Writing to Essay Prompts Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Oct 1, 2011

Analyze The Prompt

The first part of your planning time should be used to analyze carefully the intent of the prompt. In general terms, writing prompts are assignments; they suggest topics for your writing. Sometimes they are general and open-ended (Write about your favorite book), and other times, they are complex and present a topic that demands that you respond more or less in a specified way (Write a defense or a refutation of the following statement: The moon is made of cheese.)

Thus, your first task is to decide exactly what is being asked of you. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the prompt structured in such a way that you will need to organize your essay in a certain format?
  • Is the prompt designed to have you take a position on a controversial issue and defend your position?
  • Is the prompt open-ended and general?
  • Is the prompt asking you to write in a certain format, for example, a persuasive or an objective expository essay containing lots of factual evidence?
  • Does the prompt allow you to reject the obvious response and find a way to go around the prompt and write your essay in a totally different way, perhaps by attacking the question?

Practice: Choosing A Response To A Prompt

Describe briefly how you would respond to the prompts listed here. In 15–20 words or fewer, explain the kind of essay the prompt is suggesting you write.

Include a description of the kind of details or organizing strategies you would use. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, but there are both intelligent and careless answers. So, think before you write.

Writing to Prompts

Write An Outline: Formal or Informal?

When told to write an outline, students frequently respond in one of two ways:

  • I don't have time to write an outline.
  • I don't know what I'm going to write until I start writing.

Both of these are faulty responses that will not contribute to your ease or efficiency as a writer. Take time to do a bit of outlining, even if all you write in advance is the kind of rough informal outline you learned about in Lesson 14. (If you can't remember what an informal outline looks like, go back right now and reread Lesson 14; that will be time well spent.)

If you are really, truly pressed for time, at least take a few moments to write down the following:

  • Your thesis statement. It is essential that you have this in writing in front of you at all times during the writing process. Refer back to it throughout your essay to make sure that every sentence you write supports your thesis.
  • The two or three main ideas you plan to cover in your essay. You should have these well in mind before you begin writing.
  • The conclusion you want to draw. Your conclusion needs to be more than a simple restatement of your thesis statement. The conclusion should be an idea or statement developed out of and expanding upon your thesis statement.

Recheck Your Finished Essay Against The Prompt

Once you have written your essay, go back and take a good hard look at the writing prompt. Make sure that you have responded to it precisely.

  • Have you covered all the points the prompt asks you to cover?
  • If the prompt asks to you agree or disagree, does your essay clearly take a stand?
  • If the prompt asks you to justify your position with evidence from two or more sources, have you done so?
  • Have you included a clear thesis statement and a coherent, convincing conclusion?

If you have answered no to any of these questions, you must go back and correct your essay. If you've analyzed the prompt thoroughly during your planning time, and used your planning time well, your answer to all of these questions should be yes.

What Your Readers Will Look For

Your reader, no matter who that may be, will be judging your writing with high standards in mind. Even if it's your grandmother reading your thank-you letter, or your Facebook friends reading your description of last night's party, your reader(s) want you to deliver something interesting, informative, and fun to read.

As you write, keep in mind that your reader is asking certain questions and looking for certain qualities in your writing:

  • Did you convince the reader to agree with your position?
  • Did your argument develop logically?
  • Did you make spelling and/or grammatical errors?
  • Is your writing lively, vivid, and interesting? Or is it obvious, dull, and clichéd?
  • Most important of all, did you write well enough so that the reader is engaged and wants to keep reading to the end of your essay?


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