Asking the “Write” Questions
Unlike Calvin, we all know it takes more than a fancy plastic binder to earn a good grade on an essay. What we sometimes forget, however, is that it takes more than one sitting to compose a piece of quality writing. In other words, writing is a process best done over a period of time. Not only that, but the more we involve other people in that process, the better off we will usually be. But what exactly should we be doing to advocate for ourselves as writers? In this post we present a series of questions you can ask yourself, your teachers, and your peers so you’re making the most of your resources throughout the writing process.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do I understand the assignment & the teacher’s expectations?
This is one of the easiest things you can do to ensure success on any assignment.
- What steps will I include in my writing process?
Ideally, these will include brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading.*
- How much time will I need for each step?
Don’t underestimate how much time is needed for the last three stages of the process. Plan on spending at least 50% of the total writing time on revision and editing.
- Am I writing a little bit each day?
Any task is easier when you break it into small, manageable steps.
- Where can I look for inspiration and examples?
Your teacher may be able to show you samples written by previous students, or you may simply read novels, newspapers, magazines, or blogs to get a feel for how professional writers express ideas.
- Am I avoiding getting started because I don’t know how to begin?
If so, revisit questions 1, 4 and 5 above.
- Have I met all the requirements of the assignment?
This is a question to ask when you are nearing the end of the writing process. Don’t turn in your final draft until you have answered “yes” to this question.
*Revising is changing ideas and organization; editing is changing word choice and sentence structure; and proofreading is correcting errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Questions to Ask Your Teacher
- What do you think are my strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Having seen other essays you’ve written, a teacher should be able to help focus your efforts. You’ll want to continue to use your strengths while making improvements in at least one area of weakness.
- What are one or two areas I should focus on for this assignment?
Your teacher might be able to provide clues as to which qualities of good writing he or she will focus on most when grading.
- Does the thesis in my rough draft provide an arguable response to the prompt?
This is just one of many specific questions you could ask a teacher if you show him or her the rough draft of your essay. Never just ask a teacher to “look at” your essay; always come prepared with some specific aspects of your writing to which you’d like him or her to respond.
Questions to Ask Your Peer Reviewer
- Where in my essay are you most interested in what I have to say? Why?
Once you know what the reader finds interesting, you can revise to include more of those ideas in the essay.
- Are there any places in my essay where my personality really shows?
Once you know which parts sound like your voice and style, you can revise to include more of those in the essay.
- Are there any places in my essay where you are bored? If so, where?
If necessary, ask the reader for suggestions on what would make those passages more interesting.
- Are there any places in my essay where you are confused? If so, where?
If necessary, ask the reader to elaborate on why that passage was hard to understand.
- Are there any places in my essay where I seem to get off topic? If so, where?
If necessary, make sure the reader understands what main ideas you are trying to get across.
With the answers to these questions you will be well-equipped to write, revise and edit with success!