How to Write Essays to a Prompt for Tests, Work, or School

Sample Prompt: Explain a complicated process that you can do well to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. Ernest Hemingway

Writing Is a Complicated Process                                         Do you struggle when you have to take a writing test, or write a report? As a teacher/consultant writing essays was my forté, yet writing to a prompt is a complicated task.  When I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity, either writing or grading essays for over 20 years.  Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write.  While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, they struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Notice the blingy water.
Notice the blingy water.

Definition of an Essay

Commonly essays fall into four categories : expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative. Essays  convey information rather than tell a story, although they may use facts or short stories to persuade or convince readers to take action. An essay consists of three parts:  an opening paragraph, the body, and the conclusion.  Many teachers in our county use Step Up to Writing to teach this process to students and teachers alike.
  1. An opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts.
  2. Body paragraphs expand on the three or four facts, one paragraph per main idea.
  3. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.
PG and Pie
Ideas Matter: Brainstorm and Analyze  Before Writing 
Step Up to Writing  steps sound simple enough.  However, even though the process is simple, fuzzy ideas swim in the writer’s head and often come out jumbled.  Maybe the writer knows nothing about the prompt. Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt.  I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.  If I can use the computer during the test or when writing for publication I search for a quotation and a definition or explanation of my topic. Most important: Make sure to answer the prompt.
  1. Analyze the prompt or break it into pieces.  Ask, “What DO I know about the prompt?  OR How can I relate it to something I know better and still answer the prompt?”
  2. Ask, “What can I write in a few paragraphs without repeating myself?”
  3. Consider, “Who is my audience?”
students-at-computers1
Research , Research, Research
Writing to a prompt is difficult for many reasons.  An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word and repeat it multiple times throughout the essay. Unprofessional essays often start and end with the words, “Today I am going to write about (prompt words)”  This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that writers need to display more sophistication in their writing.
  1. Wikipedia is fine for quick bits of information partly because each entry has a bibliography which the writer can also check. It is good to have more sources than just Wikipedia. I use Google, but there are other ways of getting information quickly off the internet.
  2. Books and articles provide detailed information. Digitized books allow the writer to mark what he or she wants to remember and to sort out unnecessary information.
  3. If time is not an issue, articles and scanned documents can be processed into searchable PDF documents using inexpensive or free downloadable programs.
  4. When writers don’t have these options, note cards work well. I always note the title, author and page number, so I can go back and check my sketchy notes. I don’t take time to write detailed notes.
  5. Highlighting works well on printed material that the writer can keep.
  6. Post-it notes allow the writer to comment on materials and books he or she needs to return. Writers can color code these by book or article, topic, time period or any category they choose.
writing, blogging, book reviews, New_Office04
Weed Out All But the Most Important Information
Essayists can’t use it all.  According to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the first step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When I write under pressure on a topic, use these techniques.
  1. Brainstorm on paper. Lists, webs, and tables all work well.
  2. Move to an outline. Find connections between the list of words. Sort them into categories. Writers may do this mentally, but it is more effective if they write it down. I use the old fashioned outline because it puts my thoughts into a hierarchy, most important first.Manny's Trip to Spain
Match Writing Style and Vocabulary to the Task
Prompt writing is a formal process.  Vocabulary, spelling, and style become issues.  My blogging style is informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I attempt humor. Formal writing style differs in several ways. 
  1. It uses a more academic lexicon or vocabulary.
  2. Sentence structure varies.
  3. The tone is generally, but not always, more serious.
  4. Each sentence starts with different words.  For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words.  If I have more than two or three of the same beginning word, I will change one of them.  I will look at how many of the same words I use within the sentence as well.  Word processing programs and the internet have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word constantly. If the internet is not allowed during an essay, use the scratch paper to free-associate synonyms.
  5. Spelling is most difficult for me if the internet is not an option. When I can’t remember how to spell a word, I substitute a word I can spell.
  6. Punctuation errors show up, and even though there are differences about how to punctuate. Study Strunk and White before you take a test, or take it with you.
Ralph's remodel003
Keep the Conclusion Uncluttered
Students, test takers, or essayists who utilize these tips will have a passable essay for any project, exam, job application, or work-related report, and become an expert in writing to a prompt.
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Using the Creative Cloud by Adobe

As many of you know, the job of designing a brochure somehow dropped on my unartistic shoulders.  I created something using the Creative Cloud for our Board Meeting on Saturday, and received immediate feedback about what to change.  This was my first time ever to use Adobe Illustrator, and it represented about 8 or more hours of intensive effort.  I just LOOKS so easy a first grader could do it!  I would not call Illustrator an intuitive, user-friendly program.

My first attempt using Adobe Illustrator
My first attempt using Adobe Illustrator

Today I spent the entire day creating a new brochure with an artsy look rather than a blocky photography look.  My husband helped me on this one by brainstorming with me, then finding me a nice artsy print to get my creative dry mouth (there were not juices) started.  He also agreed with Cotton that the California Bear Flag was the primary symbol to use to anchor this brochure.

I couldn't figure how to color this one blue.
I couldn’t figure how to color this one blue.  I still thought it was cool.  Do you recognize anyone here?

I couldn’t find the same picture he did, and I thought I would be so clever and Photoshop of our own meetings.  It didn’t transfer well into Illustrator, so he emailed me the picture he found.  I made major changes on it before I used it.

This was the best I could do in Illustrator.
This was the best I could do in Illustrator.  Oops a flag pole in the middle of the sky.  Weird.  The colors don’t really go here, but I hat to take a break.

The hardest part after he found the anchor artwork for the meeting was to create a seamless look between the artwork and the background.  I’m not sure I could do any of it again at this point.  I found that it was easier to merge the pictures and the background in Photoshop than in Illustrator.  I couldn’t even get the paintbrush tool to activate on the layer I wanted in Illustrator, and I couldn’t flatten the layers.  So back to what I knew.  I got a little paint on the photos, but I’m hoping it gives that artsy-dreamy look.  I need to brush up my coloring skills.

I tried using the select tools, but forgot how to use them correctly, and so I just colored around the map – that took forever!!!  I also had to do it more than once.  The first time I thought I coud just place it into Illustrator.  Place is how you get your photographs to stick on the background in both Illustrator and Photoshop.  That is in the file drop down menu.

I found out that Photoshop CS6 is different enough from Elements 10 that I had a bit of a learning curve, but I was able to McIver my way through the project.

After I was as pleased as I could be in the amount of time that I wanted to devote to my 4th makeover, I saved the project as a jpeg and then placed it over the first page white blank sheet in Adobe Illustrator.  Then I just added the words.  V helped me with the words, too.  He used to be in advertising, and he focused me on what was really the reason for the brochure – to GET PEOPLE TO JOIN THE ORGANIZATION!  So that went in the top right hand corner.  DUH!

This was my third attempt.
This was my third attempt.  Here it looked like I scribbled around the map because I was dodging the words.  Has any one ever been to the state of Califronia?

I got it all done, and sent out to our Exec. Board, and realized I had misspelled California.  Believe it or not I had to start back in Photoshop and get my three pictures together again on the background.

This was the most time- intensive part.  this was my fourth attempt.
This was the most time-intensive part, and it was my fourth attempt at creating the brochure.

I finally got the words back on  using Illustrator because the words are sharper if you use Illustrator rather than Photoshop.

This is my final draft - SO FAR!!!
This is my final draft – SO FAR!!!

I had a few changes to do to the inside, but those were simple.  So this is the journey I’ve been on for the last few days since our start long ago with the simple cover you all voted on.

You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.
You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.

Thanks so much for all your input.  I appreciate when YOU offer suggestions.  Thanks also to V for all the help you gave me this morning, and the patience to see me through my tears without trying to SOLVE all my problems.  I knew I could do this if I just put my mind to it.  I was not going to be overcome by a computer program!!!!  🙂

My First Photography Up for Sale on Fine Art America Website

I saw Enice’s photography on this website http://fineartamerica.com/, so I thought I’d give it a try as well.  So far I only have 10 pictures posted, but they are also advertised on my Facebook page.  I’m excited, because I finally got myself started.  This business is mostly a hobby, but I would like it to be a successful hobby just because I like to be successful.

The way I will measure success is that 1) the pictures are of technically of good quality ( clear, the right brightness, etc.) 2)  the pictures are well composed (interesting subjects, good balance, framing, etc.) 3)  The pictures have appeal (people just enjoy looking at them), and 4) The pictures have salability (usable for decorating, cups, t-shirts, cards, advertising, calendars, etc.)  Who knows where this will lead, but this is my next experiment.

TC History Gal Productions

I started out with pictures of cats because they seem to have so much personality.  I realize that most of you are photographers as well, so you are not too likely to purchase pictures from me, but I would love your opinions. You have been so helpful in the past about giving me such good ideas.  How would you rate these?

V's favorite is Boulder Monitoring.
V’s favorite is Boulder Monitoring.

V’s favorite is Boulder Monitoring.  That’s what I felt like doing yesterday afternoon instead of driving to Ontario.  But I drove 5 hours instead.  I hope that you will come and like my Facebook Page, and join me on this adventure.  I’ll be sharing how it is going or not going as we go along.

Like me?
Like me?

The next thing I started this week, I did out of necessity.  Earlier this week I asked you to vote on the front of a brochure that I designed in Photoshop.

You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.
You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.

Although I really had no desire or inclination to design a whole brochure, no one else volunteered to do it.   To create this masterpiece, I tried out a new product, Adobe Illustrator.  You can see that the basic design that you voted on  is on the right, which is the cover.  I changed the picture, and used too big of a font for the words at the bottom.  I also included more pictures on the inside flap and back to represent the various branches of social studies.  Wikipedia quotes our own National Council for the Social Studies to define social studies.

Social studies is the “integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence,” as defined by the United States Americans National Council for the Social Studies.[1]   … Many such courses are interdisciplinary and draw upon various fields, including sociology but also political sciencehistoryeconomicsreligious studiesgeographypsychologyanthropology, and civics.

The brochure that you all helped me design.
This is the first draft of the entire brochure that you helped me design.

Ralph, you’ll notice no smelly sock unless you consider the bear smelly!!!  Cotton, I found the Bear Flag on the map, and I thought that was too cool.

I also finished as much as I could with the tri-fold brochure.   Paula made some suggestions for technical revisions, but our board made some other substantive comments that may WILL change it as well.  Here were some of the comments/questions I heard around the room as soon as I passed the out the brochure.

Would it be more effective to have a brochure with artwork rather than photographs?  (I don’t have the ability to do artwork!!!)

This was done by a real graphic artist for our conference in March.
A real graphic artist created this for our conference in March.

If photographs are suitable, what photographs really illustrate these divisions of social studies?

This man is a sailor, which in my mind suggested economics.  Maybe it wasn't the best photograph to illustrate economics.  It got a laugh!!
This man is a sailor, which in my mind suggested economics. Maybe it wasn’t the best photograph to illustrate economics. It got a laugh!!

Even more basic than those questions, do we just illustrate the definition of social studies, or do we move past that to illustrate what the council does?

1) the advocates for keeping social studies as a core subject to continue to be taught in American public schools?

2) provides professional development for teachers grades k-16,

3)  identifies quality instructional resources and

4) assists in developing and implementing state policies including standards, frameworks and assessments.

There is so much to designing a brochure.  The designer and the organization have to identify what is really important and somehow represent that graphically!  How do REAL graphic designers ever do it????

Thanks for coming along with me in my busy-ness this week.  I’ve been so wrapped in meetings this week month that I hardly knew know if I’m coming or going.  You all have helped by my anchors and my boulders.  Thanks for being there.  I’m monitoring you!

Have a nice rest of the week-end.  What are you all doing??  I have a meeting tomorrow for Tulare County Historical Society.  Anyone want to come??  Don’t forget to write to, like love tell me what you think while I’m busy going to meetings.   🙂  Lots of Love, Marsha 🙂

Another New Career: Designing Brochure Covers

I decided instead of not posting while I’m working, I would bring you into my workspace.  Although I am not a graphic artist, I am designing covers for a new brochure for California Council for the Social Studies.  So I’d like you to help me judge attractiveness.  You should probably know what the organization is all about.

Purpose

California Council for the Social Studies

  • advocates for and promotes social studies education as an essential foundation in developing citizens for a democratic society in the 21st Century.
  • provides professional development for social studies teachers through state and regional and local conferences.
  • identifies and produces quality instructional resources and programs to improve classroom instruction of social studies
  • assists in the development and implementation of state and local policies, legislation, framework, standards, testing and other instructional components.

So here are a few brochure covers I have played with.  I won’t be at all insulted if you have some constructive feedback for me because these are ideas.  Paula may redo them all, but I wanted to give her something to work with to start.  One of these designs has an image that may be copyrighted that I have altered a bit, but if we use it I’ll get permission or purchase the image.  Since we might not choose it, I’ll leave it for now.

Brochure #1
Brochure #1
Brochure #2
Brochure #2
CCSS Brochure #3
CCSS Brochure #3

So what advice do you have for me?  Do any of these look like a possible brochure cover?

Comment Competition Ends Midnight Dec. 31, 2012 PST

Autty Jade has taken up the challenge.  For months she has led the pack for numbers of comments – and numbers of words, too.  Today, her record was broken by Ralph with a total of 55 comments to Autty’s 50.  Autty has vowed that Ralph is not going to beat her, so watch out Ralph!  This girl’s keyboarding fingers move faster than Superman’s when he has a pressing deadline at the Daily Planet, AND Lois Lane is in trouble..  Poor, unsuspecting Ralph; he didn’t even know there was a contest.

Ralph 55
Ralph 55 comments on Marsha Lee’s Vanity Blog
Briney Lass
Autty Jade 51 comments on Marsha Lee’s Vanity Blog

Close behind the two leading commenters, with 45 comments on Blog Marsha Lee, is my new-found sister in Australia, Eternal Traveler.  Her daughter has decided that we are two of a kind, and therefore I am her aunt.  So it’s official I have a niece.

The Eternal Traveler - 45
The Eternal Traveler – 45

Lagging behind the three top expressionists are Dianne Gray and ADinparadise, tied at 28, and Sharechair, at 17 all time comments on Marsha Lee’s Vanity Blog.  If Ralph takes off on vacation, and Autty’s computer goes on the blink again, we may have an unexpected winner.  It could be YOU!!!  There are plenty of days left to comment.

Prizes will be announced at a later date, but whether champagne is in order remains to be seen.  Autty Jade KNEW she had to get her computer fixed when she read that Ralph and I were cavorting around with online champagne bottles.  Ralph popped them, I poured them, and Kalev imbibed them.  Rumors were that Kalev drank all 10 bottles of champagne.   Kalev had a great night’s sleep, and kept quiet all day today.  I’ve not heard a peep out of her since the trip to find snow.

I discovered today that Ralph may have had cameras installed in our cupboards to make sure that V and I are not harboring any unaccounted for bottles of champagne.  We have been searching for the cameras since we saw the insides of our cabinets live on Ralph’s site.  We were hoping that the cameras had vacuum cleaners attached to them to get rid of any unsightly dust bunnies that might appear on the internet.   Unfortunately he wasted his time and money because there are NO champagne bottles, full or otherwise, ensconced in our cabinets!

Lurking dust bunnies
Lurking dust bunnies

I’ll keep you posted as the contest heats up.  Presently not all competitors know there IS a contest.  In fact no one does.  So it remains to be seen if top contender, Ralph will even pick up the comment gauntlet.

So Ralph, The Eternal Traveler, Dianne, AD, Sharechair, and any others of you that think you can race against Autty, The Commenter Extraordinaire.

GERMAN GAUNTLET 01

I’ll post the results daily except for Christmas and Christmas Eve during Renee’s 16th party.  I made a mistake telling all of you it was going to be her 17th birthday.  Renee has been fudging on her age for the past few months telling us that she is already 16, when in fact, she is JUST turning 16.  Don’t forget her amazing party starting Dec. 24th right here on Marsha Lee’s Vanity Blog.  🙂

* Note  The editor of Marsha Lee’s Vanity Blog denies any responsibility for rumors that may have started here.

Mama Kitty, do you really believe that I could have drunk all that champagne?    I don't remember a thing about it.
Mama Kitty, do you really believe that I drank all that online champagne? I don’t remember a thing about it.  I think Ralph drank it, and tried to blame me for it!!!

I was going to wait until 12:00, but I just CAN’T do it!!!  Let the games begin!  And may the best commenter win!  Win lose or draw, I love you all!!!