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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 email@example.com • Web www.ttms.org
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 firstname.lastname@example.org • Web www.ttms.org
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 email@example.com • Web www.ttms.org
If we didn’t have any ideas. that’s the topic. the author is writing for other third graders in her class. In Chores. For example. that would be the main idea. 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. If the audience doesn’t care about it. say that the main idea of Chores is “chores. It’s hard to have a good piece without a good main idea. 5 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. “Most chores are extremely frustrating but some aren’t all that bad. A reader taking this approach might say that the main idea was something like. In my opinion. Most pieces.org . That’s OK as long as he or she can show that the rest of the piece supports it. so they don’t qualify as the main idea. Most of them have chores of their own to do and they don’t like them much either. We should always write about things that are important to us because that’s how we become better writers. I think the main idea is very important to this author. the main idea is the single most important part of every piece. 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. After all. Inc. (3) The main idea has to be something that is important to the audience. And if we didn’t need any words — well.com • Web www. (2) The main idea has to be something that is important to the author. You couldn’t.” That’s not the main idea. 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. If the main idea isn’t important to the author. There are three criteria every main idea must meet: (1) The main idea has to be a complete sentence. That thought is the main idea and everything else in the piece is there to help the audience understand it. ideas are the reason writers write.” 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. we wouldn’t need any words to express them. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. you get the idea. then the author shouldn’t waste time writing the piece. Without ideas there wouldn’t be any writing. For more information. or for additional teaching materials.Interesting and Important Ideas Ideas are what it’s all about. In this case. she makes her points with strong statements that are packed with strong feelings. The entire piece is about the main idea. Imagine taking an entire piece and scrunching it down into a single sentence that still said more or less the same thing. are built on a single thought. for example. especially short ones like Chores. You couldn’t even say that the main idea is “About chores” or “Doing chores” or “Why the writer hates chores. too. That’s kind of what a main idea is.” All of these statements are related to the piece but they’re not complete thoughts. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. If the writer had to write just one sentence to represent everything he or she wanted to say. She clearly takes her chores seriously. Ideas are really the most important part of a piece of writing. they aren’t going to care about the piece. So I think we could say that the main idea met this last criteria.ttms.
In general.ttms. 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. She tells us about several different chores she has to do.6 Ideas and Details Interesting details that help readers understand the main idea.” I love that because I can actually see it happening. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. ‘Dusting is boring because you have to keep picking things up and putting them back down. The writer obviously cares a lot about doing chores.com • Web www. set down. they’re really not all that bad. pick up. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. she wants us to think that while chores are certainly an unpleasant part of life. for the writer or the reader? I think it does. it’s reasonable to assume that they will find the ending meaningful. But that’s OK as long as we can find tangible evidence in the piece that answers our questions clearly. it’s hard for readers to understand what you mean if they only have a single sentence to go on. too. I think the writer of Chores did a good job with purpose.” These details give us a good sense of the chores she has to do and why she doesn’t like them very much. she shows us what it’s like for her. 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. For one thing. Sometimes writers surprise us by successfully introducing and developing a unique idea in a piece. A clear and meaningful purpose. While most of Chores seems like normal everyday stuff. While a main idea is absolutely essential. dust. Readers love “showing” details because they help them see pictures instead of just words. It’s clear to me that she wrote this to tell us how boring chores are. set down. For more information. But is it meaningful? Does it have any significance. My favorite part of this piece just happens to be an example of a “showing” detail: “Dusting is the worst: dust.” and “Bathtubs.” But instead of just telling us. And in each case. And since most of her readers probably have to do them. the better your piece will be. it’s not the whole piece. Whenever we look into the purpose of a piece of writing. and it is hard to get up around the sides. And when we’re done reading. She could have just told us about dusting by saying something like. any strong feeling. Something surprising or unusual that really works. she tells us important things about them such as: “When you’re scrubbing toilets make sure they are not stinky. or for additional teaching materials. the more “showing” you have. “Showing” details that help readers make pictures in their mind. The purpose of a piece can usually be found in the ending and Chores is no exception.org . ever washed one? They are big. Inc. And that’s why good writing includes lots of interesting details. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. I’ve scrubbed one before and I was lucky it didn’t stink. I hadn’t heard anyone talk about cleaning in exactly this way and I found it both surprising and entertaining. they are deep. different readers may come up with different purposes. the parts about cleaning the toilet and dusting caught my attention and made the piece seem more original to me.
and several things usually end up in the middle. make readers take notice and prepare them for the ideas to come. 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. For one thing. That’s usually something adults complain about. but it doesn’t quite match my expectations based on what has come before. discourage readers from continuing. For more information. 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. at least to me. or those that lack emotion. An ending that feels finished and makes you think. the ending is fine but not nearly as good as the rest of the piece. That’s the way I feel here. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc. Finally. followed by a clear and simple sentence. come up with an ending that feels finished and gives the reader something to think about. The topic itself is interesting. like the beginning. leaves no doubt that this writer is fired up about her topic.com • Web www. one for each group of ideas the writer is working with. Common beginnings. while the piece ends in a way that makes sense. The piece definitely has an ending. More original and unusual beginnings. Something has to come first. To determine that sequence. entertaining. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. the ending to Chores seems basically satisfying. and that ending makes sense. 7 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. Even though it’s only a single sentence in length. Other readers who might have different opinions about doing chores might have different opinions about the success of this ending. But does it make us think about anything? The first time I read this piece. How well does the beginning of Chores work? It’s certainly full of strong feelings: “Chores! Chores! Chores! Chores are boring!” Repeating three exclamations. I’m interested already. the ones we hear all the time. or for additional teaching materials. too. To come up with a beginning. I thought about my own opinion of chores at this point.Logical and Effective Organization Organization is driven by ideas. and consistent with the reader’s expectations. Ideas don’t make much sense if they aren’t arranged in some way. think of a piece as being divided into parts. It probably should have been at least a paragraph long. The writer has chosen one big idea (“Chores aren’t the worst but they’re definitely not the best. Then. it’s just too short.”) which sums up her general opinion of chores. Some beginnings are clearly better than others. Single sentence endings usually feel too abrupt. especially those with strong feelings. I haven’t read many pieces written by 8-year-olds about the distasteful nature of housework. arrange the groups so that each one leads naturally into the next in a way that is interesting. in a logical sequence.org . I want to know more about what this writer has to say.ttms. A beginning that catches your attention and makes you want to read more. To make a piece feel truly finished. as though the piece ended before the reader was ready. My overall judgment is that. So I guess the ending worked for me. something has to go last. one after another. 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. 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.
(This usually isn’t the case in longer pieces but here it works out nicely.” “Later that day. the writer doesn’t need transitional phrases because it’s so well organized that each part follows logically from the one before it. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. (5) Boring Chores. so the pacing seems to work pretty well.” “Next. the “Conclusion” last.” “Then. we usually talk about transitional phrases. If it came right after the “Introduction. It’s too short. The “Toilets. It’s over before we know it. that serve to introduce the next part in the sequence. Instead of using phrases for her transitions.org . they seem interchangeable.) I have given each part a name based on what I think it’s about. and no one part seems much more important than any other.” “Sinks.” “Finally. we could name the parts like this: (1) Introduction. And that doesn’t feel quite right given what we’ve come to expect from the lengths of all the other parts. (3) Sinks. the more important something is in a piece.” It’s different from the previous three parts. (4) Bathtubs. I like it right where it is. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha.8 Sequencing. Don’t use transition words unless you need them.. each new part follows so naturally from the previous part that transitional words are not needed. so the pacing is too fast. 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. and Transitions Parts are arranged in the best order. second. Pacing. 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. Personally. This is the ideal way to move from part to part.” and so on. In the case of Chores.” “After a while. • E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Easy to follow from part to part.” 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. Inc. each part is a paragraph. Pacing is the art of controlling how much time readers spend on each group of ideas. right before the “Conclusion. the more time the writer should spend on it. each part is just about the same length. right after the “Introduction. How does the writer do it? In this piece. In Chores. (6) Conclusion. These are single words or small groups of words like “First. In general. or for additional teaching materials.. The “Boring Chores” part starts out with “All chores are boring. When we talk about how writers move from part to part in a piece. (2) Toilets. The only problem is the ending.. 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. Spends the right amount of time spent on each part. For more information.” and “Bathtubs” parts all start out the same way: by naming the thing the author has to clean. it’s helpful to name the different parts of a piece.com • Web www. So. are the parts arranged in the best possible order? The “Introduction” obviously has to come first. And yet it seems very easy to follow. In this short piece. That means it could either go second. or third.” or second to last.” where it is now. she’s using logic instead. But Chores doesn’t use any of these transitions. To figure this out. Every piece can be separated into parts where each part contains a group of ideas that go together.
Individual and Appropriate Voice Voice is choice. she has chosen a topic from her life. we have to communicate strong feelings. different beginning and ending strategies. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.ttms. If you’re not interested in it. or for additional teaching materials. if everyone writes exactly the same thing. Voice. But in writing. In order to write well. our original thoughts and personal feelings. that’s no good. If she didn’t care about doing chores. And the only way that happens is if you make different choices when you write. your audience probably won’t be interested either. she probably wouldn’t have very much to say about it. And the third thing that tells me this writer cares about her topic is all the detail she includes to support her opinion. The writer cares about the topic. The trick is in letting that voice come through. So if we want our writing to be unique.org . There’s no doubt about how this writer feels about doing chores. Writing is different from other school subjects. and science. and what she did say probably wouldn’t be very detailed. Your writing needs to be different from everyone else’s. The first choice every writer has to make is what he or she will write about. we have to question the writing. and that is what makes our writing unique. there’s no way to tell for sure. it’s copying. Inc. Our feelings about things are what tend to make us unique.” tells the reader about the writer’s personality in the piece. not writing. First of all. Because each of us has a unique personality. over and over. 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. the details you include. For more information. But are those feelings honest? Does the piece sound genuine. as though the writer really believes what she’s saying? Of course. choices about the topics you pick. The set of all the different choices an author makes determines what is often called the “voice” in a piece of writing. each of us has a unique voice in writing. The writer of Chores certainly has no problem communicating her strong feelings. you have to care about your topic. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. something that she has to deal with on a regular basis. She could have made the whole thing up. But throughout this piece.com • Web www. and so on. we’d all tend to do and say and think the same things. this writer is telling us how chores affect her life and how she feels about that. reading. every student is supposed to study the same things and come up with the same answers. and writing it all down. 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. there wouldn’t be much difference between one person and another and our writing wouldn’t be very different either. our particular way of seeing things. the words you use. The piece is packed with emotion in almost every sentence. 9 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. social studies. Strong feelings. Expressing our individual personalities has a lot to do with expressing our feelings. The second thing I notice is a very strong opinion. So because we can’t question the writer. 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. In math. interpreting them. honest statements. 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. Think about it: if everyone felt the same way about everything. sometimes referred to as “tone” or “mood.
and this can be very successful if it’s done well. In most good writing. the writer’s voice matches my expectation of how I think this person should sound. I’m getting to know the personality that person is presenting through his or her voice. Though I know that many kids her age complain about having to do chores. and original. Chores seems very authentic. If you wrote a research paper about global warming. When I read something by one of my favorite writers. I look for consistency. writers often experiment with styles that are not their own. Inc. I think the voice the writer uses in Chores matches the situation very well. Another important quality to look for in a writer’s voice is authenticity. I’ve never seen a piece on this topic that sounds quite the same. you probably wouldn’t want to seem silly. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. The voice you choose for your writing must match the purpose you are writing for and the people you are writing to. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. I sense the writer’s individuality very clearly. I’m not getting to know the person. It sounds like it was written by a frustrated 9-year-old who doesn’t like to do her chores. Appropriate tone for purpose and audience. Of course. awkward? Like honesty. To me.com • Web www. frustrated person. In Chores. or for additional teaching materials. as though you were making a joke out of it. her personality in this piece seems well defined and successfully developed. I think Chores shows a lot of individuality and that’s another important reason why it’s such a successful piece. stilted. She has such well-defined and detailed opinions that I can’t imagine another kid expressing these exact feelings in exactly the same way. 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. Finally. authenticity can be hard to judge. I feel like I’m getting to know a frustrated little girl who has a pretty good sense of humor.ttms. or does it sound phony. For more information. the individuality of the writer comes through. If you wrote a letter to your grandma thanking her for a birthday present. If you wrote an article for your school paper about someone on your high school’s football team who had suffered a serious injury. of course. to someone who had read 20 other pieces just like it. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. we can judge a writer’s voice by how original the writing seems. Once again.org . She doesn’t like to do chores but she knows they’re a part of life we all just have to get through.10 Individuality and Appropriateness An individual. That isn’t true. it wouldn’t seem that way. Chores feels very original to me. In Chores. the way she’s complaining about it strikes me as unique. Does the writing sound real? Does it sound as though it was written by a real person. you probably wouldn’t want to sound like an angry. we’re picking up on the writer’s voice. To say that something is original is simply to say that we haven’t seen it before. I often have the feeling that no one else could have written it. When we sense this individuality. I get the feeling that I’m getting to know the person who wrote it just as if we were hanging out as friends. For example. you probably wouldn’t want to sound as casual as you do when you’re talking to your friends. Displays a definite and well developed personality. authentic. Whenever I read something that has a lot of voice.
” Now. Here’s how it works: take a verb like “run” and another verb with a similar meaning like “sprint. The word “sprint” means “to run at top speed for a brief moment. the English language is the largest in the world. so little time.” What’s the difference? Adjectives and adverbs.” When she uses the words “scrubbing” or “scrubbed” instead of “cleaning” or “cleaned. (2) “I was sprinting.org . That’s what makes it stronger: it’s a single word that contains the meaning of an entire group of words! So.” that cleaning a sink is “easy. The language is generic throughout. Verbs are words that describe the action in a sentence. young man drove away nervously in the shiny new car his parents had just bought for him.ttms. “What kind of car do you have?” And I’ll say “Oh. and toilets but we don’t know anything very specific about them. Why? Because I’m not being specific enough for him to help me.” she gets the benefit of a stronger verb. We know that toilets are sometimes “stinky. sinks. Writing is like that. Say I come back from several hours of shopping and I can’t remember where I parked.” I get all the meaning of the verb “run. compare these two sentences: (1) “I was running.” In Chores. Some verbs are said to be stronger than others. or for additional teaching materials. when it comes to deciding which word to use where.” They seem more or less the same. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. and these are the ones that tend to make your writing more effective.” plus the additional meaning that explains how I was running. the ones with all the floors that look exactly the same.000 words or so.” So. For more information. it’s just a car. The first question he’s going to ask me is. Adjectives modify nouns and answer the question “What kind?” What kind of man? An “anxious” “young” man.Specific and Memorable Word Choice 11 So many words.”. At just over 490. You know. Say I’m in one of those huge underground parking lots.” but this doesn’t do that much for us. What kind of car? A “shiny” “new” car. Strong verbs that tell how an actions are performed.” Other than that.000 words (and still growing strong). you’ve got plenty of choices. You have to be specific in order to help your readers understand you.” And then he’ll look at me like I’m an even bigger idiot than I already am. the action and a description of the action are packed into one tiny word. Adverbs modify verbs and answer the question “How?” How did he drive away? He drove away “nervously. when I say “sprinting. “The man drove away in his car. but they’re not. Adjectives and adverbs that make things more specific. how does the author of Chores do when it comes to using strong verbs? Not so great. I do see one strong verb: “scrub. In the first sentence. This is like getting an adverb for free. you know. We know about bathtubs. Adjectives and adverbs modify the nouns and verbs they work with to make them more specific. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.” that’s not nearly as helpful to your readers as. “The anxious. too. After searching franticly for an hour or so. So. If you’re writing in English.” and that all chores are “boring. I’ll probably give up and try to find a parking attendant to help me. I don’t find any other strong verbs. you learn that I was running but in the second sentence you also learn how I was running. If you write.com • Web www. you get a bonus that can’t be found in most other languages: an extra 300. But at least she got one. Inc. the writing is not very specific in this regard. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. To “scrub” means “to clean something by rubbing hard. the writer uses few effective adjectives and adverbs.
the word “halted” seems like a good choice. 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. But it may not be exactly the right word in this situation. you can have a relatively small vocabulary and still be an effective writer. As we’ve already discussed. For more information. But there’s more to appropriateness than avoiding bad language. I can show off and use a whole bunch of big words. set down. Accurate. After all.ttms. (And don’t use a word like “overzealous” when a simpler one like “enthusiastic” will do. using little words that I know just about everyone can understand. And that’s the word I think he should have used: “stopped. 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. To my ear (though you may disagree).” To me. dust.) Use words that mean exactly what you mean to say. Using big words may make me feel smart and superior. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. it would be nice if people actually remembered what you wrote. It doesn’t matter how large your vocabulary is if knowing all those words means that you consistently choose ones your readers cannot read. Or.” At first glance. 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.12 Memorable. a good strong verb. Similarly. (I hear the old war movie phrase in my head: “Halt! Who goes there?”) But nothing caused him to stop. I arrived at my favorite spot and halted. unusual words.com • Web www. the word “halted” suggests that he was caused to stop by someone or some thing. this way of describing the tedious. the writer uses simple everyday words and phrases. It means using the right words to say the right thing in just the right way. Inc. Don’t rush off to a thesaurus and sprinkle synonyms all over your piece the way an overzealous chef adds spices to his cooking.org . It’s a word we don’t use that often and it’s very specific. fancy. repetitive nature of dusting seemed so interesting and original that I’ve never forgotten it. if writing is first and foremost the communication of ideas. she’s using very simple words because those are the kinds of words she and her friends know. the writer uses very simple words. set down. 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. And that’s the most important thing.” Use simple words to describe simple things. but it won’t help me be understood. Good word choice doesn’t mean using big. Your first and highest priority when considering word choice is to choose words that your audience will understand. the writer is writing to kids her own age. and no others. In Chores. Words and phrases used accurately and effectively. pick up. No one can remember all the words in a piece. Appropriate Words and phrases you remember long after you’ve finished reading. this works because the writer is expressing simple ideas. However. He just stopped all by himself. but sometimes a few words here and there are so interesting or unusual we can’t forget them. much of the language in Chores is very generic. I can say the same thing as simply as possible. Language that is appropriate to purpose and audience. or for additional teaching materials. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. In Chores. And for me. 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.
question mark. The second sentence is longer and is made of three parts that add to the meaning one right after another like a list. You can analyze the structure of a sentence by looking at how many parts it contains and what kinds of parts those are. your writing needs to flow smoothly from word to word. or exclamation mark. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Inc. The average sentence has approximately 8-14 words.” The first sentence is short. too. complete thought the writer is expressing. but it is constructed differently than the previous sentence because the second part interrupts the first and third parts instead of adding to them. It consists of two tiny parts separated by a comma. Beginning with a capital letter we wind our way over words and phrases until we’ve expressed a complete thought. 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. or for additional teaching materials. We can’t keep using the same words over and over at the beginning. and it is hard to get up around the sides. We can’t expect people to read our writing if we do. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. the writer does a good job of varying the beginnings of her sentences. and sentence to sentence. Long sentences may be as long as 20 words or more. the writer doesn’t vary her sentence structures very much but she does it just enough to be successful. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. The bathtub is the hardest. and then we mark the endpoint with a period. Short sentences tend to have 3-6 words in them. When we write. Just as using sentences with different beginnings helps make your writing easier to read and understand. we write in sentences. ever washed one? They are big. Most of the sentences in Chores have two parts but here and there you’ll find a sentence with one part or three. phrase to phrase. they are deep. Variety in sentence length and structure. Most of the sentences in Chores are of average length. We can’t start every sentence the same way. So. I think. too. We can’t do this because it drives readers crazy! It also makes the writing hard to understand. to wash in the bathroom. Why? Because readers start paying more attention to the pattern of repetition than they do to the words themselves. The last sentence has three parts. Almost every sentence begins differently than the one before it. And she uses three different sentence constructions. but occasionally we find a long or a short one and this is what makes it work.Smooth. using sentences of different lengths and different structures helps.ttms. it sounds like a one-part sentence with a break in the middle.org . For more information. Take a look at the fourth paragraph of Chores: “Bathtubs. the writer varies the lengths of her sentences by starting with a short one and finishing with two longer ones. You can measure the length of a sentence simply by counting the words. In Chores.com • Web www. As with sentence length. Readers read the same way: they follow the shape of each sentence from beginning to end trying to understand the single. In order for readers to do that. Variety in sentence beginnings. That’s good sentence fluency. Expressive Sentence Fluency13 Go with the flow. to me.
In other words.ttms. continued. For more information. Part 5: “and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all his life. we have to become conscious of how sentences are put together. There are four kinds of sentence parts to watch for: (1) Main Parts. Most of us don’t think about the structure of our sentences when we speak and write. Unfortunately. and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all his life. a young man of simple means but good intentions. Malcolm Maxwell.…” (3) In-Between Parts. left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. the traditional pedagogy of sentential analysis is fraught with arcane terminology.” (2) Lead-In Parts. I came up with an easy way of describing sentences.” Main Part.” We could describe the structure of this sentence like this: • • • • • Part 1: “On a bitter cold winter morning. Part 2: “Malcolm Maxwell. (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. and preternatural techniques.…” (4) Add-On Parts.” In-Between Part.…. Take a look at this sentence: “On a bitter cold winter morning.” Add-On Part.com • Web www. They feel like a slight interruption: “…a young man of simple means but good intentions. 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. these parts go in between other parts.” You can see that it is made up of several different parts. These parts often lead into other parts. And that’s all there is to it! (Well.… left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. Part 4: “left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. But it’s also incredibly hard to understand and analyze. As the name implies. This is not an “official” approach. (3) We can describe the structure of a sentence by the number and types of parts it contains. Inc. But if we want to improve our sentence structure and learn from other writers. it’s about as easy to understand as that last sentence. (2) Those parts have names. But I have found that it is simple enough that it works for just about anyone. actually there is more to it.org .” Lead-In Part. So.14 A Note About Sentence Structure A difficult subject to talk about. or for additional teaching materials. abstruse constructs. Part 3: “a young man of simple means but good intentions. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. to make it possible for everyone to study sentence structure. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. But we’ll cover that another time.) © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha.” Main Part. Sentence structure is incredibly important. As far as I know. These parts usually contain the main action of the sentence: “Malcolm Maxwell. especially main parts: “On a bitter cold winter morning. we construct them unconsciously. Peha’s Stunningly Simple Sentence Structure System: (1) Sentences are made of parts. I invented it.
and tone that we hear in normal speech. volume. This involves using the same consonant sound in several words. I’m using two techniques: (1) Alliteration. these kinds of “sound” effects make writing fun to read. This is when several words in a sentence begin with the same sound.ttms. If this piece were significantly longer. people need to read it expressively. we can easily match our expression to the writer’s meaning.com • Web www. Depending on how you count them. phrase to phrase. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Rhythm. usually at the ends. one of the interesting properties of sentences is that they can often be rearranged without changing their meaning. The sentences are relatively smooth and simple. the sentences in Chores are fairly simple and that makes them easy to understand. and you can’t help noticing sometimes how writers put them together. I’ve just said the same thing three times. Without changing their meaning. This is very satisfying because it makes us feel like we’re understanding things well. sentences. alliteration. complex sentences. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.org . In most languages. But they must be structured in ways that make them easy for the reader to deal with. For more information. They come up more frequently in poetry and song. But in a very short essay. the writer doesn’t make any mistakes in this category either. sequences of speech sounds sometimes surprise us. the only difference was the sentence structure. Used sparingly. Understanding Easy to read expressively. As I’ve noted before. rhyme. One of the interesting properties of sentences in most languages is that their parts can often be rearranged without their meaning being changed. Expressive reading involves reading a text with the appropriate changes in pitch. rhythm. in most languages. It’s fine to have long. When writing flows smoothly from word to word. Reading expressively is also fun because it adds to the feelings we have about the text. three different ways. therefore. Sentences are structured so they’re easy to understand. 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. sounds great when read aloud. and other “sound” effects. 15 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. You can tell that the first and second sentences have a fairly simple structure. much harder to understand. In the first sentence of this paragraph. Inc. In certain situations. or for additional teaching materials. Effects. can often be rearranged — an interesting property. But don’t overdo it — like I did in the first sentence — sentences with many similar sounding words are hard to understand. However. Chores doesn’t really take advantage of any specific sound effects. To understand and enjoy your writing. Good readers do this because it improves their comprehension. they are not a problem. When I read Chores. The third sentence is especially complicated and. the English language has 43 or 44 sounds. (2) Consonance. and sentence to sentence. I find it fairly easy to read expressively.Expression. the simple constructions the writer uses might become tiresome. These types of effects are used quite sparingly in most prose writing.
Main Part Middle a young man of simple means but good intentions. They also go up and down to differentiate the words of a speaker (often high in pitch) from those of the narrator (usually lower). In general.com • Web www. Let’s take a look at how pitch level corresponds to meaning and the four types of sentence parts. it’s reasonable to wonder why readers bother to do it at all. And Add-On Parts should be spoken at a level lower than the part they follow. after commas. warm voice. hard and cold can mean scary. Why is expression so important? With all the effort it takes to read expressively. which in turn helps us to understand it. They go up at the beginning of a sentence and down at the end (up slightly if it ends with a question mark). Expressive readers make their voices go up and down. Finally. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Here’s an example to show you exactly how this works: On a bitter cold winter morning. Lead-In Parts are often read at a higher pitch level. Lead-In Part Higher Malcolm Maxwell.16 A Note About Expressive Reading Something I always knew was important but never quite understood. This pitch level cues readers to the fact that this is the main action in a sentence. When I was in school.org . © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. (3) They change volume. calm. as we near the end of a sentence. and the end of the sentence. Inc. droning on one word after another. The reason is that expression is closely related to meaning. The different pitch levels help us distinguish between the different sentence parts. They do this to communicate different feelings— soft and warm usually means nice. or even sad. I knew that expressive reading was what my teachers did when they read to us. sometimes their voice is cold and hard. 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. (4) They change tone. In-Between Parts are usually read at a level lower than the parts they are in between. smaller ones in between. I don’t know which was more embarrassing: reading out loud myself or having to listen to everyone else. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. most of us read like little robots. Expressive readers say some words louder than others. They also take appropriate pauses—big ones at the end of a sentence. or excited. our voice drops down to its lowest point as we reach the period. For more information. or for additional teaching materials. little words are said softer than more important words. and also between the logical parts of phrases. In-Between Part Lower and set off on the bold errand he’d been preparing for all Add-On Part Lower his life. Main Parts are usually read at a middle pitch level. and getting meaning from a text is the whole point of reading. Main Part Middle left the quiet country town in which he’d been raised. Sometimes readers use a soft. (2) They change rhythm. Expressive readers speed up and slow down when they read.ttms. angry.
I wouldn’t have to worry about making mistakes. or for additional teaching materials.org . and grammar. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. however inaccurate it may be. and even if they can figure out what you’re saying. For more information. I do not think there is any definitive answer to the question. Conventional wisdom. I think I write correctly.ttms. Many “rules” change depending on who publishes the final copy. (2) If your writing has errors. for clear thinking will produce clear writing.Correct Conventions That Communicate17 What exactly are we talkin’ about here? “Conventions” is the term we use nowadays to describe punctuation. both of these prejudices are wrong.) With writing of any length or complexity. These agreements began being hammered out officially in the 19th century and they are still changing slightly even today. Personally. to evaluate it clearly. that people who do not write correctly are not very smart. it takes a lot of human thought and ingenuity to do it well. In my opinion. writing correctly is hardly a “mechanical” process. one could debate endlessly about whether a piece is completely correct.” the collection of rules a particular publisher uses so that all the writing they produce will be consistent. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.) 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.) The so-called “rules of writing” are not really rules at all. They may completely misinterpret something because they become confused. but we won’t be talking about those things here. (2) I work hard to understand and live up to the expectations that my audience has for correctness. (Some people even extend the term to handwriting and computer formatting. if I didn’t write. Correctness counts. Whether something is considered right or wrong often depends on who is doing the considering. This is not fair but it is common. always seeking to understand what is appearing on the page. “How do I know for sure that my writing is correct?” If I worried about figuring that out. Inc. (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. Last but not least.. but I’m sure many people could find many “mistakes” right here on this page. to see it clearly.com • Web www. 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. I’d never have energy left to write. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. it’s just not any fun to read writing that has many mistakes in it. readers may place a negative judgment on you and your ideas. they’re agreements between people in a society as to how written communication should look. Hmmm. but follow language toward meaning. I think of my all-time favorite quote about correctness in writing: “The writer should not follow rules.) 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. they find it hard to read your writing. and all writers should be aware of them. There’s a perception in our society.” It was written by a man named Donald Murray in a book he wrote called A Writer Teaches Writing. It’s the best piece of conventional wisdom I’ve ever heard. (Of course. but they exist nonetheless.. (To me. spelling. the energy and effort they expend in the process takes away much of their enjoyment. and that people who are not very smart are not worth listening to. (This is referred to as “publisher’s style.
com • Web www. In Chores. parentheses. When we speak we often speak in fragments. the writer has done a good job with outside punctuation. the dash. 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. When we talked about sentence fluency. Inside punctuation can be very tricky. Writing is all about communicating ideas.ttms. this is a matter of purpose and audience and not a hard and fast rule. every sentence reads clearly and correctly. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. For more information. Inc. she has taken care to do both of these things well. “Inside” punctuation that shows where parts of ideas begin and end. I never find myself confused as to where one idea ends and the next one begins. and I think they give writing more of the natural rhythm and flow of everyday human speech. Some people feel that sentence fragments are inappropriate in certain writing situations. or exclamation mark that shows the end.18 Punctuation. “Toilets!” in the second. her sentence structure becomes a bit more complicated. I like sentence fragments as long as they make sense and are clearly separated by correct outside punctuation from other complete sentences. which I tend to enjoy. In Chores. question mark. they don’t need to be split into parts in order to be more easily understood. we talked about how sentences are often made up of parts. She uses several commas correctly in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. and (2) Make sure the fragment has a clear and unambiguous meaning that readers will not misunderstand.) Personally. As with so many things in writing. the writer doesn’t use very much inside punctuation. the colon. In order to use sentence fragments effectively. sentences are how we package them. her sentences are very simple. This is what “outside” punctuation is for. and quotation marks. Later in the piece. Interestingly. To my ear. there are two parts of the piece where the writer is using “sentence fragments.org . Each sentence contains a complete thought. But readers can’t understand that chunk if they can’t figure out where it begins and where it ends. the apostrophe. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. In Chores. (A more technical term for it is “terminal” punctuation. The important marks of inside punctuation are the comma. (“Chores! Chores! Chores!” in the first paragraph. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. the semicolon.” groups of words punctuated as complete ideas even though they are not complete sentences. or for additional teaching materials. In the first three paragraphs. 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.) Outside punctuation includes the initial capital letter that shows the beginning of a sentence and the period. I call it “outside” punctuation because it is used on the outside parts of sentences. Writers use “inside” punctuation (also called “internal” punctuation) to show where those parts begin and end within a single sentence. when the writer uses fragments. and she uses a colon correctly in the fifth paragraph as well. Inside and Outside “Outside” punctuation that shows where ideas begin and end. one chunk of information the writer has written that the reader has to understand.
Most pieces don’t have this kind of one-topic-one-paragraph arrangement. Chores is a perfect example of this. that’s important. they are designed for efficient skimming because many newspaper readers do not like to read entire articles. Shorter paragraphs are easy to understand and when we encounter several in a row. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. newspaper headlines. For more information. A sentence is a single idea. we feel the pace of the piece quicken. I don’t find any errors.” Paragraphing that shows groups of related ideas. and so on. A paragraph is a collection of one or more sentences in which the ideas are closely related. is devoted exclusively to a particular sub-topic in the piece: all the sentences in paragraph two. they also slow down the pace. When alphabetic writing was invented there were no lowercase letters. manageable chunks. because it marks the beginning of a new idea. Some people say five. A paragraph can contain one sentence or a hundred and one (though most have between three and seven). and abbreviations. then. it seems like there are dozens of rules we use when capitalizing the titles of stories. it takes several paragraphs to cover something adequately. places. and things that are one of a kind. This has even been printed in books. of course. (We also capitalize the first word of a sentence. (There weren’t any vowels either but that’s another story. At times. Each paragraph. the sentences in paragraph three are about cleaning sinks.org . or for additional teaching materials. Inc. Paragraphs are extremely useful to readers because they break the piece into small. But then. Different types of writing tend to have different lengths of paragraphs.) Unfortunately. places. Novels tend to have shorter paragraphs than reference books. Something I hear from time to time in school is that a paragraph is supposed to have a certain number of sentences. are about cleaning toilets. lowercase letters came along in plenty of time to give 21st century writers plenty to think about in the area of capitalization.Capitalization and Paragraphs Capitalization for names. Shorter paragraphs are also easier to skim for readers who only want to read selected parts of a document. holds a small number of sentences that can be grouped together as a separate unit within the topic being covered. too. It’s simply not true. This is one of the reasons why newspaper stories have so many one sentence paragraphs. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. others say four. So how does the writer of Chores do with capitalization? She does well. and things that are one of a kind. 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. As we noted earlier.com • Web www.ttms. some say that you have to have at least three. Often. the titles of people. 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. excluding the introduction and conclusion. The basic thing to remember is this: Capital letters indicate that some words are more important than others. In general. But they are perfect for focusing a reader’s attention on something important. and because they highlight the organizational structure. for example. Newspaper stories have many paragraphs of only a single sentence. Which words are more important? Words in names. longer paragraphs are harder to understand. each paragraph. 19 © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. capitalization is not this simple.) In truth.
I don’t always trust myself to know for sure. or “Common Standard English” (CSE) as it is known more officially. • E-mail email@example.com • Web www. her writing had one or two spelling errors per sentence.ttms. In the United States. it just makes sense. And yet we all have to toe the line and spell our words just like Mr. you will probably need someone to check your writing and help you learn to fix it. Then. cleaning sinks. The writer did have a couple of grammar errors in the piece initially (“Scrubbing toilets. But if you didn’t. Then along came Noah Webster in the 19th century and he got it all straightened out — sort of. at the beginning of the 21st century. English spelling is absolutely ridiculous. But it probably sounded a bit unusual. she fixed them. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. She started by circling any words she wasn’t sure of. The grammar of Chores conforms to the grammar of Common Standard English. the grammar most people in school and in the business world would like you to use when you write is called “Standard English” grammar. I think. she did most of the correcting with pencil and paper before she used a spell checker. That’s why spell checkers in word processing programs are so helpful. If you grew up speaking this way. Inc. Her teacher and I were incredibly proud of her. and washing bathtubs take up a lot of my time and is not fun at all. (At least Microsoft Word said it was perfect when I ran it through the spell checker. 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. this won’t be too hard for you. what’s more.”) But with help. or for additional teaching materials. I think) lack the visual memory capabilities to memorize the correct spellings of the thousands of words most of us have in our vocabularies. As difficult as this can be at times. This writer was one of these people. Webster thought we should. Nobody could agree on much of anything and it seemed like everye other worde hade an extra “e” on the ende of it. yes? Is why we need rules because peoples can’t understanding each other? Did you get all that? You probably did. 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. how’s the spelling in Chores? Perfect. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. A small percentage of the population (about 1 in 10 people. 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. the little girl who wrote Chores was an abysmal speller. For more information.20 Spelling and Grammar Spelling that makes your writing easy to read. So how did she end up with perfect spelling in this piece? She worked at it — hard. English spelling was a mess.org . one of the worst I’ve ever worked with.) Interestingly enough. So. When I started working with her at the beginning of the school year. Just a few hundred years ago. she used a number of different strategies to get them corrected including using word resources on the walls in her classroom and a dictionary. And.
You know exactly how it should sound. They help us hammer out a precise idea. Without the convention of correct spelling. Your ideas are important. "love?" © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. love? What is this thing called. Without conventions. writing would be a mess. When you can’t be there to read your writing to someone else. Think of conventions as tools. And even if we all spelled each word the same way. They deserve to be read and to be understood exactly the way you intend. love? "What is this thing?" called Love. Think about how many more he could have written had he used a little “conventional” wisdom. Some people. don’t worry.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. Inc. love? "What is this?" Thing called. you hear it in your head first. when they think about conventions. If all this sounds a bit serious." this thing called. For more information. One of the most successful song writers of his day. when to slow down. Our voices would be muted because we’d never be able to make what we write match the way we talk. and chisel away at ambiguity. At first. writers would still have trouble getting their message across. when to speed up. when to go. Porter wrote literally dozens of hit songs. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. Conventions allow writers to specify the exact way a word or phrase should be interpreted by the reader.org . 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. nail down a topic. "Love?" "What is. But that’s not exactly right. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Conventions guide the reader through your writing by telling the reader when to stop. Without conventions we might be able to communicate very simple ideas and emotions in our writing. the more you’ll be able to make them work for you. conventions can help do the reading 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.com • Web www. and so on. think about rules. not rules. everything would run together. without the convention of punctuation. They make your writing sound just the way it sounded to you when you wrote it down. "What? Is this Thing?" called Love. conventions can seem like a big hassle.ttms. too. What is this thing called. but we wouldn’t be able to capture the rich rhythms of human speech. not rules. but the reader doesn’t. They help the reader understand exactly what the writer had in mind. What? Is this thing called love? What is this thing called. or for additional teaching materials. conventions have a lighter side. Whenever you write something. writers could never be sure if readers would be able to read the words they had written. Conventions are tools. If we didn’t put a space between each word.
Voice and ideas together often determine your word choice. How can anybody concentrate on all that and have any brain power left over to write? In truth. You can use all the wonderful words and smooth sentences you want. Where to from here? If your voice. for example. First things first. so most writers have to spend a lot of time here. Working on some things also improves others. All qualities are not created equal. this is the place to start. focus on your ideas and the order you’ve arranged them in. or for additional teaching materials. It’s relatively easy for someone else to correct any errors you may make in conventions. That’s why the best writers concentrate only on certain things at certain times. you may find that you already have a fairly strong piece in front of you. 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. a piece starts to percolate in the heart and mind of its creator. or you can skip those altogether and just go right to editing for conventions. 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 starts with a good topic. However.com • Web www. but if you don’t have anything interesting to say. Fixing up your conventions. © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. something you really care about. getting your ideas down and arranging them effectively is the next order of business. ideas. If you go back through the last 20 pages or so. or the computer keys start clacking. no one is going to read your writing anyway. When you have a good topic. Getting clear about your ideas improves your organization. will have a positive effect on sentence fluency. Good writing begins with the writer’s voice. Inc. after making sure that your voice is solid. Improving your voice improves your ideas. you have two choices: You can move ahead and take a closer look at your sentence fluency and word choice. conventions are the one part of writing you can always find someone to correct for you. and organization. It’s much harder for someone else to fix problems you may have with voice. and you know have good things to say about it.22 Putting it All Together So many things to think about. Where does good writing begin? Long before the pen hits the page. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Some qualities are more important than others. ideas.ttms. For more information. and the important things you want to say about it. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. especially in revision. If you’re having trouble with a piece. Focus on things in the best order. In revision. At this point.org . especially if you’re displaying strong feelings and using a lot of “showing” detail. Conventions are important to just about everyone. Along with voice. nobody can. particularly your “inside” and “outside” punctuation. Voice and ideas. You’ll get more done in less time and with better results. and organization are in good shape. are significantly more important than word choice and sentence fluency. a writer’s ideas and organization form the foundation of every successful piece. A solid foundation.
org . • E-mail stevepeha@aol. For more information.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. places. 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. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Inc.com • Web www. the word “I”.ttms. or for additional teaching materials. names.
) « I wrote this because… (The end of this sentence often makes a good ending.) « I wanted to write about this topic because… (The best things to write about are the things you choose yourself.) « The conventions I am learning are… (Make sure you try to correct these conventions.) « WORD CHOICE CRITERIA « SENTENCE FLUENCY 4 I wrote my piece in sentences.) « 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. Does each sentence sound right? 4 I used words that sound good when you read them together. Are there any words in your piece that you don’t understand? 4 I used some interesting words that you’ll remember.) part stands out. 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. too. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Which words sound the best? 4 My writing sounds good when I read it out loud.) « You should remember my piece because… (This can make a good ending. too. Why do you like it? Why will your audience like it? 4 I really care about my topic.) « 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 sounding words in my piece are… (Think about the sounds in these words and why they sound so good. or for additional teaching materials. and my audience will like it. the more fun your audience will have. 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.) « The feelings I have about this piece are… (Make sure you CRITERIA 4 My writing has an important message. 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 most important part of my piece is… (Make sure this « IDEAS CRITERIA « VOICE 4 I like this piece. Make it a complete sentence. Why do you care about it so much? Did you put that in the piece? 4 You can tell exactly how I feel. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.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. Which details are the most interesting? 4 I wrote this for a good reason. 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. Inc. the more your audience will probably like it. For more information.com • Web www.) write those feelings down.) different things you did to make your piece more correct. How do you feel about this topic? Did you write that down? COMPLETIONS « I like this piece because… (The more you like it.ttms.) « The best sounding sentence in my piece is… (Try to write other sentences that sound like this one. What’s the one most important thing you want the audience to know? 4 I included lots of interesting details. ) « The most interesting thing about my topic is… (Sometimes it’s good to move this part up to the beginning of the piece. 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.) « The best words in my piece are… (Try to include at least one or two interesting words if you can. What will the audience want to know about? 4 My ending will make you think about something important. How did you know which words to capitalize? 4 I did my best to spell each word correctly. What do you want your audience to think about? 4 I put everything in the best order. then get some help. Which words are the most interesting? 4 I used just the right words to say exactly what I wanted to say. What did you do CRITERIA 4 I used words that I know and understand.org .
question marks. How does the beginning catch the audience’s attention? Why would the audience want to read more? 4 Feels finished at the end. 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. 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. Are 4 Paragraphing. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. 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. seem inappropriate? « WORD CHOICE « SENTENCE FLUENCY 4 Variety in sentence beginnings. rhyme. 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. 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. parentheses. and original. authentic.The “What is Good Writing?” Organizer For Maturing Writers « ORGANIZATION 4 Catches the audience’s attention at the start. 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 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. and things that are one of a kind? 4 Strong verbs that tell how actions are performed. Where are the author’s strongest statements? How can you tell that the author is saying what he or she really thinks? 4 Individual. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Is the writer 4 An important main idea. too hard to understand. For more information. Where has the author used rhythm. 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. If the writing has spelling mistakes. 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. sounds great when read aloud. makes the audience think. 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.com • Web www. 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. 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. colons. 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. 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.” not just telling. 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. How can you tell that the author cares about the topic? Where can you find evidence of strong opinions? 4 Strong feelings. makes them want to read more. too formal.org .ttms. Where has the author used strong verbs? What makes them effective? 4 Adjectives and adverbs that make things more specific. 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”. and other “sound” effects. honest statements. as well as names. How does the ending make the piece feel finished? What does it make the audience think about? 4 Parts arranged in the best order. Which words and phrases do you remember? Why are they so memorable? 4 Words and phrases used accurately and effectively. dashes. 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. or for additional teaching materials. Where does the author use “showing” details? How does the “showing” help to improve the audience’s understanding? 4 A clear and meaningful purpose. rhyme. Has the author used periods. 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. 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. places. How does the author move 4 Something surprising or unusual that works. Which details are the most interesting? How do they help the audience understand the main idea? 4 “Showing. alliteration. Inc. if any. 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? 4 Capitalization.
Ideas that are interesting andIdea Details ”Showing” Purpose Surprises important. Punctuation © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.ttms.org . Main Organization that is logical and effective. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Topic Feelings Individuality Personality Appropriateness Word Choice that is specific and memorable. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. smooth Expression Effects Structure Conventions that are correct Capitalization Paragraphing Spelling Grammar and communicative. Inc. Verbs Modifiers Memorable Accurate Appropriate Sentence Fluency that isBeginnings Length and expressive. Leads Endings Sequencing Pacing Transitions Goodthese qualities… Writing Has all of Voice that is individual and appropriate.com • Web www. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.
© Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. SENTENCE FLUENCY that makes it fun to read out loud. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. WORD CHOICE that says what I mean.ttms.com • Web www. ORGANIZATION readers can follow easily.Goodthese qualities… Writing Has all of Interesting IDEAS readers want to know about. My own personal VOICE that sounds just like me. Inc. Correct CONVENTIONS everyone can read. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.org .
Interesting details. 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. What is surprising or unusual about the writing? How does this differ from other things you’ve read? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.Ideas Interesting & Important An important main idea. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. 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.com • Web www.” not just telling. 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 . For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Inc.ttms.
• E-mail stevepeha@aol.Ideas Fun & Interesting! You might learn something new! My piece has an important message.ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. The one most important thing I want my audience to know is… I included lots of interesting details. I wrote this because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. The most interesting thing about my topic is… I wrote this for a good reason.org .com • Web www. Inc.
• E-mail stevepeha@aol. Inc.com • Web www. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.ttms. How does the ending make audience think about? Arranged inthe different parts of order. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Why would the at the audience’s attention? How does the beginning audience want to read more? Logical & Effective Feels finished at the end.Organization Catches the audience’s attention catch the start. How does the author move from part to part? How do these transitions work? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. makes the audiencethe piece feel finished? What does it make the think.org . Why does places where the author moves ahead too quickly or hangs on too long? Easy to follow from part to part. 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.
org .ttms. You will remember my piece because… I put everything in the best order. The most important part of my piece is… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.My beginning will make you want to read more.com • Web www. Inc. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. 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. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.
Voice Individual & Appropriate The author cares about the topic. Is theHow can using tell?appropriate toneif for this situation? you Which parts. 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. Displays a definite and well developed personality. Individual. Inc. honest statements.com • Web www. authentic. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. any. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. and original. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. seem inappropriate? © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.ttms.org . How can you tell that the author cares about the topic? Where can you find evidence of strong opinions? Strong feelings.
I wanted to write about this topic because… You can tell exactly how IThe feelings I have feel. about this topic are… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.ttms.com • Web www. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. too! I like this piece because… Voice My topic! My feelings! My choice! I really care about my topic.I like this piece. and my audience will like it. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Inc.org . • E-mail stevepeha@aol.
Inc. too formal.ttms. too hard to understand. 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.org . • E-mail stevepeha@aol. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.Word Choice Strong verbs that tell how actions are performed.com • Web www.or phrases that are too and Are there any words Is the language casual. do you remember? Why are they so memorable? Which words and phrases Words and phases used accurately and effectively. 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. Words and phases you can remember.
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.org . I used interesting words that you’ll remember. • E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I chose these words because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. Inc.com • Web www.I used words that I know and understand. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.
rhyme. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.Sentence Musical Fluency Variety in sentence beginnings. rhyme. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. 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.sameorlengthsentences? Do inlengthorandany patterns? Does his her you notice the author use the or structure two three consecutive Easy to read expressively.com • Web www. and other “sound” effects. alliteration. sounds most expressive parts? What is it about how they sound that great read aloud. Smooth and Expressive Variety in sentence length and Does the author vary the structure of structure. makes them so much fun to read out loud? Where has the author used rhythm. Inc. 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.ttms. What are the Rhythm.org . • E-mail stevepeha@aol.
org The coolest sounding words in my piece are… . My writing sounds good when I read it out loud.com • Web www.ttms. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. My piece is fun to read because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha. Inc.I wrote my piece in sentences. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. 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.
as well as names.com • Web www. colons. 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. letters in ways that make sense to the Has the author used capital Paragraphing. Inc.org . audience? Is it easy to tell where new ideas begin? Has the author capitalized the word “I”.ttms. parentheses. Spelling. • E-mail stevepeha@aol. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials. 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. dashes. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. question marks.Conventions “Outside” punctuation. “Inside” punctuation. Has the author used periods. places. 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 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.
• E-mail stevepeha@aol. You I edited my piece because… © Copyright 1996-2003 by Steve Peha.I started my sentences with capitals and put periods at the end.ttms. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense.com • Web www. For more handouts like this one and other great teaching materials.org The conventions I am learning are… . Inc. The conventions I know are… Conventions Everyone Can Read It! I used capitals for the word “I” and the names of people and places. I did my best to spell each wordcan tell correctly.
and corrections to: stevepeha@ttms. or other resources. I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly with answers. questions. Inc.24 Let’s work together to make your teaching the best it can be.ttms. For more information. Send me an e-mail any time you have a question.org .com • Web www. please contact: Teaching That Makes Sense. Please send suggestions. or for additional teaching materials. additional teaching materials. Please contact me any time! Even the best workshops and teaching materials can’t meet the needs of every teacher all the time.org © 1995-2002 by Steve Peha. That’s why we need to stay in touch. • E-mail stevepeha@aol.
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