Friday, July 18, 2008

The Composition Code

Cracking the Composition Code
The Formula for Academic Writing

Academic Writing is simple, really. Almost too simple. You’ll be saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The composition code is simply a formula for academic writing. It’s not used in many other kinds of writing, though, as an attorney, my husband still uses the format loosely when writing legal briefs. After you read this, you may be saying...boring, boring, boring. Just remember the point of academic writing is not to entertain, but to prove your knowledge in an organized and concise manner. Yes, boring, but a producer of A's. In fact, essays using this code will be required on the SAT.

I will explain the formula using a simple five-paragraph essay. The same formula can be used for shorter or longer essays. That means that the five paragraph essay could become the five page essay, adding more details, paragraphs and content for each "point" you make in your essay. You'll understand more as you read on.

Generally, the idea is that in the first paragraph, you state your thesis, then briefly give three reasons (points) separated by commas, and end with a transition sentence that leads into the next paragraph. Each following paragraph will highlight one point, then conclude with a concluding paragraph.
To help you remember the formula, it will follow this acronym: OPT 1REST 2REST 3REST C.

First Paragraph

Opening Sentence: Your opening sentence will state your thesis and why. You will usually have the word "because" in this sentence.

Points: Tell what your reasons are; all your supporting reasons are stated simply in one sentence. Each reason will then be its own paragraph. Be certain to state the reasons in the order of the paragraphs.

Transition: Transition into the next portion of your essay, , which examines each of these reasons in detail.

Then you move into REST paragraphs. Each of the next three paragraphs begins with one of the reasons or points , followed by supporting evidence, and a transition.

1REST (1st Paragraph)

1st reason paragraph
Reason restated in different words:
Evidence supporting reason
Summary supporting opening thesis

2nd reason paragraph
Reason restated in different words:
Evidence supporting reason
Summary supporting opening thesis

3rd reason paragraph
Reason restated in different words
Evidence supporting reason
Summary supporting opening thesis

C - Conclusion

Conclusions are tricky. Some professionals say, “Don’t summarize.” Others say, “You must summarize.” Some say, “End with a thought provoking idea concerning your conclusions.” Others say, “Don’t submit any new ideas.” I believe briefly summarizing in different words and restating your thesis is a safe way to conclude. It’s also fine to end with a thought provoking idea, or question, as long as it is relevant and truly works with the essay.

Here are some ideas for your conclusion:
· Give a brief summary of the paper's main points using different words.
· Ask a challenging question.
· Use a relevant quotation.
· Compel them to act upon the information.
· Give a warning.
· Compare to other situations.

Here are some things you should avoid:

· Ending with a summary that sounds like your first paragraph
· Introducing a new idea or subtopic—unless it’s interesting, very relevant or thought provoking.
· Bringing up a minor point in the essay.
· Apologizing or making a disclaimer, such as, “I may not be an expert”

On essay test questions, there is usually a correct answer that was taught during the course. You will need to know the correct answer based on what was taught in class. Your numbered reasons will be limited to these answers, not your opinion. It's of utmost importance that you do not add to the reasons your teacher taught you in class. The professor is only interested in seeing that you know the correct answer. You conclusion can interject opinion, but should not stray from the main focus of the course.
Is this all there is to academic composition? No, this is simply the basic formula, the very beginning. Writing an excellent composition requires good organization of thought, minimizing words, using powerful verbs instead of adjectives (creative writing likes adjectives), removing qualifiers, using active voice, rewriting nominalized verbs, removing perfect tense verbs and knowing the particulars of style.

Many Universities have writing labs and instruction on the Internet. This website has many listed.
I am toying with the idea of creating a simple eBook that you can give to your kids to learn the essay formula. It wouldn't be too hard for me to do; it would just take a little extra time - AND I NEED TO FINISH MY LESSON PLANS FOR THE FALL!!!!