Purdue University North Central Writing Center Handout
I. READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY TO SEE WHAT IT ASKS YOU TO WRITE ABOUT AND HOW IT ASKS YOU TO WRITE ABOUT IT.
A. Look for key words—evaluate, analyze, compare, contrast, summarize, paraphrase, discuss, describe, explain, etc.
(See the key words handout)
B. Never begin to write until you have a clear idea of the form and content of the answer required.
(Inexperienced students often panic if they see others writing when they are still thinking. Remind yourself that if you begin before you know what you should be doing, you could end up with an essay that is irrelevant, unclear, or even contradictory. Even accurate information carries no weight if it does not serve to answer the question)
C. Plan you answer before you begin to write it by making a scratch outline of the points you will need to cover in order to answer the question.
D. Formulate a thesis statement that states clearly the general answer to the question.
E. Check you statement by adding up the points in your scratch outline. Do they equal the thesis? (In other words, your thesis statement must be the conclusion which you can draw by developing the points in your outline.) As a double-check, reread your outline. Are all of the points relevant to your answer or thesis? Have you omitted anything that is essential to proving your thesis?
II. WRITE A COMPLETE ANSWER
A. A complete answer is one that deals with the subject as fully as possible within the time limits. That means that you must give details that develop fully each point of your outline.
AN ESSAY EXAM IS A SHORT-ANSWER EXAM
(Each point of your outline must be presented in a topic sentence, which is a general statement. To make that statement clear and convincing, you must provide the specific details or evidence which led you to make the statement.)
B. Do not pad your answer with useless repetition or irrelevant details. If the material does not serve to answer the question, omit it. It is your responsibility to select, present, and develop the essential information called for in the question.
III. RESERVE SOME TIME TO REREAD AND CORRECT YOUR ANSWERS
1. Reread the question.
2. Read your thesis statement. Does it provide a general answer to the question?
3. If you checked your outline before writing, you know already that each point that you have developed serves to answer the question. Now check to see what you have said about each point in your outline. Have you included all of the essential information? If not, insert it now. (You may use a caret [^] to indicate where insertions belong and then write them in the margins or at the end of your paper. If you have more than one insertion, you will need to number them.)
4. Is each sentence clearly stated and pointed directly to the topic sentence? (Sometimes a minor change in diction or sentence structure may clarify or strengthen your answer.)
5. Check for serious errors in sentence structure—fragments, comma splices, fused sentences or run-ons.
6. Check capitalization and punctuation.