Step 4: Communicate in an Essay
Your goal is to write an essay that communicates your thesis and supporting points.
“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”
About this step
This step presumes that after having completed steps 1, 2 and 3, that the student comes to some conclusions regarding the topic and is now ready to share those conclusions. It is where the work of the first three steps pays off—in ideas that can be communicated.
This step may challenge some of your students, particularly those with less writing experience. To help them along, consider a pep talk at this juncture—remind them that they are the experts and that it is now time for them to share what they have learned. You may want to share how you approach the writing process. A conversation with, readings about, or quotes from writers can be also used to jump-start the process. Or, ask the experienced student writers in the class to share their best "how I do it" tips with the class.
Remind students that this step can be a challenge for the most experienced writers, particularly those with tendencies towards perfectionism. Encourage students to allow sufficient time for writing as well as revision and editing. Explain that it is often helpful to allow time between the write/revise/edit stages, to create distance, and for ideas to coalesce.
Some basic reminders may be in order at this time:
If students are using pen and paper:
- Remind students of the importance of detailed planning and outlining before they begin to write. Revisions will require rewriting the entire paper.
- Remind them to use ink for the final draft and to trim the notebook paper edges.
If students use a word processor:
- Remind students to SAVE and BACKUP their work
- Students working on more than one computer need to consider program compatibility.
- How will papers be turned in? If you expect hard copies, students should know how and where they intend to print their paper if help is needed, now is the time to find it.
- Plan ahead. Technical problems can occur. Students should complete the assignment with sufficient time to print and meet the assignment deadline.
About this step
Your essay should include an introductory paragraph, a body expressing your main points in at least three paragraphs and a concluding paragraph that summarizes your point.
- Begin with a hook—an interesting fact, quote or story—that will catch your reader's attention.
- Develop your first paragraph/s so that your introduction ends with your thesis statement.
- Clearly introduce and explain the main points from your outline. Insert information from your sources, being careful to cite each source whether the information is a direct quotation or a summary. Use direct quotes, set off in quotations marks, sparingly.
- Restate your thesis in your concluding paragraph. Expand your ideas, and make connections for larger ideas or trends, for a grand finish.
Consult a style manual or online guide for specific instructions on how to cite your sources. It is common practice to insert a parenthetical note. For example, if you are referring to an article written by Tim Johnson written in 1999, then insert (Johnson, 1999) after the text that refers to the article. the parenthetical citation should come at the end of the sentence in which you have included the quote or summary. Remember to include complete information on this source in your Bibliography or Works Cited list.
Make sure that your students have a solid understanding of how to construct an essay. Although it is beyond the scope of these guidelines to provide a comprehensive guide to quality writing. Here is a short guide that you might find useful:
If students have practiced writing, this step will not be as daunting. Consult with colleagues about what skills students are practicing in other subject areas. This information will help you decide what skills to focus on.
- Have students think about what draws them in and holds their interest when they read.
- Ensure that they understand the mechanics of paragraph construction.
- Caution students to not just stop but to conclude their essay.
You may find the following websites useful as you prepare students for the writing process:
- Purdue's OWL (Online Writing Lab)
- Ready or Not Writing (Sponsored by the MNSCU, this project invites high school students to submit their essays for evaluation by college professors. The site also has resources for students and teachers, including a selected list of resources.)
For simple inspiration and timeless wisdom regarding the craft of writing, use this:
Knowing and making use of available resources is a habit of successful students. Teach your students to find and use the tools that can assist them in the writing process.
- Remind them of the variety of dictionaries, thesaurus, and writing guides available in their school library media center. (Check to see if your school has a subscription to the Visual Thesaurus.)
- Ensure that students understand the spelling, grammar and research options built into most word processors. (Right click on a word to find help in Microsoft Word.)
- Microsoft Learning Essentials, a free add-on to Word, provides many tools for the writer, including outlines for 6 Traits.
Explain again the importance of giving credit to the resources used as an exercise in scholarship, and, for the sake of principle.
- Explain the use of quotes to emphasize or illustrate a point.
- Remind students that a long quotation (four lines or more) is introduced by a colon, is set off from the text, and the quotation marks are omitted. The parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark.
Your students may become be the creators of information used by others some day. If they do publish online, they might be interested in the Creative Commons website to learn about options for protecting and sharing their work.
Draft text and create visuals
Compose a first draft of your essay by hand or with a word-processor. Use your word processor's spell-check and grammar helps. Although you will be the final judge of good grammar and structure, the grammar tools in your word processor can offer helpful suggestions. If you are unsure about a particular usage, ask someone!
Create visuals that will enhance your message. These include photographs, charts and graphs. Only include visuals that directly support your thesis.
Draft text and create visuals
Encourage students to request permission from the creator of any visuals they intend to use—permission is generally granted and it may inspire them to be in communication with an expert on their topic. Instruct them to look for the name of the artist on the image. An email address is often included. They can also use a search engine to find an artist's website and contact information. Time should be allowed for this process. Show them examples of a request to use.
At this point or in the final editing stage, you may consider introducing a review tool in your word processor. (This is called the "review" tab (Office 2007) or "track changes" in previous versions of Microsoft Office.) Students might use the tool to demonstrate their revision process for the teacher, or students could be assigned to review each other's work.
Revise text and insert visuals
Consider your thesis and the argument that you are presenting. Is the current order of your points the most effective? If not, reorder them and refine your message. Ensure that you guide your reader through your message with effective transitions that explain where you are heading. Ask someone to read and review your paper to ensure that your argument is clear.
Your writing will be more interesting if you find your own voice: don't get lost in the sea of your sources. This is your pulpit. State your case as only you can—armed with your quality research!
Revise text and insert visuals
A list of transition words might be useful for some students.
Students who know that they are not particularly organized may need help seeing the logical sequence for their points. Remind them to identify and use their human resources. Perhaps a teacher from your department can be available as an advisor or reader. If students have not created a detailed outline at some point, they may need to backtrack a bit and reorganize their points. A graphic organizer tool can also be helpful here. Check to see if Inspiration software is available in your school. You may consider using an online organizer tool such as Gliffy.
If the confidence is just not there, tell the students that this is the time to "act as if." Encourage them to be the experts they are on their topics.
- Conduct a final check.
- Read your essay out loud.
- Begin at the end of your paper and carefully read each word. This will allow you to see things your eye may have skipped over when you read it through from beginning to end. Your brain knows what it should say and will insert that—even if the words are not there.
- Have someone else read your paper again. This time, ask your most detail-oriented friend to look for errors in spelling and grammar. Or, ask a teacher or your library media specialist to proofread your paper.
Stress the importance of allowing time for this step. Ensure that students understand the difference between revising and editing. Discuss this in class and provide examples.
Ask each student to write down the name of one or two people that they can ask when they are ready for a reader. Encourage them to ask the person for their assistance ahead of time.
Prepare the final paper
- Format your paper according to guidelines of the assignment.
- Include your name, the date, the class, and the title of your project.
- Use a serif font (like Times New Roman), no larger than 14 points for your body text. Use the same font throughout your paper. Don't let your font choice distract from your message.
- Add page numbers.
- Review the paper carefully before you print.