he First and Second Steps in Writing

Step 1: Begin with a Point-You first step in writing is to decide what point you want to make and to write that point in a single sentence. The point is commonly known as a topic sentence. As a guide to yourself and to the reader, put that point in the first sentence of your paragraph. Everything else in the paragraph should then develop and support in specific ways the single point given in the first sentence.

Step 2: Support the Point with Specific Evidence-The first essential step in writing effectively is to start with a clearly stated point. The second basic step is to support that point with specific evidence.

1.Identifying Common Errors in Topic Sentences

My Ford Escort is the concern of this paragraph.

The statement above is a simple announcement of a subject, rather than a topic sentence expressing an idea about the subject.

    Statement That Is Too Broad
Many people have problems with their cars.

The statement is too broad to be supported adequately with specific details in a single paragraph.

    Statement That Is Too Narrow
My car is a Ford Escort.

The statement above is too narrow to be expanded into a paragraph. Such a narrow statement is sometimes called a dead-end statement because there is no place to go with it. It is a simple fact that does not need or call for any support.

    Effective Topic Sentence
   I ate my Ford Escort.

The statement above expresses an opinion that could be supported in a paragraph. The writer could offer a series of specific supporting reasons, examples, and details to make it clear why he or she hates the car.

Here are additional example:

The subject of this paper will be my apartment.
   I want to talk about increases in the divorce rate.

    Statement That Are Too Broad
The place where people live have definite effects on their lives.
    Many people have trouble getting along with others.

   Statement That is Too Narrow
I have no hot water in my apartment at night.
   Almost one of every two marriages ends in divorce.

    Effective Topic Sentences
My apartment is a terrible place to live.
   The divorce rate is increasing for several reasons.

2. Recognizing Specific Details:

Specific details are examples, reasons, particulars, and facts. Such details are needed to support and explain a topic sentence effectively. They provide the evidence needed for readers to understand, as well as to feel and experience, a writer's point.

  Which set provides sharp, specific details?

  Topic Sentence:  Some poor people must struggle to make meals for themselves.

 Set A:      They gather up whatever free food they can find in fast-food restaurants and take it home to use however they can. Instead of planning well-balanced meals, they base their diet on anything they can buy that is cheap and filling.

Set B:       Some make tomato soup by adding hot water to the free packets of ketchup they get at McDonald's. Others buy cans of cheap dog food and fry it like hamburger.

     Set B provides specific details: instead of a general statement about "free food they find in fast-food restaurants and take...home to use however they can," we get a vivid detail we can see and picture clearly: "make tomato soup [from] free packets of ketchup." Instead of a general statement about how the poor will "base their diet on anything they can buy that is cheap and filling," we get exact and vivid details: "Others buy cans of cheap dog food and fry it like hamburger."

    Specific details are often like the information we might find in a movie script. They provide us with such clear pictures that we could make a film of them if we wanted to. You would know just how to film the information given in set B. You would show a poor person breaking open a packet of ketchup from McDonald's and mixing it with water to make a kind of tomato soup. You would show someone opening a can of dog food and frying its contents like hamburger.

    In contrast, the writer of set A  fails to provide the specific information needed. If you were asked to make a film based on set A, you would have to figure out for yourself just what particulars you were going to show.

   When you are working to provide specific supporting information in a paper, it might help to ask yourself, "Could  someone easily film this information?" If the answer is "yes," you probably have good derails.

The Third Step in Writing

Step 3: Organize and Connect the Specific Evidence

Common Methods of Organization: Time Order and Emphatic Order

Time order simply means that details are listed they occur in time. First this is done; next this; then this; after that, this; and so on.

Emphatic order is sometimes described as "save-the-best-till-last" order. It means that the most interesting or important detail is placed in the last part of a paper. The last position in a paper is the most emphatic position because the reader is most likely to remember the last thing read. Finally, last of all, and most important are typical words showing emphasis.

Transitions: Transitions, or transition words, are signal words that help readers follow the direction of the writer's thought. They show the relationship between ideas, connecting one thought to the next.. They can be compared to road signs that guide travelers.

Step 4: Write Clear, Error-Free Sentences

 Use Parallelism-Words in a pair or a series should have a parallel structure. By balancing the items in a pair or a series so that they have the same kind of structure, you will make a sentence clearer and easier to read.

Cross out and revise the unbalanced part of each of the following sentences:

 1. When Gail doesn't have class, she uses her time to clean house, getting (to get) her laundry done, and to buy groceries.

 2. Lola plans to become a model, a lawyer, or to go into nursing.( a nurse.)

 3. Filling out an income tax form is worse than wrestling a bear or to walk (walking) on hot coals.

 4. The study-skills course taught me how to take more effective notes, to read a textbook chapter, and preparing( to prepare) for exams.

 5. The video store has sections devoted to comedy films, dramatic films, and (foreign) films made in foreign countries.

 6. Martha Grencher likes to water (watering)  her garden, walking her fox terrier, and arguing with her husband.

 7. Filled with talent and ambitious (ambition), Eduardo plugged away at his sales job.

 8. When I saw my roommate with my girlfriend, I felt worried, angry, and embarrassment (embarrassed) as well.

 9. Cindy's cat likes sleeping in the dryer, lying in the bathtub, and to chase (chasing)  squirrels.

 10. The bacon was fatty, grease was on the potatoes ( were grease), and the eggs were cold.

 11. People in the lobby munched popcorn, sipped sodas, and were shuffling (shuffled) their feet impatiently.

Use a Consistent Point of View

Consistency with Verbs--Do not shift verb tenses unnecessarily. If you begin writing a paper in the present tense, don't shift suddenly to the past. if you begin in the past, don't shift without reason to the present.

Example: The shoplifter walked quickly toward the front of the sore. When a clerk shouts (shouted) at him, he started to run

Use Specific Words

     General                                     Specific
The boy came down the street.                             Theo ran down Woodlawn Avenue.
  A bird appeared on the grass.                              A blue jay swooped down onto the frost-overed lawn.
  She stopped the car.                                           Jackie slammed on the brakes of her Lincoln.

Use Concise Wording

Wordiness- using more words than necessary to express a meaning- is often a sign of lazy or careless writing. Your readers may resent the extra time and energy they must spend when you have not done the work needed to make your writing direct and concise.

Example:  (1) Anne is of the opinion that the death penalty should be allowed.
          (2) I would like to say that my subject in this paper will be the kind of generous person that my father was.

  Omitting needless words improves the sentences:

           (1) Anne supports the death penalty.
           (2) My father was a generous person.

Vary Your Sentences:

Revise by Beginning with a Special Opening Word or Phrase

    -ed word
Tired from a long day of work, Sharon fell asleep on the sofa.

    -ing word
Using a thick towel, Mel dried his hair quickly.

    -ly word
Reluctantly, I agreed to rewrite the paper.

    to word group
To get to the church on time, you must leave now.

    Prepositional phrase
With Fred's help, Martha planted the evergreen shrubs.

    Revise by Placing Adjectives or Verbs in a Series

The black, smeary newsprint rubbed off on my new butcher-block table.

The quarterback fumbled the ball, recovered it, and sighed with relief.

Four Bases for Revising Writing

      Four Steps →→→→→→→→→→→→→ Four Bases
If you make one point and stick                        you writing will have unity.
      to that point.

If you back up the point with                            you writing will have support.
     specific evidence.

If you organize and connect                              you writing will have coherence.

4. If you write clear, error-free                               your writing will demonstrate effective
    sentences.                                                          sentence skills.


   Bases 1: Checking for Unity

 To check a paper for unity, ask yourself these questions:

 1.   Is there a clear opening statement of the point of the paper?
 2.   Is all the material on target in support of the opening point?

 Bases 2: Checking for Support

 To check a paper for unity, ask yourself these questions:

 1.   Is there specific evidence to support the opening point ?
 2.   Is there enough specific evidence?

  Bases 3: Checking for Coherence

  To check a paper for unity, ask yourself these questions:

 1.   Does the paper have a clear method of organization ?
 2.  Are transitions and other connecting words used to tie the material together?

 Bases 4: Checking for Sentence Skills

    Are fragments eliminated?      Run-ons eliminated?    Correct verb form?    Subject and verb agreement?
     Faulty parallelism and faulty modifiers eliminated?      Needless words eliminated?  Effective word choices?

 Paragraph Development

 Providing Examples:  In our daily conversations, we often provide examples-that is, details, particulars, specific instances-to explain statements that we make.

      Statement                                       Examples
 The  A&P was crowded today.                            There were at least four carts waiting at each of
                                                                              the checkout counters, and it took me forty-five
                                                                              minutes to get through a line.
  The corduroy shirt I bought is                               When I washed it, the colors began to fade, one
  poorly made.                                                        button cracked and another fell off, a shoulder
                                                                              sea, opened, and the sleeves shrank almost two
  My son Peter is unreliable.                                    If I depend on him to turn off a pot of beans in
                                                                              ten minutes, the family is likely to eat burned
                                                                              beans. If I ask him to turn down the thermostat
                                                                              before he goes to bed, the heat is likely to stay
                                                                              on all night.



     Paragraphs to look:

Topic Sentence

Office Politics

              Office politics is a destructive game played by several types of people. For instance, two supervisors may get into a conflict over how to do a certain job. Instead of working out an agreement like adults, they carry on a power struggle that turns the poor employees under them into human Ping-Pong balls being swatted between two angry players. Another common example of office politics is the ambitious worker who takes credit for other people's ideas. He or she will chat in a "friendly" fashion with inexperienced employees, getting their ideas about how to run the office more smoothly. Next thing you know, Mr. or Ms. idea-Stealer is having a closed-door session with the boss and getting promotion points for his or her "wonderful creativity." Yet another illustration of office politics is the spy. This employee acts very buddy-buddy with other workers, often dropping little comments about things he or she  doesn't like in the workplace. The spy encourages people to talk about their problems at work, how they don't like their boss, the pay, and the working conditions. Then the spy goes straight back and repeats all he or she has heard to the boss, and the employees get blamed for their "poor attitude." A final example of office politics is people who gossip. Too often, office politics can turn a perfectly fine work situation into a stressful one.

Explaining a Process

 Every day we perform many activities that are processes-that is, series of steps carried out in a definite order. Many of these processes are familiar and automatic: for example, tying shoelaces, changing bed linen, using a vending machine, and starting a car. We are thus seldom aware of the sequence of steps making up each activity. In other cases, such as when we are asked for  directions to a particular place, or when we try to read and follow the directions for a new table game, we may be painfully conscious of the whole series of steps involved in the process.

 Paragraphs to look: 
                                                   How to Break Up a Relationship

    When it comes to breaking off a relationship, I try to follow the golden rule I learned as a child in Sunday school. I try to treat others the way I would want to be treated myself. First, I try not to break up with a boyfriend until I'm sure the relationship can't be saved. I tell my boyfriend if one of his behaviors is bothering me, and I try to work out conflicts before they get out of hand. Even if he chooses not to change his behavior, at least I have given him a chance. If nothing else, giving a boyfriend a chance to change makes me feel less guilty about breaking up. Once it's clear that a break up is inevitable, I try to tell him as quickly and kindly as I can . There is no point in hurting someone unnecessarily, so I try to be firm but kind. I let him know that he's a great person and I still care for him, but I'm no longer in love with him and I'm not interested in continuing the relationship. Even though following this process may take longer than the cruel and quick method, the results are worth it. I feel good about myself, and I've managed to remain friends with many of my ex-boyfriends.

Explaining Cause and Effect 

 What caused Pat to drop out of school? Why are soap operas so popular? Why does our football team do so poorly each year? How had retirement affected Dad? What effects does divorce have on children? Every day we ask such questions and look for answers. We realize that situations have causes and also effects-good or bad. By examining causes and effects, we seek to understand and explain things.

 Cause Paragraph Example:

 Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence
Going Nowhere

    My decision to return to school was motivated by my desire to better myself. After working for minimum wage for two years, I realized that without a degree, I couldn't earn enough money to support myself, let alone support a family. My salary barely covered my living expenses, with nothing left over for emergencies, extras, or savings. Without a degree, I had no hope of getting a promotion or a raise. My job and my life were going nowhere, and I was beginning to feel like a loser, I needed to make a change, to do something to turn my life around and have a brighter future. When I found out I could take classes part-time and still keep my job, I decided that going back to school was the perfect solution. It would allow me to work towards a degree while supporting myself.

Effect Paragraph Example:

 Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

                              Poor but Proud

   My decision to return to school has had a big impact on my life. First, because of the added expense of books and tuition, I have even less spending money than I did before I came back to school. This has meant that I've had to postpone making big purchases such as replacing the dishwasher when it broke, and I've had to cut back on small expenses such as going out to eat and going to the movies. Not only do I have less money than I did, but I also have less time. Rather than watching TV after dinner, I now study. Gone are the days when I could spent hours hanging out with my friends. These days, most of my free time is spent studying and completing reading and writing assignments for my classes. By far the most important effect to on my life, however, has been the change in the way I see myself. Through my experiences in school, I have gained a new respect for myself. I have learned I can set my mind to something and do it, and this new confidence in myself far outweighs the temporary inconveniences of not having as much time or money as I once did. 

Comparing Or Contrasting

 Comparison and contrast are two everyday thought processes. When we compare two things, we show how they are similar; when we contrast two things, we show how they are different. We might compare or contrast two brand-name products (for example, Nike versus Adidas running shoes), two television shows, two instructors, two jobs, two friends, or two courses of action we could take in a given situation. The purpose of comparing or contrasting is to understand each of the two things more clearly and, at times, to make judgments about them.

Comparison Paragraph Example:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Fred and Ralph

    Fred Flintstione of The Flinstones and Ralph kramden of The Honeymooners are remarkably similar. The first of these similarities is their appearance. Both have black hair and five o'clock shadows; in addition, both have large paunches and wear loud, baggy clothes. Their personalities are also similar. both have large appetites, boisterous personalities, and a tendency to act before they think. Moreover, they both have best friends who play second fiddle to them: Barney Rubble for Fred and Ed Norton for Ralph Additionally, both Fred's and Ralph's favorite activity on a Friday might is to go out bowling with the guys. Finally, when Fred and Ralph put down their bowing balls, they earn their living by working remarkably similar jobs, Fred drives a truck in a gravel pit, and Ralph drives a city bus. In spite of the differences in the two shows' settings, the main character share a number of similarities.

Contrast Paragraph Example:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Football vs. Soccer

   Although football and soccer are both popular sports for kids, football is more expensive and more dangerous than soccer. Because of the specialized equipment necessary for football, parents must pay well over one hundred dollars for a two month season of peewee football. In addition to this fee, the shoes and protective gear each child must purchase can easily cost upwards of fifty dollars. On the other hand, a season of youth soccer, which runs for two months in the fall and two months in the spring, costs only seventy-five dollars. Soccer shoes, which generally cost between fifteen and twenty-five dollars, are recommended but not required. Not only is football more expensive than soccer, but it is also a more violent and, therefore, more dangerous sport. Children tackle and block one another, and these maneuvers result in frequent bruises, strains, and pulls. More serious injuries such as fracture, broken bones, and concussions are not unusual. Soccer, on the hand is not a contact sport and is, therefore, less likely to result in injury. Children can fall and bump into one another, but these accidental contacts rarely result in anything more serious than grass stains or loss of breath. Given the differences in these two sports, there is no question that I would prefer my son to play soccer rather than football.

 Defining a Term

 In talking with other people, we sometimes offer informal definitions to explain just what we mean by a particular term. In a written definition, we make clear in a more complete and formal way our own personal understanding of a term. Such a definition typically start with one meaning of a term. The meaning is then illustrated with a series of examples or a story.

Definition Paragraph Example:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Deadbeat Dads

   A deadbeat dad is a biological father who refuses to live up to his financial responsibilities to his child. Any man who fathers a child and fails to support that child financially, whether mandate by a court to pay child support or not, is considered a deadbeat dad. A biological father can be classified as deadbeat regardless of whether he is or ever was married to the mother of his child because fatherhood, not marriage, determines responsibility. A deadbeat dad can be distinguished from other deadbeat citizens who default on their legal debts because the deadbeat dad harms those for whom he is morally responsible. The effects of a deadbeat father extend beyond the material realm of financial deprivations, for children of deadbeat dads often suffer from low self worth and feelings of abandonment. Long after a child has grown up, he may still harbor resentment and hostility toward male authority figures as a result of his deadbeat dad.


 If you were doing the laundry, you might begin by separating the clothing into piles. You would then put all the whites in one pile and all the colors in another. Or you might classify the laundry, not according to color, but according to fabric-putting all cottons in one pile, polyesters in another, and so on. Classifying is the process of taking many things and separating them into categories. We generally classify to better manage or understand many things.

 Classification Paragraph Example:

 Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

    Campers can be classified as weekend partiers, family vacationers, or true outdoorsmen or women based on their motivations, general preparedness, activities, and attitudes towards nature. Weekend partiers see camping as an opportunity for an extended outdoor party. They arrive at the campsite laden with lawn chairs, boom boxes, games, coolers full of their favorite beverage, and plenty of party snacks. Unfortunately, they often neglect such essential items as appropriate clothing, insect repellent, tent stakes, cooking utensils and food, and they frequently demonstrate a characteristic ignorance of basic camping techniques such as how to set up a tent. They frequently party late into the night, preventing those around them from getting any sleep, and they leave behind a campsite littered with their trash. The second type of campers, the family vacationers, are motivated by their desire for inexpensive accommodations that also provide educational and entertainment opportunities for the entire family. They bring along trunk loads of tents, chairs, lanterns, and toys, turning their campsites into miniature villages, from which they organize expeditions to nearby natural or man-made attractions. The best parents go out of their way to set a good example for their children by picking up trash and not harming plants or animals. The true outdoorsment and women, unlike other campers, are interested in the opportunity to appreciate nature, and they are the least visible and obtrusive type of camper. They are the minimalists of the camping world, arriving with carefully packed essential equipment, and they typically spend their days hiking, fishing, and taking pictures. The clean campsites they leave behind reflect their respect for nature. Campers say a lot about themselves by the way they behave while camping.

Describing a Scene or Person

 When you describe something or someone, you give your readers a picture in words. To make this "word picture" as vivid and real as possible, you must observe and record specific details that appeal to your readers' senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch). More than any other type of writing, a descriptive paragraph needs sharp, colorful details.

Description of a Person:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Grandma Anderson

  My grandmother is a special lady. She stands barely five feet tall and weighs under a hundred pounds, but her will is as strong and fierce as a lion. As long as I've known her, her gray hair has been pulled into a tight braid at the back of her head, and she has worn the same simple cotton dresses she has worn all her life. Only on Sunday, when she goes to church, does she put on the lace trimmed black dress that is shiny with starch and ironing. Her face is small and lined with her years, but her eyes are as bright and attentive as a hawk's. She misses nothing in the world or in you. When I was young, I believed she could read my mind because she would take one look at me and know what I was feeling. I still sometimes believe she can read my mind today. Although her frame is bent slightly with her more than eighty years, her smile is as warm and free as a teenager's. Because I love and respect my grandmother, nothing give me grater pleasure than to sit down at her dinner table and see her face light up when I ask for a second helping of her famous peach cobbler.


Description of a Place:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Clearwater Lake

     Fishing on Clearwater Lake puts me in touch with nature. Clearwater Lake is a small lake nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. The glassy lake is ringed with aspen, larch, birch, and fir trees, and in the fall, the mountain sides are on fire with brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows, I arrive at the lake early, with mist still clinging to the surface of the water like smoke. I slide my canoe silently into the clear, cold water, step in, and push off the sandy bank. Each stroke of the paddle pulls me further out into the lake, the wind crisp and cold against my cheeks. The world seems to go silent aground me, only the second of my paddle moving through the water breaks the silence. Once on the lake, I am cut off from the world of work and school and family, and I'm free to meditate on the beauty and tranquilly of the spot.

Description of an Object:

Paragraphs to look:  Topic Sentence

Memaw's Rocker

   My grandmother's rocking chair sits empty in the corner of the living room. The simple, unpainted came rocker would be of little interest to an antique dealer, but I wouldn't part with it for the world. The seat is cupped slightly from years of use: afternoons and evenings when she sat shelling peas, daring socks, or knitting sweaters. The arms are sanded smooth from the constant motion of her thin arms. The chair is silent now, but if I close my eyes, I can still hear the squeak of the rockers against the pine floor and hear the click of her knitting needles. They were sounds. that always comforted me and made me feel as if everything were right with the world. Even today, I can't look at the rocker without seeing Memaw smiling at me over the rim of her glasses and hearing her say she loves me