High Schoolexpository writing

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The dreaded “P” word
What’s the most dreaded letter that could appear on a transcript? I’ll wager that it’s not a “B,” or, gulp, a “C”, but a “P” as in “plagiarist.” In fact, if Hester Prynne were a 21st century student, instead of the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th century novel The Scarlet Letter, she’d probably be less concerned about having the letter ...
Good writers start as good readers
Writing is a conversation. Whether you anticipate your audience to be a friend, a panel of scientists, a room full of legislators, the owner of a pizza shop, the divine universe, or oneself, to write is to put forth one’s wish to be heard. By extension, to read is to be in the position of the listener. Just as we learn to speak and to express ...
How to use an outline to your advantage when you’re writing
How often do you start writing an essay with a great idea in mind, only to lose steam—or worse, lose track of your argument—well before you meet the length requirement? Have you ever reread a paper draft only to realize what you’re arguing on the first page isn’t quite the same thing you’re arguing on the last one? These sorts of problems are ...
5 easy steps to good writing
Great chefs don’t cook wonderful meals on the first try. They’ve been in the kitchen for many sessions trying things out before they put a dish on the table. Writers need to do this too. Plan, practice, and prepare for the writing project you have in front of you. Break it into manageable chunks of about 2-3 hours each. These chunks need to be ...
What makes a good descriptor?
Cliche is natural; originality, not so much. Pre-packaged phrases like “bring to the table,” “at the end of the day,” or “read between the lines” are overused and now lack their meaning, becoming a kind of automatic thinking, according to George Orwell. But why? Because triggering automatic thinking in a listener is helpful to a speaker if he or ...
Five steps to flawlessly edit your writing
There is no such thing as a perfect essay, but there certainly are imperfect ones. Botched grammar, careless typos, and ineloquent wording will be sure to raise the eyebrows of admissions committees, teachers, and professors alike. When the stakes are high, careful editing can make all the difference.
How to organize a paragraph: the MEAL plan
Composing a clear paragraph is a foundational skill in academic writing. In high school, you may have been taught that a paragraph requires a certain number of sentences – maybe three, maybe five. But paragraphs come in different lengths, and rather than follow strict rules about word count or a requisite number of sentences, it’s important to ...
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition essays: part 1
More than any other test, the AP English Language and Composition Exam is dominated by essays. Three timed essays—the Synthesis Essay, Rhetoric Essay, and Argument Essay—will take up most of your time on the exam, and count for more than fifty percent of your score. In this three-part guide, I’ll walk you through the process of writing timed ...
Top grammar errors to avoid
Throughout the years I’ve spent reading and writing, I’ve seen my fair share of grammar errors. But few are peskier, or more pervasive, than the two I’ll discuss in this post. So common are these two grammar errors that I regularly encounter them in professional writing — sometimes even in articles by full-blown professors! These two errors often ...
How to revise your work
Before anything else, congratulate yourself. You wrote something! That’s huge! Writing is hard. Having something is so much better than having nothing. Something can be revised. And revising can be a lot of fun, as long as you have the right support. Here are some tools to help you navigate the revision process:
Up close and personal: how to prepare for a close reading paper
Close reading? Shouldn’t we already be reading “closely” for class? Correct! But the term “close reading” also describes a very specific type of literary inquiry in which one pays careful, prolonged attention to a small chunk of text (or art object) in order to produce an argument about that text and how it works. Close reading is the ...
What I learned about the writing process from bread baking
Working from home means I can adapt myself to the capricious schedule of bread making. Dough waits for no one (and it will not rise more quickly if prodded!). I’ve loved baking since childhood, but I discovered bread more recently.
How to revise anything
The most important part of writing is rewriting. Whether you’re working on a term paper, a personal statement, or a lab report, getting words on the page is just the first step. Even if you’re writing from an outline, the process of writing inevitably leads you to unexpected and interesting places. That’s part of the joy of writing, but it’s also ...
5 Tips to make you a more successful writer!
Like many other tutors, what has been most useful for me is building myself up to writing. I use a lot of “tricks” to get around my anxiety about writing, and it often takes me several tries to get started. And with the pandemic, there are even more reasons to be distracted. Here are some tricks that have worked for me!
Six ways to brainstorm more effectively
At its core, writing is about discovering relationships between words and ideas. Your brainstorming process can and should reflect that central goal from the very beginning of the writing process. Here are a series of investigative approaches to help you expose and explore these relationships:
Editing for parallelism: one writing lesson from the proverb
When I teach my students to become their own editors, I often tell them to be on the lookout for opportunities to use parallelism. Parallelism is the repetition of the same grammatical structure in successive parts of a sentence. (Grammatical structure is just a fancy way of saying some combination of nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech.)
Tone and mood
When attempting an analysis of a text for English literature classes, such as the IBDP course, some of the advanced features that students have to understand concern tone and mood. It is customary to associate tone with dialogue and speech, and mood with the setting of novels. However, tone and mood are not just features of fiction and can also be ...
Two common grammatical mistakes to avoid in polished writing
There are no hard and fast rules in writing. But even if an experimental poet or an avant-garde novelist has dispensed with capitalization or written an entire novel without the letter E (yes, a novel like this really exists!), this does not mean that you need to follow suit. Your personal statement, for example, is not the place to defy the ...
Confronting commas on the SAT writing and language section
You see commas everywhere when you're reading, and you may put them everywhere when you're writing, but do you really know when to properly use this tricky punctuation mark? The SAT requires you to know exactly when a comma is either necessary or obstructive, so it is important to take the time to learn comma rules as you prepare for the writing ...
4 ways to beat writing anxiety on the personal statement
Writing is a daunting task. To transform your nebulous thoughts into a linear string of words requires a special kind of concentration. And when it comes to writing personal essays, like those required for most undergraduate and graduate applications, you are asked to not only concentrate but also be introspective. It’s no wonder that many of us ...
5 tips to improve your writing
I was recently helping someone with a comparative essay they had to write for school. This person did not like writing—a common enough state of affairs. They felt that they had no talent for it. The process frustrated them. I could see that they were struggling in part because they were trying to do everything at once (come up with ideas, write ...
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write in college should have it. Sometimes professors call this a “thesis statement,” sometimes a “claim,” and sometimes they don’t really specify what it is. But it’s essential — and sometime elusive. But it shouldn’t be! 
The importance of keeping it simple: clear and concise writing
When I was a high school AP Biology student, my teacher used to walk by my desk during multiple choice exams and whisper, “You didn’t really mean to circle B there, did you? Keep it simple.” He knew I was an overthinker. Instead of circling the simplest and most obvious answer—which I often knew to be the right one—I would overthink the question, ...
How to write a killer essay in 3 easy steps
We’ve all been there: staring at a blank document, practically able to feel the creeping imminence of our paper’s deadline. For so many of us, it’s really hard to sit down and actually channel our thoughts into a coherent form, let alone one that’s structured and based on an argument worthy of praise.
Speech is silver, silence is golden: how pausing transforms communication
Many people probably recognize the second part of that proverb -- "Silence is Golden" –– as an oft-quoted adage to dictate the importance of quiet in our busy, noisy lives. The full version, as written above, originates in English thanks to Thomas Carlyle, who translated it from part of a larger German work in 1831. The translated passage begins, ...
How to write an excellent history paper
I love the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and I've seen it more times than I can count. It is about two teenagers on the brink of failing high school, unless they ace their final history exam. The Hollywood twist? The protagonists acquire a time machine that allows them to travel through different eras of history. Throughout the film, ...
One for all and all for none? Grammatical rules for one, neither, and each!
  In this blog post, our resident grammar girl reviews the impossibly confusing rules for singular subjects that refer to plural groups; subject-verb agreements involving"each", "all", and "none"; and last (but not least!) "neither", "neither", and "nor" and how they relate to your verb choice.
Semi-colons, colons, and commas: how and when to use them
One advisory that students hear a lot, especially in earlier years of English class, is "avoid a comma splice." A comma splice is an excessive use of commas without the proper elements of a complete sentence to justify the commas. When to use a comma versus a semi-colon depends on the type of sentence you have. Below are the sentence types that ...
Three essential things to remember when citing parenthetically
For a lot of students, parenthetical citations may seem like the bane of their existence. You've just written a ten-page essay, you're happy with your argument and the conclusion you thought of in the middle of the night before it was due to submit, but you still have to check all the quotes. Especially in today's digital age, in which reading and ...
Punctuate your point, correctly: how to punctuate dialogue
They may seem small, but punctuation marks can make all the difference in how we read and understand the English language. The title of what has become an iconic little book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, exemplifies the level of ambiguity that can result from the presence or absence of a comma. Punctuating dialogue can be tricky, but it provides a ...
How to close read a passage of text
Whether you are an incoming freshman in your first expository writing class, studying for the SAT, or simply a lover of literature, close reading a passage of text is one of the most essential skills a critical reader can master.  Close reading requires us to read beyond the immediate or superficial meaning of the text by forcing us to interpret ...
Four types of questions and when to ask them
When a toddler asks why to an infinite regress, their line of questioning inevitably becomes annoying. The reason is not that their questions individually are inherently uninteresting—or if answered seriously will not illicit fascinating information—but rather that the line of questioning that that toddler embarks on is without end.
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