concrete are names of
two kinds of language. Abstract
words refer to ideas, conditions, and
qualities we cannot directly perceive: truth, love, courage,
evil, wealth, poverty, reactionary.
Concrete words indicate things we can know with our
senses: tree, chair, bird, pen, motorcycle, perfume, thunderclap,
cheeseburger. The use of
concrete words lends vigor and clarity to writing, for such words help a
reader to picture things. See
Allegory is a story or fable that has a clear secondary meaning,
beneath its literal sense. Orwell's Animal Farm, for
example, is assumed to have an allegorical sense.
a reader to any person, place, thing in fact, fiction, or legend that
the writer believes is common knowledge.
An allusion (a single reference) may point to a famous event, a
familiar saying, a noted personality, a well-known story or song. “The
game was Coach Johnson’s Waterloo” informs the reader that, like
Napoleon meeting defeat in a celebrated battle, the coach led a
confrontation resulting in his downfall and that of his team.
If the writer is also showing Johnson’s character, the allusion
might further tell us that the coach is a man of Napoleonic ambition and
pride. To observe “He is
our town’s J.R. Ewing” concisely says that a prominent citizen is
like the lead character in Dallas: unscrupulous, deceptive,
merciless, rich, eager to become rich—and perhaps superficially
charming and promiscuous as well. To
make an effective allusion, you have to be aware of your audience.
If your readers do not recognize the allusion, it will only
confuse. Not everyone, for
example, would understand you if you alluded to a neighbor, to a
seventeenth-century Russian harpsichordist, or to a little known stock
refers to a word or an expression
having two ormore
possible meanings. Ambiguity is a characteristic of some
the best poetry, but it is not desired trait of expository
writing, which should clearly state what the writer means.
Analogy is a form of exposition that uses an
extended comparison based on the like features of two unlike things: one
familiar or easily understood, the other unfamiliar, abstract, or
complicated. Analogy (from
the Greek analogos, meaning “proportionate,”
“resembling”) normally compares substantially different kinds of
things and reports several points of resemblance.
A comparison of one city with another (“New York City is like
Chicago in several ways”) does not involve an analogy because the two
things are not substantially different.
And a comparison giving only one resemblance is usually not
considered an analogy (“Some people, like olives, are an acquired
taste”). But if we claim
that a state is like a human body, and we find in the state equivalents
of the brain, heart, limbs, we are offering an analogy. Similarly, one
might construct an analogy between feeding the body with food and
supplying the mind with ideas: the
diet must be balanced, taken at approximately regular intervals, in
proper amounts, and digested. An
analogy may be useful in explaining the unfamiliar by comparing it to
the familiar (The heart is like a pump . . .”), but of course the
things compared are different, and the points of resemblance can go only
so far. For this reason,
analogies cannot prove anything, though they are sometimes offered as
Analysis is a form of expository writing in
which the writer separates a subject into its elements or parts and
examines the relation of the parts to the whole.
is the name of a brief narrative,
or retelling of a story or event. Anecdotes have many uses:
as essay openers or closers, as examples, as sheer entertainment.
Appeals are recourses writers draw on to
connect with and persuade readers.
rational appeal asks readers to use their intellects and
their powers of reasoning. It
relies on established conventions of logic and evidence.
emotional appeal asks readers to respond out of their
beliefs, values, or feelings. It
inspires, affirms, frightens, angers.
ethical appeal asks readers to look favorably on the
writer. It stresses the
writer’s intelligence, competence,
fairness, morality, and other qualities desirable in a trustworthy
debater or teacher.
Argument is a principle mode of discourse in
which some statements are offered as reasons for other statements.
Argument, then, like emotional appeal and wit, is a form of
persuasion, but argument seeks to persuade by appealing to reason.
Audience, for a writer, means readers.
Having in mind a particular audience helps the writer in choosing
strategies. Imagine, for instance, that you are writing two reviews of
the French movie Jean de Florette: one for the students who read
the campus newspaper, the other for amateur and professional filmmakers
who read Millimeter.
For the first audience, you might write about the actors, the
plot, and especially dramatic scenes. You might judge the picture and
urge your readers to see it—or avoid it. Writing for Millimeter, you might discuss special
effects, shooting techniques, problems in editing and in mixing picture
and sound. In this review, you might use more specialized and technical
terms. Obviously, an
awareness of the interests and knowledge of your readers, in each case,
would help you decide how to write.
If you told readers of the campus paper too much about filming
techniques, you would lose most of them.
If you told Millimeter’s readers the plot of the film in
detail and how you liked its opening scene, probably you would put them
You can increase your awareness of your audience by asking
yourself a few questions before you begin to write.
Who are to be your readers?
What is their age level? Background?
Education? Where do
they live? What are their
beliefs and attitudes? What
interests them? What, if
anything, sets them apart from most people?
How familiar are they with your subject?
Knowing your audience can help you write so that your readers
will not only understand you better, but more deeply care about what you
Balance in a sentence is a
characteristic symmetry between phrases, clauses, and other grammatical
parts. For example, the
sentence “I love Jamaica for its weather, its lovely scenery, and its
people” is balanced. This
sentence—“I love Jamaica for its weather, its lovely scenery, and
because its people are friendly”—is not.
is a form of
exposition in which a writer analyzes reasons for an action, event, or
decision, or analyzes its consequences.
The writer’s chief aim is to analyze cause or predict effect.
(French) is a name for any
worn out, trite expression that a writer employs thoughtlessly.
Although at one time the expression may have been colorful, from
heavy use it has lost its luster. It is now “old as the hills.”
In conversation, most of us sometimes use clichés, but in
writing they “stick out like sore thumbs.”
Alert writers, when they revise, replace a cliché with a fresh,
concrete expression. Writers
who have trouble recognizing clichés generally need to read more
widely. Their problem is
that, so many expressions being new to them, they do not know which ones
are full of moths.
Coherence is the clear connection of
the parts in a piece of effective writing.
A coherent essay is one whose parts—sentences, paragraphs,
pages—are logically fused into a single whole.
This quality exists when the reader can easily follow the flow of
ideas between sentences, paragraphs, and larger divisions, and can see
how they relate successively to one another.
In making your essay coherent, you may find certain devices
useful. TRANSITIONS, for instance, can bridge ideas.
Reminders of points you have stated earlier are helpful to a
reader who may have forgotten them—as readers do sometimes,
particularly if your essay is long. However, a coherent essay is not one merely pasted together
with transitions and reminders. It
derives its coherence from the clear relationship between its thesis (or
central idea) and all its parts.
which occur primarily in speech and informal writing that seeks a
tone. “My favorite chow is a burger and a shake” or “This math
exam has me wired” may be acceptable in talking to a roommate, in
corresponding with a friend, or in writing a humorous essay for general
readers. Such choices of
words, however, would be out of place in formal writing—in, say, a
laboratory report or a letter to your senator.
Contractions (let’s, don’t, we’ll) and abbreviated words
(photo, sales, rep, TV) are the shorthand of spoken language.
Good writers use such expressions with an awareness that they
produce an effect of casualness
Comparison and contrast, two writing
strategies, are usually found together. Strictly speaking, to compare is
to examine in order to show similarities.
(It comes from the Latin comparare, “to pair,” “to
match.”) To contrast is
to set into opposition in order to show differences.
(It comes from the Latin contra, “against,” and stare,
“to stand.”) But in
ordinary usage a comparison may include not only similarities but also
differences. (For a particular kind of comparison, emphasizing
similarities, see ANALOGY.)
In comparing and contrasting, a writer usually means not simply
to list similarities or differences but to reveal something clearly, by
calling attention either to its resemblances to something we might not
think it resembles, or to its differences from something we might think
it does resemble.
are those sentences or
paragraphs that bring an essay to a satisfying and logical end.
They are purposefully crafted to give a sense of unity and
completeness to the whole essay. The
best conclusions evolve naturally out of what has gone before and
convince the reader that the essay is indeed at an end, not that the
writer has run out of steam.
Conclusions vary in type and length depending on
the nature and scope of the essay.
A long research paper may require several paragraphs of summary
to review and emphasize the main points.
A short essay, however, may benefit from a few brief closing
In concluding an essay, beware of diminishing the
impact of your writing by finishing on a weak note.
Don’t apologize for what you have written, or cram in a final
detail that would have been better placed elsewhere.
Although there are no set formulas for closing, the
following list presents several options:
Restate the thesis of your essay, and perhaps your main points.
Mention the broader implications or significance of our topic.
Give a final example that pulls all the parts of your discussion
Offer a prediction.
End with the most important point as the culmination of your
Suggest how the reader can apply the information you have just
End with a bit of drama or flourish. Tell an ANECDOTE,
offer an appropriate quotation, ask a question, make a final insightful
remark. Keep in mind,
however, that an ending shouldn’t sound false and gimmicky. It truly
has to conclude.
Connotations and denotation
are names for
the two types of meanings most words have.
Denotation is the explicit, literal, dictionary definition
of a word. Connotation
refers to the implied meaning, resonant with associations, of a word.
The denotation of blood is “the fluid that circulates in
the vascular system.” The
word’s connotations range from life force to gore to family
bond. A doctor might
use the word blood for its denotation, and a mystery writer might
rely on the rich connotations of the word to heighten a scene.
Because people have different experiences, they
bring to the same word different associations.
A conservative Republican’s emotional response to the word welfare
is not likely to be the same as a liberal Democrat’s.
And referring to your senator as a diplomat evokes a
different response, from the senator and from others, than would baby-kisser,
or even politician. The
effective use of words involves knowing both what they mean literally
and what they are likely to suggest.
Convention is an agreed-on usage.
Beginning each sentence with a capital letter is a convention.
Critical thinking, one of the most important
skills for college work and beyond, seeks the meaning beneath the
surface of a statement, poem, editorial, picture, advertisement, or
other “text.” Using
analysis, the critical thinker separates this text into its elements in
order to see meanings, relations, and assumptions that might otherwise
is the process of reasoning from
premises to a logical conclusion. Here is the classic example: “All men are mortal” (the
major premise); “Socrates is a man” (the minor premise);
“therefore Socrates is mortal ( the conclusion).
Such an argument, which takes two truths and joins them to
produce a third truth, is called a syllogism (from Greek for “a
joining together”). Deduction
(from the Latin for “lead down from”) moves from a general statement
to a specific application; it is, therefore, the opposite of induction,
which moves from specific instances to a general conclusion.
Notice that if a premise of a syllogism is not
true, one can reason logically and still come to a false conclusion.
teachers are members of a union”; “Jones is a teacher”; therefore
Jones is a member of a union.” Although
the process of reasoning is correct here, the major premise is
false—all teachers are not members of a union—and so the
conclusion is worthless. Jones
may or may not be a member of the union.
Definition may refer to a statement of the
literal and specific meanings of a word (short definition), or to
a form of expository writing (extended definition).
In the latter, the writer usually explains the nature of a word,
a thing, a concept, or a phenomenon; in doing so the writer may employ
narration, description, or any of the expository methods.
Denotation is the specific and literal
meaning of a word, as found in the dictionary.
The opposite of connotation.
Description is a mode of writing that
conveys the evidence of the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. A descriptive essay or passage in an essay, uses concrete
words (words that denote observable qualities such as hair and stickiness)
and it uses specific language ( words such as basketball rather
than game, and steak, potatoes, and salad rather
than hearty meal).
Diction is a choice of words.
Every written or spoken statement contains diction of some kind.
Diction depends on topic, purpose, and occasion. To describe certain
aspects of diction, the following terms may be useful:
words and grammatical forms that native speakers of the
language use in formal writing.
words and grammatical forms such as theirselves and ain’t
that occur mainly in the speech of people from a particular area or
certain words in highly informal speech or writing, or in the
speech of a particular group. For example, blow off, dis, dweeb.
words and phrases from conversation.
words heard in a certain locality, such as spritzing for
“raining” in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
a variety of English based on differences in geography,
education, or social background. Dialect
is usually spoken, but may be written.
words and phrases that form the vocabulary of a particular
discipline (monocotyledon from botany), occupation (drawplate
from die making), or avocation (interval training from running.
See also JARGON.
old-fashioned expressions, once common but now used to suggest an
earlier style, such as ere, yon, and forsooth. (Actually,
yon is still current in the expression hither and yon; but if you say
“Behold yon glass of beer!” it is an archaism).
words that have passed out of use (such as the verb werien,
“to protect or defend,” and the noun isetnesses,
may also refer to certain meanings of words no longer current ( fond
for foolish, clipping for hugging or embracing).
use of words more numerous and elaborate than necessary, such as institution
of higher learning for college, and partake of solid
nourishment for eat.
Division and classification
is a rhetorical
mode for developing an essay whose chief aim is to identify the parts of
a whole. A division and
classification essay is often an exercise in logical thinking.
is the central theme
around which a descriptive passage is organized.
For example, a description of an airport lobby would most likely
use the dominant impression of rush and bustle, which it would support
with specific detail, even though the lobby may contain pockets of peace
and tranquility. Likewise,
a description of Cyrano de Bergerac—the famous dramatic lover whose
nose was horrendously long—would focus on his nose rather than on an
inconspicuous part of his face.
is stress or special importance
given to a certain point or element to make it stand out.
A skillful writer draws attention to what is most important in a
sentence, paragraph, or essay by controlling emphasis in any of the
Important ideas are given greater coverage than minor points.
The beginnings and ends of sentences, paragraphs, and larger
divisions are the strongest positions.
Placing key ideas in these spots helps draw attention to their
importance. The end is the
stronger position, for what stands last stands out.
A sentence in which less important details precede the main point
is called a periodic sentence:
“Having disguised himself as a guard and walked through the
courtyard to the side gate, the prisoner made his escape.”
A sentence in which the main point precedes less important
details is a loose sentence:
“Autumn is orange: gourds in baskets at roadside stands, the
harvest moon hanging like a pumpkin, and oak and beech leaves flashing
Careful repetition of key words or phrases can give them greater
repetition, however, can cause boredom.)
Italics (underlining), capital letters, and exclamation points
can make words or sentences stand out.
Writers sometimes fall back on these devices, however, after
failing to show significance by other means.
Italics and exclamation points can be useful in reporting speech,
but excessive use sounds exaggerated or bombastic.
refers to a short nonfiction
composition on one central theme or subject in which the writer may
offer personal views. Essays
are sometimes classified as either formal or informal. In general, a
essay is one whose diction is that of the written language (not
colloquial speech), serious in tone, and usually focused on a subject
the writer believes is important. An
informal essay, in contrast, is more likely to admit colloquial
expressions; the writer’s tone tends to be lighter, perhaps humorous,
and the subject is likely to be personal, sometimes even trivial.
Euphemism is the use of inoffensive language
in place of language that readers or listeners may find hurtful,
distasteful, frightening, or otherwise objectionable.
Writers sometimes use euphemism out of consideration for
reader’s feelings, but just as often they use it to deceive readers or
is judging merits.
In evaluating a work of writing, you suspend personal preference
and judge its success in fulfilling the writer’s apparent purpose.
For instance, if an essay tells how to tune up a car and you have
no interest in engines, you nevertheless decide how clearly and
effectively the writer explains the process to you.
Evidence is the factual basis for an
argument or an explanation. In
a courtroom, an attorney’s case is only as good as the evidence
marshaled to support it. In
an essay, a writer’s opinions and generalizations also must rest upon
evidence. The common forms
of evidence are facts, verifiable statements; statistics,
facts stated numerically; examples, specific instances of a
generalization; reported experience, usually eyewitness accounts;
and expert testimony, the opinions of people considered very
skilled or knowledgeable in the field.
In critical writing, especially writing about literature, the
evidence usually consists of quotations from the work being
Example, also called
exemplification or illustration, is a form of exposition in which the writer
provides instances of a general idea.
is an attempt to reveal the
meaning by calling attention to implications, such as the connotations
of words and the tone conveyed by the brevity or length of a sentence.
Unlike a paraphrase, which is a rewording or rephrasing in order
to set forth the gist of the meaning, an explication is a commentary
that makes explicit what is implicit.
If we paraphrased the beginning of the Gettysburg Address, we
might turn “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought
forth” into “Eighty-seven years ago our ancestors established,” or
some such statement. In an
explication, however, we would mention that four score evokes the
language of the Bible, and that the biblical echo helps to establish the
solemnity and holiness of the occasion.
In an explication we would mention that fathers initiates
a chain of images of birth, continued in conceived in liberty, any
nation conceived, and a new birth.
Exposition is the mode of prose writing that
explains a subject. Its
function is to inform, to instruct, or to set forth
may call various methods to its service: example, comparison and
contrast, process analysis, and so on.
Expository writing exposes information:
the major trade routes in the Middle East, how to make a
dulcimer, why the United States consumes more energy than it needs. Most college writing is exposition.
Logical Fallacies in
arguments are errors in reasoning that lead to wrong conclusion.
From the time when you start thinking about your proposition or
claim and planning your paper, you’ll need to watch out for them.
Recognize the most common logical fallacies and guard against
them when you write:
argument is an argument that attacks the integrity or
character of an opponent rather that the merits of the issue.
(Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man”) It is also
informally known as “mudslinging.”
argument is a fallacious argument that appeals to the passions and
prejudices of a group rather than to its reason.
An appeal, for instance, to support an issue because it’s
“the American Way,” is an ad populem argument.
Begging the question
taking for granted from the start what you set out to demonstrate.
When you reason in a logical way, you state that because
something is true, then, as a result, some other truth follows. When you
beg the question, however, you repeat that what is true is true.
If you argue, for instance, that dogs are a menace to people
because they are dangerous, you don’t prove a thing., since the idea
that dogs are dangerous is already assumed in the statement that they
are a menace. Beggars of
questions often just repeat what they already believe, only in different
words. This fallacy
sometimes takes the form of arguing in a circle, or demonstrating
a premise by a conclusion and a conclusion by a premise:
“I am in college because that is the right thing to do.
Going to college is the right thing to do because it is expected
reasoning assumes that a reality may be divided into only two parts or extremes;
either/or reasoning assumes that a given problem has only one of two
possible solutions. “What
do we do about the sheiks who keep jacking up oil prices?
Either we kowtow to ‘em, or we bomb ‘em off the face of the
earth, right?” Obviously either/or reasoning is a kind of extreme
False analogy is
the claim of persuasive likeness when no significant likeness exists.
Analogies cannot serve as evidence in a rational argument because
the differences always outweigh the similarities; but analogies can
reinforce such arguments if the subjects are indeed similar in
the Latin, “it does not follow) is stating a conclusion that doesn’t
follow from the first premise or premises.
“I’ve lived in this town a long time—why, my grandfather
was the first mayor—so I’m against putting fluoride in the drinking
refers to supplying neat and easy explanations for large and complicated
“No wonder drug abuse is out of control.
Look at how the courts have hobbled police officers.”
Oversimplified solutions are also popular: “All these teenage kids that get in trouble with the
law—why, they ought to ship ‘em over to China.
That would straighten ‘em out!”
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
the Latin, “after this, therefore because of this”) assumes that
because A follows B, A was caused by B.
“Ever since the city suspended height restrictions on
skyscrapers, the city budget has been balanced.”
Red herring is a
side issue introduced into an argument in order to distract from the
Straw man is an
opposing point of view set up so that it can easily be defeated.
This is a common strategy in debate.
Figures of speech
occur whenever a writer, for the sake of emphasis or vividness, departs
from the literal meanings (or denotations) of words.
To say “She’s a jewel” doesn’t mean that the subject of
praise is literally a kind of shining stone; the statement makes sense
because its connotations come to mind: rare, priceless, worth
cherishing. Some figures of
speech involve comparisons of two objects apparently unlike.
A simile (from the Latin, “likeness”) states the
comparison directly, usually connecting the two things using like,
as, or than; “The moon is like a snowball,” “He’s
lazy as a cat full of cream,” “My feet are flatter than
flyswatters.” A metaphor
(from the Greek, “transfer”) declares one thing to be
another: “A mighty
fortress is our God,” “The sheep were bolls of cotton on a hill.”
(A dead metaphor is a word or phrase that, originally a
figure of speech, has come to be literal through common usage: “the hands
of a clock.”) Personification
is a simile or metaphor that assigns human traits to inanimate objects
or abstractions: “A stoop
shouldered refrigerator hummed quietly to itself,” “All of a sudden
the solution to the math problem sat there winking at me.”
Other figures of speech consist of
deliberate misrepresentation. Hyperbole
(from the Greek, “throwing beyond”) is a conscious exaggeration:
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and saddle,” “I’d wait for
you a thousand years.” Its
opposite, understatement, creates an ironic or humorous effect:
“I accepted the ride. At
the moment, I didn’t feel like walking across the Mojave Desert.” A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement
that, on reflection, makes
sense: “Children are the
poor man’s wealth” (wealth can be monetary, or it can be spiritual).
Paradox may also refer to a situation that is inexplicable
or contradictory, such as the restriction of one group’s rights in
order to secure the rights of another group.
technique of narrative, involves interrupting the sequence of events to
recall an earlier event.
narrowing of a subject to make it manageable.
Beginning with a general subject, you concentrate on a certain
aspect of it. For instance,
you may select crafts as a general subject, then decide your main
interest lies in weaving. You
could focus your essay still further by narrowing it to operating a
handloom. You can also
focus your writing according to who will read it (AUDIENCE)
or what you want to achieve (PURPOSE).
refer to words and describe their relative degrees of abstractness.
General words name a group or class (flowers); specific
words limit the class by naming its individual members (rose, violet,
dahlia, marigold). Words
may be arranged in a series from more general to more specific:
clothes, pants, jeans, Levis.
The word cat is more specific than animal, but less
specific than tiger cat, or Garfield.
See also ABSTACT and CONCRETE.
refers to a statement about a class based on an examination of some of
its members: “Lions are
fierce.” The more members
examined and the more representative they are of the class, the sturdier
the generalization. Insufficient
or nonrepresentative evidence often leads to a hasty generalization.
The statement “Solar heat saves homeowners money” would be
challenged by homeowners who have yet to recover their installation
costs. “Solar heat can
save homeowners money in the long run” would be a sounder
generalization. Words such
as all, every, only, and always have to be
used with care. “Some
artists are alcoholics” is more credible than “Artists are always
alcoholics.” Making a
trustworthy generalization involves the use of INDUCTIVE
refers to a word or word sequence that evokes a sensory experience. Whether literal (“We picked two red apples”) or figurative (“His cheeks looked like two red
apples, buffed and shining”), an image appeals to the reader’s
memory of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting.
Images add concreteness to fiction — “The farm looked as tiny
and still as a seashell, with the little knob of a house surrounded by
its curved furrows of tomato plants” (Eudora Welty in a short story,
“The Whistle”) — and are an important element in poetry.
But writers of essays too, find images valuable to bring ideas
down to earth. See also FIGURES OF SPEECH.
or induction, is the process of reasoning to a conclusion about
an entire class by examining some of its
members. Every elephant I
have seen is grayish, so by induction (from Latin, “lead into,”
“lead up to”) I conclude that all elephants are grayish.
Another example: I
have met ten graduates of Vassar College and all are females, so I
conclude that all Vassar graduates are females.
This conclusion, however, happens to be incorrect; a few years
ago Vassar began to admit males, and so although male graduates are
relatively few, they do exist. Induction
is valid only if the sample is representative.
openings of written works. Often
they state the writer’s subject, narrow it, and communicate an
attitude toward it (TONE).
Introductions vary in length, depending on their purposes.
A research paper may need several paragraphs to set forth its
central idea and its plan of organization; on the other hand, a brief,
informal essay may need only a sentence or two for an introduction.
Whether long or short, good introductions tell us no more that we
need to know when we begin reading.
Here are a few possible ways to open an essay effectively:
State your central idea, perhaps showing why you care about it.
Present startling facts about your subject.
Tell an illustrative ANECDOTE.
Give background information that will help your reader understand
your subject, or see why it is important.
Begin with an arresting quotation.
Ask a challenging question. (In your essay, you’ll go on to
Irony is a manner
of speaking or writing that does not directly state a discrepancy, but
implies one. In verbal
irony, the meaning of the words intentionally contradicts the
literal meaning, as in “that’s not a very good idea,” where the
intended meaning is “that’s a terrible idea.”
One famous example (in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) is
Antony’s description of Brutus as “an honorable man.”
Since Brutus was one of Caesar’s assassins, Antony meant just
the opposite. If irony is delivered contemptuously with an intent to hurt,
we call it sarcasm; “Oh,
you’re a real friend!” (said to someone who refuses to lend the
speaker a quarter to make a phone call). If
the speaker’s words have an unintentional double meaning, the irony
may be called dramatic irony: a character, about to go to bed,
says, “I think I’ll have a sound sleep,” and dies in her sleep.
Similarly, an action can turn dramatically ironic: a character
seeks to help a friend and unintentionally harms her.
Finally, a situation can be ironic: thirsty sailors are
surrounded by water that cannot be drunk. With situational irony,
the circumstances themselves are incongruous, run contrary to
expectations, or twist fate: Juliet
regains consciousness only to find that Romeo, believing her dead, has
speaking, is the special vocabulary of a trade or profession; but the
term has also come to mean inflated, vague, meaningless language of any
kind. It is characterized
by wordiness, abstractions galore, pretentious diction, and needlessly
complicated word order. Whenever
you meet a sentence that obviously could express its idea in
fewer words and shorter ones, chances are that it is jargon.
For instance: “The
motivating force compelling her to opt continually for the most
labor-intensive mode of operation in performing her functions was
consistently observed to be the single constant and regular factor in
her behavior patterns.” Translation:
“She did everything the hard way.”
are two opposing characteristics of language.
The literal meaning is a statement about something
rendered in common factual terms. “A
good writer must be aggressive and daring.” The figurative
meaning is couched in an image: “A
good writer must stick out his neck.”
is the mode of writing that tells a story. An anecdote is a
narrative, and so is a history of the decline and fall of the Roman
Empire. Narration may, of
course, include substantial exposition (“four possible motives must be
considered”) and description (“the horse was an old gray mare”),
but the emphasis is on a sequence of happenings (“and then she says to
me, . . .”).
are names for kinds of writing that differ in emphasis.
In objective writing, the emphasis falls on the topic; in subjective
writing, it falls on the writer’s view of the topic.
Objective writing occurs in factual reporting, certain process
analyses (such as recipes, directions, and instructions), and logical
arguments in which the writer attempts to downplay personal feelings and
writing sets forth the writer’s feelings, opinions, and
interpretations. It occurs
in friendly letters, journals, editorials, bylined feature stories and
columns in newspapers, personal essays, and arguments that appeal to
emotion. Very few essays,
however, contain one kind of writing exclusive of the other.
refers to a
short narrative from which a moral or a lesson can be drawn.
A parable may, but need not, be and allegory wherein, say, each
character stands for an abstraction that otherwise would be hard to
grasp. Usually the parable
lacks the detailed correspondence of an allegory.
structure, is a name for a habit of good writers: keeping ideas of equal importance in similar grammatical
form. A writer may place
nouns side by side (“Time and tide wait for no man”)
or in a series (“Give me wind, sea, and stars”).
Phrases, too, may be arranged in parallel structure (“Out of
my bed, into my shoes, up to my classroom—that’s
my life”); or clauses (“Ask not what your country can do for you;
ask what you can do for your country”).
Parallelism may be found not only in single
sentences, but also in larger units as well.
A paragraph might read: “Rhythm
is everywhere. It throbs in
the rain forests of Brazil. It
vibrates ballroom floors in Vienna.
It snaps its fingers on street corners in Chicago.”
In a whole essay, parallelism may be the principle used to
arrange ideas in a balanced or harmonious structure.
Read the famous speech given by Martin Luther King, in which each
paragraph begins with the words “I have a dream” and goes on to
describe an imagined future. Not
only does such a parallel structure organize ideas, but it also lends
putting another writer’s thoughts into your own words.
In writing a research paper or and an essay containing evidence
gathered from your reading, you will find it necessary to
paraphrase—unless you are using another writer’s very words with
quotation marks around them. In
paraphrasing, you rethink what the other writer has said, decide what is
essential and determine how you would say it otherwise.
(Of course, you still acknowledge your source.)
The purpose of paraphrasing is not merely to avoid copying word
for word, but to adapt material to the needs of your own paper.
Although a paraphrase sometimes makes
material briefer, it does not always do so; in principle, it rewrites
and restates, sometimes in the same number of words, if not more.
A condensation of longer material that renders it more concise is
called a summary: for instance, a statement of the plot of a
whole novel in a few sentences.
amuse by imitating the style—the diction, the sentence structure—of another work, but normally the parody substitutes a very
Thus, it might use tough-guy Hemingway talk to describe not a
bullfighter but a butterfly catcher.
Often a parody of a writer’s style is a good-natured criticism.
Person is a
grammatical distinction between the speaker, the one spoken to, and the
one spoken about. In the first
person (I, we), the subject is speaking.
In the second person (you), the subject is being spoken
to. In the third person (he, she, it), the subject is
being spoken about. The
point of view of an essay or work of fiction is often specified
according to person: “This
story is told form a first-person point of view.”
writer or speaker in a role adopted for a specific audience. When Abraham Lincoln wrote or spoke, he sometimes did so in
the persona of commander in chief of the Union army, but at other times
he did so in the persona of the simple man from Springfield, Illinois.
The persona is a mask put on for a performance (persona is
the Latin word for mask). If
mask suggests insincerity, we should remember that whenever we speak or
write we do so in a specific role—as friend, or parent, or teacher, or
applicant for a job, or whatever. Although
Lincoln was a husband, a father, a politician, a president, and many
other things, when he wrote a letter or speech he might write as one of
these; in a letter to his son, the persona (or, we might say,
personality) is that of father, not that of commander in chief. The distinction between the writer (who necessarily fills
many roles) and the persona who writes or speaks a work is especially
useful in talking about satires.
discourse which seeks to change the reader’s mind.
Persuasion usually assumes that the writer and the reader do not
agree, or do not fully agree, at the outset.
Persuasion may use logical argument (appeal to reason), but it
may also try to win the reader over by other means—by appeal to the
emotions, by wit, by geniality.
Point of view, in
an essay, is the physical position or the mental angle from which a
writer beholds a subject. Assuming the subject is starlings, the
following three writers have different points of view.
An ornithologist might write objectively about the introduction
of these birds into North America.
A farmer might advise other farmers how to prevent the birds from
eating seed. A bird-watcher
might subjectively describe a first glad sighting of an unusual species.
Furthermore, the person of each essay would probably differ:
The scientist might present a scholarly paper in the third
person; the farmer might offer advice in the second; the bird-watcher
might recount the experience in the first.
assertion or statement that is the basis for an argument. See
generally refers to the stage or stages in the process of composition
before the first draft. It
is the activity of the mind before setting pen to paper (or fingers to
keyboard), and may include evoking ideas, deciding on a topic, narrowing
the topic, doing factual reading and research, defining your audience,
planning and arranging material. An
important stage of prewriting usually comes first: invention, the
creation or discovery of ideas. Invention may follow from daydreaming or
meditation, reading, keeping a journal, or perhaps carefully ransacking
In practice, prewriting usually involves
considerable writing. And
the prewriting stage often continues well into drafting: Reading, taking
into account your audience, and further discovery take place even while
a form of exposition that most often explains step by step how something
is done or how to do something.
writer’s reason for writing; it is whatever the writer of any work
tries to achieve. To
achieve unity and coherence, a writer often identifies a purpose before
beginning to write. The more clearly defined the purpose, the better the writer
can concentrate on achieving it.
In trying to define the purpose of an essay you read, ask
yourself, Why did the writer write this?
What was this writer trying to achieve?
Even though you cannot know the writer’s intentions with
absolute certainty, an effective essay generally makes some purpose
study (and the art) of using language effectively.
Often the modes of prose discourse (narration,
description, exposition, and argument) and the various methods
of exposition (exemplification, comparison and contrast,
and the others) are called rhetorical forms.
Rhetoric also has a negative connotation of
empty or pretentious language meant to waffle, stall, or even deceive.
This is the meaning in “The President had nothing substantial
to say about taxes. Just
the usual rhetoric.”
indicates a question posed for effect, one that requires no answer.
Instead, it often provokes thought, lends
emphasis to a point, asserts or denies something without making a direct
statement, launches further discussion, introduces an opinion, or leads
the reader where the writer intends.
Sometimes a writer throws one in to introduce variety in a
paragraph full of declarative sentences.
The following questions are rhetorical:
“When will the United States learn that sending people to the
moon does not feed them on earth?”
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” “What shall it
profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his immortal soul?”
Both reader and writer know what the answers are supposed to be. (1)
Someday, if the United States ever wises up.
(2) Yes. (3)
is a form of
writing that employs wit to attack folly.
Unlike most comedy, the purpose of satire is not merely to
entertain, but to bring about enlightenment—even reform.
Usually, satire employs irony—as in Jonathans Swift’s “A
Modest Proposal.” In
literature two types of satire have been recognized:
Horatian satire, which is gentle and smiling;
Juvenalian satire, which is sharp and biting.
quality sometimes found in writing that fails to communicate. Such writing calls for an extreme emotional response on the
part of an audience, although its writer fails to supply adequate reason
for any such reaction. A
sentimental writer delights in waxing teary over certain objects:
great-grandmother’s portrait, the first stick of chewing gum
baby chewed (now a shapeless wad), an empty popcorn box saved from the
World Series of 1952. Sentimental
writing usually results when writers shut their eyes to the actual
world, preferring to snuffle the sweet scents of remembrance.
whatever means a writer employs to write effectively.
The methods of discourse are strategies; but so are narrowing a subject,
writing with awareness of your reader, and other effective writing practices.
Style is the
distinctive manner in which a writer writes; it may be seen especially
in the writer’s choice of words and sentence structure. Two writers
may write on the same subject, even express similar ideas, but it is
style that gives each writer’s work a personality.
refers to expressing in a dependent clause, phrase, or single word any
idea that is not significant enough to be expressed in a main clause or
an independent sentence: lacking subordination:
John wrote his research paper on Thomas Jefferson; he was
interested in this great statesman. with subordination:
Because John was interested in Thomas Jefferson, he wrote his
research paper on this great statesman.
condensation or abridgement. These
are some characteristics: 1)
it is rarely more than one-fourth as long as the original; 2) its
brevity is usually achieved by leaving out most of the concrete details
of the original; 3) it is accurate; 4) it may rearrange the organization
of the original, especially if a rearrangement will make things clearer;
5) it normally is in the present tense; 6) quoted words need not be in
an element in narration: the
pleasurable expectation or anxiety we feel that keeps us reading a
story. In an exciting
mystery story, suspense is constant:
How will it all turn out? Will
the detective get to the scene in time to prevent another murder?
But there can be suspense in less melodramatic accounts as well.
Syllogism is a name
for a three-step form of reasoning that employs deduction.
All men are mortal (major premise)
John is a man (minor premise)
Therefore John is mortal (conclusion)
Symbol is a name
for a visible object or action that suggests some further meaning.
The flag suggests country, the crown suggest royalty—these are
conventional symbols familiar to us.
Life abounds in such relatively clear-cut symbols.
Football teams use dolphins and rams for easy identification;
married couples symbolize their union with a ring.
In writing, symbols usually do not have
such a one-to-one correspondence, but evoke a whole constellation of
associations. In Herman
Melville’s Moby Dick, the whale suggests more than the large
mammal it is. It hints at evil, obsession, and the untamable forces of
nature. Such a symbol
carries meanings too complex or elusive to be neatly defined.
Although more common in fiction and poetry,
symbols can be used to good purpose in exposition because they
communicate an idea in a compact and concrete way.
Synecdoche is a rhetorical figure whereby a part is substituted for
a whole. For example "a suit entered the room."
the order of words in a sentence and their relationship to each other.
Good syntax requires correct grammar as well as effective
sentence patterns, including unity, coherence, and emphasis..
Thesis is the
central idea in a work of writing, to which everything else in the work
refers. In some way, each
sentence and paragraph in an effective essay serves to support the
thesis and to make it clear and explicit to an audience.
Good writers, before they begin to write, often set down a thesis
sentence or thesis statement to help them define their
purpose. They may also write this statement into their essay as a
promise and a guide to readers.
Tone refers to the
way a writer expresses his or her regard for subject, audience, or self.
Through word choice (diction), sentence structures (syntax),
and what is actually said, the writer conveys an attitude and sets a
prevailing spirit. Tone in writing varies as greatly as tone of voice varies in
conversation. It can be
serious, flippant, angry, enthusiastic, sincere, sympathetic. Whatever tone a writer chooses, usually it informs an entire
essay and helps a reader decide how to respond.
name for the statement of the central idea in a paragraph. Often it will appear at (or near) the beginning of the
paragraph, announcing the idea and beginning its development. Because all other sentences in the paragraph explain and
support this central idea, the topic sentence is a way to create UNITY.
words, phrases, and sentences, or even paragraphs that relate ideas.
In moving from one topic to the next, a writer has to bring the
reader along by showing how the ideas are developing, what bearing a new
thought or detail has on an earlier discussion, or why a new topic is
being introduced. A clear
purpose, strong ideas, and logical development certainly aid COHERENCE,
but to ensure that the reader is following along, good writers provide
signals, or transitions.
To build paragraphs and to point out
relationships within them, you can use some of the following devices of
Repeat words or phrases to produce an echo in the reader’s
STRUCTURE to produce a rhythm that moves the reader forward.
Use pronouns to refer back to nouns in earlier passages.
Use transitional words and phrases. These may indicate a relationship of time (right away,
later, soon, meanwhile, in a few minutes, that night), proximity (beside,
close to, distant from, nearby, facing), effect (therefore, for
this reason, as a result, consequently), comparison (similarly,
in the same way, likewise), or contrast (yet, but,
nevertheless, however, despite).
Some words and phrases of transition simply add on:
besides, too, also, moreover, in addition to, second, last, in
Unity is the
quality of good writing in which all parts relate to the THESIS. In a
unified essay, all words, sentences, and paragraphs support the single
Your first step in achieving unity is to state your thesis; your
next step is to organize your thoughts so that they
make your thesis clear.
Voice, in writing,
is the sense of the author’s character, personality, and attitude that
comes through the words. See TONE.