Key Concepts for Writing in North American Colleges
The resources in this section cover key words, phrases an concepts regarding the following topics:
Please note, that these lists are not exhaustive, and that there may be some variety in how these terms are used at your college or university. Remember, when in doubt, always ask your instructor.
Stages of the Writing Process
Stages of the Writing Process
Writing can’t be done without going through certain stages. All writers go through their own unique writing processes before they make their final drafts. Usually, writers start with choosing topics and brainstorming, and then they may outline their papers, and compose sentences and paragraphs to make a rough draft. After they make a rough draft, writers may begin revising their work by adding more sentences, or removing sentences. Writers may then edit their rough draft by changing words and sentences that are grammatically incorrect or inappropriate for a topic.
Before you start writing, you will think about what to write, or how to write. This is called, brainstorming. When you brainstorm for ideas, you will try to come up with as many ideas as you can. Don't worry about whether or not they are good or bad ideas. You can brainstorm by creating a list of ideas that you came up with, or drawing a map and diagram, or just writing down whatever you can think of without thinking about grammar. Think of this like the erratic thunder and lightning that comes from a thunderstorm.
Next, you may want to outline your paper based off of the ideas you came up with while you were brainstorming. This means that you will think about the structure of your paper so that you can best deliver your ideas, and meet the requirements of writing assignments. You will usually outline your paper by beginning with its three major parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. The specific structure of each essay may vary from assignment to assignment. Many writers call this a skeleton unto which you develop or “flesh out” the paper. Once you have the skeleton in place, you can start thinking about how to add additional detail to it.
Your professors or instructors will often require you to submit a rough draft of your paper. This usually means that your work is still in progress. In the rough draft, readers want to see if you have a clear direction in your paper. When you are required to submit a rough draft, it doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be complete. That means, you shouldn't be missing any of the major parts of the paper.
Revise and Edit your writing
What is the difference between revise and edit?
Revision lets you look at your paper in terms of your topic, your ideas, and your audience. You may add more paragraphs or remove paragraphs to better fit into a given genre or topic. In a word, revising means that you organize your writing better in a way that your audience can understand your writing better. You may want to read our resource on basic rhetorical elements to help guide your revision.
Editing typically means that you go over your writing to make sure that you do not have any grammatical errors or strange phrases that make it difficult for your readers to understand what you are trying to say. In other words, editing means that you take care of minor errors in your writing. This is a lot like polishing your writing.
Polish your writing
We often hear professors or instructors say that you need to “polish your writing.” What do you mean by polish?
The word polish originally meant to make something smooth and shiny, as in “she polished her leather shoes.” In writing, polish can mean to improve or perfect, or refine a piece of writing by getting rid of minor errors. In other words, when your professors or instructors say, “polish your writing,” it means that you should go over your writing and make sure you do not have any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and to make sure that you do not have any sentences that do not make sense.
Style, Genre & Writing
What do you mean by tone in writing? In writing, tone can refere to: a writer’s style, character, or attitudes. As a reader, you will get certain feelings from a writer’s attitude toward certain topics. For example, if a writer expresses his or her passion in some topics, then the tone of the writing will very excited. A writer’s tone can be different from genre to genre, and from topic to topic. A Writer’s tone can be formal, informal, subjective, objective, critical, etc.
Being formal or “informal” is a matter of tone. Having a formal tone is often required in academic writing. When your professors or instructors say you should make your writing sound more formal, it means that you should not use some words that are used in a casual written or spoken forms of language.
For example, the language you use in a casual speech in a small get-together or a party is different from the language you use in your academic writing. It means that you should differentiate your use of language for a casual party and for academic writing.
From your own angle
What does it mean to write from your own angle? If your professors or instructors require you to write something from your own angle, it means that they want to see your own perspectives and your own ways of viewing the world in your writing. It means that you should think about certain topics from your own ways of looking at those topics, instead of reproducing arguments made by others.
First person point-of-view
Firstperson point-of-view refers to using the first-person pronouns I or We. If you write your paper with your co-authors, you might use we in the paper when you are refering to actions or beliefs that you and your co-authors have taken. In the first person point-of-view, you usually write your paper from your own experience or perspective. The use of first person point-of-view is usually avoided in academic writing. But, sometimes you are allowed to use it; for example, when you explain your own data or primary resources.
“Second person point-of-view”
Second person point-of-view means that you use the second-person pronounyou in your writing. You can sound informal to your audience, so it is often avoided in academic writing. But, if you are writing a recipe for some food, or instructions, or in casual or creative writing, you may use second person point-of-view.
Third person point-of-view
Third person point-of-view refers to the use of third-person pronouns: he, she, they, and it. The third person point-of-view has a wide range of uses in both creative and academic contexts.
Context refers to the surroundings of certain words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. The meanings of words, phrases, sentences may change based on a given context. For example, in “give a hand”, “hand” would be interpreted as “help” or “assistance”, rather than as the thing at the end of your arm that has four fingers and a thumb.
Conventions refer certain traditions or rules of a context or genre. In other words, conventions are generally agreed on practices or rules that writers should pay attention to when they compose a text. For example, in academic writing, you should write in a formal style while using certain styles of citation to deliver your arguments to your audience.
If your assignment tells you to write a critical review or critical analysis about a specific topic, it means that you will carefully examine and analyze whatever you are reviewing. You need to lay out and explain your analysis, providing both strengths and weaknesses of it. In this type of writing, it is important to think about your own critical analysis of others' opinions, rather than merely summarizing them.
If your assignment tells you to write an argumentative paper, you will choose your stance on certain topics, and create a statement that clearly reflects your position or opinion on the topic. You will elaborate on your arguments, by explaining further, providing examples, and referencing relevant literature. In an argumentative paper, it is important to have a good understanding of a topic, and to develop your opinion.
If your assignment tells you to write an expository paper, you will explain and illustrate something in a way that your readers can clearly understand what you are saying in your texts. In an expository paper, you will not be expected to write your own opinions, or positions on certain topics. Instead, you will mostly explain, review, and describe certain concepts or facts.
Reference & Citation in Writing
When your professors or instructors say you need to give reference to some work that you used in your paper, it means that you should indicate where you got the work or information from. There are a variety of ways to write references such as APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style. Your professors or instructors will want you to use one of these styles to write references at the end of your paper. When readers read your paper, they should be able to know where you the sources have come from.
You will often hear that you need to cite your work from your professors and instructors. This means that you should indicate where the information that you're using came from. For example, when you want to use some words or phrases from some websites or books, you should let the readers know what kind of sources you used, who created the source, and when the source was created. Basically, you are giving credit to the authors of the source that you used in your paper.
Plagiarizing means that you have taken information, ideas, or phrasing from a source and then used them in your own text without mentioning anything about the author who originally created your sources. In a way, you are stealing something from people without telling the people who had created the original source. For more information on plagiarism, click here.
When you summarize, you find the main points of the original text and compose a shorter version of the original text. A summary should be able to tell the readers what the original text is about and who the author is. You may use summaries to review some materials about a topic or support your ideas. For more information on writing summaries, click here.
Paraphrase means that you take some words or sentences from your sources, and put them in your own words. You still need to mention the original author of the words and sentences by appropriate citation style (APA, MLA). You paraphrase words or sentences by changing them to different words, or sentence structures without changing the original meaning. For more information on writing paraphrases, click here.
In-text means in a body of text that you have composed. In-text citation means that you cite the sources that you use in your words, sentences, and paragraphs in the actual body of your essay. Whatever you are using outside information your text, you should cite the sources that you are using in-text. For example
Quote means that you take a word, phrase, or sentence(s) directly or indirectly from the person who originally created that word or phrase or sentences. You then place these inside of quotation marks with an in-text citation.
Direct quote means that you take a word, phrase, sentence directly from the person who created that word, phrase, sentence. You then place this inside of quotation marks with an in-text citation.
Indirect quote means that you take a word, phrase, sentence from the person who created that word and put them in your own words. When you use them in your text, you must use them with an in-text citation. In this case, you do not need quotation marks around the word, phrase, or sentence. You should still put in-text citation.
Block quote means that you take a paragraph or two from the original source and put them in your text with citation. In a block quote, you do not need quotation mark. Usually, if the quote has more than 40 words, you should take it as a block quote.
Common Expressions in Academic Writing
Account for means that you provide an explanation for something. It is mostly used when you provide reasons for something.
Analyze means that you examine a text in detail and discuss the components and parts of a text and talk about how they interact with each other.
Argue means that you say or write something in a way that you can convince or persuade your audience. In your argument, you will provide reasons or any explanation to support your argument. In some situations, you argue to prove your point.
Assess means that you evaluate or determine the value or quality of a given text. In an assessment, you will provide your own judgment of the value of a text and provide explanations and reasons for your evaluation.
Characterize means that you describe the features and qualities of a concept or phenomenon. The features and qualities that you describe should be easily identifiable. When you characterize something, you make it different and distinguished from other things. For example, you could characterize one of the classes that you are taking as “interesting” or “boring.”
Classify means that you organize information by categories or classes. In classification, you should be able to tell the difference between categories or classes that you use, and you should be able to explain why and how you classified the information.
Comment means that you say something about a text or a topic. When you comment on something, you make relevant remarks about a text or a topic and provide your ideas or opinions on the text or topic.
Compare means that you find some similarities or differences among 2 or more things and explain how they are similar or different. When you compare things, you will mostly focus on how you characterize or identify something by explaining similarities and differences.
Consider means that you think about something carefully. You will think about a variety of aspects of a certain topic to develop your ideas or opinions on the topic.
Contrast means that you mainly find differences among 2 or more things and explain how different they are from each other. When you contrast things, it is important for you to explain how you identified differences among the things that you contrast.
Criticize means that you find something that you disapprove of based on your evaluation of a given text or material. When you criticize certain texts, opinions, and ideas, you will make sure to find faults and explain why you disapprove of the things that you found. You will provide reasons and evidence to explain why you criticize certain ideas.
Define means that you explain the meaning of certain words or concepts. While you are explaining the meaning, you will identify the main features and characteristics of certain words and concepts and explain what makes them different from other words or concepts.
Demonstrate means that you prove something by showing explanations, illustrations, and supporting evidence.
Describe means that you explain and specify certain objects or ideas in a way that your audience can easily understand your point.
When you differentiate between items it means that you make a distinction between 2 or more things. You will tell the difference between the things and explain how and why you differentiated them.
Discuss means that you think about certain aspects of a topic and explore them in detail in your text.You will often express your opinions or arguments based on the discussion.
Elaborate means that you explain something in more and at greater length. When you elaborate on something, you will illustrate an idea with rich description and explanations for it.
Evaluate means that you assess the value of certain texts or ideas based on your own judgment. In an evaluation of a text, you will see how well the ideas are developed according to certain contexts and audiences.
Examine means that you look at certain texts or ideas carefully and critically study them so you can make your own evaluation or arguments based on your judgment from the examination.
Identify means that you define certain concepts by providing identifying characteristics of them, or provide descriptions or explanations for certain concepts or words. For example, some assignments will ask you to “identify the meaning of a concept A.”
Illustrate means that you explain and describe certain characteristics or aspects of something. When you illustrate something in your text, you will provide relevant explanations and examples to make it clearer and understandable for your audiences.
Indicate means that you point out or show something. Some assignments will ask you to indicate specific information about something, such as “indicate the name of the author, or book” and some assignments will ask you to “indicate the meaning of certain ideas.”
Interpret means that you explain your understanding of certain ideas in a more comprehensive way. Some assignments will ask you to write about your own interpretation of certain data or texts. You will provide your own judgment and evaluation of them and explain how and why you were able to interpret a given subject.
Justify means that you prove your point by explaining reasons for it. You will defend your ideas by providing logical explanation to justify your point.
State means that you clearly express something about certain topics. For example, some assignments will ask you to state your opinions.
Synthesize means that you combine information in a way that could coherently and effectively present your ideas or opinions. In some assignments, you will be required to synthesize sources or ideas. This means that you will combine the sources and ideas and organize them in a way that is appropriate and approachable to your readers.
Verify means that you prove something by showing evidence or information. It could also mean that you check and see to make sure certain information is correct and accurate.