Common Words used in the Teaching of Writing

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  • Agency - the author’s sense of being in action or having ownership of a piece of writing
  • Anecdotes - short accounts of an interesting or humorous incident used to add interest or examples to writing
  • Analogies - drawing a comparison in story or example in order to clarify or illuminate a concept from one category by demonstrating that in some way it resembles a concept from a different category
  • Apologia – a kind of argument, a defense one writes to explain and justify actions beliefs or opinions
  • Application – the process by which the knowledge or concepts gained in one situation are used successfully in other situations; clarifying our writing clarifies our thinking thus applying what we have learned
  • Analysis – writing that carefully examines and explores a subject with the objective of generating understanding for the writer and/or the reader
  • Argument - process of promoting an idea or issue around which there is tension or disagreement
  • Arrangement - the order in which details are placed or organized in a piece of writing
  • Assessment - a process of evaluation of writing that takes place according to a certain set of desired outcomes
    • formative assessment involves feedback designed to help the writer improve writing during the writing process
    • summative assessment involves a final judgment about a piece of work, usually a score or grade
  • Audience - the real or imagined readers of the writing; those to whom a writer directs his or her work
  • Author’s note - a document a created by a writer to guide a reader’s response to his/her work; author’s notes typically explain where the piece is in the writing process, what the writer thinks is working well, where the writer feels stuck or needs feedback, and what kind of response the writer hopes to receive


  • Balance - the arrangement of words, phrases, arguments etc. in order for the ideas to be given equal emphasis; a rhythm created by repeating a phrase; contributes to a writer’s style and voice
  • Brainstorming - an activity in which writers list all as many ideas as possible on a given topic


  • Citation - giving credit to a secondary source for thoughts, statistics, illustrations, etc. that a writer includes with in her/his piece
  • Clarity - the extent to which a reader is able to understand an idea expressed by the writer in accordance with the writer’s purpose
  • Clichés - figures of speech which have become predictable, old, tired, used up; they should be avoided “like the plague”
  • Cognition - the process of thinking
    • metacognition refers to thinking about thinking, or writing; it allows a reflection on thinking or writing that an author produces.
  • Coherence - the organization or arrangement of ideas so that the reader can easily follow from one point to the next
  • Collaboration - working with other people during the writing process, whether it is generating ideas, identifying a main idea to pursue, or suggesting possible approaches and ways of organizing; often helpful to discover new perspectives
  • Content - words and ideas included in a work which express the major message of the sentence, paragraph, or entire product
  • Context - conditions around which a writer is writing; context may include time, place, and other circumstances such as the political, social, economic climates, etc.
  • Conventions - qualities of writing/communication agreed upon by a majority of the members of a particular community; conventions may be genre specific--for example, a lab report has different conventions (form, tone, sentence length, word choice, etc.) than does a poem
  • Conference - an individualized conversation between writers, usually a teacher and student; these brief meetings are tailored to deal expressly with the concerns of the writer.


  • Description - detailing or precisely reporting sensory impressions and perceptions or an item, incident, moment, etc.; writing that paints a colorful picture in the reader’s mind
    • Objective description involves as little judgment as possible
    • Subjective description involves whatever personal judgment or experience is appropriate to a writer’s purpose
  • Details - words used to describe, convince, explain or in some way support a central idea; to be effective details should be vivid, colorful and appeal to the senses
  • Dialogue - conversation carried on by the characters in a literary work
  • Draft - an initial product wherein the writer has made steps toward putting words on paper; an initial or “rough” draft may undergo substantial revision, but its purpose is to generate ideas, define a focus and think about an organizational structure


  • Editing - revising a close to final draft for sentence-level errors, spelling, grammar, and typos; not to be confused with revision, which often happens early on and throughout the writing process
  • Energy - degree to which a writer shows her or his enthusiasm for the subject whether by sentence structure, vivid language or other means of expression
  • Exigence/Exigency - that which gives rise to a piece of writing; its reason for being
  • Exposition - writing that explains
  • Explication - writing that explores a subject’s value, impact or significance, its strengths and weaknesses, and its place in the scheme of the subject or area being addressed
  • Evidence - materials offered to support and further a writer’s purpose; types of evidence might include personal experience, factual information, research, etc.


  • Figurative language - language used to create a special effect or feeling; goes beyond the immediate meaning of the words used; writing in which a word or phrase is used to heighten the meaning by using comparative or exaggerated language or means something other than what it first appears to mean
  • Flow - word students often use to describe the organization and progression of a piece of writing; flow should be smooth with logical transitions or worthwhile leaps
  • Fluency - written material which flows in a smooth, effortless, and correct manner to a given or desired outcome in order for the reader to easily follow the writer’s thoughts or arguments
  • Format - a means of providing information in logical systems general established by various disciplines and departments; different disciplines use different formats such as Modern Language Association (MLA), the Council of Biology Editors (CBD) or the American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Freshness - the unique quality of a piece of writing displaying creativity and originality of ideas or presentation
  • Freewriting - an invention strategy where students write for a certain amount of time for the purpose of generating ideas; students may be free to write about whatever they wish, or teachers might provide questions or prompts relating to a current or upcoming writing project
  • Funds of knowledge - life experiences, extensive reading, developed hobbies or any other source of information which allows a writer to pull from a wellspring of information about a given topic


  • Generalities - ideas or statements that emphasize vague or imprecise characteristics rather than the specific details of a subject
  • Gendered language - using nouns or pronouns which limit a subject to a specific gender
  • Genre - the form that writing takes; genre governs and is defined by style, conventions, tone, voice, etc., of a piece of writing; types of genres may include newspaper article, lab report, essay, poem, song lyrics, recipe, poster, etc.
  • Glossing - process by which a reader moves through a piece of writing, paragraph by paragraph, recording what the writer is saying (what information is expressed) and what the writer is doing (what strategies the writer is using to communicate with a reader); glossing can be used as a reading or revision strategy
  • Global revision - a holistic set of changes that significantly alters the scope, form, structure or purpose of a piece of writing
  • Grammar - a set of generally agreed upon rules for language use in a certain community around specific tasks including punctuation, word use, sentence structure, etc.; grammar conventions may differ slightly or significantly according to audience, purpose, and context


  • High-stakes writing - assignments for which professors expect polished academic writing that demonstrates knowledge of the course's subject matter; writing for tasks with momentous consequences whether for publication, passing a class, or other significant reasons


  • Idiom - phrase or expression which means something different from what the words actually say; generally an idiom is usually understandable to particular group of people; e.g. using “over one’s head” for not comprehending
  • Illustration - writing that uses an experience to make a point or clarify an idea
  • Inquiry - process by which students investigate a particular idea, question, or problem; inquiry involves posing questions, suspending judgments, reflecting on initial assumptions, searching for multiple answers, generating more questions
  • Invention - process by which a writer discovers a subject, question or problem that he or she would like to pursue
  • Investment - the amount of time and degree of energy either physically or intellectually a writer contributes to a project
  • Imagery - words or phrases that a writer selects to create a certain picture in the reader’s mind; based on sensory detail and dependent upon freshness of the phrase or word choice
  • Informal writing - -- assignments meant to develop students' understanding and their ability to communicate it; rarely assessed for the conventions of writing these assignments are meant to generate ideas and clarify thoughts


  • Jargon - commonly used language of a group, profession, discipline, or culture that may not be understood or used by other people
  • Journaling - writing to create a record of thoughts and feelings that a writer can return to and perhaps use as the starting place for a finished piece of writing; journal entries are generally freely written, with no concern for punctuation or polished prose, evaluation or ideas or editing
  • Juxtaposition - placing two ideas, words or images side by side so that their closeness creates an original, ironic or insightful meaning.


  • Key words - terms that precisely pertain to the concepts, properties, topics or ideas of a writing piece
  • Knowledge - informed opinions, facts, evidence and reason about a given topic


  • Learning letter - an informal narrative written by a writer describing his or her process of working on a particular writing project or series of projects; a learning letter gives students the opportunity to reflect on and document their process of writing and thinking, as well as name any questions or concerns
  • Literal - actual or dictionary meaning of a word; language which means exactly what it appears to mean
  • Local revision - small-scale revision, often called sentence-level revision, and might include rearranging sentences or words within a sentence; local revision most often takes place at a later stage in the revision process.
  • Logic - the science of correct reasoning; correctly using facts, examples and reasons to support claims in writing
  • Low-stakes writing - writing that is characteristically ungraded and exploratory; generally this material has greater meaning to the writer since s/he is also the intended reader


  • Marginalia - a type of writing often literally written in the margin of a text which defines terms, asks questions or generally dialogues with the text for the reader’s edification
  • Meaningful writing - writing that is significant to the author
  • Mentor - a person such as a peer or instructor a writer seeks out for support, advice and modeling during any phase of the writing process
  • Metaphor - a figure of speech that is implied rather than directly stated; usually reveals a comparison by means of vivid expression


  • Narration - writing that relates an event or a series of events; relaying an account of something; a story
  • Networking - creating and maintaining informational relationships with others whose expertise benefits the writer


  • Objective - the goal, purpose or target for a piece of writing; may be established by the author or created by an outside force such as an instructor, editor or publisher
  • Originality - the quality of newness that exists in a piece of writing; that which has neither been produced before nor derived from any other source


  • Paraphrasing - to restate a phrase by using other words in order to shorten the passage or to make it more comprehensible to the author or reader
  • Passive voice - a grammatical term indicating that a subject has something done to it rather than performing the action itself; often, passive voice is considered weak writing and may, therefore, be undesirable to many readers
  • Peer review - process by which a group of writers reads and responds constructively to each others’ work; processes for peer review vary but often allow time for the writer and reviewers to raise questions and generate discussion about a particular piece of writing; peer review sessions typically aim to support writers in the revision process
  • Personal narrative - a storied piece which relates the parts and core of the piece to a personal experience, observation or idea
  • Plagiarism - using the words or ideas of others without proper acknowledgment or permission
  • Point of view - the vantage point from which a piece of writing is narrated
  • Pre-write - process by which an author or class generates ideas about a topic, questions those ideas and develops lists or other organizational means of understanding the need for the questions
  • Process - the recognition that writing is an on-going series of actions directed toward a specific aim or purpose; the “writing process” consists of pre-writing, drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and proofreading
  • Process approach - encouraging writers to move through a series of actions directed toward a specific aim or purpose thus allowing for correction of errors and allowing time for review and revision
  • Portfolio - a collection of a writer’s work including several drafts of projects as well as artifacts from different stages of the writing process; portfolios are often used as assessments tools that allow teachers to see a writer’s growth and to value different moments in a writer’s process
  • Proofreading - close reading of a text, using symbols of correction, examining it for errors in conventions, mechanics and/or grammar
  • Publishing - the distribution of a piece of writing with the intent that it will be read by people other than the writer; publishing may be as informal as sharing in a small group or as public as submitting a piece to a professional journal or publishing house
  • Purpose - the reason or aim, explicit or implicit, for writing a particular piece; the intended purpose of a piece of writing is often dependent upon the audience and context for writing, and may determine the form or genre chosen


  • Quality - an essential identifying nature or character of a piece or writing that demonstrates the writer’s ability to synthesize the valued elements of the writing process, express knowledge of a subject, and help the reader develop an understanding of the subject
  • Quotations - a piece of speech or writing from another source which is used in a piece of writing to clarify a point, juxtapose ideas, illustrate a concept or intrigue the reader’ adequate citation should always be included with a quotation in order to avoid plagiarism


  • Rambling - writing which is not clearly organized, continues for too long and fails to follow a direct course or reach a goal, target or understanding
  • Reminiscence - recollection of a past experience or event that may serve as an illustration or the basis for a personal narrative or creative non-fiction piece
  • Report - an objective account of an event, situation or episode
  • Response - written commentary from a reader to the author conveying his or her reaction to the author’s writing, questions or needs
  • Review - an examination of a piece of writing to ensure it adequately and accurately meets the targets set by the reviewer or the high-stakes reader
  • Research - a process of inquiring into a topic through various means including exploring what one believes and knows about the topic, seeking out other voices in the conversation, investigating and documenting others’ ideas, considering them in relation to one’s own.
  • Revision - process by which a writer looks again or re-sees ideas presented in an early draft
  • Rhetoric - a way of communicating that encompasses audience, purpose, and context


  • Slang - informal words and expressions formed by a particular group of people as replacements for standard usage
  • Structure - the system within a paper that organizes it by relating details to form a coherent whole
  • Style - the strategies a writer uses in order to create a particular effect; stylistic choices may include form, arrangement of words or images on a page, word choice, grammar, tone, etc.
  • Subjective - points included in a piece of writing that express the author’s attitude, opinions or feelings
  • Subtext - an underlying meaning or message within a text
  • Summary - a shortened version of text relaying the key elements of the piece
  • Supporting details - secondary points which may help to clarify a point, illustrate a concept or prove a point as they serve to scaffold the points which are of primary concern
  • Syntax - the order and relationship between words and other structural elements, such as punctuation, in phrases and sentences; the arrangement these elements, and their re-arrangement, may significantly impact the meaning an author wishes to convey


  • Tense - form of a verb that indicates time; verb tense may fall into categories of present past and future
  • Theme - the central idea in a piece of writing; may also be considered the main idea or subject of discourse or discussion
  • Thesis statement - an explicit statement of the purpose, intent or main idea of a piece of writing
  • Tone - the writer’s attitude toward the subject—e.g., serious, sarcastic, solemn or sorrowful
  • Topic - the specific subject covered in a piece of writing
  • Transitions - words or phrases that link ideas together, show relationships and move one idea smoothly on to the next


  • Understatement - a way of expressing an ideal which is deliberately less forceful or dramatic than a subject would seem to necessitate; an understatement may also underrepresented to underreport an idea or concept because of a lack of knowledge or information
  • Unity - combining sentences, paragraphs, ideas and details to form a coherent piece of writing
  • Usage - the way in which people use language; standard, non-standard, formal and informal are variations on the usage of language; standard usage is generally the acceptable format used in written expression


  • Validity - writing which demonstrates premises from which the conclusions logically follow
  • Venn diagram - connected, overlapping circles which are used to express their relationship by expressing what characteristics are shared and those which are set apart; Venn diagrams are one of a multitude of graphic organizers which can be used for pre-writing exercises
  • Verbs - words which show action, or indicate existence of state of being; sentences crafted from vivid verbs add enthusiasm and interest to a writing piece
  • Vivid language - words selected to appeal to the senses and to help the reader see, feel, smell, taste and hear the subject; energized words incorporated into a piece to move it beyond the ordinary and expected prose of most writers
  • Visual texts - images rather than printed words or texts which convey messages, meaning and ideas
  • Voice - the writer’s persona as portrayed through writing


  • WAC - Writing Across the Curriculum is a philosophy that maintains that writing is a valuable learning tool that can help students to synthesize, analyze, and apply course content; clear writing helps to develop clear thinkers in any curriculum
  • WID - Writing In the Disciplines is the idea of supporting teachers to see themselves as teachers of writing as they incorporate writing into their classes in a meaningful and manageable ways
  • Writing centers - on-campus sites where writers of all levels are supported in a one-to-one program which provides writers with feedback on their work and helps them develop strategies for approaching future writing tasks; teachers who are interested in better supporting their students´ writing may also use the writing center as a valuable resource for instruction
  • Writing process - recursive progression of thinking and writing undertaken by a writer in the development of a particular text; steps in the writing process usually include invention workshops, peer review workshops, and several stages of revision.
  • Wordiness - using an excessive number of words in writing to express what could have been expressed in just a few