• Act as signals to alert the reader. 
  • Connect important thoughts. 
  • Provide transitions between opposing ideas. 
  • Provide logical organization that makes for smoother reading. 

Words like in addition and furthermore indicate that a point is about to be expanded or explained. On the other hand and conversely suggest that the writer will explore an opposite idea. Therefore and finally signal that a train of thought is coming to an end.

Reading through the paper paragraph by paragraph provides a good test of fluency. If each paragraph makes sense on its own, the writer probably made wise use of transitions. If not, he can look for places to insert transition words. 

6. Focus on clarity and simplicity. It's not uncommon for students to try to impress their instructors by overwriting (like using too many big words, piling on too much or unnecessary detail, or taking rabbit trails). The content of a research paper or essay must always point back to and support the thesis statement. If it fails to do so, eliminate it. 

7. Don't plagiarize. Plagiarism—copying another person's written work and calling it your own—is the same as stealing. What has been stolen is the author's unique way of formulating ideas into his own words. Teach your student the proper way to credit the sources he uses in his research paper or essay. 

Teach Timed Writing 

Years ago, at the close of one of my writing workshops, an anxious father approached me: 

Dad: How can I prepare my daughter for the SAT? 

Me: When is her exam? 

Dad: Saturday. 


Let me say it up front: this is not a skill quickly learned! To prepare for the SAT (and other college essay situations), students must practice timed essays throughout high school to gain training in time management, planning, and writing. With practice, the process becomes more intuitive, greatly reducing the fear factor produced by timed writing. 

In reality, students do worry about the questions they'll face and whether they'll be able to answer them intelligently and in the allotted time. Frequent practice with timed essays helps make their responses as close to automatic as possible. Sure, they'll still have unfamiliar questions challenging them on test day, but they won't be reduced to a bowl of jelly at the sight of the clock ticking away. All that practice teaches them to pace themselves, and that's half the battle. Therefore, don't put off teaching this important skill till the last minute. 

College Board (www.collegeboard.com) states that a top-scoring SAT essay: 

  • Clearly develops a point of view and offers strong supporting details. 
  • Is well organized in structure and flow. 
  • Uses appropriate, mature vocabulary. 
  • Varies structure by using different kinds of sentences. 
  • Contains few grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. 

With this in mind, you can better prepare your student by focusing on the following elements of an essay: 

1. Content and organization. At first, teach essay writing using a widely accepted model: introduction, body with three main points, and conclusion. Once your teen feels comfortable developing a simple essay and supporting each point with details, his own style will begin to emerge. 

2. Vocabulary. Students can improve their essay's vocabulary by avoiding weak, vague words and finding synonyms for overly repeated words. Though they can't use a thesaurus in a timed setting, they'll learn to apply new vocabulary they've gained through other assignments. 

3. Sentence structure. SAT scorers favor essays that break free from the dull subject-verb sentence mold. Introduce your student to sentence variations, which add interest and a more mature voice to compositions. For instance, he can start sentences with participial phrases, "-ly" adverbs, subordinating conjunctions, or paired adjectives. He can also spice up sentences with figurative language—metaphors, similes, and personification. Once he's learned to use more interesting sentence variations, require repeated practice until they flow naturally from his pen.