How do I get started?

Make sure you understand the writing assignment instructions. Look for key words in order to determine your purpose in writing:

  • Analyze: To identify the parts of a subject and discuss how they work together
  • Argue: To give reasons and support them with evidence (An argument either convinces someone of your position or persuades someone to take action.)
  • Compare: To look for similarities
  • Contrast: To look for differences
  • Critique: To point out both the positive and negative
  • Define: To explain the meaning of a term or concept
  • Describe: To tell what something or someone looks like; also, to give an account of
  • Discuss: To look at the pros and cons of something
  • Evaluate: To judge the quality of something according to clear criteria
  • Explain: To make clear something that is not known or understood
  • Illustrate: To make clear by using example, comparisons, graphs, charts, pictures
  • Interpret: To bring out meanings not immediately apparent; subjective judgments
  • Justify: To argue in support of something
  • Narrate: To tell a story or to relate a series of events
  • Outline: To organize and explain according to category or important points
  • Prove: To establish as true by using logic, facts, and examples
  • Report: To survey, organize, and objectively present available evidence
  • Review: To reexamine the main points of something
  • Summarize: To state the main points in a text, theory, or other work
  • Trace: To show a sequence of how or why something happens
  • Determine whether your subject is specific or general. If it is general, look at your interests and experiences in order to select a specific topic. What subjects do you already know something about? What have you read, viewed, or heard that interests you? What is important to you? Which subjects would you like to better understand?
  • Determine who your audience is. Consider as many of the following as are relevant to your subject: educational level, age, sex, occupation, social status, economic status, ethnic background, political beliefs, moral values, and general concerns.
  • Discover ideas by using any of the following methods: freewriting, brainstorming (listing), clustering, using the journalists' questions (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?), journal keeping, observing. If research is required for the paper, keep a research journal with dated entries. Write about the following: sources you consult, sources you may want to find, difficulties or problems you encounter, new directions in which you may want to go with your research. The research journal is for tracking and developing your own ideas.
  • Narrow the subject to a question. Ask a specific, focused question. For example, "What are the advantages of online classes?" Or you may ask, "What similar character traits do Ma Joad and Tom Joad have in The Grapes of Wrath?" Or "Why do microalgae emit toxins?"
  • If research is required for the paper, the information you find in sources can also help you to narrow the subject.

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