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Questions and answers about essays in general

I have to turn a rough draft into my Freshman Comp.I class for a narrative essay. What exactly should it be? Should it be complete without corrections? Or can it be missing details, or a conclusion sentence?

A rough draft should be basicly complete. It should include an introduction, body and conclusion. The point of the rough draft is for your instructor to give you feedback as to what you need to do to polish it for completion. There might be additional paragraphs added in the final draft if your teacher thinks that more material is needed; you might be adding evidence to back up your assertions or quotes from authorities. You might also re-arrange the paragraphs or sentences to improve the logical sense of the essay. If your essay is too long, the final draft might have fewer paragraphs if you delete material you judge to be superfluous. Although you should be always striving for grammatical correctness, the inclusion of grammatical errors in a rough draft is not a problem, as you will be able to correct them in a later revision. Usually teachers make you hand in a rough draft because they know that one of the important steps of writing that students often skip is the editing step.

Your rough draft should be a readable and complete essay which you will look at critically and try to improve upon.

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I'm writing an essay that's asking for 1 concrete detail and 2 commentary sentences. What are those??

A concrete detail is a fact which is either common knowledge or can be backed up by a footnote. The commentary sentences are your interpretation of the importance or significance of the fact in the context of your thesis or arguments.

For example:

Jack Kerouac was born to French Canadian Catholic parents in Lowell Massachusetts. [facts] His religious upbringing contributes greatly to the vision he expounds through his novels. [opinion] Because he had roots outside the United States, he was able to see American society from an outsider's point of view. [opinion]

Do I have to have a heading and paragraph headings on my essay? Or do I just start my page with the introduction of the main idea? Do I date it or put my name at the top or anything?

Formal APA style requires you to have a cover page with the title of the essay, the name of the course, the date of the essay, the name of the school, and the name of the professor. In APA style, the title of the essay goes above the first paragraph, but there is no heading called "Introduction." Additional headings are added as needed. In APA style, the main headings are centered and bold, secondary headings are bold and left aligned. Third level headings (if needed) are bold and end in a period, but are on the same line as the beginning of the paragraph.

MLA style requires you to have your name, the name of the teacher and the date in the upper left corner of the first page.

Often teachers tell you APA style when they really only mean you need to use APA style in citing your sources. If you are confused about whether or not you need a cover page, check with your teacher.

APA provides a whole hierarchy of how to format headings. I like to use the OWL (Open Writing Lab) at Purdue University to check APA and MLA formats. Here's the page describing how to format the different headings in APA.

To specifically answer your question, you only need headings if your paper is quite lengthy. You should have a title in all cases, and if the paper is more than two pages, create a running head that shows up at the top of each page. Many papers use no headings, so only use them if your teacher specifically asked for them, or if the paper is quite lenghty (more than 10 pages).

As a side note, do not use a colon (:) at the end of a heading.

Question: How do I write an introduction paragraph?

I like my introductory paragraphs to move from general observations toward the thesis statement. I start with some observations on the world which don't need to be footnoted because they are considered "general knowledge." These are probably the same kind of observations which the author of the text you are studied might have made and which inspired him/her to create an artistic work which examines that theme. By making your own observations through the same lens which inspired the author you can lead your reader to the idea which you are using for your thesis. See my blog post on five best strategies for writing an introduction.

Question: Could you give me advice on how to start my conclusion paragraph. I have the thesis, and the body finished and I am ready to print but what's holding me back is the conclusion or summary paragraph. I don't know how to start it off.

Conclusion paragraphs are particularly tricky. Someone once told me the formula for an essay was "Tell them what you are going to tell them (introduction) then tell them what you are telling them (body) and finally tell them what you told them (conclusion.)

Perhaps the essay is not so formulaic but the concluding paragraph should be some kind of summation of the materials presented in the body of the essay. You need to make sure your conclusion refers back to your thesis and the evidence you have presented. For example if I was comparing the Canadian and American systems of government and my thesis was that the US system was superior because of the fixed election dates, I might conclude as follows.

As we have seen, Canadian politicians can more easily be removed from office during a crisis of confidence in their office. This avoids the political quagmires in which the US presidency has become mired such as the Watergate scandal and the Clinton sex scandals. Despite the fact that, the American system avoids manipulation of the date for political gain, considering how long the presidential campaigns have become, this benefit does not outweigh the advantages of the Canadian system.

The key to a great conclusion is that you are now summing up in light of the evidence you presented. Making reference to your evidence in the conclusion makes for a better essay. However, it is not necessary to cite sources that have already been cited.

See the article about writing conclusions.