Putting the Pieces Together: Tips for Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts: The Instructions

A writing prompt in WRIT will ask you to consider the same set of questions each week. The prompt instructions remind you that there are three very important components that should be included in your response for optimal success. Below is the standard prompt instructions that you’ll see each week in WRIT:

Write a multi-paragraph response (in essay format: introduction, body, conclusion) to the article below.

Your response should accurately summarize the author’s main argument AND critically respond to it.

You may choose to agree with the author’s argument, to disagree with it, or to partially agree/disagree with it.

Your essay should also consider at least one objection a reader might have to your argument. You may respond to this objection in different ways. For example, you may argue against the objection, or you may acknowledge that the objection is a good point and incorporate it into your argument. It’s your choice.

Failing to address each of these goals will significantly reduce your ability to respond appropriately and completely to the prompt.  Don’t worry, though! In WRIT, you’ll learn how to respond to each of the requirements listed in the instructions above; it will just take a bit of time and practice.

Prompt Writing Guide

When you study a writing prompt closely and use it as the basis for your outline, you will be better equipped to address the goals of your own response.  It’s important to do the following when reading and responding to a prompt:

  1. Identify the purpose of the prompt. Every piece of writing has purpose. In a prompt, the writer will attempt to inform or explain an idea to the reader.  In addition, they will always present an argument about the issues they raise, and, in most cases, they will use details, facts, scenarios, or examples to persuade you that their point of view is correct and valuable. It is your job to prove that your point of view is MORE valuable than theirs.   

    WRITING TIP: Your essay response should use specific ideas, concepts, and information found in the prompt. We call this “mobilizing” evidence.  In referencing prompt details, you directly address the argument and supporting points the author raises rather than using details and examples from your own personal experience on the issue. You will discover that in so doing, you will present a more formal essay that is in conversation with the prompt. ARGUMENTATION at the post-secondary level is all about DISCOURSE, the conversation you have with things said and written about by others.
  2. Read the writing prompt carefully. First, read the prompt once over to get the general sense of the prompt’s topic and the position it takes.  Then, read it again; this time, focus on the author’s thesis, and the key point of each paragraph.
    WRITING TIP:  Identify the part of the prompt that tells you exactly what you should write about.  In most cases, you’ll find the author’s thesis within the first paragraph of the prompt; most often, the thesis is the FINAL SENTENCE of the first paragraph. Look for interesting punctuation, like a full colon or a set of dashes, as these advanced punctuation techniques draw attention to information, which is something a strong writer wants to do in presenting a thesis.
  3. Read the writing prompt one last time. This time identify any key words or ideas  that give you more information about what to write and how to respond.
    WRITING TIP:  Words such as  “should,” “must,” “may,” “mandatory” or “required” when used in the context of an argument, will often signal to a reader the author is making a claim or providing a reason to justify their position.  Review any key words in the subsequent paragraphs of the prompt to help you gauge what the author’s supporting points may be. Paragraphs in a prompt will often be used to provide additional reasons to support the author’s thesis (these are sometimes called points and proofs)
  4. Provide reasons and use details from the prompt. Always use material located in the prompt to help you explain your position and to persuade your reader that your point of view is more valuable than that of the prompt writer, regardless of whether you agree, disagree, or partially agree with the premise of the prompt itself.
    WRITING TIP:  Use direct quotes, summaries, and paraphrased material from the prompt to support your opinion and ideas.  Remember, you must show your readers that you are engaging directly with the author and the ideas they present in the prompt.  For example, if you disagree with a suggestion made in the prompt, citing a direct passage and explaining why you disagree with it will help to persuade others to see your viewpoint.


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Putting the Pieces Together Copyright © 2020 by Andrew Stracuzzi and André Cormier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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