Writing With Focus and Clarity Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Writing With Focus and Clarity Practice Exercises


The same techniques of style, tone, and word choice that you recognized as a reader can be used to strengthen your own writing. This lesson shows you how to stay focused on the topic and develop supported ideas in your writing.

You've done your prewriting, identified the type of writing you'll do, and decided on the writing's purpose. Now that you've got a plan, you're ready to let the words fly onto the paper! As you start writing, there are a few strategies that will help you communicate effectively. By focusing on the topic and choosing relevant details, you'll explore ideas more completely and send a clear message to your reader. You'll also be able to select the appropriate style and tone to make your writing most effective.

Focusing on the Topic

We write to communicate an idea, story, or feeling to our readers. An important part of being a good writer is the ability to focus on a main idea. An essay that lacks focus will be confusing to a reader who might finish reading a piece and still not know what it was about! Whether you are writing a story, a report, or even an advertisement, you need to establish a clear main idea and make sure that everything in your piece of writing relates to that topic.

For example, an essay that begins, "My dog, Gabe, is an important member of the family," but goes on to talk about baseball and the movies, lacks focus. When this happens, the writer has failed to communicate. A better essay would follow the topic sentence "My dog, Gabe, is an important member of the family" with several statements about Gabe and why he is important, such as, "Gabe's been with us for eight years," "He exercises with my dad," "He makes people feel better when they're sad," and "He protects our house."

Writing a Thesis Statement

The first thing you should do to improve the focus of your writing is to construct a strong topic sentence (for a single paragraph) or thesis statement (for an entire essay). This sentence will express the main idea of your passage. As discussed in Lesson 28, the topic sentence or thesis statement should be broad enough to apply to the other ideas in the passage, and also should take a position that you will support throughout the rest of the passage. In writing an essay, make sure that your thesis statement directly addresses the topic you are given.

Your thesis statement can usually help you outline the rest of your essay (see Lesson 10). This can help you organize your writing, and it also helps your reader to understand your argument. For example, you could extend the topic sentence

"My dog, Gabe, is an important member of the family."

to the thesis statement

"My dog, Gabe, is important to my family because he's lived with us for a long time, he helps us get exercise, he brings us joy, and he keeps us safe."

The first sentence is a good paragraph starter, but the second helps to focus an entire essay and give it structure.

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