Writing Process

Note: the rubric for my class is organized according to this process, from top to bottom

Subject, Topic, Thesis

A subject is a broad area of study, such as Western Civilization, or Medieval Literature, or Biology.

A topic (at Mars Hill, it is usually assigned to you) is a more narrow segment of a subject, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar, or the comparisons between the three battles in Beowulf, or the effects of cyanide on sterile fruit flies.

Your thesis is what you will be specifically asserting beyond the topic, some sort of positive or negative proposition that you will defend with the body of your paper.

A common mistake is to just reword a topic into a thesis without really making any specific assertions beyond what is implicit in the topic, i.e.: “Julius Caesar, a Roman, was assassinated by some of his closest friends,” or, “There are both similarities and differences between the three different battles in Beowulf,” or, “Cyanide has an effect on sterile fruit flies.” This shows either confusion about the topic, or simple a lack of mental effort.

Repeat after me: “Vague theses are inexcusable.” Students must put in the mental effort to narrow their discussion of a topic into a clear idea. If there is confusion, students must take initiative to approach me or communicate with me in some way to ask for help (during the school week, of course).

Content

This is where you develop your topic into a proper thesis, or essay controlling idea. You will start with an initial thesis, research relevant source material, then adjust your final thesis based on your findings. Starting off on the wrong foot, with a vague or unclear thesis will make the rest of the writing process difficult and laborious. Narrowing and specifying your thesis does not restrict the amount of content available to you. In other words, you will not run out of things to write about if you narrow your thesis. Rather, you will find that a more focused thesis leads to greater facility throughout the rest of the writing process.

Logical Organization

Once your thesis is developed to a working state, you begin organizing and drafting your paper. This phase runs all the way from outline to rough draft. Once you have developed your main structure (usually three main points to support your thesis), develop sub-points. Then compose a rough draft, following your outline. At the end of this phase, you should print the paper and grab a red pen. Here is where major revision takes place. Ask yourself questions about the progression of the larger units of your paper (main points), then work down into the smaller units (paragraphs, sentences). Is the order logical? Does every paragraph support the thesis in some way? Is every sentence appropriate to its paragraph? Is each sentence clear, and do they follow a natural progression of thought? Adjust as needed.

Style

After making the major adjustments in the organization phase, start the editing process. The rubric lists all of the necessary stylistic concerns, so use it as a checklist. Check sentence variety, sentence openings, use of vague verbs, overuse of passive voice, conciseness, etc. After this step, you should print your paper a second time.

Mechanics

Dot your I’s and cross your T’s. This is where you get a magnifying glass, and make sure everything on the physical page is up to standard. Officially, this is called proofreading. On the Resources page will find very specific instructions for formatting and documentation. These are not preferences, they are requirements. It is very important to learn how to pay attention to detail, so do not underestimate the effort that needs to go into proofreading. Finally, you should give your paper to someone else to read (parent, classmate, older sibling). A second set of eyes is crucial to success. Then, when you are confident that you have covered all the bases, print off your final draft.

Other Thoughts

The paper you turn in should be the third one you’ve printed. It is hard to have the necessary attention to detail with a digital copy. For shorter, non-essay assignments, you do not need to attach a rubric unless I tell you to, nor do you need to follow the three-printing method, but you should follow the process above as much as you can nonetheless. You may notice that this is nearly impossible to accomplish on a Sunday night. You are correct.