Writing an Effective Essay: GED Test Prep (page 4)

Updated on Apr 24, 2014

Consistent and Appropriate Tone

An appropriate and consistent tone is another essential element of effective writing. Tone is the mood or attitude conveyed by words or speech. Think, for example, of all the different ways to say sure or hello. It's how you say the word that conveys so much of its meaning.

When you listen to others, it's usually pretty easy to hear the tone of their voice. But how do you establish tone in writing?

When you speak, you create tone by how quickly or slowly you say a word, how loudly or softly you say it, and how you use facial expressions and body language. When you write, though, your readers can't hear how your words sound. And they certainly can't see your facial expressions or body language. But you can use word choice, punctuation, and style to establish tone. For example, recall this pair of sentences from the punctuation review:

Wait, I'm coming with you.
Wait—I'm coming with you!

Here, it's the punctuation that changes the tone. The first sentence is calm and neutral. The second sentence, on the other hand, is emotional and excited.

There are endless varieties of tones when you speak. Likewise, there are endless varieties of tone in writing. Here's a list of some of the more common words used to describe tone:

As you write, choose words that convey your desired tone. For example, if you are describing a humorous event, you might use the phrase topsy-turvy rather than chaotic or disorganized. Similarly, if you are describing an unpleasant event, you might use the word tumultuous or helter-skelter to convey the same idea.

Variety in Sentence Structure and Rhetorical Techniques for Emphasis

A strong essay will demonstrate an ability to manipulate sentence structure and punctuation for effect. Sentence structure, as noted earlier, is an important element of style. If all of your sentences have the same pattern, you will end up with writing that is monotonous and dry, like the following passage:

She is a teacher. She lives in Montana. She has a ranch there. She goes to California a lot. She has family there. She has two pets, a cat and a dog.

Unsophisticated and quite dull, isn't it? That's because all of the sentences are short and share the same structure; they all start with she and a present tense verb. This is quite different from parallel structure. Parallelism means using a repeating sentence pattern to create rhythm within a sentence or paragraph. This kind of repetition, on the other hand, creates monotony and shows a lack of flexibility in creating sentence patterns. Here is the same paragraph, revised to show variety in sentence structure:

She is a teacher and lives on a ranch in Montana with her cat and dog. Because she has family in California, she travels there frequently.

Notice how much more interesting this paragraph is now. The seven sentences have been combined into two, and only one sentence starts with she. Many of the short sentences have been turned into modifiers that make for more varied sentence patterns.

Sentence structure and punctuation can also be used to manipulate emphasis. The best place to put sentence elements that you want to emphasize is at the end (the "save the best for last" approach). What comes last is what lingers longest in the readers' ears.

He is tall, dark, and handsome. [The emphasis is on handsome. If tall is the most important characteristic, then that should come last.]
She is smart, reliable, and experienced. [The emphasis is on experienced; if smart is the most important characteristic, then that should be last in the list.]

You can also use a dash to set off part of a sentence for emphasis:

He is tall, dark, handsome—and married.

Here, the stress on the last element is heightened by the dash, which emphasizes the sense of disappointment in the sentence.

Step 6: Proofread Carefully

In the three-step writing process, the third step is to revise and edit. What exactly is the difference between revising and editing, anyway?

To revise means to carefully read over your essay and make changes to improve it. Revising focuses on improving the content (what you say) and style (how you say it). In other words, when you revise, you concentrate on the "big picture": your ideas and how you organize and present them in your essay. Editing, on the other hand, deals with grammar (correct sentences), mechanics (correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation), and usage (correct use of words and idioms).

Editing is very important; your writing should be as clear and correct as possible. But as a general rule, it doesn't make much sense to carefully proofread each sentence only to realize that you need to rewrite several paragraphs.

However—and this is a big "however"—the guidelines are a little different on a timed essay exam, especially when the time is so short. Because your time is so limited, revising should actually take place before you write, while you are outlining your essay. As you outline, make sure you have a clear thesis that addresses the writing prompt, sufficient and relevant support, and logical organization. You probably won't have time to rewrite paragraphs or add new ones. That's why it's crucial to outline so carefully. But you will probably have a few minutes to change word order, adjust word choice, and correct grammatical and mechanical mistakes. And this final "polishing" step can help make your ideas come across much more clearly for your readers.

Sample Essay

You have seen the brainstorming and outline for the good neighbor prompt. Now, here is a complete essay. This essay would score a "6" on Part II of the GED Language Arts, Writing Exam.

No matter where you live, you have neighbors. The kind of neighbors you have can make a big difference in how happy you are. I'm lucky to have wonderful neighbors. The people who live next to me are friendly, they are helpful, and they respect boundaries.

Friendly neighbors help to make it nice to live where you do. Grumpy, unpleasant neighbors don't usually do you any harm, but they don't make you feel good, either. A friendly neighbor makes you feel welcome. For example, our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Ulerio and their children, are very friendly. Whenever we see them they say a cheerful hello and ask how we're doing. Mr. and Mrs. Ulerio often chat with my parents, and every Christmas, Mrs. Ulerio and her daughter Jessica bring us homemade cookies. They make us feel like they're glad to have us next door.

Good neighbors aren't just friendly, they're also helpful. If we run out of sugar while baking or need one more egg for a recipe, we know we can run over to the Ulerios' or our other neighbors, the Zurowskis'. Mr. Zurowski is particularly helpful to my dad. My dad doesn't have a lot of tools, but Mr. Zurowski does, and he's always willing to lend them to my dad. He also helps my dad with projects once in a while, like fixing the roof on the dog house. There have also been plenty of times when we stayed with Mrs. Ulerio while our parents were out.

Perhaps the most important aspect of being a good neighbor is respecting boundaries. I think most of us could live with neighbors who are unfriendly or never offer a helping hand. But few of us will tolerate neighbors who don't respect our property and our privacy. Our old neighbors, for example, used to come and take toys and lawn equipment from our shed without asking. Sometimes, we'd have to go to their house and ask for our things back because they didn't return them. Even worse, my Uncle Andy's neighbors were extremely nosey and gossipy. They got involved in Uncle Andy's divorce and made the experience more complicated and painful for everyone.

Good neighbors like mine are hard to find. I hope I will always have neighbors like the Ulerios and Zurowskis. They are kind, they know when to help, and they respect our property and privacy.

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