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Online Writing Handbook

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.

Use the search box below to find a specific topic or explore general areas by clicking a button below..

11trees’ Online Writing Handbook – Contents

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 ability to persuade any audience.

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."

Grammar and Mechanics: Eat Your Veggies

Grammar and Mechanics includes punctuation, proof-reading, and sentence structure. By the time you are in college-level writing class, little attention will be paid to teaching these basics – you’ll be assumed to know them. And if you don’t? Goofing up relatively simple grammatical issues is the equivalent to showing up to school in your underwear. You might just get away with it if you’re a genius…

Proofreading: Your Honor on the Line!

Short discussion of the importance of proofreading with a little motivation thrown in alongside some easy wins that will help bring your game up.

How Can I Make My Sentences Clearer?

Sometimes sentences are unclear because they are ambiguous, and other times because they have too many words. Usually sentences will be clearer if they have fewer words. So as you edit and reread your work, try to take words out to make your writing clearer.

Recognize and Revise Sentence Fragments

Understand sentence fragments and how to fix them.

What is an Independent Clause?

Simple, short definition of the building block of written English: the independent clause.

Where To Put Commas

Do you just scatter commas around, randomly? Or are there rules for using them? Find out - quickly!

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.

How to Fix Comma Splices

You cannot link two independent clauses (which can stand on their own as sentences) with a comma. Fixing a splice is easy and these examples will show you the way.

Use SEMICOLONS (;) For Emphasis

How do you properly use semicolons? More importanlty, how can you use them to help your writing, particularly to add emphasis?

Its vs. It’s, Their/there, Led/lead etc

Examples of words that sound the same but have different meanings - homonyms. Too/to, pear, pair, led/lead etc.

Designing Sentences Using the Mighty Colon (:)

When do you use the two dots vs. the dot and the comma? All answers: here.

The Universal: General Writing Tips

Do you just start writing? Probably a good idea – get out a rough draft, some rough ideas – anything. But at some point you’ve got to step back and strategize: what are the goals of the writing assignment or task? How can I best approach my audience to get my point across?

There are universal truths – that apply to all writing, from school essays to contracts to presidential speeches to Hollywood scripts.

Getting Started: Writing the Best Essay Possible

One way to generate useful material in an early draft is to ask yourself a lot of questions about different aspects of your project, from audience to topic to perspectives on the topic.

Brainstorm a Topic and Finish a First Draft

When you sit down to write, do you immediately think of 23 other things you’d rather be doing? Does your hand itch to grab your phone and start texting, or does Facebook suddenly seem more alluring than ever? Does your mind just seem filled with clouds instead of thoughts and words you can use?

Blasting Through Writers’ Block

Think you're the only one who stares at the blank screen with feat/anxiety/anger/boredom? Nope. Every writer who ever lived has felt the same way. This resource will walk you through the most common and suggest some ways to deal. There's always cleaning the bathroom or doing your taxes - if you REALLY want to avoid writing.

Tips for Organizing Your Ideas (Reverse Outlining)

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

The Uses and Methods of Outlining

Gain a quick understanding of how outlining can help your writing. Think through organization and logic to create coherence and impact.

Types of Writing: Get in the RIGHT Game

From book reports to business plans, writing can take many shapes. What are the expectations for each type? What examples are there (both effective and ineffective)? What rules must you follow, and which ones can be broken in the right circumstances?

Think of it this way: you could be a fantastic baseball player or drummer. Those skills won’t help you if the task at hand is bowling or baking a cake.

Yes: the dreaded “G” word (genre)…

What Is a Persuasive Essay?

The basics for writing a compelling argumentative (persuasive) essay.

Tips and Tricks to Argumentative & Persuasive Writing

Specific skills to help you create an argumentative thesis and tie it into each paragraph you write, emphasizing your points.

Examples of Persuasive and Argumentative Essays

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

What Is an Expository Essay?

The basics for writing a compelling expository essay.

What is a Narrative Essay?

The basics for writing a compelling narrative essay.

Examples of Narrative Essays

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

Tips and Tricks to Narrative Essays

How to avoid the cliches and traps of a traditional narrative essay assignment.

How to Write a College Admissions Essay

Learn how to give an admissions officer a "good" read and share important elements of your personality and achievements.