FORMAT OF THE WRITING SECTION
The analytical writing section is 75 minutes long and requires
you to respond to two essay questions. The Present Your Perspective
on an Issue essay comes first and is 45 minutes long. Then the Analyze
an Argument essay is presented and is 30 minutes long.
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GENERAL TIPS ON WRITING YOUR ESSAYS
We begin by looking at the proper structure for the introduction
and for the conclusion of your essay.
Your introduction should serve two structural purposes: It should
restate your topic so that the reader need not review the given
question, and it should offer a clear thesis so the reader knows
what your purpose is. Simply defined, a thesis states the main idea
of your essay. Because the strategy you need to employ for developing
your thesis differs for each type of essay, however, we will discuss
it in further detail later on in this chapter.
Your introduction should, in effect, restate the given topic. In
other words, your reader should be able to ascertain the issue or
argument without reading the given topic. Suppose the GRE gives
you this argument:
The following letter was sent by a group of homeowners from the
Rivermill Subdivision to all homeowners in that subdivision.
"Providence Golf Community down the street has a homeowner's
association. Part of the role of this association is to develop
bylaws, which dictate the outside appearance of all homes in the
community. For example, according to the rules set forth in the
covenant, homeowners may only build privacy fences around their
yard; no chain link is permitted. Property values in this community
are double property values in our subdivision. In order to raise
our property values, we need to improve the look of our neighborhood.
Therefore, we should start an association and develop a covenant."
Your initial reaction to this prompt may be to begin your essay
with a direct response such as This letter presents a faulty argument.
However, this introductory sentence does not provide adequate information
because it does not specify which letter and therefore it would
leave the reader confused. Following is the beginning of an introduction
that does give adequate information to the reader:
Does the adoption of covenants in housing communities result in
rising property values? In a letter to the residents of Rivermill
Subdivision, a small group of homeowners stated that property values
in nearby Providence were double the property values in Rivermill
because of such a covenant.
Not only should you restate the topic, but you should also do so
in a way that will spark interest. It may seem like a tall order
to restate your topic, create a thesis, AND make it captivating,
but if you don't grab your reader's attention in the introduction,
it doesn't matter how interesting the body of your essay is because
he won't feel compelled to read on. Think of your introduction as
the worm on a fishhook, just dangling there enticing the fish to
bite. There are several techniques you can employ to get your reader
to "bite" and, thus, read on.
* Begin your introduction with a question. Naturally, when a question
is posed to your reader, he or she will want to keep reading to
find out the answer.
* Begin your introduction with a quote. Because you will not have
time to research your topic for the GRE test, this may not be as
feasible as, say, on a term paper for a graduate class; however,
if you can remember a specific quote pertinent to your topic, use
* Begin with an anecdote. An anecdote is entertaining and will thus
draw in the reader.
* Begin with an illustration or a hypothetical example based on
the topic you are going to discuss.
* Begin with a true-to-life example.
* Begin with vivid description of something pertaining to your topic.
It is particularly important that, in the context of the GRE, you
make a concerted effort to create a captivating introduction. Keep
in mind that the scorers of your essays are the scorers of everyone
else's essays. They read hundreds of responses to the same issues
and arguments. You must make your essay stand out. What better way
to make it stand out than to make it exceptional from the beginning?
The conclusion of your essay is just as important as the introduction
because it wraps up your thoughts and evidence and should leave
your reader satisfied that a convincing discussion has just taken
place. Your conclusion should include a restatement of your thesis
and then end with a more general statement, perhaps a warning or
a call for action. Tip: If time is running out and you get stuck
trying to formulate a conclusion, try beginning with "In conclusion"
or "In summary." Then continue by restating your thesis.
We have examined the rules that govern the English language, and
we have learned some techniques on structure. But how does a writer
make a piece of writing his own? And how does a writer add interest
to his essays? The way a writer uses words and phrases to add personality
to his writing is called style. A writer is to style as a figure
skater is to skating. A writer can learn all the rules that make
his writing correct, just as a figure skater can learn how to accomplish
her jumps and footwork. But just learning the rules of grammar is
not enough to create a well-written essay; learning just the rules
of skating is not enough to earn a gold medal. The writer must bring
his own methods and personality to his writing just as a skater
must invest her own personality and flair to her performance.
Many elements combine to form a writer's style, and, even though
many of these elements can be identified, each is unique to a writer.
Moreover, a good writer does not allow any elements of his style
to stagnate. Rather, he continues to practice writing in order to
continually improve and develop his style. We will touch briefly
on how you can develop your writing style, but first let's look
at some specific elements of style.
Transitional phrases are an important element of style because
they create coherence. They guide the reader from point A to point
B. On the GRE, the reader will read through your essay quickly,
scoring according to his first impression of what you wrote. If
your essay is choppy and does not flow well, the reader will not
gain a good first impression. Therefore, it is imperative that your
essay exhibits solid cohesiveness. Look at the lists below for some
examples of transitional words and phrases that will help you write
a smooth, coherent essay.
Agreement: also, plus, in addition, further, furthermore,
moreover, additionally, to add to that, next, in accordance with,
accordingly, in agreement, finally, for instance, for example, in
exemplification, exemplifying that, in fact, factually speaking,
in terms of, and so forth, in coordination with, along those lines,
collectively speaking, generally speaking, indeed, undoubtedly,
obviously, to be sure, equally
Contrast: however, in contrast, on the contrary, on the
other hand, from a different angle, nonetheless, nevertheless, but,
yet, a catch to this is, sadly enough, as a hindrance, oddly enough,
instead, in direct opposition, still, rather
Result: as a result, as a consequence, consequently, thus,
therefore, hence, thereby, resulting in, ultimately, in the end,
finally, in the overall analysis, in hindsight, in retrospect, retrospectively,
vicariously, the long term effect, as a short term result, significantly,
as a major effect, effectively, heretofore, hereafter, thereafter,
in short, generally, over all, concluding
Transitional words and phrases are helpful not only in linking
your ideas between sentences, but also in providing cohesiveness
from paragraph to paragraph. Each paragraph of your essay should
include a topic sentence, which can also act as a transitional sentence.
This transitional sentence should link your paragraphs by relating
to some element in the preceding paragraph. Take a look at the following
The size of your house will probably be a factor in how you decide
to decorate. If you have a large house, you may opt for a grand,
sophisticated look. Over-sized furniture and ornate fixtures will
complement solid-colored walls accented with artwork. On the other
hand, a cozy look suits a smaller home. This look can be achieved
by choosing less formal furniture, simple accents and warm colors.
Equally, patterned wall-coverings add a lovely touch to a small
Regardless of the size of your house, your financial situation
will also likely play a large role in the style of décor
you choose. Limited funds may force you to make some of your own
decorations, like curtains and knick knacks. However, unlimited
funds may offer the option of hiring an interior decorator to do
all the work for you.
The first sentence of the second paragraph is not only the topic
sentence of the paragraph (it lets the reader know what the paragraph
will be about), but also the transitional sentence that links the
two paragraphs. Notice that the phrase "Regardless of the size
of your house" refers to the topic of the first paragraph,
thereby tying together the topics of both paragraphs. In addition,
the word "also" in this sentence indicates that a second
factor of decorating is being introduced.
Other more subtle transitions occur in the first paragraph. For
example, "over-sized furniture" in the third sentence
refers to the "large house" in the preceding sentence.
This provides a transition without using a transitional word. Notice
further that "large" is part of the subordinate clause
in the second sentence but "over-sized" is part of the
main subject in the third sentence, thus providing transition while
also giving the reader some variety in sentence pattern. (We will
discuss varying your sentences later on.)
More obvious are the transitional words we discussed previously.
In the first paragraph, for example, the phrase "On the other
hand" depicts the contrast between a large and a small house
while "equally" continues the thoughts pertaining to a
cozy home. In the second paragraph, "However" is used
to show contrast in a pattern much like in the first paragraph.
Using transitions, both subtle and obvious, in your sentences and
between paragraphs is essential in creating cohesiveness in your
essay. Without this clarity, your essay will likely be choppy and
difficult for the scorer to read and understand. A word of caution,
however, before we move on: Since time is limited on the writing
assessment sections, you must be concise and to the point. Be careful
not to overuse transitional words and phrases because overuse can
make you sound like a pedantic writer rather than an intelligent
Varying Your Sentences
No matter how well your essay flows, the reader will easily get
bored if your essay consists only of sentences that contain the
same words and follow the same structure. Consider this paragraph:
Dogs are smarter than cats. They are often used to help handicapped
people. Dogs help blind people. Dogs also help epileptic people.
Dogs can sense when an epileptic person is about to have a seizure.
Dogs are also used in rescue work. They help rescue skiers. They
also help in catastrophic events. They rescue people after earthquakes.
There are several things wrong with this paragraph:
* Almost every sentence is the same length.
* The structure in each sentence is almost identical: Subject +
Verb + Direct Object.
* The same words are used over and over: "dogs," "they,"
"also," "help," "rescue."
* No description is used to further illustrate the writer's points.
To add more interest to your writing, you need to vary your sentence
length and structure. Try different beginnings for your sentences.
Employ a variety of words and use these words to paint a vivid picture
of your subject. Let's apply these tips to the paragraph above:
Dogs are more intelligent than your average feline. A cat cannot,
for example, guide a blind person across busy streets and along
crowded sidewalks. Amazingly enough, a dog is also a perfect companion
for a person with epilepsy because a dog seems to be able to sense
when a seizure is coming on. While dogs help keep the handicapped
away from danger, they also aid in rescuing people who have fallen
victim to dangerous situations, like skiers trapped in an avalanche.
Moreover, when catastrophic events, like earthquakes, leave victims
pinned beneath debris and rubble, a canine team often comes to the
A good way to vary your sentences is to begin them in different
ways. For example, you could begin your sentence with the subject
and predicate and then build on them using various words and phrases.
This type of sentence is called a cumulative sentence. By contrast,
in a periodic sentence, you use words and phrases to build up to
the subject and the predicate at the end of the sentence. Here are
The energetic children played hard, chasing each other in all directions,
occasionally falling and then scrambling to their feet, giggling
at each other's antics and never stopping for even a moment to catch
With flour in her hair, dough in between her fingers and sauce all
over her face, she attempted to make a gourmet pizza.
Both types of sentences not only add variety, but also bring rhythm
and cadence to writing. This rhythm creates interest and is pleasant
to the reader. Additionally, descriptive words paint a clear picture
for the reader.
Another excellent way to paint vivid pictures for your reader is
to use figures of speech. Figures of speech--like similes, metaphors,
analogies, personification, hyperbole, irony, and allusion--when
used correctly, add extra flair to your writing. They add to your
style of writing an element that takes your writing from ordinary
Similes show a marked comparison between two things by using the
phrases "like," "as," or "as if."
The cat stood poised and still as a statue, waiting for the opportune
moment to pounce.
Here the cat is described "as a statue" because it is
standing so still.
Metaphors show absolute comparison by omitting "like,"
"as," or "as if."
She is Mother Theresa when it comes to her generosity and compassion.
Here the comparison is absolute because the writer states that
this person is Mother Theresa; the writer does not say that this
person is just like Mother Theresa.
Analogies compare the similar features of two dissimilar things.
Analogies often bring clarity to writing by showing a reader another
way of seeing something. Analogies are not limited to a sentence;
sometimes an analogy streams its way through an entire piece of
Office cooperation is like a soccer game. Each employee has a position
on the playing field, and each position dictates an employee's function.
Working together, the office completes passes by communicating well
within each department. Shots on goal are taken when employees meet
with prospective clients to pitch ideas. And the whole office triumphs
when a goal is scored and a prospect becomes a client.
Here one element, an office working together, is compared to another,
a soccer team playing a game. Although an office and a soccer team
are two very unrelated things, the writer sees similarities in some
aspects between the two and uses these similarities to show more
clearly how an office works together.
Personification gives human characteristics to animals, inanimate
objects and ideas in order to make them more real and understandable.
The rusty car groaned, coughed, then gave one last sputter and died.
The car in this sentence comes to life even as it "dies"
because of the human characteristics it is given.
Hyperbole uses deliberate exaggeration or overstatement to show
special emphasis or create humor.
Fat-free foods have become so popular that soon all vendors will
want to give it a shot. Before you know it, Kentucky Fried Chicken
will have fat-free fried chicken. Big Macs will contain 0 grams
of fat. And the amount of fat in a Pizza Hut cheese pizza? You guessed
In order to show how far out of hand peoples' obsession with fat-free
foods has become, this description purposefully exaggerates a world
where the most unlikely things are fat-free.
Irony uses language that makes a suggestion that directly contrasts
with the literal word or idea. It can offer humor to writing, or
a bitter tone when it is used in sarcasm.
Scientists have worked hard to develop ways to decrease infant mortality
rates and increase longevity. As a result, more people are living
longer and scientists will soon have to develop some methods with
which to control overpopulation.
This sentence uses irony by predicting that, because scientists
have now discovered ways to increase a person's life span, they
will soon have to deal with another problem--overpopulation. This
is because, with everyone living longer, there will soon be too
many people for the earth to support.
Allusion makes indirect reference to known cultural works, people
or events. The familiarity allusions bring to writing helps the
writer make connections with the reader.
I have so much to do today, I feel like David must have felt as
he approached Goliath.
Most people are familiar with the Bible story of David and Goliath.
David is a small shepherd who slays the giant, Goliath, with a slingshot
and one stone after the army's best soldiers fail. Even through
his feat, however, David must have felt a bit intimidated when facing
Goliath, a feeling this writer intimates when thinking about everything
that needs to be done.
Figures of speech to avoid:
Clichés are overused phrases that prevent your writing from
being fresh and original, so don't use clichés like "Cute
as a button" or "Busy as a bee."
Mixed metaphors are comparisons that are not consistent; they only
cause confusion. For example, "The infant was like a baby bird,
opening his cavernous well for food." Here the simile that
an infant is like a baby bird holds true, but the following words
that equate the baby's mouth to a cavernous well are not consistent.
The words you choose will greatly affect the tone of your essay.
Likewise, the tone you wish to achieve will depend on your audience.
In this case, you know your audience will consist of men and women
who will be quickly reading your essay and then assigning a score
based on their impression and how well you handled the topic. Knowing
this, you will want to use a professional, formal tone, the kind
you will probably use in most of your graduate work. Using a formal
tone means that you will want to keep some distance between you,
the writer, and your audience, the scorer. Be courteous and polite
but avoid being chummy or intimate in any way. Furthermore, you
should avoid all colloquialisms and slang.
While tone defines the overall language you use, diction deals
with the specific kinds of words and phrases you choose for your
essay. Since you have already determined your audience and thus
ascertained that you need to portray a formal tone in your essay,
you must be consistent with your diction, or word choice. Diction
may be classified as technical (homo sapien rather than human),
formal (Please inform me when you are ready to depart.), informal
or colloquial (Give me a buzz when you're ready to go.), formal
(Please inform me when you are ready to depart.), or slang (She's
a real couch potato and watches the tube from early morning 'til
the cows come home.) Knowing that your audience dictates a formal
tone, you must also be consistent in maintaining formal diction.
Look at the following example of inconsistent diction:
Violence in schools has become an epidemic problem. School shootings
occur regularly, and fights erupt daily in the nation's classrooms.
Even with the addition of metal detectors at school entrances, violence
will never be eradicated because the jocks are always ganging up
on the geeks. If only we could just all get along.
This example begins with a formal tone and formal diction; however,
it takes a quick turn when the writer uses slang words like "jocks"
and "geeks." The paragraph is concluded informally with
"If only we could just all get along."
As you write your essay, and later when you proofread it, you will
want to make sure that you preserve the formality your audience
It is important to maintain consistency in person. For example,
if you begin your essay in second person (you) do not shift to third
person (he, she, it, one, or they). Let's look at a couple of examples
illustrating a shift in person:
One can get excellent grades in school if you study hard.
The switch from "one" to "you" is confusing
Off the coast of Puerto Rico, on the island of Vieques, is an old
French mansion turned hotel. Here one can enjoy spacious guest rooms
and a cozy library. One can lounge around the pool and indulge in
the honorary pool bar. Because the hotel is not far from the ocean,
you can also take a leisurely walk down to the white sandy beach
where one can spend a lazy day basking in the sun.
The switch from one to you is confusing in this paragraph and detracts
from the imagery. Decide from the beginning of your essay what person
you wish to employ and make a conscious effort to stick to it.
Developing Your Style
Your goal as a writer is to create interest and coherence through
your unique writing style. Using figures of speech and maintaining
consistent use of tone, diction and person are effective ways to
create interest. Using transitions creates coherence. Also remember
that part of creating coherence is being concise. Use only the details
that are necessary to support your topic and avoid tedious description.
This is not to say that you should avoid vivid imagery, but that
you should take care to ensure that your information adds to your
writing rather than detracts from your writing.
In taking all of these elements of style into account, the most
important aspect to remember about developing your style is that
it only comes through practice. Practice your writing and proofread,
proofread, proofread. If you do all of these things, you will be
well on your way to becoming an effective, skillful writer. Are
you ready to start practicing? Let's move on and discuss the two
different essays you will be asked to write.