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11trees’ Online Writing Handbook

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Writers' Toolkit
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For advanced high school and college writers the rules of the ‘game’ seem to change. It isn’t enough to paraphrase information found via Google searches or in textbooks. Teachers talk about “original arguments” and aren’t even that interested in giving feedback on grammar and mechanics. The assumption is that students can begin to work on higher level skills, since basic skills have been adequately mastered. Throw in ‘scholarly research,’ MLA or APA (or other, more exotic citation systems) citation formatting, and longer projects than perhaps students are used to and the result can be a significant challenge. But with great challenge comes great opportunity. In the right academic environment these changes can be liberating, because for possibly the first time students feel they are writing with purpose. The goal isn’t just to repeat the same old character analysis of Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye, but to do something original.

Often, the ‘rules’ of earlier writing classes (like “never use ‘I'”) are allowed to expire, and students can find a more personal voice writing about subjects that are more important to them. From a student’s perspective, the 11trees Writers’ Toolkit attempts to demystify the basics of advanced undergraduate and high school writing. From “how do you create an in-text citation for a graphic novel” to “how can I come up with an original thesis,” we will dig into the aspects of writing most crucial to success. Writers’ Toolkit is a growing online resource and a powerful add-in for Microsoft Word (and soon Google Chrome, to support the millions of Google Docs and Office365 users out there) that brings this crucial information inside the space most of us use to write.

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11trees’ Online Writing Handbook – Contents

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Writers' Toolkit
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Argument: the Key to College-Level Writing

Writing at the advanced high school and college levels is largely about argument or rhetoric (a ‘term of art’ or more specific term for the same thing). It might have been enough to have a thesis that was the equivalent of a main idea in the writing you did earlier in your academic career, but the emphasis will shift to originality as you progress. So it isn’t enough to write a paper that ‘argues’ that the drinking age should be lowered to 18, or the US should have never invaded Iraq. Those are both main points that could fuel a 4 or 5 page report (or an entire book), but they aren’t original. What are you going to bring to the table to make your writing worth reading for your audience? So argument is about originality. You need to support your original argument with evidence, clear writing, and skilled organization, but without the ‘original’ part you aren’t going to get very far in any serious writing course. We have combined some hard-won tips with a standard approach to explaining argument in the links below. Good luck!

Analyzing Your Audience – the First Rule of Effective Writing

The first step to effective communication? Understanding your audience - including TEACHERS. Specific help for writing for the teacher audience.

WIN From the Start: Write an EVOCATIVE Title

One of the fastest strategies to use as a writer? Use a clever title. Read through some examples and avoid calling your work "English Paper."

Include COMPETING Evidence into Your Argument

"Many beginning writers, especially when trying to write argumentatively, will include only evidence that supports their thesis. This is a beginner's mistake. Any intelligent reader will think up competing (contradictory) evidence on their own. And even if they don't, they will have to assume that if you ignore all opposing evidence you have either, a) not done a proper research job or are, b) willfully hiding unflattering facts."

Establish Your CREDIBLITY

Any writer needs to establish her credibility. Why read someone who you don't believe or trust? Practice these skills to get it done quickly.

Define the KEY WORDS that are Crucial to Your Argument

Selecting a few, specific key words then using them throughout your essay will help emphasize your thesis and create flow and continuity.

Write a More ORIGINAL Thesis

One of the largest challenges to moving from middle-school and early high school writing to more advanced work is the challenge to write something original. This doesn't mean you have to invent some whole new theory of life, the universe, and everything. Rather, it means you have to make your reader think.

Write a More SPECIFIC thesis

You will probably receive, or have received, the following feedback at some point: “Try to narrow your thesis.” This may seem odd; a thesis isn’t something you can squeeze and shape. Can a thesis be ‘fat’? The comment is an attempt to explain that you have bitten off more than you can chew."

Stay Focused on YOUR thesis

You need a great thesis but you also have to focus on it throughout your essay. Learn how!

Strengthen Your Argument by Including a COUNTERargument

Including a counterargument is one of the single-most effective strategies for becoming an academic writer. Your writing will be more detailed, dig deeper, and engage more thoroughly with the material - all by attempting one extra paragraph that takes on the primary opposing argument.

Avoid Logical GOOFS (Logical Fallacies)

Fallacies are statements that sound logical but, if you stop and think, really aren't. Avoid in your own writing and critique in others'.

Strategies for Arguing: Logos, Ethos and Pathos

"The Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three fundamental strategies for persuading an audience—English teachers may call these strategies “rhetorical appeals.” Everyone who reads or writes arguments should be able to recognize these: Logos is the appeal to logic or reason. Ethos is the appeal based on ethics, which establishes the credibility of the author. Pathos is the appeal to the emotions of the audience."

ORGANIZE Your Argument

Like pop songs or action movies, arguments have a pattern to them. Learn a pattern and use it to great effect!

Examples of Persuasive and Argumentative Essays

There's nothing like a model! Quick access to solid examples of persuasive essays.

Tips for Organizing Your Ideas (Reverse Outlining)

Use this clever strategy to take a bunch of ideas and shape them into a coherent essay.

How to Research and Document Your Work

Research is crucial for writers trying to argue a point and be judged as credible. Including quality research, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, is often one of the most challenging aspects to writers moving into advanced high school and college work. Crucial concepts include:

  • Developing quality sources
  • Citing information properly
  • Creating accurate Works Cited pages

Find Sources to Support Your Argument

Steps to finding credible, specific sources to support your argument.

Evaluate Source Quality

You can't just use random webpages and data you find. Getting good at parsing source credibility will help you in school and beyond.

APA Sample Paper with Comments

Summary of APA document formatting basics with a sample paper you can download. The sample includes annotations explaining the various rules (PDF).

MLA Sample Paper with Comments

Summary of MLA document formatting basics with a sample paper you can download. The sample includes annotations explaining the various rules (PDF).

MLA Works Cited Page – Basic Formatting

Straight answers on the 'Works Cited' page requried by MLA. NOT a 'Bibliography'!

MLA In-Text Citation PLACEMENT

Many students cite their work accurately, but don't properly place the citations. This is like answering a question correctly, but by shouting it at the top of your lungs while jumping up and down. It discredits you. This article will give you a quick overview of how to do it right.

Creating IN-TEXT citations MLA Style

Bibliographies are one thing, but how do you get quotes or evidence into your writing and cite them properly?

MLA In-Text Citations: the Source is a Website

How do you give credit in your writing (not the bibliography) when the source is a website?

Elegantly Include QUOTATIONS In Your Writing

Including quotes in your writing is one of the leading indicators of an accomplished academic writer. There are rules, and they are easy to learn. Once you've got them down and you can sprinkle quotes throughout your writing to support your points you'll be on your way to creating slam-dunk arguments with the ability to persuade any audience.

Use Evidence to Power Your Writing

Using evidence well is a hallmark of mature writing – whether the task is an argumentative academic paper, a business report, or a short story. Misusing evidence, selecting evidence that lacks credibility, or failing to properly analyze evidence can hurt image in your reader’s mind. Using evidence is tied, of course, to finding evidence. So take a look at our section on Research for ideas on how to find credible evidence. Once you’ve got some good, detailed material to work with you can employ techniques described here to integrate it into your writing.

ANALYZE Evidence to Support Your Thesis

Actionable tips and examples to help you move deeper into the evidence you've already got.

CLOSELY Read ‘The Text’ to Squeeze Out All Its Meaning

In any high school or college class where you’re reading texts and writing about them, your writing will be more effective if you know how to perform what teachers call a “close reading.” Similarly, if you’re writing a business report or proposal, you’ll be much more likely to reach your goals if the document reflects a close, careful reading of your primary sources.

SUMMARIZE Effectively – Don’t Just Parrot Another Author

Understanding when to accelerate and summarize vs. slow down and dig in is a key skill. Learn some basic moves to summarize well.

PARAPHRASE Effectively – Avoid Just Copying

Paraphrasing is a skill that marks you as an accomplished academic writer - AND helps you avoid charges of plagiarism.

Design a Sentence That Includes a QUOTE

"Quoting others' work is crucial to your success as a writer. Students often have difficulty with this skill; growing proficient at quoting will mark you as a sophisticated writer. Not quoting, or quoting awkwardly, is like showing up to a formal wedding dressed in cut-off jeans. Similarly, filling a short paper with many, many quotes (particularly long quotes) will interrupt your reader's concentration on your ideas."

Elegantly Include QUOTATIONS In Your Writing

Including quotes in your writing is one of the leading indicators of an accomplished academic writer. There are rules, and they are easy to learn. Once you've got them down and you can sprinkle quotes throughout your writing to support your points you'll be on your way to creating slam-dunk arguments with the abilit