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4.1: Overview

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    The first part of this book is about the stages of the writing process. Now it's time to shift gears and start thinking about the kinds of assignments you're likely to encounter in college. Each "writing mode" requires a different mode of thinking, and that's why teachers and professors often ask for different kinds of writing (they want you to think about a subject in a variety of ways). But generally, assignments will require you to apply several modes, simultaneously, to accomplish a well-rounded body of writing. Few professors beyond the first-year level of coursework require an assignment that merely focuses on description or narration; other modes are required to generate a well-rounded piece of writing that entertains, informs, and persuades (i.e., narrative, explication, argument).

    Most of the time, you'll find yourself switching among all of these modes as you write. You would have a hard time, for instance, reviewing a car without spending any time describing it, and the strength of an argument depends on how well you've evaluated its evidence. What's important is that you recognize the difference between them. Many students lose points each year when they offer their teacher a description instead of the evaluation or argument called for by the assignment. Below, we first give you some hints about analyzing assignments to find out what different types of writing task you need to do. Then, we break down some common writing modes, telling you their characteristics and what makes them unique, then offer examples of informal and formal writing that show them in action.

    How to analyze an assignment

    Writing successfully for your college classes depends a lot on finding out as much as possible about what you need to do to fulfill the assignment each time you write. While many instructors try hard to clarify their expectations, the final responsibility for making sure you know what it takes to fulfill an assignment is yours. Be your own advocate!

    This section will give you strategies for interpreting assignments successfully and break down eighteen words commonly used in assignments to help you understand what critical and writing tasks you need to do.


    One key difference between a good writer and a bad one is the ability to write vivid, detailed descriptions. What does something look like? Sound like? Feel like? Good descriptions make all the difference when you're trying to hook readers and keep them interested. We don't want to read, "The house was scary." We want to read a great description of the house that actually makes us feel that fear for ourselves. This can only be accomplished by observant writers who are willing to "show" as well as "tell" their readers about their subject.

    This section will introduce you to description and offers some good advice about writing highly descriptive essays.


    "Narrative" is really just a fancy way of saying "story." When you are narrating, you are describing an event, step-by-step, usually in the order that it happened. In other words, a "narration" is a "description" of something taking place in time. As you can probably guess, narration and description are highly related. You can't narrate very well if you lack the ability to describe accurately and vividly what is taking place.

    This section will introduce you to narration and some strategies for telling good stories.


    Expository writing is writing that explains or informs. You may encounter expository writing in an assignment that has you describing a process or developing a set of clear instructions. You aren't just describing a "what" ("What is fishing?") but explaining a "how" ("How do you fish?"). Writers with excellent exposition skills are generally good learners, since describing processes well requires a thorough understanding of the process.

    This section offers tips and suggestions for expository writing and some helpful examples.


    Magazines like Consumer Reports and movie reviewers like Roger Ebert are famous for the quality of their evaluative writings. They give people the information they need to determine if a car is worth buying or a movie is worth seeing. You'll also find lots of evaluations in business, in which they are used to determine an employee's eligibility for promotion or a manager's effectiveness at overseeing an important project.

    This section will tell you all about evaluative writing and the strategies you'll need to do it right.


    Some people think of arguments as a lot of shouting and cursing (but that's not what college professors mean when they use the term "argumentation"). What they have in mind is a clear-headed, logical, and convincing style of speaking or writing that makes a valid point and supports it with good evidence. An argument isn't just summarizing or restating what others may have said about an issue. You'll need to research the issue, evaluate the evidence, reach a conclusion, figure out the best way to support it, and arrange your thoughts effectively. Writing a good argumentative paper is probably the most difficult of all types of writing assignments, but we'll give you advice and discuss some strategies that will get you on the right track.

    This section describes what college professors mean by the term "argumentation," and discuss some methods that will earn good grades on these common but challenging assignments.

    4.1: Overview is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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