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Narrative Essay Checklist

Many students tell us that they don't know what to check for once they have finished their essay. They usually know to check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but other details are often seen as less important because of the high emphasis placed on these problems in their early education.

Writing experts generally agree, however, that while details such as grammar and punctuation are important, they are far less important than solid organization,  fresh writing, and creative content.

The following guidelines are designed to give students a  checklist to use, whether they are revising individually or as part of a peer review team.

Organization

  • Is there a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Does the introduction provide sufficient background for the reader? Are the "who," "where," "why," "what," and "how" questions addressed?
  • Is there a thesis sentence? Is the purpose of the essay clear?
  • Does the essay move from general to specific?
  • Are there sufficient transitions between related ideas?
  • Is the overall organization murky or clean? In other words, does the writer avoid introducing new material in the conclusion or switching subjects in the middle of a paragraph in the body?
  • Does every paragraph address the subject matter of the thesis in some way?

Content and Style

  • Does the essay show that the writer has a knowledge of the audience?
  • Is the length appropriate and adequate?
  • Has the writer used sufficient examples and detail to make his or her points clearly?
  • Has the assignment been addressed?
  • Is the tone of the essay appropriate?
  • Has the writer avoided insulting the reader?
  • Is the tone of the essay professional and appropriate?
  • Is the language convincing, clear, and concise?
  • Has the writer used fresh language and a creative approach?

Research and Sources

  • Are all sources credible?
  • Is the research accurate, unbiased, and complete?
  • Has the writer fully interpreted the findings?
  • Has the writer commented on each source used?
  • Is the analysis based on hard evidence?
  • Is the analysis free of faulty reasoning?
  • Is the documentation in the Works Cited page and body of the essay correct?
  • Have all quotations been checked against the original?
  • Are all quotations introduced? Is the flow of the essay seamless?
  • If material was paraphrased, are the sources still mentioned?
  • If necessary, are limitations clearly spelled out?
  • If included, are recommendations based on accurate interpretations?
  • Have all facts been checked for accuracy?
  • Have any potentially libelous statements been eliminated?

Proofreading

  • Has the writer checked grammar and punctuation?
  • Has the writer spell checked the essay?
  • Has the writer checked for his or her particular pattern of error?
  • Are the page numbers correct?
  • Is the title capitalized correctly?
  • Has the writer used the correct margin and font?

Narrative: The spoken or written account of connected events; a story

Narrative Introductions

The introduction of a narrative essay sets the scene for the story that follows. Interesting introductions—for any kind of writing—engage and draw readers in because they want to know more.

Since narratives tell a story and involve events, the introduction of a narrative quite often starts in the middle of the action in order to bring the reader into the story immediately, as shown in examples 1, 3, and 5 below. Other effective introductions briefly provide background for the point of the story—often the lesson learned—as in 4 below and the first example on the reverse side.

Below are some strategies for writing effective openings. Remember your introduction should be interesting and draw your reader in. It should make your audience want to read more. If it’s a person, begin with a description of the person and then say why that person mattered. If it’s an event, begin with the action or begin by reflecting back on why the event mattered, then go into the narrative.

  1. Dialogue or the middle of the action
    • “Potter...take off!” my coach yelled as I was cracking yet another joke during practice.
  2. Question
    • Why do such a small percentage of high school athletes play Division One sports?
  3. Snapshot
    • It was a cold, rainy night, under the lights on the field. I lined up the ball on the penalty line under the wet grass. After glancing up at the tied score, I stared into the goalkeeper’s eyes.
    • My heart pounds in my chest. My stomach full of nervous butterflies. I hear the crowd talking and names being cheered.
  4. Flashback or reflection
    • Slipping the red and white uniform over my head for the first time is a feeling I will never forget.
    • “No football.” Those words rang in my head for hours as I thought about what a stupid decision I had made three nights before.
  5. Sound effect
    • “SNAP!” I heard the startling sound of my left knee before I ever felt the pain.
  6. Fact or startling information
    • According to the NCAA, there are over 400,000 student-athletes in the United States.

Narrative Story

  • Know your Reader’s Expectations: Your story should be...
    • Unified: Ensure all actions in your story develop a central idea or argument.
    • Interesting: Draw your readers into your scene(s), making them feel as if they’re experiencing them first-hand.
    • Coherent: Indicate changes in time, location, and characters clearly (even if your story is not chronological).
    • Climactic: Include a moment (the climax) when your ending is revealed or the importance of events is made clear.
  • Remember the 5 W’s: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • Write vividly: Include significantsensory information in the scene (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) to make readers feel they are there
  • Develop “Thick Descriptions

Clifford Geertz describes thick descriptions as accounts that include not only facts but also commentary and interpretation. The goal is to vividly describe an action or scene, often through the use of metaphors, analogies, and other forms of interpretation that can emote strong feelings and images in your readers’ minds.

Example

“The flatness of the Delta made the shack, the quarters, and the railroad tracks nearby seem like some tabletop model train set. Like many Mississippi shacks, this one looked as if no one had lived there since the birth of the blues. Four sunflowers leaned alongside a sagging porch. When the front door creaked open, cockroaches bigger than pecans scurried for cover [...] walls wept with mildew.”

—from Bruce Watson’s Freedom Summer

Narrative Checklist

  1. Does the story have a clear and unifying idea? If not, what could that idea be?
  2. If the story doesn’t include a thesis sentence, is the unifying idea of the story clear without it?
  3. Is the story unified, with all the details contributing to the central idea?
  4. Is the story arranged chronologically? If not, is the organization of ideas and events still effective and clear?
  5. Do the transitions show the movement from idea to idea and scene to scene?
  6. Are there enough details?
  7. Is there dialogue at important moments?
  8. Is there a climax to the story—moment at which the action is resolved or a key idea is revealed?


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