Aspergers and Writing: Thoughts on handwriting and the curse of cursive — from an Aspie with dysfunctional handwriting who gave up on cursive (and never looked back) and is now a handwriting teacher (to Aspies and others) …

The following was posted to my site as a comment by Kate Gladstone – but I thought it so important and informative, I’d like to publish it as a full post.  The author of this most excellent article has a site and can be found at

Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
— According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too.

Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print.

There’s even a free iPad app teaching how: called “Read Cursive” —
Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach this vital skill quickly — for free — instead of leaving it to depend upon the difficult and time-consuming process of learning to write in cursive (which will cost millions to mandate)?

We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown:,,,,,,, )

Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
(If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and not restricted to teachers — visit for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

/1/ either the claim provides no source (and no source is provided on request)

or, almost as often,

/2/ when sources are cited and can be checked (by finding and reading the cited document), the sources provided turn out to include and/or to reference materials which are misquoted or incorrectly represented by the person(s) offering these as support for cursive,

or, even more often,

/3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

/1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at

/3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at

Handwriting research on cursive’s lack of observable benefit for students with dyslexia/dysgraphia:

“Does cursive handwriting have an impact on the reading and spelling performance of children with dyslexic dysgraphia: A quasi-experimental study.” Authors: Lorene Ann Nalpon & Noel Kok Hwee Chia — URL:
Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at
Ongoing handwriting poll:

The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
Background on our handwriting, past and present:
3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:



(shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works


A response to my post ‘Aspergers and Writing’

One of my most popular posts of all times is ‘Aspergers and Writing’, in which I explore some of the difficulties Aspies face when writing and, perhaps, some practical advice on how to improve this difficult-for-most-Aspies skill.

Over the years (yes, years…) since I have written it, it has received a lot of comments which update the post and keep it ‘fresh’.

Here is an example of a ‘conversation’ in the comments which shows how the comments people leave help others and keep the post relevant.

A reader called Riayn left this comment:

I’m an adult with Aspergers and what you have written rings very, very true.

As a child I had enormous problems with handwriting and had to undertake remedial handwriting classes. I never learnt how to form cursive handwriting that is legible. I even have problems signing my name that matches what I have signed on the back of my credit card as I can’t always form the letters properly. However, my printed handwriting, when I concentrate and take my time, is extremely neat.

When it comes to writing, I find there is a disconnect between my brain and the page. I know exactly what I want to say but I just can’t write it down. I blog to improve my writing abilities, but many of my posts sound fantastic in my head but come out completely different & inferior on the page.

I wish I could remove the mental block.

To this comment I replied:

I SO KNOW what you mean. I have found the same thing with my posts…

Though, I have found that if I write it – but not really finish, then I can’t get back into writing from where I stopped. Especially if I have had the chance to bounce the ideas off of someone else – to actually verbally ‘speak’ what it is I am trying to get across in the post.

Then, I find it easier to just start from the beginning again: complete different angle, and so on. The act of trying to write it, then saying it out loud (sometimes getting feedback – my poor family!), and then tackling it from a different angle seems to help me get more of my point across.

I also find it much easier to answer comments: then, it’s more like talking to a person, and it seems easier for me to type the words ‘naturally’ than if I am trying to compose a post. Perhaps that is connected to the fact we, Aspies, tend to be more verbally skilled than and less skilled at writing.

Have you tried recording yourself as you ‘speak’ your post – then transcribing it? I’ve been toying with the idea of, perhaps, doing a few of my blog posts by speaking them, instead of writing them down, just to see. Perhaps.

This exchange had been up in the comments for a while.

Then, a new reader named CD joined the conversation:

‘I’m an aspiring writer who has Asperger Syndrome. This post defines me to a “T”. 

I can spend three hours sitting down in front of a computer, trying to compose a story, with no results. 
Perfectionism is one deterrent. 
Another is over thinking. 
I don’t know what runs through other As minds, but I know my own. I over think things to death. The solution I incorporate is to write endlessly, uncontrollably, for a set time limit. 
For example: I could write “The smoke descended the stairs. Shawn was the only person who saw it. He wanted to warn people….” 
Well not my best but you get the idea. To write this simple sentence I’d begin like this: Smoke, grey, moves, stairs, horror, Shawn sees it, won’t talk, why, wants to…
Anything for an hour, like I said. Then I return a day later and piece the words together like a puzzle, trying to produce coherent meaning. 
My ideas are so insightful. I won’t allow AS to prevent me from expressing them in any damned form I see fit. My goal is to write
‘endlessly and uncontrollably’ until I complete an entire story, then return to fix it up.  After that, the process of general editing, which a normal person without As would’ve already completed, comes into play. 
Though this may be a daunting task, it has worked for me. 
Plus, taking care of your physical health is very important for an AS individual to hone and display his natural god given gifts. Just waking up everyday with AS and dealing with the world, not just writing, drains the persons health. 
Anyway, I hope this long post helped. I’d like a personal email telling me how I helped. If you find the time that is. I don’t check blogs very often. Guess I should get started creating my own blog,huh? 
Well that is another topic in and of itself. I’m rambling now so hope I was of some help.
I hope CD’s advice can help more people – which is why I am highligting it as a post in itself.  Thank you, CD.
And if you have found strategies which work for you, please, share them!!!  We need to try all the ideas we can get!!!

Aspeis need to know what their assignment actually is

Lately, I have neglected posting on the topic of Aspergers.  Still, judging by the relative traffic among my posts, there is a need for more information there:  both Aspies and educators are still looking for help.

Last December, I received the following comment:

I have an Aspie student, and when asked to produce 2 sentences about a topic in class, will just sit and think the entire period producing nothing… (I do believe that he is thinking about the topic). The topic has been given to student prior to class. Is this an unreasonable task? This is an 7th grade gifted autistic student.

I understand the perfectionism issue and that they may be unsure that it is good enough to put on paper, but in an educational setting I would like some suggestions to assist the regular Language Arts teacher. This is a graded assignment to be done in class.

Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have.

Deb Herr
Special Education Teacher

While I gave a quick reply at that time, this is a very important point which deserves a lot of attention.  So, I had attempted to write up a proper response.

It wasn’t right – so I edited t.

Then I fixed it up some.

Then t needed shortening down a bit.  So, I cut a bunch of stuff out.

Too much of the key ‘stuff’ was gone.  I started a re-write.  From scratch…

…and so on, and so on.

It is now October.  I have still not published the post – it is not ‘right’ yet!!!!

NO, I am NOT joking!

So, now, I will publish the draft I have, without re-reading it, with all the flaws, errors, sentence fragments and all – or I will NEVER publish this…

Here it goes:

Both my sons are in the gifted program.  One has gone through grade 7 several years ago, one is going to get there in not too distant a future – so, I am familiar with the level of development of a gifted Aspie of that age group.

Just to be sure, I asked my older son if he remembered being in that situation himself.  He did…and was in perfect agreement with me as to what thought-processes this student would be going through: trying to figure out what the assignment means!

Being in the gifted program means the student is smart.  By the time they get to grade 7, smart Aspies understand perfectly well that when a teacher asks for ‘any two sentences on a topic’, the absolutely last thing this means is any two sentences on a topic’!

Experience would have taught them that…by now.  And not in a nice way.

But, it would not have taught them what it is that the teacher/assignment does mean – or how to guess it….

So, I think it most likely that the student spent the time trying to figure out what the assignment actually was!  And, with so little information provided to the student, I really don’t see how anyone could figure it out!

Therefore, my answer is that yes, it is unreasonable an Aspie or an Autie gifted student, in grade 7, to complete an assignment of ‘writing 2 sentences on a given topic‘.


  • The assignment is non-specific.
  • The parameters are not defined.
  • The goals of the assignment are not known.
  • The expectations are unclear (or, in this case, clearly misrepresented).


There IS a solution!

Aspies – and high-functioning Auties – are very good at meeting very specific goals.  I know that teachers are not used to approaching teaching this way, but, they would get WAY better results from this class of students if they were absolutely clear with them what the point of the assignment is, what the goal is, and what the evaluation criteria will be.

This worked for me – and my sons, as well as a few other kids I worked with:

First, we establish that in order to produce marks, teachers have to produce metrics:  marks which measure the student’s skill-set development in several areas.  This may seem like a game, but, because teachers have to work within such a large system, metrics were required.  And, these metrics are used to evaluate the student.

To an Aspie/Autie student, this can be an important revelation.  It is not an intuitive leap, to conclude this, because we usually believe what we are told – and from the earliest age, we are told that the point of school is to learn.  But, of course, it isn’t!  The point of school is to PROVE what we have learned… There is no place in school for ‘learning’ without proving (through earning marks) that/what one has learned.

Explaining that the point of doing assignments is to ‘earn points/marks’ can be liberating for an Aspie student.  After all, ‘getting on the high-score board’ is possible, even if one has not yet ‘defeated the boss’!

Once this groundwork has been laid, it is important to explain both the teacher’s goals for this assignment (what the teacher will be measuring for the needed metrics) and the student’s goals (what bits of what will earn points/marks).   This bit can be hard on teachers, because they have to explain both the explicit goals and the implied ones – most teachers do not go through this step explicitly themselves.

Yes – most assignments at the grade 7 level come with a ‘marking rubric’.  At least, in my area they do.  But these are so filled with vague notions and ‘weasel-words’ that they are worse than useless!  “The student demonstrated some understanding…. The student demonstrated good understanding…”  What the hell does THAT mean?

What is the difference between ‘little’ and ‘some’ and ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in this context – and HOW is it measured?

Obviously, I can tell that ‘excellent’ will get a higher grade than ‘poor’ – but how do I know what demonstrates ‘excellent’ and what demonstrates ‘poor’ – or any of the other non-specific terms used – in this particular instance, to the satisfaction of this particular teacher?

If the teacher cannot stand there and provide a specific, accurate answer on how the grading will be done – how can the student be expected to guess what expectations to perform to?

This is so much easier for maths and sciences.  When a teacher assigns a problem, the student knows not just WHAT ‘the right answer is’ – she/he knows what form the answer is to take.

This is woefully not true of ‘soft’ subjects.  Not only do different teachers consider completely different ‘things’ to be ‘the right’ answer (try writing up interpretation of renaissance poetry for a ‘born-again’ teacher), the format itself is undefined….  Yet you are judged how your performance measures up to something the teacher cannot quantitatively define:  expectations!

It seems criminal that ‘educators’ are blind to this…

A most awesome letter from a parent of an Aspie

I am an Aspie.

I am married to an Aspie.

We have two sons – both of whom have been identified as Aspies.

Not surprisingly, I have some opinions about Asperger’s Syndrome and all the facets of life which affect Aspies.

Every now and then, I have written about the ‘Aspie experience’ and some of the tools I developed to help myself and my sons.  Judging from the bog stats, I really ought to focus more on this – aside from a few  posts (Aisha Ibrahim Dhuhulow and some of the sharia write-ups I’d posted).

Today, I got a most gratifying comment on a post I had written a while back about Aspergers and Writing.  I know, it is a serious self indulgence to wallow in praise, but, if refreshing the post with a new link to this fresh post helps more Aspies, I’m willing to take the flack!

Here is the comment:

I just found your blog.  Wow, wish I had seen this a long time ago.  It should be required reading for all special ed teachers.  My son was not diagnosed until the end of 10th grade (after failing English when previously a straight A student), and we have endured an often contentious relationship with the school’s special ed coordinator and the school psychologist during that time and since.  At the end of his 11th grade year we had the IEP meeting, during which the first one asked him, “can’t you just write something to get it done?”, and the latter called him a snob.  And this is a year down the road!!!  It’s clear that too many of the people that are supposed to be caring for our children in the public school environment are woefully undereducated, and  some also lack the empathy that the unfamiliar accuse the Aspies of not having.  We finally found a teacher in the school who undertstands Aspies (and who admitted privately that she cringed at those statements during the
meeting), and she is wonderful.  My question is why didn’t they allow us access to her last year, when my son had to be assisted by a special education “clerk,” who had no conception of his difficulties or abilites,  who badgered him with “do you want to fail?” comments, and who evidently never bothered to pick up a book and learn about it during that time.  I guarantee you, from my now huge Aspie book library, I know more about the condition than either of the people in that school that were allowed to make decisions about my son’s education, or the person that was directly working with him.  If they had read your post, which would take about 5 minutes, they would have understood.  I think you have explained exactly the problem from the Aspie side–I think this is what my son has been trying to explain to them for 2 years.  So, anyone else with problems with the school:  number one, don’t take it as long as I did, and don’t assume the people in charge will advocate for your child;
number two, print some information from this blog and give it to every teacher, the special ed department, and the principal.  You want to know a funny thing?  My son was one of about 15 kids in the county that was nominated for a National Merit Award due to his test scores on the PSAT (no writing portion, of course).  To apply for the award, the student must write an essay!!!!  He decided to write it about not being able to write essays due to the Asperger’s, and about his difficulties at school due to this.  Somehow I doubt he’ll win, but good for him.  Thanks for explaining something so difficult so well, and I appreciate the time it takes you, trust me!!!!

Aspergers and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’

‘Everyone’ who is familiar with Aspies knows that most of us struggle with writing.

Not all of us – Aspergers affects each person a little differently and to a different degree.  And, it affects males and females a little differently, too.  Perhaps that is why my post  ‘Aspergers and writing’ continues to get so many hits.

Today, I got a comment on it which raises something important.  That is why I’m posting this comment – and my quick reply to it – as its own post here:

Your comments about perfectionism and the difficulty Aspies have in putting words to paper make me wonder if this is why it’s so difficult for Aspies to revise what they’ve written: that once they get something down on paper they have committed their ideas to writing and there is no other way to put it. As a writing teacher, I often run into a wall when I ask my Aspie students to revise and I wonder if you think this explanation is accurate.

My response was:

I think that you are on the right track. I would like to nuance it slightly, if I may.

There are several things going on.

It is not that the Aspie may not be able to think of different words to put things into: it may be true at some times, byt certainly not at others. For example, many Aspies are very verbal – and they can say things out loud in many, many different ways. As a matter of fact, you may have a hard time shutting them up – they’ll describe the same things in so many ways.

The problem comes whith ‘investing’ into writing the words down. They have been ‘selected’ and ‘sweated over’ – why do you want to change them?

This constant ‘revision’ most writing teachers insist is part of ‘proper writing’ reduces me to white-hot fury! It it’s worth writing down, it’s worth doing it RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!

Once an Aspie HAS written something down and you are asking them to ‘revise’ it – you are asking them to take something that is ‘right’ and change it….obviously, if you take something that is ‘right’ and change it, you make it ‘wrong’! Then, when they hand in the version you forced them to change from ‘right’ to ‘wrong’, you give them a bad mark…

No wonder we don’t want to ‘revise’!

OK – that was the ‘emotional’ response.

Now, for more ‘reasoning’….

There is a problem – an actual physical problem in the neural connections – in the brain which makes it difficult for MOST (not all – we are all individuals), especially male, Aspies to write. Physically write.

Forcing us to ‘write’ and endlessly re-write the same sentences over and over is mental torture to us. It rubs our noses in our failure. So, we avoid it like the plague. If it’s a computer file, we’ll be less freaked out by it. But asking us to hand-copy out the same bits over because other bits had changed is unreasonable.

I actually can tell – byt the style of writning – if something I ‘produced’ was first spoken and then trans-scribed/typed into the computer, or if I wrote it on a piece of paper in longhand and then typed it into the computer, or if I directly typed it into the computer. Honestly, my sentence structure and syntax are significantly different in each one of these styles of ‘writing’. Perhaps you could experiment with your students on this theme….


This is the way I helped my kids ‘get over’ the whole ‘revision aversion’ (I could not very well undermine the teacher, right?).

I explain that the teacher is trying to teach them how to build a piece of writing ‘from the ground up’. It is a particular methodology to teach, and marks are awarded at each stage: sort of like when you learn to swim, they first teach you to put your face in the water and only later want to see you perform the full butterfly stroke…

So – first ‘version’ is NOT supposed to be ‘a written story’ or ‘a written essay’.

Instead, organize your thoughts and put 1-2 words for each paragraph: enough to ‘record’ the ‘main idea’ or ‘main thrust’ of what this will say. This will be handed in as ‘brainstorming’ – teacher needs to get it to keep a record of it, so they can prove what they gave you the marks for if someone audits their work.

On the next ‘version’, you go to each one of the paragraphs and put in 1-2 words for each sentence you will write in the finished piece. Check that each paragraph still has the same ‘focus’ as the ‘brainstorming’. This will be first draft – again, marks, teacher keeps for records…

In between each step, take the teacher’s feedback and incorporate it in – again, this needs to show up. It’s the teacher’s job to give you feedback, so it’s important for the records they keep to reflect it. If you don’t, they’ll think they are not teaching you right, be sad, not like your work….pick your sentiment.

On the next ‘version’, you write BARE sentences for the 1-2 word things. Make sure all ideas are there, but not really all the descriptions, and not nicely or fancily. You’re hitting the highlights. That is the next draft.

Finally, you take your draft and connect up things, dress up the sentences, and so on.

It’s a method of constructing something. Teachers must document they taught it to you.

This way, you’ll show how you built the written piece. It’s not so much ‘revision’ or ‘revising’ it – that is a very poor label for this. But, that is the label we are stuck with.

Does this help explain the thought process?

How to write an essay: part 2

Many students continue to struggle with essay-writing:  unnecessarily so!

Essays are such a structured method of conveying information, they are easily reduced into a ‘formula’ which can simply be filled in with the required information.  In other words, essays follow a very specific, internally repeating pattern.  As such, they are easily mastered – but only if one understands the ‘formula’!

In part 1, I attempted to explain how to organize one’s thoughts in order to clarify the ideas/information which an essay will convey. Lacking a better term, I called this the ‘why’ of the essay:  as in, ‘why’ is the essay being written (what ideas it is meant to convey).

Here, in part 2, I will provide some practical tools for the ‘how’:  the mechanics of the writing of an essay.  More specifically, I will describe the ‘original form’ of the method which I have tried and used and successfully taught to others.  (There is another ‘form’ of this method, which I have developed with the help of my older son who is an Aspie, and which works well for him….and when I write it up, I will link it here.)

Of course, some essays can be very complex:  here, I am attempting to establish the basics.  Therefore, I will present ‘the essay’ in the ‘barest’, ‘most basic’ form (or, at the level most high-school teachers expect an essay to be written).

OK, let’s begin!

When writing an essay, it is essential that the whole work maintains a central focus. (A formalized statement of this ‘main idea’ will function as the title of the essay.)  That is why it is useful to write the ‘main idea’ or ‘focus’ of the essay in a single expression:  in order to retain the focus throughout the essay, it will be referred to over and over.

In its barest form, an essay can be broken down into 2 parts:

  1. Stating the ‘main idea’/’point of view’ of the essay
    • this will form as the basis of the ‘opening paragraph’ (where it will be ‘introduced’) as well as the ‘closing paragraph’ (where it will be ‘summed up’).
  2. Providing evidence to support this ‘main idea’/’point of view’.  Most essays (at the beginner level) require 3 major ‘supporting’ ideas.
    • these will form the ‘body’ of the essay
    • each of these 3 points will become a separate paragraph
    • the eventual ‘focus’ of each of these paragraphs will be ‘how’ this particular ‘piece of evidence’ relates to the ‘main idea’ and supports the ‘point of view’.

Many students find it useful to put their ideas into a chart – either as ‘single words’ or ‘expressions’ or ‘point forms’.  Turns out, I can’t figure out how to insert a chart into this blog…but, if I could, it would look (with different formatting) something like this:

  • ‘main idea’
    • the focus of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • re-stating the focus in formal way becomes the title of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘main idea’ + ‘point of view’ (step 1 from above)
    • this will form the core of the ‘opening paragraph’ as well as the ‘closing paragraph
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘supporting evidence’ (usually, 3 pieces are expected)
    • simple list of 3 ‘ideas’ or ‘pieces of evidence’ which support the ‘main idea + point of view’ of this essay
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….

It is a useful exercise to fill this ‘chart’ out before beginning the actual ‘act of writing’ of an essay:  it aids in maintaining focus and disciplines one to keep the arguments clear and concise.  For some students, this will be more than a simple exercise in discipline and focus:  it is the skeleton of the essay which they will go on to ‘flesh out’.

In part 3, I will address the specifics of how the individual paragraphs are to be structured (and the way in which the structure of each paragraph reflects the pattern of the essay).

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

How to write an essay: part 1

Essays are a very structured method of presenting a particular point of view.

How to write an essay remains a mystery to a lot of people! Putting all those ideas onto paper and presenting them as ‘an essay’ can be a daunting task for many people.  (Where do I start? How do I finish?)

Yet, it does not have to be so!  Very often, once the structure of how an essay is ‘supposed to’ be written is explained, writing one becomes easy, because there is a way to break the process down into very easily manageable steps.  However, not every person comes across a teacher who has taken the time to explain this structure and how to ‘get there’…

Not understanding the underlying structure of an essay makes ‘writing essays’, well, difficult (especially Aspies).  Here, I would like to ‘fix’ this:  essays are so very structured that everyone – especially people who do not deem themselves to be ‘writers’ in other ways, can compose effective essays.

There are two fundamental things that need to be understood about ‘essays’:  the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.  (OK, these are more ‘philosophical’ distinctions than anything else – but they do capture at least one aspect of the meaning…)

The ‘how’ is simple mechanics – but the ‘why’ underlies each bit.  So, let’s tackle the ‘why’ first.

The why of an essay (as I am using the descriptive) is the reason for writing it:  its main point, what it is saying and how it is saying it.  Once a person has understood the ‘underlying structure of an essay, many of the steps listed below can be combined, or skipped altogether.  However, listing them separately is one of the ways in which a person can gain an understanding how to build an essay, one little idea at a time.

The why of an essay can be arrived at as follows:

  • Examine the ‘assignement’:  question or statement.
    • Sometimes, the ‘main point’ is assigned, sometimes it is up to the ‘writer’ to define the ‘main point.
    • The ‘point of view‘ – or, the way in which this ‘main point’ is demonstrated (what evidence is cited to support the ‘main point’, how the evidence is presented and how the conclusion is drawn out) – that is always something the ‘writer’ must choose and ‘fulfil‘.

    This ‘main point’ and ‘point of view/means of making the main point’ (for lack of better terms) constitute the ‘reason’ for writing the essay (aside from it having been assigned, that is…).  In other words, they define the main idea which the ‘writer’ will build the essay to convey/bring across.

  • Define the ‘main point’ (unless it is assigned).
    • find a single word (OK, the word can be ‘contorted’ and hyphenated amalgam of a few ‘normal’ words, or it can be an expression:  the main thing about ‘this word’ is that it is the simplest-possible way of expressing the very core of the ‘main point’ which is the central focus of the essay.
      • this ‘main point‘ must be both ‘simple’ and ‘core’, because the ‘main point’ of each of the paragraphs in the essay will be ‘compared’ to it.
      • this ‘main point‘ is the focus of the essay
      • this is what the essay will say
  • Define the ‘way of presenting the main point’ (point of view)
    • write a sentence which defines how the ‘main point‘ will be made.
      • again, the ‘sentence’ is more of a suggestion than a hard requirement:  a phrase or point-form, or any other method which is ‘understandable’ to the ‘writer’ is acceptable, because this is all part of the ‘brainstorming’ or ‘rough work’ that so many teachers request to be handed in along with the ‘good copy’ of the essay, to prove the person actually did the work (and to demonstrate to the teacher the chain of thought that took the essay from ‘concept’ to ‘finished product’:  many teachers actually assign marks to these steps…so, if they are not handed in, the marks reserved for these steps cannot be earned…
      • the main goal of this step is to clarify in one’s mind the method (reasoning, proof, etc.) of how the ‘main point’ will be presented
      • once this is clarified, putting it down will help ‘the writer’ maintain focus, because it will be available for constant ‘feedback’…and, as subsequent steps ‘ought to’ be compared back to both the ‘main point’ and ‘the main sentence’ (which, for lack of a better term, is how I refer to this step for the purposes of this post.
    • This section will serve as the basis for the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ paragraphs of the essay.
  • Gather the evidence
    • this step involves ‘putting down’/’brainstorming’ the pieces of evidence which will be used to support/demonstrate/prove the ‘main idea’ of the story
    • again, this can be done in two steps:  first, as ‘one word’ concept, then as the more concrete ‘simple sentence/point form’ (which might list the page numbers of quotes to be referenced, and so on).
    • while it is recommended (for the sake of self-discipline) that the individual points be put into the form of simple sentences, this is in no way a requirement:  point form is just as effective.
    • it is recommended (in order to ‘fit’ the expectations of ‘most’ essay assignments) that 3 major pieces of evidence be listed.
      • While most of these ‘major points’ can be expanded, it is important to clarify in one’s mind (and putting it down is a good way of achieving this – and being able to refer back to it) the main thrust each of these major pieces of evidence will make.
      • The ‘minor points’ or ‘development’ of the ‘major points’ will come during a later step.  They are very important – but it is also easy to go ‘off topic’ and loose the focus of the essay while ‘developing’ these bits.  Therefore, it is better to put all of the ‘minor points’ or ‘developments’ of these ‘major points’ into a section marked ‘notes’, not list them as the ‘major points of focus’.

      These points will go on to form the ‘body’ of the essay (the paragraphs in between the opening and closing paragraphs):  each one of the ‘major points’ of evidence will have one paragraph of the essay devoted to it.

This should (I hope) explain the ‘why’ of essay-composition:  if it does not, or if it is confusing (or just plain wrong), please, let me know and I will do my best to explain/fix it.

The next post (link to be inserted) will address the ‘how’ of essay-writing.