Prepared in part by John Troynaski of Queens College 's Writing Center and in part by Mikhail Gersovich of Baruch College 's Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute

I. Organization, Structure, and Coherence

It is important that your essay hold together and have a structure that makes it easy for the reader to follow your ideas. Your essay needs to have :

Plan your essay before you start writing. Begin by preparing the middle section of your essay (the body) first .

Now you need to prepare a beginning (introduction) for your essay .

Briefly note what you might say to conclude your essay. Try not simply to say again what you have already said in your essay .

Remember, the above suggestions present only one, very “linear” way to prepare to respond to a CPE writing assignment. There are others. For instance, in the body of your response, once you summarize what you are asked to from the long reading, you can mix together in a less-structured fashion points from the middle section that you outlined above. However, this “looser” method is recommended for more experienced and successful essay writers.



Your essay is made of paragraphs. To have a well-structured essay, you need paragraphs that are themselves well-structured.



It is a good idea, as you move to a new idea from another, to indicate that shift with some sort of transitional word or phrase. There are many of these, but the most common ones and the sort of relationships they signal are:


II. Summarizing

One of the most important parts of your essay is your summary of the long reading. This is where you illustrate that you understand the author's ideas by briefly restating them in your own words.

Example—Original Source:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

--Henry David Thoreau, Walden



Thoreau went to live in the woods so that he could find the essential truth of life—whether it was terrible or wonderful—so that he could live fully and not regret how he lived when it is time for him to die.


III. Referencing Texts—Paraphrasing and Quoting

You can also refer to the texts when you discuss them by paraphrasing or quoting from them. But it's important to remember that you need to clearly separate your ideas from other authors, so be sure you mention the author's name each time you introduce a summary, paraphrase, or quote.

Paraphrasing is expressing someone's ideas, sentence by sentence, in your own words. You have to be careful; you cannot use the same sentence structure and merely substitute your words for the author's.

Example—Original Source

Let's take part of the passage used above:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”

--Henry David Thoreau

Unacceptable Borrowing of Structure : The basic structure of the sentence is the same as the author's, but the writer has replaced some of the words.

Thoreau went to live in the woods because he wished to live thoughtfully, to confront only the basic parts of life.

Unacceptable Borrowing of Words/Phrases : Words and phrases are copied from the author's sentence without quotation marks.

Thoreau isolated himself in the woods so that he could live deliberately and only deal with the essential facts of life.

Acceptable Paraphrase:

By living in the woods, Thoreau hoped to learn about life's basics.

Quoting from your sources is a good way to support the argument you're trying to make. However, when you quote, make sure you put the quoted matter between quotation marks, and that you copy the passage exactly.


Many American writers have extolled the virtues of the simple life. One of the first of these was Thoreau, who wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”

Thoreau acknowledged the need to focus on the important things in life when he spoke about trying to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life” in Walden .

Some things you should keep in mind as you quote:


IV. Proofreading

It's a good idea to budget your time during the writing so that you have some time left over at the end to proofread what you've written. After all, you'll be under a great deal of stress and you can't be sure that your hand wrote what your mind thought unless you take some time to actually read what you've written. You can also use this opportunity to catch any mistakes you might have made.

While rereading what you've written for its sense, you might also check to make sure you've avoided the most common errors of grammar and punctuation: sentence fragments and run-ons, comma-splices, subject-verb agreement errors, verb form errors, verb tense mistakes, pronoun problems (pronouns with no antecedents or pronoun-antecedent agreement errors), incorrect noun plural forms, and word form errors. If you are not sure of what these are, any writing handbook will refresh your memory, or you can review these problem areas by accessing the CUNY Writesite online by going to http://www.writesite.cuny.edu

Don't worry too much about these surface problems; what's most important is that the reader understands what you're saying.