Students often feel a bit baffled when facing an assignment to write a composition. What is a composition, anyway? How is it different from a regular essay? Are there any specific tricks to writing one? All this and more you will find in this guide.
A composition is a blanket term covering all major types of essays. If your instructor assigns you to write a composition, this means that you get a fair amount of freedom, which has both positive and negative implications. On the one hand, you are not as limited as when, for example, you have to write an argumentative essay on a particular broad set of topics. You are free to apply any of the four basic types of essay (argumentative, narrative, expository or descriptive), whichever you feel fits your overall goal best. On the other hand, limitations are often as useful as they are, well, limiting. When an instructor gives you a clearly defined task, you can expect him/her to have thought it through. You will not end up working on an assignment that is well beyond your abilities or just plain impossible to complete in any meaningful way.
When writing on nutrition and dietary studies, you have to pay additional attention to the current state of this discipline, because the consensus on positive and negative effects of different foodstuffs, diets and nutritional approaches seem to change every few years, and it is very easy to start writing based on outdated information.
It may seem like an obvious thing not worth mentioning. However, you will be amazed how many students get points deducted from their results because of mistakes they could have easily avoided if only they had read their prompt instead of jumping straight to writing. Read and reread your prompt several times immediately after you receive it and ask yourself these questions:
If you are unsure about anything, ask your instructor right now. This is why you should not put off reading the prompt until the time you start writing – if you have to clarify anything, you will do it right now and will not discover that you do not understand the task when you have no opportunity to contact the instructor.
Although your instructor has probably delineated the general area your composition should deal with, normally a student has to find, narrow down and develop his/her own topic. Here are a few tips to help you pick a topic that will result in a great composition:
Eventually, you should end up with a topic along these lines:
Before you proceed to look for information and write, determine the direction in which you intend to move. What is the purpose of your essay? What is your main idea? It will define the best approach and the most appropriate mode of writing or a combination thereof.
Eventually, you will boil your idea down to the thesis statement (i.e., a single sentence). Aim at a thesis statement that would be enough to understand the primary point of your composition by itself. The rest of the text is only necessary to provide background, show relevant evidence and persuade the reader in the correctness of your viewpoint.
A thesis statement should be:
Whatever mode of writing you use, you will need reliable sources of information to back your ideas up. The best data comes from highly-quoted peer-reviewed papers – the author’s H-index can help you determine whether he/she is an authority on your chosen subject. Printed publications are also valuable, although you should be wary of potential agendas of their authors and publishers. Online publications are the least trustworthy of all and need extensive verification before use lest you end up with doubtful information. Aim at drawing most of your information from peer-reviewed papers but do not shy away from using other types of sources as well. Just make sure to check their credibility using the CRAAP approach – i.e., checking their currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose.
The introduction is the most important part of your essay, because it should not just lead up to the body of information you intend to present, but also grab the audience’s attention and give them a reason to read on. This is why you should either skip writing it altogether or write a placeholder with an intention to rewrite it from scratch once you finish the rest. When you write the introduction, you should already know how your composition will develop and what conclusions you will come to so that you can anticipate them from the very beginning.
Start with a hook – a sentence that stands out and attracts the reader’s interest. It may be an unexpected statistic, a controversial statement, a rhetorical question or even a situation from your own life that seemingly has nothing to do with the topic.
Provide background information – tell the reader the absolute minimum of what he/she has to know to understand your argument. Finish with the thesis statement.
Transitional phrases are sentences or clauses used to shift from one paragraph, idea, section to another. Transitions range from single words (‘consequently’, ‘therefore’, ‘unlike’ etc.) to combinations of words (‘contrary to our previous results’, ‘unlike the method we discussed before’) or entire sentences. Depending on the size and complexity of your composition, you may need to use an entire transitional paragraph – e.g., if you discuss one diet in-depth and move on to another one that is dramatically different.
Body paragraphs are at least three paragraphs in which you present the supporting arguments in favor of your thesis statement. Usually they are structured as follows:
When you say something that is not common knowledge, you should back it up with relevant and viable evidence. It is especially true when you write on a subject that closely deals with human health and well-being such as nutrition. What evidence you need and what you can use in any specific composition will differ depending on the type of assignment you write and the prompt given by your instructor, but the most common types are;
While the introduction is the first thing the reader sees, which means that it determines how he/she will perceive the rest of the composition, the conclusion is the last thing he/she reads, which will tinge his/her impression of the rest of the text. Make sure you go out with a bang. Usually it is considered bad form to introduce new information at this point, but you may keep a particularly shocking statistic or crushing argument to offer it to the audience as a parting gift.
It is hard to learn how to write well; every good writer has his/her own unique style that makes his/her writing memorable and effective. Good writing is not formulaic – you can learn useful tricks from a skilled writer, but trying to emulate his/her style in its entirety will most likely look stilted. However, you can improve your writing by learning what you should avoid. Reread your composition looking for these:
Many beginner writers believe that using longer words and expressing your thoughts in a complex, elaborate way makes your writing look more scientific and serious. However, the purpose of scientific style is different, and its greatest achievement is to express complex and difficult ideas clearly, concisely and, above all, simply. Go over your composition at least once and:
Editing and proofreading is more than just going over the composition once and seeing if everything is all right. It should be a structured and meticulous affair – only thus will your essay achieve its full potential.
An unfamiliar eye may scope more mistakes and flaws in your composition in one reading than you can in ten. The reason is, you know every word you wrote and subconsciously expect to see what you see. You are too used to the text to see mistakes in it. Ask a friend, a relative or, better yet, a professional proofreader to take a look at your paper and point out potential problems.
Use this guide, and no composition essay will present too daunting a task for you!