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Becoming a Learner - Page 17
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BONUS Page 17: Basic Rules for Writing Essays etc.
Part 2: The Adventure of Learning
General Rules for Writing an Essay, a Thesis, a Dissertation or a Book

There are some very obvious things that we sometimes forget when approaching writing of any length. The following are the very basic things that pupils, students and amateur authors seem to struggle with. And yes, that even includes some of the most fundamental things to do with punctuation!

Part 1: General Approach

1. DON’T start writing the text straight away.

2. Think about the Purpose of the enterprise and how you are going to convey that.

3. Write down chapter headings (or unwritten paragraph headings in the case of an essay) – the main areas you want to cover. In the case of anything bigger than a simple essay, decide upon the order of the chapters AFTER reflection  - is there a natural overall structure to the work and is there a natural flow from one chapter to the next.

4. Realise that the content of what you are about to write is clear to you (if it’s not, don’t write) but IT ISN’T (or may not be) to your reader(s). Think, therefore, what explanations you will need to give along the way to make understanding easier for your reader(s). Remember they may be coming at it cold.

Part 2: Writing

1. Avoid clichés, generalisations, long sentences or convoluted sentences, and aim for straight forward simplicity.

2. When you have written a chapter, (or the whole essay),  go back and read it out loud. Many people write as they think but we don’t read in the same way. Incidentally, some people think at they speak but if they speak badly they end up writing wrongly, thus schools in some areas are finding that as they have been starting to teach proper pronunciation, so the quality of their pupils’ writing has also improved.

3. Spacing sentences. When you read, bear in mind the purpose of particular punctuation:
a) Full stop: A definite stop or pause, at end of sentence.
b) Comma: taking a breath part way through a sentence, but not ending a sentence.
c) Also used either end of a part of the sentence that can be lifted out, e.g. “The purpose of the exercise, as we all know, is to produce clear writing.”  Note the commas at either end of “as we all know” which could be lifted out without damaging the rest.
d) Semi-colon: a slightly longer breath than the comma, but indicating continuation without it being the end. So, not as long a pause as a full stop.
e) Colon: used before starting a list of things, e.g. “So she went to buy the things for the meal: the meat, the vegetables, the spices and, of course, a pudding or sweet.” Note that the colon came after the word, “meal” because everything that followed was part of the list of things making up the meal.

4. THE Most common spelling mistake: it’s or its. The rule is that if the word is an abbreviation of “it is” then it’s spelt with the apostrophe. For ALL other uses NO apostrophe.

5. Apostrophe with a name, e.g. “Tom’s cabin” means the cabin belonging to Tom. Similarly, “Pam’s hat” = the hat belonging to Pam. Also, “the children’s playground” = the playground of the children. But note, “the boys’ changing room” = the changing room of the boys. So when you change it around, if the object is still plural, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’.

6. Having checked all that, reread the whole thing out loud:
· Does it flow?
· Does it feel natural or awkward?
· Does it make sense????
· Does it say what you want it to say?

7. Do not think these are just rules to create ‘posh’ writing; they produce writing that is easier and thus more enjoyable to read – and that does make a difference.