Skip to content

Principle Of Writing Essay

When you are writing a literary essay, especially one that requires extended research, you’re essentially making an argument. This means you should have a specific, detailed thesis statement that reveals your perspective. Here are a few basic principles to follow in writing an amazing literary essay:

  • Write Your Thesis:
  • A well-constructed thesis is a restricted and precisely worded statement that gives the purpose of your literary essay. It should assert your original point of view without merely describing what you’re writing about.

  • Introductory Paragraph:
  • It’s important that your introductory paragraph grab your reader’s attention in some way. You can do this by presenting an interesting question about the text or a fresh interpretation on the literary piece. Whatever the topic, make sure you start general and become focused as you reach your thesis statement, and not the other way around. By bringing the essay into focus you direct the reader to the exact point you are going to be making in the essay.

  • Organization:
  • Don’t structure your essay chronologically in accordance to the literary piece’s plot, but instead to what dictates the logical progression of your argument. This is best achieved by first developing an outline and brainstorming ideas. Grouped ideas become your main topics and arguments from which you should structure your essay. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, which includes an assertion about how it supports the central idea of your thesis.

  • Evidence:
  • The body paragraphs make up the substance of your literary essay. You should always support your assertions – topic statements from your outline – with specific details and examples from the text. These can be explanations, summaries, paraphrases and direct quotations. Set up context for each piece of evidence you use. Never assume the reader can deduce what it is you are trying to argue with the evidence alone.

  • Conclusion:
  • The best literary essays will have a concluding paragraph that lets your readers know that you’ve completed your argument by summarizing the main points you’ve made in support of your thesis. Never introduce a new topic or more evidence in your conclusion.

    The best literary essays always leave an argument or opinion open for further discussion. Your paper shouldn’t invite criticism because of its incompleteness or lack of evidence, but instead compel the reader to contribute to the debate by taking on a different point of view. If you need any assistance with your papers just go to this service.

    General principles of good writing

    Page maintained by Norman Fenton. Last updated: 13 July 2000

     

    Five Golden Rules + General tips

    Sentence and paragraph length

    Words to avoid

    Unnecessary words

    Using nouns instead of verbs

    Active versus passive style

    Personal versus impersonal

     

     


    Return to Good Writing Index


    Return To Norman Fenton's home page


     

     

     

     

    Five golden rules

    1. Always have in mind a specific reader and assume that reader is intelligent but uninformed. It may be useful to state up front what the reader profile is.
    2. Before writing decide what the exact purpose of the report is. Make sure that every sentence makes a contribution to that purpose, and makes it at the right time.
    3. Use language that is simple, concrete, and familiar.
    4. At the beginning and end of every section check your writing according to this principle: first tell your readers what you're going to tell them, then tell them it, and finally tell them what you told them.
    5. Make your report attractive to look at, but do not add meaningless frills.

    Other General tips

    • Keep a good dictionary beside you when you are writing. Before using a word that 'sounds good', but whose meaning you are not sure of, check it in the dictionary.
    • Once you have finished the first draft of your report read it through carefully, trying to put yourself in the shoes of your potential readers.
    • Once you are reasonably confident about the state of your report, ask a friend or colleague to read it before you submit it formally

    Next section

    Return to top of page


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

    Sentence and paragraph length

    The English school system produces students who feel ashamed to write short sentences. In my view this is a great failing of our education system. There is nothing clever about writing long, complex sentences. For technical writing it is simply WRONG. You must get used to the idea of writing sentences that are reasonably short and simple. In many cases shorter sentences can be achieved by adhering to the following principles:

    1. A sentence should contain a single unit of information. Therefore, avoid compound sentences wherever possible - be on the lookout for words like AND, OR, WHILE which are often used unnecessarily to build a compound sentence.

    2. Check your sentences for faulty construction. Incorrect use of commas is a common cause of poorly constructed and excessively long sentences.

    Example (this example also fixes some other problems  that are dealt with below)

    Bad: "Time division multiplexed systems are basically much simpler, the combination and separation of channels being affected by timing circuits rather than by filters and inter-channel interference is less dependent on system non-linearities, due to the fact that only one channel is using the common communication medium at any instant."

    Good: "Systems multiplexed by time division are basically much simpler. The channels are combined and separated by timing circuits, not by filters. Interference between channels depends less on non-linear features of the system, because only one channel is using the common communication medium at any time."

    3. Use parentheses sparingly. Most uses are due to sheer laziness and can be avoided by breaking up the sentence. NEVER use nested parentheses under any circumstances if you want to retain your reader.

    Learning about some of the principles described below, such as using active rather than passive constructs, will go some way toward helping you shorten your sentences.

    A paragraph should contain a single coherent idea. It is easier to read a text where paragraphs are not excessively long. You should try always to keep them to less than half a page. On the other hand, successive paragraphs that are very short may also be very difficult to read. Such an approach is often the result of poorly structured thinking. If you need to write a sequence of sentences that each express a different idea then it is usually best to use itemized or bulleted lists to do so. The fact that the sentences need to be written in sequence suggests that there is something that relates them. The idea that relates them should be used to introduce the list. As an example, look at the numbered list above.


    Return to top of page

    Next section

     


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

     

    Words to avoid

    You should read this section carefully - there are words in here that I would actually penalise you for using.

    The golden rule on words to avoid is:

    Never use a difficult word or phrase when there is a simple alternative.

    For example, you should never use the following words because there is a simpler alternative (given in brackets).

    utilise (use)

    facilitate (help)

    at this time (now)

    Also unless you are talking about building maintenance, never use the verb ‘render’ as in:

    The testing strategy rendered it impossible to find all the faults.

    The 'correct' version of the above sentence is:

    The testing strategy made it impossible to find all the faults.

    In other words, if you mean 'make' then just write 'make' not 'render'.

    Here are some other examples of commonly used words that have much simpler (and better) alternatives:

     

    BADGOOD
    endeavourtry
    terminateend, stop
    transmitsend
    demonstrateshow
    initiatebegin
    assisthelp
    necessitateneed

    In general you should only ever use the 'bad' words here if some special context means it is really necessary to do so.

    In many cases there is no simple rule for transforming a sentence with unnecessarily long words, but the following examples should give you some idea of the improvements that can be made.

     

    BADGOOD
    The precise mechanism responsible for this antagonism cannot be elucidatedWe do not know what causes this antagonism
    … with enough ancillary labour to assist …with enough extra labour to help
    The stability of the process is enhanced by co-operationCo-operation improves the stability of the process

     

     


    Next section

    Return to top of page


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

     

    Unnecessary words

    Many sentences contain unnecessary words that repeat an idea already expressed in another word. This wastes space and blunts the message. In many cases unnecessary words are caused by ‘abstract’ words like nature, position, character, condition, situation as the following examples show:

    BADGOOD
    The product is not of a satisfactory natureThe product is unsatisfactory
    The product is not of a satisfactory characterThe product is unsatisfactory
    After specification we are in a position to begin detailed designAfter specification we can begin detailed design
    We are now in the situation of being able to begin detailed designWe can now begin detailed design

    In general, you should therefore use such abstract words sparingly, if at all.

    Often writers use several words for ideas that can be expressed in one. This leads to unnecessarily complex sentences and genuine redundancy as the following examples show:

    WITH REDUNDANCYWITHOUT REDUNDANCY
    The printer is located adjacent to the computerThe printer is adjacent to the computer
    The printer is located in the immediate vicinityof the computerThe printer is near the computer
    The user can visibly see the image movingThe user can see the image moving
    The input is suitably processedThe input is processed
    This is done by means of inserting an artificial faultThis is done by inserting an artificial fault
    The reason for the increase in number of faults found was due to an increase in testingThe number of faults found increased because of an increase in testing
    It is likely that problems will arise with regards to the completion of the specification phaseYou will probably have problems completing the specification phase
    Within a comparatively short period we will be able to finish the designSoon we will be able to finish the design

     

    Another common cause of redundant words is when people use so-called modifying words. These often turn out to be meaningless. For example:

    BADGOOD
    absolutely criticalcritical
    considerable difficultydifficulty
    utterly wrongwrong

    Similarly, the following words can be fine when used with a concrete reference, but in many case they are not:

    • appreciable
    • approximate
    • comparative
    • definite
    • evident
    • excessive
    • fair
    • negligible
    • reasonable
    • relative
    • sufficient
    • suitable
    • undue

     


    Return to top of page

    Next section


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Using nouns instead of verbs

    One of the worst, but most common, examples of poor writing style is where authors turn verbs into nouns or use abstract nouns rather than active verbs. The following examples show the major improvements you can achieve by getting rid of nasty noun constructions:

    BADGOOD
    He used to help in the specification of new softwareHe used to help specify new software
    Measurement of static software properties was performed by the toolThe tool measured static software properties
    Clicking the icon causes the execution of the programThe program executes when the icon is clicked
    The analysis of the software was performed by FredFred analysed the software
    The testing of the software was carried out by JaneJane tested the software
    It was reported by Jones that method x facilitated the utilisation of inspection techniques by the testing teamJones reported that method x helped the testing team use inspection techniques

    The last example is a particular favourite of mine (the bad version appeared in a published paper) since it manages to breach just about every principle of good writing style. It uses a noun construct instead of a verb and it includes one of the forbidden words (facilitated). However, one of the worst features of this sentence is that it says "It was reported by Jones" instead of simply "Jones reported". This is a classic example of use of passive rather active constructs. We deal with this in the next section.

     


    Next Section

    Return to top of page


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Active versus passive style

    Consider the following two sentences:

    1. Joe tested the software
    2. The software was tested by Joe

    Both sentences provide identical information. The first is said to be in the active style and the second is said to be passive style. In certain situations it can make sense to use the less natural passive style. For example, if you really want to stress that a thing was acted on, then it is reasonable to use the passive style. However, many scientists routinely use the passive style simply because they believe it is more 'formal' and 'acceptable'. It is not. Using the passive style is the most common reason for poorly structured sentences and it always leads to longer sentences than are necessary. Unless you have a very good reason for the change in emphasis, you should always write in the active style.

    The following examples show the improvements of switching from passive to active:

     

    BADGOOD
    The report was written by Bloggs, and was found to be excellentBloggs wrote the report, which was excellent
    The values were measured automatically by the control systemThe control system measured the values automatically
    It was reported by the manager that the project was in troubleThe manager reported that the project was in trouble

     

     


    Next section

    Return to top of page


    Return to Good Writing Index

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Personal versus impersonal

    Whether to use personal (first person) or impersonal (third person) style is a subject that causes fierce debate. Some writers insist that a report is not truly scientific if it is written in the first person style. There is no rational justification for such an assertion. Moreover, there are now very few scientific journals that still insist on third person writing. The most important justification for using first person style is that it is more natural and results in simpler sentences. Poor sentence structure, notably using passive rather than active style, is most commonly caused when authors are forced to write in the third person. Consider the following examples:

    BADGOOD
    The current research work of the author is also describedI also describe my current research work
    In the previous report of the authors the rationale for the proposed method was discussed in detailWe discussed in detail the rationale for the proposed method in our previous report
    However, it was the writer’s belief that this situation should not have occurredHowever, I believed that this situation should not have occurred
    Examination and discussion of the of the results obtained, are necessary before a decision can be takenWe must examine and discuss the results before we decide

    In many situations avoiding the first person can also introduce ambiguity. For example, consider the statement

    "Recent experiments involving formal inspections have resulted in ..."

    It is not clear whether the writer is referring to his/her own experiments, other researchers' experiments, or a combination of the two.

    Even worse than ambiguity is where use of third person rather than first introduces genuine uncertainty. For example, consider the following:

    "It is not possible to state the exact mode of operation of the drug".

    This leaves serious doubts in readers' minds. It might mean that the authors do not know how the drug works, but it might also mean that the operation of the drug is impossible.

    One final word about personal versus impersonal writing. Many authors, who are reluctant to use first person but realise that they cannot write a sentence naturally without it, opt to use the expression 'one' as in "One can conclude from the experiment ...". I have some simple advice about this: DON'T. It sounds pompous and ridiculous. If you feel uneasy about saying "I" then say "We".

     

     


    Return to top of page


    Return to Good Writing Index

    Return To Norman Fenton's home page