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Formal Writing Rules | Writing Process | Books on Writing | News Article

"A central goal of the Writing strand is to promote students’ growth as confident writers and researchers who can communicate competently using a range of forms and styles to suit specific purposes and audiences and correctly applying the conventions of language – grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation...students develop the ability to think and write clearly and effectively./ Writing, from initial musings to final publication, is a complex process that involves a range of complementary thinking and composing skills, as well as other language processes, including reading, speaking, and listening. As writers compose, they consider their audience; make decisions about form, style, and organization; and apply their knowledge of language use." (Ontario Curriculum 2007)

Good readers make good writers. Writers across all genres (fiction, poetry, drama, screenwriting, nonfiction) know the importance of the writing process.

Rules of Formal Writing (bit.ly/mrgo3rules)
  • a) Write in the third person (avoid I, we, us, our, you, your). Even for quotations - use [ ] to make them fit into your sentence.
    • Example: Original text: "I am thirty...a girl of thirty is virtually on the shelf" (51)
    • With analysis: When Zhang has Shanshan reveal that "[she is] thirty... [and] virtually on the shelf" (51), the author explores the perceptions of unwed women of a certain age from the opening of the story.

  • b) Stay in the present tense (even for quotations - use [ ] to make them fit into your sentence). Exception: referring to historical events. Example: Zhang creates a rebellious character in Shanshan when she asks her suitor, Qiao Lin, "why [he loves her]" (51).

  • c) Use Academic Tone: heightened, sophisticated vocabulary (no things, stuff, bad, good). Avoid slang/informal language such as contractions (can't, don't)

  • d) Use proper MLA format Cite all quotations (page #, act/scene/line, paragraph #)

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The Writing Process - bit.ly/mrgowriting(see also The Writing Process from Purdue's OWL)

1. Brainstorm
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2. Develop a Thesis (or Topic Sentence if writing a GERRC paragraph)
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3. Develop an Outline
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4. Draft 1
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5. Edit 1: Logic, Depth, Evidence
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6. Draft 2
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7. Edit 2: Style (vocab, rhetorical devices, mechanical errors)
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8. Polish Final Draft
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9. Reflection


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Suggested Reading (EHSS Library Call Numbers)

  • Basics of the Essay (from OWL@Purdue)
  • Writer's Inc -comprehensive student tips for writing and reading (808.042 SEB)
  • Fit to Print - useful tips and example essays (808.042 BUC)
  • Canadian Content useful writing strategies for all types of essay and example essays (808.0427)
  • Act of Writing useful writing strategies for all types of essay and example essays (808.0427 CON)


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#1. Brainstorming:
  • Try mindmapping (there are even apps to help) to "prewrite" ideas and categorize as you develop arguments. Here are some apps (most should have an apple equivalent).

  • Use the Library Databases (UN/PWs at front of student agenda) to help research any relevant contextual background (chronological era, geographical or cultural allusions, author's biography). Be sure to use the cite or citation tool to record the MLA bibliographic info onto a digital notetaker:
    • Biography in Context (great for author bios)
    • Britannica Online (general reference)
    • Literary Reference Centre (extensive literary-reference database)
    • GALE Virtual Reference (mini library of specialized books on a range of topics)

  • Consider the notecard method so that you can gather like-ideas to help develop a good three-pronged topic sentence for the GERRC ¶ or a three-pronged thesis for a longer essay).

  • Organize your ideas into three groups and label each group an umbrella term. Ensure that these umbrella terms connect to a major opinion or central idea about your topic.

[[media type=youtube key=UAhRf3U50lM height=200 width=300 width="300" height="200"]]

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2. Develop a Thesis (bit.ly/mrgothesis) appropriate for the type of essay you are asked to write (persuasive, descriptive, personal, comparative). Use your "umbrella" terms from brainstorming to help you craft a focused thesis that outlines an opinion and three subarguments that support that overall idea. More details on Thesis writing here.

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#3. Develop an Outline : be sure to craft a strong introduction once you have established a clear thesis. To help shape the body of your essay, using a graphic organizer.

  • Introduction
    • Introduce the analysis with a general overview of the topic
    • Include the title and author in the opening. Use MLA rules for titles: short pieces (e.g., Short Stories, poems) enclose in quotation marks (e.g., "The Raven Steals the Light", "Meditation XVII", "Love Must Not Be Forgotten"), but italicize full length works bound by a cover (e.g., The Storyteller, Mythic Voices, Sightlines 10, Life of Pi, The Chrysalids, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress).
    • Tips on writing a good **introduction paragraph**

  • Body GERRC Paragraphs (Junior, Senior)
    • Try using full sentences and be sure to include direct quotations in the body. Generally, arrange your arguments as follows. Where a), b), and c) are the body GERRC paragraphs,
      • a) strongest point
      • b) third strongest point
      • c) second strongest point


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#4. Plunge into the First Draft: using your outline, write out your first draft, disregarding any mechanical errors (spelling and grammar), knowing that you will return to those later. Consider some strategies for overcoming writer's block. The focus here is a logical progression of ideas and sufficient amount and quality of arguments and evidence (make an attempt at properly embedding quotations).



#5. Edit #1: focus on ideas: depth of arguments, logical flow, sufficiency and quality of evidence
Follow the editing process (ARMS -Add Remove, Move Substitute) - (Think Literacy Doc)
  • Does the essay flow logically from one idea to the next?
  • Are the arguments faulty? (see Logical Fallacy)
  • Are there enough arguments to convince the reader
  • Is there enough evidence to support your arguments?

#6. Write Second Draft incorporating any edits from Edit #1, focusing on honing argument development and logical progression of ideas.


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#7. Edit #2: focus on style: grammar, spelling, sentence types

Use these supports:
  • Essay Writing Checklist - bit.ly/mrgoedit
  • Follow the Rules of Formal Writing (bit.ly/mrgo3rules - top of this page)
    • 1. Use third person (no “I”, “we”, “our”)
    • 2. Stay in the present tense (with the exception of any contextual references to actual events in history).
    • 3. Avoid contractions (can’t, won’t, don’t)
    • 4. Raise Vocabulary (avoid: stuff, things, big/small, good/bad)
    • NB (nota bene/note well: when the author breaks #1 and #2 in a quotation, use [ ] to alter).
  • Embedding Quotations (how to make quotations fit into your arguments smoothly, including the use of purposeful verbs)
  • Use Transition words to help signal a change in thought
  • Vary your sentences (use a variety of sentence types to avoid a juvenile or convoluted tone)

  • Avoid these pitfalls from previous papers (General Feedback 3U, 4U, Macbeth, Martel)

  • mechanics (spelling, grammar)
  • sents_and_cliches.doc__Download

  • Combining Sentences (from OWL)
  • Consider using some rhetorical devices
  • Add a thought-provoking epigraph (quotation from a famous thinker or writer relevant to your arguments) at the start. Here's how to format it properly in MLA.
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#8. Perfect the final draft and compare against the rubric for your essay.

Essay Writing Checklist





#9. Self-Reflection: When the paper is graded, be sure to closely examine comments and areas of improvement. Use the self-reflection here and track your progress using an improvement log.

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