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Aspects of Specific Writing

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by Lilianna Meldrum on 7 August 2013

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Transcript of Aspects of Specific Writing

Specific vs. General
Aspect 3: Specific writing chooses the right word for the job
Aspect 4: Specific writing acknowledges that
quality is more important than quantity.
Specific words, phrases, and ideas gain the reader's interest, tell us precisely what the writer wants to express, help us to evaluate the question at hand, adequately support the writer's assertions, and prove that the writer understands what he or she is discussing. Specific language clearly defines and explains the core ideas of the essay.
General words, phrases, and ideas may be vague, confusing, and easy to misunderstand. They do not demonstrate that the writer understands what he or she is discussing!
Aspect 1: Specific writing provides details
So What?
Aspect 2: Specific writing is not vague
It is important to acknowledge that a long and wordy example is not necessarily specific. In fact, the contrary is often true. We will discuss CONCISE WRITING and CLARITY next week. For now, let's look at two short examples:

VAGUE YET WORDY EXAMPLE (my OWN adaptation to make a point; this is NOT a direct quote from a student essay!):
Ordinary, regular people like Rosa Parks did a lot to support their strong beliefs in equality by promoting their beliefs and the truth, and peacefully but bravely and firmly standing against those who were against them.

SHORTER, MORE SPECIFIC EXAMPLE (from a strong student essay):
Ordinary citizens such as Rosa Parks stood up for their belief in equality by breaking the segregation laws and promoting integration.
Specific, exact writing is often found in essays that score a 5 or 6 on the SAT Essay scale. General or vague writing may address the SAME basic example, but only gain a 3 or 4 on the SAT essay scale! The challenge is not merely to think of good ideas or relevant examples; it is to explain those examples specifically and thoroughly.
It does not matter how good your example is; if you do not include sufficient detail, your reader will not fully comprehend your point, and you will not score highly.

SAMPLE ESSAY PROMPT FROM GRUBER'S: Consider carefully the following statement. Then plan and write your essay. "Nothing requires more discipline than freedom."

EXAMPLE OF LACK OF DETAIL (my own adaptation):

"In King Lear, madness plays a major role in Lear's life. He slowly goes mad, and no one around him knows what is going on. While there is supposedly freedom in giving up his power, he actually gives up much of his freedom with his power. The madness removes some obligations, but creates a different kind of restriction."

EXAMPLE OF GOOD DETAIL (REAL example from page 519 of Gruber's Complete SAT Guide 2013)

"In William Shakespeare's King Lear, the theme of madness plays a major role in Lear's life. Lear's madness becomes his freedom from the rules around him. In the first scene, Lear gives up his land and therefore, power to his daughters, supposedly freeing himself from obligations in his old age. Yet Lear soon finds that his life and the people in his life are not as he once thought them to be. His daughters Reagan and Goneril each display cruelty towards him and place restrictions of Lear. By giving up his power, Lear was in fact giving away his freedom. He can no longer do as he pleases, for example, he must beg each daughter to let him live with them. If discipline is taken to mean restrictions and rules placed upon oneself, then Lear in fact has more as a free man than a powerful man. Lear's freedom, or rather his lack of power, ends up promoting his madness. This madness removes him from obligations, but at the same time creates a different kind of restriction on him..."
Even when you provide a short example, you must explain the situation in a specific, precise manner; this means that your reader should be able to understand exactly what you are talking about!

Example of vague writing (my own adaptation):

Essay thesis: "Mistakes can be annoying, but then it can get better."
Example of Body Paragraph: "This past year I auditioned for a play. I wanted to sound good and look good, and so I watched the movie version. I tried to act exactly like one of the characters, but I don't think it was a good idea."


Example of specific writing (from http://sat.collegeboard.org/scores/sat-essay-scoring-guide; content copyright 2013 The College Board):

Essay thesis: "Even if in the past we made mistakes, this will only make wiser people out of us and guide us to where we are supposed to be."
Example of Body Paragraph: "This past year, I was auditioning for the fall play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." To my detriment I thought it would be a good idea to watch the movie in order to prepare. For two hours I studied Elizabeth Taylor's mannerisms, attitude, and diction, hoping I could mimic her performance. I auditioned for the part of "Maggie" feeling perfectly confident in my portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor, however, I was unaware that my director saw exactly what I had been thinking. Unfortunately, I didn't get the part, and my director told me that he needed to see "Maggie" from my perspective, not Elizabeth Taylor's."
Specific writing always chooses the most appropriate word.
PROMPT FROM OUR GRUBER'S MANUAL: Consider carefully the following statement. Then plan and write your essay. "Nothing requires more discipline than freedom."

Example of incorrect, vague, or awkward word choice (my own adaptation):

Introduction: The best kind of freedom would not have rules, because being free means having no rules. However, the best kind of freedom isn't really real. We can try to be actually free, but in real life it cannot be had. Rules are impossible to escape.

Example of correct, precise word choice (REAL example from page 519 of Gruber's Complete SAT Guide 2013):

Introduction: The ultimate freedom does not require discipline because to be entirely free, one must have no restrictions created by them or the world around them. But ultimate freedom exists only as a concept and while humans can strive to be free, in reality it can never be achieved. Discipline is therefore inescapable.

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