Lia Manfredi Wu: Writing Well, Important
"What is written without effort in general is read
- Samuel Johnson
When students wonder what the secret, magical key to writing
well is, they may not like hearing the answer - that it
takes great effort and practice. But, if they can begin
to view writing as a process, rather than an enigmatic and
seemingly impossible task, then they can strive towards
writing without tremendous fear and anxiety.
As an English teacher, I try to get my students to realize
that good writers don't pound out one perfect draft or have
words flow out of their pens from mysterious inspiration.
Effective writers have to work hard at their craft and usually
follow some type of writing process.
If you are concerned that your child's writing skills are
not up to par, or you believe that it couldn't hurt to give
your child a bit more guidance and practice in writing,
then you can start by reviewing or introducing the writing
process with your child:
First, writers do pre-writing or planning, in which they
think about the subject they will be writing about. They
often make lists or maps, jot down notes or write a formal
outline. One cannot expect to know exactly what to write
and how to write it without thinking about the subject first.
Try to help your child brainstorm on all that he or she
knows about the subject and do research to find out about
any information needed to come up with a thesis - or a main
point to center the essay around. Then the youth can
begin making a plan, in note form or outline, so there is
a kind of blueprint for the essay.
Now, students can begin writing the first draft. During
this phase of the process, students should try to get all
of their ideas down on paper without being stifled too much
by concern over perfection in sentence structure, spelling
or grammar. The aim here is to write a first draft of what
was thought about and planned during the pre-writing stage.
In his guide book, "On Writing Well," William
Zinsser explains, "... rewriting is the essence of
writing ... professional writers rewrite their sentences
repeatedly and then rewrite what they have rewritten."
Zinsser stresses the importance of the third step in the
writing process. He says rewriting, reworking and carefully
choosing each word is the key to writing well.
Teach your child that writing is a skill that they can
learn how to do, but it is not something that comes to anyone
easily. Good writers work hard to write well and there
is never one perfect first draft that is ready to hand in.
Of course, some students may prefer to combine some steps
in the writing process, writing a paragraph and then rewriting
it, rather than writing the entire essay without taking
a peek back. Whether a student writes an essay straight
through, then rewrites, checking for clarification of meaning,
precise word choice and coherence, or writes and rewrites,
and writes and rewrites, the point is to emphasize that
rewriting is key. A second, third or fourth look back to
examine and rework the piece is important.
Editing is the last step in the writing process. It allows
the writer and possibly a proofreader (peer editing is done
in some writing classes) to reexamine the content and clarity
of the essay.
At this stage of the writing, the student can come up with
their own "check-off sheet" of elements to consider
and include in their writing. The student can use his or
her teacher's grading sheet to help check over their own
work or use the following check-off sheet (which I compiled
for peer editing and grading my own students). It should
help your child examine their own essay, checking for content
Clear thesis - argument, idea;
Detailed examples - support for ideas, proof of claims,
Developed, unified topic - clear explanations of examples;
Clear transitions and flow - sentences follow in meaning,
paragraphs separate different ideas;
Style - strong nouns and verbs with precise meaning, advanced
vocabulary, no superfluous information, no repetition of
Conclusion - connection of information, examples to thesis;
Correct punctuation and spelling;
Correct grammar - subject verb agreement, no run-ons or
Encourage your child, whether in elementary, middle
or high school or college, to see that writing does take
hard work, but one can strive to write well by learning
that writing is a process.
Important Dates to Remember:
Jan. 14 - Last day to submit applications for participation
in Round 1 of enrollment for the SFUSD for the 2005-2006
Jan. 14 - Registration deadline for Feb. 5 Secondary School
Admission Test (SSAT).
Feb. 5 - SSAT test given.
Feb. 7 - Registration deadline for March 12 SAT (this will
be a new SAT test).
March 11 - SFUSD Round 1 offers mailed to families.
March 12 - New SAT test given.
March 14 - Parents must register students at schools to
accept Round 1 offers.
March 25 - If parents do not register their child by the
deadline, the offer will be cancelled and the space will
be made available to other students.
March 31 - Last day to submit an application for participation
in Round 2 (late applicant enrollment).
March 31 - Last day for Round 1 applicants to submit an
appeal or submit an amended application form.
Lia Manfredi Wu earned her California teaching credential
at SF State University. She is the founder of Tutoring Teachers,
a professional tutoring service that provides one-on-one
tutoring to students in need of academic assistance, guidance