as a transition. Here's an example: Marla summoned all her training in order to vanquish the kraken. Meanwhile, her brother was at home, eating chips.

What happens if you take out that 'meanwhile?' Those two sentences seem disjointed and awkward. The transition word helps move us from one place to another. 'Meanwhile' moves us around in location.

Other transitions move us around in time: 'then,' 'soon,' 'later,' 'next,' 'finally.' We could use these words to describe how we found that huge cow. I found exit 72. Then, I got lost again. Later, I saw a sign for the cow again. Finally, I found it! Ok, that's not a compelling story, but note how the transition words move us along in time.

Transition Words in Non-Fiction

In an essay, you may use transition words to organize your thoughts and ideas. You can use words to indicate that you're expanding upon your idea. They can also provide additional support for an argument. These words include: 'also,' 'furthermore,' 'similarly,' 'likewise,' 'too,' 'including,' and 'like.'

They don't have to begin your sentence. In fact, I just said 'They can also provide additional support for an argument.' See that 'also' in there? That's me expanding upon my idea. They can be at the end of a sentence, too. Oh, I just did what I was describing.

Furthermore, these may be simple words to provide structure, like first, second and third. These are like signs on the road indicating milestones in the essay. They tell your reader that they're moving from one idea to another.

Here's an example: There are countless reasons I love salad. First, it's a healthy lunch option. Second, it's easy to prepare. Third, no one steals your salad from the fridge. Each idea here is separated by a transition word that tells us a new reason is coming. It's important that the transitions fit the logic of the work, though. If that last sentence was Third, my favorite food is ice cream, then it's the wrong transition.

In this case, you want something like 'however.' This is effectively a u-turn. Maybe you want to show a counterargument. You can use words like: 'but,' 'although,' 'however,' 'conversely,' 'still,' and 'yet.'

Transition Phrases

So far, we've focused on single words. With transitions, though, you're not limited to single words. This is like the difference between a sign that says 'stop' and one that says 'do not enter.' 'Stop' tells you all you need to know in one word. But what if 'do not enter' was just 'do' or 'not' or 'enter?' That wouldn't be good.

Think about these phrases: 'for example,' 'in other words,' 'in fact,' 'to illustrate,' and 'in particular.' These are like 'also' and 'likewise' in that they help you build upon an idea.

On the other hand, transitional phrases, like 'on the other hand,' can also serve as u-turns. Think about these: 'in contrast,' 'by comparison,' 'in spite of this,' 'be that as it may' and 'forget all that stuff I just said.' Wait, scratch that last one. But those others ones are all good.

Transition phrases can effectively signal to your reader that we're nearing the end: 'in summary,' 'in conclusion,' 'to summarize,' and 'as I have shown.'

Transitional Sentences

After single words and short phrases, there are more complex uses of transitions. In some situations, it's most effective to use transitional sentences to move from one paragraph to the next. Let's look at an example.

Let's say I'm reviewing a movie. I've just spent a paragraph on the ridiculous amount of fog in the movie. Now, I want to discuss the acting. Fog and acting? Those are two distinct topics. Here is the last sentence of the fog paragraph and the first sentence of the acting paragraph:

I'm fairly certain that the movie The Fog didn't have this much fog. The lead actor alternates between a blank stare and an open-mouthed blank stare.

We need a transition here. We could say: 'Meanwhile, the lead actor...' That's ok. But, in this case, when we're connecting such different ideas, a transitional sentence may be better. So, I start the acting paragraph with this: The absurd fog may make it hard to view the scenery, but at least it distracts from the wooden acting. I took two topics and talked about one in relation to the other. Now, I can logically transition to talking about the actors.

Lesson Summary

In summary (hey - see what I did there?), we learned all about using transitions. These are the words, phrases and sentences that connect ideas and sections in all different forms of writing.

First, we looked at transitions that you might find in fiction. These include time-based transitions like 'meanwhile' and 'later.' Next, we looked at transition words that expand upon ideas, like 'also' and 'likewise;' words that indicate order, like 'first;' and words that offer contrast, like 'however' and 'conversely.'

Then we looked at transitional phrases. These include 'for example,' in contrast,' and 'in conclusion.' Finally (again with the transitions), we looked at transitional sentences. These are more complex transitions that can be useful in easing readers between very disparate topics.

Learning Outcomes

After absorbing this lesson's details, you could interpret how transitional words, phrases, and sentences connect pieces and help to form cohesive writing passages. You could also explore the use of transition words in fiction and non-fiction.

=============How to Organize an Essay==================
In this video, we will cover the steps involved in organizing an essay. We'll talk about titles, introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, main points, transition statements and editing.


One of the most common writing assignments a person may be asked to complete is an essay. In this video, we will discuss: 1) What is an essay? 2) What are the parts that make up an essay? 3) How to put it all together to make a good final product.

What is an Essay?

According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, an essay is a shorter piece of writing that often requires students to hone skills, such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity and exposition. Students will often be asked to write about something they read, something they studied or something they experienced.

Now that we know what an essay is, let's discuss the parts of an essay and how to put it all together. To take the journey, let's think of an essay as a sandwich being made in one of the best sandwich shops in the world. How does one make a world-class sandwich?

Parts of an Essay

The Title

While this may not be the first step you complete, it's a step that's often missed by many students. Imagine we have created the best sandwich in the world in our sandwich shop, and on the menu is nothing but a blank line followed by a price. Who's going to order that? Even worse, we wouldn't want to call it something that was misleading. Why call it a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it doesn't have peanut butter or jelly? Just like item names in delis and sandwich and sub shops found all over the world, the title of our essay should be either descriptive of the contents of our essay or engaging to the point where the curiosity of individuals will compel them to read more. Go for the compelling title only when you have an audience that can choose to read your essay or not. An assigned essay that will be read only by a professor should use a descriptive title, while one being published in a magazine may best benefit from a compelling title.

Introductory Paragraph

Like all great sandwiches, the bread, while often neglected, is really the main star of the dish. Our top piece of bread is the introductory paragraph. The introductory paragraph should start with your thesis statement. Along with your thesis statement, you will be giving people a sneak peek at the main points you are going to cover in your essay.

Main Points

Main points are the supporting materials that make up the substance of your essay. Consider this: the main ingredients within your sandwich. Like all good sandwiches, we want some very good, complementing flavors inside. When deciding on ingredients for a sandwich, we don't want it bland with too little flavor. However, we also don't want to go crazy with ingredients, making the taste too confusing for discriminating palates. A good rule of thumb for main points is to have between two and five total. Anything less than that is going to leave your audience without enough information to come to an informed conclusion. Any more than that and your audience may leave confused as to what your main thesis was really all about.

Concluding Paragraph

Just as important as our top piece of bread, our bottom piece needs to be as strong and well thought-out. Imagine picking up a sandwich and noticing the person used a slice of sourdough bread on the top and a slice of pumpernickel bread on the bottom - would you be confused? Just as the top and bottom pieces of bread complement each other and almost mimic each other in taste and texture, this should also be the case with your concluding paragraph. It should read similar to your introductory paragraph, reiterating your thesis statement and main points.

Transition Statements

Okay, while what we have so far might look like a sandwich, the taste isn't there without some wonderful background notes of condiments and accenting flavors. Like mayo and cheese, transition statements are the notes that hold the sandwich together, ensuring it doesn't get too dry and that it has enough background flavor to guide the reader through. There should be transition statements following your introductory paragraph, between your main points, and before your concluding paragraph. Again, consider them the wonderful accents that give your essay the flavor that sets it apart, that makes it more than just a summation of the big parts. Like mustard on bread, transition statements are easy to forget to add, but the reader will always know if they are missing. Make sure to flavor your essay sandwich accordingly.

The Packaging

Now that we went through all the trouble of making an amazing, gourmet essay sandwich, what a waste if we didn't package it appropriately. How would you feel if you walked into restaurant, ordered a sandwich and they brought it to you wrapped in a dirty towel or maybe even toilet paper? Would that leave a bad impression on you? Would you even choose to consume it? For the purpose of essay-writing, the packaging piece is your editing. No matter how well the content is written, if an essay is filled with grammatical errors and misspelled words, it won't be seen as a good essay. It will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the reader, and all your effort of writing will have been in vain. Make sure you package your essay so that the reader is willing to consume that which you have written.

Putting it All Together

Let's recap what we have learned in this video. An essay is a shorter piece of writing that includes skills such as close reading, comparing and contrasting, analysis, persuasion, conciseness and clarity. The parts of an essay are the title, the introductory paragraph, the main points and the concluding paragraph. In writing an essay, we look at the process the same as we would for putting together a gourmet sandwich. We start with the top piece of bread - the introductory paragraph -which includes our thesis statement and introduces our main points. We fill it with wonderful, high-quality ingredients - the main points. We end with the bottom piece of bread - the concluding paragraph. This concluding paragraph should complement and almost mimic our introductory paragraph, reiterating our thesis and main points. We want to make sure to include our condiments - our transitions and transitional statements. We want to make sure people know what to call our masterpiece by adding an appropriate title. And we want to make sure to package our essay sandwich well - with a good final edit, including a good look at spelling and grammar.

Follow these steps and you are on your way to creating a great essay!

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify the different parts of an essay and understand the importance of each.

=============Organizational Patterns for Writing: Purpose and Types==================

Ever read a piece of writing and simply not understand the message? Knowing the structure of the writing will often help you understand it. Watch this video lesson to learn about structure of writing.

Organization of Writing

All writing has a structure. This can be thought of as a specific format or how the writing is organized. It is important to understand this structure in order to fully comprehend the material written. If you know the organization of the piece of writing, you will better understand the author's message.

There are many types of organization an author can follow in his writing. Some of those include chronological order, order of importance, compare and contrast, and cause and effect. Let's take a closer look at those types of organizational patterns.

Chronological Order

Perhaps the easiest pattern to identify is chronological order. For this organizational pattern, the writing follows the order of time. This means that the plot sticks to a specific timeline. The best example of writing in chronological order can be seen in any novel or short story. For the most part, all fiction is written in chronological order. These stories have a specific beginning, middle, and end. For example, think of the story of 'Cinderella.' It starts when she is a child, then follows what happens to her father and how she grows up with her stepmother. There is a sequence of events that is fairly easy to follow since it stays in order of time.

Besides fiction, there are some examples of nonfiction, or writing based on real life, that is also written in chronological order. For example, a biography is the story of a person's life. This is written in chronological order because a biography almost always begins with that person's birth, then describes their childhood, young adulthood, and on and on as they age. This is a perfect example of chronological order. Any writing that strives to show a sequence of events in order of time is following chronological order.

Order of Importance

A second type of organizational pattern is order of importance, which is exactly how it sounds. The importance of the ideas determines the order each occurs in the writing. The most important idea is described in the writing first, followed by the second most important, then the third, and so on and so forth.

This type of pattern is often seen in essays, which focus on a single topic with supporting details. The writer of an essay should analyze his supporting ideas. Whichever idea is the strongest should be the first one explained in the essay. For example, imagine you are writing an essay on the importance of recycling. You have found much information on the benefits of recycling, but which idea has the most support? Perhaps you found the best reason to recycle is that it saves trees, which helps the environment. This, then, should be the first idea you explain in your essay. Using this organizational pattern helps to strengthen any piece of writing centered on supporting arguments.

Compare and Contrast

A third type of organizational pattern is compare and contrast. In terms of writing, compare means to describe the similarities between two objects or ideas. Contrast, on the other hand, means to describe the differences. With this in mind, there is a simple way to identify this pattern. For example, imagine you are reading a magazine article on a matchup between two football teams. Does the author explain how the teams are alike and how they are different? If so, then the organizational pattern is compare and contrast.

This pattern is often used in works of nonfiction that focus on two ideas within the same subject. You might see writing that compares and contrasts in newspaper articles, and magazine articles, or even speeches. If similarities and differences is the central theme, the author is comparing and contrasting. Any piece of writing evaluating something would benefit from using a compare and contrast organizational pattern.

Cause and Effect

A final organizational pattern is cause and effect. This is usually a more difficult pattern to identify. This is due to the fact that causes and effects can be seen in any type of writing, but that does not necessarily mean that is the organizational pattern for that piece of writing. In writing, a cause is defined as any event that affects a situation. An effect is what happens due to that event. Thus, the cause is the occurrence; the effect is the result.

Causes and effects happen in all stories. For example, because Cinderella's father died, her stepmother raises her. Her father's death is the cause; Cinderella being raised by her stepmother is the result. Another example can be seen in that same story: because Cinderella lost her shoe, the prince was able to find her. Cinderella losing her shoe is the cause that leads to the effect of the prince finding her. These are two examples of causes and effects in that story, but does that mean the story is written in a cause and effect pattern? Of course not, it is a story that follows chronological order, or order of time. The causes and effects are just a part of the story, not the organizational pattern.

In order for a piece of writing to have an organizational pattern of cause and effect, the whole piece must describe a number of causes and the effects of each. A story usually never follows this pattern. You often see this pattern in nonfiction articles. For example, imagine you are reading the newspaper and you come across an article on the turmoil occurring in the Middle East. The article describes a variety of reasons and events that led to the many wars and instances of violence that have broken out over the years. This article is written in cause and effect. The causes are the reasons war has broken out, and the effects are each instance of violence. If an author is attempting to explain the reasons behind some outcome, he should choose an organizational pattern of cause and effect.

Lesson Summary

Overall, there are many forms of organizational patterns in writing. Some examples include chronological order, order of importance, compare and contrast, and cause and effect.

Chronological order follows a specific timeline of events and is often seen in stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. Order of importance is often seen in nonfiction essays that focus on one topic but describe the strongest argument first and the weakest last. Compare and contrast is also seen in works of nonfiction, but these pieces of writing focus on explaining the similarities and the differences between two objects or ideas. Finally, a piece of writing is organized by cause and effect if an event is related to the result that followed.

Overall, organizational patterns, or structure, of writing is very important in literature. Structure can help you understand the material and identify the author's message.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the importance of structure in writing
  • Identify a chronological pattern in writing
  • Discuss the order of importance pattern and what forms of writing it benefits
  • Recognize compare and contrast and how to use it
  • Recall examples of cause and effect in writing

==============Narrative Essay: Definition, Examples & Characteristics================
Essays come in many forms. In this lesson, you'll learn all about a narrative essay, from its basic definition to the key characteristics that make for an engaging and effective essay.

Defining a Narrative Essay

Meet my great uncle, Jeb. Jeb loves to tell a good story. In fact, his stories are often so good they seem a little too good to be true, if you know what I mean. Take for instance his tale of deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Just before a tropical storm hit, he single-handedly caught the largest red snapper ever seen. But, compelled by kindness, he released it back into the ocean before he thought to take a picture. And then was the time he was asked by NASA to join a team mission to Jupiter...

Turns out, while Jeb's stories may not be the most accurate, they are certainly engaging, which is one of the most important qualities of storytelling, or creating a narrative. Simply put, telling a story is narrating. A narrative essay gives an account of something for your reader. Do you remember your first day of school? What about the first time you rode a bike? If someone asked you to tell him or her about these things you'd be creating a verbal narrative essay.

Characteristics: Perspective

Now that you see what a narrative essay is, let's talk about the qualities of a narrative essay. A narrative essay most often tells a story from the writer's perspective. The essay defines a specific point of view. All this means is that the narrative essay tells the story how you see it.

Ever heard the saying, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth? In a narrative essay you are sharing your side of the story. Because you are telling the story as you see it, sometimes it can be persuasive, like that time you promised the police officer you didn't slow down for the school zone because you simply couldn't see the flashing sign since it was covered by Mrs. Jones' oleanders. It's your side of the story, and you are trying to convince the police officer to see it from your perspective, thus being persuasive and saving you a potentially expensive ticket.

Have you ever had a friend stop to tell you a story where they start setting up all of these details and going on and on, and you're just sitting, waiting, knowing that surely there will be a point, and it never comes? That's something you don't want to happen in a narrative essay. If a narrative is not being persuasive, part of the mission is at least to get you to appreciate the value of the story. There needs to be a point.

Characteristics: Storytelling

As we've discussed, a narrative essay is essentially storytelling. This means the characteristics that make for an engaging story usually make for a good narrative essay as well. Why, even when we're not sure Uncle Jeb is telling the truth, will we still sit for hours to listen about his fishing expedition or trip to Jupiter?

Telling a good story goes beyond just having a beginning, middle, and end. Closely related to having a point, there needs to be a plot that is developed and carried out through the narrative. Basically, a plot is all of the major events of a story working together to give it a point.

One reason we sit and listen to Uncle Jeb as he describes the stormy waters in the Gulf before he caught the red snapper is because we know it's building up to the main idea of his story. It's probably somehow related to the big catch he'll get to soon.

When he does finally make his way to the part of the story where he makes the big catch, that's another essential part of the narrative essay: the climax. Much like your rambling friend, a story or narrative essay without a climax leaves you unsure of the point. The climax is where it all comes together; it's the most important piece of the story and often the most intense and exciting.

Another key element to storytelling is pacing. Think about most action movies you've seen. As they get to really eventful or important parts, you'll notice things start to slow down, sometimes even moving in slow motion. For Uncle Jeb, he'll probably spend a good five minutes telling you all about his big catch, describing the struggle with the line, hoisting the fish into the boat, how it flipped and flopped around on the deck, and so on.

On the other hand, details that aren't as key to the plot move faster. While talking about driving to the marina, getting the boat ready to set sail, and the ride out to his favorite fishing spot, he might just spend a minute or less. While these details help round out the story, they aren't as essential to the plot or climax.

Choosing to spend five minutes, or in an essay, five paragraphs, on one part of the story and one minute on another is exactly what pacing is all about. A good story spends time emphasizing important details, while including, but not necessarily lingering on, less important ones.

Characteristics: Organization

Finally, all of these things aren't nearly as effective, or even useful at all, without clear organization. Most often, narrative essays are told in chronological order. We've all walked into a conversation at a point where things didn't really make sense because we missed the beginning.

This is why Uncle Jeb starts out by telling you about stopping for fried chicken for lunch at sea and getting caught in the storm before telling you about catching the giant red snapper using a piece of that chicken as bait when his lures were tossed overboard because of the storm. Otherwise it wouldn't make any sense. Where would the chicken have come from? Why would he not just use regular lures or worms? Not only does telling the story in chronological order make more sense, it works with the plot and helps to build up to the climax.

Although chronological order is typically the best way to organize your narrative essay, there are other ways to tell your story. You might open with a scene from the end of your story before coming back to the beginning to explain how it all happened, flashback style. However you put it together, the most important idea here is to organize your thoughts in some type of logical order that will help your reader follow your narrative.

Lesson Summary

To wrap up, creating a narrative essay is simply storytelling. The main function of a narrative essay is to share a point of view. This can be persuasive or simply help you appreciate the value of a point made with the story.

Because narrating is storytelling, it's vital to include all of the key parts of a story, too. A plot includes all of the major events of a story that work together to give it a point. These events usually lead up to the climax, or the most important part of the story.

Pacing and organization are key to making all of these elements work. As a writer, you should devote more time and detail to key parts of the story, and tell the story in an order that makes the most sense to your reader - usually chronologically.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define what a narrative is
  • Explain key characteristics that make narratives engaging for an audience.

==============Descriptive Essay: Definition, Examples & Characteristics=================
A descriptive essay allows you to paint a picture for your reader in words. Watch this video to learn more about the techniques and elements that can help you fill the picture with lots of great details.

Defining a Descriptive Essay

When you hear the word 'describe,' what does it mean to you? For most people, describing is a way of illustrating something with words. You can describe a feeling, a sound, or even an emotion.

Descriptive essays are just the same: they help you illustrate something in a way that your reader can see, feel, or hear whatever it is you're talking about. A descriptive essay allows a reader to understand the essay's subject using illustrative language.

Using the Five Senses

Descriptive essays are great because, in a sense (pun intended), they can help us see places we might not be able to go ourselves, hear new things, taste different flavors, smell foreign smells, or touch different textures. Descriptive essays do this through the use of more concrete concepts, which most often include our five senses.

Behold, the power of using the five senses in a descriptive essay:

'As the waves leisurely collided with the shore, I could hear the delicate lapping of the water as it met the sand. The smell of salt air and a warm afternoon wafted through the sky. Slowly, I awoke from my slumber, cuddled in a hammock that surrounded me like a cocoon. The warm sun brightly shone on my face and greeted me, 'Good afternoon'.'

Based on this paragraph, where is the author? What is going on? Thanks to the five senses, you can gather that he or she is just waking up from what seems like a really peaceful nap in a hammock on a beach somewhere. How do we gather this?

Based on the description, we can see waves hitting the shore as the tide comes in, hear the water as it hits the sand, smell the salty air, and feel the warm sun. See how the senses use concrete things we've all probably experienced to some degree in our own lives to help you visualize a new scene? This is how a descriptive essay uses things we are familiar with - in this case, our five senses - to take us to a tropical paradise.

Showing vs. Telling

Even more, the description helps set a mood by using more vivid language to complement the sensory-based description. The author shows us, rather than tells us, what the afternoon on a beach is like.

Rather than saying, 'I heard the waves as the tide came in,' the author says, 'As the waves leisurely collided with the shore, I could hear the delicate lapping of the water as it met the sand.' The extra detail really helps us visualize the scene that the author is trying to create. He or she shows us what it's like to be out there on the beach when the tide comes in during the afternoon, rather than just giving us a play-by-play.

The same vivid language also helps the author to create a mood for this description. We can begin to experience the same peacefulness through the use of words like 'leisurely' and 'delicate.' Again, rather than just telling us it was a really relaxing and peaceful day, he or she lets the descriptive language show us.

Another useful technique for setting a mood with your descriptive writing is to use similes and metaphors. A simile is a phrase comparing two unlikely things using 'like' or 'as' in order to make a description more vivid. You've probably heard the phrase, 'running like the wind' before. This is an example of a simile. Rather than saying, 'running really fast,' you replace the speed with something that might represent running quickly, like the wind.

A metaphor has the same function as a simile, but the comparison between objects is implicit, meaning there is no 'like' or 'as' used to signal the comparison. Here's an example of a metaphor from good old Shakespeare: 'All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players.' Rather than saying life is just like a play, he compares the world to where a play is acted out.

As you can see, similes and metaphors are another tool to help make your descriptions more vivid. They paint a more detailed picture for your reader, making it easier for them to understand what you're saying, not to mention more interesting, because you are showing them what you have in your mind's eye, rather than just telling them.


By now, you probably get the idea that the style choice for your descriptive essay is pretty open. The subject of your essay and the mood you want to create really dictates how your essay is structured. Really, the only rule is to make sure you describe your subject as vividly as possible, using the five senses and showing versus telling.

There are, however, a few ways you can organize your descriptive essay to make it even easier for the reader to follow what you're saying and visualize your subject.

One option is to organize your essay from general to particular. For example, if you were describing the new Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas, you might start out by describing the setting - the smell of the corn dogs frying, the crowds of people, the happy children dodging in and out of the midway games - then get into his grandiose size - after all, everything is bigger in Texas, right? After that, you describe the details: his new crisp, white, pearl snap shirt, his blue jeans tucked into cowboy boots, adorned up top with his signature belt buckle, and so on.

By organizing your essay in this order, your reader not only understands what Big Tex looks like, but they are able to visualize the entire scene as well. As you can see, this structure works particularly well when the subject of your essay is an object.

If the subject was the entire State Fair of Texas rather than just Big Tex, you might choose to organize your essay spatially. Essays organized this way start at one point in a setting and work their way around, describing all of the elements. This allows you to take your reader on a tour of all of the fairgrounds, from the Ferris wheel and midway, to the food court lined with fried food inventions, to the Cotton Bowl stadium.

Rather than describing a thing or a place, your essay might focus on an event. In this case, structuring your essay chronologically is probably your best option. If you were writing your descriptive essay on what you did during your day at the fair, this would be the way to go. Beginning with what you did first, you walk your reader through all the events you encountered during your day.

Lesson Summary

So, remember, a descriptive essay allows a reader to understand the essay's subject using illustrative language. The best way to paint a picture for your reader is through use of concrete examples, like the five senses, paired with more vivid, abstract language that creates the mood and helps set the overall tone.

Similes and metaphors are figures of speech that can help you better describe your subject and make your writing more interesting by comparing your topic to fitting, yet unlikely descriptive terms.

While many organizational forms are suitable for descriptive essays, three techniques can be particularly helpful: general to particular is a great method for describing an object, spatially can help organize a descriptive essay based on a setting, and chronologically works well for describing an event.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Explain the purpose of a descriptive essay
  • Describe how to use the five senses and abstract language in a descriptive essay
  • Define similes and metaphors and explain how to use them in a descriptive essay
  • Identify three ways to organize a descriptive essay

=============Informative Essay: Definition, Examples & Structure==================
There are many ways to inform your reader on a topic, from comparing and contrasting to providing a simple definition. Watch this lesson to learn about informative essays and how they educate readers through different formats.

Defining an Informative Essay

It's Sunday night and you're finding any way possible to procrastinate on your English homework assignment: to write an informative essay. 'It's gotta be easy enough,' you say to yourself, remembering your English teacher's simple explanation of an informative essay - to educate your reader on a topic. The only problem is, with a definition that broad, you're having a really hard time narrowing down what exactly you'd like to inform your audience about.

Flipping channels, you come across a music awards show. You hear the announcer say one of your favorite stars growing up, Smiley Virus, is set to perform next. As Smiley takes the stage, you're completely shocked. She comes out half-dressed in some kind of stuffed animal costume, and just keeps doing the same spastic dance moves over and over again. It just keeps getting more and more bizarre. It's obvious she's trying to be 'edgy,' but she just looks like a lunatic. As the camera pans the crowd, no one is sure how to react toward her 'cutting edge' performance.

As it all ends, you immediately start thinking of a way you can turn this into an informative essay - it's just too good not to write about. Your mind begins to fill with the different options your English teacher gave you.

'Informative essays come in many forms,' she said. 'They can define a term, compare and contrast something, analyze data, or provide a how-to.' 'No matter what form you choose, remember that an informative essay does not give the writer's opinion on the topic or attempt to persuade their reader to change their beliefs,' she said. Finally excited about writing your informative essay, you begin to brainstorm your options.

Informative Essays: Definition

The definition essay is the most basic form of an informative essay. Its goal is to simply provide an explanation. Informative essays that define provide their explanation using one of three methods: They can use synonyms to explain what the new term is similar to, categories to help the reader see where the term fits in compared to others, or negation to allow the reader to understand the term by seeing what it isn't.

In addition to the three methods, there are several ways you can organize an informative essay that provides a definition. The most important thing is to present them in a logical order that makes sense, and there's not one method that's best in every case. Some organization schemes you might consider include presenting examples from most important to least or presenting them chronologically.

In your case, a definition essay might simply tell about who Smiley Virus is. You begin to work on a rough draft for a definition-focused informative essay. You know the introduction should contain a thesis along with a compelling way to draw the reader in.

'As the lights dim, the crowd waits in anticipation. Slowly a beat emerges, then, as if rising from the ashes of her child star persona, a shadowy figure appears in a cloud of smoke on stage, ready to give an infamous performance no one will soon forget. As she makes her way across the stage, the spotlight shines down, showing off a new woman. No longer a little girl, this is the new Smiley Virus, the adult pop sensation.'

'Not bad,' you think. You begin with a compelling description of what you just saw and tell your reader what you'll be defining: the new adult pop sensation, Smiley Virus. You also note how you've already started to provide your explanation, through negation - letting your reader know that Smiley is not a little girl or child star anymore - and categorizing - classifying her as an 'adult pop sensation.'

Informative Essays: Compare and Contrast

Although you think the definition of Smiley Virus, adult pop sensation, could make for a good essay, you also start to ponder some of the ways this performance is similar to other ones you've seen on the same awards show. An informative essay using compare and contrast would fit the bill here. It allows the reader to understand the topic by looking at similarities or differences compared to other subjects.

Writing a compare and contrast informative essay would allow you to focus on Smiley's performance at the awards show, rather than just simply defining her as a pop star. You could compare and contrast her controversial performance with others from the past that were also seen as scandalous at the time.

You start to craft a thesis statement for an informative essay using compare and contrast. 'Although Smiley Virus's edgy performance made top headlines Monday morning, it's not the first time a pop sensation turned heads with their awards show performance. In fact, it's nothing new at all. In 1984, rising pop star Mona Lisa shocked fans with her controversial performance.'

Organizing a compare and contrast informative essay like this is fairly straightforward. You can present your information by points of comparison - maybe comparing Mona Lisa and Smiley's outfits, then dance moves, then popularity - or just look at your topics, Mona Lisa versus Smiley, one at a time.

Informative Essays: Analyzing Data

You're just not sure you know enough about the Mona Lisa performance to do a good job on the compare and contrast option, so you move on to another choice. You think about how Smiley ended up in that position in the first place. Perhaps an informative essay that analyzes data might work. You could look at whether life as a child star leads to outlandish behavior as an adult.

When using an informative essay to analyze data, you are simply explaining how something might have happened based on data you've gathered. It's basically like looking at cause and effect with no opinions presented. In this case, it's usually easiest to look at things in chronological order. This will help your reader best follow what you are trying to explain.

It's important to have lots of supporting data and statistics to explain the cause and effect situation in an analytical essay. Realizing you don't have much more than anecdotal evidence as to why many child stars end up the way they do, you move on to your final option, the how-to.

Informative Essays: How-To

The how-to informative essay does exactly what the name says. It explains to your reader how to do something. It's most often presented in the order of the steps involved. It dawns on you - you could provide a how-to for the new, spastic dance move Smiley showcased, 'The Bizzerk.' Easy enough, if you were able to even put those spastic dance moves into words, let alone do it well enough to explain the Bizzerk step-by-step.

You pass on that option and go back to your first idea: to write your informative essay as a definition of Smiley Virus, adult pop sensation. 'Now to flesh out the body and wrap it up,' you think to yourself.

Lesson Summary

As you finish your informative essay, you start to expand on your explanation of who Smiley is. You give more background on the pop star category you put her in, and continue explaining how she is no longer the sweet, child star the public once thought her to be. You go through the basics your English teacher shared with you in class one more time.

An informative essay educates your reader on a topic. They can have one of several functions: to define a term, compare and contrast something, analyze data, or provide a how-to. They do not, however, present an opinion or try to persuade your reader.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to define an informative essay and explain the four formats they could be written in.

==============Components of Writing a Persuasive Essay================
In this lesson, we will define persuasive writing, look at the different goals of a persuasive essay, and then discuss how to plan and develop a persuasive topic.

What Is Persuasive Writing?

We all have opinions, and throughout a day, we all probably have at least one disagreement because of our opinions. These can be something as simple as the best place to eat, the best route to take home, or even what celebrity wore it best. There are also those opinions we have that are more complex: our political, values, and beliefs. These ideas become a part of who we are, and those that are much more difficult to change. As we learn in our everyday life, most topics have at last two sides. No matter what you believe in terms of politics, there is someone out there who thinks quite the opposite is true. Have an opinion on health care? Someone else thinks differently. The same idea is true in writing.

Persuasive writing, or argumentative writing, is an essay centered on an opinion. In this type of essay, the author is trying to convince the audience that his/her viewpoint is correct. The hope is for the audience to agree with the author's opinion.

The Goals of Persuasive Writing

There are several different goals of persuasive writing.

Change an Opinion or Belief

This is probably the most common type of persuasive essay. In this essay, the author creates an argument centered on his/her opinion and finds facts to support that point of view.

Change a Habit

The author chooses a topic and encourages the audience to change behavior. For example, wear a seatbelt, wash your hands more often, or exercise more.

Take Action

In this essay, the author is encouraging the audience to do something. For example, take the action to vote or to recycle more.

Write a Proposal

This is more common in workplace or technical writing. In this essay, an author would present an idea and persuade the audience to allow something to take place or do further research.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay

The first step to writing a persuasive essay is to choose your topic. The topic must be debatable, which means there must be more than one viewpoint. While most people automatically think of the controversial or political topics, you do not always need to be shocking. Try to think of things you experience every day or something that you feel strongly about. The best arguments come from experience. It is also a good idea to avoid the tired or exhausted topics. These are topics that have been argued for quite some time, making it difficult to develop a unique, original point of view.

Next, develop your thesis. The thesis should be your central argument, what you hope to convince your audience to believe, change, or do. Avoid 'I believe' statements. Rather, state your topic and point of view. For example, if you are writing an essay to say that news coverage should not be on a 24-hour cycle, then this would be the start of your thesis.

Third, think of your main reasons. Why should your audience change their opinion? Why should they agree with your position? Look at your thesis and then answer these questions. Try to develop at least three or four good reasons to support your point of view. These will become the body of your essay, your topic sentences, and the focus of your research. A topic sentence is the first sentence of a new paragraph, and it introduces what the paragraph will be about. It is a good idea to create a working outline at this point. List your thesis and the main points you have to begin brainstorming the supporting ideas.

After you have a working outline, start your research. When writing a persuasive essay, it is important to argue with facts. Find facts to support your point of view. Look for experts in the field and current statistics.

The Components of a Persuasive Essay

When you draft a persuasive essay, it is important to create a strong argument based in facts. To do this well, start immediately in the introduction. Your introduction should grab the reader's attention, introduce the topic, and focus on your point of view. Be sure that your thesis is clearly stated in the introduction.

The body of your paper will develop your argument. When writing a persuasive argument, it is important to avoid generalizations, name calling, and stereotypes. You want to show your point of view without offending your audience. To do this, be sure that you are considering the opposition. Be respectful of other beliefs, use good examples and evidence, and keep a professional tone. Above all else, be sure that you are well-researched and organized.

The conclusion of your essay should review the thesis and key points, and call your audience to action. This is the final appeal to your audience, so be direct in your point of view.

Applying the Steps: An Example

Jacob is assigned an argumentative essay and decides to write on education. From there, he narrows down the idea to the topic of year-round schools. His opinion is that schools should be open year round, especially because he lives in a year-round school district and has seen the benefits.

Jacob develops the working thesis for his paper: Schools in America should operate year round. This is just a working thesis, so it may change or be added to as he works.

Now Jacob will begin brainstorming his reasons for thinking that schools should operate all year round. He might predict that year-round schools make it easier to retain information, offer a better variety of vacation time, are a safe place for students, and have less down time in the summer, which could lead to trouble. A little suggestion: When brainstorming, write down all reasons that come to mind and then group similar ideas together and choose the strongest ones.

Now that he has a working thesis and has chosen three main points, Jacob starts his research by finding facts, experts, statistics, and examples. In the drafting stage, he organizes his body by these main points, presents the research to support his topic sentences, and avoids any fallacies.

Lesson Summary

In persuasive writing, the goal is to change the position and viewpoint of the audience. To do this, you should choose a debatable topic, focus on a specific point of view, develop reasons, and organize with research. In the research stage, it is important to find current facts and statistics. Finally, as you work, be sure to avoid any name calling and stereotypes by answering the opposition.

==============Evaluative Essay: Examples, Format & Characteristics=================
A good evaluative essay helps a writer present an opinion using criteria and evidence. Learn all about the evaluative essay and its components in this lesson.

Defining an Evaluative Essay

It's Friday night and you and your best friend, Gina, have plans to see a new movie. The only thing is, you can't decide between two that just came out: Love, Specifically, a lighthearted, romantic comedy, or The Mountains Have Ears, a new, artsy independent film thriller.

You're kind of in the mood to laugh, but Gina thinks a scary movie would be fun. Since you two can't seem to come to an agreement, you call your friend Samantha, a movie buff who's already seen both of them. Samantha tells you she thought Love, Specifically was good and you should go see that one. Gina, still wanting a good scare, asks her what was so much better about Love, Specifically compared to The Mountains Have Ears. 'I dunno, I just liked it more, I guess,' she answers.

Samantha's response would be frustrating to most people. If only she'd learned the essential components to an evaluative essay - then she'd be able to give a better explanation of why Love, Specifically was her favorite. You see, an evaluative essay is basically a review of something. As the name suggests, the evaluative essay presents a value judgment based on a set of criteria.

Judgment, Criteria, and Evidence

There are three key parts to an evaluative essay:

  1. The judgment, or your overall opinion
  2. The criteria, or reasons why you've made your opinion
  3. And last, evidence to support it

Think about all those times you asked your mom why you couldn't do something that you wanted to do, and she simply responded, 'Because I'm your mother, that's why!' or 'Because I said so!' Remember how frustrating that was? When writing an evaluative essay, 'because I said so' is not a good enough argument. Neither is Samantha's answer, 'I dunno, I just liked it more, I guess.' You have to have specific reasons and evidence to support your judgment.

Parts of the Evaluative Essay: Intro and Background

So, how do we put these three elements to work to make an evaluative essay that says more than 'Because I said so'? For starters, you will want to include four main components: your introduction, some background information, your criteria, and your conclusion. The introduction has a pivotal role in this paper: it gives your overall judgment in the form of a thesis statement. This is where, if you were Samantha, you'd say, 'The engaging plot, relatable characters and believable storyline made Love, Specifically a must see.' Sounds a lot better than, 'I just liked it more, I guess,' doesn't it?

You'll notice in Samantha's new thesis, she not only tells you whether or not she thought it was a good movie, which was her overall judgment, she gives you some specific reasons, or criteria, why she thought it was a good movie. This is key to the evaluative essay; it helps to focus your review. Being as specific as possible helps you formulate an effective evaluation because you're not trying to cover it all: just a few key parts that come together to make your overall judgment.

After establishing your overall judgment and defining your focus, you'll move on to the next key component: background. Before you start giving your opinion on something, people need to have some kind of idea of what you are talking about. In the case of a movie or book review, you'd include a brief summary. For a restaurant review, you'd talk about what kind of food is served and the style of dining.

The background's purpose is twofold: first, it helps the reader get on the same page and understand exactly what you are reviewing. Second, it helps establish the purpose of whatever it is you are evaluating and justify your criteria. Think about it, romantic comedies are generally geared toward a different audience than artsy, independent films. They often have different goals, too. While a romantic comedy may be made purely for entertainment purposes, the independent film might try to present some sort of commentary on everyday life or make you consider a new idea or viewpoint.

Or, in the case of a restaurant review, Bob's Burger Stand, a casual, walk-up burger joint would be evaluated using completely different criteria than Merlot Burger, a gourmet, sit-down restaurant that serves Kobe beef burgers marinated in fine wines.

Parts of the Evaluative Essay: Criteria

Once you've set the focus and given your background, you'll move on to your criteria. In your essay, you should devote at least one paragraph to each criterion. This way, you have plenty of room to discuss what the criterion is, give your judgment, and present your supporting evidence. That's right, those three key elements need to live in each paragraph as well as your essay as a whole.

So, for Samantha's evaluative essay, each criterion she mentioned in her thesis would have it's own paragraph: the plot, characters, and storyline. For each paragraph, she'd go on to give her judgment and evidence. Samantha's paragraph on the plot might sound something like this:

'The plotline in Love, Specifically was especially engaging.' She establishes her criterion and judgment. 'As the movie progressed, the situational humor in almost every scene left you waiting to see what would happen next and how it would play out in this long-distance love story.' She backs up her judgment of the criterion with evidence.

Tools for Effective Evidence

Now that you see how the criteria should be set up, let's talk about a couple of tools that can help make your evidence most effective. One way to present evidence is to use comparison or contrast. So, when talking about the characters in the movie, Samantha could compare them to common figures we run into in real life, like the high school jock or girl next door. She could also contrast them to characters in other movies in the same genre.

Another tactic is to play your own devil's advocate. This is especially helpful if you are presenting an opinion that might be controversial. If it turns out the majority of people thought Love, Specifically was an absolute flop, you might list the common reasons why people said the movie fell short and present a counterargument to each one.

Parts of the Evaluative Essay: Conclusion

In her most effective evaluative essay, Samantha would go on to talk about the other criteria, mixing in the tools we just talked about to make a very convincing argument to go see Love, Specifically. After discussing each of the criteria, she'd present a nice conclusion that restated her overall judgment and gave a quick recap of her reasoning.

Ideally, Samantha's essay would be well-organized so that it arrives naturally at this point, and she wouldn't have to start her conclusion with a phrase like, 'In conclusion.'

Lesson Summary

So, to review, an evaluative essay contains three key elements: judgment, criteria and evidence. These elements are presented using four key essay components: it starts with an introduction that houses a thesis, which gives your overall opinion and focuses your evaluation. Next, background information is included to help your reader understand what it is you are evaluating. Then, paragraphs discuss each of your criteria and present evidence to support your reasoning. Last, a conclusion wraps up your evaluation and provides closure for your reader.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Identify the three key elements of an evaluative essay
  • Describe the four components of an evaluative essay
  • Explain how to tie the key elements into the four components to draft an effective evaluative essay
In this video, learn how to ensure that your writing responds directly to your assignment. Then find out how to spot where you may have strayed from the paper's point and how to get back on track.

How to Focus Your Essay and Respond

I recall taking a final essay exam several years ago that I was pretty happy about because I knew all about the topic of one of the essay questions. I was so excited to see a question that I knew so much about that I decided to explain everything I knew about that topic to my instructor, just spilling out detail after detail. In hindsight, I didn't pay all that much attention to the specifics of the question, just the major topic that the question was asking about. I didn't end up getting a particularly good grade on that exam.

Do yourself a favor and don't make the same mistake. Even as the seconds tick by during a timed essay exam, take some time to pay close attention to what the question is really asking and think about how you'd get back on track if you find that you've lost your way while writing your answer.

Look for Key Terms in the Essay Question

You'll rarely find an essay question that says 'Hey, why don't you just tell me whatever you happen to know about topic X.' If you did have such a question, it would be easy to just write a bunch of random, disconnected facts as you remember them.

Unfortunately, that's what some of us do - just start writing whatever we know about a subject - when we see the topic of a question, particularly when we're already worried about how much time we have. But it's much smarter to take a more organized and logical approach. For example, let's say that you're responding to an essay question that asks you about the debate over legalizing drugs in the U.S.

Your first move should be to figure out what approach you need to take with the question by looking for key terms. Are you being asked to analyze certain arguments about legalizing drugs, to describe certain arguments, to compare and contrast certain positions, to make an argument regarding which side of the debate is correct?

Make a note to yourself regarding what approach you're being asked to take. And keep in mind, too, that essay questions can be nuanced. If you're being asked to construct an argument, it may not be the case that you simply have to write about which side is right. You may be asked to synthesize an argument based on specific source material that's provided to you. In this context, synthesize means to combine separate materials to form a single product.

So you might be asked to put together very specific ideas to reach your conclusion. And you may also have to address opposing viewpoints as you do so. Or you might also be asked to evaluate specific arguments that have been provided to you. For example, you might be presented with a short argument in favor of legalizing drugs and a short argument opposed to legalizing drugs. You might be asked to assess the worth and significance of those arguments.

Be sure to read through the essay question a few times, and then jot down the key term or terms that let you know what approach you should be taking. Whether you're working on a timed exam or a long-term assignment, you want to be sure that you're responding directly to the essay prompt.

Develop a One-Sentence Response

As you plan your essay, try to come up with a brief one-sentence response to the question right off the bat. As you do so, be sure that it matches the approach that's been called for by checking for key terms. If you're working on a paper for a class, you'll have plenty of time to mull over your one sentence, but even if you're taking an essay exam, the tactic is the same: come up with a very brief response that echoes the question.

For example, if you've been asked to compare two differing views, be sure that you draft a sentence that sums up the major similarity or difference between those views. If you've been tasked with writing an argument, be sure that you set forth a persuasive position. So if you've been asked to construct an argument about whether drugs should be legalized in the U.S., you might jot down 'Drugs should not be legalized in the U.S. because it would increase the number of addicts and crimes committed by drug users.' If you've been asked to evaluate specific statements, then you should draft a statement that weighs the merits of those statements. You might explain that one statement is more logically sound than another.

An additional benefit of taking this step is that you can use this statement as the basis for a thesis for your paper. But for purposes of staying on-track as you write your essay, having this short response sketched out in your notes can be helpful. You can glance back periodically at your core response and ask yourself whether you're still supporting that statement or if you've wandered off on a tangent with a lot of irrelevant details.

Sketch out an Outline of Your Major Points

Writing effective sentences at the same time that you work to convey your large-scale points can be a challenge. Putting together an outline of your major points is useful whether you're writing a timed essay for an exam or a term paper for a class. In a timed scenario, you can sketch out a very short, basic outline. With a term paper, you'll have time to add more detail. Either way, by plotting out the major points of your essay at the start of your writing process, you can concentrate on expressing your main points effectively within a well-organized structure for your main ideas. Having a plan can also keep you from panicking about how much time you have to write.

For example, if you're constructing an argument that drugs should not be legalized in the U.S., you might decide to structure your paper around three major points. Let's say that you focus on these three main ideas:

  1. Legalization would lead to increased drug use.
  2. Legalization would lead to more young people becoming addicted early in life.
  3. Legalization would lead to more violent crime due to an increase in the number of addicts.

By planning out your major points in a rough outline - and by sticking to that plan - you can help yourself stay on track with what you set out to say in your paper. As you write each paragraph of your paper, you can ask yourself: 'Does this paragraph support my main response that drugs should not be legalized in the U.S.?' As you write each paragraph, quickly refer back to your one-sentence response to the question and to your major outline points to ensure that you're staying on-track with what you need to be writing about.

What to Do if You've Strayed off Point

If you do find that you've wandered off course, you'll want to rein yourself back in and answer the question as fully as you can. If you're working on a term paper and have plenty of time, this is a manageable problem, but if you're working on a timed essay exam, this can be a cause for stress.

Many essay exams are administered on computers, which makes it easier to go back and revise your already-written paragraphs. If you're working on a handwritten exam, it may be a good idea to write on every other line of your paper, leaving enough space to cross out lines and rewrite them if you need to.

Let's address what to do if you find that you've gone off on a tangent with seconds ticking away. Examine the paragraph that's gone astray. Determine the nature of the problem. Have you used the right approach in that paragraph but overloaded it with too many irrelevant details? You can take another look at your earlier one-sentence response to the essay question. If you find that you have sentences - or even a whole paragraph - that doesn't directly support that response, you'll know that you've gone off track. To solve this, edit out any information that's not central to the main point of the paragraph. You may need to add a few more supporting details or examples that actually work to support the main point of your paragraph.

Perhaps irrelevant details aren't the problem. Perhaps you haven't used the right approach in the paragraph. In other words, perhaps the essay question asked for you to make an argument about a topic, but instead, you've devoted a paragraph to simply describing the issue with no actual argumentation going on. This is a common mistake that students make in persuasive papers. If that's the case, then work on adding persuasive statements to the paragraph. It may be the case that the descriptive information that you've written would actually provide good support for your arguments and that you've just forgotten to make the actual argumentative statements. It shouldn't be too difficult to make your arguments explicit in those types of paragraphs by adding a couple of sentences stating what you think should happen with the issue you're discussing.

Lesson Summary

It's important when writing an essay to be sure that you're responding directly to the question that's been asked and that you haven't gone astray.

To keep yourself on track, remember to:

  • Look for key terms in the essay question so that you can be sure to provide an argument if you're asked to argue or provide an analysis if you're asked to analyze and so forth.
  • Develop a one-sentence response to the question that reflects what's being asked before you write your essay so that you can be sure that your full answer is on-point. You can develop this one sentence into your thesis statement.
  • Sketch out an outline of your major points and stick to it as you write. This will keep you from going on any major tangents.
  • If you find that you've strayed off-point, work on editing out irrelevant information or adding points as needed.

With a little bit of planning, you can be sure to stay on the right track with your essay.

Learning Outcomes

These are a few key things that you should be able to do once finished with this video:

  • Recognize key terms in an essay question
  • Explain the importance of an initial short response to an essay question
  • Organize an outline of key points for your essay
  • Apply tips for remaining on point and what to do when you stray from it

By understanding some fundamental characteristics about your audience, you can write more effectively and be in better control of how well your writing is received by that audience. This video explains the basic points that you should consider in order to provide more informative and more persuasive essays for your readers.

Writing for Your Audience

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you've been handed a test by a teacher, and it's filled with terms you've never heard of, and it asks questions that you have no idea how to answer? Or maybe you've dreamed that you've received an email from your boss, and she's demanding that you complete a bunch of tasks that you have no idea how to do?

Dreams like that are so stressful because they strike at a fear that we don't know what we're supposed to know or that we've been given tasks that were really meant for some other person, and we're just unprepared to do them. The flip side of this is that we feel comfortable when we're given test questions or job assignments, and we recognize the terminology. We understand the problems that we're being asked to solve. In other words, it's good when something written and the person reading it mesh together well.

It's important in writing that the writer knows and understands his or her audience, and that the writer tailors what he or she writes for that audience. We have an instinctive understanding of this as readers, but what can be a little trickier is learning to do this as writers.

To ensure that you're doing a good job of writing for your audience, there are four important points to keep in mind:

  1. What is the reader's position with respect to you?
  2. What is the reader's perspective? Does the reader have a particular role or position that makes him or her biased about the topic you're writing about, for example?
  3. What level of knowledge does the reader have about your topic?
  4. What do you want your reader to take away from what you write?

What is the Reader's Position?

As you probably already know from school, work and everyday life, it's important to think about your reader's position when you write something. And by position, I mean how that person is situated with respect to you.

It's common sense to know that when we write a paper to submit to a teacher, we're trying to demonstrate what we've learned in class. When we type up a proposal or even just an email to a boss at work, we're trying to do our work well, because our job may depend on it. In each of these cases, we're writing to our superior - our teacher or our boss is above us in some way, and the work that we write reflects that.

When writing something for a teacher or a boss, you should write in a formal tone. In writing, tone is a term we often use to describe our attitude toward our subject matter. A writer's tone comes across in the types of words he or she chooses. For example, in a very formal essay, it's not a good idea to use contractions, and we shouldn't use informal words like 'guy' or 'kid' or conversational phrases like 'tons of.'

Because you'll usually be trying to impress a teacher or a boss with what you write, you should take care to write using a formal tone, to edit and proofread your work carefully, and to be sure that you've fully answered whatever questions you've been asked.

The rules are quite different, of course, if you're sending a quick text message to a close friend. When you're texting a friend, contractions, conversational language, and even emoticons are fine. When writing, it's crucial to remember who your audience is and to tailor your writing style for that audience.

What is the Reader's Perspective?

It's also a good idea to be aware of your reader's general perspective on an issue when you write. For example, many people have an opinion on the issue of whether high school students should be allowed to bring their cell phones into the classroom, and their opinions are often determined by their perspectives - by who they are.

Many teenagers would support or oppose the idea of being allowed to bring cell phones to class simply on the basis of whether having a cell phone in class would benefit them. We could probably expect that the idea would be pretty popular among high school kids, but many teachers, on the other hand, probably wouldn't like the idea too much if they don't want a bunch of distracted kids in their classrooms.

So if you were to write an essay in which you argued in favor of high school students being allowed to have cell phones in class, that essay would be quite different depending on whether you were writing for an audience of high school students or teachers. And that's because we know that the members of those two groups have their own interests in mind.

So if you were to write in favor of allowing cell phones in high school classrooms and your audience were a group of teachers, you'd have to come up with ways that teachers could benefit from that policy. You would have to make an appeal to that group's interests. You might argue, for example, that in the wake of so many violent incidents in schools, allowing students to have cell phones is a basic matter of safety. Clearly, though, a group of teachers would be a much tougher crowd to convince on this issue than a group of high schoolers would be.

What Level of Knowledge Does the Reader Have?

Think back to our nightmare situation from earlier - about having panic-inducing bad dreams about trying to take a test but not understanding any of the words on the sheet or about your boss sending you an email about work that you don't understand.

You definitely don't want your audience's reaction to be horror when they read an essay you've written. (There are, of course, exceptions, but we'll save 'How to Write an Effective Vampire Essay' for another day.)

To prevent a scary reaction on the part of your reader, you should take into account what your reader knows about your topic as you write. The reader's knowledge of your subject might depend in part on his or her age or level of education, for example.

Think about what background information your reader might need to be brought up to speed on your topic. Are there any facts, processes or techniques that need to be explained? Any terms that need to be defined?

Let's say that you're writing about what a lawyer needs to do to get a photograph admitted into evidence during a trial.

If your audience were a lawyer that hadn't ever had to do that yet, you could use plenty of legal terminology and simply lay out the steps for him or her. If your reader were a law student, you could probably use most legal terminology safely, but when you describe the steps, you'd need to use a bit more context for what would likely be an unfamiliar situation.

And if your reader were a layperson - someone with no legal background - you would have to start with some background information, explaining why following the rules very strictly would be important. You would have to explain each step in detail, and you would have to define a number of legal terms.

Even in situations where the differences in knowledge levels of your potential audience aren't so varied, you should consider who will be reading your essay so that you'll know the right amount of space to devote to filling in background, explaining concepts and defining terms without confusing your reader or wasting too much space.

What Do You Want Your Reader to Take Away?

As you write an essay - or any piece of writing - you'll need to think about what you want your reader to take away from what you write. And there are really two layers to this point.

First, of course, is that you want to fulfill your basic purpose. You might want to inform your reader about how the electoral college works, for example. Or maybe you need to let your supervisor at work know about what parts of a project have been completed. Or, borrowing our idea from before, perhaps you are trying to persuade your school's faculty and administration that students bringing cell phones to class is a fantastic idea.

To inform, to persuade, or to entertain - those are examples of primary objectives, or purposes, and to meet those objectives, you'll need to think carefully about who your readers are and what their positions are, what your readers' perspectives might be and what level of knowledge your readers have about your subject matter.

But there's an important secondary objective that underlies much of what you will write, which is just as important as your primary objective. That secondary objective has to do with achieving what you want your reader to think about you based on your writing.

We all want our readers to come away from reading what we've written with a positive impression of us. If you've written a research memo for your boss, you want her to be informed by it and to form the opinion that you're a wonderful, valuable employee. If you've written an informative or persuasive essay for your teacher, you want him to be struck by how talented and meticulous a writer you are and by how much you know.

So how do you accomplish the secondary objective of making your reader think well of you based on what you've written? You'll have to pay particular attention to using all of the writing skills in your arsenal. Those skills would include effective organization, the use of details to support your main points and thorough editing.

Remember that in addition to informing, persuading or entertaining your reader, you may also have the added task of demonstrating all that you know about your subject and that you're a good writer (when writing an essay for a teacher). Or you might be trying to show how organized and creative you are (if your audience is your boss) and you've written a problem-solving proposal for her.

Lesson Summary

When you're working to write effectively for a particular audience, keep in mind the following four points:

  1. What is the reader's position with respect to you?
  2. What is the reader's perspective?
  3. What level of knowledge does the reader have about your topic?
  4. What do you want your reader to take away from what you write?

Remember also that you'll have a primary objective when you're writing for a particular audience. That primary objective might be to inform, to persuade or to entertain.

There's a secondary objective at work, too, and that's achieving what you want your reader to think about you based on your writing.

Consider the characteristics and needs of your particular readers as you work to create the right impression for those readers.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify fundamental characteristics about an audience to write more effectively
  • Understand the primary and secondary objective of writing for an audience

There are three types of appeals that you can use in your persuasive writing to make your arguments more effective. In this video, you'll learn about logical, ethical, and emotional appeals as well as how to use them.

Engaging Readers Through Appeal

You should watch this video because it will help you prepare to take written essay exams that you want to do well on.

You should watch this video because I'm an experienced English instructor, so I have good ideas about what you need to do to prepare for essay exams.

You should watch this video because doing well on exams can mean doing well in college, and succeeding in college can help you achieve all of your personal goals.

Each of these statements is a different type of appeal. Were any of them convincing? Did they affect you in different ways? Did any of them seem better than the others? The main reason that you should watch this video is to learn about these different types of appeals in persuasive writing, as well as how and why you should make use of them to do well on the essays you write.

What Is an Appeal?

In writing, an appeal is a persuasive strategy that a writer uses to support an argument. We use facts, data, and examples to support our arguments, but those are different from appeals, which have to do with how we present facts and examples in our persuasive writing.

There are three basic types of persuasive appeals: logical appeals; ethical appeals, or those based on the credibility of the writer; and emotional appeals. We'll take a look at each type, as well as how and why you might work with each type of appeal in an essay.

Logical Appeals

I mentioned earlier that 'you should watch this video because it will help you prepare to take written essay exams that you want to do well on.' That's a logical appeal because I've tried to appeal to your reasoning and logical judgment. When you make a logical appeal, you use reasoning to make your case. This is probably the most important type of appeal you'll make in most of your writing as a student and the type that should be used most often.

For example, if you're writing a persuasive essay arguing that your high school should make community service a requirement for graduation, you might offer the logical points that such efforts would lead to improvements within the community and students will learn the value of community service work. Develop each of your logical appeals thoroughly by offering facts and examples to back up those assertions.

Why should you rely on logical appeals most often when writing persuasively? Well, teachers who grade argumentative papers look to see whether you can construct a sound, logical argument. You may have personal, emotionally driven reasons for feeling the way that you do about an issue, but for graded essays, work on developing logical, well-supported persuasive points.

Ethical Appeals

I mentioned earlier that ethical appeals are those based on the credibility of the writer. I said at the start of this video that 'you should watch this video because I'm an experienced English instructor, so I have good ideas about what you need to do to prepare for essay exams.' I was trying to convince you that I'm a good, reliable source and that watching this video is a good idea based on my qualifications. An ethical appeal is based on the credibility of the writer.

It seems that everyone has an opinion about most things, but that doesn't mean that we want to listen to what just anyone has to say about every issue. We tend to be convinced by experts and trustworthy people who have experience with the issues that they write about. You might think 'I'm just a student; I'm not an expert on the topics I have to write about.' That's okay!

There are several ways that you can build your credibility and prove your character through your writing. You'll typically use sources when you write essays, either by conducting research for term papers or by relying on source materials provided to you for an essay exam. As you write, it's important to convey to your reader that you've sought out and referenced the ideas of people who are knowledgeable and experienced on the topic you're dealing with.

For example, let's say you have an interview with a long-time, distinguished high school principal discussing her views on requiring community service for students. You can use this resource to make an ethical appeal to your readers. You could highlight the fact that a high school educator and principal of twenty years has witnessed firsthand how compulsory community service can help build the character of students.

Making this ethical appeal can add weight to your own assertions about why this type of community service should be required and may help convince your reader of your point of view. You can develop an ethical appeal by thoroughly conveying the expert opinion and experiences of the credible, reliable sources that you come across in your research or that are provided to you for an essay exam.

Even if you're not using any sources at all in your writing, you can still establish your own credibility and trustworthiness. First, be sure to proofread your writing carefully to catch any grammatical or spelling mistakes. Readers are more likely to accept the content of your paper as accurate and reliable if the mechanics of your writing are accurate, too. Second, be sure to acknowledge opposing points of view as you make your argument. By doing so, you'll show that you're honest, that you've considered all angles, and that you're therefore a fair person who can be trusted.

Emotional Appeals

Earlier, I made the emotional appeal that 'you should watch this video because doing well on exams can mean doing well in college, and succeeding in college can help you achieve all of your personal goals.'

With an emotional appeal, a writer tries to draw upon the reader's personal values and feelings. Making emotional appeals in persuasive essays can be effective because readers sometimes respond more strongly to an emotional story than to one driven just by logic and statistics. Hearing the individual story of a family deeply affected by the Great Depression may have a greater impact on a person than would reading data about the great number of people who suffered during that period.

Emotional appeals, therefore, can be useful. Going back to our community service example, you might mention in your persuasive essay that you personally performed community service as a student. You can explain that you volunteered in a soup kitchen and learned something valuable about the people in need in your community. You might then share a specific story about that experience, and that could be a valid and convincing persuasive strategy.

Remember, though, that as a general rule, you should limit your use of emotional appeals in persuasive writing. If you can use this type of appeal in a relevant way, it can be effective. However, students sometimes have a tendency to overuse emotional appeals and may sometimes even write entire essays that consist of nothing else.

You can develop an emotional appeal effectively by relating the specific story briefly and then stepping back and explaining how that story illustrates the larger point that you're trying to make. For example, you might explain an emotional story about your community service work and then explain that what you learned about the difficulties of others was life-changing and that many of your fellow students had similar positive experiences.

Be especially careful when you're really passionate about the topic you're writing about. Remember that the person grading your essay is most interested in seeing how good your reasoning skills are and how well you can express specific points. It can be easy for us to get carried away when writing about something we care a lot about, and what's meant to be a relevant emotional appeal can easily turn into a rant. Remember to use emotional appeals sparingly and with the intent to offer support for your other specific, reasoned arguments.

Lesson Summary

Remember that an appeal is a persuasive strategy that a writer uses to support an argument. There are three basic types of persuasive appeals: logical appeals; ethical appeals, or those based on the credibility of the writer; and emotional appeals.

When you make a logical appeal, you use reasoning to make your case. You should be making this type of appeal most often in your persuasive writing. Ethical appeals are based on the credibility of the writer, and emotional appeals are aimed at readers' values and feelings.

This last approach can be effective, but be sure to make limited use of emotional appeals in your papers. You want to be sure that you devote plenty of space to logical appeals in order to highlight your reasoning skills, and you don't want to rant or rely too much on appeals to your readers' emotions in general.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson will help you to:

  • Define what an appeal is and identify the three different types
  • Distinguish between logical, ethical and emotional appeals
  • Recognize which appeal is best for your particular essay

Developing a good writing style starts with developing good diction. You can't craft an essay or story the way you want without being able to choose the right words first. Here's how.

Using Good Diction

Diction is just a fancy way of saying 'word choice.' That is, when someone tells you that you have 'good diction,' they're saying that you have a good vocabulary and you use it well. Having good diction is an essential part of writing well, no matter what kind of writing you're doing. Diction is the key to developing your style, tone, and point of view.

Don't Use Uninteresting Words

Whenever you can, try to replace boring words with more interesting (and descriptive) ones. Take this sentence:

'James Blonde's good plan helped him win against the bad guy.'

That gets the information across, but it doesn't pop. Let's target these words: 'good,' 'plan,' 'win,' 'bad,' and 'guy.' Instead of the adjective 'good' we can substitute in 'cunning' (which means clever), instead of the noun 'plan' we can say 'strategy' (which has a similar meaning but implies more action), instead of the verb 'win' we can say 'defeat' (which is more dramatic), and instead of 'bad guy' we can say 'villain' (which sounds more threatening and thus makes James Blonde's victory more epic).

So what are we left with? 'James Blonde's cunning strategy helped him defeat the villain.'

Make just a few small changes in word choice and the sentence now has much more zip. However, that doesn't mean you should replace 10-cent words with 10-dollar ones just because you can. That's to say, just because a word sounds fancier (e.g. it 'costs more') doesn't actually make it better. For instance, 'James Blonde's dexterous machinations abetted his vanquishment of his disputant' is full of big, heady words and is also confusing and totally awful. Good diction requires you to strike a balance between the dull and wordy while still sounding natural.

Specific Details Are Better

Replacing boring words with more interesting ones is good; replacing vague words (which are usually boring, by the way) with more specific ones is even better.

'It was a nice day. There were lots of things to do and people to see.'

Those are two boring, vague sentences. It was a 'nice' day, according to the author, but nice how? What things were there to do? What people are you seeing? Remove the vague words and replace with descriptive details and you'll have a superior sentence.

'It was a beautiful, partly sunny day. There were many sports and games to play and friends to meet.'

While this still isn't the most exciting sentence in the world, it at least tells us something now. We know exactly what kind of nice day it was (beautiful and partly sunny), what kinds of 'things' the writer is looking forward to, and what people he or she is going to see. If you always favor the specific over the vague in your word choice, you'll have won half the battle of good writing.

Avoid Repetition

This is more of an editing tactic, but good style usually means varying your word choice and avoiding repetition. Consider a paragraph that reads like this:

'One example of an awesome dinosaur is the velociraptor, while another example of an awesome dinosaur is the T-Rex. In a fight, these two dinosaurs would pretty much beat every other dinosaur, although a T-Rex would obviously beat a single velociraptor easily because of its superior size.'

Here we have 'example' twice, 'awesome' twice, and 'dinosaur' three times, and 'beat' twice. Eliminate unnecessary repetition by removing words if they don't add anything and replacing others with synonyms to make them more interesting for the reader. Here's what we did:

'One example of an awe-inspiring dinosaur is the velociraptor, while another is the T-Rex. In a fight, these two beasts would pretty much beat every other prehistoric lizard, although a T-Rex would obviously defeat a single velociraptor easily because of its superior size.'

The fixed, non-repetitious version now sounds not only more interesting but has more authority.

Developing Tone & Point-of-View

You know that you want to choose interesting words and not boring ones and favor specific details over the ambiguous ones, but what words you choose also help decide what the tone of your piece is going to be. For instance, if you want to have a lighthearted tone, you wouldn't choose a lot of serious, brooding words. Which of the following do you think is lighter?

'The rodeo clown levitated the balls in the air, the lines of his mouth upturned into gaping smile.'

'The rodeo clown juggled the balls, laughing as he did.'

Clearly the second sentence is much lighter. 'Juggle' has a light feeling, as does 'laughing.' Compare that to 'levitated the balls in the air,' which is longer, and the verb 'levitated' sounds like it takes a lot more effort.

The way a word makes you feel and the other things it makes you think of make up a word's connotation, and that's something you have to be conscious of when you're writing. Think about the tone you want to have - whether it's stern, upbeat, firm, professional, or personal - and then choose your words carefully based on what feeling they give the reader. In the first example sentence, the adjectives 'upturned' and 'gaping' both give the reader an uncomfortable feeling; in the second sentence, 'laughing' expresses nothing but joy. Both sentences describe the same action but leave the reader with completely different impressions.

Check for Confusing Words

English - tricky language that it is - has a number of words that sound similar but have slightly-to-very different meanings. When writing, make sure you've picked the right word for what you mean. For instance: are you effected by the zombie virus or are you affected by the zombie virus?

'Effect,' here, is a verb meaning 'to bring into being' (perhaps you were a corpse that the virus made rise from the dead), while 'affected' is a verb meaning 'to influence' - in other words, the person is asking if you've been influenced in any way by the zombie virus (maybe you know someone who's infected, maybe they're asking if you're immune or if you've been bitten - it could be any number of things).

English is full of homophones - that's two words that sound the same but have different meanings. So you have to be careful when writing and revising to make sure you've chosen the right word.

  • Except means 'to leave out'
    • Accept means 'to receive or agree to'
  • Compliment means 'to praise'
    • Complement means 'to complete'
  • Than is used to compare or connect two things
    • Then signals a movement forward in time (that's one students get wrong a lot)
  • Confident is 'a personality trait meaning that you feel strong or assured'
    • A confidant is 'someone you trust who you tell your secrets to'

And those are just a few.

Lesson Review

There's more to making the right word choices than anyone can explain in a 10-minute lecture, but this should get you started on the road to good diction. Just remember to:

  1. Avoid bland, uninteresting words.
  2. Try to be as specific as possible; details are always better than no details.
  3. Single out repetitive words and change them or get rid of them.
  4. Think about the tone you want to strike and pick words that fit that tone.
  5. Check to make sure you've made the right choices and all of your words mean exactly what you want them to mean.

Learning Outcomes

One you've completed watching the lesson, you'll be able to:

  • Define diction
  • Examine a sentence for interesting and noninteresting words
  • Rewrite a sentence using specific details
  • Recognize repetition
  • Differentiate between confusing words

Your sentences may not always make as much sense as you think they do, especially if you're comparing two or more things. It's easy to let comparisons become illogical, incomplete, or ambiguous. Learn how to avoid making faulty comparisons on your way to writing a great essay.

How We Use Comparisons

Let me tell you a few things about myself. I like homemade meals better than any restaurant. Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is the best. I also think that reading has more educational value.

Did all of that make sense to you? Do you feel like you know me a little bit better? Comparisons are one of the primary ways we relate our interests and opinions to others and let them know more about ourselves. Also, every one of those comparisons is wrong.

If you picked up on what was wrong with them - excellent. If not, the reason that I put those out there is because spotting faulty comparisons can be extremely tricky. Not because we're stupid, but rather because we're so smart, and human brains are excellent at filling in the gaps. In fact, from the above, you probably decided that I liked home-cooked food more than dine out, that I prefer death machines from the future to scrappy boxers, and that reading is one of the best things you can do to build your intellect. And you'd be right about all of those things, but that's not exactly what I said. Let's break it down.

Illogical Comparison Errors

I like homemade meals better than any restaurant.

Now, you may get that what I mean to say is that I prefer home-cooked meals to eating out, but what I'm actually doing here is comparing two things that aren't comparable: Homemade meals are a thing you eat, while a restaurant is a place you go to eat. What I really mean to say is:

I like homemade meals better than any restaurant cooking,

Or that, I like eating homemade meals better than eating at any restaurant.

What we just demonstrated with homemade meals was an error of illogical comparison. When comparing two things, make sure that the things you're comparing are apples to apples, not apples to spaceships.

You also want to be careful to make sure that the thing you're comparing is not included in the thing you're comparing it to. That means not leaving out words like 'other,' 'any,' or 'else.' For instance, This restaurant is finer than any restaurant. It doesn't make sense because 'any restaurant' includes the restaurant you're saying is fine, and you can't be finer than yourself. Similarly, you can't say, El Chupacabra is hairier than anything I've seen, because that includes El Chupacabra. Instead, what you mean to say is, El Chupacabra is hairier than anything else I've seen.

Misused Comparatives and Superlatives

Now let's look at the second example sentence I gave you at the beginning. Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is the best. This is an error of misused comparative forms. What the comparative and superlative forms look like varies depending on the word, but here are a few common examples.

In the positive form, we use the word 'good' to talk about one thing or set of things and what we like about them. As in, This jelly donut costume is good, or, That's a good mustache costume. But when we want to compare two things, the word changes to its comparative form. You don't say, This jelly donut costume is gooder than that mustache costume. You say, This jelly donut costume is better than that mustache costume. 'Better' is the comparative form. However, once you're comparing three or more things - or comparing one thing against a group of things or all things - you need to use 'best,' which is the superlative form. So, you would say, This jelly donut costume is better than that mustache costume, but that mustached, jelly donut costume is the best. Or, That mustached jelly donut costume is the best costume ever.

Therefore, to return to our original example: Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is better.

No Comparison Errors

Sometimes you think that you're comparing something (and you are in your head!), but that doesn't make it to the page. For instance, in my first example, I say that, I think reading has more educational value. Obviously something is missing here - more educational value than what? Bird-watching? Singing show tunes? Jumping from very tall heights? But what I'm comparing is missing. There needs to be something there, like, I think reading has more educational value than playing Skyrim.

Make sure your comparisons are complete, or you'll end up like this guy.

Ambiguous Comparison Errors

Sometimes, you may make a comparison that you think is perfectly clear, but the reader can interpret it a different way than you intended. When the comparison is ambiguous, it must be fixed so that it is clear.

Albert is more fond of his father's dragons than his mother.

This phrase could have two possible interpretations. Either Albert is more fond of his father's dragons than his mother is fond of them, or that Albert likes his father's dragons more than he likes his mother! It's ambiguous, so it needs to be fixed. Here's one possible fix:

Albert was more fond of his father's dragons than his mother was.

It's not a perfect sentence now, but at least it's clear.

Lesson Summary

To recap, when making a comparison between two or more things, remember to:

  1. Avoid illogical comparisons, like 'I like jelly donuts more than cream.' They're both foods, but you probably mean cream donuts.
  2. Don't mix up your positive, comparative, and superlative forms, i.e. bad, worse, worst.
  3. Don't forget to actually make the comparison you're intending to make.
  4. Double-check to make sure the comparison you're making is completely clear to the reader and couldn't be interpreted any other way. If it could, you should fix it.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and fix the various kinds of faulty comparisons.

Just because you know a good sentence when you read one doesn't mean that you think it's easy to put one together - forget about writing an essay's worth. Learn how to write clear sentences and turn rough ones into gems.

How to Write Clear Sentences

A good essay, you can't begin to start writing one, not really, unless you learn to write sentences clearly.

That is a bad sentence. When you hear me speak it, or when you read it on the screen, you probably feel that instinctively, but how would you fix it? Let's take a second to analyze it.

The sentence is actually grammatically correct, but its priorities are out of whack. The first clause is 'a good essay,' which you assume is the subject - we're going to talk about a good essay. The next clause tells you that you can't begin to start writing one, but you don't know in what way the author means. Is it because you don't speak English? Because your best friend was killed by a rogue sentence? Because you refuse as a matter of religious principle? It's not clear.

Next, you have 'not really,' which is an aside - a bit of the author's voice that doesn't add anything to the sentence (it actually makes it more confusing) - and then, finally, 'unless you learn to write sentences clearly,' where the point of the sentence is finally revealed, but it ends on the adverb 'clearly,' which may be confusing ('does it modify 'sentences' or 'write'?' you might ask). The connection between the sentence's subject and its intent couldn't be further apart. Here's the same sentiment, cleaned up:

You can't write a good essay without learning how to write clear sentences first.

Or, more stylishly:

Clear sentences are the foundations of great essays.

Here's the thing: while we all wish that we could write with perfect clarity every time we sat down to a pen and paper, that's not realistic. Writing good, clear sentences is less about learning how to make sparkling, unicorn rainbows of text pour from your fingers than it is about learning how to fix and refine your writing after you've put it down (though you'll get better the more you practice and eventually turn out pretty good sentences on the first try more often than not). To put that more simply: clear sentences emerge from careful editing.

Clear Sentences Checklist

Here's a checklist of questions you can ask yourself to make your writing easier for your reader to understand.

Do all of the words in the sentence serve a purpose?

As we saw in the example sentence, one of the reasons it was confusing is there was additional information that didn't serve the intent of the sentence. When you're trying to fill space in a paper, suddenly adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary asides often start popping up. Worse, many students, in the course of trying to reach minimum length requirements for a paper, start writing sentences with no substance at all. Let's look at an example:

In the course of the novels we are given multiple chances over and over to become suspicious of Snape's character, most importantly the multiple times that he harasses Harry and his friends for seemingly no reason at all even though they hadn't done anything to him.

The sentence, an analysis of A-Popular-Book-Series-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, is pumped full of redundancies and ambiguous phrases that take away from the clarity of the sentence. First, we have 'multiple chances' and 'over and over.' As the writer, maybe what I think I'm saying is that Snape gives multiple reasons to doubt him on several separate occasions. Or maybe what I mean is that he does certain things enough times - i.e. 'over and over' - that there are multiple reasons to doubt him. It's not clear, so it has to go. Let's get rid of 'over and over.'

Next, we have 'most importantly the multiple times.' We've already used 'multiple' in the sentence once, so let's replace that with a synonym like 'many.' Also, what does 'most importantly' tell us? It seems to refer back to the 'multiple reasons,' but what is most important? If what the writer really means is to point out specific instances, he must be specific. Let's replace 'most importantly' with 'including.'

Next, let's look at the last part of the sentence, 'seemingly no reason at all even though they hadn't done anything wrong to him.' This is classic fluff, as 'seemingly no reason at all' and 'even though they hadn't done anything wrong to him' express the same sentiment. Choose one - whichever you think is most effective. But we'll clip the last part entirely and remove 'at all' since there's no difference between 'no reason' and 'no reason at all'; that last part also features 'seemingly,' a word choice that makes the sentiment weaker, not stronger. Are you still with me?

Finally, to backtrack to a matter of style, ask yourself: what does 'In the course of the novels' mean? What course are we talking about? Let's remove 'in the course of' entirely and let 'the novels' speak for themselves and not make it an introductory clause but put it in the thick of the action. After our patented Sentence Weight Loss Plan™, here's the lean, mean sentence we're left with:

We are given multiple chances in the novels to become suspicious of Snape's character, including the many times he harasses Harry and his friends for no reason.

Is the sentence in passive voice?

Look. Passive voice isn't always a bad thing (and we'll go into the problems with passive voice in greater depth in other lessons), but in general, you want to avoid it because it emphasizes all the wrong parts of the sentence and, worse, bores your readers. Check this out:

The new form of life discovered by the scientists will be remembered by generations to come.

We're talking about discovering new life! Let's not make it boring. In the active voice, the subject is the one performing the action - 'Gladys sang a song.' - but in the passive voice the subject is having the action done to it, as in, 'The song was sung by Gladys.' Here we've got a couple of passive constructions, so let's fix them to make the verbs active again. Let's change 'The new life form discovered by the scientists' to 'The scientists discovered a new life form'. (See, now the scientists are doing the discovering, not having the discovering done to them). Then, let's change 'will be remembered' to 'remember' and place it so that 'generations' are performing the action. So the whole sentence now looks like this:

The scientists discovered a new life form that generations to come will remember.

Much more interesting!

Have I made any common mistakes?

Finally, check to make sure you haven't made any obvious errors. Are all of your commas, colons, and semicolons in the right place? Is anything misspelled? Do your subjects and verbs all agree with each other (singular to singular and plural to plural)? It's important to edit and proofread your sentences because little mistakes make your sentences confusing and distract your reader from the point you're trying to make. While your reader is staring at that misplaced comma, he's completely ignoring the substance of your sentence. There goes all your hard work.

Listen to the Rhythm

Sentences have rhythms. They can be long and short, verbose, or simple. And sometimes they can go on and on, twisting and turning down roads and alleyways, rising, falling, tumbling over themselves, and gliding to a gentle finish - unless you don't want that.

Read your sentences out loud - listen to them. If you find yourself getting lost, it's time to edit them. Then, take those sentences and start making their rhythms play against one another - a practice that's more boringly called 'varying sentence structure.' How they all fit together is what eventually makes up your unique style and voice.

Lesson Summary

To re-cap, a good, clear sentence:

  1. Is well organized.
  2. Has no wasted words.
  3. Is (usually) in the active voice.
  4. Has appropriate, strong word choice.
  5. Has a rhythm suited to the content.

Now go forth and write clear sentences! Happy editing.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to construct a good, clear sentence based on a checklist of questions that can make your writing better and easier for readers to understand.

Sometimes we know what we want to write, but we are just unsure of the best way to write it. In this video, we will cover ways to structure sentences in an essay.

Sentence Structure

Often times when writing an essay, we know what we want to say; we just struggle with how to say it. One of the best ways of getting better at expressing yourself is through a good understanding of sentence structure. Just like you need to learn to read music to express yourself on the piano, you need a firm grasp of sentence structure to express yourself in writing. In this video, we are going to review the most common types of sentences found in English language writing, and how to determine the right ones to use for your essay.

The Four Types of Sentences

There are four main types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Simple sentences contain one independent clause. The best way to figure out if a sentence has more than one independent clause is to see if it has more than one subject and verb. For instance, in the sentence 'I swam and fished yesterday;' although there are two verbs, swimming and fishing, there is only one subject, I. In the sentence 'Jack and Jill went up the hill,' we have two subjects, yet just one verb. Both of these sentences would be simple sentences.

A compound sentence has two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction. An example of a compound sentence would be: 'Jack went up the front of the hill, and Jill went up the side of the hill.' You can count the number of independent clauses by counting the number of subjects and verbs. There are two subjects: Jack and Jill, and there are two verbs: going up the front of the hill and going up the side of the hill. The two clauses are linked using a conjunction - and.

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses that contain subordinating conjunctions. An example of a complex sentence would be: 'Jack fell down the hill because he tripped on a rock.' The independent clause is Jack falling down the hill. The subordinating conjunction gives us the reason he fell down the hill - because he tripped on a rock.

A compound-complex has two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. An example of a compound-complex sentence is: 'Jack fell down the hill because he tripped on a rock, and then Jill fell down the hill when she heard Jack scream.' In this sentence, we have two independent clauses with Jack and Jill being the nouns, and falling down the hill (for Jack) and falling down the hill (for Jill) being the verbs. The dependent clauses are tripping on a rock and hearing a scream.

Choosing a Sentence Structure

When deciding on sentence structure, keep in mind what your audience knows about the topic. For instance, if you are introducing a new concept, idea, or character, go with a simple sentence. If you are elaborating on information you have already presented, you can go with a compound or complex sentence. When you have multiple characters, ideas, or theories your reader needs to consider simultaneously, using a compound-complex sentence will be your best choice.

Lesson Summary

In this video we learned about the four types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex), and how to determine the best sentence structure to use in your essay.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify the four types of sentences, and when it is best to use each one.

Learn the meaning of sentence structure and the importance of varying sentence structure in writing in this lesson. Four strategies to help you vary your sentence structure will also be described.

What Is Sentence Structure?

The written word is an essential form of communication in the world today. In order to be effective, all writing must follow sentence structure rules. Sentence structure is defined exactly as it sounds: the structure of written sentences. In other words, sentence structure is how you build sentences.

Sentence structure is vital in writing for several reasons. First, writing needs to be clear so that others can understand it. There is no point in writing if no one can decipher your words. Sentence structure gives clear expectations for how sentences must be formed so that others can easily read and understand your writing.

A second reason sentence structure is important deals with the effect of writing. Writing can truly be an art form, with writers as the artists. In the same way artists can elicit different emotions from people with paintings, writers can do so with written works. Certain sentence structure can create different effects and intrigue the reader.

Varied sentence structure, which is changing how you build your sentences, can give the reader the right perception or create interesting thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, repeated sentence structure can make writing monotonous, confusing or just plain boring. Let's look at strategies to help your writing have varied sentence structure.

Switch it Up

One way you can make sure you have varied sentence structure is to switch phrases in your sentences. Sometimes moving a phrase to another part of a sentence can be enough of a change to keep your reader on his toes. Just like anything else, if the same thing occurs over and over again, you get used to it and adapt to it. If your reader is adapting to your writing, eventually they will be reading without even thinking, which is the opposite of what you want as a writer. Let's look at an example in these sentences:

  • 'I realize every student needs individual attention in order to learn.' 'I intend to continue the long line of dedication it takes to maximize student potential with a diversified method of teaching.'

You should have noticed how each sentence begins with 'I.' Switch up some phrases in your sentences to escape from this repetition. For example, in the second sentence you can say, 'In order to maximize student potential, I will use a diversified method of teaching and continue the long line of dedication to education.' The revision was simply moving one phrase while keeping the same meaning. This change prevents repeating sentence structure.

Use of Pronouns

Another way to ensure that you have varied your sentence structure is to pay attention to your pronouns. Pronouns are very useful in all kinds of writing. A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. For example, look at these two sentences:

  • 'The boy was afraid of the large dog.' 'He ran away from it.'

The second sentence has the pronouns 'he' and 'it.' What does 'he' stand for? What about 'it?' 'He' replaced 'the boy' and 'it' replaced 'the large dog.' Hopefully, you can already see the usefulness of using pronouns to help reduce repetitiveness.

Imagine you are writing an essay on a group of students who did an experiment on velocity. Do not use the phrase 'the group' over and over again to refer to the group of students - that would be repetitive and boring. You should use the pronouns 'they' or 'them' interchangeably with the term 'the group.' You can also even rephrase it with another noun and use 'the students' or 'the experimenters.' The key is balancing when you use each term and making sure it is clear you are referring to the group doing the experiment.

One thing to be aware of when using pronouns is to be clear what you are referring to. If you use 'he' or 'they' over and over again, your reader may forget who those pronouns refer to; then, understanding and comprehension will be in danger. Vary when you use pronouns and when you use nouns in order to maintain clarity.

Vary Transitions

A third strategy to achieve varied sentence structure is to alternate your transitional words and phrases. A transition is any word that moves the focus from one idea to another. It is important that you use a variety of transitions throughout your writing. Again, this will help reduce repetition and monotony.

One important aspect of transitions is to maintain the intended meaning. For example, there are many transitional words that indicate an addition of thought: furthermore, in addition, moreover, secondly, and even more so are all transitional words or phrases that indicate an addition of thought. You can usually use these phrases interchangeably with one another. This way you will not be using 'furthermore,' over and over again in your writing.

Another group of transitions are words or phrases that show contrasting ideas. These include however, nonetheless, otherwise, on the other hand, and in contrast. If you notice you are using the word 'however' a lot, try out some other phrases or words that can give the same meaning of contrast in your work.

These are just some examples of transitional words you can use throughout your writing. There are many more groups with a variety of expressions available to use in writing. The key is to be sure to use interchangeable transitions when appropriate.

Sentence Length

A final method to achieving varied sentence structure is to vary your sentence length. If you notice you are using many short sentences, combine ideas to create more complex sentences. You can combine sentences together using a comma and a conjunction, which is any connecting word like 'and' and 'but.' For example, 'Jessica loves skiing during the winter season, and she tried to get me to learn to ski.' You can also use a semicolon to connect complete sentences: 'Jessica loves skiing during the winter season; she tried to get me to learn to ski.'

You can change the wording of your sentences to combine them into one. Let's look at these two sentences from earlier:

  • 'I realize every student needs individual attention in order to learn.' 'I intend to continue the long line of dedication it takes to maximize student potential with a diversified method of teaching.'

How can you combine those sentences into one? How about 'I intend to use a diversified method of teaching in order to meet the individual needs for each student so he can achieve his maximum potential.' All the same ideas are in there, but the two sentences have become one.

The other side to this strategy is to shorten your sentences if you notice many of them are rather long. You can try to break sentences up into shorter ones or even cut out certain phrases or words. All this can help to vary your sentence structure within your writing.

Lesson Summary

To review, you can use several strategies in order to achieve a varied sentence structure, which is changing how you build your sentences:

  • One way is to move around the phrases in your sentences. Certain phrases can be moved to different areas of the sentence without losing meaning. This could help you reduce repetition.
  • A second method involves using pronouns, which are words that stand in for nouns. This also diminishes repetition and can keep your reader thinking about your writing.
  • A third method is to use a variety of transitional words and phrases, which can indicate a change of ideas. Many transitions have similar meanings, so if you can use a different word, but maintain the same meaning, you should.
  • A final strategy to achieve varied sentenced structure is to pay attention to the length of your sentences. Ideally, you should have a balance of long, complex sentences and short, simple sentences. Too many long sentences can confuse your reader, while too many short sentences can bore him.

Overall, sentences can be built in a variety of ways. These four strategies can help you vary your sentence structure in order to keep your writing relevant and interesting.

Learning Outcomes

This video on sentence composition will help you to:

  • Recognize the importance of sentence structure
  • Describe what it means to vary sentence structure
  • Demonstrate how the use of pronouns can help you vary sentence structure
  • Acknowledge how transition words and phrases can aid in varying sentence structure
  • Recall the importance of changing up the sentence length

Often times in writing, we know what we want to say, but it doesn't seem to come out right. In this video we will learn the steps needed to improve your writing with better sentence structure.

The Importance of Improving Sentence Structure

Imagine seeing all the pieces for a house laid out in front of you. You know roughly where things should go, but putting the pieces in the wrong order won't have a very good final product. You can end up with something that looks like a house but has lots of problems in style and function.

This jumbled box often occurs in our writing as well. We have all the parts that we need, but the order in which they occur leaves us lacking the style we desired and leaves our writing not quite right for our reader.

Why Sentence Structure Matters

There are a number of reasons why sentence structure matters. Sentence structure matters in English because of our use of modifiers. A modifier is a word or phrase that provides description in a sentence. However, putting the modifier in the wrong place can add confusion instead of clarity to your sentence. We can see this with simple modifiers in the wrong place.

'Only I love you!'

I'm pretty sure our friend didn't mean to tell his sweetheart that he was the only person on the planet that loved her. Structure that sentence a bit better and he would have had a much more pleasant result.

'I love only you!'

Then we have those dangling modifiers.

'To improve his building skills, a video was watched.'

In order to not offend our conscientious observers, a better choice of sentence structure would be:

'In order to improve his building skills, our friend watched a video.'

Now our readers know exactly who we are talking about and they won't need to figure it out and guess.

Good sentence structure helps to eliminate the use of sentence fragments as well. A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. These sentences are often incomplete because they are no longer attached to their clauses.

'It is important to eat vegetables every day. Having a variety.'

A sentence should be able to stand on its own. If we separate the two sentences, we can easily see that the second sentence is a fragment. We don't really know what 'having a variety' is referring to.

'Having a variety of vegetables can help us consume more of them.'

However, be careful not to err on the side of a run-on sentence to avoid a sentence fragment. A run-on sentence is when two or more independent clauses are joined without the appropriate punctuation or conjunction.

The final of the big three causes of sentence structure problems is using passive voice. Passive voice isn't a grammatical error so much as it makes the sentence harder to follow. In passive voice, the target of an action is put in the subject position even though they aren't doing anything. For example:

'The doll was bathed by Sally.'

The doll is an inanimate object and isn't doing any action in the sentence - Sally is doing the work. So to make the sentence active we would write:

'Sally bathed the doll.'

We get to read about action, what's going on and a play-by-play, if you will. It keeps the reader engaged in the piece.

So now that we know the three most common culprits that harm our sentence structure, let's see what we can do to improve them and our overall writing.

How to Improve Your Sentence Structure

Now that we know what can go wrong in structuring a sentence, how do we improve our sentence structure?

  1. Ensure the information within the sentence is clear. This means ensuring that new information follows old, words are defined for the reader and context is clear.
  2. Make sure to use transitional words. Transitional words help the reader to easily follow along in your writing. These include words like 'in addition,' 'however,' 'but' and 'also.'
  3. Use care with subordinate clauses. The subordinate clauses should be at the beginning or the end of the sentence.
  4. Use active voice. Sentences using active voice are easier to read and understand.
  5. Use active verbs. Like active voice, active verbs are easier to read and understand.
  6. Follow traditional grammatical rules. Follow those rules that we all must follow in sentence structure, including using commas appropriately, using complete sentences and following appropriate spelling rules.

Lesson Summary

Good sentence structure makes your essay easier to read and understand. The first step is being able to identify the things that cause our sentence structure to suffer. This includes having sentence fragments, run-on sentences or putting modifiers in the wrong place. We then learned the six steps to improve our sentence structure.

  1. Ensure the information within the sentence is clear.
  2. Make sure to use transitional words.
  3. Use care with subordinate clauses.
  4. Use active voice.
  5. Use active verbs.
  6. Follow grammar rules.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify and correct misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and passive voice
  • Paraphrase the six tips for improving sentence structure

Many times our writing must not just be informative but it must also be persuasive. One of the best ways to be very persuasive is to use a great argument. Learn six steps you can follow to write a great argument.


Imagine it has happened: You have been challenged to a duel. This isn't your typical duel. You have been challenged to battle one-on-one, not in a face-to-face setting, but on paper. You get one shot to convince the entire reading audience that your point is correct and gain their support. How do you do this? How do you persuade the masses of your point of view? With a great argument!

Steps to Building a Great Argument

There are a number of times we may be asked to present a written argument, both in academia as well as in real-life settings. Academic arguments are sometimes called for in courses analyzing stances taken in history, or perhaps during a speech class where you have to give a persuasive presentation or even when solving case study problems in business, engineering and clinical courses. In our everyday lives, we present arguments when writing our politicians, explaining our side in disputes and even encouraging friends and family members to support causes that are near and dear to our hearts. There are six steps we can follow to build a great argument.

1. Make sure to get the question or topic right.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone is passionately trying to persuade others of a topic that really isn't an issue in the first place? Have you ever asked someone a specific question and their answer addressed a completely different topic? As annoying as those instances are, we can find ourselves doing the same thing if we are not careful in arguing our topic. The best way to be sure you are dealing with the correct topic is to make the topic a part of your thesis statement. For instance, if I have been asked to argue the points for higher speed limits on highways, I can ensure I am arguing that point by making my thesis statement, 'Why higher speed limits on highways are beneficial.' This will keep me more focused than if I made my thesis statement, 'Why cars are well equipped to handle higher speeds on the highway.' I could easily veer into arguing the merits of advanced engineering or automatic steering and breaking, which may or may not have anything to do with higher speed limits on highways.

2. Support your side of the argument with good reason.

The way to refute an argument or to prove a point is with logic and reason, not with attacking the other side. No matter your feelings about the opposing viewpoint, never resort to ad hominem, straw man or other types of rhetorical attacks. Attacking people is never a good way to build your case. Readers want the merits of your point, not simply a tearing down of the views of others.

Proving your point with logic and reason includes having good, factual data as well as presenting your viewpoint in ordered steps that are easy for your reader to understand and follow.

3. Use good support that will seem valid and unbiased to your reader.

Present support from a variety of sources. This includes the use of definitions, statistical analyses, facts, testimonials, historical precedents and any other information that would be relevant to your topic and your point. It is important to use sources your reader will find credible and that are as free from bias as possible. Remember to always cite your sources.

4. Deal with disagreement.

Sometimes there are valid and legitimate arguments against our thesis. It is more powerful to acknowledge and deal with these issues than to ignore them. Let the reader know you understand arguments against your stance. Acknowledge those arguments specifically. Then address how your view overcomes those objections. You may also have to deal with myths, folklore and wrong conclusions. Give credible and factual information as to why these points are incorrect, but be sensitive to individuals who may have held these beliefs and thought they were true.

5. Be clear, yet concise.

More words don't make your argument more believable, and using too much information can leave your reader confused. Use as few words as necessary to convey your point. This doesn't mean leaving out important information, just ensuring that everything written is germane to your topic and your point.

6. Write a good essay.

Your essay should be well-written. This means having a strong opening paragraph that addresses your thesis and gives the reader a good introduction to your stance on the argument. You should have a good body for the essay, meaning each main point should have its own paragraph. There should be a good mix of bodies of evidence supporting each main point, and every main point should point back to your overall thesis. Finally, you should have a strong concluding paragraph that reminds the reader of your overall thesis and main points and leaves the reader with something memorable from your topic. Don't forget to do a good final edit of your paper - sloppy work is far less persuasive than more polished pieces.

Lesson Summary

Let's recap our six steps to writing a great argument:

  1. Make sure to get the topic or question correct. You get no points for effectively arguing a case you weren't asked to make.
  2. Support your argument with good reason. Focus on developing the merits of your case instead of attacking the views of others.
  3. Use good support for your view. Use sources that are varied and have merit with your reader.
  4. Deal with disagreement. Acknowledge valid points against your argument and deal with them in a forthright manner.
  5. Be clear, yet concise. Use only the number of words necessary to make your point clearly to the reader.
  6. Write a good essay. This means follow the steps of good essay writing, including having a good opening paragraph that introduces your topic and the stance you are taking, a good body of main points backed up by cited research and a strong conclusion that reinforces your thesis statement and leaves the audience with something memorable.

By following these steps, you will be well on your way to writing a great argument.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and paraphrase the six steps to writing an argument.


In this video, you will explore the basics of identifying your purpose and audience and learn how to use effective rhetorical skills in your persuasive writing.

Using Rhetorical Skills to Write Better Essays

That's just a bunch of rhetoric. You've probably heard this expression before, perhaps about a politician who seemed to be delivering a lot of empty promises without much substance. We might think of rhetoric as just words without real meaning.

That's not really the primary meaning of rhetoric, though, which has to do with the art of effective speaking or writing. There are a number of basic concepts to keep in mind as you work to master your rhetorical skills as a writer, and those skills are especially important within the context of persuasive writing. Those concepts include purpose, audience, and tone.

Know Your Purpose

When you write an academic essay, it's crucial to identify precisely what you're ultimately trying to achieve with your work. Are you setting out with one of the common academic purposes to entertain, to inform, to evaluate, or to persuade?

If you're working on a timed essay exam or a term paper for school, chances are good that you've been told what type of essay to write. You'll often be assigned, for example, an informative essay or a persuasive paper. (It would be great if your teacher just told you to write whatever you want, but that's probably pretty unlikely.)

So even though you'll usually be told what your purpose should be, it's crucial that you spend some time thinking about that purpose before you begin writing as well as throughout your writing process. For example, if you've been tasked with writing a persuasive essay, you need to stay focused on that persuasive purpose. A common mistake that students writing persuasive essays make is slipping into a simply descriptive or informative mode, just offering facts without making actual arguments. Ask yourself with each paragraph that you write, 'Am I making arguments here? Is my writing matching my purpose?'

Know Your Audience

There are a few issues you should keep in mind as you think about how to write for your audience.

'What is the reader's position with respect to you?' Is the reader your boss, who expects a professional, flawless report? Or a friend whom you can address casually? Given that you'll probably most often be writing for an instructor, consider that you'll be trying to show what you've learned and display your best writing techniques.

'What is the reader's perspective?' Does your reader have a particular role or position that makes him or her biased about the topic that you're writing about? You'll need to take your reader's perspective into account in order to be truly persuasive.

'How much does your reader know about your topic?' Will you need to define basic vocabulary terms and explain certain processes, or are you writing about a topic that will be easily understood by your reader?

Apply Rhetorical Skills

Identifying and recognizing your purpose and audience are important steps to take as you figure out how you'll write about your subject. In other words, these things have bearing on your rhetorical skills and your rhetorical approach.

Your tone in a piece of writing is essentially the attitude that you convey. Will you have a serious tone, a lighthearted tone, or a sarcastic tone? If you're writing a persuasive paper, would you use a scornful tone, sharply criticizing anyone who holds an opposing viewpoint? Or would you have a more respectful, deferential tone, acknowledging opposing views while asserting that your points are the most sensible ones to adopt? (Take note that a respectful tone is typically a good one to strike in your academic essays.)

Consider the two following short persuasive passages:

Passage 1: Our high school has to purchase more computers. Computers are machines that can be used as word processors or for many other technical purposes. Other schools in the area have more computer labs than our school does, and their devices are newer and in better shape, but apparently our principal isn't concerned with whether students have access to current technology. Any funding for the drama department is a waste when we have such outdated computers in our labs.

Passage 2: Much of modern society and business revolve around rapidly evolving computer technology, making it imperative that students learn how to work with computers early on in order to be prepared for the job market later. Our school's computer equipment is severely outdated, so our students are prevented from learning how to use current technology. While there are many valid competing interests when it comes to the school's budget, the school should purchase new computers before spending money in other areas.

The second passage demonstrates much better rhetorical skills than the first one does. The problems with the first passage range from not acknowledging the audience's level of knowledge to being sarcastic instead of displaying a genuine intent to persuade. While blasting an opposing point of view may feel satisfying for a writer who feels passionate about his or her topic, doing so will likely only alienate readers rather than convince them.

The second passage demonstrates better rhetorical skills and would be more effective at persuading the reader to adopt the writer's point of view. The writer has adopted a respectful tone to show that he or she takes the subject matter seriously and has worked to avoid alienating or offending the audience. The passage sticks to offering convincing evidence in support of the main point rather than wasting time defining terms that would be easily understandable to the audience.

Your reader may not always be this excited, but the better you are at employing appropriate and effective rhetorical skills, the better effect you'll have on your reader.

Lesson Summary

When it comes to sharpening your rhetorical skills, there's no surefire list of absolute rules like there are for how to use a comma correctly. Instead, becoming better with the art of rhetoric has to do with knowing how to approach your subject, what tone to strike, and how to appeal to your audience. All of that will involve what wording you choose, what evidence you offer, and, in a broad sense, how you communicate.

Remember to pay special attention throughout your writing process to your purpose. Write for your audience in such a way that you keep their position, perspective, and level of knowledge about the topic in mind. And work to apply effective rhetorical skills by piecing together an essay that reflects the appropriate tone and that offers compelling evidence to convince your audience of your point of view.

Learning Outcomes

Upon finishing this lesson, you should be ready to:

  • Define rhetoric
  • Understand the importance of purpose, audience, and tone in rhetorical writing


In this video, we will discuss how word choice sets the tone for your essay. This includes letting the reader know if you are angry, happy or even attempting to refrain from bias. These tools bring your 'voice' into your writing.

How Words and Language Convey a Message

When it comes to writing, there is only so much punctuation can do to set the tone. It becomes the actual words we use that let people know exactly what we mean. There are also times when you have to convey a message beyond mere words to the reader. There are certain tools that we can use to bring our voice to the piece as well. To demonstrate, let's follow our new friend, Kayla, as she deals with various suitors that have asked for her hand in marriage via love letter. While she will be letting some of the guys down, let's see if we can figure out how she really feels about them through the words that she uses.

Word Choice

The words that we use can set the tone for our essay. For example, if Kayla has been sent a note asking for her hand in marriage, she must pay particular attention to how she responds. Suitor 1 may be a bit of a jerk, and Kayla wants to make it clear she isn't interested. We might see her response as something like this:

'No way, you big jerk!'

Even without the exclamation point, we can pretty much understand Kayla is not only saying 'No,' but also 'No chance, and don't come back Jack!'

Suitor 2 might also have no chance at marriage with Kayla, but she wants to let him off easily. She may respond a bit more gently but still be clear:

'Thank you so much for the wonderful proposal, but unfortunately I can't accept. I have given my heart to another.'

Here, while Kayla is kind, she also made it clear that Suitor 2 shouldn't ask for her hand again.

Now Suitor 3 is a bit tricky. While he doesn't come in first for the man of Kayla's dreams, he is a close second. So, while she has to let this suitor down, she also wants to let him down in a way that leaves the door open for the future. Her response might read something like this:

'Thank you so much for this proposal. If this were a different time, maybe my heart would allow me to say yes. However, at this time, I can't accept. Perhaps in the future the timing will be right for both of us.'

So, while the answer was no for now, Kayla did leave the door open with Suitor 3, letting him know not to completely give up hope.

Now, let's move on to Suitor 4. This lucky chap just happened to be the right guy at the right time. Kayla can give a short, sweet and to-the-point response:


Oftentimes, when we are writing an affirmative response, writing something that isn't controversial or writing something with which our audience is likely to agree, we can be a bit more brief.


When we speak of language in terms of tone, this can be considered the words we use to surround important information. For instance, sometimes we might make statements such as 'The following information is critical.' This alerts the reader that he or she should pay particularly close attention to what follows.

So, our highly sought-after Kayla might have informed Suitor 3 to pay close attention to what she was writing by starting with 'Pay close attention to what I am about to write.' This would have set him up for understanding that he was about to read something that would require thought, give him things to ponder and maybe even have a hidden message or two. He would've understood she wanted him to go beyond her 'No' and dig a bit deeper into her response.

Another aspect of language can be the punctuation that we use. Adding a question mark (?) lets the reader know we are preparing for a response from them. There is some work on their end that needs to take place before we move on to the next sentence. Adding a period (.) lets the reader know our thought is complete, and our statement was definite. Adding an exclamation point (!) lets the reader know there is strong emphasis with our statement. We didn't just say it; we really, really meant it!

Lesson Summary

To conclude, word choice and language allow us to set the tone for our essay. We go beyond words to allow the reader to also understand the mood and emotions we are trying to convey in our writing. When writing, we don't have the advantage of facial expression, volume and body language to enhance the reader's understanding of exactly how to read our words. So, without these things, we must use the tools that we have. This includes:

  • The words that we use
  • The breadth or depth we go through to make our point
  • The words we use to proceed or follow main statements
  • Punctuation, like question marks and exclamation points, to express reader input or excitement

Using these tools, we move beyond simple words on a page and allow for our voice, feelings and mood to be added to the piece as well. It brings us, and the reader, that much closer together with our original intent for the piece.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to implement how word choice and language set the tone for our essay through written tools.

Appeal is an important aspect to writing, especially when your goal is to inform and/or persuade the reader in some area. In this lesson, we will examine the three main types of appeal: logos, ethos and pathos

Ethos, Logos and Pathos

When it comes to examining the concepts of ethos, logos and pathos, I thought it best to look at these concepts being done well. One of the finest examples of these three appeals in play is in the essay titled Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Let's start with our first type of appeal: ethos. Ethos is a Greek word that means 'character' and refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the author. So this first type of appeal deals with you as the writer of the essay. Let's review how Dr. King utilized ethos in his letter.

We find the first appeal using ethos in the salutation of the letter, which reads 'My Dear Fellow Clergymen.' Here we see Dr. King letting the reader understand him in his role of religious leader. This tends to be a position in which the person is seen as overall moral, trustworthy, honest and credible. The overall point is that Dr. King was using the ethos appeal in reminding the reader about his role as a religious leader, rather than another role that would have been equally valid. Another important thing to note is this letter was written during a time of racial turmoil, and the response was to religious leaders that were white. So Dr. King calling them 'fellow clergymen' was also using an ethos appeal of being an equal in status and stature. This was particularly important because Dr. King was in jail at the time in which the letter was written.

For your own writing, consider what ethos appeal is most appropriate for the topic at hand. There are times when identifying yourself as a student is the most appropriate ethos appeal; sometimes being a parent or even being a concerned citizen is appropriate. The most important thing to remember about ethos is that it deals with you as the writer, your own character and what you bring to the topic as an individual.


The next term we will explore is logos. Logos is a Greek term meaning 'word' and refers to using logic and reasoning as your appeal. Logos are the words we use, the clarity of the message itself, the credible arguments used and the supporting evidence on which our arguments are built. Returning to our Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King uses logos as an appeal throughout his letter. Here are a few excerpts that show his use of logos:

'In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.'

Here we see Dr. King providing a logical step analysis of any social activist campaign, not just one confined to the civil rights arena. Another use of logos can be found in this quote:

'Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their 'thus saith the Lord' far beyond the boundaries of their home towns … so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own home town.'

Here Dr. King is using a reasoned argument that would hold weight with the original target audience: other clergy members of the Christian religion. The big thing to remember is that logos must be a logical and reasoned argument for the audience you are addressing. While a religious approach utilizing a Christian text was appropriate for Dr. King's target audience, it may not be considered logos, or a reasoned argument, with a different audience.


Finally we will address the appeal known as pathos. Pathos is a Greek word meaning 'suffering' or 'experience,' and it appeals to the reader's emotions, utilizing story, sensory-based details and vivid language. Pathos appeals bring human experience into the argument. While logos may touch the mind, pathos touches the heart. Again, we return to our Letter from a Birmingham Jail to find the use of pathos.

'… When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky …'

It's hard to not be touched by the words penned by Dr. King in this paragraph. Who can find an argument to combat a father looking into the eyes of his daughter and explaining injustice? Pathos takes readers from the page and transports them to the experience. It makes the words real and makes them come to life. Not all pathos appeals need to be as dramatic, as potent, as shocking as the ones penned by Dr. King. Even telling a humorous story can have readers shaking their head in agreement and reminding themselves of their human side and experiences.

The point is that it must be penned in a way that can touch the humanness of the reader. It takes them from logic to experience. While logos helps us understand that harming millions is bad, pathos reminds us that harming one causes just as much pain. Remember, not all emotion is dark and tragic; laughter, comfort, peace, serenity, joy and appreciation are just as valid emotions to appeal to using pathos.

Lesson Summary

In this video, we discussed three forms of appeal often used in writing. Ethos refers to the character of the author, with the appeal being the knowledge, trustworthiness and credibility of the author himself. Logos refers to the appeal of knowledge and reason, utilizing credible information to make a point. Pathos refers to the appeal using story, vivid language and experience. While each appeal is valid in its own right and can be used individually, being able to utilize all three appeals appropriately within an essay can provide a very powerful and memorable experience for the reader.

Lesson Objective

After watching this lesson, you should be able to define ethos, logos and pathos, and understand how they are used in writing.


When writing an essay, you will often be asked to utilize appropriate sources for evidence, including facts and definitions. In this video, we will talk about the ways we can utilize and evaluate sources and evidence.

Sifting Through the Information Age

Thankfully, when it comes to writing essays, we are not expected to know all facts, figures and information off the top of our head. Not only are we encouraged to use outside sources, we are expected to use them. However, in the Information Age, we can be overrun with information. So how do we determine if a source is a good source, and how do we use that information in our essay?

What Is a Source?

A source is the place where you gained information used in your writing. A source can be a printed document, an online document, a speech, a quote or even a television or radio program. The best sources are those in which your reader can go back and verify for themselves the information you utilized. There are two types of sources: primary and secondary. A primary source is the original place in which the information can be found, or the first person to make that information available. A secondary source is a source that simply relates information that was originally produced by someone else or somewhere else. In academic writing, it is best to use primary sources whenever possible.

Evaluating Evidence from a Source

Possible sources to use for essay research
Essay Source Examples

In your research, you will find that sources don't always agree. If there is disagreement around facts, figures, definitions or statistics, you will need to determine which one is the correct piece of information for your topic. In order to do this, you need to evaluate the evidence from the sources. There are several ways to evaluate evidence. One way is to determine which set of information has been duplicated with similar results. So if one study says people turn blue when eating too much cotton candy and another one says people don't change color no matter how much cotton candy they eat, you will need to find yet another source that has done similar research to the two. If you find that additional studies have, in fact, had results where people turned blue after eating large amounts of cotton candy, go with your original study. However, you should also cite those duplicating studies so that the reader knows that you didn't randomly choose which author was correct by simply playing rock-paper-scissors.

Another way to evaluate evidence is to ask: how current is the information? Some statistics are true at a point in time, but those numbers don't stay constant. For instance, for a point in time, Nintendo 64 was the most popular video gaming system in the United States. You can find that information that states this as a fact. The research was sound and done well. However, if you use that as a source on the most popular gaming system in the country today, your reader will be correct in thinking you didn't do very good research. So, for facts, figures, statistics and even some definitions, more recent sources tend to be better for supplying current data, while earlier sources are great for providing historical information.

Another important piece of information you want is how information was gathered to determine things like statistics - especially population statistics. For instance, if you read an article that says 'snails are considered quite a delicacy here, with over 40,000 tons eaten per year,' it would be good to look and see that the article was referring to France, not the United States. You cannot generalize information beyond the population that was used in the original research. This means you have to make sure you always read the methods section in a study, which is where demographics of the research participants can be found.

Determining Which Source to Use

Example of a formatted reference page
Essay Reference List

When you have done a thorough job of research, you will find you end up with a lot of resources that could be used in your paper. How do you determine which ones to use? The easy answer is to use all the ones from which you have taken information. For instance, if you found one source determining the sky is purple, then confirmed that with three other sources, list all four sources when you put forth the idea that the sky is, in fact, purple. However, if you read an article and determined that you didn't need any information from the article and don't use any information from the article, then don't use it as a source.

Here is where it gets tricky. Let's say you think you already know something to be true, but you look it up to try and confirm your thoughts are correct. Do you need to use that article as a source? Yes! You did, in fact, use this as a source. For instance, if you looked up the article and found your thoughts were wrong, would you have put it down as a source? Of course. So you also need to cite the source when you use it to confirm your initial idea was correct as well.

While it's up to your instructor to decide which sources he or she will allow, a general rule of thumb is to find sources that can be attributed to a person or people and to use the most recent data available since it's often the most accurate.

Giving Credit

Of course, we must always give credit where credit is due. You must cite every source you use in your writing. There are a number of formats that are utilized for citing sources. The two most common are MLA and APA. These templates allow for a uniform way of citing sources, both in the text of your paper and within the works cited or reference page. For more information about either of these sources, you can check out additional videos in this course.

Lesson Summary

In this video we learned what a source is, the difference between primary and secondary sources, how to evaluate the evidence presented in a source, how to determine which source to use and the importance of giving proper credit for the sources we use in our writing.

Learning Outcomes

When you're through with this video, you will be able to:

  • Define what a source is
  • Differentiate between primary and secondary sources
  • Analyze whether a source has accurate or inaccurate information
  • Understand when to give credit


Being able to effectively evaluate reasoning can be helpful to you as you develop your own deductive and inductive reasoning skills and put those skills to work in persuasive essays. This lesson sheds some light on how to evaluate reasoning.

Reasoning in Essays

You know that feeling you get when the murderer is revealed at the end of a murder mystery, and everything suddenly makes sense? It's that feeling when all the clues fit right into place, and you have that 'aha' moment.

On the other hand, have you ever read or seen a mystery where the ending seems to come out of nowhere, and it seems that the author just made up the solution at the last minute? Mystery fans may not want the clues to be overly clear and obvious, but at the same time, those fans want there to be some sense and logic to how everything is resolved.

Student essays should have the same type of sensible, logical structure. The reader should be able to track the writer's reasoning to see how the writer got from point A to point B. In this video, we'll think about deduction and induction as ways that writers can structure their reasoning in argumentative essays.

Deductive Reasoning

We often judge a persuasive essay by how effective the writer is at convincing us of his or her main argumentative point. There are a few ways that a writer can go about trying to convince his or her readers, and there are different ways that argumentative points can be ordered.

Deductive reasoning entails starting with a generalization and moving to specific details. Here's a short example of a paragraph that uses deductive reasoning:

Our state must require high school seniors to pass an exit exam before graduating. Many recent high school graduates in our state cannot land jobs because they don't have adequate reading and writing skills. A high percentage of today's high school seniors have below-grade-level math skills, which will make it difficult for them to hold many jobs or succeed in college courses.

Notice that this short paragraph starts with a general topic sentence that sets forth a broad argument, and then proceeds to specific details that offer support for the main idea. This deductive pattern is quite common, especially in student essays. Teachers often want students to start out with a clear thesis at the start of an essay and with clear topic sentences at the start of each paragraph. By following this pattern, students can show that they know how to craft a clear main idea, and then support and develop that idea.

Inductive Reasoning

The opposite of deductive reasoning is inductive reasoning, which involves starting with specific details and moving to a larger concluding point or generalization. This short paragraph provides an example of inductive reasoning:

Many college students use laptop computers during class. While some students use their computers to take notes and look up facts related to course discussions, many others use computers to compose emails that aren't related to class, play games, and surf the Internet. Laptop computers must be banned from college classrooms in order to minimize distractions for students.

The writer of the paragraph has arrived at the conclusion by working through specific details and then arriving at the main point.

Evaluating Reasoning

As I noted earlier, a deductive pattern occurs more often than an inductive pattern because deduction involves starting with a topic sentence or main idea and then providing specific support. This more closely matches the general pattern that teachers often look for in student papers.

It's still useful to be familiar with each type of pattern and to understand how main points are supported and reached. Additionally, being able to evaluate an essay for the strength of its reasoning is a good skill to have. You may sometimes be called upon to critique an essay that you've read, and being able to take apart and evaluate something you read can be helpful as you build your own writing skills, too.

When assessing the effectiveness of a piece of deductive reasoning, for example, you should determine first whether there is a clearly expressed main point, which would typically be expressed in a thesis statement at the start (or in a topic sentence if you were looking at a short example like our sample paragraphs from earlier). With deductive reasoning, in addition to offering supporting details after the generalized main idea, the writer will often try to apply the general statement at the start to the specific statements that follow. For example:

In towns where I have lived that have many nice playgrounds, the children are healthier and more active. I have just moved with my child to the town of Grace Point, which has several playgrounds, so I can expect him to be healthy and active.

Consider whether the writer has moved from the general to the specific here. The answer is yes, because the first statement is about towns with lots of nice playgrounds, and the resulting impact on the kids in the area. In the next statement, the writer has applied that first general statement to a specific situation about the writer's own town and own child. So, these statements follow a familiar pattern.

Do you think that this is the most airtight argument, though? Is there a flaw in the writer's reasoning? As you evaluate the reasoning in a paragraph or essay that you read, think about what might be left out in the writer's chain of logic. We know that the town of Grace Point has many playgrounds, but that doesn't automatically lead to a situation in which the writer's child will be active and healthy. If that were the case, we could all be in great shape just by living near a gym, without ever having to go in!

As readers, we would first need to see evidence that the healthy kids in other towns are healthy because they use the playgrounds. We'd also need to see evidence that the writer's child uses the playgrounds in Grace Point regularly and that the specific playgrounds in question are good ones that offer plenty of space to run around and equipment that helps give the kids who visit them good workouts. Developing your skills for spotting problems in the reasoning patterns that you read can help you as you work to avoid the same type of problems in your own writing.

Lesson Summary

It's important for readers to be able to make sense of how a writer has gotten from point A to point B in an argument. When a conclusion seems to come from nowhere, the reader will be confused rather than convinced.

It's useful to be familiar with basic reasoning patterns and to be able to spot holes in logic. Remember that deductive reasoning entails starting with a generalization and moving to specific details, and inductive reasoning involves starting with specific details and moving to a larger concluding point or generalization.

As you analyze a piece of writing, consider whether the writer has left out crucial evidence in support of his or her points. Reviewing and critiquing the reasoning of others will help you build your own reasoning skills.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Differentiate between deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Evaluate an essay for its reasoning and logic


In persuasive writing, good writers must know their target audience and use literary strategies to appeal to that audience. This strategies include using appropriate language and citing sources likely to convince to their audience.

Who's Your Audience?

Today, whenever we turn on the news, read a magazine, or check social media, we are being inundated with forms of persuasive writing, or speech, on controversial issues like immigration, gun control, or who to vote for in the next presidential election.

And if you start to pay attention, you will notice that a lot of this writing doesn't seem to work. Persuasive writing is supposed to persuade the reader to the writer's point of view and, if not fully convert them, at least make the reader see things from a new perspective. So, why do your conservative uncle and liberal cousin keep getting into the same fight over and over again on Facebook, with neither ever seeming to budge from their original position?

One of the reasons is probably a lack of understanding about their audience. Any public piece of persuasive writing, from a Facebook post to a scholarly article, is written to be read, and to be effective the writer needs to know who their audience is in order to craft writing which appeals to that audience.

Good writers do this in various ways, including considering underlying assumptions, appealing to specific types of authority, and changing their language to meet their audience.

Underlying Assumptions

When trying to appeal to a specific audience, it is important to consider that audience's underlying assumptions and whether or not they coincide with your own.

Let's say you are a chemist writing a scholarly article about a new drug you have created that you think has the potential to cure cancer. You are publishing in a scholarly journal that is going to be read mainly by fellow chemists who, like you, have Ph.D.s and work in labs. You are going to have a lot of shared assumptions about the basics of chemistry, drug creation, and the history of cancer treatment that an average person would not, so you can assume everyone is going to start on the same page.

But let's go back to your uncle and cousin on Facebook. Your uncle believes in tougher border security because he thinks that without it, the US is open to terrorism. If your uncle assumes safety from terrorism is the top priority of immigration law, your cousin's arguments about the economic benefits of immigration are not going to have any effect. They have different underlying assumptions about what the immigration debate is ultimately about.


Knowing your audience also affects what type of sources you will cite. For a cancer researcher, even though they know they are starting from a shared set of assumptions, they also know they will need to prove their drug really works to their fellow scientists. They are going to be looking for sloppiness in the work. So the researcher needs to show, in the sources cited, that they have read all of the previous studies about development of cancer drugs and knows where their drug fits into this conversation. All of the readers will be looking to see if previous research was cited because they all know the history of cancer drug research as well.

Now let's switch to our Facebook family. Once again, the liberal cousin might need to rethink the type of sources they are citing. If the liberal cousin posts quotes from Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama about the importance if immigration, this might not persuade the conservative uncle. But pointing out that Ronald Reagan, the respected former Republican president, favored a more open immigration policy might be persuasive.


Finally, your audience affects the very language that you choose to use. Our cancer researcher is going to fill a scholarly article with chemistry terms like 'addition reaction' and 'ionic bond' without stopping to define them. Since the audience is of fellow experts, defining these terms would not only be a waste of time, but would also be mildly insulting.

On Facebook, taking the time to define terms might be helpful. Neither the uncle nor cousin are immigration policy experts. They are just concerned citizens who have read about the topic. But, perhaps it turns out their whole disagreement comes down to a misunderstanding of what the term 'amnesty' means. 'Amnesty' is a term that tends to get used differently on opposing sides of the immigration debate, so taking the time to define what this term means to each of them, and how the experts that they have read use it, might quell a portion of the disagreement, though probably not all of it.

Lesson Summary

Knowing one's audience is an important aspect of persuasive writing_, whether you are writing a scholarly article or Facebook post. A good persuasive writer will consider the assumptions of the audience, and whether the reader holds the same assumptions. They will also consider what types of authority would be most persuasive to the audience, and what technical terms need to be defined or not.


In informational texts, authors use certain aspects of writing to illustrate their purpose and point of view. In this lesson, you'll look at how to identify both point of view and purpose.

Informational Texts

When you're reading the news or an article in a magazine, have you ever thought about who might be writing it, or what their opinion on the subject really is? Even if you don't realize it, authors almost always give a hint of their opinion, or point of view. In addition, they always have a purpose, or reason for writing the text. For both point of view and purpose, the author uses the language in his or her article to let the reader know what's going on. In this lesson, we are specifically looking at informational texts.

Point of View

The author's point of view in a text is, essentially, their opinion. It's how the author's view the subject at hand. In persuasive texts, since the whole purpose is to convince you, the reader, that the author's opinion is correct, author point of view is pretty easy to determine. In informational texts, on the other hand, the point is simply to inform you about the topic. That means authors of informational texts usually keep personal input and opinion to a minimum. However, it is still almost always possible to determine author point of view. You simply have to look more closely at the rhetoric (effective aspects of writing) in the article, and the language the author uses will point you toward the point of view.

Example Analysis

To look at determining author point of view and, later, purpose, we're going to use an informational text about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Take a good look at the paragraph below, and see if you can determine the author's point of view:

'Some people expressed concern about wolves becoming habituated to humans while in the acclimation pens. However, wolves typically avoid human contact. Confinement was also a negative experience for them and reinforced their dislike of human presence' (National Park Service, 'Wolf Restoration Continued,' 2016).

In this particular paragraph, the author is saying that the concern people expressed about the wolves turned out not to be an issue. This opinion is never explicitly stated, which is typical of informational texts. Instead, the author states the concern, and then gives facts supporting the idea that the concern isn't valid, such as the fact that wolves typically avoid humans. So here you see that by looking at the way the author presents the facts, you can also determine the author's point of view.


The other thing you need to look for in texts is an author's purpose. In informational texts, the purpose is pretty much exclusively to inform the reader about a subject. That purpose is what makes it an informational text. In order to make sure it really is an informational text, though, you need to know how to see what the author's purpose is. The main thing to look for is an abundance of facts and figures, and a minimum of opinions. The only opinions you're likely to see in informational texts is in the form of a quote from someone relevant to the information being discussed.

Example Analysis

Let's look at another paragraph from the Yellowstone wolves article. As you're reading, look for facts. Remember, facts are provable pieces of information; things you'd be able to look up somewhere else and be certain that they are true.

'In 1991, Congress provided funds to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare, in consultation with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, an environmental impact statement (EIS) on restoration of wolves. In June 1994, after several years and a near-record number of public comments, the Secretary of the Interior signed the Record of Decision for the final EIS for reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho' (National Park Service, 'Wolf Restoration Continued,' 2016).

As you can see, there aren't any opinions in this paragraph, and there are a number of facts. The author uses this section to list two of the steps that occurred in the process of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone. They list dates, and then tell what happened on those dates. It would be very simple to go into government or newspaper records for that time and make sure those things really happened, which supports that the paragraph is made up of facts.

The overall purpose of the article is to inform the reader about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and the major events that led up to that occurrence. This excerpt provides information that adds to this overall purpose and helps illustrate that this is, indeed, an informational text.

Lesson Summary

When reading a text of any kind, it's important to determine the author's purpose. The purpose of an informational text is to inform the reader about a particular topic, as compared to a persuasive text, where the purpose is to persuade you of the author's opinion.

You can tell if a text is informational by looking for facts and figures that are provable and by making sure there are very few explicit opinions. The exception is if the opinions are in quotations, from someone relevant to the topic of the article. In addition, even in informational texts, you can look at the author's use of rhetoric and language to determine his or her point of view, or opinion.

In informational texts, it may not be explicitly stated, but the way that facts are presented can help illustrate what the author is thinking. You saw this with the example from the Yellowstone article. Both purpose and point of view are important aspects of any text, and learning how to identify them is a useful skill.