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The Essential Elements of Higher-Level Writing

The title of this article may seem to run counter to all the lip services I pay to individualizing one's approach to writing, but the bottom line is that for many writing assessments, especially higher-level writing, there is specific structure and stylistic elements that, if followed, will improve your child's grades. The reality is that teachers have a preconceived notion of what constitutes a good paper. The following are some core elements that, in the eyes of the powers that be, any good advanced paper should have.

The Five-Paragraph Essay: Mr. S, my high school English teacher, would drop dead from the irony of my recommending this to others, but I must admit that being forced to write this way made me a better writer. The five-paragraph essay is the traditional academic model for essay writing that will be expected in college and is pretty self-explanatory. It consists of an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs that develop the thesis of the paper, and a conclusion.

Thesis: This is the central idea that any paper will explore. It is important that in any higher-level writing assignment you take the time to help your child develop a clear thesis statement. The hard thing about developing a thesis is that it occurs over time and often changes as the writing starts. A good thesis consists of a subject (topic) and an assertion (argument). The key is to get both as specific as possible. A good subject is one idea/concept. The "assertion" is an argument that is phrased in the active voice.

Main Points: Main points are the supporting ideas that help your child argue or develop her thesis. It is important that these are broad enough to become paragraphs in their own right. A good solid standard paper has three main points, each one a paragraph, in which each paragraph develops a specific element of the thesis.

Topic Sentences: These are more specific than main points, and usually go at the beginning of each paragraph. A topic sentence states the main point of each paragraph and its relevance to the paper's thesis, and in turn to the paper as a whole.

Supporting Details: Each main point will have three supporting details. These are usually three sentences that come after the topic sentence and again are more specific points that develop the main point of the paragraph.

Transition Sentences: These usually come at the end of the paragraph and function both as a conclusion or summaries to the paragraph and a connection to the main point and topic sentence of the next paragraph.

Introduction/Conclusion: These are the first and last paragraphs of a paper respectfully. The introduction states the thesis and the other main ideas of the paper. The conclusion restates these ideas as a summary and then goes a little further to extrapolate the broader relevance of these ideas.

Use this template to help your child get started.

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