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English Composition 1

Checklist: Organization and the Support and Development of Ideas

Below is a list of many things to consider as you are writing and revising that should help you strengthen the organization and the support and development of ideas in analytical and persuasive essays.

The authors of one composition textbook state that the "art and craft" of writing comes in the revision stages. That's an important point. Most of us can write an essay, sometimes in just a few hours, but those writers whose essays demonstrate the "art and craft" of writing generally are the writers who spend at least several hours on the revision stages, going through an essay step-by-step to identify ways in which different aspects of the essay can be strengthened. The information here should help you take this kind of methodical approach to revising your writing.

The material here is presented only as a checklist, without much explanation. You can find more information about many of the ideas below on some of the other course web pages, but please ask if you would like additional information about anything on the checklist.

Introduction

  1. Do you begin with a connection between your readers and the main point of your essay?
  2. If you are writing about a work of literature, do you give the title and its author before referring to "the story" or to characters?
  3. Is the thesis statement comprised of the specific ideas from the topic sentences? Copy and paste the topic sentences together in the order than they appear in your essay, and then rewrite them as one sentence for your thesis statement.
  4. Is the thesis statement, conveying all of the main ideas of your essay, presented as only one sentence? It should be.  
  5. Are the main ideas of your essay not stated as separate sentences in the introduction? They need to come together in a one-sentence thesis statement and should then not be repeated in separate sentences.
  6. Does the thesis statement show the logical relationship among the main ideas? Don't just list the main ideas; indicate how the ideas are logically related.
  7. Is the introduction about half as long as the body paragraphs?

Body Paragraphs / Support and Development of Ideas

  1. How do body paragraphs begin? With a fact? With a general claim? With a specific claim? It's best to begin a body paragraph with a specific claim, but not a claim that is so specific that it prevents you from writing a full paragraph supporting and developing the idea.
  2. In the body of the paragraph, do you stay focused only on proving the specific claim or claims stated in the topic sentence?
  3. Do you use several pieces of specific evidence to support each claim in the topic sentence?
  4. Do you avoid bringing up any unsupported claims within a body paragraph?
  5. Do you avoid speculation in your essay? Speculation should be avoided because it involves the presentation of claims that cannot be supported or refuted because of the lack of evidence. If you cannot prove a claim with any facts, the claim should be left out of your essay.
  6. Do body paragraphs begin with your own words, not with quotations?
  7. Do body paragraphs end with your own words, not with quotations?
  8. Do you present any facts that are not explained? If so, can you explain how the facts are helping you support a particular claim? If you cannot, are the facts even necessary in your essay?
  9. Have you reviewed your essay carefully to check for factual errors?
  10. How long are body paragraphs? Generally, each body paragraph should be between six and twelve sentences. Any shorter, and the ideas in the paragraph probably are not developed well. Any longer, and the paragraph might lack a strong focus. 
  11. Are body paragraphs "balanced" in terms of the length? All body paragraphs should be roughly the same length.

Use of Quotations (if applicable)

  1. Do you explain the words you quote? Try adding, "suggesting that," "implying that," "indicating that" or similar expressions to the ends of quotations to explain the meaning of the quoted words.
  2. Do you avoid the use of long quotations? Quotations are most effective when they come in the form of only a few important words that are smoothly, logically, and grammatically integrated into your own sentences.
  3. Do you clarify the meanings of pronouns in quotations that may be unclear? Use [brackets], not (parentheses), to indicate material that you have added to a quotation.
  4. Have you checked all quotations for accuracy? The quoted words are not your own, so you must copy them exactly as they appear in the original source.
  5. Are all quotations integrated into your own sentences with the correct punctuation, if any punctuation is necessary? No quotation should be standing alone in an essay.   

Unity and Cohesion

  1. Do you repeat keys words from the topic sentence of a paragraph within the paragraph? You should repeat key words to help strengthen the cohesion of the paragraph.
  2. Do you use transitional words, phrases, and sentences: "however," "therefore," "likewise," "similarly," "in addition," "next," etc.?
  3. Is each sentence clearly related to the sentence before it?
  4. Does each body paragraph end with a transitional sentence (except the last body paragraph) that takes readers to the idea in the next body paragraph?
  5. Is there a logical progression of ideas throughout your essay, a clear sense of the main idea in one body paragraph logically leading to the main idea in the next body paragraph? Could the logical progression of ideas be stronger if you rearranged the order of body paragraphs? 

Conclusion

  1. Do you restate the thesis? But do not repeat the thesis statement verbatim from your introduction!
  2. Are the main ideas of your essay not stated as separate sentences in the conclusion? They need to come together in a one-sentence restatement of the thesis and should not be repeated in separate sentences.
  3. Do you avoid bringing up any new ideas in the conclusion?
  4. Do you end your essay leaving readers thinking about the importance of the ideas you have explained in the body of the essay?
  5. Do the introduction and the conclusion form a sort of "frame" around your essay, with a return in the conclusion to the main idea beginning the introduction?
  6. Is the conclusion about half as long as body paragraphs?

Copyright Randy Rambo, 2006.