Terry Catasús Jennings

 Writing Tips
I love writing; but guess what? Even if you don't love writing, there are some easy rules that will make writing easier for you and easier for your reader.  You can use these rules when you write assignments for your teacher, but you can also use them for e-mails and letters, and anything else you need to write! As you get older and you go to high school and college, you’ll still be able to use these rules. The form or writing that I use when I write non-fiction stories and articles, and the form of writing you should use for your assignments, is an essay. 

The dictionary says an essay is a "short piece of writing on a particular subject." 

"Gopher to the Rescue" is an essay about the part tiny gophers played in a huge volcano's recovery. When I write articles for a newspaper, I write essays.  My essays are between 600 and 1200 words, depending on how many words the editor of the newspaper or magazine wants.  "Gopher" is 771 words long.  Even a really good paragraph, can be an essay.


NARRATIVE ESSAYS tell a story. "Gopher to the Rescue" is a narrative essay. Here is another, very short, narrative essay:

       When animals felt trembling under their feet and heard rumbling in their ears, they didn’t know what to do. They had never heard this before. The trembling and the rumbling turned out to be a volcano waking up. Fifty-nine days later, the volcano erupts with a huge explosion. Now the animals know the rumbling and trembling means danger. 
       The mountain is barren after the eruption. Trees lie dead, like pick-up sticks. Ash covers the landscape. It seems like nothing lived.
       But under ground gopher lived. He was a little shaken up, but he lived. After the eruption, he kept on doing what he always did. He dug his tunnels. And when he did, he mixed the nutrients from the soil below with the ash above. Mice and bugs that made their home in trees that were already fallen on the landscape also lived. There was life and the hope of recovery.
       Slowly life came back to the mountain. Seeds blew in on the wind. Some landed on gopher’s tunnels and they lived. Bugs flew in. If they found the seeds that grew from the plants on gophers tunnels, or other plants that sprouted, they stayed. The animals returned as they found food and places to rest and nest. The mountain was recovering.
      The mountain is still recovering. It has been more than thirty years since the eruption and many areas are not back to what they were before. But the mountain will keep on changing and continue to be the home for animals.

DESCRIPTIVE ESSAYS - Tell the reader about a thing, a person, a place.  They paint a picture for the reader. Have you told your parents about what happened at school one day? Or a pretty place you saw? If you wrote down your words, you would have written a descriptive essay. Here’s an example:

Gophers are perfectly made for digging. Their bodies are pointy on both ends. This makes it easy for them to travel in their underground tunnels. They have sharp claws. Their lips close behind their teeth so that dirt doesn’t get in their mouth as they dig. Their skin is loose so they can turn around in their tunnels without cutting themselves. With bodies like that, no wonder they can dig!
EXPOSITORY ESSAYS and ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAYS tell your reader how you feel about a subject, your opinion. You make an argument—tell the reasons, tell why you feel that way. Your arguments, reasons are based on facts. When you argue using mostly facts that you know, you are write an expository essay. When you argue using mostly facts that you’ve researched, you write an argumentative essay. For instance, here is an expository essay: 
​I think the sky is always beautiful. Blue shades, brilliant and soft, change with the light of the sun. Clouds run through it, billowy or wispy, sometimes making animal shapes. You might not like dark, stormy days; but even the changing, moving, masses of gray can be intriguing. I can always find beauty in the sky.
The facts in this essay are all facts that we all know, right?

Here is an argumentative essay:

     Is a gopher a hero or a pest? This is a question scientists are trying to answer because gophers have a good side and a bad side. They can be naughty, they steal food from farmers. But they are also good because they soften the farm soil and make it easier for plants to grow. It’s an important question, gophers can cost the farmers money or make them richer.
    Farmers get angry with gophers. The tiny creatures steal the farmers’ carrots and turnips down into their underground tunnels and leave only holes where a healthy veggie used to grow. They gnaw on plants roots. Sometimes gopher tunnels damage the farmers’ equipment. It’s easy to see that gophers seem to be pests to farmers.
    Scientists think that gophers are good for the soil. When they dig, they mix nutrients from below with the soil on the surface. They soften the dirt. They free bacteria which is good for plants’ growth. All this makes the soil fertile and plants grow better.
    Gophers showed how good they were in Mount St. Helens. Scientists believe gophers helped the recovery. Their tunnels provided good, fertile soil where plants could grow. They were the unexpected heroes of the recovery.
    Farmers loose money when gophers steal and gnaw on their crops. They have to spend money to fix their equipment. But they’ll make more money, eventually, if they let the gophers steal a little and fertilize the ground. Scientists know it won’t happen right away. It may take a few years. But gophers can be heroes for the farmers too!

The essay above is based on facts I researched for my gopher story and other works. 

The “hero or pest” essay is a five paragraph essay. Let’s look at how you should write one yourself.

  • Your first paragraph is your introduction. You need to have an interesting, or exciting sentence—a hook—to draw your reader in. “Is a gopher a hero or a pest?” makes you wonder, makes you want to read more, doesn’t it? Then you tell the reader, well, you tell them what your essay will be about. The first paragraph of “hero or pest” tells the reader that gophers could make farmers loose money or make them richer.
  • Your next three paragraphs tell the reader the reasons why. Farmers don’t like gophers because they steal their crop. But gophers are actually good for the soil and they make the soil more fertile so that plants can grow better. Gophers were heroes in Mount St. Helens.
  • The last paragraph is a conclusion. Does it say the same thing as the same paragraph? You bet! It uses different words, but it says the same thing. It’s like saying:

                        Here’s what I know. Here’s why I know that. See, didn’t I tell you?

And you back it all up with facts that you know or facts that you researched. 

Are you ready now to write a five paragraph essay? Go to the                              area first. Learn about citations, bibliographies and attribution if you don't already know about it.  You can go to my blog                                  and find a topic that you like and write about it. Or find a subject that you want to learn more about, research it, and write about it. Writing isn’t always easy, but it gets easier the more you do it. My job is to write. I love my job. I can’t imagine doing anything else!