Almost 50 Rules of Writing


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All my advice from teaching and writing for 30 years.

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Almost 50 Rules of Writing

  1. 1. Mr. Gibbs’s DO’s and DON’Ts for Writing 1. DO Understand the book or topic before beginning a final draft. It is OK to be bewildered while writing rough drafts 2. DO write outlines, notes, bubble-maps, or whatever works best for you when planning your essay 3. DO write fluently and without regard for final appearances with working on rough drafts. What is important is to get your thoughts recorded in whatever order they come to you 4. DO write down everything you think of when working on rough drafts, regardless of its ultimate sense or use. Sometimes good ideas are hidden behind the silly ones in front 5. DO consider writing more in your rough draft than you will need in your final draft. The act of condensing your writing often aids in sharpening it 6. DO read and reread your rough drafts to yourself. Read them aloud if possible. The sound of a sentence can tell you a lot about its power and balance. Good writing sounds conversational and fluent. If the essay read aloud sounds stiff and mechanical, it probably is 7. DO either step away from your rough drafts for a while and then return; and/or have a friend or relative proofread your rough drafts for you 8. DO decide what ideas in your rough draft you intend to keep and organize them in order of importance. Put the most important things first Building a finished draft 9. Good expository essays generally have a beginning, middle, and end. They may not be of the traditional five-paragraph-theme variety, but they still have linear progressive development, and each segment of the essay generally addresses certain aspects of a finished piece o The beginning generally sets tone, introduces the issues, and states a thesis o The middle is generally the detailed argument, analysis, or discussion of the opening issues; evidence from the book or topic in question is brought to light and analyzed so that it defends the author’s thesis and beliefs o The end generally brings the discussion to a satisfactory close with final statements or solutions 10.DO identify a central thesis for your paper, and remain focused on it 11.DO state your thesis clearly, strongly, forcefully, confidently 12.DO support this thesis with every word of your essay. All subsequent paragraphs must address aspects of your thesis 13.DO support all claims with hard evidence. Don’t say anything you can’t back up with evidence from the story or the topic of discussion 14.DO begin paragraphs with a topic sentence that gives focus to the paragraph 15.DO write paragraphs that fully develop a central topic. This requires at least several sentences. Short and one-sentence paragraphs may work well and have significant impact in a creative narrative or descriptive writing. Short paragraphs often do not work well in an expository essay where argumentation and analysis generally require more development 16.DO NOT write run-on paragraphs. When a new main idea is introduced, start a new paragraph 17.DO avoid parasitic qualifiers like very, really, rather, quite 18.It is most correct and preferred that one write about novels in the present tense Stories captured in words live in the eternal present and discussion of them in the same tense sounds best. It is not wrong to write in the past tense 19.DON'T shift tense 20.Avoid using the informal second-person pronoun "You" in a formal essay. "You" is a casual and direct address to one reader alone. Instead, use first person, “I,” or third person, “readers.” EX: It is more precise to say, “I pitied Caesar,” or “Readers pity Caesar,” that to
  2. 2. say “You pity Caesar.” (for all you know, the one person reading your essay does not pity Caesar) 21.DON'T clutter essays with opinion qualifiers, such as "I think," "I believe," "I feel," "In my opinion," and so on. An expository essay by definition is the author’s opinion. To state it directly in the essay is redundant 22.DON’T talk about your essay in your essay. Talk about your subject 23.DON'T write with fragments and run-ons 24.DO use words and not symbols. Use the word "and," not the ampersand symbol "&" or the plus sign "+"; use "with" not "w/" and so on 25.DON'T begin body paragraphs with “My first reason is…” and “My second reason is…” and so on. This isn’t a math assignment 26.DON’T begin your final paragraph with "In conclusion..." for the same reason 27.Know your homonyms -- know no from know, too from to, their from there 28.Know your apostrophes – cats, cat’s, and cats’ are all correct when used correctly, and vice versa 29.DON'T avoid using a big word, if it's the right word, simply because you can't spell it. Speaking for myself only, I do not mind a misspelled word if it’s a long one that fits beautifully 30.DON’T misspell short simple words. That shows a lack of proofreading 31.Proofread. Simple mistakes bother me more than complex ones 32.Omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words! External Design 33.DO write original, creative essay titles that hint at your thesis. DON'T write generic essay titles like Caesar essay or Medea essay 34.DO NOT capitalize all letters in all words in an essay title 35.In an essay title capitalize the first letters of all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and all prepositions of four or more letters 36.DO NOT underline an essay title 37.DO NOT put quotation marks around an essay title unless it is a quote by someone other than yourself 38.It is OK to write your title in a larger boldface font. Do not make it too large 39.DO have clear margins on all sides of a paper 40.DO not write or print on the back side of an essay 41.If a cover page is requested, put the following on a cover page: essay title, name, date, period, class 42.Generally, a cover page is expected if the essay is three or more pages long 43.DO put the same information found on the cover page onto the first page of an essay 44.DO put your name on each page of your essay next to the page number 45.DO start ¼ down the first page. This leaves me room to write comments and makes it clear where the essay begins 46.DON'T turn in anything less than your best work