Monday 19 February 2018

How to write a good composition piece

Grab readers' attention in the first paragraph of any writing assignment.
Grab readers' attention in the first paragraph of any writing assignment.

Fifteen steps on how to write a good composition piece.

1 Write to communicate, not to impress. You write to inform or entertain an audience (the reader). Don't indulge yourself. Have something to say. Don't waffle.

2 Have a clear sense of purpose, format and audience. Newspaper/magazine articles employ headlines and sub-headlines; a speech must begin and end by acknowledging the presence of listeners, and all discussions must have a sequence of paragraphs that develop the points made and provide a sense of unity.

3 Be well-informed. Read widely: newspapers, magazines and books of all kinds. Watch television intelligently; consider what you are seeing and hearing. Listen to 'talk' radio programmes and engage with the issues being debated. Understand and have as many different points of view on all kinds of issues.

4 Learn to write by writing. Practice writing a little every day. Push yourself. Do not just write the bare minimum. If you hear something being debated on radio, write down your own argument in response. Keep a personal journal and write a few paragraphs every day: the discipline of this will be a great asset too.

5 Think out a sentence before you write it down. Pause after every paragraph and read back over what you have just written. Ask yourself, is this point really relevant to the question being asked? Always, always, always read over the finished version of what you are going to submit.

6 Be a stern critic of your own work. When you are reading over what you have written, consider how you might improve it. Is every word necessary or are some extra padding? Is everything consistent with the point you are trying to make? Think of ways in which you could have done better. Identify words you tend to misspell and learn them (eg 'seperate' instead of the correctly spelled 'separate'). Identify if you write long, rambling sentences, and make them more succinct. Learn from your mistakes.

7 If you are told that you have specific problems with grammar, listen to the advice and make the necessary changes. Advice is given to help rather than to diminish you.

8 Develop a clear understanding of grammatical structure, use of paragraphs, linking paragraphs, etc.

9 Keep it simple. Do not try to write like someone else: make it sound like yourself.

10 Variety is the essence of good writing. Here are some ways to inject variety into your composition:

* Vary sentence length and sentence structure; use occasional short, clinching sentences.

* Vary paragraph length (but avoid a series of very short paragraphs).

* Aim for the 'right' word rather than the 'big' word.

* Do not begin too many sentences with 'I'; vary the way you open sentences.

* Vary your vocabulary and especially your verbs, the most important word in a sentence.

* Enliven some sentences with metaphor or simile, but avoid cliche – 'sick as a parrot', 'over the moon'.

* Anecdotes, stories and dialogue can breathe life into an essay; stories of personal experience are always interesting.

11 A good paragraph should include all of the following ingredients:

* Think the paragraph through before writing to ensure that you communicate ideas clearly.

* Begin with a sentence that motivates or drives the paragraph. This is called the topic or thesis sentence.

* Think of the paragraph as a mini-essay, with a beginning, middle and end.

* Aim for unity and a main idea (topic sentence clearly defined, and supporting sentences/ examples).

* All sentences in a paragraph must relate logically to each other.

* Make sure that there is a link between one sentence and the next so that the reader can follow your thoughts.

* Grab readers' attention in the first paragraph of any writing assignment.

* Avoid vague or definition-style openings.

* Know useful 'linking phrases' between paragraphs (see panel).

12 Provide an interesting conclusion. Reflect first on the way you opened the composition and then consider one of the following ways to bring the composition to a conclusion: summary; assessment; consequences; implications; personal response; question; advice; punchline.

13 Quality is always more important than quantity. Five or six or seven pages of verbiage (waffle) will not impress.

14 Do not use self-conscious expressions. 'I hope to prove' or 'I feel I have clearly shown'. Be decisive: don't fudge with expressions like 'It's only my opinion, but. . .' Stand by your ideas.

15 Presentation is important. A neat, clear, legible essay will help to impress a reader – or an examiner.

Linking paragraphs

There are a number of connective (transitional) words that help link a paragraph with the previous one. The most frequently used (often over-used) are: and, but, yet, nor, so, for.

To point forward or elaborate: first, second, finally, then, for example, further, moreover, next, in addition.

To assert a consequence or result: accordingly, consequently, thus, therefore, in conclusion, as a result, for these reasons.

To point backwards: meanwhile, recently, formerly, before that, from this.

To concede: of course, even so, granted, admittedly, still, after all.

To stress similarities: similarly, likewise, at the same time, in a comparable way.

To emphasise: to be sure, indeed, certainly, clearly.

To contrast: even so, however, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, in contrast, on the other hand, although, though.

Irish Independent Supplement

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