Getting Started on Essay Writing Study Guide (page 2)
Getting Started on Essay Writing
Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time. - LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918–1990) AMERICAN COMPOSER AND CONDUCTOR
Congratulations. You've reached Lesson 7, and the grammar review is over. Now it's time to get started on the actual writing process. You won't be surprised to learn, of course, that things are not necessarily going to get simpler. Quite the contrary. Before you even set pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard, there are several questions to answer and decisions to make.
Deciding what to write is often more difficult than doing the actual writing. This lesson will help get you past that scary first part.
Too many writers assume that deciding what to write is the first task. Actually, defining your subject and what you will say about it is definitely not the first thing to do. You have several other decisions to make first, and once you've made those choices, deciding what to write should be an easier task. Here we'll review the preliminary steps you need to take before you write.
What Is Your Assignment?
To make things simpler, this book assumes that you are going to write a school assignment, which is usually an essay or a report of some kind. But, as you know, there are many other kinds of writing. You may be about to write a short story. Or a poem. Or an e-mail to a friend. Or a letter. Or even a diary entry.
All of these are actually writing assignments, some of which you assign to yourself. The decisions you will have to make about what and how you will write an email or a letter are just as much of an assignment as the ones you get in school. For our purposes here, we'll assume that all writing assignments require more or less the same considerations, as only short stories, novels, plays, and poetry depart seriously from the kind of writing you most often do in your school assignments.
Who Is Your Audience?
Figuring out who will be reading your work is every bit as important as determining what you will say in your writing. For example, consider the following writing assignments:
- Write 500 words on the geography of Mexico.
- Write 250 words on why you deserve a scholarship to summer music camp.
- Write a 150-word thank-you note to your grandmother.
- Write a 15-word text message to your best friend.
- Write a journal entry (as long as you like) on why you are angry at your parents.
Who will be your audience (your reader or readers) for each of these assignments? Obviously, a different someone is likely to be your audience for each of these written works. If you are applying for a scholarship, you will want to address yourself to the deciding committee, and try to provide reasons to choose you that will appeal to them. On the other hand, if you're writing to your best friend, you can refer to private jokes and assume that your friend is already familiar with you and your sense of humor.
It is essential that you have a very specific idea about the identity of your audience when you finally sit down to write.
In What Style or Voice Will You Write?
Think about how much you can tell about your classmates, or about people you see on TV, by looking carefully at the way they dress. You form an opinion about their style. The same is true about the way you write—it's called style. And the writing style you choose depends on two factors: your audience and your writing goal. Consider these sample possible goals you might have for a particular writing assignment:
- Your goal is to present a factual, objective report.
- Your goal is to persuade your reader of your point of view.
- Your goal is to express your gratitude for a gift or a favor.
- Your goal is to sound really smart so you'll win a prize.
- Your goal is to make a plan to meet with your reader.
- Your goal is to vent your private, personal feelings.
For each of these goals, you will want to choose a different style or tone for your writing. In general, writers use either formal or informal language to establish the tone in most writing assignments. Both are acceptable—depending on the circumstances—and sometimes even slang is fine as well.
There are no right or wrong answers here. Your assignment is to do the necessary preplanning for imaginary assignments. Don't rush: Take your time and plan carefully. You may well be able to use the planning work you do here in subsequent lessons.
Be very precise in your preliminary choices for audience, point of view, and style. The more specific you are at this planning stage, the easier your work will be once you are actually writing your assignment.
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