Covered in This Chapter:

  • Your first free writing. Free writing is a method to help you decide what you want to write about.
  • Research. Use research to help determine a direction and narrow down your topic.
  • Your second free writing. A second free writing helps you deter- mine more of what you know, what interests you, and what you want to write about, focusing on your subject.
  • Your thesis statement. A thesis statement is one sentence that sets the foundation on which you will build the whole essay. It usually is the last sentence in your introductory paragraph.

Your First Free Writing

Free writing is a method to help you choose a specific topic for your essay.

What You Need to Know: Actually, you’d be surprised at what you already know. We all have information stored in our subconscious, but we can’t always readily access it. For example, say you’re trying to remember the name of your fourth-grade art teacher. The harder you try, the farther away it gets. Then you quit trying, wake up the next morning, and think, “Of course. Her name was Ms. Bell.” It was in your subconscious all the time, and it just needed to be brought to the surface.

Building on this concept, Peter Elbow, professor and renowned author of several books on writing and writing theory, introduced the idea of free writing. This technique acknowledges the advantage of using the subconscious as an aid to writing. His theory is that if we can cancel out our conscious mind, we will be able to access all the wonderful information we have in our subconscious.

Before you begin to write, however, you can add some tools to the mix to make your free writing more useful. For example, add to your collection of information on your prompt of Going green is important:

  • You’ve probably heard things about ecology on TV—and stored it some- where in the recesses of your mind.
  • You can talk to people—classmates, parents, other adults—with information and opinions on the topic.
  • You could read articles on “green” online.

Then, armed with both conscious and subconscious information, you have a place to start.

What You Need to Know: The technique of free writing requires you to do only three things:Set a timer or alarm. Sit down at your computer with no noise. Write without stopping.

Set the alarm for 10 minutes. Then start typing. Type anything at all that comes to mind. Keep going, without stopping, until the alarm goes off. Don’t worry about grammar or even making sense. The whole idea is to not think—just type and see what comes of it.

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing during the 10 minutes—no matter what you write.You can’t think of anything to say? Repeat the last word until words flow again. Your first free writing on Going green is important might look like this (particularly if your automatic spell-check is off).

First Free Writing Example

I don’t see why I have to do a paper on green thins, except for money of course and I guess I also like green grass and I would hate to live where there was no gren grass. I can’t make grasss but maybe I might be able to do something to make things better. I know my parents recycle all the garbage and I wonder where all that garbage goes but I’d still be happier if I didn’t have to writ ethis dumb paper. Peter, my best friend doesn’t have any trouble writing papers. I did like that rticle I read about doing little things that make a difference. But it’s the big companies that need to clear up their act Ugh, all of this stuff will need some research. I could even go to the library and hang out with some friends. We always have a good time when I go there there, there, their. Mark has been volunteering for beach cleanup I could talk to him.

Results of First Free Writing

If you have enough time in your schedule, don’t read your writing now— wait for a day, or at least a few hours. Then go back and take a look at what you wrote. Ask yourself:

Is there one idea that stands out?
Yes. I kept mentioning doing something to make things better.

Is there something I want to know more about?
Yes. Why bother with recycling? How much good does all this work actually do?

Does all that careful recycling actually do some good?
I don’t know, and I want to find out. Where does it all go, how is it put back to use, and how much difference does it make?

If you don’t have time to let your free writing rest, look over your writing and see if you can pull out three points to develop. Or, if you have an in-class essay, stop and think before you write. Then list three points you can cover. The pause gives you time to settle; the three points give you a direction.

The next step in the process is to conduct more research to help you determine your direction.

What You Need to Know:

Your first free writing should help you form a focus on what part of Going green is important might interest you and what you want to write about. Conducting research will help narrow your focus even more. Following are some items to consider during your research:

  • Determine the question you will be answering in your essay.
  • Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question.
  • Use those keywords to search indexes of encyclopedias and online resources.
  • Record the bibliography information for each resource from which you use information.
  • Evaluate what you find. If you have too much information, you may need to narrow or even broaden your subject.
What You Need to Do:

It’s now time to research different aspects of your prompt subject, with the goal of choosing the specific topic for your essay. Some possible topics to explore include:

  • What we all can do for our school, neighborhood, or city
  • The benefits of recycling
  • How we can conserve resources Once you’ve identified a topic of interest, you can concentrate on the research.
  • Fortunately you have a wealth of research at your fingertips:
  • You have the Internet. You can use your favorite search engine to dis- cover sources of information.

If you type in “going green,” you’ll get more hits than you’ll ever need, so you may have to try different keywords to narrow down your search. In selecting articles, we are usually drawn to ones with titles we like. Not always scientific, but fun.

  • Check online encyclopedias – but not simply Wikipedia, which is not always accurate. Though Wikipedia is a popular online resource, do not consider it a reliable resource, as it is not always accurate. Generally, URLs ending in .edu. are more reliable.
  • Talk to people you know and respect. For this topic, you could visit a recycling center or a volunteer group actually working at keeping our planet green.
  • Don’t forget the library. You might already go there to meet friends, but it also contains a wealth of knowledge. Your best friends at the library are the reference librarians. They can often point you in a direction you would never know existed. Never be shy about asking them for help – that’s why they are there.

Taking Notes

Note-taking methods vary, and you should choose what is most comfortable and effective for you. The keys are to:

  • Get down enough information to help you recall the major points of the research.
  • Put the information in a form in which you are most likely to use the research in your essay.
  • Label each note with the author’s name and the title; the page number(s), or links that the note comes from; a subject heading or theme; and the type of note it is—quotation, paraphrase, summary, your own comment.

Once you have gathered your research information and sources, make a folder on your computer or keep note cards with all the information noted here. This helps organize your material later when you will need a list of these references at the end of your essay.

Give Credit Where It Is Due

Be sure to give credit to outside sources. Using someone else’s words without credit is plagiarism and is considered cheating. You don’t want to lose all your hard work, which will happen if you plagiarize. The list of sources is generally provided in the form of a bibliography where you list all of the pertinent source information. There are different forms and amounts of information required for different resources—books, magazines, TV, and so on. Most often they are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.

Cluster Your Information

Now that you have a mass of information . . . what do you do with it? You use it to help narrow down the focus of your subject – to choose a specific idea for your essay. One way to generate ideas and group them for good organization is to “cluster” them. One method for clustering your ideas is to sort them in a document, either on paper or on the computer:

  • Start by typing the main subject at the top.
  • Then type a list of as many ideas as you can think of related to your subject. You may take these ideas from information you already know or information you gather in your research.
  • Next, take a look at the items and see which ones seem to go together.
  • As you look at the items, you will begin to see patterns. Move similar items into groups and give each group a word or phrase that describes them.
  • Finally, look at the groups and see if there is one set that really grabs your attention.

The following clustering example begins with a random list of ideas and questions about cleaning up the environment. Looking at the list, certain patterns emerge. Some of the topics are general in nature and some can be grouped by location—home, school, outdoors, and so on.

In this example, a student might decide that what’s most interesting, most attention grabbing for the teacher, and most directly related to the student’s life is writing about how each individual can make a difference at home and at school.

Therefore, some of the topics in the “general” category and those in the “home” and “school” categories would be most worthwhile to further research and use as key points of the essay.

Your Second Free Writing

Now it’s time to move up the ladder to the next step—your second free writing.

What You Need to Know:

You have much more information now and will be able to more clearly see what you know. Conducting a second free writing allows you—consciously and unconsciously—to incorporate:

  • What you initially knew
  • The research you’ve gathered
  • Facts and impressions you have developed through your research

All of this brings you closer to narrowing your broad subject to a specific topic on which to base your essay.

What You Need to Do:

The same techniques apply in your second free writing as in your first free writing, except for a slightly longer time:

  • Set the timer or alarm again, this time for 15 minutes.
  • Sit down at your computer with no noise.
  • Write – without stopping.

Again, if possible, when you’re finished, let your writing rest for a day or so. This time you’ll be amazed at how much your ideas have developed and how much more information-packed your second free writing is, because of the research you did. As you sort through your ideas in the second free writ- ing, the direction of your essay will become clearer.

Second Free Writing Example

I read a lot of stuff about going green but the article that I really liked was the guy came up with some neat ideas about turning the water off when you brush your teeth. And using one paper towel in the restroom instead of two. And it seems to me that if I keep looking I’ll find all kinds of things that I never thought of. and I’m not sure that I want to do all those things.

It seems that things are getting so complicated complicated complicated, but I guess doing something is better than doing nothing, but doing nothing seems so much easier but that won’t get me anywhere. I’ve got to figure out what to do. oh, another thing that I read is how much we can make a difference at school in the differ- ent ways we do things. that’s something I’d definitely be interested in, because there’s a lot of waste in schools.

Notice that in this second free writing there is new information, such as “the article that I really liked was the guy came up with some neat ideas about turning the water off when you brush your teeth,” and your impressions and interests, such as “I’ve got to figure out what to do.”

Your Thesis Statement

Armed with all the information you’ve gathered from your research and free writing, you are now ready for the next step – forming a working thesis statement. This will serve as the foundation for your essay.

What You Need to Know:

What exactly is a thesis statement? It is one sentence that sets the foundation on which you will build the whole essay. An effective thesis statement includes and accomplishes two things:

  • It introduces the subject, which signals the reader what you will be writ- ing about.
  • It sets the controlling idea, the position you will be taking in your paper. It is an idea that needs to be proved or explained.

The thesis statement is usually the last sentence in your introductory paragraph.

What You Need to Do:

To write an effective thesis statement, keep the following in mind:

  • The thesis statement cannot be a question because then your essay would not develop an idea but would only answer the question. Instead of asking, “Why is going green important?” you can change it to, “Going green is important.” Now, this statement can and needs to be explained.
  • The thesis statement cannot be a fact because a fact does not need to be explained.

The fact “Recycling saves one million dollars a month” is either true or not, but it does not need to be explained.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to discuss how individuals can help make our planet greener. In your thesis statement, the subject will relate to making our planet greener, and the controlling idea is how we can do that.

A good thesis statement always has both the subject and the control- ling idea to guide both readers and the writer.

In some cases your teacher may ask you to list the points you are going to cover in the essay in your thesis statement. For example, using the broad theme Going green is important, you can be more specific in your topic with “Individuals can help make our planet greener at school, at home, and in our community.” In this thesis statement, the readers know exactly what you will discuss in your essay.

You can take a more subtle approach if you don’t want to telegraph the whole essay and want, instead, to keep the readers more in suspense. The danger here is that if you don’t list your points up front, you might get off-topic. Of course, use the style your teacher requests.

Practice Thesis Statements

The better you can identify subjects and controlling ideas in thesis statements, the easier it will be for you to write effective ones. Following are five thesis statements. Underline the subject and write S above it. Then under- line the controlling idea and write C over it. See the Answer Key at the end of this book for the correct answers.

1. Recycling can make a real difference.
2. Going green really starts at home.
3. Recycling seems to be a good idea.
4. One person can do a lot to make a difference.
5. More Kermits can make a greener planet.

Next Steps

You’ve taken the first key steps to creating a successful essay. You’ve expressed your ideas in free writings, researched your topic, and developed your thesis statement. Now you’re ready to take the next step of determining your method of development – how you will present your ideas.