One rule for writing compositions: part 2

Since the myriad rules are confusing to students, I have whittled them down to one, just one. This is the supreme, over-arching rule for writing. It is the secret to good writing. You may fail in every other area, but if you meet this requirement, your paper has redeeming value. Conversely, if you observe impeccably all the other rules but fail at this, you can’t get better than a C.

What is it?

Don’t be bored writing.

Yes, it’s that simple. If you are bored writing, you’re writing boring stuff. Your grader will be bored, and your grade will reflect that.

But if you get passionate about what you are writing, if you feel it, if what you are saying really matters to you, no matter what your mistakes are, the reader will sense your excitement and grade you accordingly. I prefer that an assault on my own personal beliefs than boring regurgitation. I may pick apart logical fallacies, but the passion with which you write is exciting nevertheless. If you challenge my ideals, I’m intellectually stimulated. And I grade accordingly.

If you are bored, what you write is probably mindless drivel. If you get entranced by your proving your thesis, your words will be golden.

Of course, I don’t mean using exclamation marks. Nor all capital letters. Nor mocking your opponent’s position. No, you must challenge your opponents thinking with thinking of your own. And you will only think, if you get excited about the topic.

Of course, grammar, spelling, logical progression, use of logic, logical separation of sub ideas are all important. But they are the boring details. Spelling and grammar errors only work negatively into your grade; if they are bad, you get down-graded, but they are good, you don’t get up-graded.

In my next post, I will give one strategy to get excited about (almost) any subject.

Here’s part 1 in the series.

Go to part 3.


The most important part of writing: crafting the thesis statement (part 1)

CS LewisSpend a great chunk of your time working and re-working your thesis statement. This is the most important part of your paper. All the rest of the paper proves your thesis. If you don’t have a good thesis, you can’t have a good paper. When a teacher reads a stellar thesis, she expects to give an “A.” Only if the rest of the paper is sadly disappointing will she lower that expectation. If you have a weak thesis, the teacher already has a “B” or “C” in mind. Rarely will you be able to “pull up” your paper to an “A” because your start is so bad.

Not all sentences are equal. The thesis stands above every other sentence in supreme importance. That’s why it deserves so much more attention than the other sentences.

When you craft your thesis statement, make sure it:

  1. states an opinion that is original (maybe even controversial).
  2. is beautifully expressed.
  3. uses the perfect words (not just big words to show off).
  4. is not boring.
  5. takes a side, doesn’t just cover the opposing views (especially in English class; other classes like history can survey existing positions only).
  6. tries for shorter and golden rather than long and academic (contrary to popular conception, convoluted writing is not by any means better. Just ask Hemingway about that.)

When I grade papers, I want thesis statements to be exciting. I totally agree with C.S. Lewis that most people don’t like to have to read essays. They prefer to read/hear stories. So if you don’t excite me with a though-provoking thesis statement, I’m hunkering down for a miserable affair.

Read part 2 here.