Writer's Handbook Contents

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Writer's Handbook


Planning Your Writing

Purposes for Writing ................................. 740

The Writing Process ................................. 742

How to Get Ideas .................................... 744

Using References and Resources: Reading Functional Texts

Encyclopedia .......................................746

Almanac ...........................................747

CD-ROM Resources .................................748

Internet ............................................749

Dictionary ..........................................750

Thesaurus ..........................................751

Newspapers and Periodicals .......................... 752

Organizing Information

Note Taking......................................... 754

Citing Sources...................................... 755

Polishing Your Writing

Traits of Good Writing ................................ 756

Using a Rubric ...................................... 758

Peer Conferences ...................................759

Presenting Your Writing

Oral Presentations .................................. 760

Multimedia Presentations and Graphics ................ 761


Planning Your Writing

Purposes for Writing

Each time you write, you have a reason. You may want to give information, respond to something you read, share an experience, or persuade someone to agree with you. The reason you write is called the purpose for writing. What you write depends on your purpose and on the people who will read your writing. These people are called the audience.

  • Expository writing gives information. Expository writing includes how-to essays, literary responses, research reports, comparison and contrast essays, and explanatory essays.

Sample prompt: Compare and contrast dogs and wolves.

Think about the ways dogs and wolves are alike and different.

Now write about how dogs and wolves are alike and different.

Tips for Expository Writing

  • Write a topic sentence that tells the main idea.

  • Organize your details or steps in a logical order.

  • Use transition words or sequence words, such as first and finally.

  • Summarize the main idea in your conclusion.

When you respond to literature, your purpose is to demonstrate an understanding of what you have read.

Sample Prompt: Explain the theme of "The Emperor and the Kite." Use details from the selection to support your ideas.


Tips for Literary Response

  • Write a topic sentence that tells your main idea.

  • Use details from the literature and your prior knowledge to support your topic sentence.

  • Summarize the main idea in your conclusion.

  • Expressive writing tells a story or entertains. Stories and personal narratives are both examples of expressive writing.

Sample prompt: Imagine you are going to visit the Amazon rainforest. Think about what you might do there. Now write a story about visiting the Amazon rainforest.

  • Persuasive writing gives an opinion. When you write to persuade, you try to convince your audience to agree with your opinion and to take action.

Sample prompt: Is it better to live in the city or the country? Why? Try to persuade other students to agree with you.

Tips for Persuasive Writing

  • Begin by getting your audience's attention and telling your opinion

  • Explain at least three supporting reasons.

  • Give your strongest reason last.

  • Support each reason with facts and details.

  • Use emotional words to persuade your reader.

  • Write a conclusion that restates your opinion and calls readers to take action.

Try This

Identify the audience and purpose for each of these writing tasks: tell a younger child how to play a new game; tell why you think your school should have a book fair, tell why you like mysteries better than science fiction books; present an oral report about tigers.


The Writing Process

A finished piece of writing does not simply happen. Writers go through a series of steps to complete their work and present a finished product. The amount of writing time spent on each step can vary. Here are the five basic steps in the writing process:


Before you begin to write, think about your purpose and audience. Decide what form your writing will take. Do research, and collect the information you need. Then prewrite by organizing your notes in an outline or another type of graphic organizer.


Once you have a plan, you are ready to write. A draft is your first try at the finished story, essay, or other piece of writing. After you have finished your draft, you will still have to change parts of it to better fit your purpose and your audience.


Revising is the first step in the editing process. In this step, go over your draft to make sure that it fits your purpose and audience. Here are some things to do when you revise:

  • Use an interesting opening sentence and a clear introduction.

  • Add, delete, combine, or rearrange the text in your draft to make your writing more understandable to your audience.


  • Make sure your writing follows a logical order from beginning to end.

  • Use sequence words to help your audience follow your thoughts.

  • Use words and ideas that your audience can understand.

It is often helpful to discuss your writing with a partner or in a small group. You can use what others say about your writing to revise it.


Proofreading is the second step in editing. When you proofread, you correct mistakes and polish your writing. Look for and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.


After you have completed the first four steps, you are ready to publish your work, or to present it in its final, polished state. Depending on your purpose and audience, you may publish your writing as a speech, a video, or part of a class book. You may want to add pictures or other visual aids to enhance your work.

Try This

Write a paragraph to describe a person you know well. Follow the five steps in the writing process. On which step did you spend the most time?


How to Get Ideas

All writers must find ideas and topics. Writers think about everyday experiences and events and look for ways to write about them. They might ask themselves why an event made them feel a certain way. They might ask what they learned from an important or unusual experience. They might ask what they would like to learn more about or what they would like to teach others.

Writers use prewriting strategies like these to get ideas and to decide what to include in their writing.

Keep a Journal

You may want to carry a small notebook to write down interesting things you see or hear, unusual or meaningful things people say, and descriptions of people or places. You can refer to your notebook for writing topics later.


If the topic you must write about is unfamiliar to you, search first on the Internet or in an encyclopedia. Newspapers and magazines may also have information on your topic. If you don't know how to begin your research, ask a librarian to help you find information on your topic.


When you brainstorm, you write down everything you can think of about your idea or topic. Give yourself about ten minutes to do this. Then read what you wrote and look for only those ideas you think you can really use. Sometimes it helps to brainstorm with a group and to share ideas.


Make a Web Diagram

In a web diagram you write your topic in a circle. Then you draw spokes around the circle and write words or phrases about your topic at the end of each spoke.

Ask Questions

Ask questions to guide your thinking and writing about your topic. If you were writing a personal narrative, you could use questions like these as your guide.

  • Who are the characters, besides yourself?

  • Where and when does the narrative take place?

  • What happens first? Next? Last?


Other people are often good sources of information and ideas. Talk with your teacher or your family about who you could interview and how you could contact that person. Always arrive on time for an interview, have questions prepared, and take careful notes.

Try This

Choose strategies you would use to get ideas for an essay about an important job in your community. How would you use each of the strategies you chose?


Using References and Resources


An encyclopedia has information on many subjects. The infor­mation about a subject is called an article. Some encyclopedias are on CD-ROM. Most encyclopedias come in a set of books. Each book in the set is called a volume. The volumes are numbered and arranged in alphabetical order.

Guide words appear at the top of every page. They name the subject of the first article on a left-hand page and the last article on a right-hand page.

Key words within articles may be printed in bold type or italic type. Key words are terms that are important to know about the subject. Key words themselves may be the subject of a separate article.

References to other articles within the encyclo­pedia may appear within the article or at the end.



An almanac is a book of facts. It has facts about people, places, weather, sports, entertainment, history, and events. A new edition of the almanac comes out every year.


Population: 15,111,244

Total Area: 59,928 sq. mi.

Land Area: 53,937 sq. mi.

Chief Industries: tourism, agriculture, manufacturing

Capital: Tallahassee

Nickname: Sunshine State

State Flower: orange blossom

An almanac gives information about places.

Presidents of the United States

George Washington 1789-97

John Adams 1797-1801

Thomas Jefferson 1801-9

James Madison 1809-17

James Monroe 1817-25

John Quincy Adams 1825-9

An almanac gives information about history.

Every almanac has an index. It lists all the subjects in the almanac and shows the page numbers on which to find the information you need.

Try This

In an encyclopedia and an almanac, look up a famous person, a state in the United States, or one of the oceans. Compare and contrast the information you find in the two resources.


CD-ROM Resources

Encyclopedias and other reference works are available on CD­ROM. This is a compact disk that is read by a computer.

After you open a CD-ROM, you will see the home screen first. It will tell you how to get to the instructions for using the reference work.


Use the articles section to research a topic. It should have guide words to help you. Use keywords as you would on the Internet. Your search will result in a list of articles that contain your keywords. Click on an article title to display the article. Move between articles by clicking the Back button.





The Internet

The Internet-often called the Net-is a network that connects computers all over the world. A network is a group of computers that are linked electronically. The Internet is the largest computer network of all.

The Internet is an especially good resource for finding recent information about a topic. You can find specific information by using a search engine. A search engine matches your request for information with relevant websites. Follow these steps to get information from the Internet.

  • Choose a search engine on the Internet.

  • Type in a keyword about your topic. The more specific you are, the more exact your information will be. If your keyword is cats, you will find a variety of websites on cats. You might get websites about lions or tigers, about adopting kittens, or about the musical Cats.

  • If you need to narrow your search, enter a more specific keyword or phrase such as domestic cats. Look through the list of websites and decide which will be useful. Click twice on each website to open it and to read the information it contains.

  • To exit a website and return to the list, click on Back at the top of the screen.

Try This

At the library, do an Internet search for information about a pet you would like to have. Then check a CD-ROM encyclopedia. Which source gives you more information?


Using a Dictionary

A dictionary is a reference book that lists words in alphabetical order and gives their definitions. A dictionary also gives information about how a word is spelled, how it is pronounced, how it is divided into syllables, and what part of speech it is.

<<phonetic spelling is used to show how words are pronounced. There may be more than one way to pronounce a word.

<<are at the top of each page. Guide words indicate the first and last entry word on a particular page.

<<part of speech is usually shown by an abbreviation after the word.

<<definition tells what the entry word means. Often a word will have more than one definition.

<<and phrases show how a word is used.


Using a Thesaurus

A thesaurus gives synonyms-words that mean the same or nearly the same as another word. A thesaurus also gives antonyms-words that have opposite meanings. Use a thesaurus to find words that will make writing more interesting or more precise. A thesaurus is usually arranged in alphabetical order.

Try This

Compare and contrast a dictionary entry and a thesaurus entry for the words draw, expensive; and laugh. Which resource would you use to find the definition of a word? Which resource would you use to find a synonym for a word?


Newspapers and Periodicals

A newspaper is one of the best places to find information about current events. Most newspapers are published every day. They are usually arranged in the same way and have a front page, an editorial page, and feature pages.

The front page is the first page of a newspaper. It has articles that inform readers about important events in the news. The editorial page has persuasive essays, or editorials, that give the writers' opinions on current events. The editorial page also has letters to the editor from readers.

Feature pages have articles about a wide range of topics that an not necessarily current events. These topics may include travel, education, music, health, and so on.

You can use a newspaper's index to find information on a topic you are researching. The index is often printed in a bottom corner of the front page.

<<name of the newspaper and the date are printed at the top of the page.

<<index tells the page numbers on which the editorial page, weather, sports, and other feature pages can be found.

<<banner headline tells the most important news item of the day in large, boldface print. Articles about the news item appear below the headline.


Periodicals are works that are published at regular times, or periodically, during a year. Newspapers are one type of periodical. Magazines are another type. Periodicals may be published once a week, once a month, once every few months, or once a year. Some periodicals print articles about one subject, such as health, sports, or travel. Others print articles on a range of subjects.

The three main parts of a periodical are the cover, the table of contents, and the articles. You can use the table of contents to find information on a topic you are researching.

<<name of the periodical and the date when it was published are printed on the cover page.


<<cover title in large, bold print tells about the cover story. The cover story is the most important story in the periodical.


Try This

Look in a newspaper and a news magazine published at the same time for an article about a recent sports or cultural event. What differences in the information do you find?


Note Taking

Taking notes can help you understand and remember information. If you take notes on cards, you can rearrange the cards to organize the information you need for writing.

1. Use one card for each idea. Write a subject heading on each card.

2. Write only two or three facts on each card. Number each card to keep your ideas in order.

3. List each source of information on the appropriate card. Include the following:

  • the name of the author (if there is one)

  • the name of the book, magazine, or newspaper; the name of the article or Internet site

  • the pave numbers of the source


Citing Sources

An important part of research and note taking is citing sources, or keeping a written record of where you got your information. When you write a report, you include a bibliography at the end. A bibliography is a list of the books, periodicals, and other resources that you used to find your information.


Newspaper or Magazine Article


Try This

Select a page in this handbook. Take notes, and list this book as an entry in a bibliography.


Polishing Your Writing

Traits of Good Writing

All good writing has certain characteristics, or traits. Use these strategies to make your writing the best it can be.

  • Make your focus and ideas clear. Select a focus for your writing, based on your purpose and audience. Make sure that you present your ideas clearly. As you write, imagine your audience reading your work.

  • Organize your writing in a logical way. You may organize your writing in one of several ways. Unless a pattern for organization has been assigned by your teacher, you should select one that best suits your topic and your purpose for writing. For example, a story is organized by a sequence of events. A how-to essay is organized by a sequence of steps. A research report is organized by topics and subtopics.

  • Express your personal voice. Your interest in your topic should be clear in your writing. Personal voice is shown in your tone, or attitude, and in the words and expressions you use. Your writing should sound as though you wrote it and no one else.

  • Develop your writing with supporting details. After you have introduced your main idea, support it with simple facts, details, and explanations. If you are writing a persuasive essay, provide details and reasons to support your opinion.


  • Think about vivid word choice. Vivid words will make your writing interesting for your readers. Precise verbs and strong adjectives help readers picture in their minds what you have written about. A thesaurus is an excellent resource for vivid and exact words.

  • Use effective and varied sentences. Using a variety of sentence structures will hold your audience's attention much better than using the same kinds of sentences over and over. Short sentences are effective when you want to make important points. Long sentences are effective for providing descriptions and details. Try to use a variety of declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory sentences.

  • Check your writing for errors. Make your best effort to fix any errors in your writing. Proofread for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. If you pay attention to these details, your writing will be easier to read.

Try This

Choose a magazine article or a newspaper article on any topic. As you read- the article, look for as many traits of good writing as you can find.


Using a Rubric

A rubric is a checklist or a set of guidelines that you can use to evaluate your writing. Your teacher may give you a special rubric for a writing assignment. That rubric may tell you what you need to include in your writing. It also will tell you what you can do to get your best score. Use the rubic before, during, and after writing.

My Best Score

  • The composition fits the purpose for writing. The audience it was written for will understand it, enjoy it, learn from it, or think differently because of it.

  • The composition has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is easy to understand how one idea connects to the next.

  • The topic of the composition is supported by important and interesting details.

  • The writer's personal voice is clear in the composition.

  • The composition has clear, exact words and is interesting to read.

  • The sentences are written in a variety of ways. Each sentence flows smoothly into the next.

  • The composition has few errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.


Peer Conferences

When you participate in a peer conference, you meet with a partner or in a small group to read and discuss one another's writing. Getting feedback on your work will help you become a better writer.

Use these tips when you participate in peer conferences:

  • Bring a clean copy of your composition for each group member including yourself.

  • Use the feedback you get from your partner or group members to revise or proofread your composition. You can also use a rubric to check your work.

  • When you look at the work of others, read carefully to find the main ideas. Then read to see whether you can follow the organization easily. Next, look at the sentence variety and word choice. Finally, check for errors.

  • Tell your partner or group members what you liked about their work first. Then discuss with them any problems you noticed.

  • Be helpful and polite. Work together to suggest ways you can all improve your writing.

Try This

Exchange compositions with a partner. Check your partner's work against the rubric on page 758.


Oral Presentations

One way of publishing your writing is to present it orally. Follow these steps to publish your composition as a speech.

  • Write your main ideas or topic sentences on note cards. Keep the notes short and neat so they are easy to read. Add short notes to remind you about details so that you can talk about them without having to read directly from your notes.

  • Number your note cards to keep them in order.

  • Think about visual media that would make your speech more interesting and clear. You might use pictures, charts, graphs, diagrams, maps, or other media such as music or film. Remember to write on your note cards when to use your visual media.

  • Underline or highlight your most important points in your notes. As you speak, emphasize those points. Remember to speak slower, louder, and with expression.

  • Practice your speech before you present it. Speak slowly, clearly, and loud enough for everyone to hear. Remember to make eye contact with your audience during your speech.


Multimedia Presentations and


Multimedia presentations are oral presentations in which you use visual or auditory aids.

  • Think about your audience and your purpose. Would photographs, drawings, diagrams, videotapes, or music help the audience understand your information or make it more interesting?

  • Ask your teacher about using equipment such as a videocassette player, a CD player, or an audiotape player.

  • Design appropriate visual aids by hand, or use a computer to create graphics such as charts, tables, or graphs.

Try This

Thin all the subjects about which you have written compositions or given presentations. Use information on these subjects to complete one of the four graphic organizers on this page. Make sure the information you use is; appropriate for the graphic organizer you choose.

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