Archive | October, 2012

Writing an Introduction: The Map

31 Oct

The introduction is essentially the map for your entire essay but since the hook and the thesis statement have a unique role to play, the bulk of your introduction will function as the directions for your entire paper.


Also referred to as background, this part of your introduction should be 1-2 sentences ONLY. The context sentences are going to provide the larger framework and/or the significance of the topic at hand. Looking back at the assignment and paying special attention to the content requirements and the verbs should be all you need to write this section.


These next 2-4 sentences (this number is entirely dependent on the length of the paper and the instructions from your teacher; if in doubt, ask) are the beginning of the thread of your argument and therefore, can be difficult to write. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – do NOT write your introduction or conclusion until you’ve completed the rest of your paper.

The context and the map will undoubtedly blend but it’s important to note the distinction. The map section will be YOUR take on your subject. You’ll want to let the reader know how you intend to discuss or analyze your topic.


“A good introduction will:

 show that you are going to answer the question or complete the task
 show that you understand the issues and their implications
 show how you are going to do this by indicating the structure of your answer and making clear the main areas that     you are going to write about (your plan).
 show evidence that you have carried out some research by making a reference to one of your sources
 be totally relevant
 be concise: 8-9% of the total number of words is usually recommended (eg 120 words in a 1500 word assignment).”

The Writing Center is open from Mon-Fri 2:30-4:30pm. You can sign up in the Library – main counter – or email me a day/time at


Writing an Introduction: The Hook

29 Oct

Once you’ve completed the bulk of your essay, it’s time to tackle the introduction and the conclusion. These are the two parts of the essay that students tell me they have the toughest time with so I’m  going to spend some time breaking down each one into their specific parts.

What is the point? Why do we need to have an introduction?

Many students have asked me these questions (or some form of them) over the years and the answer is simple: the introduction provides a map of your entire essay. We can’t get to our destination (the conclusion) without knowing which roads to take (body paragraphs).

Even though the introduction will likely be the smallest paragraph (not a hard & fast rule so don’t quote me), it is comprised of several parts. Today’s post will be dedicated to the hook.


The hook is a sentence or two that’s going to draw your readers in and make them want to keep reading.

Imagine if Fahrenheit 451 started off with something like “It’s the future and books are outlawed and sometimes get burned?” Yikes, that’s terrible!

“It was a pleasure to burn” is simple yet complex and sets the stage for the entire novel. A perfect hook.

Because the hook does provide a framework of sorts, it’s best to wait until you’re done (or close to done) with your paper before writing your hook.

Let’s start with some simple DONT’S

– Don’t use a definition. I know it can be tempting to start off an essay with “Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding or book-burning as in Fahrenheit 451.” But really don’t. It’s been done & done again and while a definition does help provide a framework, a definition is not going to sound like you because, well, it isn’t.

– Don’t be obscure. Yes, your teacher will know that you’re writing about Fahrenheit 451 but you’ll still want to be clear, even in your hook. Stay away from sentences like “The big plot point is that Montag changes his mind about books.” Yawn, right? Plus for someone that’s never read the novel, this sentence will make absolutely zero sense.

– Don’t be obvious. On the flip side of the above is being too obvious. Ignore the want to write something like “The novel is about book burning and the effect of that on society.” While (kinda sorta but not really) correct, obvious sentences are boring and simplistic.

– Don’t go back in time. Stay within the parameters of your topic as much as possible. Offering up sentences like “When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, he couldn’t have imagined that a society may consider burning books.” It can be an easy go-to to reach back in time in an attempt to connect your argument to a larger concept but be careful in doing so; you will always want to remain relevant to your topic.

Those are the basic don’ts though the list can certainly be expanded. Do you have any other don’ts when it comes to writing hooks?

Now that you know what to avoid, let’s work on…


Write down the answers to these questions:

1) What is the most interesting thing about your paper?

2) What did you learn about the subject that you didn’t know before writing this essay?

3) Did you discover anything shocking or controversial in your analysis of the subject?

If you don’t yet see a hook (or an idea for a hook) emerging, then ask someone else to read your paper and have them answer these questions.

Once you’ve distilled your paper down to the most interesting elements, you now just need to decide how to craft it. Check out the possible ideas here or here.

Sherman Alexie at the Schnitz

25 Oct
Sherman Alexie

The Everybody Reads 2013 selections are two books by Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Ten Little Indians.

In partnership with Multnomah County Library and The Library FoundationLiterary Arts is pleased to announce an upcoming event with Sherman Alexie at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This live lecture is the culmination of the community reading project.

Sherman Alexie is one of today’s most captivating and popular writers whose poignant and emotionally resonant stories about Native Americans have won several major literary awards. TheNew York Times has said that in Alexie’s “warm, revealing, invitingly roundabout stories, the central figures come in all shapes and sizes, sharing their wry perspectives on Indian life off the reservation.”If you’re not familiar with Alexie or his work, listen to his engaging conversation with Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud.

We hope you, your friends and neighbors will join us on March 12, 2013 to hear the author discuss his masterful work which has been inspired by his own experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Prices: $15 – $45


For book group reservations of 8 or more please download our Group Order Form or call us at503.227.2583. Group prices reflect a 30% savings.

Everybody Reads Sponsors
Reblogged from Literary Arts

ORCA: Revising the Rough Draft

23 Oct

You’ve got the words on the page and are now ready to fine-tune your way to a final draft. To keep it simple and easy to remember, I separated the steps and created a mnemonic device – ORCA.


Gather up your paragraphs (how-to provided in this post) and don’t worry yet if you’re not sure which order they’ll appear in the essay; you’ll figure out the overall organization later.

Underline or highlight the topic sentence of each paragraph. If you don’t have one, write it now.

Think of your topic sentence as a puzzle in that there are going to be at least 2-3 pieces that comprise the sentence. Highlight (different colors) or circle the pieces of your topic sentence puzzle.

Read over the remaining sentences and decide which puzzle piece they belong to – start copying and pasting these pieces into a logical order.

Do this for each paragraph and at the end you should have coherent and unified body paragraphs that all relate to their respective topic sentences.


Read each sentence aloud and take a pause after each one to ask yourself a couple of questions: (1) does it make sense? (2) does it bolster the claim made in the topic sentence? and (3) does it fit with the sentence before AND after it?

Here’s the time to organize your paragraphs into the order in which they’ll appear in your essay. By now it should be obvious but if you’re still not sure, try different configurations until you find one that makes sense.

This is also the time to make sure each paragraph has a transitional sentence. I covered this topic in a previous post.


Now it’s time to look at the bigger picture rather than the minutiae covered in the first two steps. Read over your essay & ask yourself these questions: (1) does each paragraph help to prove your thesis? (2) does each paragraph help bolster the one before AND after it? (3) are your ideas clear?

By this point, you’re likely sick of reading the same words over and over so get someone else to read it. It’s so easy to gloss over mistakes and confusing bits when the words are your own and you’ve read it so many times.

(Writing Center plug: We’re here Mon-Fri 2:30-4:30pm. You can sign up in the Library – main counter – or email me a day/time at


This is the time for all the nit-picky things. I’d recommend the first thing you do is read the assignment again & make sure that EVERY requirement is satisfied within your paper. This way you can write and/or delete if needed.

Read your paper (again!) but this time look for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.


Yay, you made it! I know that the above may seem a little daunting but if you have the luxury of time then just split the steps up into several days. If you’re pressed for time, the above will save you hours of agonizing, I promise.

Next posts will be about the (dreaded though necessary) introduction and conclusion.


22 Oct

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month happens every November! It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants writing event where the challenge is to complete an entire novel in just 30 days. For one month, you get to lock away your inner editor, let your imagination take over, and just create!

That means participants begin writing November 1 and must finish by midnight, November 30. The word-count goal for our adult program is 50,000 words, but the Young Writers Program (YWP) allows 17-and-under participants to set reasonable, yet challenging, individual word-count goals.

In 2011, 250,000 adults participated through our main site, and 50,000 young writers participated through the YWP.

Sign Up!


Step-by-Step Guide:

How Does NaNoWriMo Work for Young Writers?

Reblogged from

Roughing It

16 Oct

You’ve done the pre-writing and are now ready to write your rough draft. You sit down with pen & paper or in front of a computer and you wait…for inspiration, for that first perfect sentence, for something to emerge.

Starting a rough draft can be intimidating, especially if you procrastinated and don’t really have time for a rough draft – don’t do this next time & you too can avoid this freak-out. The first hurdle is to silence your inner editor.

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

You want to silence your inner editor for now, not forever. You’re going to need this helper for your next draft(s). But, for the rough draft, ignore that voice that’s asking you “Are you sure that makes sense? or” “Is that spelled right?” or anything that will halt you.

Try these steps to get the words on the page (that’s the main goal here):

1) Open that new file or pull out that blank piece of paper. Write down one of your sub-topics (if you’ve done some pre-writing, you should have several to choose from) at the top of the page.

2) Set a timer for 15 minutes.

3) WRITE! Just write and don’t stop at all. Think about this sub-topic and write every single idea that comes to mind even if you end up going off on tangents. Let it go there.

4) Rinse and repeat steps 1-3 for your remaining sub-topics. The standard essay you all write typically has 3-5 body paragraphs so at the most you’ll be doing the free-writing thing for 75 minutes. Not so bad, eh?

5) Take a break. But you don’t want it to be too long. Say 3 minutes for every sub-topic.

Next post will be about starting the revising process and writing the introduction & the conclusion.

IB Extended Essay Conferences

15 Oct

Hey IB Seniors,

Don’t forget this Wednesday, October 17th from 8-10am to come to the Library for IB Extended Essay Conferences. and be sure to bring your outline (or what you have thus far).

If you still need an outline template, you can pick one up at the Writing Center table or clicking here.

See you then!

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