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Elements of Writing

Think about how these elements work together in any piece of writing:

  • Content

  • Organization (structure)

  • Style (expression)

  • Writing Mechanics  (grammar and spelling)

One way to look at a paragraph or an essay is to consider the different parts or elements that work together in an effective piece of writing: content, structure, style, and writing mechanics.  If any of these is weak or poorly developed, your writing will be less effective.

Content is what you say in your essay; structure is how you organize your content.  Style refers to such elements of writing as sentence variety, word usage, and tone-essentially how you express your ideas.  Writing mechanics refers to the use of standard English grammar and spelling.

Let's look at these writing elements in greater detail.


Content is the information you provide in your essay.  When starting an essay, you should ask yourself what you really want to say about the subject.  If you want to write something about cars, you have to decide what the purpose of your essay is.  Is it to explain how to find a good used car? (how to or process essay) Do you want to present an argument about the effects of our dependence on cars? (cause and effect)  Or you may want to point out the differences and similarities between two or three different cars as a way of determining which would be the best buy. (compare and contrast)  You might choose to describe a favourite car (description) or tell a story about the first car you owned (narrative).

It takes time to develop content.  You may have some prior knowledge of your subject or you may have to do some reading to fill in some gaps.


Structure is the way you organize your writing.  A clearly organized a piece of writing is easy for readers to follow.  There are some basics to organizing your writing. Paragraphs should have clear topic sentences and supporting points.  Essays need a clear thesis and enough evidence to make a good case for the thesis. The essay model shown in this booklet is commonly called the three-point essay, but many forms are possible.  Essays can run into many paragraphs, but they will all maintain the same basic organization pattern: an introduction in which the thesis is presented; supporting paragraphs which provide evidence to back up the thesis; and a concluding paragraph which looks back to the thesis and sums up or acknowledges the points that have been made in the essay.    


Once you have figured out what you want to say and how to organize it, you have to decide how to say it.  Style involves the choice of words, tone and the arrangement of phrases and sentences that give each writer a unique "voice".  While the content may attract us to a piece of writing, it is the writer's style that keeps us reading. As you develop as a writer, your own personal style will emerge and you will find a distinct voice.

Writing Mechanics

Writing mechanics refers to the correct use of grammar and spelling.  As you build your ability to generate ideas and develop them into paragraphs and essays, you will have to edit your writing for punctuation and sentence structure according to the rules of standard English grammar.



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This page was last updated November 19, 2004

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