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Steps to a Strong Essay for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Jul 5, 2011

Step 3—Outline Your Essay

To make sure that your essay is well developed and organized, draft an outline. An outline will help you put your ideas into a logical order and identify any gaps in your supporting details. Essays follow a basic three-part structure:

  1. Introduction: Present your position to your readers. State your thesis.
  2. Body: Provide specific support for your thesis.
  3. Conclusion: Bring closure to your essay and restate your thesis.

Your PPST essay should follow this basic structure, too. Because the essay is short, plan on writing about five paragraphs, listing one point on your outline for each paragraph. The body of your essay will be broken down into three supporting ideas:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body: support 1
  3. Body: support 2
  4. Body: support 3
  5. Conclusion

Essay Structure

Where you put your introduction and conclusion is obvious. However, you need a pattern, or structure, to organize the ideas in the body of your essay. The four most common patterns are chronological order, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and order of importance. The following chart lists each organizing principle's key characteristics and effective uses in writing:

Best Bet: Order of Importance

What is the most effective way to organize your PPST essay when you don't have much time to consider the options? Because the prompts on the writing exam ask you to take a position on a subject, you are essentially developing a brief argument in your essay. A logical and effective strategy for making an argument is to organize your ideas by their importance, or rank. Using this pattern, you can arrange your ideas in two ways:

  • by increasing importance (Begin with your least important idea and build up to your most important idea.)
  • by decreasing importance (Start with your strongest, most persuasive, idea and end with your least important idea.)

Either arrangement works. However, if you develop your essay by the principle of increasing importance, you save your strongest idea for last, creating a greater impact in your conclusion.

Now it's time to make a detailed outline based on the writing prompt described earlier in the chapter. The outline organizes the supporting ideas by increasing importance. It includes reasons that support the thesis and examples that support each reason. Because this outline is so detailed, it offers a guide for almost every sentence in the body of the essay.

Introduction

Thesis: Mandatory school uniforms are not effective tools for creating a positive, learning environment

Reason 1: When students feel that they are not trusted, they "live down" to expectations.

    Examples: Feel need to prove individuality through attention to makeup, hair; draw attention through risky behaviors like smoking; continue to find distractions like gossip, note passing, cell phones

Reason 2: School uniforms discourage self-discovery and individuality.

    Examples: Can't try out looks that come with different identities (sporty, punk, artistic); fashion is harmless way to find out who you are

Reason 3: Students don't learn to make good choices.

    Examples: Students aren't prepared for making decisions, simple (clothes, nutrition) or big (college, jobs, whether or not to engage in risky behaviors, friends, romantic relationships)

Conclusion:

    Robbing students of choice discourages self-discovery and does not prepare students for making decisions. Allow students to make choices about their clothes, but also provide a class or forum for discussing how to make good choices, both big and small.

Target Your Audience

Effective writing pays close attention to its audience. Good writers consider their readers: Who are they? What do they know about the subject? What preconceived notions do they have? What will hold their attention?

On the PPST, you will be writing to a general audience, meaning your readers are people with a variety of interests and backgrounds. Knowing your audience helps you make key writing decisions about your level of formality and detail. Your level of formality determines whether you will use slang, an informal tone, technical jargon, or formal language in your writing. A good guide for the PPST test is a balanced approach:

  • Treat your readers with respect.
  • Don't put off your readers with language that is too formal or pretentious. Don't try to use big, important-sounding words.
  • Avoid slang (too informal) or jargon (technical or specialized language).
  • Aim for a natural tone, without being too informal.

Your level of detail is also based on your audience. Because you are writing for a general audience and not for friends or family, your readers will not be familiar with your background or experiences. For example, if you are arguing against mandatory student uniforms, do not assume that your readers know whether your high school implemented such a rule. Give your readers adequate context by briefly describing your experience as it applies to your argument.

First Impression—The Introduction

Once you have completed your detailed outline, you are ready to write. Because you only have 15–20 minutes to write, you don't have time to perfect the wording of your introduction. Instead, use clear, direct language to introduce your reader to your thesis and focus. A good way to begin is to restate in your own words the quotation given in the prompt and then state your thesis. Here is an example using the prompt discussed earlier:

Although fashion and clothes can sometimes distract students, mandatory school uniforms are not the answer to creating a good learning environment.

Another useful technique for creating a strong introduction is to begin with your thesis and then give a summary of the evidence (supporting details) you will be presenting in the body of your essay. Here is an expanded version of the above thesis statement:

Although fashion and clothes can sometimes distract students, mandatory school uniforms are not the answer to creating a good learning environment. School uniforms can be a negative influence in that they send a message that students can't be trusted to make good choices. High-school students need to explore different identities through the harmless means of fashion.

Notice how this introduction outlines the first two main points of the essay's body: how mandatory school uniforms (1) send a negative message about students' ability to make decisions and (2) discourage self-discovery.

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