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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!

Examples of Persuasive and Argumentative Essays

The following are decent examples of Persuasive / Argumentative Essays, designed to help you think about the form more deeply. They aren't "slam dunk" essays that guarantee an "A". In fact, we've given you some perspective on how writing instructors would view these...
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Define the KEY WORDS that are Crucial to Your Argument

A cliched ploy of many a student is to start an essay with a definition of a word that is important in the essay. For instance, when writing about Romeo and Juliet a student might start out with, "Dictionary.com defines 'love' as 'a profoundly tender, passionate...
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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...
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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...
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Avoid Logical GOOFS (Logical Fallacies)

  A 'logical fallacy' is an error in reasoning. That is, an argument that might have a pattern that is familiar, but that does not hold up to close scrutiny. Here's a crazy example: My dog likes to chase the postman. Therefore my dog likes the postman. If you...
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Establish Your CREDIBLITY

If you want to convince someone of something, you need to be perceived as a credible person. There are proven ways to establish credibility, and once you are aware of them you'll notice people using them all the time - from politicians, to community leaders, to sports...
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Stay Focused on YOUR thesis

Many students are familiar with the feedback, "you need to focus more!" But what does that mean? Nine times out of ten, students choose topics/arguments that are too broad and then they skim across the surface of the issue. Creating an argumentative and original...
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Analyzing Your Audience – the First Rule of Effective Writing

Imagine a friend sends you an email (or a text, or posts to your Facebook page) and starts off by saying, "Hi, my name is John. I was born in New York City, and now live in Chicago on Elm Street. I'm a senior at..." You'd wonder why they were giving you all this...
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Strengthen Your Argument by Including a COUNTERargument

Counterargument is one of the great missed opportunities by high school and college writers. This is understandable, because including a counterargument may feel like you are weakening your own argument (which may already be teetering on the brink of being totally...
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WIN From the Start: Write an EVOCATIVE Title

The title of your work is often an easy - and under-utilized - way to make a great first impression and advance your argument before your audience has started your introduction. Titles matter. Imagine if Hemingway had titled his first novel A Goodbye to Rifles rather...
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ORGANIZE Your Argument

In his 1959 book The Uses of Argument, philosopher Stephen Toulmin analyzed the components of effective argumentation. Toulmin's analysis yielded one of the most useful formulas for organizing arguments. The first three components of the Toulmin argument are methods...
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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...
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Tips for Organizing Your Ideas (Reverse Outlining)

Let's imagine you've collected some evidence, you've got a rough idea for your paper, and you've begun to write an introduction that broadly summarizes your feelings. How can you best arrange your work for maximum effect? How can you lead you reader through the essay...
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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

APA Sample Paper with Comments

Click here to download a PDF sample essay, in the APA format. The paper includes annotations - comments - that help you understand the rules and expectations. [button link="http://owl.english.purdue.edu/media/pdf/20090212013008_560.pdf" type="icon"...
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Document Formatting in the APA Style

APA doesn't just apply to citations and bibliography; it applies to the way the document is formatted. Click the to download a Word template to help you get started. The document will have four major sections: Title Page Abstract Main Body References Use white, 8.5 x...
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MLA Sample Paper with Comments

Click here to download a PDF sample essay, in the MLA format. The paper includes annotations - comments - that help you understand the rules and expectations. [button link="http://owl.english.purdue.edu/media/pdf/20091250615234_747.pdf" type="icon"...
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MLA Works Cited Page – Basic Formatting

A few broad points - that are often overlooked: It's a "Works Cited" page, not a bibliography. A bibliography might include sources that don't appear in your work. "Works Cited" and "References" mean the same thing. The purpose of a Works Cited page is to make it easy...
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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. Here are three typical mistakes: According to...
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MLA In-Text Citations

  MLA in-text citations (vs. the Works Cited page where you list out all the bibliographic information) are parenthetical. So with MLA you don't use footnotes, or endnotes, or superscripts.  You use the author's name and a page number (if available) placed...
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Document Formatting in the MLA Style – Sample Paper

MLA doesn't just apply to citations and bibliography; it applies to the way the document is formatted. Click the Word icon to download a Word template to help you get started. HERE ARE THE BASICS (Know that your instructor's specific requirements supersede these...
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In-Text Citations: the Source is a Website

If you retrieved a PDF from a website (most often a library database or a government website) that is formatted like a print source (like hard copy rather than a web page), use the page numbers provided as part of your citation. If your source is a website, then still...
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Evaluating Sources

How do you know whether a source is a worthwhile one? You can demonstrate your competence and credibility by using impressive sources in your work. Depending on your subject, 'impressive' might include your grandmother, the local newspaper, a website, or a print...
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Finding Sources

The Internet is a blessing and a curse. In the old days, students would look up key terms in one of the library's indexes, then find an entry for a particular source in a card catalog, then physically find the source - which might be bound and in a book, stored deep...
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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.

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...
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Elegantly Include QUOTATIONS In Your Writing

Students know that they are supposed to use quotations from other sources. But it can be difficult to crow-bar in a quote. Sometimes they don't seem to fit grammatically, or including the quote just feels clunky. You have to have faith that quotes are good, and they...
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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...
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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,...
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ANALYZE Evidence to Support Your Thesis

Analyzing evidence is the key to competent high school and college writing. You cannot throw down a quote, or some facts, or a graph, and expect the reader to make all the connections to your main point/thesis. Similarly, you can't spend all your time sharing...
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PARAPHRASE Effectively – Avoid Just Copying

Paraphrasing means taking specific words from a source and rewriting them to appear in your own words.Paraphrasing should always be carefully cited, using the citation format required in the class or academic program. Paraphrasing is an area many students have trouble...
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SUMMARIZE Effectively – Don’t Just Parrot Another Author

Often students are criticized for "summarizing too much." This can be for a number of reasons. One reason is that many middle school and high school programs prepare students to do little more than copy entries from an encylopedia (or Wikipedia). For instance, an...
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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…

Use SEMICOLONS (;) For Emphasis

Why would you ever want to make your writing more complex by using a semicolon? The little comma-with-a-dot-over-it grammatical mark? 1. Semicolons are used when listing information in a sentence. Example: The best politicians can: 1) smile on command; 2) kiss babies...
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Its vs. It’s, Their/there, Led/lead etc

Many words in English look and sound alike. Knowing the differences, and when to use which version, will help mark you as a pro. Example: I drove her two the mall. Most of us would realize the mistake - that the number 'two' was used rather than the word...
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Designing Sentences Using the Mighty Colon (:)

The colon is a strong punctuation mark that points readers ahead to the rest of the sentence. Colons shouldn't be overused; perhaps one per page, if that. Example:   I begin each day of my life with a ritual:   I wake up about 5am, put on my workout clothes, pour a...
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Proofreading and Typographical Errors

Not all typographical errors are equal. If you misuse "too" ("John went too the cafeteria and loaded up on free food"), your instructor/reader will chalk up your mistake to a silly error. They'll think less of you, and you'll hurt your credibility. But one or two of...
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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. Here is...
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What is an Independent Clause?

An independent clause can stand by itself as a sentence. A sentence has, at its most basic, a subject and a verb. Example: Mary ran. Mary is the subject, and she's the one doing the action - running. Independent clauses can be a lot more complicated and longer, but...
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Recognizing and Revising Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is a group of words that does not comprise a complete sentence. When you’re writing a first draft, and again when you’re proofreading or revising, look closely at each sentence you write and ask yourself whether it fits the criteria for a complete...
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How to Fix Comma Splices

A comma splice is a sentence that uses a comma to incorrectly link independent clauses. Since an independent clause can stand alone as a sentence by itself, the result is very jarring to the reader. Example: Jim watched the Eagles game, Mary went mountain biking....
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Where To Put Commas

Commas are used in many different ways, but you can think of them as a pause. So if you were speaking out loud, and paused between parts of a sentence - that's where a comma goes. The most common usage for the comma is when separating different parts of a sentence to...
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Overview of Grammar & Mechanics

Grammar and Mechanics includes punctuation, proof-reading, and sentence structure. By the time you are in advanced 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...
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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.

The Uses and Methods of Outlining

Whether you’re creating a research paper, a narrative essay or a presentation, using an outline early in your process can save you time and trouble. You can also increase the quality of your final product by organizing your material. In the beginning of your process,...
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Brainstorming a Topic and Getting a First Draft Out the Door

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...
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Blasting Through Writers’ Block

Writer’s block is usually caused by some form of anxiety, sometimes by an odd mixture of anxiety and boredom. Whether your situation is academic or professional, the blank page can create a mirror of blankness in your mind, and words or ideas just don’t come easily...
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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. Audience Who is your audience? Is there more than one audience? For instance, you...
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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)…

Examples of Persuasive and Argumentative Essays

The following are decent examples of Persuasive / Argumentative Essays, designed to help you think about the form more deeply. They aren't "slam dunk" essays that guarantee an "A". In fact, we've given you some perspective on how writing instructors would view these...
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How to Write a College Admissions Essay

by Robert Finegan During their peak season, college admissions officers spend upwards of twelve hours a day poring through mountains of applications. Each application contains plenty of objective data: high school transcripts, SAT scores, lists of extracurricular...
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Tips and Tricks to Argumentative & Persuasive Writing

All College Writing is About Argument Many students graduate from high school thinking a "thesis" is a main idea. Like, "My thesis is, 'Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States.'" That isn't a thesis; it's a fact. So it can come as a shock to...
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What Is a Persuasive Essay?

A persuasive essay explains a specific topic and attempts to persuade the audience that your point of view is the most informed, logical and valid perspective on the topic. This genre is also known as the argumentative essay. While an expository essay written for an...
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What Is an Expository Essay?

Exposition is explanatory communication, whether in speech or writing. So an expository essay is an organized piece of prose which explains a specific topic or set of ideas to a defined audience. Expository essays include those written for exams or for standardized...
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Tips and Tricks to Narrative Essays

All Writing is About Understanding Audience Put yourself in the shoes of your writing teacher: they are probably 40 years old (or older), have between 50 and 150 students, and have read hundreds if not thousands of essays. What would they like to read? Probably NOT...
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Examples of Narrative Essays

The following are decent examples of Narrative Essays, designed to help you think about the form more deeply. They aren't "slam dunk" essays that guarantee an "A". In fact, we've given you some perspective on how writing instructors would view these examples. Notice...
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What is a Narrative Essay?

by Robert Finegan A narrative essay is one that tells a story. You might be used to thinking of storytelling in connection with personal relationships, where we’re telling our stories all the time to friends, family, or romantic partners. Or you might think of the...
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