Writing

Writing

It is not easy to put our thoughts into words.  It often takes several revisions before we can express ourselves clearly.  One of the reasons for this is because there is an interaction between writing and thinking.  As we struggle to put our thoughts into words, we are actually thinking.  Our thoughts could even be changing.  Once we see what we think we want to say in words, we might even want to change it.  The section Writing is a Process explains the process along with strategies for thinking about a topic and forming ideas to write about.

It is not enough to simply have ideas and create clear sentences.  Those sentences are part of a larger writing.  There are various types of writings such as a business memo or letter, a journal, a newspaper article, or even a novel.  Paragraphs and Essays focuses on the development of a paragraph which can be applied to most types of writing and the organization of an academic essay.  There has to be a logical flow within a paragraph and within a larger writing such as an essay.  Transitions can help connect sentences for a smooth flow.  In addition, any writing must maintain a focus on the point.  Unity and Coherence in Essays explains these necessary components and how to achieve them. 

The section on Critical Thinking explains how logical thinking works and describes different types of fallacies in logic (logical fallacies).  Not only must the sentences ave a logical flow, there must be an overall sound reasoning to the paper to persuade the reader.  Appropriate language is necessary as well.

The Writing Process

The Writing Process

Overview

Good writing is usually the result of a process of pre-writing, drafting, reviewing, revising, and rewriting.  It’s rare that anyone is able to express his or her thoughts in the best way possible on the first try although the more we practice, the better we become at it.  Experienced, published writers readily admit that they have revised their writing several times before publication.

Revise means to see again.  After we’ve done our first draft, it’s helpful to leave it for a while before looking at it again. While having others read the paper may help, the goal is to become self-editors and see the writing as others would see it. We need to be sure that it says what we mean to communicate in a way that will show the legitimacy of our position.

A good essay must prove the thesis: a one-sentence statement taking a position.  Once you have a thesis, even though you may change it, it’s easier to formulate ideas about the body paragraphs since they just have to prove the thesis.

Proof paragraphs are just reasons why your thesis is right.  Just as an essay has a controlling idea expressed is the thesis statement, paragraphs also have a controlling idea expressed in a topic sentence.

While experienced writers sometimes take poetic liberties in some contexts such as fiction or informal writing, good writers know how to use proper grammar and punctuation, and in college writing, it should be used.

Proofreading carefully helps to assure that the writing says what we want it to say and that it uses proper grammar. Sometimes, it helps to read the paper aloud.  It’s easy to miss an error.

Whether you are writing a paragraph, an essay, another type of assignment for school such as a reaction paper, or simply a letter, here are key elements to remember.

Subject, Purpose, and Audience

  • Subject –  (picking the right topic, narrowing the topic, supporting the topic)
  • Audience – For whom are you writing? (experts, teachers, general public?)
  • Purpose- (explaining, persuading, comparing, entertaining….)

Writing is a Process

  1. Pre-writing (freewriting, brainstorming, clustering, asking questions (research), keeping a Journal)
  2. Organizing (grouping, eliminating, adding) and narrowing the topic (focus on a point)
  3. Rough Draft
  4. Revising (self check, peer  review, tutoring)
  5. Final Copy (typed)

Pre-writing: Free-writing, Brainstorming, Clustering, Asking Questions (Research), Keeping a Journal

Pre-writing consists of various strategies to help overcome a writing block, to get ideas, or just to get organized. Whether you are writing a letter or doing a writing assignment for school, one or more of the following may be used as needed.

1.     Focused Free-writing

More “poetic” than typical prose writing for college classes. Contains many vivid details and extra information that will need to be cut, added to, or rearranged.

2.     Brainstorming

A filled page of just word or sentence fragments. Complete sentences are not required, but a large amount of ideas should be present. Add details to fill the page.

3.    Clustering

Start with the topic in the center and draw spokes outward as thought take you in new, more detailed directions. A cluster typically takes a full page.

4.     Asking Questions (Research)

Ask yourself the reporter’s six questions:  Who? What? Where? Why? When, How? Use these questions to focus on what you really want to write about and what you know about.

When accessing sources beyond your own knowledge is appropriate – either you don’t know enough about the topic or the assignment requires outside research – find out what others say about the topic or research question

5.     Keeping a Journal

Your journal is a private place where you can develop ideas and ability! When you see something interesting or have a new, exciting thought, write it down and use it for a later writing assignment.

Narrowing the Topic – Focus on a Point

A paragraph, an essay, or a research paper (also called research essay), each must focus on a point.

  1. The point of a paragraph is called a topic sentence.
  2. The topic sentence of a paragraph tells the reader what the paragraph will prove.
  3. The point of an essay or research paper is called the thesis.
  4. thesis tells the reader what the paper will prove.

An essay has different types of paragraphs:

  1. introduction (introductory paragraph) – gives a background and states the thesis. The topic sentence of an introductory paragraph is called the thesis and belongs at the end of the first paragraph.
  2. body paragraphs – each of which gives a different reason with supporting details on why the thesis is accurate. The topic sentence of a body paragraph belongs at the beginning of the paragraph.
  3. concluding paragraph – sums up the proof and restates the thesis and/or draws an implication from the information presented depending on instructor preference. The topic sentence of a concluding paragraph is a restatement of the thesis and may go anywhere in the concluding paragraph.

In some assignments, you are given a question to answer to form a thesis a thesis or topic sentence.  This type of assignment usually does not present a problem in finding a focus.  For example, if you assignment is to research what treatment is best for a particular disease or whether the cycles of the moon affect human beings, the result of your research will generate an answer to the question which will be your thesis statement:  The best treatment for ovarian cancer is ….  The topic sentences for your body paragraphs will each be one reason why that treatment is best.

In other cases, you are given a topic and you must narrow your topic to find a focus.
Here are some strategies to help develop a one-sentence topic sentence or a thesis:

  • Narrow your topic by thinking about what you know about the topic and a specific area that interests you if there is not a research component.  For example, if the topic is about how computers have affected our lives, you may think about the various types of computers and focus in on personal computers.  The question then becomes “How have personal computers affected our lives.”
  • If there is a research component, think about what questions you have about the topic and/or what your exploratory research has found. For example, if you research on the topic of how computers have affected our lives turns up information on the types of computers that are used in appliances that we use every day, you question for focused research may be “How have computers used in household appliances affected our lives?”
  • Think about your topic until you can find a main idea or question that is not as broad as the topic your instructor gave you if you were assigned a topic. This should be an idea that is interesting to you and something you know about.
  • A thesis statement should include both the subject and the controlling idea.

Drafting, Reviewing, Revising, and Editing

Regardless of the type of writing, the first attempt must be considered a rough draft.  Don’t worry too much about grammar. The first goal is to get the ideas down.  Generate ideas by reviewing your pre-writing efforts if you use any of those strategies.

  • Are there any natural groups that you can arrange your ideas into?
  • Take the most promising groups and add information and details.
  • Any ideas that do not fit into these groups or don’t have many details should be discarded.

Once the first draft is complete, you must review it to see if the ideas and wording flow logically and support the topic sentence within a paragraph and the thesis if an academic essay.   Paragraphs must be limited to information about the topic sentence.  Related ideas must be together in one section.  There must be an internal organization from paragraph to paragraph that the reader can easily follow. Transitions may be needed from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph for the sentences and/or paragraph to flow from one to the next.  See Paragraphs in Related Pages on the right sidebar for more information.

Revise as needed, moving or adding sentences or paragraphs, and modifying wording.  The last step is editing where you make sure the writing is grammatical.  There must be sentences and not fragments.  The punctuation should be accurate. Check for spelling.

Writing an Academic Essay

An academic essay has a particular type of organization with an introduction paragraph with a thesis, body paragraphs which prove the thesis, and a concluding paragraph which sums up the proof and restates the thesis.  See Essay Organization for more information.

To write an academic essay, it is helpful to start with an outline.

An outline is a plan of what your essay will look like.

  1. Start with the thesis statement.
  2. Then, list the separate reasons why your thesis is accurate as I, II, and so on. These will be the topic sentences for your body paragraphs.  The number of paragraphs will be determined by the assigned length of the paper. These must be complete sentences.
  3. Under each of the topic sentences, include the details that fit into this group.

An essay can be written right from the outline.  You would have to add background information before the thesis to complete the introductory paragraph.  You would have one paragraph each for sections I, II, III, and IV, depending on how many sections are in your outline.  Your concluding paragraph just sums up the proof in the body and restates the thesis.  

See Related Pages on the right sidebar.

 

Paragraphs and Essays

Paragraphs and Essays

Sentences are a basic structure of language. They convey the action or existence of a person, place, or thing.  Sentences are combined to form paragraphs to form longer written documents.  This may sound simplistic, but to build an effective written communication, sentences have to be combined in certain ways to form the paragraphs which in turn an be combined to write longer works. Even the longest novel is made up of sentences which are organized into paragraphs except for dialogue.  An essay is a special type of writing is a paper focused on proving a point called the thesis.  Essays are composed of special types of paragraphs with very particular content.

The rules for punctuation and sentence structure are covered in the Grammar section.  This section will cover how to compose paragraphs and an academic essay which is also, generally, the way beginning level research papers are organized. Research papers are also called research essays.

Paragraphs

Paragraphs

What is a Paragraph?

A paragraph is a series of sentences on a specific point or topic.  A well written paragraph must have a topic sentence which states the main idea: what the paragraph is about.  While some say the  topic sentence can be anywhere in the paragraph, it is best to put it as the first sentence in a paragraph.  The rest of the sentences in the paragraph support, elaborate, and/or further explain the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.

Paragraphs have varying length depending upon various factors.  An average paragraph in an academic essay is about six to eight sentences.

Types of Paragraphs

There are various types of paragraphs such as summaries, abstracts, and answers to questions for a specific assignment.  In addition, there are specialized types of paragraphs for various reports such as feasibility studies or performance reports.

The types of paragraphs covered in this lesson are general paragraphs as would be used in the body of a letter or an academic essay, including general research papers (research essays).

Parts of a Paragraph

Topic Sentence – purpose of a paragraph

Unless you are writing specialized report such as a scientific research paper or a feasibility study that may otherwise show the purpose of a paragraph such as a heading , a well written paragraph must have a topic sentence which states what the paragraph is about.

Whether you are writing a paragraph for a specific assignment, an academic essay, a research paper, or a simple letter, each paragraph

The topic sentence should be the first sentence of the paragraph so that the reader knows what the paragraph is about.  The topic sentence in a body paragraph of an essay must be support for the thesis: a reason why the thesis is true or accurate.

The rest of the sentences in the paragraph of an essay support, elaborate, and/or further explain the topic sentence.

Here is an example of a paragraph:

The first sentence is the topic sentence. See how the rest of the sentences support, elaborate, and/or or further explain it.

Almost every aspect of modern life has been improved through convenience provided by technology.  From the alarm clock in the morning to the entertainment center at night, everyday life is improved.  The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time. Cars or public transportation bring people to work where computers operate at the push of a button.  At home, there’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

Everything in this paragraph is about how modern life has been improved through convenience provided by technology.

Unity and Coherence

A paragraph must have unity.

All of the sentences of a particular paragraph must focus on one point to achieve one goal: to support the topic sentence.

A paragraph must have coherence.

The sentences must flow smoothly and logically from one to the next as they support the topic sentence.

The last sentence of the paragraph should restate the topic sentence to help achieve unity and coherence.

Here is an example with information that does not support the topic sentence.

Almost every aspect of modern life has been improved through convenience provided by modern technology.  From the alarm clock in the morning to the entertainment center at night, everyday life is improved. The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time. People are more concerned about health issues and good air quality, so they have started walking or riding a bike to work even though they have the option of using a car or public transportation.   There’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

See how just one non-supporting sentence takes away from the effectiveness of the paragraph in showing how modern conveniences make life better since the unity and coherence are affected.  There is no longer unity among all the sentences.  The thought pattern is disjointed and the paragraph loses its coherence.

Here’s another example of a paragraph

Not only has modern technology improved life through convenience, it has improved life through efficiency.  The time saved with machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

Note: See how all the sentences work together to support the point that technology has improved lives through efficiency.

Transitions – Words that Connect

Transitions are words, groups of words, or sentences that connect one sentence to another or one paragraph to another.

They promote a logical flow from one idea to the next.

While they are not needed in every sentence, they are missed when they are omitted since the flow of thoughts becomes disjointed or even confusing.

There are different types of transitions such as the following:

  • Time – before, after, during, in the meantime, nowadays
  • Space – over, around, under
  • Examples – for instance, one example is
  • Comparison –  on the other hand, the opposing view
  • Consequence – as a result, subsequently

These are just a few examples.  The idea is to paint a clear, logical connection between sentences and between paragraphs.

Here’s how transitions help make a paragraph unified and coherent

Not only has modern technology improved life through convenience, it has improved life through efficiency.  The time saved with machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

Each part of a paragraph must support the topic sentence.  In addition, the sentences must flow logically from one to the other.

See how the following paragraph has ideas that don’t seem to belong

Growing flowers is fun.  The sun rises in the morning and warms the soil.  Flowers come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  Sometimes, there is not enough rain.  Flowers also bloom during different times of the year.  Flowers need nutrients to grow strong and beautiful.  There are some children who like to pick the flowers. There are different growing seasons in different parts of the country.  Flowers that will grow high should be planted behind those that will not grow as high.  Some people let their dog’s leash extend allowing the dog to go into the flower beds which is not very nice. Designing a flower bed has to consider the different times the flowers will bloom.  A substitute for rainfall should be planned.  It is fun to grow flowers.

Here is a revised version with unity and coherence.  See how each sentence is clearly part of the whole which is to show how it is fun to grow flowers.

Growing flowers is fun.   Planning the garden is the first step, and it is part of the fun.  Flowers must be selected for their size, color, and time of bloom.  Selections should be made so that there is at least one type of flower blooming throughout the season and that taller flowers are behind shorter ones.  Meeting the challenges to assure growth such as with an irrigation system or hand watering and fertilizing when needed is also part of the fun.   It’s wonderful to check the garden every day to see the little green sprouts starting to appear.  It gives a great sense of accomplishment and joy to see the flowers in bloom.  It is fun to grow flowers.

An example of a paragraph from a business letter which does have unity and coherence:

There are several reasons to select my company to do this job.  We are a family owned and operated business and have been in business in this county for thirty-five years.  In addition to thousands of satisfied customers, we have proudly sponsored many community events and organizations.  All of our employees live in this county, and most have stayed with us for years.  We have successfully kept our overhead low and pass those savings onto our customers.  By far, we are the best company to complete this project.

Note: See how all the sentences work together to support the point that we are the best company to hire.

Here’s a version of the paragraph which does not have unity and coherence:

I am happy that the warm weather is finally here! It’s been a cold winter. There are several reasons to select my company to do this job.  By far, we are the best company to complete this project.  I have a large family, and in addition to having Sunday dinners, we work together in the company which has many satisfied customers.  Some of my employees take the bus to work, so I am concerned about our public transportation system.  We have proudly served our community, and we use cost saving methods to keep prices low.

An example of a paragraph in an inter-office memo

Beginning January 1, we will have a revised policy concerning new customers.  The updated intake form includes additional information, so please be sure to read through and complete each section.  Pay particular addition to the additional questions at the bottom as they are now required by the insurance company.  We would like to have e-mail addresses as well.  You can assure customers that we will not be sending them solicitations nor giving the list to any other business.  Be sure to fill in the information neatly and accurately. It is preferred that the information be entered directly into the computer although we realize there are times when that is not practical and a hard-copy form will have to be completed by hand.  Review the instructions on the back page of the form for more details on the revised policy for new customers.

Note:  See how all the sentences work together to support the point shown in the topic sentence that modern technology has expanded accessibility.

Closing/Transitional Statements in Paragraphs

The last sentence of a paragraph should remind the reader of the point of the paragraph and transition into the next paragraph if there is one.  See how the last sentence, for example, in the above paragraph reminds the reader of what the paragraph is about: Review the instructions on the back page of the form for more details on the revised policy for new customers.

Multi-Paragraph Documents

Most paragraphs we see are part of a multi-paragraph document: newspaper and magazine articles, books, business letters and inter-office memorandum, “how-to” documents, and other informational documents.  Usually, there is an organization of the paragraphs in a specific way.  The opening paragraph generally gives some idea of what the document is about.  The middle paragraphs give more details about the specific point.  The last paragraph ends the writing, generally by summing up and repeating the point.

There are some context-specific documents that have moe clearly defined paragraphs which are something included as sections of the writing.  For example, a feasibility report might have paragraphs as follows: abstract and/or summary, introduction, discussion, conclusion, recommendations.

Paragraphs in Business Letters and Inter-Office Memorandum

Business letters and inter-office memoradums basically have the same organization of the content:  an introduction paragraph, paragraphs that prove or further explain, and a concluding paragraph which sums up and repeats the point.  A business letter, however, is generally written on company stationery and has the date and address block in the upper left, a Re: line, a salutation such as Dear Mr. Haller (although some are no longer using a formal salutation), and a complimentary closing such as Sincerely.    An inter-office memorandum is generally written on plain paper, sometimes with the company logo as part of the template, lines with To:, From:, Date:, and Re: in the upper left, and no complimentary closing.

Paragraphs in Informational Documents and Academic Essays

Informational Documents

This refers to groups of writings that are designed to give information about a topic or position on a topic.  While they all include a specific thesis (point), have an introduction and concluding paragraph, and have paragraphs that proof or explain the point, there can be wide variety on where the thesis is expressed and the ancillary information presented that is supplemental to the thesis.  These are sometimes called essays.  However, academic essays do have a very specific organizational pattern.

Academic Essays

The introduction paragraph and the concluding paragraph of an essay are different from a general paragraph.  An introduction contains general background information on a topic and leads into a thesis statement.  The sentences with background information should be general and not contain proof of the thesis. The sentences should be relevant, however, and logically flow into the thesis.  Background sentences include information about the topic and the controversy. Some instructors may prefer other types of content in the introduction in addition to the thesis.  It is best to check with an instructor as to whether he or she has a preference for content.  In any case, there must be unity and coherence in an introduction paragraph as well. 

While the body paragraph of an academic is the same as a general paragraph in that they have a topic sentence and sentences that support it, the topic sentence must be a reason why the thesis of the essay is accurate.  Body paragraphs should clearly support the thesis and not contain any extraneous information. However, one way of proving your thesis is right is by presenting the opposing view and then rebutting it, that is, showing how it is not valid.  

Some instructors say that any opposing information should be in a separate rebuttal paragraph before the concluding paragraph.  If not specifically indicated by your instructor, either putting opposing information into the paragraphs related to the specific information or having a separate rebuttal paragraph is appropriate, but not both in the same essay.

A concluding paragraph sums up the proof and restates the thesis. Some instructors ask for a statement drawing an implication of the information presented instead of or in addition to a restatement of the thesis.  In either case, while a concluding paragraph as with the introduction paragraph does not start with a topic sentence and have the rest of the sentences support the topic sentence, the concluding paragraph is similar in that the summary of the proof ties directly into the thesis or statement of general implication.  There are not extraneous, off-topic sentences

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Paragraphs

Narration

Narration is when an author writes as though telling a story.  This mode is used more often in fiction, but it can be used in academic essay writing when the best way to help prove the thesis is by relating a sequence of events.

Description/Definition/Exemplification, and Classification

These closely related modes use specific information about certain aspects of a thing, event, or situation. The terms speak for themselves.  Description uses details describing the thing, event, or situation. Definition defines it. Exemplification uses examples, and classification uses categories.

The rose was red. (description)

A rose is a flower with soft petals and a beautiful, brief bloom. (definition)

Roses comes in a variety of colors such as red, yellow, and white. (example)

Roses come in a variety of types including miniature, climbing, hybrid tea, and floribunda. (classification)

Compare/Contrast

Comparing and/or contrasting one thing, event, or situation is a helpful way to show what it is and isn't.  If someone were arguing that a particular type of sneaker was the best, it would be useful to compare to others for support, durability, and price.

Cause and/or Effect

This mode is useful in arguing for or again an action.  Showing the cause and/or effect of an action can be persuasive.  For example, if someone were arguing for an increase in the speed limit, statistics showing an increase in fatalities where limits are higher would be a persuasive argument.

Persuasion/Argumentation

In a sense, the ultimate intent of all communication is persuasion.  Argumentation is one way of talking about debate.  We think of arguing as what we do among friends or family members - and it is - but there is a formal way to argue to prove our point.  Actually, we can learn how to better have civil arguments which will be constructive.  In thinking about persuasion/argumentation as a rhetorical mode, it refers to a type of writing that is clearly arguing in support of a specific point.

To review

  1. A paragraph is a series of sentences on a particular point.
  2. A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence which states that point.
  3. Sentences with supporting details such as examples should follow.
  4. A paragraph must have unity and coherence where the sentences smoothly and logically flow from one to the next and stay focused on supporting the topic sentence.
  5. Transition words and phrases should be used to connect sentencs and paragraphs for unity and coherence
  6. Paragraphs that are part of multi-paragraph documents serve specific functions
  7. Special Types of Paragraphs in Business Letters and Inter-Office Memorandum
  8. Special Types of Paragraphs in Informational Documents and Academic Essays
  9. Rhetorical Modes can be used as types of paragraphs

Definition of a Paragraph

Definition of a Paragraph

What is a Paragraph?

A paragraph is a series of sentences on a specific point or topic.  A well written paragraph must have a topic sentence which states the main idea: what the paragraph is about.  While some say the  topic sentence can be anywhere in the paragraph, it is best to put it as the first sentence in a paragraph.  The rest of the sentences in the paragraph support, elaborate, and/or further explain the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.

Paragraphs have varying length depending upon various factors.  An average paragraph in an academic essay is about six to eight sentences.

Types of Paragraphs

There are various types of paragraphs such as summaries, abstracts, and answers to questions for a specific assignment.  In addition, there are specialized types of paragraphs for various reports such as feasibility studies or performance reports.

The types of paragraphs covered in this lesson are general paragraphs as would be used in the body of a letter or an academic essay, including general research papers (research essays).

Parts of a Paragraph; Multi-Paragraph Documents

Parts of a Paragraph; Multi-Paragraph Documents

Parts of a Paragraph

Topic Sentence – purpose of a paragraph

Unless you are writing specialized report such as a scientific research paper or a feasibility study that may otherwise show the purpose of a paragraph such as a heading , a well written paragraph must have a topic sentence which states what the paragraph is about.

Whether you are writing a paragraph for a specific assignment, an academic essay, a research paper, or a simple letter, each paragraph

The topic sentence should be the first sentence of the paragraph so that the reader knows what the paragraph is about.  The topic sentence in a body paragraph of an essay must be support for the thesis: a reason why the thesis is true or accurate.

The rest of the sentences in the paragraph of an essay support, elaborate, and/or further explain the topic sentence.

Here is an example of a paragraph:

The first sentence is the topic sentence. See how the rest of the sentences support, elaborate, and/or or further explain it.

Almost every aspect of modern life has been improved through convenience provided by technology.  From the alarm clock in the morning to the entertainment center at night, everyday life is improved.  The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time. Cars or public transportation bring people to work where computers operate at the push of a button.  At home, there’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

Everything in this paragraph is about how modern life has been improved through convenience provided by technology.

Unity and Coherence

A paragraph must have unity.

All of the sentences of a particular paragraph must focus on one point to achieve one goal: to support the topic sentence.

A paragraph must have coherence.

The sentences must flow smoothly and logically from one to the next as they support the topic sentence.

The last sentence of the paragraph should restate the topic sentence to help achieve unity and coherence.

Here is an example with information that does not support the topic sentence;

Almost every aspect of modern life has been improved through convenience provided by modern technology.  From the alarm clock in the morning to the entertainment center at night, everyday life is improved. The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time. People are more concerned about health issues and good air quality, so they have started walking or riding a bike to work even though they have the option of using a car or public transportation.   There’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

See how just one non-supporting sentence takes away from the effectiveness of the paragraph in showing how modern conveniences make life better since the unity and coherence are affected.  There is no longer unity among all the sentences.  The thought pattern is disjointed and the paragraph loses its coherence.

Here’s another example of a paragraph:

Not only has modern technology improved life through convenience, it has improved life through efficiency.  The time saved with machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

Note: See how all the sentences work together to support the point that technology has improved lives through efficiency.

Transitions – Words that Connect

Transitions are words, groups of words, or sentences that connect one sentence to another or one paragraph to another.

They promote a logical flow from one idea to the next.

While they are not needed in every sentence, they are missed when they are omitted since the flow of thoughts becomes disjointed or even confusing.

There are different types of transitions such as the following:

  • Time – before, after, during, in the meantime, nowadays
  • Space – over, around, under
  • Examples – for instance, one example is
  • Comparison –  on the other hand, the opposing view
  • Consequence – as a result, subsequently

These are just a few examples.  The idea is to paint a clear, logical connection between sentences and between paragraphs.

Here’s how transitions help make a paragraph unified and coherent:

Not only has modern technology improved life through convenience, it has improved life through efficiency.  The time saved with machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

Each part of a paragraph must support the topic sentence.  In addition, the sentences must flow logically from one to the other.

See how the following paragraph has ideas that don’t seem to belong:

Growing flowers is fun.  The sun rises in the morning and warms the soil.  Flowers come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  Sometimes, there is not enough rain.  Flowers also bloom during different times of the year.  Flowers need nutrients to grow strong and beautiful.  There are some children who like to pick the flowers. There are different growing seasons in different parts of the country.  Flowers that will grow high should be planted behind those that will not grow as high.  Some people let their dog’s leash extend allowing the dog to go into the flower beds which is not very nice. Designing a flower bed has to consider the different times the flowers will bloom.  A substitute for rainfall should be planned.  It is fun to grow flowers.

Here is a revised version with unity and coherence.  See how each sentence is clearly part of the whole which is to show how it is fun to grow flowers.

Growing flowers is fun.   Planning the garden is the first step, and it is part of the fun.  Flowers must be selected for their size, color, and time of bloom.  Selections should be made so that there is at least one type of flower blooming throughout the season and that taller flowers are behind shorter ones.  Meeting the challenges to assure growth such as with an irrigation system or hand watering and fertilizing when needed is also part of the fun.   It’s wonderful to check the garden every day to see the little green sprouts starting to appear.  It gives a great sense of accomplishment and joy to see the flowers in bloom.  It is fun to grow flowers.

An example of a paragraph from a business letter which does have unity and coherence:

There are several reasons to select my company to do this job.  We are a family owned and operated business and have been in business in this county for thirty-five years.  In addition to thousands of satisfied customers, we have proudly sponsored many community events and organizations.  All of our employees live in this county, and most have stayed with us for years.  We have successfully kept our overhead low and pass those savings onto our customers.  By far, we are the best company to complete this project.

Note: See how all the sentences work together to support the point that we are the best company to hire.

Here’s a version of the paragraph which does not have unity and coherence:

I am happy that the warm weather is finally here! It’s been a cold winter. There are several reasons to select my company to do this job.  By far, we are the best company to complete this project.  I have a large family, and in addition to having Sunday dinners, we work together in the company which has many satisfied customers.  Some of my employees take the bus to work, so I am concerned about our public transportation system.  We have proudly served our community, and we use cost saving methods to keep prices low.

An example of a paragraph in an inter-office memo

Beginning January 1, we will have a revised policy concerning new customers.  The updated intake form includes additional information, so please be sure to read through and complete each section.  Pay particular addition to the additional questions at the bottom as they are now required by the insurance company.  We would like to have e-mail addresses as well.  You can assure customers that we will not be sending them solicitations nor giving the list to any other business.  Be sure to fill in the information neatly and accurately. It is preferred that the information be entered directly into the computer although we realize there are times when that is not practical and a hard-copy form will have to be completed by hand.  Review the instructions on the back page of the form for more details on the revised policy for new customers.

Note:  See how all the sentences work together to support the point shown in the topic sentence that modern technology has expanded accessibility.

Closing/Transitional Statements

The last sentence of a paragraph should remind the reader of the point of the paragraph and transition into the next paragraph if there is one.  See how the last sentence, for example, in the above paragraph reminds the reader of what the paragraph is about: Review the instructions on the back page of the form for more details on the revised policy for new customers.

Multi-Paragraph Documents

Most paragraphs we see are part of a multi-paragraph document: newspaper and magazine articles, books, business letters and inter-office memorandum, “how-to” documents, and other informational documents.  Usually, there is an organization of the paragraphs in a specific way.  The opening paragraph generally gives some idea of what the document is about.  The middle paragraphs give more details about the specific point.  The last paragraph ends the writing, generally by summing up and repeating the point.

There are some context-specific documents that have moe clearly defined paragraphs which are something included as sections of the writing.  For example, a feasibility report might have paragraphs as follows: abstract and/or summary, introduction, discussion, conclusion, recommendations.

Paragraphs in Business Letters and Inter-Office Memorandum

Business letters and inter-office memoradums basically have the same organization of the content:  an introduction paragraph, paragraphs that prove or further explain, and a concluding paragraph which sums up and repeats the point.  A business letter, however, is generally written on company stationery and has the date and address block in the upper left, a Re: line, a salutation such as Dear Mr. Haller (although some are no longer using a formal salutation), and a complimentary closing such as Sincerely.    An inter-office memorandum is generally written on plain paper, sometimes with the company logo as part of the template, lines with To:, From:, Date:, and Re: in the upper left, and no complimentary closing.

Paragraphs in Informational Documents and Academic Essays

Informational Documents

This refers to groups of writings that are designed to give information about a topic or position on a topic.  While they all include a specific thesis (point), have an introduction and concluding paragraph, and have paragraphs that proof or explain the point, there can be wide variety on where the thesis is expressed and the ancillary information presented that is supplemental to the thesis.  These are sometimes called essays.  However, academic essays do have a very specific organizational pattern.

Academic Essays

The introduction paragraph and the concluding paragraph of an essay are different from a general paragraph.  An introduction contains general background information on a topic and leads into a thesis statement.  The sentences with background information are not really in support of the thesis, but they are relevant and do logically flow into the thesis.  In other words, there must be unity and coherence in an introduction paragraph as well.

While the body paragraph of an academic is the same as a general paragraph in that they have a topic sentence and sentences that support it, the topic sentence must be a reason why the thesis of the essay.  Body paragraphs should be clearly support for the thesis and not contain any extraneous information.

A concluding paragraph sums up the proof and restates the thesis. Some instructors ask for a statement drawing an implication of the information presented instead of or in addition to a restatement of the thesis.  In either case, while a concluding paragraph as with the introduction paragraph does not start with a topic sentence and have the rest of the sentences support the topic sentence, the concluding paragraph is similar in that the summary of the proof ties directly into the thesis or statement of general implication.  There are not extraneous, off-topic sentences.

Rhetorical Modes; Review of Paragraphs

Rhetorical Modes; Review of Paragraphs

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Paragraphs

Narration

Narration is when an author writes as though telling a story.  This mode is used more often in fiction, but it can be used in academic essay writing when the best way to help prove the thesis is by relating a sequence of events.

Description/Definition/Exemplification, and Classification

These closely related modes use specific information about certain aspects of a thing, event, or situation. The terms speak for themselves.  Description uses details describing the thing, event, or situation. Definition defines it. Exemplification uses examples, and classification uses categories.

The rose was red. (description)

A rose is a flower with soft petals and a beautiful, brief bloom. (definition)

Roses comes in a variety of colors such as red, yellow, and white. (example)

Roses come in a variety of types including miniature, climbing, hybrid tea, and floribunda. (classification)

Compare/Contrast

Comparing and/or contrasting one thing, event, or situation is a helpful way to show what it is and isn't.  If someone were arguing that a particular type of sneaker was the best, it would be useful to compare to others for support, durability, and price.

Cause and/or Effect

This mode is useful in arguing for or again an action.  Showing the cause and/or effect of an action can be persuasive.  For example, if someone were arguing for an increase in the speed limit, statistics showing an increase in fatalities where limits are higher would be a persuasive argument.

Persuasion/Argumentation

In a sense, the ultimate intent of all communication is persuasion.  Argumentation is one way of talking about debate.  We think of arguing as what we do among friends or family members - and it is - but there is a formal way to argue to prove our point.  Actually, we can learn how to better have civil arguments which will be constructive.  In thinking about persuasion/argumentation as a rhetorical mode, it refers to a type of writing that is clearly arguing in support of a specific point.

To review

  1. A paragraph is a series of sentences on a particular point.
  2. A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence which states that point.
  3. Sentences with supporting details such as examples should follow.
  4. A paragraph must have unity and coherence where the sentences smoothly and logically flow from one to the next and stay focused on supporting the topic sentence.
  5. Transition words and phrases should be used to connect sentencs and paragraphs for unity and coherence
  6. Paragraphs that are part of multi-paragraph documents serve specific functions
  7. Special Types of Paragraphs in Business Letters and Inter-Office Memorandum
  8. Special Types of Paragraphs in Informational Documents and Academic Essays
  9. Rhetorical Modes can be used as types of paragraphs

Essays

Essays

Essay Organization – Overview

There are various types of writing assignments an instructor may give such as journals, reaction papers, questions to be answered, paragraphs on topics or questions, essays, and research papers.

An essay is a writing on a specific question or topic.  Instructors may vary in what they are expecting when they assign an essay.  It’s important to always ask your instructor if you are not sure.  Some may simply want a discussion on a topic or question and are not asking for formal organization.

Others may be expecting a formal academic essay, also called a thesis-and-support paper, organized with an introduction, body, and conclusion that includes the following parts:

an introductory paragraph which gives a background and states the thesis (the point of the essay

a concluding paragraph which sums up the proof and restates the thesis.

body paragraphs which contain proof, also called supporting ideas, of the thesis statement

While some instructors may have slight variations about formal academic essay organization, you won’t have a problem if your paper has the following three components:

a thesis statement at the end of the introductory (opening) paragraph

body paragraphs contain only proof of the thesis, and

a concluding paragraph which contains a review of the proof and restatement of the thesis.  Some instructors also ask for some general prediction or observation instead of or in addition to a restatement of thesis.

Always check with your instructor if you are not sure about what is expected.  The discussion here is for a formal academic essay (thesis-and-support paper).

What is an academic essay and how should it look?

An essay is a collection of paragraphs that fit around one idea or position on an issue. This is usually called the thesis or main idea.

The sentence that contains the main idea is called the Thesis Statement.  The Thesis Statement must take a position and not just state a fact.   While some instructors vary on where a thesis statement may appear, it is safe to place it as th last sentence of the first paragraph.

An academic essay must have at least three paragraphs: an introduction, a body paragraph, and a concluding paragraph.  Since there should be a separate body paragraph for each proof point, the more substantial the proof, the more paragraphs there will be. A typical essay of about five hundred words will usually have at least two or three proof paragraphs making the essay four to five paragraphs.

Instructors often require a specific page format (margins, line spacing, and so on).  Page formatting is part of the requirements of a style system.  Both MLA and APA styles have similar formatting requirements.  Unless your instructor states otherwise, it use MLA page format.

Parts of an Academic Essay

In a way, these academic essays are like a court trial.  The attorney, whether prosecuting the case or defending it, begins with an opening statement explaining the background and telling the jury what he or she intends to prove (the thesis statement).  Then, the attorney presents witnesses for proof (the body of the paragraphs).  Lastly, the attorney presents the closing argument (concluding paragraph).

The Introduction and Thesis

There are a variety of approaches regarding the content of the introduction paragraph such as a brief outline of the proof, an anecdote, explaining key ideas, and asking a question.  In addition, some textbooks say that an introduction can be more than one paragraph.  The placement of the thesis statement is another variable depending on the instructor and/or text.  The approach used in this lesson is that an introduction paragraph gives background information leading into the thesis which is the main idea of the paper, which is stated at the end.

The background in the introductory paragraph consists of information about the circumstances of the thesis. This background information often starts in the introductory paragraph with a general statement which is then refined to the most specific sentence of the essay, the thesis. It is important to note that in this approach, the proof for the thesis is not found in the introduction except, possibly, as part of a thesis statement which includes the key elements of the proof. Proof is presented and expanded on in the body.

The thesis is the position statement. It must contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought. It must also be defensible. This means it should be an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. The more focused and narrow the thesis statement, the better a paper will generally be.

If you are given a question in the instructions for your paper, the thesis statement is a one-sentence answer taking a position on the question.

If you are given a topic instead of a question, then in order to create a thesis statement, you must narrow your analysis of the topic to a specific controversial issue about the topic to take a stand. If it is not a research paper, some brainstorming (jotting down what comes to mind on the issue) should help determine a specific question.

If it is a research paper, the process begins with exploratory research which should show the various issues and controversies which should lead to the specific question.  Then, the research becomes focused on the question which in turn should lead to taking a position on the question.

These methods of determining a thesis are still answering a question. It’s just that you pose a question to answer for the thesis.  Here is an example.

Suppose, one of the topics you are given to write about is America’s National Parks. Books have been written about this subject. In fact, books have been written just about a single park. As you are thinking about it, you may realize how there is an issue about balancing between preserving the wilderness and allowing visitors. The question would then be Should visitors to America’s National Parks be regulated in order to preserve the wilderness?

One thesis might be There is no need for regulations for visiting America’s National Parks to preserve the wilderness.

 Another might be There should be reasonable regulations for visiting America’s National Parks in order to preserve the wilderness.

Finally, avoid using expressions that announce, “Now I will prove…” or “This essay is about …” Instead of telling the reader what the paper is about, a good paper simply proves the thesis in the body. Generally, you shouldn’t refer to your paper in your paper.

Here is an example of a good introduction with the thesis in red:

Not too long ago, everyday life was filled with burdensome, time-consuming chores that left little time for much more than completing these tasks.  People generally worked from their homes or within walking distance to their homes and rarely traveled far from them.  People were limited to whatever their physical capacities were.  All this changed dramatically as new technologies developed.  Modern technology has most improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

Note how the background is general and leads up to the thesis.   No proof is given in the background sentences about how technology has improved lives.

Moreover, notice that the thesis in red is the last sentence of the introduction. It is a defensible statement.

A reasonable person could argue the opposite position:  Although modern technology has provided easier ways of completing some tasks, it has diminished the quality of life since people have to work too many hours to acquire these gadgets, have developed health problems as a result of excess use, and have lost focus on what is really valuable in life.

Quick Tips:

The introduction opens the essay and gives background information about the thesis.

Do not introduce your supporting points  (proof) in the introduction unless they are part of the thesis; save these for the body.

The thesis is placed at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Don’t use expressions like “this paper will be about” or “I intend to show…”

For more information on body paragraphs and supporting evidence, see Proving a Thesis – Evidence and Proving a Thesis – Logic, and Logical Fallacies and Appeals in Related Pages on the right sidebar.

Body

Body paragraphs give proof for the thesis.  They should have one proof point per paragraph expressed in a topic sentence. The topic sentence is usually found at the beginning of each body paragraph and, like a thesis, must be a complete sentence. Each topic sentence must be directly related to and support the argument made by the thesis.

After the topic sentence, the rest of the paragraph should go on to support this one proof with examples and explanation. It is the details that support the topic sentences in the body paragraphs that make the arguments strong.  Proof may include discussion of an opposing view, but it must include a rebuttal explaining why that opposing view does not make sense or otherwise not be considered valid.

If the thesis statement stated that technology improved the quality of life, each body paragraph should begin with a reason why it has improved the quality of life.  This reason is called a topic sentence.  Following are three examples of body paragraphs that provide support for the thesis that modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility:

     Almost every aspect of our lives has been improved through convenience provided by modern technology.  From the sound of music from an alarm clock in the morning to the end of the day being entertained in the convenience of our living room, our lives are improved.  The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time.  Cars or public transportation bring people to work where computers operate at the push of a button.  At home, there’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Some may say the conveniences are not worth the extra cost and effort keeping these devices working, but, overwhelmingly, people opt to use them.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

     Not only has technology improved our lives through convenience, it has improved our lives through efficiency. The time saved by machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  The opposing view might argue that people misuse their increased free time sitting around and watching television.  While some people have health problems as a result of technology, by far, lives are improved. Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives and pursue their goals thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

     Accessibility to a wide range of options has been expanded through modern technology.  Never before could people cross a continent or an ocean in an afternoon.  Travel is not the only way technology has created accessibility.  Software which types from voice commands has made using computers more accessible for school or work.  People with special needs have many new options thanks to modern technology such as special chairs or text readers.  Actually, those people who need hearing aids as a result of normal aging have access to continued communication and enjoyment of entertainment they did not previously have. There are many ways technology has improved lives through increased accessibility.

Notice how these proof paragraphs stick to one proof point introduced in the topic sentences in red. These three paragraphs, not only support the original thesis, but go on to give details and explanations which explain the proof point in the topic sentence.

Some instructors would like a rebuttal paragraph which raises the opposing arguments and explains why they are not valid instead of addressing opposition within the paragraphs as appropriate as shown in the above essay.  In that case, the rebuttal should go before the conclusion.

Quick Tips on Body Paragraphs

  1. The body of your essay is where you give your main support for the thesis.
  2. Each body paragraph should start with a Topic Sentence that is directly related to and supports the thesis statement.
  3. Each body paragraph should also give details and explanations that further support the poof point for that paragraph.
  4. Don’t use enumeration such as first, second, and third. The reader will know by the topic sentence that it is a new proof point.

See Proving the Thesis in Related Pages on the right sidebar for more information on proof.

The Conclusion

Instructors vary of what they expect in the conclusion; however, there is general agreement that conclusions should not introduce any new proof points, should include a restatement of the thesis, and should not contain any words such as “In conclusion.”

Some instructors want only a summary of the proof and a restatement of the thesis. Some instructors ask for a general prediction or implication of the information presented without a restatement of thesis. Still others may want to include a restatement along with a general prediction or implication of the information presents. Be sure to review assignment instructions or check with instructor.  If your assignment instructions don’t specify, just sum up the proof and restate the thesis.

Example which sums up proof and restates thesis:

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

See how the thesis statement was restated in red. The two major arguments about the possible locations proven to be incorrect were also included to remind the reader of the major proof points made in the paper.

Example which makes a general prediction or implication of the information presented:

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday life from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Without it, everyday life would be filled with burdensome tasks and be limited to our neighborhood and our physical capacity.
Here’s an example of a conclusion with a general prediction or implication statement with a restatement of thesis.

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday life from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Without it, everyday life would be filled with burdensome tasks and be limited to our neighborhood and our physical capacity. Modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

Quick Tips for Conclusions

  1. The conclusion brings the essay to an end and is typically the shortest paragraph.
  2. It is important to not introduce new ideas or information here.
  3. Unless otherwise specified in your assignment, just sum up the proof and restate the conclusion.
  4. Some instructors may want the concluding paragraph to contain a general prediction or observation implied from the information presented.

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Essays

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.  Rhetorical modes are ways of using language with a specific focus.  Narration, for example, tells a story or a sequence of events.  A narrative essay tells a story.

Other rhetorical modes focus on describing, defining, using examples (exemplification), or classifying as the primary purpose.  Comparing and contrasting simply compares one thing to another showing the differences as well as the similarities.

In a cause and/or effect paper, the causes and/or effects of a situation are the focus.

A persuasive or argumentative paper proves a position on a controversial issue.

Sometimes, instructors assign essays requiring a specific mode such as defining something or discussing the causes of a problem. These are considered useful ways to develop the particular skill such as looking closely at something to describe it or finding ways to define an object or situation.

More commonly, however, a writing assignment does not require a specific mode;  these strategies are used as appropriate within an essay or other writing.  For example, a paper arguing that pesticides are harmful might include information defining and describing various pesticides. It could include classifying them by potential harm and use examples of the types of pesticides.  It could have information on the effects of particular pesticides.

It can be argued that all papers, regardless of the primary rhetorical strategy used, are persuasive or argumentative since all writing ultimately is to prove something – even if it is only the legitimacy of one’s feelings such as in a reaction paper or creative writing.  Most writing blend the uses of rhetorical styles.

Stylistic Considerations

Unity and Coherence

Like all effective writing, essays must have unity.  They must clearly stay focused on one purpose: proving the thesis.  All the sentences in each paragraph and each paragraph must work together to achieve that purpose.  It is critical for each sentence in each paragraph to start with a topic sentence that states a reason why the thesis is right and that the rest of the sentences in the paragraph support that topic sentence.

Essays must have coherence.  Each sentence must flow smoothly and logically into the next.  Each paragraph must flow smoothly and logically into the next.  Words and word groups called transitions must be used to link one sentence to the next and one paragraph to the next.

See Unity and Coherence in Essays in Related Pages on the right side bar for more information.

Word Use (Appropriate Language)

Generally speaking, use of Standard English vocabulary and grammar is expected.  These types of papers should not sound as though you were talking casually to a friend.  Don’t use slang, for example, such as ok.  Also, while we use second person (you, your) in informal speech, formal academic writing should not use second person since the reference is not specific.  Here’s an example. You should know where your children are.  The reader may not have young children or any children at all.  Here’s an example with clear reference.  Parents of young children should know where their children are.

Instructors will vary about accepting the use of first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) in essay writing.  While first person may be appropriate in journal writing or reaction papers, typically, instructors will require third person (not first or second) in formal essays and research essays. Be aware of requirements for any particular assignment.

Formal academic essays should not include sentences that refer to yourself or the paper.  Don’t use statements such as “In the opinion of this writer (referring to yourself)….” or “This paper will show….”

For more information on language use, see Appropriate Language in Related Pages on the right sidebar. 

Literary Analysis Essay - Close Reading

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. Examining the different elements of a pieces of literature including plot, character, setting, point of view, irony, symbolism, and style to see how the author develops theme is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole. The focus of a literary analysis essay is as expansive as the writers’ interests. For example, a short story analysis might include identifying a particular theme and then showing how the writer suggests that theme through the point of view of the story. It is important to remember that literary analysis does not merely demonstrate a particularly literary element. The focus is explaining how that element is meaningful or significant to the work as a whole. See Essay Organization and Elements of Fiction for more information.

Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text function; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper. When you read a text paying specific attention to certain literary elements, looking for particular patters, or following the development of a particular character, you are practicing close reading. Likewise, when you watch a film with particular emphasis on a certain element, you are doing a close reading. Of course, when one writes an essay that teases out a certain element, this is the beginning of a close reading. Like literary analysis more generally, close reading is not a means in and of itself. Close reading helps inform the larger meaning or import of a work.

Literary analysis involves examining the components of a literary text, which allows us to focus on small parts of the text, clues to help us understand the work as a whole. The process of close reading should produce questions. When you begin to answer these questions, you are ready to participate thoughtfully in class discussion or write a literary analysis paper. Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order form to as many questions as you can.

Outlining

An outline includes the thesis and proof points.  It is the skeleton of an academic essay.  Starting with an outline can be extremely helpful in writing an essay.  Once an outline is completed, it is a matter of developing the proof points (body paragraphs),adding a background before the thesis for an introduction paragraph, and adding a concluding paragraph.  See Outlining in Related Pages on the right sidebar for more information.

Summary

The important thing in essay writing is to have a point, thereby knowing what you are trying to prove, and stick to that point.  Keep it simple and focused.

This format is the basis for writing a research paper as well.  If you can get the idea in a simple essay, writing research papers will be much easier.

Parts of an Academic Essay

Parts of an Academic Essay

Overview

In a way, these academic essays are like a court trial.  The attorney, whether prosecuting the case or defending it, begins with an opening statement explaining the background and telling the jury what he or she intends to prove (the thesis statement).  Then, the attorney presents witnesses for proof (the body of the paragraphs).  Lastly, the attorney presents the closing argument (concluding paragraph).

The Introduction and Thesis

There are a variety of approaches regarding the content of the introduction paragraph such as a brief outline of the proof, an anecdote, explaining key ideas, and asking a question.  In addition, some textbooks say that an introduction can be more than one paragraph.  The placement of the thesis statement is another variable depending on the instructor and/or text.  The approach used in this lesson is that an introduction paragraph gives background information leading into the thesis which is the main idea of the paper, which is stated at the end.

The background in the introductory paragraph consists of information about the circumstances of the thesis. This background information often starts in the introductory paragraph with a general statement which is then refined to the most specific sentence of the essay, the thesis. Background sentences include information about the topic and the controversy. It is important to note that in this approach, the proof for the thesis is not found in the introduction except, possibly, as part of a thesis statement which includes the key elements of the proof. Proof is presented and expanded on in the body.

Some instructors may prefer other types of content in the introduction in addition to the thesis.  It is best to check with an instructor as to whether he or she has a preference for content. Generally, the thesis must be stated in the introduction.

The thesis is the position statement. It must contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought. It must also be defensible. This means it should be an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. The more focused and narrow the thesis statement, the better a paper will generally be.

If you are given a question in the instructions for your paper, the thesis statement is a one-sentence answer taking a position on the question.

If you are given a topic instead of a question, then in order to create a thesis statement, you must narrow your analysis of the topic to a specific controversial issue about the topic to take a stand. If it is not a research paper, some brainstorming (jotting down what comes to mind on the issue) should help determine a specific question.

If it is a research paper, the process begins with exploratory research which should show the various issues and controversies which should lead to the specific question.  Then, the research becomes focused on the question which in turn should lead to taking a position on the question.

These methods of determining a thesis are still answering a question. It’s just that you pose a question to answer for the thesis.  Here is an example.

Suppose, one of the topics you are given to write about is America’s National Parks. Books have been written about this subject. In fact, books have been written just about a single park. As you are thinking about it, you may realize how there is an issue about balancing between preserving the wilderness and allowing visitors. The question would then be Should visitors to America’s National Parks be regulated in order to preserve the wilderness?

One thesis might be There is no need for regulations for visiting America’s National Parks to preserve the wilderness.

 Another might be There should be reasonable regulations for visiting America’s National Parks in order to preserve the wilderness.

Finally, avoid using expressions that announce, “Now I will prove…” or “This essay is about …” Instead of telling the reader what the paper is about, a good paper simply proves the thesis in the body. Generally, you shouldn’t refer to your paper in your paper.

Here is an example of a good introduction with the thesis in red:

Not too long ago, everyday life was filled with burdensome, time-consuming chores that left little time for much more than completing these tasks.  People generally worked from their homes or within walking distance to their homes and rarely traveled far from them.  People were limited to whatever their physical capacities were.  All this changed dramatically as new technologies developed.  Modern technology has most improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

Note how the background is general and leads up to the thesis.   No proof is given in the background sentences about how technology has improved lives.

Moreover, notice that the thesis in red is the last sentence of the introduction. It is a defensible statement.

A reasonable person could argue the opposite position:  Although modern technology has provided easier ways of completing some tasks, it has diminished the quality of life since people have to work too many hours to acquire these gadgets, have developed health problems as a result of excess use, and have lost focus on what is really valuable in life.

Quick Tips:

The introduction opens the essay and gives background information about the thesis.

Do not introduce your supporting points  (proof) in the introduction unless they are part of the thesis; save these for the body.

The thesis is placed at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Don’t use expressions like “this paper will be about” or “I intend to show…”

For more information on body paragraphs and supporting evidence, see Proving a Thesis – Evidence and Proving a Thesis – Logic, and Logical Fallacies and Appeals in Related Pages on the right sidebar.

Body

Body paragraphs give proof for the thesis.  They should have one proof point per paragraph expressed in a topic sentence. The topic sentence is usually found at the beginning of each body paragraph and, like a thesis, must be a complete sentence. Each topic sentence must be directly related to and support the argument made by the thesis.

After the topic sentence, the rest of the paragraph should go on to support this one proof with examples and explanation. It is the details that support the topic sentences in the body paragraphs that make the arguments strong.

If the thesis statement stated that technology improved the quality of life, each body paragraph should begin with a reason why it has improved the quality of life.  This reason is called a topic sentence.  Following are three examples of body paragraphs that provide support for the thesis that modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility:

     Almost every aspect of our lives has been improved through convenience provided by modern technology.  From the sound of music from an alarm clock in the morning to the end of the day being entertained in the convenience of our living room, our lives are improved.  The automatic coffee maker has the coffee ready at a certain time.  Cars or public transportation bring people to work where computers operate at the push of a button.  At home, there’s the convenience of washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, and power lawn mowers.  Modern technology has made life better with many conveniences.

     Not only has technology improved our lives through convenience, it has improved our lives through efficiency. The time saved by machines doing most of the work leaves more time for people to develop their personal goals or to just relax.  Years ago, when doing laundry could take all day, there wasn’t time left over to read or go to school or even just to take a leisurely walk.  Nowadays, people have more time and energy than ever to simply enjoy their lives and pursue their goals thanks to the efficiency of modern technology.

     Accessibility to a wide range of options has been expanded through modern technology.  Never before could people cross a continent or an ocean in an afternoon.  Travel is not the only way technology has created accessibility.  Software which types from voice commands has made using computers more accessible for school or work.  People with special needs have many new options thanks to modern technology such as special chairs or text readers.  Actually, those people who need hearing aids as a result of normal aging have access to continued communication and enjoyment of entertainment they did not previously have.  There are many ways technology has improved lives through increased accessibility.

Notice how these proof paragraphs stick to one proof point introduced in the topic sentences in red. These three paragraphs, not only support the original thesis, but go on to give details and explanations which explain the proof point in the topic sentence.

Quick Tips on Body Paragraphs

The body of your essay is where you give your main support for the thesis.

Each body paragraph should start with a Topic Sentence that is directly related to and supports the thesis statement.

Each body paragraph should also give details and explanations that further support the poof point for that paragraph.

Don’t use enumeration such as first, second, and third. The reader will know by the topic sentence that it is a new proof point.

See Proving the Thesis in Related Pages on the right sidebar for more information on proof.

The Conclusion

Instructors vary of what they expect in the conclusion; however, there is general agreement that conclusions should not introduce any new proof points, should include a restatement of the thesis, and should not contain any words such as “In conclusion.”

Some instructors want only a summary of the proof and a restatement of the thesis. Some instructors ask for a general prediction or implication of the information presented without a restatement of thesis. Still others may want to include a restatement along with a general prediction or implication of the information presents. Be sure to review assignment instructions or check with instructor.  If your assignment instructions don’t specify, just sum up the proof and restate the thesis.

Example which sums up proof and restates thesis:

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

See how the thesis statement was restated in red. The two major arguments about the possible locations proven to be incorrect were also included to remind the reader of the major proof points made in the paper.

Example which makes a general prediction or implication of the information presented:

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday life from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Without it, everyday life would be filled with burdensome tasks and be limited to our neighborhood and our physical capacity.
Here’s an example of a conclusion with a general prediction or implication statement with a restatement of thesis.

Modern technology has created many conveniences in everyday life from waking up to music to having coffee ready to getting to work and doing a day’s work.  The efficiency provided by technology gives people more time to enjoy life and pursue personal development, and the accessibility has broadened options for travel, school, and work.  Without it, everyday life would be filled with burdensome tasks and be limited to our neighborhood and our physical capacity. Modern technology has improved our lives through convenience, efficiency, and accessibility.

Quick Tips for Conclusions

  1. The conclusion brings the essay to an end and is typically the shortest paragraph.
  2. It is important to not introduce new ideas or information here.
  3. Unless otherwise specified in your assignment, just sum up the proof and restate the conclusion.
  4. Some instructors may want the concluding paragraph to contain a general prediction or observation implied from the information presented.

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Essays

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Essays

Rhetorical Modes

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.  Rhetorical modes are ways of using language with a specific focus.  Narration, for example, tells a story or a sequence of events.  A narrative essay tells a story.

Other rhetorical modes focus on describing, defining, using examples (exemplification), or classifying as the primary purpose.  Comparing and contrasting simply compares one thing to another showing the differences as well as the similarities.

In a cause and/or effect paper, the causes and/or effects of a situation are the focus.

A persuasive or argumentative paper proves a position on a controversial issue.

Sometimes, instructors assign essays requiring a specific mode such as defining something or discussing the causes of a problem. These are considered useful ways to develop the particular skill such as looking closely at something to describe it or finding ways to define an object or situation.

More commonly, however, a writing assignment does not require a specific mode;  these strategies are used as appropriate within an essay or other writing.  For example, a paper arguing that pesticides are harmful might include information defining and describing various pesticides. It could include classifying them by potential harm and use examples of the types of pesticides.  It could have information on the effects of particular pesticides.

It can be argued that all papers, regardless of the primary rhetorical strategy used, are persuasive or argumentative since all writing ultimately is to prove something – even if it is only the legitimacy of one’s feelings such as in a reaction paper or creative writing.  Most writing blend the uses of rhetorical styles.

Outlining

Outlining

What is an outline?

An outline of an academic essay contains the thesis and brief information about the proof paragraphs. 

The proof paragraphs are the paragraphs between the introduction paragraph and the concluding paragraph.  Proof paragraphs contain evidence, also called supporting details, that the thesis is accurate.

An outline  is like a skeleton of the essay.  Outlines for academic essays and research papers that are not reports on research or other specialized report have a very specific organization.  Here is a sample for a 500-word essay.  The number of body paragraphs will vary, generally from two to four, for a 500-word essay.

Thesis and Supporting Details (Body Paragraphs)

Thesis: A one-sentence answer taking a position on the research question or, if assigned a topic and not a question, the thesis is a one-sentence statement taking a position on a controversial aspect of the topic.  The thesis must be a statement, not a question.  The thesis must be a sentence, not a topic.  See Thesis in Related Links on the right sidebar..

I. One reason why your thesis is accurate.

A.  Supporting detail

B.  Supporting detail

II. Second reason why your thesis is accurate.

A.  Supporting detail

B.  Supporting detail

III.  Third reason why your thesis is accurate.

A. Supporting detail

B. Supporting detail

Concluding paragraph

 sums up proof and restates thesis and/or draws an implication from the information presented as to significance depending upon instructions.

For a shorter essay, possibly only two body paragraphs will be needed.  For a longer essay, you may need more proof paragraphs.  

Note that the outline begins with the thesis statement.  What you intend to put into the introduction paragraph as background information leading up the thesis is not part of the outline.

Note that I, II, and III represent what will go into the body (proof paragraphs).

Note that the outline does not ordinarily include a reference to the concluding paragraph even though we have listed it above, but all essays must have a concluding paragraph.

How outlining helps in writing an essay

There are three ways that an outline can help you in writing your essay.

It helps to organize your thought or research, if you are writing a research paper, into a writing plan.

It can also help you decide what information should be included and which information is not really needed.

Finally, it can also help you manage the large amount of information you need to sort in order to write a well supported paper.

Once you have an outline, you can actually write the essay from the outline.  Just open the file, delete the word Thesis and the paragraph numbering, add background information before the thesis, develop details for each proof paragraph, and write the concluding paragraph.

How to create an outline

An outline must start with a thesis statement: a one-sentence statement (not a question) taking a position answering a research question (if given a research question to answer) or taking a position on a controversial aspect of a topic (if given a topic on which to write a paper).

Sometimes, you know your position and can easily start with a thesis. If you also know your reasons why you are taking that position, you can simply list your reasons (I, II, …).

At other times, you may not be sure and have to do some thinking or research on the issue.   Let’s take the question “Why don’t some Americans vote?” If this is not a research paper, you might have to do some brainstorming before you can come up with a thesis: a one-sentence answer to the question.  If this is a research essay (research paper), you will do some research. Creating a working bibliography (a list of sources) or doing a synthesis activity can be very helpful for gathering ideas.

Whether you are required to do research or not, the first step is determining a thesis statement.   From brainstorming and/or research, you may have identified the several reasons some people don’t vote as follows:

Age restrictions

Believe that the system is fixed

Believe nothing will ever change

Don’t know where to go to vote

Physically disabled

Don’t know where to register

Happy with the status quo

Too young

Believe their vote doesn’t count

Can’t vote because of incarceration

Don’t know when to vote

Not an important part of upbringing/culture

Felony conviction

Don’t know what identification is needed

Illegal status

Receiving false information about where to vote

Now, we have to cluster these points into categories so that they can be discussed in an organized way in the essay.  We can see that there are some general reasons such as legal barriers, confusion about how to register or where to vote, and lack of concern or interest where people just don’t think voting would change anything.

I.   Lack of concern or interest

II.  Confusion

III. Legal barriers

Looking over the notes that you made from your brainstorming or research, the next step is to eliminate duplications and group ideas under the categories.  Depending on the assignment length, you don’t necessarily have to include everything you find.

For example:

Age restrictions - proof paragraph   III

Believe that the system is fixed - proof paragraph I

Believe nothing will ever change - proof paragraph I

Don’t know where to go to vote - proof paragraph  II

Physically disabled - proof paragraph II

Don’t know where to register - proof paragraph  II

Happy with the status quo - proof paragraph I

Too young - proof paragraph - proof paragraph III

Believe their vote doesn’t count - proof paragraph  I

Can’t vote because of incarceration - proof paragraph III

Don’t know when to vote - proof paragraph II

Not an important part of upbringing/culture - proof paragraph I

Felony conviction - proof paragraph III

Don’t know what identification is needed - proof paragraph   II

Illegal status - proof paragraph III

Receiving false information about where to vote - proof paragraph II

Now you have a rough outline. You have your three major causes and some details that support each. The next step is to make a solid thesis.

The most important part of your paper is the thesis. A good thesis clearly answers your research question and will provide guidance to the reader about the direction and scope of your paper. Make sure that your thesis is a defensible point that others could reasonably disagree. For this paper a reasonable thesis could be: Three major reasons that Americans do not vote are apathy, confusion, and legal barriers.

Next it is time to think about the body of your essay. Since the thesis very clearly shows the three main points, you can use these along with the grouped details you sorted earlier. As you are making your outline you may discover that you have more ideas than you can fit into your paper’s length or that you have gone beyond the scope of your topic. If so, feel free to remove some ideas. For example, because you have many different types of ideas listed under legal barriers, you may wish to remove the weakest or least supported detail.

Some instructors also require that you include a concluding statement. Remember that this statement should simply be a restatement of your thesis and should never introduce new ideas or begin a new discussion. 

This is an acceptable outline to the research questions we’ve developed here:

Your Name

Your Instructor’s Name

Course Title

Day Month Year

Outline

Thesis: Three major reasons that Americans do not vote are apathy, confusion, and legal barriers.

I.  Lack of concern or interest

A.  Disbelief in the system

1.  One vote doesn’t matter

2.  Voting is tampered with

B.  Social/culturally not valued

C.  Satisfaction with the status quo

II.  Confusion

A.  Location

1.  Where to register

2.  Where to vote

B.  When to vote

C.  What documents are needed

III.  Legal barriers

A.  Incarceration

B.   Conviction of a felony

C.  Immigration status

Concluding paragraph:  Sum up proof and restate thesis and/or draw an implication from the information presented showing the significance depending upon your instructions.

Note that this outline has three support details for each reason your thesis is right (each proof point – I, II, III).  Sections I, II, and III each represent one body (proof) paragraph.  Each body paragraph in the essay must begin with a topic sentence that is a reason your thesis is accurate.  This may vary from essay to essay.  What is described here is more like a scratch outline or topic outline which gives just the general ideas.  A formal outline would include detailed sentences and subsections. These are called sentence outlines.  In a sentence outline, the sentence next to each I, II, and III must be a topic sentence which clearly expresses what point that shows the thesis is right will be shown in the paragraph.  

See Related Pages on the right sidebar for more information.

 

Stylistic Considerations

Stylistic Considerations

Unity and Coherence

Like all effective writing, essays must have unity.  They must clearly stay focused on one purpose: proving the thesis.  All the sentences in each paragraph and each paragraph must work together to achieve that purpose.  It is critical for each sentence in each paragraph to start with a topic sentence that states a reason why the thesis is right and that the rest of the sentences in the paragraph support that topic sentence.

Essays must have coherence.  Each sentence must flow smoothly and logically into the next.  Each paragraph must flow smoothly and logically into the next.  Words and word groups called transitions must be used to link one sentence to the next and one paragraph to the next.

See Unity and Coherence in Essays in Related Pages on the right side bar for more information.

Word Use (Appropriate Language)

Generally speaking, use of Standard English vocabulary and grammar is expected.  These types of papers should not sound as though you were talking casually to a friend.  Don’t use slang, for example, such as ok.  Also, while we use second person (you, your) in informal speech, formal academic writing should not use second person since the reference is not specific.  Here’s an example. You should know where your children are.  The reader may not have young children or any children at all.  Here’s an example with clear reference.  Parents of young children should know where their children are.

Instructors will vary about accepting the use of first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) in essay writing.  While first person may be appropriate in journal writing or reaction papers, typically, instructors will require third person (not first or second) in formal essays and research essays. Be aware of requirements for any particular assignment.

Formal academic essays should not include sentences that refer to yourself or the paper.  Don’t use statements such as “In the opinion of this writer (referring to yourself)….” or “This paper will show….”

For more information on language use, see Appropriate Language in Related Pages on the right sidebar. 

Literary Analysis Essay - Close Reading

Literary Analysis Essay - Close Reading

Purpose

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. Examining the different elements of a pieces of literature including plot, character, setting, point of view, irony, symbolism, and style to see how the author develops theme is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole. The focus of a literary analysis essay is as expansive as the writers’ interests. For example, a short story analysis might include identifying a particular theme and then showing how the writer suggests that theme through the point of view of the story. It is important to remember that literary analysis does not merely demonstrate a particularly literary element. The focus is explaining how that element is meaningful or significant to the work as a whole. See Essay Organization. 

Close Reading

Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text function; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper. When you read a text paying specific attention to certain literary elements, looking for particular patters, or following the development of a particular character, you are practicing close reading. Likewise, when you watch a film with particular emphasis on a certain element, you are doing a close reading. Of course, when one writes an essay that teases out a certain element, this is the beginning of a close reading. Like literary analysis more generally, close reading is not a means in and of itself. Close reading helps inform the larger meaning or import of a work.

Literary analysis involves examining the components of a literary text, which allows us to focus on small parts of the text, clues to help us understand the work as a whole. The process of close reading should produce questions. When you begin to answer these questions, you are ready to participate thoughtfully in class discussion or write a literary analysis paper. Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order form to as many questions as you can.

Unity and Coherence in Essays

Unity and Coherence in Essays

Unity

Unity is the idea that all parts of the writing work to achieve the same goal: proving the thesis. Just as the content of a paragraph should focus on a topic sentence, the content of an essay must focus on the thesis.  The introduction paragraph introduces the thesis, the body paragraphs each have a proof point (topic sentence) with content that proves the thesis, and the concluding paragraph sums up the proof and restates the thesis. Extraneous information in any part of the essay which is not related to the thesis is distracting and takes away from the strength of proving the thesis.

Coherence

An essay must have coherence. The sentences must flow smoothly and logically from one to the next as they support the purpose of  each paragraph in proving the thesis. .

Just as the last sentence in a paragraph must connect back to the topic sentence of the paragraph, the last paragraph of the essay should connect back to the thesis by reviewing the proof and restating the thesis.

Example of Essay with Problems of Unity and Coherence

Here is an example of a brief essay that includes a paragraph that does not support the thesis “Many people are changing their diets to be healthier.”

     People are concerned about pesticides, steroids, and antibiotics in the food they eat.  Many now shop for organic foods since they don’t have the pesticides used in conventionally grown food.  Meat from chicken and cows that are not given steroids or antibiotics are gaining in popularity even though they are much more expensive. More and more, people are eliminating pesticides, steroids, and antibiotics from their diets.

    Eating healthier also is beneficial to the environment since there are less pesticides poisoning the earth. Pesticides getting into the waterways is creating a problem with drinking water.  Historically, safe drinking water has been a problem. It is believed the Ancient Egyptians drank beer since the water was not safe to drink.  Brewing beer killed the harmful organisms and bacteria in the water from the Nile.

     There is a growing concern about eating genetically modified foods, and people are opting for non-GMO diets.  Some people say there are more allergic reactions and other health problems resulting from these foods.  Others are concerned because there are no long-term studies which clearly show no adverse health effects such as cancers or other illnesses. Avoiding GMO food is another way people are eating healthier food.

See how just one paragraph  can take away from the effectiveness of the essay in showing how people are changing to healthier food since the unity and coherence are affected.  There is no longer unity among all the paragraphs.  The thought pattern is disjointed and the essay loses its coherence.

Transitions and Logical Flow of Ideas

Transitions are words, groups of words, or sentences that connect one sentence to another or one paragraph to another.

They promote a logical flow from one idea to the next and overall unity and coherence.

While transitions are not needed in every sentence or at the end of every paragraph, they are missed when they are omitted since the flow of thoughts becomes disjointed or even confusing.

There are different types of transitions:

Time – before, after, during, in the meantime, nowadays

Space – over, around, under

Examples – for instance, one example is

Comparison – on the other hand, the opposing view

Consequence – as a result, subsequently

These are just a few examples.  The idea is to paint a clear, logical connection between sentences and between paragraphs.

Proving the Thesis/Critical Thinking

Proving the Thesis/Critical Thinking

Good writing is not just about presenting information in an organized way such as an essay or research paper with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.  It is about persuading your reader that you are right.  In the case of an academic paper, the body paragraphs each must have a proof point (a topic sentence), and the content of each of the body paragraphs must include information that shows that the proof point is accurate.  There are a number of ways to achieve this goal.

This section covers how to critically evaluate your writing with some general information in Proving the Thesis - General Principles and then goes on to explain logical thinking in Proving the Thesis - Logic and problems with logic in Proving the Thesis - Logical Fallacies and Appeals. Rhetorical modes such as description, definition, cause and/or effect, and compare/contract can be used to help prove the thesis.

The same principles are applied when you are evaluating someone else's presentation whether it is a potential source for a paper or simply reading a news article.  Even what is called a documentary - which presumably is the truth - should be critically evaluated.

 

Proving the Thesis - General Principles

Proving the Thesis - General Principles

Stay Focused on Purpose

It is critical to keep focused on the purpose of your writing: to prove the thesis.  If you are planning an essay, start with at least a scratch outline and a working thesis – a starting thesis that you know you might change as you draft your paper.  If you are writing an essay exam or paper, be sure to identify the key terms in the instructions such as the following and don’t stray from the topic and/or question or what the instructions say to do: analyze, clarify, classify, compare, contrast, define, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain, identify, illustrate, interpret, justify, relate, summarize, support, or trace.  Remember to review and revise. See Writiing Process and Outlining in Related Pages on the right sidebar.

Relevance, Reliability, Accuracy, and Sufficiency

The information presented to prove the thesis should be relevant, reliable, credible, and sufficient.

  1. relevant evidence – evidence must be directly and clearly related to proving the thesis
  2. reliable evidence – evidence must be consistent and accurate; the same circumstances must have the same result
  3. reliable narrator –  there is general presumption in sources that are purportedly factual is that the writer is reliable; however, that it is not necessarily accurate that the writer is presenting consistent or even accurate information even when that writer thinks he or she is.  The term reliable narrator is used more frequently in literary analysis to describe that the person telling the story can be trusted to be giving reliable information.
  4. unreliable narrator – an unreliable narrator is where when the person writing the source is not consistent or accurate. The term reliable narrator is used more frequently in literary analysis to describe that the person telling the story cannot be trusted to be giving reliable information.
  5. accurate evidence –  for evidence to be credible, it must be factual.  Even one inaccurate piece of information will cause the reader to doubt an author’s credibility.
  6. sufficient evidence – evidence must be sufficient.  Sufficiency is a question of whether even though the evidence used to prove the thesis may be reliable and accurate, it may not be enough to prove the thesis
  7. representative evidence – a consideration related to relevance, reliability, credibility, and sufficiency is whether the evidence represents the entire group involved in the analysis.  For example, evidence which is relevant, reliable, accurate, and sufficient that shows a high correlation of pesticide content in certain foods may not have been drawn from samples from all over the country, so the incidence may be limited only to the area from which the sample was drawn

Transitional Devices

A good paper must have coherence. This means that all the ideas should be in a logical order and fit together like links in a chain.  One way to do this is to have an overall plan for how the paper will develop, such as in an outline. Another is to use transitional devices.

Transitional devices are a word or words that help one sentence or paragraph flow into the next. Here is an example of two sentences which do not have any transitional information to connect them:

The weather looked threatening. They went on their picnic.

In the above example, we are unsure how these two ideas relate to each other.  See how one word connects the two thoughts in the following example:

The weather looked threatening. Nevertheless, they went on their picnic.

Now we understand the relationship between the ideas. The word Nevertheless serves as a transitional device from one sentence to the next.

Transitional devices can be more than just a word. They can also be entire phrases. Here is an example of a sentence with a phrase that serves as a transitional device.

In spite of the cloudy sky, they went on their picnic.

The words In spite of the cloudy sky are a transitional device.

Just as there should be transitions between sentences, paragraphs should also link together. There are a few ways to do this.

  1. Refer to key words or thoughts from the thesis.
  2. Refer to key words or ideas from the preceding paragraph.
  3. Use transitional expressions.
  4. Use transitional sentences.

Using transitions in your paper is like using signals when you drive. Imagine following someone in a car who is leading you to a place you’ve never been before. Think about how difficult it would be to follow him to the correct destination if he didn’t signal! Just as in driving, you don’t want to take a turn in your paper and risk leaving your readers behind.

Facts and Statistics

Facts and statistics can be very persuasive.  In fact, a critical reader will challenge the accuracy or the legitimacy of the sources for purported facts and statistics.

It is important to investigate those ourselves before we use information that is supposed to be factual.  We should know exactly where the information comes from and evaluate whether the source is credible.  It is not a good idea to present information as though it is a fact unless you know it is a fact.

Statistics can be manipulated.  An educated audience will pick that up and you’ll lose credibility if they sense that the presentation of statistics is not honest.

Here’s an example:

A board president claimed that ninety percent of the people who responded to a survey wanted a certain action taken.  When asked how many responded to the survey, he answered that ten people had responded.

Primary and Secondary Sources

primary source is a source written by the person providing the information.  If you get information from your friend, the friend is the primary source.

In research, it is preferable to get information directly from the source when it is available.

Secondary sources are not directly from the provider of the information.  It is like getting information about what Joan said from John.  This information is not as reliable as primary sources.  However, it is common practice for authors to include what others have said in their articles and analyze what was said.

Visuals

Pictures, charts, graphs, drawings, and diagrams; not appropriate in writing for all courses – check with instructor if not indicated on assignment

Rhetorical Modes as Types of Proof

Narration

Narration is the use of language to tell a story. It is the telling of a sequence of events or occurrences.  As a method of helping to prove a thesis, narration might be used tell the experience of the author or of someone else.  For example, in a paper discussing allergies, a writer might narrate his or her experiences with allergies and what was done to control exposure to the allergens or treat the symptoms.

Definition

It is important, especially when dealing with a complex topic, that you define all the key terms in your argument. This is important because not all definitions are universally agreed upon. Take the idea of immigration reform. For some this could mean providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; for others, it could mean tighter border security.

How you define something influences how you and your audience see a particular issue.  Even the terms used to describe an issue can influence the reader. Take for example the difference in calling someone an “illegal immigrant” versus an “undocumented worker.”

Using the first entry in a standard dictionary is not usually sufficient, especially when writing about something very technical. Some areas have specialized dictionaries to define specific terms. The word gross is used very differently if used in everyday language or by a medical clinician.  In everyday language, the word gross means awful or disgusting.  However, in medical language the word gross means large.

Be careful not to use vague or judgmental words in your definition as it can seem to your readers that you are biased or imprecise.

Division and Classification

With complicated topics, it might helpful to separate the bigger topic or subject area into smaller parts and classify the information according to separate criteria.  For example, in discussing plants, it could help to discuss by categories of plants.

Description

Description is to help bring the reader into the writing.  Specific descriptions of sensations including sights, sounds, smell, touch, and taste can make the reader feel as though he or she is part of the experience which can be a useful strategy in proving a thesis.

Process Analysis

Using examples and facts can support your paper, but simply using these is not enough; you must also think critically about what you have read and react to it. Analysis means to go beyond the obvious and beyond what is literally in the text.

It is very tempting when writing a paper to simply paraphrase or summarize a source than it is to think critically about what was written. Often, when the source is difficult to understand, just repeating his or her words may seem simpler.

Analysis, however, requires a complete understanding of the point the author is making because you must take a complex idea, break it down in to smaller, simpler parts, and then figure out how they fit together.

Examples and Illustrations

Using examples is a way to explain or to prove that our position is accurate.  Examples can be true or actual situations or they can be hypothetical.

Using examples are more effective if they are close to or exactly the same circumstances as in the case you are trying to prove.  If a person can think to themselves that there is a significant difference, the example will not be effective.

If you are using an actual event, you should be careful to be sure you are familiar with the details.  If not, using the example can backfire and convince the person of the opposite.

If you use a hypothetical situation as an example, you should think it through completely first.  Again, if it is not a good example, it would weaken your position.

Attorneys use example to argue cases.  In fact, if they can present a previously decided case in the same jurisdiction that matches up with the existing decision, the judge must decide in their favor.  The supportive case has to be “on all fours,” that is, match up on all the essential points.

Compare/Contrast

We compare and contrast things all the time in life to make decisions from where we buy our groceries to what car to buy. Just as in life, college papers also often require comparing and contrasting. You might have to compare two historic events, world leaders, or poems. Often, even if it is not required, ideas become clearer when you evaluate them in relation to one another.

It is important to remember to be fair when contrasting ideas to show that one is superior.  If you note only the strengths of one and only the faults of the other, your readers may determine that your argument is weak or not credible.

One way to do this is to think about how they are similar in addition to how they differ.  Take the words liberal and conservative for example. Usually these are seen as very different things, but they do have similarities. They both are political philosophies, they both have a moral underpinning, and they both have people who passionately support their ideals.

Cause/Effect

Another way of proving a thesis is to show the causes and/or effects.  For example, if your thesis is that the use of wind power is the best way of producing electricity, showing the effects of how much electricity can be produced is good proof.  You could also include the bad effects of some other means of producing electricity.

Persuasion/Argumentation

In a way, all communication has a purpose: to persuade or argue for the validity of what is being said.  Even when a person is expressing an emotion, effective communication involves convincing the audience that those feelings are legitimate.

The same strategies used to develop a good writing are used when the purpose is specifically to persuade.  Transitional devices, use of examples, facts and statistics, primary and secondary sources, and rhetorical modes including analysis, definition, comparison/contrast, and cause and/or Effect are ways to prove your point.

Examples

See the difference in how these strategies can be used for persuasion.

A simple sentence: It was a cold day.

Transitional device: In addition to being dark and cloudy, it was a cold day.

Example: It was so cold that the chill of the air was felt right through layers of clothing.

Facts/Statistics: It was a record-breaking cold with temperatures plummeting below 15o F.

Primary Source: According to Jones, “Temperatures fell as though we were entering another Ice Age.”

Secondary Source: Goldstein agreed: “This cold wave surpasses any recorded to date” (qtd. in Jones).

Rhetorical Modes

Narration: While I was walking in the park, I noticed that it was a cold day.

Definition: The temperature at which water freezes is 32o F.  This is typically the temperature used to describe weather conditions as freezing.

Description: It was so cold that frost was forming on the windows and the leaves on the plants were curling.

Process Analysis: The measurement of what is considered a cold day includes the temperature and humidity reading along with any wind-chill factor.

Comparison/Contrast: It was so cold this year that the strawberries froze and fell to the ground whereas last year’s crop survived the freeze.

Cause/Effect: Because it was so cold, the strawberries froze and fell to the ground.

Persuasion/Argumentation: The reading on the thermometer of 32o F, the frost or the windows, and the curling leaves of the plants show it was a cold day.

Proving the Thesis - Logic

Proving the Thesis - Logic

Logic

Learning about logical thinking helps us in two ways:  we learn to evaluate and use information better and we learn how to better present information to others to prove our point.  In other words, we learn to critical think about information we hear or see, and we learn to think better ourselves.

Inductive Reasoning

There are different kinds of reasoning.  Inductive reasoning  is  logic that draws a generalization from a particular piece of information.  For example, a person who has only seen red colored roses might (erroneously) infer that all roses are red. Inductive reasoning is subject to error since the particular observation is not necessarily representative of a larger group.  Sometimes, this type of thinking causes people to infer that some bad attribute of one in a group exists among all in that group such as seeing one rotting apple in the bag, makes an inductive leap that all the apples must be rotting.  Of course, this doesn't really make sense, but people make these kinds of hasty generalizations all the time which is an error in logic.

Deductive Reasoning 

Deductive reasoning is logic that draws a conclusion about a particular situation from a general rule.  This is more likely to result in an accurate conclusion since a general rule usually applies to all situations within its category: All flowers need water; therefore, petunias need water. 

Syllogism

A syllogism is a three-part sequence of reasoned thoughts to draw a logical conclusion: All flowers need water. Petunias are flowers. Petunias need water.

The syllogism consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.  The major premise is the general or universal assumption used to make a logical analysis: All flowers need water.  Note that if a major premise is not accurate, the resulting conclusion will not be accurate although it may be logical.

The minor premise is the assumption pertaining to an example in the major premise: Petunias are flowers.  Note that if a minor premise is not accurate, the resulting conclusion will not be accurate although it may be logical.  The conclusion (logical conclusion) is the resulting logical thought of analyzing the major and minor premise.  Logical conclusions are not necessarily true or accurate since the major premise or minor premise may not be accurate.

Other Terms Related to Logic

self-evident – evidence that is apparent by observation or reasoning

valid argument – an argument which is based on logical analysis of information; not necessarily true

sound argument – an argument based on a syllogism that has accurate major and minor premises

Toulmin Logic

Toulmin Logic a form of logic that uses claim, grounds, and warrant for analyzing the logic of an argument

claim – the thesis; the point that is to be proved in Toulmin Logic

grounds – the evidence (proof, support) for the claim in Toulmin Logic

warrant – the result assumption of an analysis of claim and grounds in Toulmin Logic.

 

Proving the Thesis - Logical Fallacies and Appeals

Proving the Thesis - Logical Fallacies and Appeals

Logical Fallacies (Flawed Logic) 

A logical fallacy is a fallacy in logic.  It is flawed logic.  In order to be convincing, using logic is important. Also, identifying the flaws in what someone is saying or writing is necessary for a critical analysis.

There are several logical fallacies:

  1. sweeping generalization – hasty generalization resulting in conclusion that is not necessarily accurate;  inductive reasoning (going from a particular point to a universal rule) which is not thought through carefully.  There is one rotting apple in the bag; therefore, all the apples in the bag are rotting.
  2. argument to the person (ad hominem) – a statement raising questions about a person’s honesty or integrity who is taking a stand on an issue instead of making an argument on the issue itself.  The candidate opposing the widening of the road is being investigated for tax evasion instead of arguing that the widening of the road is needed to alleviate traffic on another road.
  3. non sequitur – an line of argument that really does follow logically.  The road should not be widened because the city park is nearby.  What does the park have to do with widening of the road? This often happens when the argument is just not clearly expressed.  The road should not be widened because it will increase traffic on a street that many children cross to go to the city park.
  4. either/or fallacy – where only two choices are presented instead of giving all the options.  The county commissioners asked residents if they preferred a slight increase in taxes or charging a parking fee for on all county parks.
  5. begging the question – using the argument that something is true or accurate because it is true or accurate.
  6. bandwagon argument – Everyone else is doing it; therefore, you should
  7. appeals – use of language to sway the reader by appealing to emotions, logic, or ethics.
  8. strawman fallacy – where the opponent’s position is unfairly shown to be extreme or illogical in order to minimize its strength.
  9. false comparison fallacy – where a position is compared to something which has some similarities but which is not comparable in a significant way resulting in a false negative comparison
  10. faulty causality fallacy – where an occurrence or event is represented to cause another occurrence or event because they happen at the same time or close in time
  11. slippery slope fallacy – where an action is represented to result in an adverse consequence even though that consequence is very remote.
  12. red herring fallacy – where an irrelevant issue or situation is raised to distract the argument from the point; changing the subject

Appeals

Appeals are the use of language designed to create a particular type of response in the audience.  There are three types of appeals.

  1. emotional appeals – presenting information designed to result in emotion.  Commercials typically have emotional appeals to make the audience feel in a certain way.  Perfume commercials showing couples; diaper commercials showing happy babies.  There are many speeches that used emotional appeals to show the audience the validity of the point being made.
  2. logical appeals – presenting information designed to result in the audience thinking that what is being promoted is logical.  Examples include a commercial to refinance focuses on how money can be saved or an evaluation as to the beneficial effects of a specific course of action such as more community participation or a source of revenue for a business.
  3. ethical appeals – presenting information designed to result in the audience thinking that what is being promoted is the right thing such as contributing to organizations that help victims of natural disasters.

Some use of appeals are thought to be unfair such as images of abused pets or hungry children.  People tend to react emotionally instead of evaluating whether the particular organization will make good use of donations.

Proving the Thesis - Rhetorical Mode

Proving the Thesis - Rhetorical Mode

Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.  In addition to using techniques such as unity and coherence and logic, the modes of rhetoric are used.  Rhetorical modes are ways to use language for persuasion. In addition to using a sentence variety, unity and coherence, and logic, modes such as narration, comparing and contrasting, and cause and/or effect to prove a point.  These can be used within a paragraph as well as the approach for an entire essay.

Types of Rhetorical Modes

Narration

Narration is when an author writes as though telling a story.  This mode is used more often in fiction, but it can be used in academic essay writing when the best way to help prove the thesis is by relating a sequence of events.

Description/Definition/Exemplification, and Classification

These closely related modes use specific information about certain aspects of a thing, event, or situation. The terms speak for themselves.  Description uses details describing the thing, event, or situation. Definition defines it. Exemplification uses examples, and classification uses categories.

The rose was red. (description)

A rose is a flower with soft petals and a beautiful, brief bloom. (definition)

Roses comes in a variety of colors such as red, yellow, and white. (example)

Roses come in a variety of types including miniature, climbing, hybrid tea, and floribunda. (classification)

Compare/Contrast

Comparing and/or contrasting one thing, event, or situation is a helpful way to show what it is and isn't.  If someone were arguing that a particular type of sneaker was the best, it would be useful to compare to others for support, durability, and price.

Cause and/or Effect

This mode is useful in arguing for or again an action.  Showing the cause and/or effect of an action can be persuasive.  For example, if someone were arguing for an increase in the speed limit, statistics showing an increase in fatalities where limits are higher would be a persuasive argument.

Persuasion/Argumentation

In a sense, the ultimate intent of all communication is persuasion.  Argumentation is one way of talking about debate.  We think of arguing as what we do among friends or family members - and it is - but there is a formal way to argue to prove our point.  Actually, we can learn how to better have civil arguments which will be constructive.  In thinking about persuasion/argumentation as a rhetorical mode, it refers to a type of writing that is clearly arguing in support of a specific point.

Appropriate Language

Appropriate Language

Standard English

Good writing is context dependent. In other words, it is not always appropriate to use Standard English. If you sent a letter home to your mother or other family member using Standard English, he or she would probably wonder if it were actually you writing the letter since we don’t use Standard English in everyday speech, and informal letters are generally written how we speak.

We all use slang when we speak. Slang is a general term for non-standard uses of language in a particular social group. Closely related is the use of regionalisms which are non-standard uses particular to a region of the country. For example, you’ll (you all) is a regionalism used in the South as a plural form of the word you while yous is used in New York City.

Another consideration in evaluating “good” writing is the context. Specific professions, for example, use jargon which is specialized language in a field. It’s not unusual for there to be a particular system of abbreviating such as in the medical profession. Interestingly, some words we commonly use such as consideration or gross has other meanings in specialized fields. Consideration means money or some other payment in the law profession. The word gross is used to mean large in the medical and other professions.

The point is that we use informal language in different contexts and for different audiences. When we speak to a five-year-old child, we use language differently than with our friends.
Even though it may not be appropriate to use Standard English all the time, we should know how to use it. With the proliferation of venues for informal written language such as email and texting, sometimes it is hard to remember that there is a standard set of rules.

We should be aware that just because we see a particular spelling or usage in an ad or sign, it does not mean it is Standard English: through, not thru. Academic writing generally requires use of Standard English.

Using a Dictionary

A standard dictionary is the best and first place we should look to for spelling and pronunciation in addition to meaning.  Dictionaries show when proper spelling requires a hyphen and when it doesn’t: far-fetched; bylaw. They show if a word is spelled as one word or two: day care, but campground.  Sometimes, the use of hyphens can vary with the form of the word: witch hunt, but witch-hunter.

When a word has more than one accepted spelling or pronunciation, we should use the first listed when we are writing a college or business document. This assures consistency in spelling. Dictionaries are also helpful to see how plurals are formed, for what is considered a foreign word for use of italics, and for capitalization.

Online spell checks are becoming more popular because they are often faster and can help to correct a word if they are misspelled. This is a very helpful feature, but it is always important to remember that you must decide if the suggestions are correct or not. This also applies to the spell and grammar check in most word processors. There is nothing worse than changing something which was correct in the first place because the spell check or grammar check indicated an error.

How to Use a Thesaurus and How Not to Use a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a dictionary of synonyms: words that mean the same. When you want to  another word for one you think you have used too much, you can look in a thesaurus for other options.  However, there are some considerations.

Appropriate language use involves more than just considering the dictionary definition of a word. Some words are not commonly used, so you will not be effectively communicating if readers aren’t familiar with words.

There are issues of actual meaning. A thesaurus lists related words and not just specific words which mean exactly the same.  For example.  Thesaurus.com  lists calisthenicsaerobatics, and gym as synonyms for trampoline.  Hikingmarching, and strolling are listed as synonyms for walking.  It is critical that you look up the meaning of a word found in a thesaurus before using it.

Bias and Discriminatory Language

To effectively persuade people of the justification of our position, it is not a good idea to deliberately or inadvertently insult them.   Good communication should not contain slurs about race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.  This type of language can destroy our credibility in a moment, rendering the point of our communication meaningless to the listener or reader even if the listener or reader were not a member of the offended group.

There is also a logical error in attributing bad characteristics on an individual because he or she is a member of a group.  Such stereotyping and discriminatory language presumes that all members of a group have a particular characteristic which simply is not factual.  It also is against the basic notion that people should be judged for themselves and not their genetic ancestry or place of birth.  These remarks can be insulting even when they are not meant to be.

“Old people just can’t drive!”

An old person could take offense and might think in response, “Young people just can’t drive.”

We all have our biases, and sometimes they slip out in ways that surprise us.  Here’s an example about a comment made by a woman making an appointment for the first time in a doctor’s office.

“Does he happen to be in today?”

The receptionist replied, “No, she’s not in today.”

The woman had presumed the doctor was a male.

Cliches

Clichés are words or expressions that are so over-used, they make the writing seem boring.  Expressions such as asleep at the wheel, any port in a storm, and good as gold send a signal to the reader that there is nothing new or of interest in the writing.

Repetitiveness

Inappropriate repetition can occur within a sentence and within a paper.

Within a sentence, repetition can occur with words that mean the same thing.

Repetitive: The female actress starred in the lead role in the hit movie, Avatar.

The word actress refers to a female actor; it is, therefore, unnecessary to use the word female. Also, to star means to take a lead role, so this is also unnecessary.

Corrected: The actress starred in the hit movie, Avatar.

Within a paper, repetition can be of the same words or the same points expressed in different word.

Repetitive: The biggest concern about the proliferation of garbage in our landfills is the seeping of toxic waste into our water supply through the ground.  Toxic waste can seep through the ground and to into our water supply.  The water we drink can then be adversely affected by toxic waste from landfills.

CorrectedThe biggest concern about the proliferation of garbage in our landfills is the seeping of toxic waste into our water supply through the ground.

Wordiness

Wordiness is the problem where more words than necessary are used to express a thought since such sentences can be difficult to follow.

Good writing is concise.  Fewer words are better to make the point clearly.

Wordy: In this article, it says that global warming is a natural occurrence which would happen whether or not humans put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

CorrectedThis article says that global warming is natural and not a result of human activity.

Concrete and Abstract Words

concrete word is a word that refers to a specific, tangible item.  Concrete words clearly identify and define. Abstract words are general and not specific.

Our society should primarily be concerned with raising children properly. The word society is not concrete since it is not tangible.

Parents should be primarily concerned with raising children properly. The word parents is concrete since it is tangible.

The need for clear reference is one of the problems with using second person you in writing.  The reference is too general and not concrete.

Unclear: You should know what your children are doing.

This sentence is poorly constructed. I, as the reader, would be confused if I have no children. This sentence isn’t meant to refer to me.  Here is more clear phrasing.

Corrected: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

Unclear: The air is bad today.

This sentence is very general. What air? What’s bad about it? Here are sentences that more specifically explain:

Corrected: The pollen level in the air is high today.

The air is thick with smoke from the nearby forest fire.

The traffic from the highway down the block causes a foul smell in the air.

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word.  Connotation is what meanings are attached to the word.

House is a place where people live.  Home is a place where people live.  However, the meanings attached to home are very different.

Some words have positive or negative connotations. For example, would you rather be childlike or childish? Childlike has a positive connotation while childish has a negative connotation.

DenotationSmall in proportion to height or length

Positive connotationSlim, Trim, Svelte

Negative connotation: Skinny, Boney, Scrawny

Figurative Comparison

Literal comparisons use concrete and specific analysis based on the dictionary definitions.  Figurative comparisons use references to different experiences to evoke images. Here are three sets of examples, each set using a literal and figurative comparison.

Rose petals look like thin, curved shavings of wood which are dyed red. This is a literal comparison.

Rose petals are as soft as a feather and as sweet as a perfume. This is a figurative comparison.

She was shy.

She was like a shrinking violet.

The road was cracked and full of debris.

The road looked as though a bomb has exploded on it.

Active and Passive Voice

Active voice is when the subject is doing the action or existing as the status.  Here are two examples:

Martese plants flowers in the spring. (Martese is doing the action.)
Jade is tall. (Jade is existing in a particular status.)

Generally, we speak and write in active voice which is considered more clear and direct.

Passive voice is when the sentence is phrased so that something is being done to the subject. Here is an example:

The ring was placed on the table. (The action is happening to the subject.)

Passive voice is appropriately used when the purpose of the sentence is what was done to the subject and not the action of the subject.

Point of View/Person

Whether we are writing or speaking, we use language from a point of view – our own personal perspective.  As a literary tool, however, point of view is not exactly the same as perspective.  A writer may alter point of view and speak from another perspective, such as the reader’s or listener’s point of view, or from a bystander’s or third person’s point of view in addition to our own.

Consequently, there are said to be three persons in writing:

First person – I, w, me, use, my, our

Second person – you, your including omitted (understood) you sentences where the subject you is dropped such as in commands or instructions

Third person – he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, hers, theirs or any noun such as people, society, parents, society, students, teachers

When we speak, we use person informally.  We frequently use first person I and second person you and we shift between all three voices.  When we write, we have to be consistent and specific. Here is an example.

Pronoun shift: I went to that restaurant because you know it has the best pizza.

This has an illogical shift. It literally is not conveying the intended meaning. I didn’t go to that restaurant because you knew it has the best pizza.

Corrected: I went there because I knew it had the best pizza.

Sometimes for a formal paper or a specific assignment, an instructor may tell you to not use the first (I, me, my, we, us, our) or second person (you, your). Third person is more removed and lends a more academic tone.

First Person: In my opinion, the best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

When we want to establish ourselves as an authority instead of simply giving our opinion, it is critical to use third person and not first person.

Third Person RestatementThe best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

Using Second Person creates a lack of clarify.

Second Person: You should know what your children are doing.

While we use you in everyday speech, the use is really not a specific reference.  It is just meant s a general expression.  In writing, we should be specific.  Literally, this sentence doesn’t say what it means.  The you not intended to include every reader.  There are readers who do not have children.  There are readers whose children are not living at home.

Third Person Restatement: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

When you give directions or advice to the reader, you are using omitted you second person.  Be sure to proofread carefully.  Even though the word you is not expressed, it is understood.

Second Person Implied (Understood) You: Look carefully before crossing the street.

The implied (understood) subject is you.

Third Person Restatement: Pedestrians should look carefully before crossing the street.

Generally, second person (you, your) should not be used in college writing. First person may be appropriate for particular assignments depending upon the instructions.  When in doubt, it is safer not to use first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) unless of course the assignment calls for a personal response. Always check with your instructor.

In fiction writing, authors use point of view or voice in different ways to further the story.  Some even adopt a first person point of view when it was not even their personal experiences they are writing about.

Standard English, Using a Dictionary, Using a Thesaurus

Standard English, Using a Dictionary, Using a Thesaurus

Standard English

Good writing is context dependent. In other words, it is not always appropriate to use Standard English. If you sent a letter home to your mother or other family member using Standard English, he or she would probably wonder if it were actually you writing the letter since we don’t use Standard English in everyday speech, and informal letters are generally written how we speak.

We all use slang when we speak. Slang is a general term for non-standard uses of language in a particular social group. Closely related is the use of regionalisms which are non-standard uses particular to a region of the country. For example, y’all (you all) is a regionalism used in the South as a plural form of the word you while yous (often used with yous guys) is used in New York City boroughs when talking to more than one person.

Another consideration in evaluating “good” writing is the context. Specific professions, for example, use jargon which is specialized language in a field. It’s not unusual for there to be a particular system of abbreviating such as in the medical profession. Interestingly, some words we commonly use such as consideration or gross has other meanings in specialized fields. Consideration means money or some other payment in the law profession. The word gross is used to mean large in the medical and other professions.

The point is that we use informal language in different contexts and for different audiences. When we speak to a five-year-old child, we use language differently than with our friends.
Even though it may not be appropriate to use Standard English all the time, we should know how to use it. With the proliferation of venues for informal written language such as email and texting, sometimes it is hard to remember that there is a standard set of rules.

We should be aware that just because we see a particular spelling or usage in an ad or sign, it does not mean it is Standard English: through, not thru. Academic writing generally requires use of Standard English.

Using a Dictionary

A standard dictionary is the best and first place we should look to for spelling and pronunciation in addition to meaning.  Dictionaries show when proper spelling requires a hyphen and when it doesn’t: far-fetched; bylaw. They show if a word is spelled as one word or two: day care, but campground.  Sometimes, the use of hyphens can vary with the form of the word: witch hunt, but witch-hunter.

When a word has more than one accepted spelling or pronunciation, we should use the first listed when we are writing a college or business document. This assures consistency in spelling. Dictionaries are also helpful to see how plurals are formed, for what is considered a foreign word for use of italics, and for capitalization.

Online spell checks are becoming more popular because they are often faster and can help to correct a word if they are misspelled. This is a very helpful feature, but it is always important to remember that you must decide if the suggestions are correct or not. This also applies to the spell and grammar check in most word processors. There is nothing worse than changing something which was correct in the first place because the spell check or grammar check indicated an error.

How to Use a Thesaurus and How Not to Use a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a dictionary of synonyms: words that mean the same. When you want to  another word for one you think you have used too much, you can look in a thesaurus for other options.  However, there are some considerations.

Appropriate language use involves more than just considering the dictionary definition of a word. Some words are not commonly used, so you will not be effectively communicating if readers aren’t familiar with words.

There are issues of actual meaning. A thesaurus lists related words and not just specific words which mean exactly the same.  For example.  Thesaurus.com  lists calisthenicsaerobatics, and gym as synonyms for trampoline.  Hikingmarching, and strolling are listed as synonyms for walking.  It is critical that you look up the meaning of a word found in a thesaurus before using it.

Bias and Discriminatory Language; Cliches; Repetitiveness; Wordiness

Bias and Discriminatory Language; Cliches; Repetitiveness; Wordiness

Bias and Discriminatory Language

To effectively persuade people of the justification of our position, it is not a good idea to deliberately or inadvertently insult them.   Good communication should not contain slurs about race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.  This type of language can destroy our credibility in a moment, rendering the point of our communication meaningless to the listener or reader even if the listener or reader were not a member of the offended group.

There is also a logical error in attributing bad characteristics on an individual because he or she is a member of a group.  Such stereotyping and discriminatory language presumes that all members of a group have a particular characteristic which simply is not factual.  It also is against the basic notion that people should be judged for themselves and not their genetic ancestry or place of birth.  These remarks can be insulting even when they are not meant to be.

“Old people just can’t drive!”

An old person could take offense and might think in response, “Young people just can’t drive.”

We all have our biases, and sometimes they slip out in ways that surprise us.  Here’s an example about a comment made by a woman making an appointment for the first time in a doctor’s office.

“Does he happen to be in today?”

The receptionist replied, “No, she’s not in today.”

The woman had presumed the doctor was a male.

Cliches

Clichés are words or expressions that are so over-used, they make the writing seem boring.  Expressions such as asleep at the wheel, any port in a storm, and good as gold send a signal to the reader that there is nothing new or of interest in the writing.

Repetitiveness

Inappropriate repetition can occur within a sentence and within a paper.

Within a sentence, repetition can occur with words that mean the same thing.

Repetitive: The female actress starred in the lead role in the hit movie, Avatar.

The word actress refers to a female actor; it is, therefore, unnecessary to use the word female. Also, to star means to take a lead role, so this is also unnecessary.

Corrected: The actress starred in the hit movie, Avatar.

Within a paper, repetition can be of the same words or the same points expressed in different word.

Repetitive: The biggest concern about the proliferation of garbage in our landfills is the seeping of toxic waste into our water supply through the ground.  Toxic waste can seep through the ground and to into our water supply.  The water we drink can then be adversely affected by toxic waste from landfills.

CorrectedThe biggest concern about the proliferation of garbage in our landfills is the seeping of toxic waste into our water supply through the ground.

Wordiness

Wordiness is the problem where more words than necessary are used to express a thought since such sentences can be difficult to follow.

Good writing is concise.  Fewer words are better to make the point clearly.

Wordy: In this article, it says that global warming is a natural occurrence which would happen whether or not humans put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

CorrectedThis article says that global warming is natural and not a result of human activity.

Concrete and Abstract Words; Denotation and Connotation; Figurative Comparison

Concrete and Abstract Words; Denotation and Connotation; Figurative Comparison

Concrete and Abstract Words

concrete word is a word that refers to a specific, tangible item.  Concrete words clearly identify and define. Abstract words are general and not specific.

Our society should primarily be concerned with raising children properly. The word society is not concrete since it is not tangible.

Parents should be primarily concerned with raising children properly. The word parents is concrete since it is tangible.

The need for clear reference is one of the problems with using second person you in writing.  The reference is too general and not concrete.

Unclear: You should know what your children are doing.

This sentence is poorly constructed. I, as the reader, would be confused if I have no children. This sentence isn’t meant to refer to me.  Here is more clear phrasing.

Corrected: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

Unclear: The air is bad today.

This sentence is very general. What air? What’s bad about it? Here are sentences that more specifically explain:

Corrected: The pollen level in the air is high today.

The air is thick with smoke from the nearby forest fire.

The traffic from the highway down the block causes a foul smell in the air.

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word.  Connotation is what meanings are attached to the word.

House is a place where people live.  Home is a place where people live.  However, the meanings attached to home are very different.

Some words have positive or negative connotations. For example, would you rather be childlike or childish? Childlike has a positive connotation while childish has a negative connotation.

DenotationSmall in proportion to height or length

Positive connotationSlim, Trim, Svelte

Negative connotation: Skinny, Boney, Scrawny

Figurative Comparison

Literal comparisons use concrete and specific analysis based on the dictionary definitions.  Figurative comparisons use references to different experiences to evoke images. Here are three sets of examples, each set using a literal and figurative comparison.

Rose petals look like thin, curved shavings of wood which are dyed red. This is a literal comparison.

Rose petals are as soft as a feather and as sweet as a perfume. This is a figurative comparison.

She was shy.

She was like a shrinking violet.

The road was cracked and full of debris.

The road looked as though a bomb has exploded on it.

Active and Passive Voice; Point of View/Person

Active and Passive Voice; Point of View/Person

Active and Passive Voice

Active voice is when the subject is doing the action or existing as the status.  Here are two examples:

Martese plants flowers in the spring. (Martese is doing the action.)
Jade is tall. (Jade is existing in a particular status.)

Generally, we speak and write in active voice which is considered more clear and direct.

Passive voice is when the sentence is phrased so that something is being done to the subject. Here is an example:

The ring was placed on the table. (The action is happening to the subject.)

Passive voice is appropriately used when the purpose of the sentence is what was done to the subject and not the action of the subject.

Point of View/Person

Whether we are writing or speaking, we use language from a point of view – our own personal perspective.  As a literary tool, however, point of view is not exactly the same as perspective.  A writer may alter point of view and speak from another perspective, such as the reader’s or listener’s point of view, or from a bystander’s or third person’s point of view in addition to our own.

Consequently, there are said to be three persons in writing:

First person – I, w, me, use, my, our

Second person – you, your including omitted (understood) you sentences where the subject you is dropped such as in commands or instructions

Third person – he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, hers, theirs or any noun such as people, society, parents, society, students, teachers

When we speak, we use person informally.  We frequently use first person I and second person you and we shift between all three voices.  When we write, we have to be consistent and specific. Here is an example.

Pronoun shift: I went to that restaurant because you know it has the best pizza.

This has an illogical shift. It literally is not conveying the intended meaning. I didn’t go to that restaurant because you knew it has the best pizza.

Corrected: I went there because I knew it had the best pizza.

Sometimes for a formal paper or a specific assignment, an instructor may tell you to not use the first (I, me, my, we, us, our) or second person (you, your). Third person is more removed and lends a more academic tone.

First Person: In my opinion, the best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

When we want to establish ourselves as an authority instead of simply giving our opinion, it is critical to use third person and not first person.

Third Person RestatementThe best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

Using Second Person creates a lack of clarify.

Second Person: You should know what your children are doing.

While we use you in everyday speech, the use is really not a specific reference.  It is just meant s a general expression.  In writing, we should be specific.  Literally, this sentence doesn’t say what it means.  The you not intended to include every reader.  There are readers who do not have children.  There are readers whose children are not living at home.

Third Person Restatement: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

When you give directions or advice to the reader, you are using omitted you second person.  Be sure to proofread carefully.  Even though the word you is not expressed, it is understood.

Second Person Implied (Understood) You: Look carefully before crossing the street.

The implied (understood) subject is you.

Third Person Restatement: Pedestrians should look carefully before crossing the street.

Generally, second person (you, your) should not be used in college writing. First person may be appropriate for particular assignments depending upon the instructions.  When in doubt, it is safer not to use first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) unless of course the assignment calls for a personal response. Always check with your instructor.

In fiction writing, authors use point of view or voice in different ways to further the story.  Some even adopt a first person point of view when it was not even their personal experiences they are writing about.

Literature

Literature

This section covers the following topics:

  • Glossary of Literary Terms

  • History of Literature

  • How to Read Literature

  • Appropriate Language – Literature

  • Fiction

  • Poetry

  • Drama

Glossary of Literary Terms

Glossary of Literary Terms

For easy access to literary terms, the Glossary is divided into the sections as shown in the left sidebar.

In addition, you can use the Table of Contents on the left and the Search Center above it to find the information you are looking for.

Literary Terms: A - A

Literary Terms: A - A

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abstract words 

words that do not refer to tangible, specific items

act 

section of a play which generally includes more than one scene

action 

the events that occur in the piece of literature

allegorical figures 

the symbolic character representing something in an allegory such as the character Faith representing religious faith in “Young Goodman Brown”

allegorical framework –

the overall organization of an allegory

allegory 

a pattern of using symbols in prose or poetry to tell a story in a story

alliteration 

the repetition of sounds in the beginnings of word; front rhyme

allusion

a reference to an historical event, aspect of culture, character or content in a piece of literature, or other widely known type of information to convey a feeling, idea, or image; serves to convey information using few words

analyze 

review critically considering possibility of author bias, accuracy and completeness of information presented, use of language to convey message and influence interpretation, and  implications of information presented

anaphora 

repetition of word or words at the beginning of lines or stanzas

Ancient Greek Theater (Dionysus, Sophocles, Euripides) 

the presentation of drama and comedy dating back about 400-500 BC to Sophocles and Euripides in Ancient Greece.

Ancient Literature 

all written stories, poems, histories, and dramas from the surviving texts from about 2800 BC to about 500 AD

Ancient Poetry 

poetry created before the late 500s AD having roots in an oral tradition of creating and performing poetry verbally. Surviving poetry includes love poem from Ancient Sumeria, poetic verses in ancient religious texts including the Bible and Koran, and epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

anecdotes 

short, amusing, true events about a person that relate a bigger truth about life than the specific incident

Anglo-Saxon era –

poetry created from the beginning of the Middle Ages (late 500s AD) into the end of the Middle Ages (mid-1400s) usually associated with tales of heroic deeds and non-romantic love

antagonist 

the forces against the protagonist; could be another character, a force of nature, or an organization, or other entity or situation which creates opposition to protagonist

apostrophe 

where the speaker speaks to a dead or non-present person

approximate rhyme –

near rhyme

archetypal images – 

images that are generally accepted as representing something such as the Statue of Liberty representing freedom and opportunity

arrangement of events –

how the events are structured in a plot; may be chronological, start in the middle of things (in medias res), or as flashbacks

asides 

where a character makes a comment to the audience which is supposedly not heard by the other characters; used in drama

assonance 

use of vowel sounds for rhyming

assumptions 

guesses; information that is not based on evidence

atmosphere 

the general feeling of the surroundings that is created in the work such as peaceful or tragic; slightly different from mood which is the emotional reaction in the reader to the atmosphere although mood and atmosphere are sometimes used interchangeably.

aubade 

a lyric poem about morning or the rising sun

auditory imagery 

the creation of an image of sound

autobiography 

a factual story written by a person on his or her own life

Literary Terms: B - Cl

Literary Terms: B - Cl

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ballad stanza –

a stanza of four lines (quatrain) with the second and fourth lines rhyming

ballad 

a narrative poem telling a story a person or event often about love usually told in rhymed stanzas and which includes a repeated refrain.  Ballads are often sung.

beast fable –

a fable that has animals with human qualities as characters

Beat poets –

a movement beginning in the late 1940s where poets turned to use of psychogenic drugs for mind expansion and where social and political criticism was a common theme.

biography 

a factual story written about a person by a another person

Black Arts Movement 

a movement beginning in the 1960s where poets focused on social and political situation of African-Americans.

Black Mountain poets –

a movement during the 1930s starting in Black Mountain, North Carolina which stressed the process of writing instead of the completed poem

blank verse –

unrhymed iambi pentameter

cacophony 

unrhymed or discordant sounds

caesura 

a pause or stop in the middle of a verse

capture narrative 

a journal kept by a person who was captured and held against his or her will and forced to live in another culture; generally associated with stories white people have written about being captured and living with the Indians in early American history

caricatures 

a character presented with an exaggeration of prominent features; a type of stock character

carpe diem 

“seize the day”; sometimes, a theme in a fiction or poem

character analysis –

the analysis of a character’s personality based on the behavior described in the work of literature; may be described in everyday language such as selfish, kind, thoughtful, or mean or in psychological terms such as having a narcissistic personality disorder or depressed.

character 

a person in a piece of literature

chivalric romance 

a romance popular from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance involving the romantic exploits of chivalric heroes, men who lived by the Code of Chivalry

chorogos 

the leader of the chorus

chorus 

in staged performances, a group of “townspeople” who articulate different perspectives; from the Greek chorus

chronological order –

the presentation of events in the order they occurred in time

Classical Greek Drama 

the period from about 550 BC to 323 BC highlighted by dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides where the art forms of tragedy and comedy began.

cliché 

a worn-out phrase purporting to tell some general truth which no longer has meaning because of his overuse

climax –  

the highest point of conflict; the point at which the action begins to fall to resolution (denouement)

closed form (fixed form) –

poetry which follows a pattern of sounds, rhyme, or meter

Literary Terms: C - D

Literary Terms: C - D

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colloquialisms 

non-standard or non-grammatical use of language in everyday speech

colonnade 

a line of pillars with a roof behind the skene in Ancient Greek Theater

comedy of manners 

a comedy which makes fun of the manners or customs of a specific segment of the society; uses exaggeration

comedy 

a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which include a theme of new life often through a marriage; though to have evolved from the aspect of the rebirth of the god in the Dionysian rituals

commercial literature 

literature written to appeal to popular audiences and not written with any deeper meaning to be conveyed

common measure 

a ballad stanza generally rhyming in alternating pairs

concrete poem –

a poem whose words or letters are laid out on the page to reflect the theme of the poem.

concrete words 

words that name something that can be seen, touched, heard, or otherwise experienced through the senses

confessional poems 

a movement beginning in the 1950s where the subject of poems were the very personal experiences of the poet beyond just a yearning for love or a specific emotional reaction

conflict 

the friction between the goals of the protagonist (the main character – doesn’t have to be the “good” character) and the forces against the protagonist, called the antagonist

connotation 

the understood or implied meaning of a word as opposed to the literal meaning such as the word home which has more meaning than just where a person lives.

consonance 

use of consonants for rhyming

conventional symbols –

symbols with a generally understood meaning across cultures with similar usages such as the various road signs or even computer icons

conventional theme 

a theme topic that has been commonly used such as loss of innocence

conventional word order –

subject – verb – object along with any modifying words adjacent to the words modified

couplet 

a poem or stanza of two line

crime fiction –

a type of fiction whose plot revolves around solving a crime

cultural context –

the consideration of the cultural setting in order to do a character analysis such as the pre-Women’s Movement in America in a rural community in the 1920s or 1930s.

cultural setting –

the ethnic, religious, or other setting relating to culture such as sociological

denotation 

the dictionary definition of a word

deus ex machina 

a plot contrivance to unexpectedly save a character from a seemingly inescapable, problematic situation often associated with a divine intervention; first used in Ancient Greek and Roman theatre where mechanical devices were used, such as a pulley to lower a god or goddess onto the set to take the character back into the heavens

dialogue 

a conversation between or among characters

diction 

the way words are written or spoken such an formal or informal

drama 

a form of literature presented where parts are written for actors to perform and the action is revealed primarily through the dialogue of the characters and the action includes high emotional content; the modern usage includes television and film

dramatic irony (tragic irony) –

an irony created when the audience knows something a character does not know

dramatic monologue –

a lyric poem where the speaker expresses strong emotions or ideas to silent listeners.

dramatic poetry –

a poem that almost entirely uses dialgue between characters

dynamic character 

a character that changes during the story

Literary Terms: E - E

Literary Terms: E - E

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elegy 

a lyric poem which mourns the death of a particular person

Elizabethan Theater –

developed during the 1500, a form of theater which where plays were performs in the courtyards of inns and evolved into a highly sophisticated form of theater with elaborate theaters; includes Shakespearean plays

end-stopped line 

a pause at the end of a line of verse

enjambment/run-on line –

continuation of a thought or sentence onto a new line

epic 

a narrative  which tells a story of a great adventure or battle and which involves humans of exceptional stature such as kings who often have superior strength or skills or includes gods. The results of the adventure or battle or war has drastic consequences beyond the fate of the participants often for an entire country or kingdom

epigram 

a short clever poem making a pointed, sometimes paradoxical, observation

epiphany –

the sudden insight a character has about him or herself, another character, or the situation

episodia 

episodes or scenes following the parodos where the actors play out the conflict.

epithet 

words used to describe or characterize a person or a thing such as wine dark sea in wine dark sea.

euphony 

good or pleasing sound

evaluate 

form a judgment as to information provided on content

exposition 

a part of the fiction (or or drama or poem) which introduces the characters, settings, and conflict

expressionism 

a literary movement in the early 1900s which focused on finding and expressing an inner or spiritual reality rather than portraying an actual external reality.

expressionistic stage setting 

the creation of scenery, costumes, props, and/or lighting in an exaggerated way that reflects the theme or mood of the play such as drab dark colors and lighting to show the depressed mood of the characters

extended metaphor –

direct comparison which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

extended simile – 

comparison using the word like or as which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

eye rhyme –

a similarity in spelling between words that are pronounced differently

 

Literary Terms: F - G

Literary Terms: F - G

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fables 

a short tale used for teaching a lesson which uses animals, objects, or nature

facts 

the truth; information based on evidence

fairy tales 

stories that include supernatural creatures such as fairies or magicians

falling action –

the action following the climax ending in resolution (denouement)

falling meter –

movement from stressed to unstressed meter

fantasy 

a fiction which includes some aspect or situation that does not fall into the understood rules of physics, scientific possibility, or reality

farce 

a form of literature which uses a situation more than characters to create humor; usually involve slapstick – an exaggerated action such as falling over a chair or a long-played effort at what should be simple such as placing a carton on a shelf; silly, light-hearted, not cynical or satiric.

fiction 

a created series of characters and events that has not actually happened

fictionalize 

to create a fiction from an actual event

figurative language 

language that is used to mean some other or something more than it says; language that is used in a non-literal way

figurative level –

the non-literal level; the place where the story behind the story is told

figures of speech 

various ways speech is used figuratively

first-person narrator (first-person point of view) – 

a story told from the viewpoint of the author of the story as a character in the story using the word I to tell the story; may be omniscient (all knowing) or limited (knows only information from that character’s perspective)

flash fiction –

a type of short story less than 1000 words

flashbacks 

a technique used to show events that previous occurred by interrupting the present action and going back to previous events; generally used when a story starts in medias res (in the middle of things) such as where a scene opens during a trial and then some of the previous action leading up to the trial is told.

flat character 

a character described with only one or two personality traits; a superficial character

foil 

a character created as a contrast to another character as a way of focusing attention on the traits of that other character such as a character taking an unethical approach in order to focus attention on another character taking the ethical approach

folk tales 

stories or legends that are about or from a culture or group of people (folk)

foreshadowing 

a literary device that gives a hint about what is going to occur

form (poetic form) 

poetry has two forms: narrative which tells a story and lyric which expression an emotion or idea

formal diction –

the use of words following rules of grammar and Standard English

general words –

non-specific words

genre 

categories of literature: fiction, poetry, drama

geographical setting 

the town, state, country, or other geographical place

Globe Playhouse –

an elaborate theater built in 1599 which includes various sections: hell, heaven, rear stage, music gallery, and huts

groundlings 

the commoners who stood and watched the plays in the courtyard presentations

gustatory imagery –

the creation of an image of taste

Literary Terms: H - J

Literary Terms: H - J

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haiku –

a form of Japanese verse with three lines which are not rhymed and which have five, seven, and five syllables usually involving some aspect of nature.

Harlem Renaissance –

a movement during the 1920s starting in Harlem which focused on Black culture

heroic couplet –

two lines of rhymed verse in iambic pentameter; generally used in epic poems

hip-hop –

musical verse which uses rhyme, repetition of sounds and phases

historical setting –

the moment in history where the action occurs

history –

the actual events

horror fiction –

a type of fiction that includes an event or events that are very frightening and which may include fantasy or science fiction

hubris –

arrogance; an attribute where a character (or a person) has an exaggerated sense of him or herself or his or her importance

hyperbole –

saying more than what is meant; exaggeration

iambic pentameter –

a common type of pattern of sounds and rhythm used in poetry created by pairing ten syllables for each line into five pairs. Commonly used by Shakespeare in his sonnets

imagery –

the creation of sensory images through words

imaginative literature –

literature created by an author’s imagination to convey some personal feeling or observation or message

imagism –

a poetic movement beginning in the early 1900s where poets began experimenting with open verse and focused on the poet’s response to a situation or object stressing concrete imagery

imperfect rhyme –

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

in medias res –

Latin expression meaning “in the middle of things”; an arrangement of events where the story starts somewhere in the middle of the action and then goes forward giving information about what happened before through narration, dialogue, or flashbacks

informal diction –

the use words with slang, colloquialisms, and non-Standard English

initiation theme –

a theme about being initiated into something new

interpretative literature –

literature intended to say more than just the story on a larger issue and to be interpreted; literature that can have more than one meaning

inverted sequence –

an order of words that is not conventional

ironic title –

a title which contains irony often helping to reveal theme

irony –

created when  there is a discrepancy between an expectation and an actuality

Literary Terms: K - N

Literary Terms: K - N

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Kabuki dramas 

Japanese dance drama characterized by ornate costumes and make-up

kinetic imagery 

an image which creates a sense of motion or movement such as the wind in the trees

limerick  – 

a type of poem, usually humorous, consisting of five lines where the first, second,and fifth lines rhyme with each other and the third and fourth lines, which are shorter, form arhymed couplet.

limited omniscient –

a limited omniscient narrator only knows about the story and characters from a limited perspective such as one of the characters who does not know everything

line 

a line of poetry is what is written on one line; not necessarily a sentence

literary symbols –

symbols that are used within a piece of literature to represent a person, object, or situation in that piece of literature such as pink ribbons representing the purity and innocence of a character who is wearing them.

literary canon 

a collection of literature that is generally considered significant

literature 

any style or genre of writing whose primary focus is the expression or communication of feelings or narrating of events in a way that is not common speech and uses figurative language as opposed to writing to keep records or communicate information.

lyric 

a form of poetry which expresses feelings or observations

Master of Revels –

an appointed person to decide which plays would be performed in Elizabethan Theater

meditation 

a lyric poem which starts by observing a specific object and then drawing some philosophical inferences

metafiction 

writings about fiction

metaphor 

a direct comparison or equivalence

metaphysical poets –

a poetic movement during the 1600s characterized by analysis, complex form, and themes associated with intellect over emotions

metaphysical poets 

a poetic movement during the 1600s characterized by analysis, complex form, and themes associated with intellect over emotions

meter 

the recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of poetry of specific length

metonymy 

referring to one thing by something else it is associated with: the crown to refer to the king

micro fiction –

a type of short-short story ranging from a few words to a paragraph of less than 250 words

Middle Ages 

an historic period from the late 500s AD to the middle of the 1400s.

modern short story –

a short story characterized by an apparent lack of action or conflict and/or without resolution

Modern Theater –

began in the late 1800s and is characterized by events and characters based on reality; inspired by the realism movement in art and literature

modernism 

a literary movement beginning in the early 1900s spurred by the industrial age, a first World War I, and challenges to established Christianity which characterized by feelings of loss of “old ways” and an unknown, insecure future

monologue 

a long speech-like expression by one character where the other present characters are silent; used more commonly in plays than fiction; a dramatic monologue is a particularly emotional expression

mood –  

the feeling that is created in the reader as a result of the tone or atmosphere in a work such as anger.  Tone is created by how the author describes the characters, setting, and events such as gloomy or humorous.  Atmosphere is the general feeling of the work itself.  Mood and atmosphere are sometimes used interchangeably.

moral 

a lesson learned as a result of actions that occurred in a story

morality plays 

developed and performed from the 1300s and 1400s which were allegories demonstrating Christian principles

motivation 

the reasons a character takes or does not take action

mystery plays –

developed during the 900s through the 1500s which are representations of stories from the Bible and gradually fell from popularity with the production of drama such as the works of Shakespeare

myth 

a traditional story which explains the world and existence of humans usually as part of a cluster of such stories and which is a reflection of a religious belief system or social values of a culture

narrative 

a story or poem about a sequence of events; a story

narrator 

the person through whose perspective, knowledge, and voice a story is told

near rhyme 

approximate rhyme

No plays 

highly stylized Japanese performance art from which Kabuki dramas evolved

novel 

a longer piece of fiction characterized by more plot and character development than a short story

novella 

a piece of fiction shorter than a novel and longer than a short story; usually thought of as a short novel

Literary Terms: O - Pi

Literary Terms: O - Pi

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objective narrator (objective point of view) 

relates the story as a sequence of events without commenting or judging the characters or their action or situation

objective 

relates the story as a sequence of events without commenting or judging the characters or their action or situation

occasional poem 

lyric poetry written about an occasion

octave 

a poem or stanza of eight lines in a poem

ode 

a lyric poem explicating the attributes or aspects of nature or a specific object or living creature such as “Ode to a Nightingale.” Uses complex stanza patterns.

olfactory imagery –

the creation of an image of smell

omniscient 

an omniscient narrator knows everything about the events and the characters

onomatopoeia 

words that sound like the sound they mean: buzz

open form (free verse, vers libre) 

poetry that does not follow any specific pattern of form, rhyme, or meter

opinion 

a personal evaluation

oral tradition 

the tradition of transmitting stories, poems, and other cultural information from generation to generation through oral presentation instead of by written documents

orchestra 

the part of the stage where the orchestra performs generally in a lower section in front of the stage; from “the dancing place” in Ancient Greek Theater

ottava rima

a poem or stanza of eight lines with a specific rhyme pattern: iambic pentameter with ab ab ab cc

oxymoron –  

use of contradictory, opposing, or inconsistent terms such as fearless coward

pageants 

recreations of Biblical stories during the 1100s and 1200s; also called mystery plays; forerunners of Elizabethan Theater

palindrome – 

a word, line, verse, number, or sentence which reads the same backward asforward such as radar

parables 

a short tale used for teaching a lesson

parodos 

a part of Ancient Greek tragedy where the chorus enters and comments on the prologos following the prologos

participatory drama – 

where actors mingle and interact with members of the audience

pastoral romance 

a romance which focuses on the pleasures of the simple, rural life

pastoral 

a lyric poem which observes the simple pleasures of rural life

pattern of imagery –

the systematic use of imagery in a work

perfect rhyme 

when a sound in a word is the same as the sound in another word

persona 

the personality a narrator assumes; a mask used in Ancient Greek theater by the actors playing a particular role

personal perspective 

a position based on personal experiences

personification 

attributing human qualities to a non-human or non-living object

Petrarchan sonnet –

a lyric poem about unattainable love

physical setting 

the place where the action occurs: a park, a supermarket

picaresque 

a story about a rogue

Literary Terms: Pl - R

Literary Terms: Pl - R

Scroll to Find Term

plot 

the sequence of events in the main action in a piece of literature

poem 

non-prose use of words to express a feeling or idea usually associated with repetition of sounds, patterned sequences of words and/or lines, figurative language and other poetic devices, and has a highly focused purpose either to tell a story or express an emotion or idea

poetic devices –

ways of using language such as imagery, figures of speech, irony, symbolism, allusion, fantasy, point of view, rhyme, rhythm, and theme; used in poetry to compress meaning into fewer words and more intense expression.

poetic language –

focused use of language which is not bound by Standard English to create an image or arouse a particular emotion

poetic liberty –

taking the liberty for the purpose of creating an image, feeling, or idea to stray from standard language usage including spelling, definition, and grammar and even linear placement of letters or words; does not have to be only in a poem although that is the most frequent acceptable use.

poetic license 

use of non-standard grammar and punctuation 

poetry 

use of language in non-everyday ways such as repetition of sounds and rhyme or focus on an observation or feeling using figures of speech and imagery and other devices to compress meaning resulting in more intense communication

point of view –

the perspective from which an author tells a story point of view

pop fiction –

a type of fiction with exciting or thrilling plots designed for popular audiences characterized by suspenseful plots, usually flat characters, and focus on a swift-moving action

postmodernism 

a literary movement that began in the 1960s characterized by introspection, disengagement of conventions and standardization, focus on popular themes of the day such as anti-establishment ideology and personal freedom, exploration, and determination.

prologos 

the prologue; in Ancient Greek tragedy, the opening section where an actor gives a background or introduction to the play

prose poem 

is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery and emotional effect; an open-form of poetry that is presented as prose

prose 

a style of writing generally used in a variety of settings for communication and record keeping and characterized by non-poetic elements; follows standard grammar and other conventions of writing; non-poetic style of language

protagonist 

the main character, not necessarily the “good” character

quatrain 

a poem or stanza of four lines

rap 

vocal style of performing hip-hop verse

realism 

an artistic movement from about 1865 to 1910 characterized by an attempt to portray life as it actually was

Renaissance 

French for rebirth - a period ranging from the mid-1400s to the mid-1500s which had a renewed interest in science, philosophy, and arts including literature. William Shakespeare wrote during this period.

resolution (denouement) –

the end; the result of the conflict, sometimes left for the reader to interpret

revenge tragedy –

revenge tragedy – a genre of tragedy which later evolved where the main theme is to avenge a perceived wrong such as in Hamlet.

rhyme royal –

a poetic form using seven line stanzas in iambic pentameter with a rhyme pattern of ababbcc.

rhyme 

the repetition of similar sounds

rhythm 

is the movement of sound in a recurrent pattern; the beat

rising action –

the building of conflict and suspense prior to the climax

rising meter 

movement from unstressed to stressed meter

romance 

as a literary genre, romance fiction began in the Middle Ages and involved high adventure of noble heroes often with super-human qualities pursuing a righteous quest, included some supernatural aspect, and did not necessarily involve a love situation. The modern usage or the term is a fiction which includes a romantic element.

Romanticism 

a poetic movement beginning in the 1700s characterized by emotion and appreciation for nature and the supernatural and mysterious along with a return to using first-person lyric form

round character – 

a character whose personality is multi-dimensional; a complicated character as distinguished from a flat character whose personality is not described in detail.  Stock characters and caricatures are types of flat characters since their personalities generally have a single, dominant characteristic.

run-on line/enjambment – 

the continuation of a sentence or thought onto the next line

Literary Terms: S - S

Literary Terms: S - S

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sarcasm 

a form of expression which says something opposite from what is meant in a way to criticize or insult or express anger such as describing a bad day by saying, “What a great day I had!”

satire 

a form of literature which uses exaggerated, flat characters to represent some aspect of a person or society for the purpose of making a critical comment through ridicule.

scansion 

a way of marking the metrical pattern in a poem

scene 

a part of the play where specific action occurs; from the Ancient Greek skene, a building behind the platform stage which served as the dressing room for the actors

scenery 

items used to create the scene including furnishings and props; lighting, music, costumes, and sound effects are also used in plays

science fiction –

a type of fantasy that includes unreal scientific technology or events

second-person narrator (second-person point of view) –

a story told in second person (you); may be from the perspective of a character in the story who knows everything (omniscient narrator) or who has limited knowledge (limited narrator); not generally used in fiction

sestet 

a poem or stanza of six lines in a poem

sestina 

a thirty-nine line poem consisting of six six-line stanzas with a three-line stanza (tercet) at the end

setting 

the environment in which the action occurs

Shakespearean sonnet –

a sonnet that has three four-line stanzas (quatrains) and a two-line stanza (couplet)

short story 

a fictional story that is shorter than a novel; usually begins near climax; setting is generally limited, and characters are few and less developed than novel; often includes an epiphany (where a character has a flash of insight)

short-short story –

a short story from a paragraph to a page or so in length; less than 1500 words; includes flash fiction and micro fiction; also called sudden fiction

sidekick 

a character subordinate to another character; often used for comic relief

simile 

a comparison using the word like or as

situational irony –

an irony created when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to have occurred and what has actually occurred in the situation

slam poetry 

a movement characterized by the competitive art of performance poetry

slam poetry 

a movement characterized by the competitive art of performance poetry

slang 

non-standard use of language

slant rhyme 

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

soliloquy 

where a character shares his or her feelings or thoughts with the audience where no other character can hear

sonnet 

a fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter with a carefully patterned rhyme scheme

speaker 

the narrator of a poem

specific words –

words that specify something such as large, round, blue

spoken word movement 

a movement starting in the 1990s to make poetry more popular and accessible to everyone; some consider rap an example of this movement

stage business 

incidental actions or movements of an actor to enhance the performance such as wringing hands or sitting a certain way on a chair

stage directions 

playwright’s directions in the play to the actors such as possibly where to stand or whether a line should be spoken loudly or quietly

stage 

the various structures created upon which plays were or are performed including box set, picture frame stage with proscenium arch, thrust stage, arena, and open air

staging 

refers to all aspects necessary to produce a play such as arranging for scenery and props, costumes, securing the performance hall, and so on:  the staging of a play

Standard English 

the form of English which follows rules of grammar without slang or colloquialism

stanza 

a group of lines generally completing an idea

stasimon (strophes, antistrophes) –

a section between the episodia where the chorus enters and comments on the action in groups representing different positions: strophes and antistrophes

static imagery –

an image which is unchanging

static 

a character that does not change during the story

stock characters 

stereotyped characters such as the good doctor, the determined detective, the kindly old neighbor lady

storytelling 

the communication of a series of events which may take different forms such as anecdotes,  myths, fables, tall tales, legends, fairy tales

stream-of-consciousness 

a style of writing that writes how a person is thinking; written-down thoughts.

stress 

the emphasis on particular syllables

style 

the composite of ways a speaker or writer uses language to create a communication

subject 

the person, object, or topic of focus in literature

subplot –  

the sequence of events in a subordinate storyline in piece of literature

sudden fiction –

a type of short story of less than 1500 words; another way of referring to the short-short story

surrealism 

a literary movement beginning about 1910 where writers wrote automatically rather than with preliminary organizing in an effort to channel inner reality into a writing; followed from a movement in art

surrealistic stage setting 

the use of colors, props, costumes, lighting, music, and/or scenery that are outside the boundaries of everyday usage such as usual shapes and colors of walls or furniture

suspense 

the emotional reaction to the conflict in anticipation of future action, climax, and resolution

symbol 

something that is what it is and also represents something else

symbolic title –

a title which contains a symbol often helping to reveal theme

synecdoche 

use of a part of a person to object to refer to the person or the object: the hand that rocked the cradle to refer to the person rocking the cradle

synesthesia 

the combining of sensory images

Literary Terms: T - Z

Literary Terms: T - Z

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tactile imagery 

the creation of an image of touch

ten-minute plays –

a short play which is performed in no more than ten minutes

tension 

the result of the friction between the protagonist and antagonist

tercet 

a three-line poem or stanza in a poem

terza rima 

a poem or stanza in three lines with the first and third line rhyming: aba bcb cdc and so on

text 

any written body of words; may be either prose or poetry

text – 

any written body of words; may be either prose or poetry

Theater of the Absurd –

a movement in drama beginning around the 1960s where exaggerated characters and action using symbols seems absurd

theme (theme of a story) 

the central idea in a story about life or human nature expressed in a statement.  The theme of a story is different from a conventional theme which is a commonly used theme topic such a love or family. The theme of a story is what idea is conveyed about a topic.  Theme is also different from plot which is the sequence of events in the story.

third person narrator (third person point of view) –

a story told in third person (he, she, it); may be from the perspective of a character in the story who knows everything (omniscient narrator) or who has limited knowledge (limited narrator)

third person –

third person point of view tells the story from the perspective of an outsider as opposed to first person where the narrator is telling a story about him or herself using the word I

title 

what a story is called; often includes symbolism or irony

tone 

the attitude of the speaker or narrator such as in an angry or cheerful tone; the attitude with which the story is told as expressed in particular words; a description of people laughing and enjoying themselves conveys a happy tone, for example. Tone helps creates the atmosphere which is the general or overall feeling or emotion or a work.  Tone also helps create mood which is the emotional reaction in the reader resulting from the atmosphere. Mood refers to individual emotions while atmosphere refers to an overall feeling. Sometimes, mood and atmosphere are used interchangeably.

tragedy 

a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which includes a tragic hero, an otherwise noble person having a superior stature in the community who through some tragic flaw causes himself a fall resulting in an adverse impact upon his community and often his own death; thought to have evolved from the aspect of the dying god in the Dionysian rituals

tragic flaw – 

an undesirable personality trait that results in the fall of an otherwise good person

tragic hero –

a character of elevated status who is a good person but for a tragic flaw which brings about his or her downfall

travel narrative 

a narrative about a journey usually written by the person about his or her own journey

troubadours 

traveling poets/performers from the Provencal region of France during the Middle Ages reciting lyric poetry about courtly love

troubadours 

traveling poets/performers from the Provencal region of France during the Middle Ages reciting lyric poetry about courtly love

understatement 

saying less than what is meant

universal symbols (archetypes) –

symbols that seem to be part of the human psyche which are generally accepted across time and culture such as the Old Man representing experience and wisdom or the Grim Reaper representing death

unreliable narrators 

a narrator who is either not omniscient or is deliberately misleading the reader

verbal irony 

an irony created within a sentence where there is a difference between what is said and what is meant

Victorian Period 

defined by the period when Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 and included several artistic movements characterized by a concern for the impact of industrialization on humans and social reform; includes different artistic movements

villanelle 

a nineteen-line poem of five three-line stanzas (tercets) followed by a four-line stanza (quatrain) and which includes two repeating rhymes and two refrains

visual imagery 

the creation of an image of sight

History of Literature

History of Literature

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Ancient Literature 

all written stories, poems, histories, and dramas from the surviving texts from about 2800 BC to about 500 AD

Ancient Poetry 

poetry created before the late 500s AD having roots in an oral tradition of creating and performing poetry verbally. Surviving poetry includes love poem from Ancient Sumeria, poetic verses in ancient religious texts including the Bible and Koran, and epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

Anglo-Saxon era 

poetry created from the beginning of the Middle Ages (late 500s AD)  into the end of the Middle Ages (mid-1400s) usually associated with tales of heroic deeds and non-romantic love

Beat poets 

a movement beginning in the late 1940s where poets turned to use of psychogenic drugs for mind expansion and where social and political criticism was a common theme.

Black Arts Movement –

a movement beginning in the 1960s where poets focused on social and political situation of African-Americans.

Black Mountain poets 

a movement during the 1930s starting in Black Mountain, North Carolina which stressed the process of writing instead of the completed poem

Classical Greek Drama 

the period from about 550 BC to 323 BC highlighted by dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides where the art forms of tragedy and comedy began.

comedy of manners 

a comedy which makes fun of the manners or customs of a specific segment of the society; uses exaggeration

comedy 

a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which include a theme of new life often through a marriage; though to have evolved from the aspect of the rebirth of the god in the Dionysian rituals

confessional poems 

a movement beginning in the 1950s where the subject of poems were the very personal experiences of the poet beyond just a yearning for love or a specific emotional reaction

expressionism 

a literary movement in the early 1900s which focused on finding and expressing an inner or spiritual reality rather than portraying an actual external reality.

farce 

a form of literature which uses a situation more than characters to create humor; usually involve slapstick – an exaggerated action such as falling over a chair or a long-played effort at what should be simple such as placing a carton on a shelf; silly, light-hearted, not cynical or satiric.

Harlem Renaissance 

a movement during the 1920s starting in Harlem which focused on Black culture

imagism 

a poetic movement beginning in the early 1900s where poets began experimenting with open verse and focused on the poet’s response to a situation or object stressing concrete imagery

literature 

any style or genre of writing whose primary focus is the expression or communication of feelings or narrating of events in a way that is not common speech and uses figurative language as opposed to writing to keep records or communicate information.

metaphysical poets 

a poetic movement during the 1600s characterized by analysis, complex form, and themes associated with intellect over emotions

Middle Ages –

an historic period from the late 500s AD to the middle of the 1400s.

modernism 

a literary movement beginning in the early 1900s spurred by the industrial age, a first World War I, and challenges to established Christianity which characterized by feelings of loss of “old ways” and an unknown, insecure future

oral tradition 

the tradition of transmitting stories, poems, and other cultural information from generation to generation through oral presentation instead of by written documents

postmodernism 

a literary movement that began in the 1960s characterized by introspection, disengagement of conventions and standardization, focus on popular themes of the day such as anti-establishment ideology and personal freedom, exploration, and determination.

realism 

an artistic movement from about 1865 to 1910 characterized by an attempt to portray life as it actually was

Renaissance 

from the French for rebirth; a period ranging from the mid-1400s to the mid-1500s associated with a renewed interest in science, philosophy, and arts including literature.  William Shakespeare wrote during this period.

revenge tragedy –

revenge tragedy – a genre of tragedy which later evolved where the main theme is to avenge a perceived wrong such as in Hamlet.

Romanticism 

a poetic movement beginning in the 1700s characterized by emotion and appreciation for nature and the supernatural and mysterious along with a return to using first-person lyric form

satire 

a form of literature which uses exaggerated, flat characters to represent some aspect of a person or society for the purpose of making a critical comment through ridicule.

slam poetry 

a movement characterized by the competitive art of performance poetry

spoken word movement –

a movement starting in the 1990s to make poetry more popular and accessible to everyone; some consider rap an example of this movement

surrealism 

a literary movement beginning about 1910 where writers wrote automatically rather than with preliminary organizing in an effort to channel inner reality into a writing; followed from a movement in art

text – 

any written body of words; may be either prose or poetry

tragedy 

a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which includes a tragic hero, an otherwise noble person having a superior stature in the community who through some tragic flaw causes himself a fall resulting in an adverse impact upon his community and often his own death; thought to have evolved from the aspect of the dying god in the Dionysian rituals

troubadours 

traveling poets/performers from the Provencal region of France during the Middle Ages reciting lyric poetry about courtly love

Victorian Period 

defined by the period when Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 and included several artistic movements characterized by a concern for the impact of industrialization on humans and social reform; includes different artistic movements

How to Read Literature

How to Read Literature

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analyze 

review critically considering possibility of author bias, accuracy and completeness of information presented, use of language to convey message and influence interpretation, and  implications of information presented

annotate 

taking detailed notes on specific words of importance, sometimes made in the margin of a book

assumptions 

guesses; information that is not based on evidence

commercial literature 

literature written to appeal to popular audiences and not written with any deeper meaning to be conveyed

conventional theme 

a theme that has been commonly used

conventions 

way of analyzing used by people in a community

evaluate 

form a judgment as to information provided on content

explication 

a close and detailed analysis of a work on literature in terms of one or more of the literary elements.

facts 

the truth; information based on evidence

genre 

categories of literature: fiction, poetry, drama

highlight 

use of a mark such as underlining or a highlight pen to indicate important words in a piece of literature

imaginative literature –

literature created by an author’s imagination to convey some personal feeling or observation or message

interpretative literature 

literature intended to say more than just the story on a larger issue and to be interpreted; literature that can have more than one meaning

literary argument 

taking a position on a controversial issue concerning a work of literature such as that the use of symbols in “Hills Like White Elephants” is the predominant literary element or that the man in “Hills Like White Elephants” is not justified in his attitude about the operation.

literary criticism 

essays that analyze, evaluate, and interpret literature

literary canon 

a collection of literature that is generally considered significant

literary elements 

ways that literature is analyzed including plot, setting, characters, imagery, symbolism, figures of speech, irony, allusion, allegory, and theme

opinion 

a personal evaluation

personal perspective 

a position based on personal experiences

safe reading 

a reading that interprets only on obvious, superficial elements of a piece of literature

strong reading 

a reading that questions the piece of literature and challenges commonly held beliefs and makes interesting and novel interpretations of literature.

style 

the way in which an author uses language and presents the content; generally described in terms of literary elements such as use of symbolism, irony, figures of speech, plot and character development, and theme.

theme 

the central idea of a fiction

Appropriate Language - Literature

Appropriate Language - Literature

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abstract words 

words that do not refer to tangible, specific items

colloquialisms 

non-standard or non-grammatical use of language in everyday speech

concrete words 

words that name something that can be seen, touched, heard, or otherwise experienced through the senses

connotation 

the implied or understood meaning of a word

conventional word order –

subject – verb – object along with any modifying words adjacent to the words modified

denotation 

the dictionary definition of a word

diction 

the way words are written or spoken such an formal or informal

formal diction –

the use of words following rules of grammar and Standard English

general words –

non-specific words

informal diction –

the use words with slang, colloquialisms, and non-Standard English

inverted sequence –

an order of words that is not conventional

poetic language –

focused use of language which is not bound by Standard English to create an image or arouse a particular emotion

poetic license 

use of non-standard grammar and other conventions of punctuation of literal use of language

sarcasm 

saying the opposite of what is meant to express anger or criticism

slang 

non-standard use of language

specific words –

words that specify something such as large, round, blue

Standard English 

the form of English which follows rules of grammar without slang or colloquialism

style 

the composite of ways a speaker or writer uses language to create a communication

tone 

the attitude of the speaker or narrator such as in an angry or cheerful tone

Fiction

Fiction

This section covers the following topics.  Use the left navigation bar to access each.

  • Fiction - Types of Fiction
  • Fiction - Plot and Theme
  • Fiction - Setting
  • Fiction - Character
  • Fiction - Symbols
  • Fiction - Irony
  • Fiction - Figures of Speech
  • Fiction - Point of View

Fiction - Plot and Theme

Fiction - Plot and Theme

Terms Related to Plot and Theme

fiction 

a created series of characters and events that has not actually happened

fictionalize 

to create a fiction from an actual event

storytelling 

the communication of a series of events which may take different forms such as anecdotes,  myths, fables, tall tales, legends, fairy tales

plot 

the sequence of events in the main action in a piece of literature

subplot –  

the sequence of events in a subordinate storyline in piece of literature

action 

the events that occur in the piece of literature

arrangement of events –

how the events are structured in a plot; may be chronological, start in the middle of things (in medias res), or as flashbacks

chronological order –

the presentation of events in the order they occurred in time

in medias res 

Latin expression meaning “in the middle of things”; an arrangement of events where the story starts somewhere in the middle of the action and then goes forward giving information about what happened before through narration, dialogue, or flashbacks

flashbacks 

a technique used to show events that previous occurred by interrupting the present action and going back to previous events; generally used when a story starts in medias res (in the middle of things) such as where a scene opens during a trial and then some of the previous action leading up to the trial is told.

foreshadowing 

a literary device that gives a hint about what is going to occur

exposition 

a part of the fiction (or or drama or poem) which introduces the characters, settings, and conflict

protagonist 

the main character, not necessarily the “good” character

antagonist 

the forces against the protagonist; could be another character, a force of nature, or an organization, or other entity or situation which creates opposition to protagonist

conflict 

the friction between the goals of the protagonist (the main character – doesn’t have to be the “good” character) and the forces against the protagonist, called the antagonist

tension 

the result of the friction between the protagonist and antagonist

suspense 

the emotional reaction to the conflict in anticipation of future action, climax, and resolution

rising action –

the building of conflict and suspense prior to the climax

climax –  

the highest point of conflict; the point at which the action begins to fall to resolution (denouement)

falling action –

the action following the climax ending in resolution (denouement)

resolution (denouement) –

the end; the result of the conflict, sometimes left for the reader to interpret

deus ex machina 

a plot contrivance to unexpectedly save a character from a seemingly inescapable, problematic situation often associated with a divine intervention; first used in Ancient Greek and Roman theatre where mechanical devices were used, such as a pulley to lower a god or goddess onto the set to take the character back into the heavens

epiphany –

the sudden insight a character has about him or herself, another character, or the situation

subject 

the person, object, or topic of focus in literature

cliché 

a worn-out phrase purporting to tell some general truth which no longer has meaning because of his overuse

moral 

a lesson learned as a result of actions that occurred in a story

theme 

the central idea in a story

title 

what a story is called; often includes symbolism or irony

ironic title –

a title which contains irony often helping to reveal theme

symbolic title –

a title which contains a symbol often helping to reveal theme

initiation theme 

a theme about being initiated into something new

carpe diem 

“seize the day”; sometimes, a theme in a fiction or poem

Fiction - Types of Fiction

Fiction - Types of Fiction

Terms Related to Types of Fiction

prose 

a style of writing generally used in a variety of settings for communication and record keeping and characterized by non-poetic elements; follows standard grammar and other conventions of writing

biography 

a factual story written about a person by a another person

autobiography 

a factual story written by a person on his or her own life

history 

the actual events

narrative 

a story or poem about a sequence of event

travel narrative 

a narrative about a journey usually written by the person about his or her own journey

capture narrative 

a journal kept by a person who was captured and held against his or her will and forced to live in another culture; generally associated with stories white people have written about being captured and living with the Indians in early American history

anecdotes 

short, amusing, true events about a person that relate a bigger truth about life than the specific incident

parables 

a short tale used for teaching a lesson

fables 

a short tale used for teaching a lesson which uses animals, objects, or nature

beast fable –

a fable that has animals with human qualities as characters

folk tales 

stories or legends that are about or from a culture or group of people (folk)

fairy tales 

stories that include supernatural creatures such as fairies or magicians

epic 

a narrative that involves conflict on a broad scale with humans of special stature or ability fighting a battle or having an adventure whose outcome will impact the world beyond the participants; often includes gods

myth 

a traditional story which explains the world and existence of humans usually as part of a cluster of such stories and which is a reflection of a religious belief system

picaresque 

a story about a rogue

short story 

a fictional story that is shorter than a novel; usually begins near climax; setting is generally limited, and characters are few and less developed than novel; often includes an epiphany (where a character has a flash of insight)

modern short story –

a short story characterized by an apparent lack of action or conflict and/or without resolution

short-short story –

a short story from a paragraph to a page or so in length; less than 1500 words; includes flash fiction and micro fiction; also called sudden fiction

flash fiction –

a type of short story less than 1000 words

micro fiction –

a type of short-short story ranging from a few words to a paragraph of less than 250 words

sudden fiction –

a type of short story of less than 1500 words; another way of referring to the short-short story

novel 

a longer piece of fiction characterized by more plot and character development than a short story

novella 

a piece of fiction shorter than a novel and longer than a short story; usually thought of as a short novel

metafiction 

writings about fiction

stream-of-consciousness 

a style of writing meant to convey written-down thoughts

fantasy 

a fiction which includes some aspect or situation that does not fall into the understood rules of physics, scientific possibility, or reality

science fiction –

a type of fantasy that includes unreal scientific technology or events

horror fiction –

a type of fiction that includes an event or events that are very frightening and which may include fantasy or science fiction

crime fiction –

a type of fiction whose plot revolves around solving a crime

romance 

as a literary genre, romance fiction began in the Middle Ages and involved high adventure of noble heroes often with super-human qualities pursuing a righteous quest, included some supernatural aspect, and did not necessarily involve a love situation. The modern usage or the term is a fiction which includes a romantic element.

pastoral romance 

a romance which focuses on the pleasures of the simple, rural life

chivalric romance 

a romance popular from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance involving the romantic exploits of chivalric heroes, men who abided by the Code of Chivalry

pop fiction –

a type of fiction with exciting or thrilling plots designed for popular audiences characterized by suspenseful plots, usually flat characters, and focus on a swift-moving action

Fiction - Character

Fiction - Character

Terms Related to Character

caricatures 

a character presented with an exaggeration of prominent features

character 

a person in a piece of literature

dynamic character 

a character that changes during the story

static 

a character that does not change during the story

flat character 

a character described with only one or two personality traits; a superficial character

round character – 

a character whose personality is multi-dimensional; a complicated character

motivation 

the reasons a character takes or does not take action

foil 

a character created as a contrast to another character as a way of focusing attention on the traits of that other character such as a character taking an unethical approach in order to focus attention on another character taking the ethical approach

sidekick 

a character subordinate to another character; often used for comic relief

stock characters 

stereotyped characters such as the good doctor, the determined detective, the kindly old neighbor lady

tragic hero –

a character of elevated status who is a good person but for a tragic flaw which brings about his or her downfall

tragic flaw – 

an undesirable personality trait that results in the fall of an otherwise good person

hubris 

arrogance; an attribute where a character (or a person) has an exaggerated sense of him or herself or his or her importance

dialogue 

a conversation between or among characters

monologue 

a long speech-like expression by one character where the other present characters are silent; used more commonly in plays than fiction; a dramatic monologue is a particularly emotional expression

asides 

where a character makes a comment to the audience which is supposedly not heard by the other characters; used in drama

soliloquy 

where a character shares his or her feelings or thoughts with the audience where no other character can hear

Fiction - Point of View

Fiction - Point of View

Terms Related to Fiction - Point of View and Irony

point of view –

the perspective from which an author tells a story

narrator 

the person through whose perspective, knowledge, and voice a story is told

speaker 

the narrator of a poem

persona 

the personality a narrator assumes; a mask used in Ancient Greek theater by the actors playing a particular role

first-person narrator (first-person point of view) – 

a story told from the viewpoint of the author of the story as a character in the story using the word I to tell the story; may be omniscient (all knowing) or limited (knows only information from that character’s perspective)

second person narrator (second person point of view) –

a story told in second person (you); may be from the perspective of a character in the story who knows everything (omniscient narrator) or who has limited knowledge (limited narrator); not generally used in fiction

third person narrator (third person point of view) –

a story told in third person (he, she, it); may be from the perspective of a character in the story who knows everything (omniscient narrator) or who has limited knowledge (limited narrator)

objective narrator (objective point of view) 

relates the story as a sequence of events without commenting or judging the characters or their action or situation

stream-of-consciousness –

a style of writing that writes how a person is thinking; written-down thoughts.

unreliable narrators 

a narrator who is either not omniscient or is deliberately misleading the reader

Fiction - Figures of Speech

Fiction - Figures of Speech

Terms Related to Fiction - Figures of Speech

allusion

a reference to an historical event, aspect of culture, character or content in a piece of literature, or other widely known type of information to convey a feeling, idea, or image; serves to convey information using few words

apostrophe 

where the speaker speaks to a dead or non-present person

extended metaphor –

direct comparison which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

extended simile – 

comparison using the word like or as which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

figurative language 

language that is used to mean some other or something more than it says; language that is used in a non-literal way

figures of speech 

various ways speech is used figuratively

hyperbole 

saying more than what is meant; exaggeration

metaphor 

a direct comparison or equivalence

metonymy 

referring to one thing by something else it is associated with: the crown to refer to the king

personification 

attributing human qualities to a non-human or non-living object

simile 

a comparison using the word like or as

synecdoche 

use of a part of a person to object to refer to the person or the object: the hand that rocked the cradle to refer to the person rocking the cradle

understatement 

saying less than what is meant

Fiction - Irony

Fiction - Irony

Terms Related to Fiction - Irony

irony 

created when  there is a discrepancy between an expectation and an actuality

dramatic irony (tragic irony) –

an irony created when the audience knows something a character does not know

situational irony –

an irony created when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to have occurred and what has actually occurred in the situation

verbal irony –

an irony created within a sentence where there is a difference between what is said and what is meant

tone 

the attitude with which the story is told as expressed in particular words; a description of people laughing and enjoying themselves conveys a happy tone, for example.

sarcasm –

a form of expression which says something opposite from what is meant in a way to criticize or insult or express anger such as describing a bad day by saying, “What a great day I had!”

Fiction - Plot and Theme

Fiction - Plot and Theme

Terms Related to Fiction - Plot and Theme

action 

the events that occur in the piece of literature

antagonist 

the forces against the protagonist; could be another character, a force of nature, or an organization, or other entity or situation which creates opposition to protagonist

arrangement of events –

how the events are structured in a plot; may be chronological, start in the middle of things (in medias res), or as flashbacks

carpe diem 

Latin for seize the day; sometimes, a theme in a fiction or poem

chronological order –

the presentation of events in the order they occurred in time

cliché 

worn-out phrase purporting to tell some general truth which no longer has meaning because of his overuse

climax 

the highest point of conflict; the point at which the action begins to fall to resolution (denouement)

conflict 

the friction between the goals of the protagonist (the main character – doesn’t have to be the “good” character) and the forces against the protagonist, called the antagonist

deus ex machina 

a plot contrivance to unexpectedly save a character from a seemingly inescapable, problematic situation often associated with a divine intervention; first used in Ancient Greek and Roman theatre where mechanical devices were used, such as a pulley to lower a god or goddess onto the set to take the character back into the heavens

epiphany –

the sudden insight a character has about him or herself, another character, or the situation

exposition 

a part of the fiction (or or drama or poem) which introduces the characters, settings, and conflict

falling action –

the action following the climax ending in resolution (denouement)

fiction 

a created series of characters and events that has not actually happened

fictionalize 

to create a fiction from an actual event

flashbacks 

a technique used to show events that previous occurred by interrupting the present action and going back to previous events; generally used when a story starts in medias res (in the middle of things) such as where a scene opens during a trial and then some of the previous action leading up to the trial is told.

foreshadowing 

a literary device that gives a hint about what is going to occur

in medias res 

Latin expression meaning in the middle of things; an arrangement of events where the story starts somewhere in the middle of the action and then goes forward giving information about what happened before through narration, dialogue, or flashbacks

initiation theme 

a theme about being initiated into something new

ironic title –

a title which contains irony often helping to reveal theme

moral 

a lesson learned as a result of actions that occurred in a story

plot 

the sequence of events in the main action in a piece of literature

protagonist 

the main character, not necessarily the “good” character

resolution (denouement) –

the end; the result of the conflict, sometimes left for the reader to interpret

rising action –

the building of conflict and suspense prior to the climax

storytelling 

the communication of a series of events which may take different forms such as anecdotes,  myths, fables, tall tales, legends, fairy tales

subject 

the person, object, or topic of focus in literature

subplot –  

the sequence of events in a subordinate storyline in piece of literature

suspense 

the emotional reaction to the conflict in anticipation of future action, climax, and resolution

symbolic title –

a title which contains a symbol often helping to reveal theme

tension 

the result of the friction between the protagonist and antagonist

theme 

the central idea in a story

title 

what a story is called; often includes symbolism or irony

Fiction - Setting

Fiction - Setting

Terms Related to Fiction - Setting

setting 

the environment in which the action occurs

physical setting 

the place where the action occurs: a park, a supermarket

historical setting –

the moment in history where the action occurs

geographical setting 

the town, state, country, or other geographical place

cultural setting –

the ethnic, religious, or other setting relating to culture such as sociological

atmosphere 

the general feeling in the environment created as a result of the tone and mood

tone 

the attitude of the author toward the characters and events; in describing the situation as “one of many self-imposed troubles,” the author created a non-sympathetic tone

mood 

the resulting emotional setting from the tone; the feelings of the characters toward a character described as creating his own problems would not non-sympathetic or possibly indifference.

character analysis –

the analysis of a character’s personality based on the behavior described in the work of literature; may be described in everyday language such as selfish, kind, thoughtful, or mean or in psychological terms such as having a narcissistic personality disorder or depressed.

cultural context –

the consideration of the cultural setting in order to do a character analysis such as the pre-Women’s Movement in America in a rural community in the 1920s or 1930s.

Fiction - Symbols

Fiction - Symbols

Terms Related to Symbols

allegorical figures 

the symbolic character representing something in an allegory such as the character Faith representing religious faith in “Young Goodman Brown”

allegorical framework –

the overall organization of an allegory

allegory 

a pattern of using symbols to tell a story in a story

archetypal images –

images that are generally accepted as representing something such as the Statue of Liberty representing freedom and opportunity

conventional symbols –

symbols with a generally understood meaning across cultures with similar usages such as the various road signs or even computer icons

figurative level –

the non-literal level; the place where the story behind the story is told

literary symbols –

symbols that are used within a piece of literature to represent a person, object, or situation in that piece of literature such as pink ribbons representing the purity and innocence of a character who is wearing them.

symbol 

something that is what it is and also represents something else

universal symbols (archetypes) –

symbols that seem to be part of the human psyche which are generally accepted across time and culture such as the Old Man representing experience and wisdom or the Grim Reaper representing death

Poetry

Poetry

This section includes the following topics.

  • What Is Poetry?

  • Poetry - Types of Poetry

  • Poetry - Point of View

  • Poetry - Figures of Speech

  • Poetry - Symbol and Allegory

  • Poetry - Imagery

  • Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

Poetry - Definition

Poetry - Definition

Terms Related to Defining Poetry

prose 

the use of language in day-to-day situations including business settings and which generally follows conventional practices such as grammatical rules; non-poetic style of language

text 

any written body of words; may be either prose or poetry

poem 

non-prose use of words to express a feeling or idea usually associated with repetition of sounds, patterned sequences of words and/or lines, figurative language and other poetic devices, and has a highly focused purpose either to tell a story or express an emotion or idea

poetry 

use of language in non-everyday ways such as repetition of sounds and rhyme or focus on an observation or feeling using figures of speech and imagery and other devices to compress meaning resulting in more intense communication

form (poetic form) 

poetry has two forms: narrative which tells a story and lyric which expression an emotion or idea

line 

a line of poetry is what is written on one line; not necessarily a sentence

stanza 

a group of lines generally completing an idea

closed form (fixed form) –

poetry which follows a pattern of sounds, rhyme, or meter

iambic pentameter 

a common type of pattern of sounds and rhythm used in poetry created by pairing ten syllables for each line into five pairs. Commonly used by Shakespeare in his sonnets

common measure 

a ballad stanza generally rhyming in alternating pairs

couplet 

a poem or stanza of two line

heroic couplet 

two lines of rhymed verse in iambic pentameter; generally used in epic poems

tercet 

a three-line poem or stanza in a poem

quatrain 

a poem or stanza of four lines

octave

a poem or stanza of eight lines in a poem

ottava rima

a poem or stanza of eight lines with a specific rhyme pattern: iambic pentameter with ab ab ab cc

terza rima 

a poem or stanza in three lines with the first and third line rhyming: aba bcb cdc and so on

blank verse –

unrhymed iambi pentameter

prose poem –

an open-form of poetry that is presented as prose

open form (free verse, vers libre) 

poetry that does not follow any specific pattern of form, rhyme, or meter

poetic devices –

ways of using language such as imagery, figures of speech, irony, symbolism, allusion, fantasy, point of view, rhyme, rhythm, and theme; used in poetry to compress meaning into fewer words and more intense expression.

Ancient Poetry –

poetry created before the late 500s AD having roots in an oral tradition of creating and performing poetry verbally. Surviving poetry includes love poem from Ancient Sumeria, poetic verses in ancient religious texts including the Bible and Koran, and epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

Middle Ages 

an historic period from the late 500s AD to the middle of the 1400s.

Anglo-Saxon era –

poetry created from the beginning of the Middle Ages (late 500s AD) into the end of the Middle Ages (mid-1400s) usually associated with tales of heroic deeds and non-romantic love

troubadours 

traveling poets/performers from the Provencal region of France during the Middle Ages reciting lyric poetry about courtly love

Renaissance 

from the French for rebirth; a period ranging from the mid-1400s to the mid-1500s associated with a renewed interest in science, philosophy, and arts including literature. William Shakespeare wrote during this period.

metaphysical poets –

a poetic movement during the 1600s characterized by analysis, complex form, and themes associated with intellect over emotions

Romanticism 

a poetic movement beginning in the 1700s characterized by emotion and appreciation for nature and the supernatural and mysterious along with a return to using first-person lyric form

modernism 

a poetic movement beginning in the early 1900s spurred by the industrial age, a first World War I, and challenges to established Christianity which characterized by feelings of loss of “old ways” and an unknown, insecure future

imagism 

a poetic movement beginning in the early 1900s where poets began experimenting with open verse and focused on the poet’s response to a situation or object stressing concrete imagery

Harlem Renaissance –

a movement during the 1920s starting in Harlem which focused on Black culture

Black Mountain poets –

a movement during the 1930s starting in Black Mountain, North Carolina which stressed the process of writing instead of the completed poem

Beat poets –

a movement beginning in the late 1940s where poets turned to use of psychogenic drugs for mind expansion and where social and political criticism was a common theme.

confessional poems –

a movement beginning in the 1950s where the subject of poems were the very personal experiences of the poet beyond just a yearning for love or a specific emotional reaction

Black Arts Movement 

a movement beginning in the 1960s where poets focused on social and political situation of African-Americans.

slam poetry 

a movement characterized by the competitive art of performance poetry

spoken word movement 

a movement starting in the 1990s to make poetry more popular and accessible to everyone; some consider rap an example of this movement

poetic liberty –

taking the liberty for the purpose of creating an image, feeling, or idea to stray from standard language usage including spelling, definition, and grammar and even linear placement of letters or words; does not have to be only in a poem although that is the most frequent acceptable use.

poetic license –

the term used to describe the justification for taking poetic liberty

Poetry - Types of Poetry

Poetry - Types of Poetry

Terms Related to Types of Poetry

allegory 

a type of poem where a pattern of symbols is used to tell a story within a story

aubade 

a lyric poem about morning or the rising sun

ballad 

a narrative poem telling a story a person or event often about love usually told in rhymed stanzas and which includes a repeated refrain.  Ballads are often sung.

ballad stanza –

a stanza of four lines (quatrain) with the second and fourth lines rhyming

concrete poem –

a poem whose words or letters are laid out on the page to reflect the theme of the poem.

confessional 

a form of poem that reveals highly personal experiences

dramatic monologue –

a lyric poem where the speaker expresses strong emotions or ideas to silent listeners.

elegy 

a lyric poem which mourns the death of a particular person

epic 

a narrative poem which tells a story of a great adventure or battle and which involves humans of exceptional stature such as kings who often have superior strength or skills or includes gods. The results of the adventure or battle or war has drastic consequences beyond the fate of the participants often for an entire country or kingdom

epigram 

a short clever poem making a pointed, sometimes paradoxical, observation

haiku 

a form of Japanese verse with three lines which are not rhymed and which have five, seven, and five syllables usually involving some aspect of nature.

hip-hop –

musical verse which uses rhyme, repetition of sounds and phases

lyric 

a form of poetry which expresses feelings or observations

meditation 

a lyric poem which starts by observing a specific object and then drawing some philosophical inferences

narrative 

a form of poetry which tells a story

occasional poem 

lyric poetry written about an occasion

ode 

a lyric poem explicating the attributes or aspects of nature or a specific object or living creature such as “Ode to a Nightingale.” Uses complex stanza patterns.

pastoral 

a lyric poem which observes the simple pleasures of rural life

Petrarchan sonnet –

a lyric poem about unattainable love

prose poem 

is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery and emotional effect

rap 

vocal style of performing hip-hop verse

rhyme royal –

a poetic form using seven line stanzas in iambic pentameter with a rhyme pattern of ababbcc.

sestet 

a poem or stanza of six lines in a poem

sestina 

a thirty-nine line poem consisting of six six-line stanzas with a three-line stanza (tercet) at the end

Shakespearean sonnet –

a sonnet that has three four-line stanzas (quatrains) and a two-line stanza (couplet)

slam poetry 

the competitive art of performance poetry

sonnet 

a fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter with a carefully patterned rhyme scheme

villanelle 

a nineteen-line poem of five three-line stanzas (tercets) followed by a four-line stanza (quatrain) and which includes two repeating rhymes and two refrains

Poetry - Point of View

Poetry - Point of View

Terms Related to Poetry - Point of View

point of view –

the perspective from which an author tells a story point of view – the perspective from which an author tells a story

first person –

first person point of view tells the story from the narrator’s personal perspective using I, we, me, my, us, our.  First person narration is used when a person is writing about themselves such as in an autobiography where it is purportedly telling the truth.  In fiction, first person is where telling the story as though it is about a personal occurrence, but it could be completely fictional where the author simply uses first person to make the story seem like a true event when it is a fiction.  First person narrators are not necessarily reliable to be telling an actual series of events.

narrator 

the person through whose voice a story is told

speaker –

the narrator of a poem

persona 

the personality a narrator assumes; a mask used in Ancient Greek theater by the actors playing a particular role

irony 

created when  there is a discrepancy between an expectation and an actuality

dramatic irony (tragic irony) –

an irony created when the audience knows something a character does not know

situational irony –

an irony created when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to have occurred and what has actually occurred in the situation

verbal irony 

an irony created within a sentence where there is a difference between what is said and what is meant

unreliable narrators 

a narrator who is either not omniscient or is deliberately misleading the reader

third person –

third person point of view tells the story from the perspective of an outsider as opposed to first person where the narrator is telling a story about him or herself using the word I

omniscient 

an omniscient narrator knows everything about the events and the characters

limited omniscient –

a limited omniscient narrator only knows about the story and characters from a limited perspective such as one of the characters who does not know everything

objective 

relates the story as a sequence of events without commenting or judging the characters or their action or situation

stream-of-consciousness 

a style of writing that writes how a person is thinking; written-down thoughts.

tone 

the attitude with which the story is told as expressed in particular words; a description of people laughing and enjoying themselves conveys a happy tone, for example.

sarcasm 

a form of expression which says something opposite from what is meant in a way to criticize or insult or express anger such as describing a bad day by saying, “What a great day I had!”

 

Poetry - Figures of Speech

Poetry - Figures of Speech

Terms Related to Poetry - Figures of Speech

figurative language 

language that is used to mean some other or something more than it says; language that is used in a non-literal way

figures of speech 

various ways speech is used figuratively

simile 

a comparison using the word like or as

metaphor 

a direct comparison or equivalence

extended simile – 

comparison using the word like or as which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

extended metaphor –

direct comparison which is repeated in the poem; more commonly used in an epic poem where the same comparison is used throughout

personification 

attributing human qualities to a non-human or non-living object

hyperbole 

saying more than what is meant; exaggeration

understatement 

saying less than what is meant

metonymy 

referring to one thing by something else it is associated with: the crown to refer to the king

synecdoche 

use of a part of a person to object to refer to the person or the object: the hand that rocked the cradle to refer to the person rocking the cradle

apostrophe 

where the speaker speaks to a dead or non-present person

allusion

a reference to an historical event, aspect of culture, character or content in a piece of literature, or other widely known type of information to convey a feeling, idea, or image; serves to convey information using few words

Poetry - Symbol and Allegory

Poetry - Symbol and Allegory

Terms Related to Poetry - Symbol and Allegory

symbol 

something that is what it is and also represents something else

universal symbols (archetypes) –

symbols that seem to be part of the human psyche which are generally accepted across time and culture such as the Old Man representing experience and wisdom or the Grim Reaper representing death

archetypal images –

images that are generally accepted as representing something such as the Statue of Liberty representing freedom and opportunity

conventional symbols – symbols with a generally understood meaning across cultures with similar usages such as the various road signs or even computer icons

literary symbols –

symbols that are used within a piece of literature to represent a person, object, or situation in that piece of literature such as pink ribbons representing the purity and innocence of a character who is wearing them.

allegory 

a pattern of using symbols to tell a story in a story

allegorical figures 

the symbolic character representing something in an allegory such as the character Faith representing religious faith in “Young Goodman Brown”

allegorical framework –

the overall organization of an allegory

figurative level –

the non-literal level; the place where the story behind the story is told

Poetry - Imagery

Poetry - Imagery

Terms Related to Poetry - Imagery

imagery 

the creation of sensory images through words

pattern of imagery –

the systematic use of imagery in a work

synesthesia 

the combining of sensory images

visual imagery 

the creation of an image of sight

auditory imagery 

the creation of an image of sound

tactile imagery 

the creation of an image of touch

olfactory imagery –

the creation of an image of smell

gustatory imagery –

the creation of an image of taste

static imagery –

an image which is unchanging

kinetic imagery 

an image which creates a sense of motion or movement such as the wind in the trees

connotation 

the understood or implied meaning of a word as opposed to the literal meaning such as the word home which has more meaning than just where a person lives.

atmosphere 

the general feeling of the surroundings that is created by the work such as peaceful

mood 

the feeling that is created in the reader as a result of the tone or atmosphere in a work such as anger

Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

Terms Related to Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

alliteration 

the repetition of sounds in the beginnings of word; front rhyme

anaphora 

repetition of word or words at the beginning of lines or stanzas

approximate rhyme –

near rhyme

assonance 

use of vowel sounds for rhyming

cacophony 

unrhymed or discordant sounds

caesura 

a pause or stop in the middle of a verse

consonance 

use of consonants for rhyming

end-stopped line 

a pause at the end of a line of verse

enjambment/run-on line –

continuation of a thought or sentence onto a new line

euphony 

good or pleasing sound

eye rhyme –

a similarity in spelling between words that are pronounced differently

falling meter –

movement from stressed to unstressed meter

imperfect rhyme –

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

meter 

the recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of poetry of specific length

near rhyme 

approximate rhyme

onomatopoeia 

words that sound like the sound they mean: buzz

perfect rhyme 

when a sound in a word is the same as the sound in another word

rhyme 

the repetition of similar sounds

rhythm 

is the movement of sound in a recurrent pattern; the beat

rising meter 

movement from unstressed to stressed meter

run-on line/enjambment 

the continuation of a sentence or thought onto the next line

scansion 

a way of marking the metrical pattern in a poem

slant rhyme 

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

stress 

the emphasis on particular syllables

Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

Terms Related to Poetry - Sound and Rhythm

alliteration 

the repetition of sounds in the beginnings of word; front rhyme

anaphora 

repetition of word or words at the beginning of lines or stanzas

approximate rhyme –

near rhyme

assonance 

use of vowel sounds for rhyming

cacophony 

unrhymed or discordant sounds

caesura 

a pause or stop in the middle of a verse

consonance 

use of consonants for rhyming

end-stopped line 

a pause at the end of a line of verse

enjambment/run-on line –

continuation of a thought or sentence onto a new line

euphony 

good or pleasing sound

eye rhyme –

a similarity in spelling between words that are pronounced differently

falling meter –

movement from stressed to unstressed meter

imperfect rhyme –

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

meter 

the recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of poetry of specific length

near rhyme 

approximate rhyme

onomatopoeia 

words that sound like the sound they mean: buzz

perfect rhyme 

when a sound in a word is the same as the sound in another word

rhyme 

the repetition of similar sounds

rhythm 

is the movement of sound in a recurrent pattern; the beat

rising meter 

movement from unstressed to stressed meter

run-on line/enjambment 

the continuation of a sentence or thought onto the next line

scansion 

a way of marking the metrical pattern in a poem

slant rhyme 

close but not exact rhyme; near rhyme; approximate rhyme

stress 

the emphasis on particular syllables

Drama

Drama

What Is Drama?

What Is Drama?

What Is Drama?

Terms Related to What Is Drama?

drama 

a form of literature presented where parts are written for actors to perform and the action is revealed primarily through the dialogue of the characters and the action includes high emotional content; the modern usage includes television and film

stage 

the various structures created upon which plays were or are performed including box set, picture frame stage with proscenium arch, thrust stage, arena, and open air

stage directions 

playwright’s directions in the play to the actors such as possibly where to stand or whether a line should be spoken loudly or quietly

staging 

refers to all aspects necessary to produce a play such as arranging for scenery and props, costumes, securing the performance hall, and so on:  the staging of a play

stage business 

incidental actions or movements of an actor to enhance the performance such as wringing hands or sitting a certain way on a chair

orchestra 

the part of the stage where the orchestra performs generally in a lower section in front of the stage; from “the dancing place” in Ancient Greek Theater

chorus 

in staged performances, a group of “townspeople” who articulate different perspectives; from the Greek chorus

chorogos 

the leader of the chorus

scene 

a part of the play where specific action occurs; from the Ancient Greek skene, a building behind the platform stage which served as the dressing room for the actors

scenery 

items used to create the scene including furnishings and props; lighting, music, costumes, and sound effects are also used in plays

colonnade 

a line of pillars with a roof behind the skene in Ancient Greek Theater

act 

a section of a play which generally includes more than one scene

prologos 

the prologue; in Ancient Greek tragedy, the opening section where an actor gives a background or introduction to the play

parodos 

a part of Ancient Greek tragedy where the chorus enters and comments on the prologos following the prologos

episodia 

episodes or scenes following the parodos where the actors play out the conflict.

stasimon (strophes, antistrophes) –

a section between the episodia where the chorus enters and comments on the action in groups representing different positions: strophes and antistrophes

Ancient Greek Theater (Dionysus, Sophocles, Euripides) 

the presentation of drama and comedy dating back about 400-500 BC to Sophocles and Euripides in Ancient Greece.

Elizabethan Theater –

developed during the 1500, a form of theater which where plays were performs in the courtyards of inns and evolved into a highly sophisticated form of theater with elaborate theaters; includes Shakespearean plays

pageants 

recreations of Biblical stories during the 1100s and 1200s; also called mystery plays; forerunners of Elizabethan Theater

mystery plays –

developed during the 900s through the 1500s which are representations of stories from the Bible and gradually fell from popularity with the production of drama such as the works of Shakespeare

morality plays 

developed and performed from the 1300s and 1400s which were allegories demonstrating Christian principles

Master of Revels –

an appointed person to decide which plays would be performed in Elizabethan Theater

Globe Playhouse –

an elaborate theater built in 1599 which includes various sections: hell, heaven, rear stage, music gallery, and huts

groundlings 

the commoners who stood and watched the plays in the courtyard presentations

Modern Theater –

began in the late 1800s and is characterized by events and characters based on reality; inspired by the realism movement in art and literature

participatory drama – 

where actors mingle and interact with members of the audience

ten-minute plays –

a short play which is performed in no more than ten minutes

Kabuki dramas 

Japanese dance drama characterized by ornate costumes and make-up

No plays 

highly stylized Japanese performance art from which Kabuki dramas evolved

Theater of the Absurd –

a movement in drama beginning around the 1960s where exaggerated characters and action using symbols seems absurd

surrealistic stage setting 

the use of colors, props, costumes, lighting, music, and/or scenery that are outside the boundaries of everyday usage such as usual shapes and colors of walls or furniture

expressionistic stage setting 

the creation of scenery, costumes, props, and/or lighting in an exaggerated way that reflects the theme or mood of the play such as drab dark colors and lighting to show the depressed mood of the characters