Students get tired of seeing all those nasty red marks all over their essays. They cringe at the criticism of their teacher unless they get a good grade. Anything below an A- is a defeat for most college-bound seniors. If things don’t get better for university-level students, it is time to get some help. This book is for high school to graduate students. The longer you wait, the harder the writing process will be. If you have ingrained habits, they must be overcome. Now, in one short e-book, you will learn what you need to know to write more like a pro than an inexperienced amateur.
Writing is a skill; for some a natural gift. But for the rest, it can be learned and honed. There are basic principles of essay organization and design. Beyond having a great topic, you must be well versed in grammar and punctuation and understand the nature of the style. Word usage is mandatory so you don’t use inappropriate language. These are called malapropos and will be explained in the coming text. While we can’t cover every single thing a writer has to know, we can send you in the right direction. If you apply yourself and stick to the rules, you will be a decent writer or better. We will also tell you what teachers expect at the high school level and how it changes when you enter college. Some are forgiving and focus mostly on content, but others are strict disciplinarians when it comes to the fundamentals of spelling and grammar. Once you know who you are dealing with, you can adapt the best you can.
While writing is a solitary experience that you do alone, you can run your early material by others for their opinion. No doubt friends and family will comment on a story by answering questions such as: is it compelling? Are the characters well-rounded? Does the ending make sense? Did you use plot twists, irony, a timely climax or other literary devices? It is up to you to get the grammar and sentence structure right. This book will start the corrective process for your writing and help you distinguish bad from good. Examples will illustrate our every point.
Skillful writing is fun and gives the author a great deal of self-satisfaction. You will know when you have arrived and it takes practice. We will give you assignments as you take your journey to professional status. Why not aim high. You may not get paid for your work just yet, but you will get closer than before. If you are new to the craft and haven’t yet had much experience with essays, we will start from scratch. The book is comprehensive, thorough, detailed, illustrative, and above all the perfect student guide to good writing. Soon you will write like a pro.
Exercise: how would you rate yourself as a writer: beginner/novice, intermediate, advanced/professional? What are your major weaknesses? How are your grammar and punctuation? Is your work clear and easy to follow or fuzzy with a tendency to digress? It is time for self-evaluation.
Are you ready to start? It is not a time to panic. Commit yourself to learning a new craft that will assist you throughout your life. Its impact will be great right now that you are in school and have papers and essays to write. You can then graduate to the article or academic level. Your first task is to select your current standing from the examples below.
Definition: an essay in high school is usually an opinion piece rather than a research paper. There may be an exception senior year. As a rule, teacher’s want to see how you express yourself in clear, concise, and appropriate language. They want to see a good vocabulary, a consistent style, logical organization, and a thoughtful conclusion. Your grade will reflect a combination of factors with an emphasis on word usage, accurate spelling and grammar and relevance of the topic. Teachers don’t want fluff but want to see something that shows reflection and awareness of important issues. You might discuss the pros and cons of censorship or the importance of family in building character—the kinds of issues you already know something about. If you must do research for a higher level paper, your teacher will set guidelines about citations and a proper bibliography.
I have loved butterfly watching since I was a child. I coveted all species in various sizes, colors, and shapes. I never hurt them by collecting them behind glass. I find that an atrocious practice. While I didn’t have a lot of friends interested in the same thing, I could talk them into gardening with me now and then. They understood the importance of my special hobby. I would always get gifts of books on butterflies, stationery with the insects on the top, a purse or wallet with a hand-painted flying creature, or a poster of my favorite monarch with its distinctive black and white wings. I once got a trip with my parents to the butterfly exhibit in San Francisco, which is a huge rain forest in the natural science museum. As you enter this enormous space, you are surrounded by marvelous color and fluttering movement. It is magical.
Now that I am older, my passion has not left me. I like butterfly watching like some people enjoy bird watching. They are kindred activities. It is relaxing, enjoyable, and you feel the way nature works. Seeing the transformation from a cocoon into an adult is just amazing. To watch butterflies, you don’t need a lot of special gear like hunters do. We don’t really wield those huge nets. It is a funny stereotype. If you go to a special sanctuary, you might take a backpack filled with binoculars, a camera, a hat for the sun, a field guide and a notebook. I use the bag I employ for toting my gardening tools around. It does double duty although I wouldn’t mind keeping all my butterfly stuff separate. If you want to give me a present, hint, hint.
Definition: a college level paper freshman year can be similar to a high school essay at the senior level. Expectations grow as you advance. Instead of coming up with your own topic, you will likely get an assignment based on the books you are currently reading. This does not apply to creative writing work. Then you are entirely on your own. A paper may or may not include quotes and a bibliography. Most likely at one time, you will have to master the procedure. Your use of language becomes more sophisticated in college as compared to high school. Good grammar and correct spelling goes without saying. Otherwise, you will see an array of red marks. Teachers don’t want to be taskmasters; they want to enjoy your thoughts and ability to reason through the material in question.
Drawing and printmaking have suffered all too long as second-class art forms battling for status against the tenured triad of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Whether as preparatory sketches or as ends in themselves, drawings have yet to gain the recognition and following appropriate to their importance in the history of art. Printmaking, on the other hand, is treated as a technical sister art and is abused as a medium in order to propagate cheaper versions of established contemporary painting styles.
Drawing is an articulate medium. Line, chiaroscuro, and sometimes color are at the service of representation, which can be free and spontaneous or a tightly controlled and particularized form of expression. Printmaking is the logical extension of the graphic sensibility: a natural combination of highly versatile media which yield unrestricted pictorial inventions.
Definition: your first real challenge in graduate school will be your Master’s thesis. Otherwise, seminar papers are similar to the senior level in college. A real difference is that professors want to see more creativity in the selection of the topic and the way it is drawn out over the course of the essay. It is less routine than undergraduate work. A thesis must be tight and well-conceived. The purpose of it must be stated right from the beginning. The premise you state will then be supported by a combination of source material (research) and your own personal conclusions. If you use someone else’s opinion, the paper is more like a report. Originality is of the essence.
“Paradox though it may seem—and paradoxes are always dangerous things—it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”1
How often Oscar Wilde’s timely phrase returns to explain the wonderful and mysterious experience of seeing the deeply etched lines and crags of a Rembrandt portrait in the wrinkled brow of a wizened old Jew strolling down Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, or seeing the ivory-necked elegance of Botticelli’s Venus in a young waitress pouring coffee at Howard Johnson’s, or watching a Byronesque bearded youth on Venice Beach who is pure Delacroix.
Oscar knew in his own cynical and witty fashion that Pygmalion was wrong, though he certainly was not far off the track. It is not just the miracle of a painting or sculpture so real that it can literally wake up and come alive, but that all around us in everyday experience, life itself comes to life as art—imitating, recreating, and giving veracity to the great masters’ insights into the essential truths of human nature and expressiveness.
Definition: at this point, you have arrived and are expected to shine as a writer. You are expected to reveal how much you know about your field. Your ability to do research and use quotes to support your premise is paramount. The writing style is very formal and it is no time to be cute or overly creative with the language. In most subject areas, there is a certain vocabulary to be used. Doctoral level work at its best should be publishable. Many students will select one chapter or combine a few into an “article” for a professional journal.
Perhaps the most striking conclusion about the art of Cézanne is the realization that the artist has long been misunderstood. Although Lawrence Gowing notes that the history of art is replete with inventive misunderstandings, he also observes that “this succession of creative errors is nothing by comparison with the way that the twentieth century has used Cézanne.”1
Although we have progressed beyond the critical naiveté of Cézanne’s first detractors2, a definitive interpretation of his art has not been forthcoming. Whereas Fritz Novotny proposes that the late landscapes constitute “a representation of the conscientiously and intensely examined reality of nature in the south of France”3, Geneviève Monnier counters that in the later watercolors, “geometrical layouts, modulation of certain elements and broken facets of volumes pave the way to Cubism.”4
1 Gowing, Lawrence, “The Logic of Organized Sensations,” Cézanne: The Late Work, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1977, p. 55.
2See Hamilton, George, “Cézanne and his Critics,” ibid, p. 139.
3Novotny, Fritz, “the Late Landscape Paintings,” Ibid, p. 108.
4Monnier, Genevieve, “The Late Watercolors, Ibid. p. 116.
Now that you have an introduction to student writing, let’s get specific about what constitutes good work: good grammar and punctuation, a defined style, good word usage without repetition, and above all a compelling topic.
We can’t attempt the impossible in an e-book: covering all facets of English grammar and punctuation. We can, however, remind you of some of the most egregious mistakes. Here are the most common:
Incorrect: He had ran all the way home after school.
Correct: He ran all the way home after school.
Incorrect: Why don’t you give it to myself?
Correct: Why don’t you give it to me?
Incorrect: I thought long and hard about what I wanted to pursue as a major in college and realized that I had several options among them history, music, English literature, and drama. I couldn’t wait to see what I liked best, I hoped it would be music.
Correct: I thought long and hard about what I wanted to pursue as a major in college and realized that I had several options, among them history, music, English literature and drama. I couldn’t wait to see what I liked best: I hoped it would be music.
Correct: it is an old wives’ tale.
Incorrect: Its time to do something about teenage drivers who text.
Correct: It’s time to do something about teenage drivers who text.
Incorrect: I should have known better. If I had known what would have happened, I would have waited.
Correct: I should have known better. If I had known what would have happened, I would have waited.
Incorrect: The students wanted there own books.
Correct: the students wanted their own books.
Exercise: what words give you a hard time?
If you can master the rules of the language, you can graduate to the area of style. A pro has an identifiable voice. Some students find theirs early but for others, it takes years. You may write a variety of papers and essays before you find out who you are as a writer. Reading all the teacher’s remarks carefully will help you know at least what others think. If you lack style and are a journeyman, you will get by and secure decent grades. If you acquire true style, you will shine. Your topic can be interesting and your “argument” in support of your premise can be sound, but a boring style will detract from the paper’s value. Style shows itself in the flow of the language and a turn of a phrase. It is what makes you sit back and say “wow” when reading a book. It may be an apt metaphor or a novel comparison in the form of a simile. In any case, it is not hard to recognize. You can identify a writer by his or her style. For example:
Ernest Hemingway: a great American writer with a simple, direct, unadorned way of writing fascinating stories. He can transmit emotion without extensive flowery language. He uses many nouns and tries to imitate the natural flow of experience. He is a master of common dialogue that reveals a lot about his characters. He prides himself on his realism but it doesn’t mean that the reader doesn’t use his imagination. This paradox is what makes him one of the best.
There are many types of style and we will illustrate a few for you to make it clear.
The arts and their interrelationships have always been of interest to the philosopher. Within the past decade, correspondences between the arts have profoundly influenced the field of music and art education. It might be argued that the exact nature of such relationships and the degree of their occurrence defy precise delineation, and any attempt to construct fixed analogies between the arts is not only impossible but undesirable. The uniqueness of each art form must be appreciated above all in order that the study of their relationships can have educational value.
I don’t count sheep to go to sleep at night as I hate these wooly monsters. They haunt my dreams, making me count each and every one in sight. A few are real porkers. Who has been feeding them? It is probably my mom who stuffed me as a child. I had to eat at least two helping of butter-coated mashed potatoes before I could leave the table. I wonder why she was surprised that I couldn’t eat dessert.
When I awake in the morning to the glory of the sunrise, I am thrown into ecstasies about human life and how lucky I am to be alive. We are truly a miracle of creation living in a perfect world created by the divine. I marvel at the lovely, luscious, and luxurious wealth of this planet. Everywhere I look is something to admire. It is clearly a product of ideal design. You don’t have to ask who is behind it all.
I hop out of bed like a toad with a hot foot and greet the day. I don’t let the alarm rattle me at all. I awake to some heavy metal music. Now who does that? I have been doing it for years and it works every time. Sleep weights down my eyelids if I don’t hear the rhythm of the drums and the mournful and intense drone of the electric guitar. Do not tease me with your ridiculous classical playlist.
If you are asked to write a paper at any level and you do not receive a clear-cut assignment, it is time to be thoughtful. You may want a provocative subject such as the pros and cons of abortion or capital punishment. On the other hand, you can rehash old material and make it your own. Teachers love to see this kind of creativity if it isn’t too farfetched. If you are having trouble coming up with something, check what has been written about it. If you are reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, no doubt there are tons of books on all aspects of this example of modern fiction. Once you survey the scene, you can avoid what has been done to death. For lower level papers in high school or college, it may be fine to reevaluate the existing literature. Check with your teacher when in doubt. At the graduate level, you absolutely must not copy what has been done by the experts. Use them only as a role model.
Skimming the Internet for current events will help you select a topic. In high school, what is happening in the world today politically and/or socially is a great source of timely material. There is no reason to dumb down your paper into something like “what I did for summer vacation.” When I was in graduate school, my professor gave me my Master’s thesis topic as he wanted to challenge me and see what I would do with it. Don’t overlook this possibility if you are in a bind about choosing something timely and interesting. If you appeal to the teacher, you are already way ahead of the game. Plus, he or she will feel flattered that you asked.
What I did for my summer vacation
My dog Sparky
The first time I went to camp
The funniest thing that has ever happened to me
How I became interested in the environment
Van Gogh and Gauguin: enemies and friends
Is the new math helpful?
Who started the industrial revolution?
Why I don’t believe in evolution
These are just examples but the lists show the difference between fluff and serious topics. Of course, you can deviate from the norm if the subject dictates it. For example, humor is appropriate when discussing comedy versus tragedy in the theater.
Exercise: write down topics that are interesting to you that would make a good paper.
In a nutshell, the answer is: polish. The writer edits his or her work and asks for an opinion. You can’t assume that a first draft is final. There are always improvements to make. Look for problem areas such as:
Exercise: do any of the problems above ring true for you?
Topic: Should Abortion be Legal?
Premise: Abortion is a basic human right and should not be outlawed.
Opposing points: abortion goes against the Bible and most religions. It is clearly an issue of taking a human life and is immoral. No one has this right. An unborn child, however,ju does have the right to live.
Supporting points: the right to decide movement points out the dangers of some pregnancies and the need to terminate them. Cases of rape should also be considered as justification for abortion.
Conclusion: while there are pros and cons, weight is on the side of planned parenthood. Using religion as a justification of a law is not a separation of church and state.
Wow! We have covered a lot of ground and there is so much more to know. If you are serious about improving your writing and learning to imitate a real pro, we suggest you do additional research on your own. We also suggest reading a cross section of material on the Internet and seeing for yourself how often you find bad writing. It is rampant. On the other hand, a good article is worth its weight in gold. It is a pleasure to read. It will be organized and to the point and not wander about aimlessly from point to point. It will have a logical order and this will be quite apparent. The more you read, the more you will recognize quality.
Exercise: In the examples below, analyze the use of language and the turn of a phrase. Does the excerpt make you want to read more?
All the advice in the world doesn’t help if you are a procrastinator and not a good manager of your time. Once you know an assignment is due, it is best to create a work schedule and stick to it. The best students know that teachers frown on tardiness. Divide your work into sections that you think you can handle in one day. How many pages can you write per hour? At first, you won’t know this yet; but in time, you will have a good sense of your capacity.
When you are on a roll, do not stop! Ideas don’t flow freely all of the time, so take advantage of your inspired moments. Everyone is different so it is hard to give hard and fast rules about time management. I can only say that it is vital. A high school paper is usually done in a week while a college essay can be more. At least two weeks seems to be average. A Master’s thesis is another story. You have an entire semester to complete it after you have attended the required classes. No one says you can’t start in advance. A dissertation for a doctorate can take years, but who wants to drag it out that long? One year should be enough to do the research, gathering quotes from existing literature, complete an outline showing what points you want to prove, and finish at least a first draft. Your doctoral committee will read the first stages and give you suggestions. This saves a great deal of time. After taking all the comments into consideration, you write and proof the final work. Organization is the key to time management and you shouldn’t be in school after high school if you can’t handle the load.
Not to be discouraging, there is no reason why you can’t learn the basics of time management and apply them to your project. I like to saturate myself first in the subject by reading the most important sources. It helps get the creative juices flowing. If you are having serious trouble, try paraphrasing some of the best passages. After a while, you will make the material your own.