Below are explanations of some of the types of writing that can be taught through the course. The list is by no means complete, but should help students and parents select projects.
Reports and Research Papers
The difference between a report and a research paper is that the purpose of a report is to present a body of information that is readily available, while the purpose of a research paper is to answer a question. Other than that, there is very little difference between the two forms of writing. One might write a report about “dogs,” (a very general topic) but to become a research paper the topic would need to become a question, such as “Why do dogs salivate when they see food?” Because the two forms of writing both involve gathering and presenting information, it should come as no surprise that the two forms of writing are very similar in terms of their tone and structure. Another important distinction between reports and research papers is that reports tend to deal with single subjects while research papers tend to focus on how multiple subjects interact. For example, one might write a report about “moose,” whereas the subject of a research paper might answer the question “What is the effect of acid rain on moose populations in Canada?”
A memoir is a piece of writing that describes an important memory. It also explains what the writer felt as he or she experienced a particular event, as well as what he or she learned from it. Subjects chosen for the topic of a memoir should be a significantly emotional, or even life-altering. Memoirs can be happy or sad, comedic or tragic.
Personal essays are “personal” in that they present the writer’s personal point of view on a given subject. One might write a personal essay about one’s opinion of sibling rivalry, or about what happens to people when they die. Because the point of a personal essay is a personal one, it’s often difficult to disprove. Here are some sample subjects for personal essays.
1. My opinion of winter.
2. My opinion of public school.
3. Why my grandmother is such a wonderful person.
4. Why I think dogs are better than cats.
The purpose of a persuasive essay is to persuade a reader to believe a certain idea. Persuasive essays are usually political or social in nature. Here are some examples.
1. Why the death penalty is a bad idea.
2. Why ________ is an excellent (or not-so-excellent) president.
3. Why it’s better to be a democrat (or a republican).
Each of those three ideas offers an opinion, but the opinion is much more serious than the sort you’d find in a personal essay. After all, political and social issues tend to be more serious than personal ones.
Critical essays are pieces of writing that are written in order to prove a point or claim in regards to a piece of literature. One might write a critical essay, for example, about the relationship between two particular characters in a piece of literature, about how one theme impacts another, or about how the words and actions of certain characters reveal beliefs held by the author.
A short story is a work of fiction. Traditional short stories should be under 50 pages long. Short stories written by students are generally much, much shorter. Many students and parents fall into the trap of thinking that short stories are “easy” forms of writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Writing a successful piece of fiction requires the integration of many complex literary elements: plot, character, theme, setting, tone, conflict, and resolution. Having a creative imagination is not enough to put together a story. Students are often quite comfortable beginning a short story, but run into trouble when they discover the difficulty of resolving the story’s conflict and at the same time creating meaning that resonates with his or her audience.
Adults write business letters all the time. They apply for jobs, write proposals, and correspond with other professionals. Business letters are characterized by a formal tone, and the direct delivery of a specific message or intent.
Magazine and Newspaper Articles
Magazine and newspaper articles can focus on virtually any topic, and can assume many forms. Variations include editorials and news reports.
Although book reviews definitely vary in terms of structure and tone, they have a very specific and definitive intent: to discuss a piece of literature in such a way that a potential reader will be better able to decide whether or not to read the book in question. Because reviewing a book involves discussing a piece of literature, it makes sense that the things discussed in the review will be specific aspects or components of a piece of literature, of which there are primarily seven: characters, climax, conflict, narrator, plot, setting, and tone. More specifically, a book review will discuss how these elements interact with one another without “giving away” the entire story.