March 31, 2009

Thesis statement

Thesis statement is that sentence (maximum two sentences) that tells the readers exactly what the essay is about. It contains the focus of your essay, therefore the entire text should be neither narrower nor broader than what is stated in the thesis statement. It is also sometimes refferred to as the "umbrella" of the essay, and the essay itself represents things under it. So the text should fill all the space under the umbrella, but watch not to get too big so that nothing gets wet.

Where to put the thesis statement

Thesis statement should be somewhere in the first paragraph of the essay, or somewhere close to the beginning. The classic spot to put thesis statement into is the last sentence of the first paragraph.

  • Example of poor thesis statement: A town is a populated area with buildings and cars.
  • Example of strong thesis statement: A town is a settlement with population of minimum 12 thousand dwellers, in which industry outweights agriculture.

It is very simple; just ask yourself, "what is the main idea I want to tell my readers about?"

It is believed that every essay must have a thesis statement, however the truth is that there are several types of compositions that do not need thesis statements. For example, a lot of narrative essays do not contain a thesis statement at all. Biographies and fiction do not have thesis statements either.

March 30, 2009

Problem solving essay writing techniques

Problem solving essays require all your skills as a writer. You need to observe carefully to see if the problem exists. You many need to remember experiences that illustrate the seriousness of the problem. You need to investigate which solutions have worked or have not worked. You often have to explain what the problem is, and why or how your proposal would solve the problem. You might need to evaluate both the problem and the alternative solutions. To help you identify the problem and convince your readers of the soundness of your solution, keep the following problem solving techniques in mind.

Techniques for problem solving essays

  • Identifying and understanding your audience. If you want something done, changed, fixed, improved, or whatsoever, make sure you are writing to an approproate audience.
  • Demonstrating that the problem exists. Some problems are so obvious that your readers will readily acknowledge them (e.g. “war in the Middle East” or “alcohol abuse”). However, often you might first need to convince your audience that the problem exists (e.g. “food presertatives are a serious problem”).
  • Proposing a solution that will solve the problem. After convincing your audience that a serious problem truly exists, you must then prepare a plan, remedy, a course of action, the solution that will reduce or solve the problem.
  • Convicing your audience that your solution will work, and is better than alternative solutions. You have to convince your readers by supporting your proposal with sound reasons and evidence.

March 29, 2009

Don't use passive voice

Passive voice, as defined by the Lexico’s Dictionary, is “the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb.” As opposed to active voice, passive voice is considered bad writing tone. If you are unsure how to tell the difference between the passive voice and the active voice, please go to a wonderful article Active Verbs vs. Passive Verbs by Dennis Jerz of Seton Hill University. In this post, I am telling about why you should avoid passive voice, and when you can use it.

As described by Stephen King in his On writing, passive verbs in writing are for cowards. When the writer intentionally avoids the active doer, he (or she) is literally affraid of the responsibility that this active doer would take. Passive voice is not wrong, and, if used wisely, can emphasize important points or perform other specific tasks. In most cases, however, you must not use passive voice in your writing, regardless of whether you are writing a technical report or a narrative.

Negative features of passive voice

Passive voice accepts ignoring or providing no information about the doer of the action. Consider an example: the car was driven by a girl. In this sentence, the car is the subject, “was driven” is the predicate (with a linking verb to be), and the girl -- the actual doer of the action (driving) -- is the object. And the object, is the secondary part of sentence, which can be kindly removed without harming the main idea of the sentence. Thus, with passive voice, we almost ignore the doer (the person or thing taking action).

Another feature of passive voice sentences is that they are weak, vague, and ineffective. Consider revising the example above to the girl was driving the car. This statement is firm, strict, and strong. The writer takes responsibility and gives the girl the authority to drive, -- not the car to be driven. Therefore, take responsibility, write firmly, and use active voice.

When passive voice is acceptable

There are cases, when you should use passive voice. The most common case is to wilfully remove the doer for a definite reason. For example, with an intention to conceal the identity of the doer, the IT specialist may respond to the police, “the files had been deleted.” In this case, the speaker wilfully ignores the doer of the action, because he wants the doer to stay in the shadow. Therefore, use passive voice only when there is a valid reason to remove the doer from the statement.

Writing business letters & memos

Reading and writing various business letters and memos has become a habitual activity in today’s business world. These letters and memos may vary in style, purpose, and length, but generally letters and memos are brief documents, no more than two pages in length.

A memo is a useful tool of business communication and is used to exchange routine and everyday information within a company. Letters are intended to the outsiders and are a part of public relations medium that presents a particular message. Thus, the main difference between a letter and a memo is the recipient; memos are sent to insiders and letters to the outsiders.

There are four categories of business letters and memos:

  • direct requests
  • routine, good-news and good-will messages
  • bad-news messages
  • persuasive messages.
The relationship of the writer and the reader dictates the style and the tone. On the whole, business letters and memos may range widely: from personal to impersonal, from passive to forceful, from colorful to casual.

Formats of memos and business letters

Typically, an organization establishes the traditional format of letters. However, many organizations rely on form letters to save time and money on routine communication. Form letters are very convenient for one-time mass mailings such as sales messages about the product, explanations about policies and procedures, information about organizational activities and goodwill messages. There is also a variation of forms for more individualized messages. Business letters of this type are composed of optional paragraphs that are suitable for an occasion. The common recommendations for composing business letters may include:

  • If the writer wants to show respect in his/her letter, start with a formal salutation
  • The body of the letter should be brief, but still contain some friendly remarks to maintain goodwill
  • Include your signature at the conclusion as it also contributes to personal touch

Typically, memo and a business letter differ in their format memo format. The heading of a memo contains the following necessary information: date, to, from, and subject. The body of a memo often includes headings and lists to highlight the key points and to make the information convenient to comprehensive. Introductions and transitions may be given less attention to in memos than in letters as the writer and the reader share a common frame of reference.

March 26, 2009

Web/blog writing vs. academic writing

Although the general term «writing» refers to the process of creating both academic papers and web articles, the end products of such writing process are significantly diverse. Website article or blog post writing differs in that it must comply with the search engine and usability standards, while academic essays must, most importantly, show academic knowledge, reason and various skills to the professor.

Articles on the web can be classified as news articles, blog posts, encyclopedia articles, tutorials, reviews and much more, and the writing tone and style of each type will differ from one another. However, all of these types have a list of common features which differentiates them from any other type of writing. Features, in which web content article and blog post writing is different from academic essays writing include:

  • very severe length requirements
  • always keep to the point
  • use simple and straighforward wording and explanations
  • keep paragraphs short
  • privide images and other supportive media
  • pay very close attention to text structure
  • separate paragraphs with relevant captions as much as possible
  • spend much time on formatting such as bold, italics, hyperlinks etc. (unlike in academic essays)
  • begin the article by stating the conclusion (provide abstract)
  • pay close attention to the first 2 words in each heading, link, and paragraph
  • pay attention to keyword density for search engine optimization

The entire list is much bigger, but these are the main distinguishing features.

Difference of audiences of web articles (blog posts) vs. academic essays

The differences listed above are stipulated by the significant differences in the audience, readers of the texts. While academic essays are written for no more than 1-2 people (rarely more) who would definitely read the entire text, web content articles and blog posts are written to virtually unlimited number of readers who are in a hurry and might leave the text at any second. Thus, one of the functions of web content article and blog post writing is to keep the readers on the page by providing them with what they expect and keeping the page content very usable and accesible.

March 25, 2009

Avoid lonely pronouns «this» and «that»

Whenever you write the word «this» or «that» in your essays, be careful not to leave them without a clarification noun. Avoid lonely «this» or «that.» These pronouns must be always followed by nouns, which explains what we meant by that «this» or «that.» Consider the following example:

He killed him. This was for the first time in his life.

Now, what does this writer meant by this «this» in the beginning of the last sentence? Did he mean «This cool bloody slaughter was…» or «This immoral and irresponsible crime was…»? Note that adding a clarifition phrase can change the meaning and intentions of the writer critically.

Consider another example:

He walked by the sea, and saw a stranger -- very far away -- in a hat and a raincoat embrace a girl, who was barely seen because of his mighty back. That was a good thing to do.

In this example, the pronoun can indicate several things:

  1. the walk by the sea
  2. watching the guy embrace a girl
  3. actually embrace a girl.
So, what did the writer mean by that «that»?

So, whenever you write «this» or «that,» be sure to add a clarification phrase (which must include a noun) immediately after. Be extra careful when the sentence starts with this pronoun.

March 24, 2009

Styling and formatting essay documents

Although web-pages turn to various styling techniques, such as big captions, headings, bold text, italics, underlining, etc., in essay documents styling and formatting is irrelevant. The only sections that require formatting or styling are headings (including the title, author, course, etc.), bibliography, and quotes. Other parts of your essay must not include any formatting or styling techniques, regardless of your intuitive need to include them.

Emphasize by content, not formatting or styling

Whenever you feel a certain word, phrase, or sentence requires emphasis, do not make it bold, underlined, or italicized at once. First, think about how you can make an emphasis through the content, not the form. Construct your essay in such a way that this important phrase (or word) reads important, but not looks important. An effective technique to apply when dealing with such styling dilemmas is to imagine that your essay would be viewed in a plain text editor, without any formatting. Would it still make sense? Would it confuse the readers?

In other words, write your paper in such a way, that the contents — words, phrases, and sentences — let the readers know what is important or requires specific emphasis, and do not turn to formatting and styling to achieve this emphasis. Only apply formatting in structural elements (title page, credits, and headings inside the paper), bibliography pages, and in quotes in the body of your paper.

March 23, 2009

Writing circumstances and rituals for effective writing

As you feel you have to start writing some assignment, either academic for your school or a business note for your work, you have to settle the writing environment right. Your writing environment must assist and help your writing process, rather than disturb you; common sense. But for ones, that calming, relaxing and ideas-generating environment is a quite cozy bedroom with a laptop on knees, and for others it might be smoky small office, keypad in ashes, and a pile or empty coffee cups interfering free motion of cmputer mouse. Regardless of what are your writing rituals, you must discover them and follow your writing rituals as you prepare to write.

The goal of the right writing atmoshpere

In order to determine what are your bet writing rutials that enable you uncover your writing potential, you must pay close attention and discover under what circumtance your writing flows by itself. What are the settings arround you and in the comptur that let you concentrate only on writing? The purpose of your writing rituals and correct writing circumstance is to cause no obstacles between the flow-generating mind and the text-document being filled up through your fingers. Once you notice you write smoothly and naturally, take a minute and memorize the setting so that you understand what makes your writing calm and natural.

The writing setting

Sounds, freshness or air, temperature, interior -- all of these any many other factors influence your mind as you write. Personally I love to swing on a chair lightly while writing, and I love to have my keypad lit very heavily with an desk lamp, even at bright days. You might figure you write best at your campus library, or in your dorm at night with your headphones on, or any other setting. There is no universal setting; you must find one that suits you best.

There are, however, general rules that most of the times help everyone. The room in which you write must be:

  • quiet
  • not too big
  • well lit
  • related to the subject of your writing

While the first 3 points are obvious, the 4-th one might sound weird. Let me explain: if you are writing for your business class, you better write in the business classroom. If you are writing a literature review, write it in that literature classroom. If you are writing for your boss, write at your workplace or in that conference room in your office. In other words, make the interior create the feeling of the subject of your writing. Studies have shown essay writing in the environment relative to the subject of your writing does help the ultimate writing.

Computer environment for free writing

I hate when that MS Word does not show me the entire page on the screen. And I cannot go on to actual writing if the margins, widow/orphan control and line spacing is not set to my preferences. I believe you also have your requirements to your word procesing application.

Take advantage of Macros to set up your word processor working environment.


Find the circumstances at which your writing goes smoothly and naturally, remember those circumstanes and turn them to your writing rituals.