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What is Good Writing?
by Steve Peha

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© 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. For more information, or for additional teaching materials, please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.com • Web www.ttms.org

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What is Good Writing?
You know it when you see it. It isn’t that hard to tell whether a piece of writing is good or bad. You just have to read it. But things get more challenging if you have to explain why. Even harder than that is analyzing the good things a writer is doing so you can learn to use his or her techniques in your own work. Having simple phrases to describe the good things writers do makes learning about those things easier. Good writing has: • Ideas that are interesting and important. Ideas are the heart of your piece — what you’re writing about and the information you choose to write about it. • Organization that is logical and effective. Organization refers to the order of your ideas and the way you move from one idea to the next. • Voice that is individual and appropriate. Voice is how your writing feels to someone when they read it. Is it formal or casual? Is it friendly and inviting or reserved and standoffish? Voice is the expression of your individual personality through words. • Word Choice that is specific and memorable. Good writing uses just the right words to say just the right things. • Sentence Fluency that is smooth and expressive. Fluent sentences are easy to understand and fun to read with expression. • Conventions that are correct and communicative. Conventions are the ways we all agree to use punctuation, spelling, grammar, and other things that make writing consistent and easy to read. Really great writing has all of these things in it. By studying the writing of others, you can learn how to get them into your own.
© 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. For more information, or for additional teaching materials, please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.com • Web www.ttms.org

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One Pretty Good Piece of Writing
What does a good piece of writing look like? It’s hard to make something if you don’t know what it looks like. That’s why it’s so valuable to look at models of good writing produced by other writers just like you. On this page, you’ll find one short piece of writing. When I’m trying to learn about good writing, I like to work with short pieces, instead of big long novels, because it’s easier to see how all the different parts work together.

CHORES! Chores! Chores! Chores! Chores are boring! Scrubbing toilets, cleaning sinks, and washing bathtubs take up a lot of my time and are not fun at all. Toilets! When you’re scrubbing toilets make sure they are not stinky. I’ve scrubbed one before and I was lucky it didn’t stink. I think toilets are one of the hardest things to scrub in the bathroom because it is hard to get up around the rim. Sinks are one of the easiest things to clean in the bathroom because they have no rims and they are small. I have cleaned one before and it was pretty easy. Bathtubs, ever washed one? They are big, they are deep, and it is hard to get up around the sides. The bathtub is the hardest, I think, to wash in the bathroom. All chores are boring, especially making my bed. Cleaning my room is OK because I have to organize, and I like organizing. Dusting is the worst: dust, set down, pick up, dust, set down. There are so many things to dust, and it’s no fun. Chores aren’t the worst but they’re definitely not the best!
Well, what do you think? Not too bad, eh? I’ll admit that this isn’t the best piece of writing I’ve ever seen. But I think it’s pretty good. It was written by a third grader and I think she did a solid job of getting her point across about her struggles with the challenges of household chores. It made sense to me and I could relate to it. Some parts were even kind of funny.
© 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. For more information, or for additional teaching materials, please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.com • Web www.ttms.org

Imagine taking an entire piece and scrunching it down into a single sentence that still said more or less the same thing.” The simplest way for me to think about the main idea of a piece is to think of it as the one most important thing the writer wants me to know. So what’s the main idea in Chores? I think it might be right there in the beginning: “Chores are boring!” A different reader might pick a different sentence. another reader might think the main idea of Chores is the last line of the piece: “Chores aren’t the worst but they’re definitely not the best!” Yet another reader might feel that the main idea isn’t actually written in the piece at all but that we can tell what it is because of all the details. for example. “Most chores are extremely frustrating but some aren’t all that bad. so they don’t qualify as the main idea. If the audience doesn’t care about it. After all. That thought is the main idea and everything else in the piece is there to help the audience understand it. 5 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha.ttms. And if we didn’t need any words — well. So I think we could say that the main idea met this last criteria. (2) The main idea has to be something that is important to the author. she makes her points with strong statements that are packed with strong feelings. (3) The main idea has to be something that is important to the audience. If the writer had to write just one sentence to represent everything he or she wanted to say. you get the idea. That’s kind of what a main idea is. You couldn’t even say that the main idea is “About chores” or “Doing chores” or “Why the writer hates chores. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc. In Chores. ideas are the reason writers write.Interesting and Important Ideas Ideas are what it’s all about.” All of these statements are related to the piece but they’re not complete thoughts. Ideas are really the most important part of a piece of writing. I think the main idea is very important to this author. If we didn’t have any ideas. It’s hard to have a good piece without a good main idea. For more information.” That’s not the main idea. For example.org . that would be the main idea. There are three criteria every main idea must meet: (1) The main idea has to be a complete sentence. We should always write about things that are important to us because that’s how we become better writers. In my opinion. You couldn’t. If the main idea isn’t important to the author. or for additional teaching materials. are built on a single thought. Most of them have chores of their own to do and they don’t like them much either. that’s the topic. they aren’t going to care about the piece. She clearly takes her chores seriously. Most pieces. Without ideas there wouldn’t be any writing. the main idea is the single most important part of every piece. then the author shouldn’t waste time writing the piece.com • Web www. But how do you know if the ideas in a piece of writing are any good? What do you look for? An important main idea. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. In this case. A reader taking this approach might say that the main idea was something like. say that the main idea of Chores is “chores. we wouldn’t need any words to express them. too. especially short ones like Chores. the author is writing for other third graders in her class. The entire piece is about the main idea. That’s OK as long as he or she can show that the rest of the piece supports it.

Readers love “showing” details because they help them see pictures instead of just words. set down. She could have just told us about dusting by saying something like. And since most of her readers probably have to do them. it’s not the whole piece.ttms. And when we’re done reading. For one thing. they are deep. I hadn’t heard anyone talk about cleaning in exactly this way and I found it both surprising and entertaining. any strong feeling. she shows us what it’s like for her. While a main idea is absolutely essential. Something surprising or unusual that really works. Whenever we look into the purpose of a piece of writing. ‘Dusting is boring because you have to keep picking things up and putting them back down.” But instead of just telling us. “Showing” details that help readers make pictures in their mind. she tells us important things about them such as: “When you’re scrubbing toilets make sure they are not stinky. And in each case. dust. different readers may come up with different purposes. Sometimes writers surprise us by successfully introducing and developing a unique idea in a piece. the more “showing” you have. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.” and “Bathtubs. it’s reasonable to assume that they will find the ending meaningful. I think the writer of Chores did a good job with purpose.org . the better your piece will be. While most of Chores seems like normal everyday stuff. But is it meaningful? Does it have any significance.” I love that because I can actually see it happening. The purpose of a piece can usually be found in the ending and Chores is no exception. pick up. But that’s OK as long as we can find tangible evidence in the piece that answers our questions clearly. I’ve scrubbed one before and I was lucky it didn’t stink. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. So how does Chores do in the detail department? Does the author tell us interesting things that help us understand her opinions about chores? I think so. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc. ever washed one? They are big. it’s hard for readers to understand what you mean if they only have a single sentence to go on.6 Ideas and Details Interesting details that help readers understand the main idea. And that’s why good writing includes lots of interesting details.” These details give us a good sense of the chores she has to do and why she doesn’t like them very much. she wants us to think that while chores are certainly an unpleasant part of life. too.com • Web www. and it is hard to get up around the sides. My favorite part of this piece just happens to be an example of a “showing” detail: “Dusting is the worst: dust. It’s clear to me that she wrote this to tell us how boring chores are. for the writer or the reader? I think it does. or for additional teaching materials. set down. She tells us about several different chores she has to do. the parts about cleaning the toilet and dusting caught my attention and made the piece seem more original to me. we have to ask ourselves questions like “Why did the writer write this?” and “What does the writer want us to think about or do?” As with main idea. The writer obviously cares a lot about doing chores. In general. A clear and meaningful purpose. For more information. they’re really not all that bad.

think about the best way to introduce these groups of ideas so that readers will be interested in them and want to find out more. So I guess the ending worked for me. too. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.”) which sums up her general opinion of chores. make readers take notice and prepare them for the ideas to come. the ending to Chores seems basically satisfying. something has to go last. arrange the groups so that each one leads naturally into the next in a way that is interesting. I’m interested already. An ending that feels finished and makes you think. I want to know more about what this writer has to say. The piece definitely has an ending. To determine that sequence. Inc. Finally. the ending is fine but not nearly as good as the rest of the piece. It probably should have been at least a paragraph long. How well does the beginning of Chores work? It’s certainly full of strong feelings: “Chores! Chores! Chores! Chores are boring!” Repeating three exclamations. The writer has chosen one big idea (“Chores aren’t the worst but they’re definitely not the best. But does it make us think about anything? The first time I read this piece. The topic itself is interesting. I tend to agree with this writer that chores are not the most terrible thing I’ve ever had to deal with but they’re certainly not any fun. 7 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. I haven’t read many pieces written by 8-year-olds about the distasteful nature of housework. Ideas don’t make much sense if they aren’t arranged in some way.Logical and Effective Organization Organization is driven by ideas. Common beginnings. in a logical sequence. Then. like the beginning. Even though it’s only a single sentence in length. Something has to come first. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.ttms. discourage readers from continuing. Some beginnings are clearly better than others. A beginning that catches your attention and makes you want to read more. one after another. and several things usually end up in the middle. at least to me.org . as though the piece ended before the reader was ready. That’s the way I feel here. My overall judgment is that. For more information. More original and unusual beginnings. one for each group of ideas the writer is working with. That’s usually something adults complain about. it’s just too short. especially those with strong feelings. To come up with a beginning. leaves no doubt that this writer is fired up about her topic.com • Web www. Other readers who might have different opinions about doing chores might have different opinions about the success of this ending. and that ending makes sense. To make a piece feel truly finished. For one thing. followed by a clear and simple sentence. come up with an ending that feels finished and gives the reader something to think about. think of a piece as being divided into parts. I thought about my own opinion of chores at this point. while the piece ends in a way that makes sense. or those that lack emotion. or for additional teaching materials. entertaining. you have to sum things up in a way that satisfies your readers and gives them a little something to think about when they’re done. the ones we hear all the time. Single sentence endings usually feel too abrupt. but it doesn’t quite match my expectations based on what has come before. and consistent with the reader’s expectations. How do you catch a reader’s attention? What makes readers want to read more of something they just started? That probably differs from reader to reader and piece to piece.

we could name the parts like this: (1) Introduction. and no one part seems much more important than any other. (2) Toilets. (4) Bathtubs. the more important something is in a piece. Personally. second. So. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.) I have given each part a name based on what I think it’s about. This is the ideal way to move from part to part. right before the “Conclusion. so the pacing seems to work pretty well. If it came right after the “Introduction. Don’t use transition words unless you need them.” “Finally. are the parts arranged in the best possible order? The “Introduction” obviously has to come first. It’s too short.” “Sinks.” and “Bathtubs” parts all start out the same way: by naming the thing the author has to clean. When we talk about how writers move from part to part in a piece.ttms. right after the “Introduction. The “Toilets. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. How much time does it take to read each part? Do some parts take more or less time than others? Does the writer spend more time on more important parts and less time on less important parts? These are the questions we ask when we talk about the “pace” of a piece of writing. (6) Conclusion. each part is a paragraph. These are single words or small groups of words like “First. Instead of using phrases for her transitions. The trick is to put the parts in the best order so the reader will be entertained and will easily be able to understand how each part relates to the next and how all parts relate to the piece as a whole. the “Conclusion” last. Every piece can be separated into parts where each part contains a group of ideas that go together. For more information. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha.org . And yet it seems very easy to follow. Pacing..” “After a while. In the case of Chores. (3) Sinks. (This usually isn’t the case in longer pieces but here it works out nicely. the more time the writer should spend on it. In Chores.” It’s different from the previous three parts.8 Sequencing. Inc. that serve to introduce the next part in the sequence. each new part follows so naturally from the previous part that transitional words are not needed. and Transitions Parts are arranged in the best order. But Chores doesn’t use any of these transitions. Easy to follow from part to part.com • Web www.. each part is just about the same length. they seem interchangeable. The “Boring Chores” part starts out with “All chores are boring.” “Later that day.” I’m not sure it would feel right because the phrase “All chores are boring” sounds like some kind of conclusion the author is drawing from previously stated information. The only problem is the ending. she’s using logic instead.” or second to last. we usually talk about transitional phrases. In general. or for additional teaching materials. Spends the right amount of time spent on each part. Pacing is the art of controlling how much time readers spend on each group of ideas. (5) Boring Chores. I like it right where it is. so the pacing is too fast.” “Next.” “Then. And that doesn’t feel quite right given what we’ve come to expect from the lengths of all the other parts. the writer doesn’t need transitional phrases because it’s so well organized that each part follows logically from the one before it. In this short piece. It’s over before we know it.” and so on. it’s helpful to name the different parts of a piece. To figure this out.” where it is now. It makes sense for them to go together in order just as they do although it probably doesn’t matter much which part comes first.. How does the writer do it? In this piece. or third. That means it could either go second.

there’s no way to tell for sure. as though the writer really believes what she’s saying? Of course. our particular way of seeing things. each of us has a unique voice in writing. interpreting them. social studies. And the only way that happens is if we make different choices in our writing than other writers make in there’s — choices that match who we are inside. not writing. Your writing needs to be different from everyone else’s. choices about the topics you pick. For more information. and what she did say probably wouldn’t be very detailed. sometimes referred to as “tone” or “mood.ttms. The writer cares about the topic. she probably wouldn’t have very much to say about it. She could have made the whole thing up. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. if everyone writes exactly the same thing. Is the writing consistent? Are there any contradictions? Does each statement make sense in light of all the others? I think she is being honest here and that that’s one of the best things about this piece. we have to communicate strong feelings. something that she has to deal with on a regular basis. this writer is telling us how chores affect her life and how she feels about that. and so on. over and over. The trick is in letting that voice come through. she has chosen a topic from her life. there wouldn’t be much difference between one person and another and our writing wouldn’t be very different either. Writing is different from other school subjects. honest statements.” tells the reader about the writer’s personality in the piece. But throughout this piece. But how can you tell if a writer cares about the topic? Does the writer of Chores care about her topic? I think she does.Individual and Appropriate Voice Voice is choice. reading. every student is supposed to study the same things and come up with the same answers. your audience probably won’t be interested either. The piece is packed with emotion in almost every sentence. First of all. 9 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. There’s no doubt about how this writer feels about doing chores. If you’re not interested in it. The set of all the different choices an author makes determines what is often called the “voice” in a piece of writing. So because we can’t question the writer. Expressing our individual personalities has a lot to do with expressing our feelings. and that is what makes our writing unique. or for additional teaching materials. we’d all tend to do and say and think the same things. Because each of us has a unique personality. In order to write well. And the only way that happens is if you make different choices when you write. So if we want our writing to be unique. But in writing. Voice. it’s copying. different beginning and ending strategies. The writer of Chores certainly has no problem communicating her strong feelings.org .com • Web www. we have to question the writing. Most of us care about what happens to us in our own lives and that’s why writing about one’s life is probably the most common type of topic writer’s choose. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. In math. the details you include. And the third thing that tells me this writer cares about her topic is all the detail she includes to support her opinion. If she didn’t care about doing chores. our original thoughts and personal feelings. The first choice every writer has to make is what he or she will write about. Strong feelings. that’s no good. Our feelings about things are what tend to make us unique. you have to care about your topic. the words you use. The second thing I notice is a very strong opinion. But are those feelings honest? Does the piece sound genuine. and writing it all down. and science. Think about it: if everyone felt the same way about everything. Inc.

I look for consistency.10 Individuality and Appropriateness An individual. To say that something is original is simply to say that we haven’t seen it before. you probably wouldn’t want to sound as casual as you do when you’re talking to your friends. Though I know that many kids her age complain about having to do chores. When we sense this individuality. we’re picking up on the writer’s voice. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. authenticity can be hard to judge. Of course. I sense the writer’s individuality very clearly. If you wrote a letter to your grandma thanking her for a birthday present. For example. I’ve never seen a piece on this topic that sounds quite the same. you probably wouldn’t want to seem silly. Appropriate tone for purpose and audience. her personality in this piece seems well defined and successfully developed. I’m not getting to know the person. we can judge a writer’s voice by how original the writing seems. She doesn’t like to do chores but she knows they’re a part of life we all just have to get through. I’m getting to know the personality that person is presenting through his or her voice. I often have the feeling that no one else could have written it. frustrated person. Does the writing sound real? Does it sound as though it was written by a real person. It sounds like it was written by a frustrated 9-year-old who doesn’t like to do her chores. She has such well-defined and detailed opinions that I can’t imagine another kid expressing these exact feelings in exactly the same way.com • Web www. or for additional teaching materials. Another important quality to look for in a writer’s voice is authenticity. If you wrote an article for your school paper about someone on your high school’s football team who had suffered a serious injury. the writer’s voice matches my expectation of how I think this person should sound. writers often experiment with styles that are not their own. Chores feels very original to me. the individuality of the writer comes through. I think the voice the writer uses in Chores matches the situation very well. as though you were making a joke out of it. Does each part of the piece sound like it was written by the same person? And do you get a sense throughout the piece of who that person is? To me. Chores seems very authentic. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. stilted.org . To me. or does it sound phony. In Chores.ttms. you probably wouldn’t want to sound like an angry. authentic. The voice you choose for your writing must match the purpose you are writing for and the people you are writing to. I get the feeling that I’m getting to know the person who wrote it just as if we were hanging out as friends. Once again. Whenever I read something that has a lot of voice. awkward? Like honesty. I think Chores shows a lot of individuality and that’s another important reason why it’s such a successful piece. When I read something by one of my favorite writers. of course. Displays a definite and well developed personality. I feel like I’m getting to know a frustrated little girl who has a pretty good sense of humor. to someone who had read 20 other pieces just like it. and original. Finally. For more information. That isn’t true. In most good writing. the way she’s complaining about it strikes me as unique. it wouldn’t seem that way. Inc. If you wrote a research paper about global warming. and this can be very successful if it’s done well. In Chores.

the writer uses few effective adjectives and adverbs. Strong verbs that tell how an actions are performed. how does the author of Chores do when it comes to using strong verbs? Not so great. and toilets but we don’t know anything very specific about them. Writing is like that.” but this doesn’t do that much for us. Say I’m in one of those huge underground parking lots.” What’s the difference? Adjectives and adverbs. sinks. but they’re not. the ones with all the floors that look exactly the same. You have to be specific in order to help your readers understand you. I do see one strong verb: “scrub.000 words or so. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.”. the writing is not very specific in this regard.” and that all chores are “boring. The first question he’s going to ask me is. the English language is the largest in the world. you’ve got plenty of choices. In the first sentence.” that’s not nearly as helpful to your readers as. when I say “sprinting. To “scrub” means “to clean something by rubbing hard. Inc.Specific and Memorable Word Choice 11 So many words.ttms. At just over 490. (2) “I was sprinting. “The anxious. But at least she got one. You know. you learn that I was running but in the second sentence you also learn how I was running.” Other than that. when it comes to deciding which word to use where. or for additional teaching materials. Verbs are words that describe the action in a sentence. After searching franticly for an hour or so.” So. Why? Because I’m not being specific enough for him to help me. I’ll probably give up and try to find a parking attendant to help me. Adjectives and adverbs that make things more specific. If you write. This is like getting an adverb for free. “The man drove away in his car. compare these two sentences: (1) “I was running. The word “sprint” means “to run at top speed for a brief moment. “What kind of car do you have?” And I’ll say “Oh. The language is generic throughout. What kind of car? A “shiny” “new” car. For more information.” And then he’ll look at me like I’m an even bigger idiot than I already am. too.” that cleaning a sink is “easy. it’s just a car. so little time. Adjectives and adverbs modify the nouns and verbs they work with to make them more specific. We know about bathtubs. Say I come back from several hours of shopping and I can’t remember where I parked.” Now.” plus the additional meaning that explains how I was running. Some verbs are said to be stronger than others.000 words (and still growing strong). Adverbs modify verbs and answer the question “How?” How did he drive away? He drove away “nervously. Here’s how it works: take a verb like “run” and another verb with a similar meaning like “sprint. Adjectives modify nouns and answer the question “What kind?” What kind of man? An “anxious” “young” man. So. and these are the ones that tend to make your writing more effective.org .” They seem more or less the same. young man drove away nervously in the shiny new car his parents had just bought for him. you get a bonus that can’t be found in most other languages: an extra 300. I don’t find any other strong verbs. If you’re writing in English. We know that toilets are sometimes “stinky.” she gets the benefit of a stronger verb. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. the action and a description of the action are packed into one tiny word. That’s what makes it stronger: it’s a single word that contains the meaning of an entire group of words! So. you know.com • Web www.” When she uses the words “scrubbing” or “scrubbed” instead of “cleaning” or “cleaned.” I get all the meaning of the verb “run.” In Chores.

Here’s an example I came across recently in the beginning of an essay about a jogging accident: “Having already stretched and run a fourth of my distance. I can show off and use a whole bunch of big words. As we’ve already discussed. I arrived at my favorite spot and halted.org .” To me. pick up.12 Memorable. Words and phrases used accurately and effectively. For more information.) Use words that mean exactly what you mean to say.com • Web www. the writer uses very simple words. set down. the writer is writing to kids her own age. But there’s more to appropriateness than avoiding bad language. Similarly. a good strong verb. if writing is first and foremost the communication of ideas. But it may not be exactly the right word in this situation. repetitive nature of dusting seemed so interesting and original that I’ve never forgotten it. It means using the right words to say the right thing in just the right way. Don’t rush off to a thesaurus and sprinkle synonyms all over your piece the way an overzealous chef adds spices to his cooking. Let me just say this right up front: there are many words you should probably never use in writing and you know what most of those words are. using little words that I know just about everyone can understand. Appropriate Words and phrases you remember long after you’ve finished reading. And for me. It doesn’t matter how large your vocabulary is if knowing all those words means that you consistently choose ones your readers cannot read.” Use simple words to describe simple things. the word “halted” suggests that he was caused to stop by someone or some thing. Inc. it would be nice if people actually remembered what you wrote. Language that is appropriate to purpose and audience. unusual words. Or. However. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. the word “halted” seems like a good choice. and no others. In Chores.ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. but sometimes a few words here and there are so interesting or unusual we can’t forget them. or for additional teaching materials. there is one part that I always remember even though it has been more than four years since I first read it: “Dusting is the worst: dust. the writer uses simple everyday words and phrases. And that’s the word I think he should have used: “stopped. fancy. set down. I can say the same thing as simply as possible. And that’s the most important thing. Good word choice doesn’t mean using big. No one can remember all the words in a piece. (I hear the old war movie phrase in my head: “Halt! Who goes there?”) But nothing caused him to stop. After all. she’s using very simple words because those are the kinds of words she and her friends know. He just stopped all by himself.” At first glance. Your first and highest priority when considering word choice is to choose words that your audience will understand. It’s a word we don’t use that often and it’s very specific. you can have a relatively small vocabulary and still be an effective writer. In Chores. this works because the writer is expressing simple ideas. (And don’t use a word like “overzealous” when a simpler one like “enthusiastic” will do. this way of describing the tedious. Accurate. Using big words may make me feel smart and superior. dust. but it won’t help me be understood. To my ear (though you may disagree). much of the language in Chores is very generic. There are two things you have to know to be good at word choice: You have to know what words mean and you have to know what your readers think they mean. One way you can tell that you’ve read a good piece of writing is when you remember some of the words long after you’ve finished it.

and sentence to sentence. For more information. too.” The first sentence is short. We can’t do this because it drives readers crazy! It also makes the writing hard to understand. using sentences of different lengths and different structures helps. The term “sentence fluency” refers to the way individual words and phrases sound together within a sentence and how groups of sentences sound when read one after the other. Why? Because readers start paying more attention to the pattern of repetition than they do to the words themselves. your writing needs to flow smoothly from word to word. to wash in the bathroom. to me. Short sentences tend to have 3-6 words in them. That’s good sentence fluency. Variety in sentence length and structure. and it is hard to get up around the sides. Beginning with a capital letter we wind our way over words and phrases until we’ve expressed a complete thought. Most of the sentences in Chores are of average length. Most of the sentences in Chores have two parts but here and there you’ll find a sentence with one part or three.Smooth. Just as using sentences with different beginnings helps make your writing easier to read and understand. the writer does a good job of varying the beginnings of her sentences. In Chores. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. ever washed one? They are big. We can’t start every sentence the same way. Expressive Sentence Fluency13 Go with the flow. or for additional teaching materials. And she uses three different sentence constructions. they are deep. We can’t keep using the same words over and over at the beginning. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. we write in sentences. As with sentence length. It consists of two tiny parts separated by a comma. So. You can analyze the structure of a sentence by looking at how many parts it contains and what kinds of parts those are. the writer doesn’t vary her sentence structures very much but she does it just enough to be successful. phrase to phrase.ttms. In order for readers to do that. I think. complete thought the writer is expressing. Inc. and then we mark the endpoint with a period. but occasionally we find a long or a short one and this is what makes it work. Take a look at the fourth paragraph of Chores: “Bathtubs. You can measure the length of a sentence simply by counting the words. The last sentence has three parts. We can’t expect people to read our writing if we do. Readers read the same way: they follow the shape of each sentence from beginning to end trying to understand the single. The average sentence has approximately 8-14 words. question mark. The bathtub is the hardest. the writer varies the lengths of her sentences by starting with a short one and finishing with two longer ones.com • Web www. but it is constructed differently than the previous sentence because the second part interrupts the first and third parts instead of adding to them. or exclamation mark. When we write. The second sentence is longer and is made of three parts that add to the meaning one right after another like a list. Almost every sentence begins differently than the one before it.org . too. Variety in sentence beginnings. it sounds like a one-part sentence with a break in the middle. Long sentences may be as long as 20 words or more.

These parts usually contain the main action of the sentence: “Malcolm Maxwell.” We could describe the structure of this sentence like this: • • • • • Part 1: “On a bitter cold winter morning.org . abstruse constructs. we have to become conscious of how sentences are put together. Sentence structure is incredibly important.com • Web www. These parts often lead into other parts. As far as I know.14 A Note About Sentence Structure A difficult subject to talk about. Part 2: “Malcolm Maxwell. Part 3: “a young man of simple means but good intentions.…. the traditional pedagogy of sentential analysis is fraught with arcane terminology. to make it possible for everyone to study sentence structure. Most of us don’t think about the structure of our sentences when we speak and write. Peha’s Stunningly Simple Sentence Structure System: (1) Sentences are made of parts. left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. or for additional teaching materials. we construct them unconsciously. And that’s all there is to it! (Well. and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all his life. actually there is more to it. these parts go in between other parts.ttms. Part 4: “left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. These are extra parts that convey additional information about any of the other parts: “…and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all his life. continued. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Malcolm Maxwell. So. But it’s also incredibly hard to understand and analyze.… left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised.” (2) Lead-In Parts. But I have found that it is simple enough that it works for just about anyone. I invented it. But we’ll cover that another time. Unfortunately. (3) We can describe the structure of a sentence by the number and types of parts it contains. For more information. Take a look at this sentence: “On a bitter cold winter morning. But if we want to improve our sentence structure and learn from other writers. I came up with an easy way of describing sentences.” Lead-In Part.” Add-On Part.” Main Part. (It’s especially good for people like me who never understood traditional grammar in school and still don’t!) These are the rules of Mr. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.” You can see that it is made up of several different parts. especially main parts: “On a bitter cold winter morning. This is not an “official” approach.) © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. They feel like a slight interruption: “…a young man of simple means but good intentions. Part 5: “and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all his life. it’s about as easy to understand as that last sentence.…” (4) Add-On Parts. In other words. a young man of simple means but good intentions. and preternatural techniques. There are four kinds of sentence parts to watch for: (1) Main Parts. Inc.…” (3) In-Between Parts.” Main Part.” In-Between Part. (2) Those parts have names. As the name implies.

Reading expressively is also fun because it adds to the feelings we have about the text.org . rhythm. usually at the ends. Inc. (2) Consonance. and other “sound” effects. When writing flows smoothly from word to word. Good readers do this because it improves their comprehension. I find it fairly easy to read expressively. When I read Chores. Used sparingly. we can easily match our expression to the writer’s meaning. To understand and enjoy your writing. Chores doesn’t really take advantage of any specific sound effects. 15 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. in most languages. and tone that we hear in normal speech. complex sentences. Effects. rhyme.com • Web www. sounds great when read aloud. Expressive reading involves reading a text with the appropriate changes in pitch. But they must be structured in ways that make them easy for the reader to deal with. They come up more frequently in poetry and song. the English language has 43 or 44 sounds. In certain situations. volume. and as I read I feel that I have no problem matching my expression to the writer’s feelings which come through loud and clear. But don’t overdo it — like I did in the first sentence — sentences with many similar sounding words are hard to understand. I’m using two techniques: (1) Alliteration. people need to read it expressively. If this piece were significantly longer. Without changing their meaning. and sentence to sentence. One of the interesting properties of sentences in most languages is that their parts can often be rearranged without their meaning being changed. the sentences in Chores are fairly simple and that makes them easy to understand. The sentences are relatively smooth and simple. much harder to understand. sequences of speech sounds sometimes surprise us. Rhythm. In most languages. This involves using the same consonant sound in several words. However. Understanding Easy to read expressively. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Depending on how you count them. alliteration. one of the interesting properties of sentences is that they can often be rearranged without changing their meaning. and you can’t help noticing sometimes how writers put them together. sentences. the only difference was the sentence structure. These types of effects are used quite sparingly in most prose writing. the simple constructions the writer uses might become tiresome. As I’ve noted before.Expression. three different ways. For more information. can often be rearranged — an interesting property. In the first sentence of this paragraph. the writer doesn’t make any mistakes in this category either. This is when several words in a sentence begin with the same sound. therefore. I’ve just said the same thing three times. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. This is very satisfying because it makes us feel like we’re understanding things well. It’s fine to have long.ttms. But in a very short essay. phrase to phrase. they are not a problem. The third sentence is especially complicated and. Sentences are structured so they’re easy to understand. or for additional teaching materials. these kinds of “sound” effects make writing fun to read. You can tell that the first and second sentences have a fairly simple structure.

droning on one word after another.16 A Note About Expressive Reading Something I always knew was important but never quite understood. In-Between Part Lower and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all Add-On Part Lower his life. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. Why is expression so important? With all the effort it takes to read expressively. smaller ones in between.org . I knew that expressive reading was what my teachers did when they read to us. angry. But I didn’t know how to do it myself because I didn’t know the four things good readers do to read expressively: (1) They change pitch. In-Between Parts are usually read at a level lower than the parts they are in between. and the end of the sentence. which in turn helps us to understand it. Main Part Middle a young man of simple means but good intentions. little words are said softer than more important words. Main Parts are usually read at a middle pitch level. When I was in school. or excited. Here’s an example to show you exactly how this works: On a bitter cold winter morning. They do this to communicate different feelings— soft and warm usually means nice.com • Web www. Let’s take a look at how pitch level corresponds to meaning and the four types of sentence parts. Lead-In Part Higher Malcolm Maxwell. our voice drops down to its lowest point as we reach the period. warm voice. or for additional teaching materials. Expressive readers say some words louder than others. and getting meaning from a text is the whole point of reading. Expressive readers speed up and slow down when they read. most of us read like little robots. The reason is that expression is closely related to meaning. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Main Part Middle left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. (3) They change volume.ttms. or even sad. it’s reasonable to wonder why readers bother to do it at all. Sometimes readers use a soft. They also go up and down to differentiate the words of a speaker (often high in pitch) from those of the narrator (usually lower). after commas. I don’t know which was more embarrassing: reading out loud myself or having to listen to everyone else. And Add-On Parts should be spoken at a level lower than the part they follow. hard and cold can mean scary. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Finally. In general. They also take appropriate pauses—big ones at the end of a sentence. For more information. The different pitch levels help us distinguish between the different sentence parts. Lead-In Parts are often read at a higher pitch level. Expressive readers make their voices go up and down. sometimes their voice is cold and hard. calm. (2) They change rhythm. as we near the end of a sentence. They go up at the beginning of a sentence and down at the end (up slightly if it ends with a question mark). (4) They change tone. This pitch level cues readers to the fact that this is the main action in a sentence. and also between the logical parts of phrases. Inc.

if I didn’t write. both of these prejudices are wrong. or for additional teaching materials. I think I write correctly. Correctness counts. but follow language toward meaning. These agreements began being hammered out officially in the 19th century and they are still changing slightly even today. readers may place a negative judgment on you and your ideas. however inaccurate it may be.com • Web www. they’re agreements between people in a society as to how written communication should look. writing correctly is hardly a “mechanical” process. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. for clear thinking will produce clear writing. Inc. Last but not least. (2) If your writing has errors. and even if they can figure out what you’re saying.” It was written by a man named Donald Murray in a book he wrote called A Writer Teaches Writing.org . to see it clearly. and grammar. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. Conventional wisdom. but they exist nonetheless.) The so-called “rules of writing” are not really rules at all. For more information. It’s the best piece of conventional wisdom I’ve ever heard. (Of course. This is not fair but it is common. Personally. it takes a lot of human thought and ingenuity to do it well. (This is referred to as “publisher’s style.ttms. it’s just not any fun to read writing that has many mistakes in it. but we won’t be talking about those things here. always seeking to understand what is appearing on the page. (2) I work hard to understand and live up to the expectations that my audience has for correctness. In my opinion.. (To me. I think of my all-time favorite quote about correctness in writing: “The writer should not follow rules. I do not think there is any definitive answer to the question. and all writers should be aware of them.) We used to call these things “mechanics” but I think “conventions” is a much better term because it more accurately describes what these things are.” the collection of rules a particular publisher uses so that all the writing they produce will be consistent. and that people who are not very smart are not worth listening to. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. I’d never have energy left to write. that people who do not write correctly are not very smart. I wouldn’t have to worry about making mistakes.Correct Conventions That Communicate17 What exactly are we talkin’ about here? “Conventions” is the term we use nowadays to describe punctuation.) With writing of any length or complexity. There’s a perception in our society. one could debate endlessly about whether a piece is completely correct. Hmmm.. to evaluate it clearly. but I’m sure many people could find many “mistakes” right here on this page. spelling.) So I try to handle the situation by doing three things: (1) I learn what I can about the “rules” and try to apply them with consistency. “How do I know for sure that my writing is correct?” If I worried about figuring that out. They may completely misinterpret something because they become confused. the energy and effort they expend in the process takes away much of their enjoyment. (Some people even extend the term to handwriting and computer formatting. they find it hard to read your writing. Whether something is considered right or wrong often depends on who is doing the considering. There are two important reasons why it matters that your writing be regarded as correct by your readers: (1) When readers encounter what they think of as mistakes. Many “rules” change depending on who publishes the final copy. (3) I do my best to make sure the meaning of my writing is as clear as it can be to the greatest number of potential readers.

(A more technical term for it is “terminal” punctuation. you have to do two things: (1) Make sure the fragment has the correct outside punctuation so readers are sure where it begins and ends. Some people feel that sentence fragments are inappropriate in certain writing situations. her sentence structure becomes a bit more complicated. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. which I tend to enjoy. “Inside” punctuation that shows where parts of ideas begin and end. Inc. her sentences are very simple. The important marks of inside punctuation are the comma. there are two parts of the piece where the writer is using “sentence fragments. and quotation marks. and (2) Make sure the fragment has a clear and unambiguous meaning that readers will not misunderstand. the semicolon. I never find myself confused as to where one idea ends and the next one begins.ttms. sentences are how we package them. Later in the piece. parentheses. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. she has taken care to do both of these things well. Inside punctuation can be very tricky. As with so many things in writing.18 Punctuation. (“Chores! Chores! Chores!” in the first paragraph. For more information. But readers can’t understand that chunk if they can’t figure out where it begins and where it ends. they don’t need to be split into parts in order to be more easily understood.com • Web www.) Personally. In Chores.) Outside punctuation includes the initial capital letter that shows the beginning of a sentence and the period.org . we talked about how sentences are often made up of parts. Writing is all about communicating ideas. This is what “outside” punctuation is for. every sentence reads clearly and correctly. To my ear. the apostrophe. When we speak we often speak in fragments. She uses several commas correctly in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. the dash. when the writer uses fragments. the writer doesn’t use very much inside punctuation. one chunk of information the writer has written that the reader has to understand. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Writers use “inside” punctuation (also called “internal” punctuation) to show where those parts begin and end within a single sentence. question mark. the colon. or exclamation mark that shows the end. and I think they give writing more of the natural rhythm and flow of everyday human speech. In order to use sentence fragments effectively. I like sentence fragments as long as they make sense and are clearly separated by correct outside punctuation from other complete sentences. “Toilets!” in the second. or for additional teaching materials. Inside and Outside “Outside” punctuation that shows where ideas begin and end. When we talked about sentence fluency. and she uses a colon correctly in the fifth paragraph as well.” groups of words punctuated as complete ideas even though they are not complete sentences. Each sentence contains a complete thought. I call it “outside” punctuation because it is used on the outside parts of sentences. this is a matter of purpose and audience and not a hard and fast rule. Interestingly. Chores is a good example of how a writer can communicate clearly and effectively with simple sentences that don’t require a lot of complicated conventions. In Chores. In the first three paragraphs. In Chores. the writer has done a good job with outside punctuation.

For more information. the titles of people. This is one of the reasons why newspaper stories have so many one sentence paragraphs. the only capitalization rules she needs to know for this piece are the capital for the beginning of a sentence and the capital for the word “I. capitalization is not this simple. Different types of writing tend to have different lengths of paragraphs. it seems like there are dozens of rules we use when capitalizing the titles of stories. As we noted earlier. Which words are more important? Words in names. (There weren’t any vowels either but that’s another story. But they are perfect for focusing a reader’s attention on something important.) In truth. When alphabetic writing was invented there were no lowercase letters.” Paragraphing that shows groups of related ideas. It’s simply not true. Paragraphs are extremely useful to readers because they break the piece into small. A paragraph is a collection of one or more sentences in which the ideas are closely related. lowercase letters came along in plenty of time to give 21st century writers plenty to think about in the area of capitalization. At times. then. places. and things that are one of a kind.org . because it marks the beginning of a new idea. we feel the pace of the piece quicken. So how does the writer of Chores do with capitalization? She does well. not to mention the seemingly random use of capital letters in advertising and the use of ALL CAPS formatting when people want to emphasize something or “shout” in an e-mail. and because they highlight the organizational structure. places.Capitalization and Paragraphs Capitalization for names. are about cleaning toilets. of course. or for additional teaching materials. and abbreviations. Newspaper stories have many paragraphs of only a single sentence. Shorter paragraphs are also easier to skim for readers who only want to read selected parts of a document. longer paragraphs are harder to understand. some say that you have to have at least three. Novels tend to have shorter paragraphs than reference books. This has even been printed in books.com • Web www. But then. Shorter paragraphs are easy to understand and when we encounter several in a row. excluding the introduction and conclusion. they are designed for efficient skimming because many newspaper readers do not like to read entire articles. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Most pieces don’t have this kind of one-topic-one-paragraph arrangement.) Unfortunately. the sentences in paragraph three are about cleaning sinks. it takes several paragraphs to cover something adequately. too. that’s important. Inc. is devoted exclusively to a particular sub-topic in the piece: all the sentences in paragraph two. each paragraph. In general. and so on. for example. A paragraph can contain one sentence or a hundred and one (though most have between three and seven). and things that are one of a kind. Chores is a perfect example of this. I don’t find any errors. Some people say five.ttms. 19 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. The basic thing to remember is this: Capital letters indicate that some words are more important than others. (We also capitalize the first word of a sentence. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. manageable chunks. others say four. holds a small number of sentences that can be grouped together as a separate unit within the topic being covered. Something I hear from time to time in school is that a paragraph is supposed to have a certain number of sentences. they also slow down the pace. newspaper headlines. A sentence is a single idea. Each paragraph. Often.

) Interestingly enough. But if you didn’t. the grammar most people in school and in the business world would like you to use when you write is called “Standard English” grammar. the little girl who wrote Chores was an abysmal speller. The grammar of Chores conforms to the grammar of Common Standard English. This writer was one of these people. how’s the spelling in Chores? Perfect. But what about grammar? What for do we gots to study grammar? If we was not speaking the way others spoked this would be a problem. (At least Microsoft Word said it was perfect when I ran it through the spell checker. and washing bathtubs take up a lot of my time and is not fun at all. what’s more. Then along came Noah Webster in the 19th century and he got it all straightened out — sort of. For more information. Inc. I think. Webster thought we should. But it probably sounded a bit unusual. Then. she fixed them. If you grew up speaking this way. this won’t be too hard for you. yes? Is why we need rules because peoples can’t understanding each other? Did you get all that? You probably did. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. Nobody could agree on much of anything and it seemed like everye other worde hade an extra “e” on the ende of it. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. English spelling is absolutely ridiculous.com • Web www. or “Common Standard English” (CSE) as it is known more officially. I think) lack the visual memory capabilities to memorize the correct spellings of the thousands of words most of us have in our vocabularies. So. The writer did have a couple of grammar errors in the piece initially (“Scrubbing toilets. When I started working with her at the beginning of the school year. her writing had one or two spelling errors per sentence. cleaning sinks. That’s because the grammar I was using was probably different than the grammar you grew up listening to and speaking when you were a baby. And yet we all have to toe the line and spell our words just like Mr. Spelling is the rare area in writing conventions where there’s pretty much a clean cut right or wrong answer for just about every situation. one of the worst I’ve ever worked with. or for additional teaching materials. you will probably need someone to check your writing and help you learn to fix it. She started by circling any words she wasn’t sure of. I don’t always trust myself to know for sure.org . she used a number of different strategies to get them corrected including using word resources on the walls in her classroom and a dictionary. Her teacher and I were incredibly proud of her. she did most of the correcting with pencil and paper before she used a spell checker.ttms. So how did she end up with perfect spelling in this piece? She worked at it — hard.”) But with help. In the United States. As difficult as this can be at times. That’s why spell checkers in word processing programs are so helpful. Just a few hundred years ago. A small percentage of the population (about 1 in 10 people. at the beginning of the 21st century.20 Spelling and Grammar Spelling that makes your writing easy to read. And. it just makes sense. English spelling was a mess.

conventions have a lighter side. writers could never be sure if readers would be able to read the words they had written. and chisel away at ambiguity. everything would run together. not rules. If all this sounds a bit serious. when to slow down. when they think about conventions. Conventions are tools. They help the reader understand exactly what the writer had in mind. love? What is this thing called. Some people. You know exactly how it should sound. when to speed up. too. don’t worry. but the reader doesn’t. When you can’t be there to read your writing to someone else. Porter wrote literally dozens of hit songs. If we didn’t put a space between each word. What? Is this thing called love? What is this thing called. Think of conventions as tools. "love?" © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. Inc. They help us hammer out a precise idea. not rules. For more information. the more you’ll be able to make them work for you. Cole Porter probably wasn’t thinking too much about the importance of conventions when he whipped up a hit song in 1929 called What is This Thing Called Love? But that doesn’t mean we can’t do a little of the thinking for him. without the convention of punctuation. think about rules. Without conventions we might be able to communicate very simple ideas and emotions in our writing.ttms. Conventions guide the reader through your writing by telling the reader when to stop. "Love?" "What is. love? "What is this thing?" called Love." this thing called. One of the most successful song writers of his day. And even if we all spelled each word the same way. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. when to go. Without conventions. Whenever you write something. and so on.org . conventions can help do the reading for you. But that’s not exactly right. They make your writing sound just the way it sounded to you when you wrote it down. Our voices would be muted because we’d never be able to make what we write match the way we talk.com • Web www. writing would be a mess. but we wouldn’t be able to capture the rich rhythms of human speech. conventions can seem like a big hassle. But the more you work with them. Conventions are a powerful part of writing and you can tap into that power with something as simple as a comma or a pair of quotation marks. At first. or for additional teaching materials. They deserve to be read and to be understood exactly the way you intend. Think about how many more he could have written had he used a little “conventional” wisdom. nail down a topic. Conventions allow writers to specify the exact way a word or phrase should be interpreted by the reader. "What? Is this Thing?" called Love. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Your ideas are important. What is this thing called. love? "What is this?" Thing called. writers would still have trouble getting their message across. you hear it in your head first.What is This Thing Called Conventions? 21 Why do we need conventions? Writers use conventions to enhance and clarify the meaning of what they write. Without the convention of correct spelling.

a writer’s ideas and organization form the foundation of every successful piece. and the important things you want to say about it. and you know have good things to say about it. How can anybody concentrate on all that and have any brain power left over to write? In truth.com • Web www. Along with voice. ideas. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. However. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Fixing up your conventions. At this point. Good writing begins with the writer’s voice. All qualities are not created equal. or the computer keys start clacking. Focus on things in the best order. nobody can. this is the place to start. Voice and ideas together often determine your word choice. and organization. You can use all the wonderful words and smooth sentences you want. so most writers have to spend a lot of time here. Working on some things also improves others. especially in revision. Voice and ideas. after making sure that your voice is solid.org . and organization are in good shape. Conventions are important to just about everyone.22 Putting it All Together So many things to think about. Inc. Where does good writing begin? Long before the pen hits the page. focus on your ideas and the order you’ve arranged them in. For more information. particularly your “inside” and “outside” punctuation. There’s a very good reason why it makes sense to focus on certain qualities in a certain order: improving some things improves others as well. First things first. but if you don’t have anything interesting to say. you have two choices: You can move ahead and take a closer look at your sentence fluency and word choice. you may find that you already have a fairly strong piece in front of you. or for additional teaching materials. You’ll get more done in less time and with better results. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. That’s why the best writers concentrate only on certain things at certain times. especially if you’re displaying strong feelings and using a lot of “showing” detail. Some qualities are more important than others. you could count 30 different things about good writing (31 if you count grammar) that need to be present in every piece in order for it be successful. It’s relatively easy for someone else to correct any errors you may make in conventions. In revision. Improving your voice improves your ideas. It starts with a good topic. Where to from here? If your voice. When you have a good topic. or you can skip those altogether and just go right to editing for conventions. no one is going to read your writing anyway.ttms. If you go back through the last 20 pages or so. for example. are significantly more important than word choice and sentence fluency. a piece starts to percolate in the heart and mind of its creator. conventions are the one part of writing you can always find someone to correct for you. It’s much harder for someone else to fix problems you may have with voice. If you’re having trouble with a piece. ideas. something you really care about. A solid foundation. will have a positive effect on sentence fluency. Getting clear about your ideas improves your organization. getting your ideas down and arranging them effectively is the next order of business.

For more information. Inc.Good Writing From the Ground Up (6) Word Choice (6 (A) Are you using strong verbs to show how actions are performed? (B) Are you using adjectives and adverbs to make your writing more specific? 23 (C) Have you included any memorable words or phrases? (D) Are you using words that are correct and accurate? (E) Is your language appropriate to your purpose and your audience? (5) Sentence Fluency (6 (A) Do your sentences have different beginnings? (B) Do your sentences have different lengths and structures? (C) Is your writing easy to read with expression? (D) Does your piece sound good when you read it out loud? (E) Are your sentences constructed so they’re easy to understand? (F) Are you using any “sound” effects? (Not Required) (4) Conventions (6 (A) Have you used “outside” punctuation to show where ideas begin and end? (B) Have you used “inside” punctuation to show where parts of sentences begin and end? (C) Have you capitalized the beginnings of sentences.org . or for additional teaching materials. the word “I”. places. names. and things that are one of a kind? (D) Have you used paragraphs to group related ideas and to highlight the organizational structure of your piece? (E) Have you spelled words correctly? (F) Is your grammar appropriate for your purpose and audience? (3) Organization (6 (A) What will catch your audience’s attention at the beginning and make them want to read more? (B) What will make your piece feel finished and give your audience something to think about? (C) Are the parts of your piece arranged in the best order? (D) Are you spending the right amount of time on each part? (E) Is your piece easy to follow from part to part? (2) Ideas (6 (A) What’s the one most important thing you want your audience to know? (B) What interesting “key” details have you included to help your audience “unlock” your main idea? (C) Have you included any “showing” details? (D) Why did you write this? (E) Have you included anything surprising or unusual? (Not Required) (1) Voice (6 (A) Why do you care about this topic? (B) Do you know enough about it to have personal opinions? (C) What are your strongest feelings about it? (D) What honest statements can you make? (E) Who is your audience? (F) What questions do they want you to answer? © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha.ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.com • Web www. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.

) write those feelings down.) « The best sounding sentence in my piece is… (Try to write other sentences that sound like this one.com • Web www. then get some help. Why do you like it? Why will your audience like it? 4 I really care about my topic. Why do you care about it so much? Did you put that in the piece? 4 You can tell exactly how I feel. and my audience will like it.) « The best sounding words in my piece are… (Think about the sounds in these words and why they sound so good. Inc. How do you feel about this topic? Did you write that down? COMPLETIONS « I like this piece because… (The more you like it. For more information. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Make it a complete sentence. ) « The most interesting thing about my topic is… (Sometimes it’s good to move this part up to the beginning of the piece.org . What did you do CRITERIA 4 I used words that I know and understand. too.ttms. Did you think about different ways to say what you wanted to say? to check your spelling? COMPLETIONS COMPLETIONS COMPLETIONS « The conventions I know are… (Make sure all of these are correct in your published writing. Which details are the most interesting? 4 I wrote this for a good reason. How did you know which words to capitalize? 4 I did my best to spell each word correctly.) « I wrote this because… (The end of this sentence often makes a good ending. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.) « I chose these words because… (Why are some words better « You can tell I edited my piece because… (Think about the than other words?) reading it.) « The most important part of my piece is… (Make sure this « IDEAS CRITERIA « VOICE 4 I like this piece.) « The feelings I have about this piece are… (Make sure you CRITERIA 4 My writing has an important message. Why did you write this piece? Why is this a good reason? COMPLETIONS « The one most important thing I want my audience to know is… (This is the main idea.) different things you did to make your piece more correct. Are there any words in your piece that you don’t understand? 4 I used some interesting words that you’ll remember. What do you want your audience to think about? 4 I put everything in the best order. the more fun your audience will have.) « You should remember my piece because… (This can make a good ending.) « I wanted to write about this topic because… (The best things to write about are the things you choose yourself.) « My piece is fun to read because… (The more fun you have « You’ll remember these words from my piece because… (Unusual words are often the easiest for people to remember.) « The best words in my piece are… (Try to include at least one or two interesting words if you can. Which words are the most interesting? 4 I used just the right words to say exactly what I wanted to say. too. What’s the one most important thing you want the audience to know? 4 I included lots of interesting details.) part stands out.The “What is Good Writing?” Organizer For Beginning Writers « ORGANIZATION CRITERIA 4 My beginning will make you want to find out more about my piece. What will the audience want to know about? 4 My ending will make you think about something important. or for additional teaching materials.) « WORD CHOICE CRITERIA « SENTENCE FLUENCY 4 I wrote my piece in sentences.) « The conventions I am learning are… (Make sure you try to correct these conventions. Which words sound the best? 4 My writing sounds good when I read it out loud. Does each sentence sound right? 4 I used words that sound good when you read them together. How did you know where to put the periods and capitals? 4 I used capitals for the word “I” and for the names of people and places. Is it easy to read with lots of expression? « CONVENTIONS CRITERIA 4 I put capital letters at the beginning of each sentence and periods at the end.) © Copyright 1997-2003 by Steve Peha. the more your audience will probably like it. Are there any places where your audience might get confused? COMPLETIONS « You’ll be interested in my story because… (Sometimes you can turn this into a good beginning.

authentic. Where are the author’s strongest statements? How can you tell that the author is saying what he or she really thinks? 4 Individual. How does the beginning catch the audience’s attention? Why would the audience want to read more? 4 Feels finished at the end.” not just telling. alliteration or other effects to make the writing sound interesting? How does this improve the piece? 4 Sentences are structured so they’re easy to understand. Are 4 Paragraphing. makes them want to read more. and original. What are some of the different ways the author begins sentences? Do you notice any patterns? Does the author ever begin two or three consecutive sentences in the same way? 4 Variety in sentence length and structure. or for additional teaching materials. and semicolons make sense to the audience? How does the author’s use of these marks help make sentences with many parts easier to understand? 4 Capitalization. and exclamation marks in ways that make sense to the audience? Is it easy to tell where ideas end and begin? 4 “Inside” punctuation. How can you tell that the author cares about the topic? Where can you find evidence of strong opinions? 4 Strong feelings. Which words and phrases do you remember? Why are they so memorable? 4 Words and phrases used accurately and effectively. For more information. Why does the author spend more time in some parts than in others? Are there places where the author moves ahead too quickly or hangs on too long? 4 Easy to follow from part to part. Where does the author use “showing” details? How does the “showing” help to improve the audience’s understanding? 4 A clear and meaningful purpose. do these errors the words the author has used appropriate for the writer’s purpose and audience? Are there any words or phrases that are too casual. How does the author move 4 Something surprising or unusual that works. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Is the writer 4 An important main idea. or possibly offensive? make the piece difficult to read and understand? How does the author’s spelling affect the way the audience feels about the writing and the person who wrote it? © Copyright 1997-2003 by Steve Peha. too formal. makes the audience think. Where has the author used strong verbs? What makes them effective? 4 Adjectives and adverbs that make things more specific. colons. Can you easily identify the different parts of the piece? Does each part follow logically from the next? Is the sequencing effective and entertaining? « IDEAS « VOICE 4 The author cares about the topic. seem inappropriate? « WORD CHOICE « SENTENCE FLUENCY 4 Variety in sentence beginnings. and things that are one of a kind? 4 Strong verbs that tell how actions are performed. Has the author grouped related sentences into paragraphs in ways that make sense to the audience? Has the author started a new paragraph each time a new person starts speaking? Has the author indented or skipped a line to show where new paragraphs start? 4 Spelling. too hard to understand. parentheses. If the writing has spelling mistakes. How does the author use connecting words and punctuation marks to make sentences easy to understand? How does the order of sentence parts make the writing easy to understand? « CONVENTIONS 4 “Outside” punctuation. How does the ending make the piece feel finished? What does it make the audience think about? 4 Parts arranged in the best order. question marks. if any. What’s the one most important thing the author wants the audience to know? Why is it important to the author? Why is it important to the audience? 4 Interesting details. Has the author used periods. How would you describe the author’s personality in this writing? What examples from the text tell you you’re right? 4 Appropriate tone for purpose and audience. What are the most expressive parts? What is it about how they sound that makes them so much fun to read out loud? 4 Uses rhythm. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.org . places. Does the author vary the length and structure of his or her sentences? Do you notice any patterns? Does the author use the same length or structure in two or three consecutive sentences? What sentence structures does the author use most often? 4 Easy to read expressively. What is sur- prising or unusual about the writing? How does this differ from other things you’ve read? from part to part? How do these transitions work? using an appropriate tone for this situation? How can you tell? Which parts. as well as names. Has the author used capital letters in ways that make sense to the audience? Is it easy to tell where new ideas begin? Has the author capitalized the word “I”. dashes.ttms.com • Web www. Where has the author used adjectives and adverbs to make the writing more specific? How does using these adjectives and adverbs improve the reader’s understanding? 4 Words and phrases you can remember long after you’ve finished reading. Inc. Is the writer’s usage accurate? Are there any improvement or corrections you would suggest? Where has the author used unusual words effectively? Where has the author used common words in new ways? 4 Language that is appropriate to purpose and audience.The “What is Good Writing?” Organizer For Maturing Writers « ORGANIZATION 4 Catches the audience’s attention at the start. Does this writing feel as though it could only have been written by one person? Does the writing sound like it was written by a real person? How original is it? 4 Displays a definite and well developed personality. and other “sound” effects. Which details are the most interesting? How do they help the audience understand the main idea? 4 “Showing. sounds great when read aloud. rhyme. honest statements. rhyme. alliteration. Why did the writer write this? Why is this a good reason to write something? What does the author want the audience to think and/or do? 4 Spends the right amount of time on each part. Does the author’s use of commas. Where has the author used rhythm.

org . please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.ttms. Main Organization that is logical and effective. Leads Endings Sequencing Pacing Transitions Goodthese qualities… Writing Has all of Voice that is individual and appropriate. Verbs Modifiers Memorable Accurate Appropriate Sentence Fluency that isBeginnings Length and expressive.com • Web www.Ideas that are interesting andIdea Details ”Showing” Purpose Surprises important. Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Topic Feelings Individuality Personality Appropriateness Word Choice that is specific and memorable. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Punctuation © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. smooth Expression Effects Structure Conventions that are correct Capitalization Paragraphing Spelling Grammar and communicative.

WORD CHOICE that says what I mean. Correct CONVENTIONS everyone can read. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc. My own personal VOICE that sounds just like me. © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. SENTENCE FLUENCY that makes it fun to read out loud. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.com • Web www.org . ORGANIZATION readers can follow easily.Goodthese qualities… Writing Has all of Interesting IDEAS readers want to know about. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.ttms.

Ideas Interesting & Important An important main idea. What is surprising or unusual about the writing? How does this differ from other things you’ve read? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.” not just telling. What’s the one most important thing the author wants the audience to know? Why is it important to the author? Why is it important to the audience? Which details are the most interesting? How do they help the audience understand the main idea? “Showing. Interesting details. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Why didtothe writertowrite this? Whydo?isthe author reason write something? What does want the audience think and/or Something unusual or surprising that works.org .ttms. Where does the author use “showing” details? How does the “showing” help to improve the audience’s understanding? A clear and meaningful this a good purpose. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.com • Web www.

• E-mail stevepeha@aol.org .com • Web www. The most interesting thing about my topic is… I wrote this for a good reason.ttms.Ideas Fun & Interesting! You might learn something new! My piece has an important message. The one most important thing I want my audience to know is… I included lots of interesting details. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc. I wrote this because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.

Inc.org . each part folthe best the piece? Does Can you easily identify low logically from the next? Is the sequencing effective and entertaining? Spends the right amount of timethe author spend more time in some parts than in others? Are there on each part.ttms.com • Web www.Organization Catches the audience’s attention catch the start. makes the audiencethe piece feel finished? What does it make the think. Why does places where the author moves ahead too quickly or hangs on too long? Easy to follow from part to part. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. How does the author move from part to part? How do these transitions work? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. How does the ending make audience think about? Arranged inthe different parts of order. Why would the at the audience’s attention? How does the beginning audience want to read more? Logical & Effective Feels finished at the end.

com • Web www.org . You’ll be interested in my piece because… Organization …From Start to Finish Easy to Follow… My ending will make you think about something important. Inc. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. The most important part of my piece is… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.ttms. You will remember my piece because… I put everything in the best order.My beginning will make you want to read more.

org . Inc. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Displays a definite and well developed personality. Individual. authentic. How would you describe the author’s personality in this writing? What examples from the text tell you you’re right? Where are the author’s strongest statements? How can you tell that the author is saying what he or she really thinks? Does this writing feel as though it could only have been written by one person? Does the writing sound like it was written by a real person? How original is it? Appropriate tone for purpose and writer an audience. and original. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Is theHow can using tell?appropriate toneif for this situation? you Which parts. How can you tell that the author cares about the topic? Where can you find evidence of strong opinions? Strong feelings. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. any. honest statements.Voice Individual & Appropriate The author cares about the topic. seem inappropriate? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.ttms.com • Web www.

ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.com • Web www. about this topic are… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. and my audience will like it. Inc. I wanted to write about this topic because… You can tell exactly how IThe feelings I have feel. too! I like this piece because… Voice My topic! My feelings! My choice! I really care about my topic.I like this piece. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.org .

• E-mail stevepeha@aol. Words and phases you can remember.ttms. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. too formal.com • Web www. Inc. Is the writer’s usage accurate? Where has the author used unusual words effectively? Where has the author used common words in new ways? Where has the author used adjectives and adverbs to make the writing more specific? How does this improve the reader’s understanding? Specific & Memorable Appropriate language for purposeappropriate?audience.org . please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.or phrases that are too and Are there any words Is the language casual. or possibly offensive? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. Where has the author used strong verbs? What makes them effective? Adjectives and adverbs that make things specific. too hard to understand. do you remember? Why are they so memorable? Which words and phrases Words and phases used accurately and effectively.Word Choice Strong verbs that tell how actions are performed.

I chose these words because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.org . Inc. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.ttms. You’ll remember these words because… The best words in my piece are… Word Choice The best way to say it! I used just the right words to say exactly what I wanted to say. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.com • Web www.I used words that I know and understand. I used interesting words that you’ll remember.

• E-mail stevepeha@aol. sounds most expressive parts? What is it about how they sound that great read aloud.Sentence Musical Fluency Variety in sentence beginnings. alliteration. rhyme.ttms. rhyme. Inc. makes them so much fun to read out loud? Where has the author used rhythm.org . What are the Rhythm. alliteration or other effects? How does this improve the piece? sentences? What sentence structures does the author use most often? What are some of the different ways the author begins sentences? Do you notice any patterns? Does the author ever begin two or three consecutive sentences in the same way? Sentences structured so they are easy toandunderstand. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. and other “sound” effects.com • Web www. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. How does the authorunderstand? use connecting words punctuation marks to make sentences easy to How does the order of sentence parts make the writing easy to understand? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.sameorlengthsentences? Do inlengthorandany patterns? Does his her you notice the author use the or structure two three consecutive Easy to read expressively. Smooth and Expressive Variety in sentence length and Does the author vary the structure of structure.

please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.I wrote my piece in sentences. My writing sounds good when I read it out loud.ttms.org The coolest sounding words in my piece are… . My piece is fun to read because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. sentence The best sounding in my piece is… Sentence Fluency Fun to read out loud! I used words that sound cool when you read them together. Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.com • Web www.

For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. “Inside” punctuation. dashes. letters in ways that make sense to the Has the author used capital Paragraphing. Has the author used periods.Conventions “Outside” punctuation. do these errors make the piece difficult to read and understand? How does the author’s spelling affect the way the audience feels about the writing and the person who wrote it? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. and things that are one of a kind? Has the author grouped related sentences into paragraphs in ways that make sense to the audience? Has the author started a new paragraph each time a new person starts speaking? Has the author indented or skipped a line to show where new paragraphs start? If the writing has spelling mistakes. Inc.com • Web www. question marks. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. as well as names.org . audience? Is it easy to tell where new ideas begin? Has the author capitalized the word “I”.ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. parentheses. Spelling. and exclamation marks in ways that make sense to the audience? Is it easy to tell where ideas end and begin? Does the author’s use of commas. and semicolons make sense to the audience? How does the author’s use of these marks help make sentences with many parts easier to understand? Correct & Communicative Capitalization. places. colons.

The conventions I know are… Conventions Everyone Can Read It! I used capitals for the word “I” and the names of people and places. You I edited my piece because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. I did my best to spell each wordcan tell correctly.ttms.org The conventions I am learning are… . please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.I started my sentences with capitals and put periods at the end.com • Web www. Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.

ttms.org © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. questions. or other resources. additional teaching materials.com • Web www. That’s why we need to stay in touch. Inc.24 Let’s work together to make your teaching the best it can be. Please send suggestions. and corrections to: stevepeha@ttms. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.org . For more information. I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly with answers. Please contact me any time! Even the best workshops and teaching materials can’t meet the needs of every teacher all the time. Send me an e-mail any time you have a question. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. or for additional teaching materials.