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Steps to a Strong Essay for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide (page 4)

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Updated on Jul 5, 2011

Supporting Paragraphs—The Body of the Essay

Working from your detailed outline, begin composing the body of your essay (about three paragraphs long). Treat each of your paragraphs like a mini-essay, with its own thesis (a topic sentence that expresses the main idea of the paragraph) and supporting details (examples). Follow these guidelines for creating supporting paragraphs:

  • Avoid introducing several ideas within one paragraph. By definition, a paragraph is a group of sentences about the same idea.
  • Use at least one detail or example to back up each main supporting idea.
  • Aim for about three or four sentences in each paragraph. Your PPST essay will be short. If you write more sentences for each paragraph you may run short on time and space. If you write fewer sentences, you may not develop your idea adequately
  • Use transitions. Key words and phrases can help guide readers through your essay. You can use these common transitions to indicate the order of importance of your material: first and foremost, most important, first, second, third, moreover, finally, and above all. Do not use "firstly," "secondly," or "thirdly"— these forms are incorrect and awkward.

Active versus Passive Voice

For precise, direct writing, use the active voice. In English grammar, voice expresses a relationship between the verb and the subject of the sentence or its direct object. When you write in the active voice, the subject of the sentence causes, or is the source of, the action (verb). When you use the passive voice, the subject does not perform the action, but rather is acted upon. Sentences in the passive voice are often wordier and more difficult to understand. Here are some examples of active versus passive voice:

Active:  We suggest that you organize your ideas by importance

Passive:  It is suggested that you organize your ideas by importance. (Note that this sentence does not say who performed the action.)

Active:  Her brother typed the letter.

Passive:  The letter was typed by her brother. (Here the doer of the action is the direct object brother, not the subject of the sentence, letter.)

Sentence Variety

A strong PPST essay will show your ability to manipulate sentence structure for effect. Sentence structure is an important element of style. If all of your sentences have the same pattern, your writing will be monotonous and dull:

School uniforms are negative. They don't boost students' confidence. They don't make students feel trustworthy. They don't let students explore different styles and personalities.

Although these sentences are simple and direct, they are unlikely to captivate a reader. Because they all have the same length and structure, they create a monotonous pattern. Here is the same paragraph, revised to show variety in sentence structure:

School uniforms are negative because they do not boost students' confidence or make them feel trustworthy. Fashion choices allow students to explore different styles and personalities.

Four sentences are reduced to two; the pronoun they is no longer repeated; and verb choices are active and varied. You can also create emphasis in your writing through sentence structure. The best place to put sentence elements that you want to emphasize is at the end. What comes lasts lingers longest in the reader's mind.

He is tall, dark, and handsome. (The emphasis is on handsome. If tall is the most important characteristic, then it should come last.)

Your Conclusion

The last paragraph of your essay should sum up your argument. Avoid introducing new ideas or topics. Instead, your concluding paragraph should restate your thesis, but in new words. Your conclusion should demonstrate that you covered your topic fully and should convince readers that they have learned something meaningful from your argument. Here's an example:

School uniforms might be the easy answer: They create conformity and minimize distractions in the classroom. However, in order to teach students how to make good choices when they face tough decisions, school administrators need to invest students with the responsibility to practice everyday choices—like deciding what they wear to school.

The Last Step—Proofread

On the timed essay test, you should take about five minutes to proofread—a time allowance that does not let you substantially revise or rewrite your piece. Much of what happens when you rewrite—like reorganizing your argument or making sure you present adequate support—must occur during the prewriting process, when you are outlining your essay. The goal of proofreading is to give your essay a final polish, by checking your spelling, correcting grammatical errors, and if needed, changing word order or word choice. To proofread, carefully read your essay, paying attention to anything that doesn't sound right. The following checklist outlines some basic grammatical problems to look out for as you proofread. (All of these grammar trouble spots are discussed earlier in the chapter.)

  • Make sure nouns and verbs agree. The subject of the sentence must match the verb in number. If the subject is singular, the verb is singular. If the subject is plural, the verb is plural.
  • Make sure pronouns and antecedents agree. Pronouns and the nouns they represent, antecedents, must agree in number. If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun is singular; if the antecedent is plural, the pronoun is plural.
  • Check your modifiers. Look out for modifiers that are easy to confuse like good/well, bad/badly, fewer/less. Remember: adjectives modify nouns and pronouns; adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
  • Avoid double negatives. Do not use two negative words, like no, not, neither, hardly, or barely, in one sentence. See page 237 for a list of other negatives.
  • Keep your verb tense consistent. Switching tense within a sentence can change its meaning. Generally, a sentence or paragraph that begins in the present tense should continue in the present tense.
  • Review prepositional idioms. If you have studied the list of prepositional idioms on page 239, you may be able to "hear" whether a preposition (to, of, about, for, with, about, on, upon) sounds right with a particular phrase or verb.
  • Check your sentence structure. Keep an eye out for sentence fragments, run-on sentences, comma splices, and misplaced or dangling modifiers.

Now, take the skills you have learned or honed in this review and apply them to the next practice test.

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