By Alex Capria

Speeches aren’t so different from other forms of writing. Speeches require a clear and logical line of thinking that acknowledges and connects with the audience. This document will give you the tools to write an effective and engaging speech while hopefully reducing the pre-speech jitters.

Planning Your Speech

Before you begin writing your speech, think about the audience that you are engaging with.

  • Who are they?
  • What do you think they will find interesting?
  • Why should they listen to you?
  • And how will you keep them immersed?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with your speech?
  • What do you want them to do?

Once you answer these questions, you can begin organizing your speech in a way that will appeal to your specific audience.

Consider the organization of a speech in similar ways to the organization of any piece of writing. Using your central purpose as guidance, you can begin to construct the outline of your speech.

Rhetorical Appeals

Sometimes, it helps to consider what rhetorical appeals might fit your audience and purpose. These appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) can help you convince, motivate, and/or captivate your audience.

  • Ethos establishes the character of the speaker. Everything you say gives the audience a sense of your character, your persona, and they decide how to react based on that. Are you going for highly credible? Formal? Serious? Then you might want to lean on formal language and stay away from profanity and slang. Are you going for informal? Cool? Down with the kids? Then you might want to use more slang or humor.
  • Pathos is an appeal to emotion. This is often done through anecdotes, vivid descriptions, or references to things your audience might have an emotional attachment to. Pathos is used to help the audience connect emotionally.
  • Logos is an appeal to logic. It is a speaker asking the audience to follow and trust a particular logic. Often, people think of facts, data, and evidence as key elements of a speech’s logos.

Performance and Tone

While giving a speech, you are essentially performing for the audience. So, it’s important to strike the right tone.

Your tone is a marker for how your audience should react. If you’re confident in your comedic skills and the subject is relatively light, try sprinkling in a few amusing bits or anecdotes. (But only if you are confident in your humor. We’ve all been in the crowd when the presenter makes a joke, and no one laughs; it’s not good.)

If the subject is more serious, the tone may need to be more somber or subdued so no jokes and language that reflects the seriousness of the subject.

Tips and Strategies

  • Have a strong “hook”
    • A “hook” is the thing that draws the audience in and shows them why they should listen to you. It can be dramatic or stark or funny or odd or many other things, as long as it draws them in and fits with your purpose.
  • Repetition
    • Because speeches aren’t necessarily recorded people can’t go back and hear what you said. So, if you want them to remember something in particular, it can help to repeat it. Think of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, perhaps the most famous in American history. We remember the line “I have a dream” because he repeated it over and over and over again.
  • So what?
    • Let your audience know why what you say matters.


Writing Theses and Claims

Virtually all genres of academic writing rely to some degree on claims as the engine of arguments, whether as the main point of arguments (the central claim or thesis) or as supporting points (subclaims).

For this reason, writing effective claims is vital to success in academic writing. But what is a claim? How do you distinguish it from other statements. To understand claims, it can be helpful to distinguish them from facts and opinions, as follows.

What is a claim?

  • Fact – information that is held to be true by reasonable people
  • Opinion – a wholly or near-wholly subjective perspective
    • Example: Vanilla ice cream is the best flavor of ice cream. (This is an opinion because it isn’t arguable. It’s based solely in someone’s subjectivity, their preferences.)
  • Claim – a perspective that can and should be be supported with evidence
    • Example: The ubiquity of vanilla ice cream disconnects consumers from the complex and unethical agriculture practices that create it. (This is a claim because it can be argued with, and it can be supported with evidence)

Dispelling some myths about claims

Sometimes, people are given a set of rules about claims that don’t apply in all contexts. Here are some common beliefs about claims that aren’t necessarily true or are perhaps only true in some circumstances.

  • Central claims (theses) should always appear at the end of the first paragraph.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. This may have been true in high school writing contexts, but in college and beyond different audiences have different expectations for where central claims will be located. Sometimes it’s after a few paragraphs. Sometimes it’s in the middle. Sometimes it’s at the end. At the college level, it’s time to start thinking more rhetorically (meaning thinking about audience expectations and impact) about where the central claim should go.
  • There is a formula for writing central claims
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. You can use a formula, but you don’t have to. And the formula’s you’ve learned previously may only be useful in the specific context you in which you learned them.
  • There is one way to write a central claim.
    • NOT TRUE AT ALL. Central claims differ depending on the genre in which you’re writing. They look different in different disciplines (history, english, psychology, biology), and they look different in genres outside of academia, as well.
  • Central Claims should be one sentence long.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Again, they might be, but as writing becomes more sophisticated and topics more complex, it’s likely that you’ll come up with central or supporting claims that are more than one sentence long. That’s fine, potentially good even.

Two Types of claims

  • Normative – claims made about how something SHOULD BE
    • Example: The University of Virginia should change its admissions practices in an effort to admit more low-income students.
  • Descriptive – claims made about how something IS
    • Example: The University of Virginia’s admissions practices create systemic hurdles to the admission of low-income students.

Two ways of doing claims

  • Explicit – a claim that is clearly stated
  • Implicit – a claim that is implied

Good claims have 3 features

  • Focused – typically, the most specific a claim is the better
  • Arguable – someone could reasonably argue against it
  • Revelatory – reveals something new
    • BAD Example: Colleges and universities should do more to support low-income and first-generation college students.
      • This example is bad because it’s not focused enough. It’s technically a claim, but it’s too broad and not revelatory.
    • Good Example: Colleges and universities should create detailed programs with dedicated faculty and staff to support low-income and first generation students. These programs should be designed and assessed as part of the larger body of research available on support for these students.
      • This claim is better because it’s more focused and as a result more arguable and revelatory.


Quoting and Paraphrasing

By Fain Ropelle

Quoting and Paraphrasing

When you quote something, you’re saying that the words you’ve quoted are exactly as they appear in the thing you’re quoting. 

The opening of Romeo and Juliet tells us that the Montagues and Capulets are “two households, both alike in dignity” (Prologue.2). 

When you paraphrase something, you’re putting the idea in your own words. (Of course, you must still be accurate to the idea you’re taking from the source.)

The opening of Romeo and Juliet tells us that the Montagues and Capulets are essentially equal in terms of social status and reputation (Prologue). 

How can quoting and paraphrasing be helpful? 

  • Makes your paper actually participate in a conversation
  • Shows you’ve done your research, which lends credibility to your argument
  • Helps you avoid plagiarism
  • Helps focus your own ideas by giving you something to bounce them off of
  • Helps show which ideas aren’t yours, which is useful for setting up arguments that you plan to argue against or qualify in some way (I.e., “They say _____, but I say _____.”)

When can quoting be helpful?

  • If the language the sources uses is important. (This is common in literature essays.)
  • If the source has a good, clear way of saying something, and it’d be simpler just to use their words than to try and paraphrase it.

When can paraphrasing be helpful?

  • If the idea is the important thing, and the language does not really matter

    • For example, lab reports do not usually quote previous studies. Rather, they paraphrase them, because what is important is what the studies discovered, not how they phrased those discoveries.
  • If you are summarizing a point that the source makes implicitly, but never comes right out and says
  • If it is the major point of a piece, but the way the author phrases their thesis does not neatly fit into your own sentence structure

Some general advice when quoting and/or paraphrasing

  • Read the context around the part you are quoting or paraphrasing to make sure it’s actually what the author is saying. You don’t want to say “Kayla says ____,” when what Kayla was actually saying was “Fred says ____, but that’s wrong.”
  • When paraphrasing, be sure to tell your reader clearly where the source’s ideas end and yours begin. This can often be quite simple: “The author says X. However, ______.” But you will need to be very clear, because you will not have quotation marks to be clear for you.

Incorporating Sources

5 Things to know about incorporating sources

1. It’s a conversation

  • You in conversation with your sources
  • Your sources in conversation with each other

2. Use a source when you want to …

  • Use its insights to build or support your point(s)

EX: Jennifer Denison points out that in 2019 90 percent of news media outlets are funded through subscription models with 60 percent of revenue coming from digital subscriptions.[1] (supporting the point that the financial models for news outlets has changed in the last 10 years)

  • Speak back to or disagree with a source

EX: While Denison believes the prevalence of subscription models indicates their suitability for online media platforms, a deeper dive into the data suggests just the opposite.

  • Create context for your point/topic

EX: Researchers like Denison and JaMarcus Rosen argue that news media companies hold three obligations that are often in contrast with each other: to remain profitable, to remain truthful, and to provide civically relevant information to citizens.

3. Ways to incorporate sources

  • Summarize

Sum up something large (a whole book, chapter, or article) in roughly 1-3 sentences.

EX: As Ella Reaves Vaughan makes clear in her book For Love of the Fame, being paid as a scholastic athlete robs someone of the love of the game.

  • Paraphrase

Sum up one idea from a particular place in a source without using the same words. Keep the idea, but put it in your own words.

EX: Gavin Tygh argues that academic departments within the university would be hurt financially by paying student athletes.

  • Quote

Take language directly from a source. Do this when the language from the source is particularly profound, interesting, or thought provoking. DON’T QUOTE SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S EASY.

4. Using Signal Phrases

Signal phrases are phrases that show the audience you are incorporating a source.

EX: According to research from the NCAA, …

EX: As Regina Marcy argues, …


Citation and its Uses

by Fain Riopelle

Tracking a conversation

The main purpose of citations is to show readers what the conversation you’re taking part in looks like. In other words, it helps the reader track the progress of the conversation. For example, if a writer wants to contribute new information on methods of teaching history, they will help the audience understand where that conversation currently is by integrating secondary sources to track it and citing those sources.


How do you figure out how a source fits into an ongoing conversation?

If you’re reading something, the writer should tell you. Pay attention to how writers talk about their sources. For example, here’s an excerpt from an open letter by Geoffrey Chase, a composition director at Northern Arizona University:

In a recent article on liberal education, William Cronon writes, “More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways” (78). Paraphrasing Cronon, I would like to suggest that being a teacher means being able to make sense of the academic community and act within it in creative, productive ways. (Chase 16)

In other words, what Chase is saying here is essentially, “Hey, Cronon says this thing about what it means to be an educated person. I think he’s right, and here’s how I think it applies to teachers, in particular.”

Compare that with this little imaginary conversation:

Tim: What should we do, tonight?

Fred: Well, Carol said yesterday that she wanted to go see that new movie downtown. Seems like a good idea to me.

This conversation might not be about something academic, but what Fred is doing here is fundamentally the same thing as what Geoffrey Chase is doing with William Cronon’s article. Each of them is just saying, “This other person said something earlier, and I want to respond to what they said in some way.”


Various citation styles

Citation also allows a writer to give credit where it’s due. Try to be as thorough as possible when listing your citations so as to avoid the appearance that you are taking someone else’s ideas and trying to pass them off as your own. Although different citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) have small differences that emphasize different aspects of a work, you can generally expect that a citation will need the following things, if you can find them:

  • Author
  • Title of work
  • Title of publication
  • Date of publication
  • Volume and issue number
  • Place of publication OR Name of publishing house

Works Cited

Chase, Geoffrey. “Composition, Community, and Curriculum: A Letter to New Composition Teachers.” In Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition, eds. Duane Roan et al., National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, pp 11-17.

Reverse Outlining (an Organization Strategy)

by Fain Riopelle


You may already know about the useful aspects of outlining. It allows writers to organize thoughts and ideas before drafting to get a broader perspective on how best to meet the purpose of the piece. Outlining is a useful strategy to make drafting more efficient and effective. If you have a plan, it’s a lot harder to steer off course.

That said, sometimes, we steer off course anyway. That’s where reverse outlining comes in. If outlining is mapping out what you’re going to write, then reverse outlining is mapping out what you’ve already written. It’s a way of making sure you’re staying on topic and your ideas are in the most effective order.

Why reverse outline? Haven’t I suffered enough while writing?

If outlining helps you plan out your first draft, reverse outlining can help plan out your revisions. It can sound a bit tedious, but it can help clarify your thoughts and get you back on track.

It can also be a bit tricky to figure out what you’ve actually written, as opposed to what you thought you were going to write when you started. It might help to let it sit for a day or so–or an hour, depending on your time frame.

How does it work?

Simple, you start by determining the purpose of each paragraph. What is the point of this paragraph? What’s it supposed to be about? You write what each paragraph is about in the margins of the paper.

Then, you can do two things: 1) See if the ideas of the paper are in the order you want them in. 2) See if each sentence of your paragraphs relates to the topic of that paragraph.

If you’re unsure what a paragraph is supposed to be about, that should be a red flag that the paragraph has no point or that it has more than one. Either way, you’re learning something that should help you during the revision process.

Additional Resources

General Grammar

Verb Tenses, Aspects, and Moods


Count/Noncount Nouns

Collective Nouns

Collocations (Words that are commonly found together)

Transition Words and Phrases



Citations and Style Guides

Writing Center Resources

Exam Essays: Some Helpful Tips and Strategies

Before the Exam: Preparing

  • If you have the essay questions before the exam, try practicing them. If you have time, write a practice draft. If you have less time to study, you can outline. Remember, any thinking you do beforehand is less thinking you will have to do during the exam.
  • If you do NOT have the questions ahead of time, try studying the major concepts of the course. The better you know the information the exam will cover, the easier it will be to use that information to answer whatever essay questions come up. It can be helpful to try to anticipate what questions the professor will ask if you know the professor quite well, but it can also be jarring to see an unexpected question on the exam.
  • Talk out difficult concepts with others. Never underestimate the power of talking out your ideas, even in casual conversation. It can be very helpful not only for understanding what you are actually trying to say, but also for figuring out how to say it clearly. Classmates, professors, or friends at lunch can be good sounding boards if you are trying to figure out something confusing from class.

During the Exam: Planning and Writing

  • In general, plan your ideas and structure before you begin writing. Do not be afraid to spend the first few minutes of your time outlining. Unlike with take-home essays, you may not have much opportunity (or energy) to go back and revise, so it can be useful to set out a clear blueprint for yourself from the start.
  • Try to focus on the ideas, and do not get bogged down worrying about your sentences. You probably will not have time to make every sentence perfect. Your professor knows this. As long as your language is clear enough to get your point across, it is usually better to leave sentence-level editing until after you have settled the big picture issues (ideas, argument, structure, evidence, etc.).

A Few Final Tips:

  • If you have multiple essays, budget your time carefully.
  • Read the question carefully. What is it actually asking you? Answer it directly.
  • DON’T PANIC. You studied, and you are capable of using words to answer questions.

How to close read

Many college professors will ask students to perform a “close reading” of a text—often a literary text, like a poem or short story, but sometimes a visual text or nonfiction text. Close reading means paying careful attention to the particular features of a text. It’s like inspecting a specimen under a microscope; close readers “zoom in” to look at rhetorical features, structural elements, and cultural or intertextual references. But they also “zoom out,” because those details (in a single passage, phrase, or word) gain a fuller meaning when viewed within the broader context of the whole work. A good close reading may lead to a written analysis that seems much longer than the original text—and it should, because close reading is like expanding the condensed meaning found in a particular text.

To begin close reading, read with a pencil in hand. Underline, circle, and highlight what seems most important, surprising, or new. Make notes in the margins: does this word or phrase echo another part of the text? Does it contradict an earlier or later statement? Do you see any patterns in vocabulary or images? Look for multiple meanings, ambiguities, and a lack of certainty, in longer stretches of text as well as in individual words.

In literature, novelists and poets will play with words deliberately, often using multiple meanings. Nonfiction texts, such as government reports and statistical data, may use ambiguous terms as well, sometimes to generalize from broad categories, sometimes even to obscure information. When encountering ambiguity, you cannot (and should not) always determine the motive of a text’s creator, but you can describe the effect of the ambiguity: what does it imply? what questions does it answer? what new questions does it raise? In what follows, we will model how to closely read three different kinds of text:

Close Reading a Nonfiction Text

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

(“The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln)

Whenever you encounter a text, ask yourself who the speaker is, what techniques they use, and what effect they cause. In a nonfiction text, the writer will likely inform (as in memoirs or newspaper articles), persuade (as in op-ed essays), or some combination of  these. In the text above, we find a speech written by a president. What do Lincoln’s goals appear to be? Whom does he address? Note when he shifts from describing (“we are engaged,” “We have come”), to affirming (“It is altogether fitting”), to rebutting (“we cannot dedicate”), to coaxing (“It is for usto be dedicated”). Pay  attention to the writer or speaker’s vocabulary and how their choice of words relates to readers.

  •  The context of this speech–delivered by a president,on a battlefield during a deeply conflicted and destructive war–demands a lofty tone. Note the first words, “Fourscore and seven years ago”; why did Lincoln not write “87 years ago”? What is the impact of this decision on the tone of the speech?
  • Look for patterns in the writer’s vocabulary and the imagery they evoke. In the speech, note the similarity of words like “dedicate,” “consecrate,” “hallow,” “nobly,” “honored,” and “devotion,” clustered in the middle of the paragraph. These  words create a  sense of heightened, stately, even spiritual feeling.
  • Lincoln concludes his speech this way: “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Repetition can be a powerful rhetorical device, a method to drive a point home and to cause hearers or readers to remember the message and words of a text. (This technical is technically called epistrophe.)
  • A broader sense of repetition may also create coherence in the structure of the text. Note the understated birth imagery at the beginning of the speech, in the words “brought forth” and “conceived.” At the conclusion, Lincoln brings that faint image to the foreground, as he describes “a new birth of freedom.” Might the imagery of birth at the beginning and end of the speech relate to the imagery of death and life throughout the text?

Close Reading a Fictional Text

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”— was that it? —“I prefer men to cauliflowers”— was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace — Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished — how strange it was! — a few sayings like this about cabbages.

(Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf)

In literature, the genre and time period of a text is always important to consider. Is the text a novel, a short story, a poem? Is it Romantic, Southern Gothic, etc.? Recognizing this background information (which your professor can help you identify) will shape your expectations of the text and make you a more informed reader. The quotation above comes from the opening of an English Modernist novel, published between the World Wars. That context helps us to think about what to look for when close reading.

As when reading nonfiction, consider who is speaking and why. In fiction and poetry, however, be careful to distinguish between (a) the characters, (b) the narrator or speaker, and (c) the writer who produced the text. These three may be quite distinct. In Woolf’s excerpt, for example, the narrator seems to move in and out of various characters’ heads and even speaks in their voices: “What a lark! What a plunge!” seems to be spoken by the narrator, but is is likely the words of Mrs. Dalloway in the narrator’s voice. (This technique is called free indirect discourse.)


Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

(1263, Emily Dickinson)

Because she inverts the usual order of words in her sentences, many readers find Dickinson’s poetry difficult to understand. If we carefully attend to the details of  how the words and lines work together, then her writing becomes clearer.

  • Pay attention to irregularities. In the poem, notice the strange capitalization of certain nouns, like “Circuit” and “Delight.” “Truth” is also capitalized twice, but its first appearance in the text is not capitalized. What might we make of those elements? Could they be read as proper nouns? As names, might they refer to people or places in the poet’s life, in history, or in another text (like Greek myth, classic literature, or the Bible)?
  • If you can’t follow a sentence, ask yourself why. Look for the specific phrases or words that confuse you. Perhaps the structure of the sentence or line is too different from typical English. In that case, rearrange the sentence in your own words. For example, “As Lightning to the Children eased / With explanation kind” may sound muddled at first. But if we reorder the words, it becomes clearer: “As Lightning [is] eased to the Children With [a] kind explanation, …” Of course, even when the words follow a normal order, the poem may remain obscure — how, after all, can one ease lightning to children? The uncertainty that persists is where you can begin interpreting. Is this passage a direct metaphor, an imaginative description, or something else?