When most people think of writing tools, they usually think of pen or pencil and paper, a typewriter, or a computer. And, yes, these are the practical tools to record your thoughts, so others can read them. However, the even more useful tools of writing are the various techniques you can use to express yourself, and you have a menu of nine basic choices.
1. Narration is nothing more than telling a story, and you use this most basic technique every single day. During the school day, you tell your friends and classmates what you did the night before, and when you get home, you tell your family what you did that day at school. Each story, though, must have a point. A story without a point — a main idea or a thesis — is like an endless carnival ride, one that readers will want to abandon. If you’re writing about Benedict Arnold and the Battle of Saratoga, for example, you may want to narrate all the key events in chronological order, the order in which they occurred.
2. Description is simply showing your readers how a person, place, object, or idea looks, sounds, smells, feels, and, if appropriate, tastes. Normally, description is used along with narration to add color and excitement to your stories. When describing, you don’t necessarily have to include details about all five senses, but you should at least go beyond the visual since that is what most writers focus on first. For instance, if you are writing about depression, your major emphasis might be the utter emptiness and loneliness that some depressed people feel.
3. Comparison and Contrast are used to point out the similarities and differences between two or more options. This is another technique you use often, especially when you spend your money. When buying a new winter coat, for example, you may visit various stores or look at numerous catalogs or online websites to find the coat that fits your preferences and your budget. Similarly, if you’re writing about some of Stephen King’s novels, you may have to compare and contrast them to make your point.
4. Exemplification simply means using examples to back up a statement or an argument. When you suggest an idea in class or at work, for instance, someone might ask, “What makes you think this will work?” A typical response might be two or three examples of situations where you know your idea has succeeded. So, if you’re arguing in your paper that Benedict Arnold was a great American hero at the Battle of Saratoga, you’ll have to back up your argument with examples of his actions or exploits in that particular battle.
5. Causation is the technique that allows you to explain the causes that precede and the effects that follow a certain event. This technique is used often in history classes when teachers ask you to write about the causes and/or effects of major wars. Generally, in a short paper, you have to choose between causes or effects, but in a longer paper, you may have room to discuss both. In fact, you might actually use a timeline to demonstrate a whole chain of events leading up to and, then, following the event that is the cornerstone of your paper. If you’re writing about depression and teenagers, for example, you could explain the social, emotional, and physical causes and also explain the social, emotional, and physical symptoms if the problem goes undiagnosed and untreated.
6. Classification and Division serve to bring organization and simplicity to a complex subject. You actually use these techniques at home when you divide your eating utensils in the silverware drawer in your kitchen or when you classify your clothing items by inserting them in certain drawers in your bedroom dresser. To visualize this technique, you might imagine your subject as a pizza pie that needs to be sliced into a certain amount of pieces to match each of your categories. If you are writing about Stephen King, for example, you might explain that all of his novels fall into four distinct types.
7. Process Analysis is usually referred to as “How To” writing because the writer is attempting to teach the reader how to perform a certain task. However, process analysis also includes “How” writing which explains how something happens; with “How” writing, though, the writer doesn’t expect the reader to imitate the process. Again, if you were writing about Stephen King, you might use King’s non-fiction book entitled On Writing — A Memoir on the Craft to show how King became one of the best-selling authors of all time, but you wouldn’t expect the reader to have that same extraordinary success.
8. Definition is an unusual technique because it cannot stand alone. You may start with a basic explanation of your subject, but, then, you would have to work with one or more of the other writing techniques to make your points about that subject. Thus, if you were writing about depression, you would have to define it first before you could explain the causes or effects. Another option might be to contrast depression with other ailments such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders. You could even show how teenage depression is different from post-partum depression.
9. Persuasion is another technique that cannot stand alone. When you write a persuasive paper, you’re trying to convince your reader to believe as you do or to take a certain action. In fact, all advertising is a form of persuasion as advertisers are urging you to buy their product or service. Thus, you can use narration to persuade — as Jesus did in His parables — or you can use causation to explain how implementing a certain idea or plan will lead to a beneficial effect. Also, the Benedict Arnold examples mentioned earlier demonstrate how persuasion can be used with narration and exemplification to argue the thesis that Benedict Arnold was an American hero in the Battle of Saratoga.
Will you write an entire term paper using only one of the first seven techniques? Probably not. Just as you need to combine definition and persuasion with other writing techniques, you will, most likely, write your paper with a combination platter. Thus, as you outline your paper, you might want to brainstorm ideas for all nine techniques. Then, you can choose one as your primary technique and one or two others as your supplementary techniques. Brainstorming in this way will help you choose the proper tools for the job of explaining your topic, and you should be able to write an excellent term paper.