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Writing Style

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Essay Writing Rules and Style e-Comments

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing.

Check out the essay e-comments teachers need to respond to student essays regarding writing rules and writing style.

Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Writing Center has an excellent article on writing style.

Although writing style is certainly unique to every writer, English-language arts teachers have a role in developing that style. Most would agree that there are, in fact, rules of essay style which are unique to that writing genre. I’ve developed a set of 24 Essay Writing Style Rules. Written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, teachers and some precocious students will appreciate the humor and all students will learn what not to write in their stories and essays. Teach these rules of writing style and cringe less as you grade that next set of papers.

Essay Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

Essay Writing Style Rules

  1. Avoid intentional fragments. Right?
  2. Avoid formulaic phrases in this day and age.
  3. I have shown that you should delete references to your own writing.
  4. Be sort of specific.
  5. Don’t define terms (where a specialized word is used) using “reason is,” “because,” “where,” or “when.”
  6. Avoid using very interesting, nice words that contribute little to a sentence.
  7. Prepositions are not good to end sentences with.
  8. It is a mistake to ever split an infinitive.
  9. But do not start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  10. Avoid using clichés like a bad hair day.
  11. Always, avoid attention-getting alliteration.
  12. Parenthetical remarks should (most always) be avoided.
  13. Also, never, never repeat words or phrases very, very much, too.
  14. Use words only as they are defined, no matter how awesome they are.
  15. Even if a metaphor hits the spot, it can be over-played.
  16. Resist exaggeration; it only works once in a million years.
  17. Writers should always avoid generalizations.
  18. Avoid using big words when more utilitarian words would suffice.
  19. What use are rhetorical questions?
  20. The passive voice is a form to be avoided, if it can be helped.
  21. Never write no double negatives.
  22. There are good reasons to avoid starting every sentence with There.
  23. Always, absolutely avoid overstating ideas.
  24. Keep pronoun references close to subjects in long sentences to make them clear.

I’ve developed eight writing style posters with these “rules” to teach students the key elements to effective writing style. Just click on the red button below to get this teachable resource.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Purchase Teaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

“Great step by step worksheets that help students build or reinforce essay writing skills.”

Michelle Hunter

“A thoroughly comprehensive format to teach writing. Just what I needed.”

Tim Walker


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The Seven Essay Writing Rules

Essays have different rules than do stories, letters, poems, or journal writing. Essays respond to a writing prompt or writing topic. The writer is required to develop a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then follow with at least two body paragraphs which address the thesis statement, then end with a concluding paragraph.

The Common Core Writing Standards divides essays into argumentative and informational/explanatory. Argumentative essays argue a position or point of view; informational/ explanatory essays explain and analyze. Each of these types of essays focuses on the subject of the writing prompt and follows the following essay writing rules.

Keep in mind that essays are a very formal type of writing. Although they may certainly express opinions, essays present evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Think of presenting evidence in an essay as an attorney would present evidence in a court of law. All of the traditional rituals have to be followed. The attorney (writer) has introductory remarks (introductory paragraph) in which a verdict (think thesis statement) is stated. Next, the attorney (writer) presents the main points of the case and the evidence that supports them (body paragraphs). Finally, the attorney (writer) presents the closing arguments (conclusion paragraph).

Here are the seven essay writing rules:

1. Write in complete sentences. Intentional fragments, such as “Right?” don’t belong in essays.

2. Write in third person. Talk about the subject of the essay. Don’t personalize with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t talk to the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. The essay is to be objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Rid essays of “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”

3. Do not abbreviate. Abbreviations are informal and serve as short-cuts, so they don’t belong in essays. So write United States, not U.S. in essays.

4. Do not use slang, such as kids. Use official, or formal, words, such as children.

5. Do not use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “do not” rather than “don’t.”

6. Do not use figures of speech. Be direct and precise in essay writing. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He let the cat out of the bag.” Instead, say “He shared a secret.”

7. Do not over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

How to Eliminate "To Be" Verbs Poster

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs Poster

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.


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