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How to Write a Composition Essay in Nutrition an Dietary Studies: A Complete Guide

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diets and nutritional approaches seem to change every few years, and it is very easy to start writing based on outdated information.

STEP 1. PRE-WRITING

  1. Study Your Writing Prompt
  2. Pick a Topic
  3. Determine Your Main Idea and Write the Thesis Statement
  4. Gather Sources

STEP 2. WRITING

  1. Do not Write the Introduction First
  2. Use Transitional Phrases
  3. Write Well-Structured Body Paragraphs
  4. Back up All Your Statements
  5. Write a Strong Conclusion

STEP 3. POST-WRITING

  1. Know What to Avoid
  2. Eliminate Wordiness
  3. Proofread the Composition Several Times
  4. Ask Somebody to Read the Composition

Step 1. Pre-writing

1. Study Your Writing Prompt

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:

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
  • Do I understand what is required of me?
  • Do I understand all the terms?
  • Do I know the limitations of the word count?
  • What is the overall range of topics I can use?
  • Are there any requirements I must keep in mind throughout my writing or remember at specific moments?

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.

2. Pick a Topic

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:

  • Look for a subject matter you enjoy working with. You are going to spend a lot of time looking for sources, reading literature, probably even doing fieldwork on it, so make sure you are at the very least comfortable with the subject;
  • Check if there are enough sources of information on the topic before you finalize it. Otherwise, you may discover once you start doing research that either you cannot find enough viable sources about your subject matter, or that you can find them, but the existing research refutes your thesis;
  • Do a preliminary search. Once you settle down with a more or less definite topic, look for information on it using a basic search engine. Take notice of what types of sources you find. If all you find are web publications without any books or articles in peer-reviewed magazines, better choose another topic;
  • Narrow the topic down. As a composition essay is a relatively short assignment, avoid broad, overly general topics.

Eventually, you should end up with a topic along these lines:

  • The Role of Nutrition in the Development of Obesity: Food vs. Genetic Predisposition;
  • Types of Food Allergies and Approaches to Controlling Them via Proper Nutrition;
  • Relationships between Unbalanced Nutrition and Mental Disorders;
  • The Impact of Water Intake Management on Health;
  • The Role of Proper Nutrition in Rehabilitation of Patients with Cardiovascular Diseases.

3. Determine Your Main Idea and Write the Thesis Statement

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:

  • Short – usually no more than 30 words;
  • Debatable – it should not be self-evident. E.g., ‘Unhealthy diet is a primary cause of obesity’ cannot be a thesis statement, because it expresses the general consensus on the subject and does not need proving;
  • Definite – you should make your thought obvious. If your thesis statement contains ambiguity, it needs more work.

4. Gather Sources

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.

Step 2. Writing

1. Do not Write the Introduction First

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.

2. Use Transitional Phrases

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.

3. Write Well-Structured Body Paragraphs

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:

  • A topic sentence – a sentence that states what the paragraph is about so that the reader can easily navigate your composition essay;
  • Supporting evidence – everything you have to support the point: statistics, logical arguments, quotations from sources, paraphrases etc.;
  • Summary – if a paragraph is long and complex, you may need to summarize and finish it in a single conclusion.

4. Back up All Your Statements

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;\

  • Statistical information;
  • Quotation from a reliable source;
  • Comparison;
  • Examples;
  • Classification.

5. Write a Strong Conclusion

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.

Step 3. Post-Writing

1. Know What to Avoid

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:

  • Nominalization (nouning) means deriving a noun or a noun phrase from another part of speech (e.g., ‘carry out the analysis of the experiment results’ instead of ‘analyze the experiment results’). There is nothing wrong about it per se (it is a mainstay of scientific writing to which nutrition and dietary studies certainly belong), but it is often tempting to start using it to pad out your text and make it look more serious. What you achieve in reality are lifeless, cumbersome and often almost unreadable sentences;
  • Passive voice means a clause in which the subject receives the action of the verb (e.g., ‘an experiment was carried out’). Again, there is no need to replace all passive clauses with active ones, because in some cases it is the best choice. However, passive voice tends to make speech wordy and awkward. Whenever you can replace it without making it difficult to understand you, do it;
  • Informal language. Even if you use a less strict writing mode (e.g., in a narrative composition), you still have to stick to a particular choice of words, grammatical structures and general tone. Do not use idioms, contractions, slang or conversational language.

2. Eliminate Wordiness

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:

  • Root out overly complex sentence structures. If you see a sentence more than 25 words long, try simplifying it or breaking it up into several shorter sentences;
  • Remove superfluous words, clauses and sentences. When you read, ask yourself about every element of your composition, ‘Do I need it to get my point across?’ If something does not have a clearly defined role and does not move your argument forward, remove it and do not look back;
  • Avoid strings of prepositional phrases. They do not just lengthen the text, but also make it hard to follow.

3. Proofread the Composition Several Times

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.

  • Make a list of your most common mistakes and reread the essay several times, concentrating on a single type of mistakes at each go;
  • Do not be afraid to fully rewrite parts of the text if they do not work as intended;
  • Use online grammar checkers but do not rely on them too much – when in doubt, ask somebody with a better knowledge of grammar or consult a textbook.

4. Ask Somebody to Read the Composition

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!