Writing with style

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Table of Contents

Elements of Written Communication

The Writing Process






Writing Modes





Forms of Writing




Personal Writing

Organizing Your Writing

Formal and Informal Style

The Basic Structure of an Academic Essay

Thesis statements

Main Ideas/Support Theses

Evidence/Concrete Detail





Writing on Demand

Unpacking an Essay Prompt


Managing Your Time

Key Terms Used in Essay Questions

The Research Process

Topic selection

Research and Source Material

Primary and Secondary Sources

Evaluating Sources

Taking Notes

Note cards

Bibliography cards

Computer notes

Cornell notes


MLA Format

MLA Manuscript Format

Documenting Sources in MLA Format

Parenthetical Documentation

Bibliography vs. Works Cited:

MLA Format for Bibliography or Works Cited Page
MLA Format for Bibliography Entries

Book Entries

Periodical Entries


Electronic and Online Resources

Other Resources


Whether you are writing e-mail to a friend or a formal essay for a class, all writing has several elements in common. The three most important elements to consider are:

Audience: Who are you writing to?

Purpose: Why are you writing?

Form: What will the finished piece of writing look like?
Whenever one of these elements changes, it has an impact on each of the others. For instance, if you are writing to a friend, you might choose a casual form, like e-mail or a note. However, if you are writing an essay for a class, you will have a very different purpose and form.
Before you start writing, determine the three elements for your particular writing task.


Determining your audience helps you to know what style (formal or informal) your writing should take. It also will help you to understand the level of detail and information your finished piece of writing should contain. Consider:

  • Who will be reading this piece of writing?

  • Is a formal or informal style more appropriate for this audience?

  • What information on this subject does this audience need?

  • How much information does this audience already know?


Determining your purpose will help keep you focused as you write. The main purposes of writing are to inform, persuade, and entertain. Why are you writing? Consider:

  • What do you want the audience to know when you are done?

  • What do you want the audience to believe or agree with?

  • What action do you want the audience to take?


Sometimes your form will be determined by the assignment, such as a research paper or an essay in MLA format. However, sometimes you must decide what form will best accomplish your purpose for your particular audience. Consider:

  • Is there a model or format that you are supposed to follow?

  • Would formal or informal writing be more appropriate for your audience and purpose?

  • How can you best organize your information to have the greatest impact on your audience?


There are five basic stages that we go through when we write. They are:

  1. Pre-writing

  2. Drafting

  3. Revising

  4. Editing

  5. Publishing

However, it is very important to realize that these are stages, not independent steps. Depending on the writing task and the situation, you may follow these stages in order from start to finish, or you might find yourself going back and revisiting these stages several times before you are done. Also, you will not take every piece of writing you do through all of these stages. See The Writing Center at Cleveland State University for an interactive diagram with help for each stage of this writing process. http://www.csuohio.edu/writingcenter/writproc.html

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