Basic Writing Skills

Are you having problems with your written assignment? Below are some helpful hints to get you started.

Writing, no matter what the topic or form, is a process:

  • Establish, narrow, and define your topic 
    • State your thesis or theme in a sentence or two at most
  • Define your audience
    • Is it your instructor who grades you or a teaching assistant?
    • Your classmates who will critique your work?
    • A conference of professionals for review?
    • Keep your audience in mind as you write
  • Plan ahead
    • Set a timeline and allow for unexpected developments and planned revision
  • Gather resources
    • People: instructor, teaching assistant, research librarian, academic coach, subject matter experts, professionals
    • References: text book, reference works, web sites, journals, diaries, professional reports
  • Research: 
    • Read, interview, experiment, gather data, etc. and take notes completely as possible and document sources. Either use index cards or a system in word processing...
  • Organize your notes with a prewriting exercise: 
    • Focused freewriting, brainstorming, mapping, and/or outlining
  • Write your first (rough) draft 
    • Determine how you will develop your argument: Use good logic in a reasoned argument to develop the theme and/or support the thesis. Will you compare or define? Will you criticize or describe?

Your first paragraph:

  • Introduce the topic!
  • Inform the reader of your point of view!
  • Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
  • Focus on three main points to develop

The first paragraph is often the most difficult to write. If you have trouble, just get it down with the intention of re-writing it later, even after you have finished with the rest. But remember this first entry draws your audience into your topic, your perspective, and its importance to continue with the rest.


  • Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
    • transition sentences, clauses, or words at the beginning of a paragraph to connect one idea to the next
    • topic sentences in each paragraph, also near the beginning, define their place in the overall scheme
    • avoid one and two sentence paragraphs
      which may reflect lack of development of your point
  • Keep your voice active
    • "The Academic Committee decided..." not "It was decided by..."
    • Avoid the verb "to be" for clear, dynamic, and effective presentation
      (Avoid the verb "to be" and your presentation will be effective, clear, and dynamic)
    • Avoiding "to be" will also avoid the passive voice
  • Use quotations to support your interpretations
    • Properly introduce, explain, and cite each quote
    • Block (indented) quotes should be used sparingly;
      they can break up the flow of your argument
  • Continually prove your point of view throughout the essay
    • Don't drift or leave its primary focus of the essay
    • Don't lapse into summary in the development--wait until it's time, at the conclusion


  • Read your first paragraph and the development
  • Summarize
  • Conclude your argument
  • Refer back (once again) to the first paragraph(s) as well as the development
    • do the last paragraphs briefly restate the main ideas?
    • reflect the succession and importance of the arguments?
    • logically conclude their development?
  • Edit/rewrite the first paragraph to better set your development and conclusion

Take a day or two off!

  • Re-read your paper with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil.
    • Re-read aloud, as if you want to communicate with a trusted friend or family member. The person/people can be real or imaginary. You will be surprised what you find to change!
  • Having someone else read your paper 
    • For proofing editing errors that you missed
    • For the big question: did you accomplish your purpose for your intended audience?
  • Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
  • Turn in the paper
  • Celebrate a job well done, with the confidence that you have done your best.