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Struggling Writers Need Structure

The Writing Process
Have you ever struggled with the beginning phase of essay writing?  Your teacher hands out a writing task, and you sit there staring blankly at the directions in front of you?  Having taught writing for many years, I have seen this struggle many, many times.  It is what often stops students from even attempting the assignment at all...just getting started.   Students who say "I hate writing" are usually the students who try to rush directly into the writing part, skipping planning and pre-writing, often resulting in them staring at a blank page for far too long.  That old aphorism  that "slowing down can actually save you time" is 100% correct.

Getting Started: Understanding the Assignment and Breaking it Into Parts
For those who struggle with how to start writing, I have several suggestions that may ease the pain of the dreaded writer's block.  First and foremost, break down what the prompt/writing assignment is asking.  Merely understanding the task in front of you is so vitally important, but students often skim the question and attempt to jump start the writing process only to learn that they don't have much to write.  Dissect the question or prompt by breaking it down into smaller parts.  Turn it into a "To Do" list that you understand.  If you are lucky enough that your teacher supplied you with a rubric, use it!  It will help you understand exactly in what direction your writing is headed.

Getting Organized: Ideas, Brainstorming, and Organizing

After you feel comfortable that you know what your teacher is asking you to do, then it is time to plan, or brainstorm, for your essay.  You should do this in whatever method works best for you.  Some like to create a list of all ideas related to the topic, some like to create a web with ideas stemming from one central idea, and others like to just create a mess out of a blank sheet of paper.  Whatever your approach is, do it!  Don't ever skip the planning stage.  It sets the wheels in motion.  

After you initially get your ideas out on paper, begin to organize them.  Determine which ideas are going to fit best with the purpose of the essay assignment. It's time to actually write your ever so important thesis statement, your claim.  The thesis is what you will prove.  It is the focus for everything you write in that essay, so make it a strong one that answers the question or addresses the prompt.  

No, the planning is not done after your initial pre-write or your thesis statement development.  After you have a strong thesis statement, begin an outline.  Determine what is going to be in each paragraph.  Remember, all of your body paragraphs have to be directly connected to the thesis!   After you get your main ideas for each body paragraph, then it's time to think about what examples or evidence you will include within each body paragraph.  You are always proving your thesis.  Cross check everything with your thesis.  

The Bottom Line: Use These Tips, Save Time, and Start Your Real Draft!

It may sound like a tremendous amount of work on the front end before you even start drafting (and that it because it is a lot of work), but it will save you time and help you avoid the dilemma of staring at the dreaded blank page.  If you approach writing with a system, rather than trying to jump right into it, I guarantee a stronger essay and a better grade.
Brooke S
Reading/Writing Tutor (10 Years Experience)
Old Dominion University
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