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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Writing CCRA.W.2

2. Text Types and Purposes: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

If you’ve ever conducted a training session for your grandmother on “How to Send an Email” (bonus points if you’ve tried to walk her through adding an attachment!), then you know just how important it is to be clear when giving someone complex information. Some people are able to get Grandma online and forwarding pictures of kittens stuck in trees in a jiffy. For the rest of us, it’s important to learn the steps of informative writing.

Informative or explanatory text is writing that tries to communicate some kind of factual material to the reader. The articles you read in many magazines are informative or explanatory. For example, the latest issue of your favorite magazine might have an article that explains the history of zombies or another piece telling you how to improve your chances of becoming a contestant on a reality show. (Just what kind of magazines are you reading?) After you read these (or any informative text), your reaction will probably be: “You learn something new every day!”

To write your own informative text, you’ll need to pick a complex idea to examine. (So that means “Gum-Chewing: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners” is not a reasonable topic.) While the informative texts assigned by teachers are often how-to style (e.g., “How To Make French Toast”), you might also be required to explain the background of something (e.g., “The Torrid History of French Toast”). Sometimes teachers will even give you a quotation and ask you to explain what you think it means (e.g., Stephen Wright said, “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” Write an essay about what this quotation means to you.).

So you’ve got your topic; now what? You’ll need to use evidence in a clear way to make sure your reader knows more about French toast than he or she ever dreamed possible. What kind of evidence? In an informative essay, anything that is accurate and relevant will fit. A quotation from an expert? Check. A definition? Check. A relevant fact? Check. A concrete detail (like a statistic of French Toast consumption, for example)? Check. A chart or table (like an examination of French Toast consumption by geographical region, for example)? Check. Any facts that will help you to unlock the mysteries of French toast for your reader is considered fair game.

Selecting your evidence is only the first step. Next you will need to organize this evidence so that it makes the most sense. For example, giving the history of French toast would seem a little confusing if you discuss current consumption before you talk about how the tasty breakfast treat was invented. Finally, you will have to analyze the evidence for your reader -- facts and numbers do not speak for themselves! You have to explain why they are important and how they fit into your discussion of French toast as a whole.

Finally, you will have to write this essay in a formal and objective way. Formal writing means that you do not write in the same way that you talk, yo. Your reader won’t take you seriously if your essay sounds like you’re having a conversation. As for writing objectively, that means writing so it doesn’t sound like you have a bias. If you are the heir to the Eggo Waffle Company and hate French toast with the burning passion of a thousand suns, you cannot write your French toast essay so that your reader can tell that you hate it. You must examine all the facts without passion, and be fair in your analysis.

Example 1

1. The following article was recently featured in Reality Television Quarterly:

How To Get on a Reality Show

If you’re a huge fan of reality shows and never miss a weight loss/survival/boardroom/singing/modeling contest, then you’ve probably thought about becoming a contestant at some point. You know you would make for some fantastic television. The problem is: How can you prove to the producers that you are the perfect candidate for the next reality show? There are a few things that you can do to improve your chances of being picked. Follow these pointers, and your friends might end up saying that they knew you way back when.

To better your chances, you will also want to do as much homework as possible about the show. Even if it’s a long running show that you have been a fan of from the beginning, that doesn’t mean you know all the necessary details to become a contestant. Most shows have a website where you can learn more about the application process, about how contestants are chosen, and about who watches the show. All of these are important pieces of information for you to improve your application.

Each reality show has its own application process, and it’s important to follow that process exactly as directed. Anyone who has ever gone through job applications or writing submissions will tell you that it’s almost a relief to find someone who didn’t follow directions. That makes it easy to throw out the application or submission. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not being careful with what the producers want.

Most shows will require some sort of audition tape or live audition. For reality shows other than talent competitions (like American Idol), this audition is the most important part of convincing the producers that you will be the most entertaining cast member of the season. It might be tempting to act like a popular (or hated!) contestant in a previous season of the show, but remember that producers want to see your real personality and don’t want a repeat of someone else. Even if you were able to convincingly act like someone else for an audition, would you be able to (or even want to) keep up that fake personality for the run of the show? It’s easier to be yourself, and it’s more likely to get you the coveted spot on the show. (But it couldn’t hurt to present the most outrageous version of yourself. It is television, after all.)

Finally, to increase you chances of being picked, don’t give up! You might have your heart set on starring in a particular show, but each show receives hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. So get your application out to many shows, and that increases the odds that you’ll be right for one of them.

Good luck, and happy hair pulling!

Let’s look at a breakdown of the various components of the article:

1. Topic of the informative essay: How to become a reality show contestant.
2. There is complex information: Several things you can do to improve your chances of starring in the next season.
3. There are several pieces of evidence given: Learning about the show, following the application’s directions, nailing the audition, and applying to several shows. The author’s selection of these tips shows an understanding of what is most important in the process of applying.
4. The evidence is presented in a logical order that makes it easy to understand: Learn more about the show, correctly fill out the application, be yourself in the audition, and apply elsewhere. It’s organized in a way that makes sense to the reader and will help the reader be able to follow the advice.
5. Each fact is analyzed: The author makes sure the reader understands what each fact means.

Example 2

2. The following article recently appeared in The Zombie Reader:

The History of Zombies

With zombies cropping up everywhere from commercials to classic literature, it’s natural to wonder where the shuffling and brain-eating undead came from. Unlike vampires and werewolves, who are their horror film companions, the modern idea of zombies originated in West Africa and the New World, rather than in European legends. (Which makes it that much weirder that they have found their way into modern versions of Jane Austen’s novels.) Zombie experts trace the first instances of reanimated corpses back to the practice of Voodoo.

Many people do not know that Voodoo actually originated in Africa and not Haiti, the place most associated with the practice. In West Africa, the sorcery called Vodun had a practice where a bokor, or sorcerer, would revive a dead person. The newly living corpse would then be under the power of the bokor.

Slaves transported to Haiti from West Africa brought their beliefs in Voodoo with them. In the warm climate of the island nation, the belief in Voodoo and zombies grew, to the point where there are several instances of non-Haitians seeing and reporting on actual zombies. The word zombie came into general usage after William B. Seabrook published his novel The Magic Island in 1929, which describes an encounter with a zombie.

Haitian zombies, like their West African counterparts, had been revived after death. There are even accounts of how some zombies in Haiti were able to have a normal life, marriage and children after “death.” This was the understanding of zombies in popular culture for many years.

In 1968, George Romero changed the view of zombies forever with his classic film Night of the Living Dead. It was this film that introduced the idea of zombies wanting to eat people, as well as the common zombie characteristics of being slow moving, only vulnerable to head trauma, and able to infect others by biting them. It’s because of this movie, which never once uses the word zombie, that the gross flesh-eaters everyone knows and loves are so prevalent today.

Since 1968, zombies have been very popular, from a bounty of movies to Michael Jackson’s famous “Thriller” video to books about how to survive a zombie apocalypse and even TV shows like The Walking Dead. All of this exposure hasn’t changed the zombie much. He or she is still undead, incapable of human emotions and thoughts, and terrifying!

Questions about “The History of Zombies”:

1.What is the topic of the explanatory text?

2. What ideas or information does the author present about the topic?

3. What evidence does the author provide?

4. How is the evidence organized?

5. How does the author show that the evidence is important?

Answers:

1. The topic is the history of zombies.

2. The author presents the information that the concept of zombies originated in West Africa and traveled to Haiti with slaves who practiced Voodoo. She presents the idea that zombies are reanimated dead people. She presents the information that the film Night of the Living Dead introduced common zombie characteristics into popular culture.

3. The author gives evidence in the form of information about West African and Haitian Voodoo, the novel The Magic Island by William B. Seabrook, and the film Night of the Living Dead.

4. The author organizes the evidence chronologically.

5. The author explains the background behind Voodoo zombies to show how the basic characteristics of zombies have been around from the beginning of their legend. She explains how the word “zombie” became common by talking about Seabrook’s book. She explains how George Romero’s movie gave popular culture more common characteristics of zombies.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. First, read the essay “The Charm of Golf” by A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame), which was published in 1920 in Punch magazine. Then, answer the questions that follow:

    THE CHARM OF GOLF

    When he reads of the notable doings of famous golfers, the eighteen-handicap man has no envy in his heart. For by this time he has discovered the great secret of golf. Before he began to play he wondered wherein lay the fascination of it; now he knows. Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.

    Consider what it is to be bad at cricket. You have bought a new bat, perfect in balance; a new pair of pads, white as driven snow; gloves of the very latest design. Do they let you use them? No. After one ball, in the negotiation of which neither your bat, nor your pads, nor your gloves came into play, they send you back into the pavilion to spend the rest of the afternoon listening to fatuous stories of some old gentleman who knew Fuller Pilch. And when your side takes the field, where are you? Probably at long leg both ends, exposed to the public gaze as the worst fieldsman in London. How devastating are your emotions. Remorse, anger, mortification, fill your heart; above all, envy—envy of the lucky immortals who disport themselves on the green level of Lord’s.

    Consider what it is to be bad at lawn tennis. True, you are allowed to hold on to your new racket all through the game, but how often are you allowed to employ it usefully? How often does your partner cry “Mine!” and bundle you out of the way? Is there pleasure in playing football badly? You may spend the full eighty minutes in your new boots, but your relations with the ball will be distant. They do not give you a ball to yourself at football.

    But how different a game is golf. At golf it is the bad player who gets the most strokes. However good his opponent, the bad player has the right to play out each hole to the end; he will get more than his share of the game. He need have no fears that his new driver will not be employed. He will have as many swings with it as the scratch man; more, if he misses the ball altogether upon one or two tees. If he buys a new niblick he is certain to get fun out of it on the very first day.

    And, above all, there is this to be said for golfing mediocrity—the bad player can make the strokes of the good player. The poor cricketer has perhaps never made fifty in his life; as soon as he stands at the wickets he knows that he is not going to make fifty today. But the eighteen-handicap man has some time or other played every hole on the course to perfection. He has driven a ball 250 yards; he has made superb approaches; he has run down the long putt. Any of these things may suddenly happen to him again. And therefore it is not his fate to have to sit in the club smoking-room after his second round and listen to the wonderful deeds of others. He can join in too. He can say with perfect truth, “I once carried the ditch at the fourth with my second,” or “I remember when I drove into the bunker guarding the eighth green,” or even “I did a three at the eleventh this afternoon”—bogey being five. But if the bad cricketer says, “I remember when I took a century in forty minutes off Lockwood and Richardson,” he is nothing but a liar.
    For these and other reasons golf is the best game in the world for the bad player. And sometimes I am tempted to go further and say that it is a better game for the bad player than for the good player. The joy of driving a ball straight after a week of slicing, the joy of putting a mashie shot dead, the joy of even a moderate stroke with a brassie; best of all, the joy of the perfect cleek shot—these things the good player will never know. Every stroke we bad players make we make in hope. It is never so bad but it might have been worse; it is never so bad but we are confident of doing better next time. And if the next stroke is good, what happiness fills our soul. How eagerly we tell ourselves that in a little while all our strokes will be as good.

    What does Vardon know of this? If he does a five hole in four he blames himself that he did not do it in three; if he does it in five he is miserable. He will never experience that happy surprise with which we hail our best strokes. Only his bad strokes surprise him, and then we may suppose that he is not happy. His length and accuracy are mechanical; they are not the result, as so often in our case, of some suddenly applied maxim or some suddenly discovered innovation. The only thing which can vary in his game is his putting, and putting is not golf but croquet.

    But of course we, too, are going to be as good as Vardon one day. We are only postponing the day because meanwhile it is so pleasant to be bad. And it is part of the charm of being bad at golf that in a moment, in a single night, we may become good. If the bad cricketer said to a good cricketer, “What am I doing wrong?” the only possible answer would be, “Nothing particular, except that you can’t play cricket.” But if you or I were to say to our scratch friend, “What am I doing wrong?” he would reply at once, “Moving the head” or “Dropping the right knee” or “Not getting the wrists in soon enough,” and by tomorrow we should be different players. Upon such a little depends, or seems to the eighteen-handicap to depend, excellence in golf.

    And so, perfectly happy in our present badness and perfectly confident of our future goodness, we long-handicap men remain. Perhaps it would be pleasanter to be a little more certain of getting the ball safely off the first tee; perhaps at the fourteenth hole, where there is a right of way and the public encroach, we should like to feel that we have done with topping; perhaps—

    Well, perhaps we might get our handicap down to fifteen this summer. But no lower; certainly no lower.

    What is Milne explaining in this essay?

    Correct Answer:

    Why golf is a good game for those who are bad at it

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. Though Milne mentions that is possible to become a better golfer, that is not why he wrote the essay. Getting use out of their golf clubs is only a part of why bad golfers enjoy the game. The information that Milne provides about cricket only highlights how it is not a fun game if you suck at cricket. And Milne never mentions that he doesn’t like sports. He simply makes it clear that golf is fun for those who are bad at it.


  2. What information does Milne provide to prove his point?

    Correct Answer:

    The bad golfer still gets to finish his game.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. Milne goes into lengthy explanation about how not only does a bad golfer get to finish his game, but he also gets more shots then a good golfer, which is more fun. B is incorrect because it does not have anything to do with why golf is better than cricket. C is incorrect (although we certainly know the statement is true!) because Milne is arguing that a good golfer’s bad days are more fun anyway. D is incorrect because it is the reasoning that Milne uses to explain why it’s not as much fun to be a good golfer. E is incorrect because Milne only says that a bad cricket player who has claimed to be good at one time is a liar. He is not claiming that all bad cricket players are liars.


  3. What evidence is there that Milne’s point is correct?

    Correct Answer:

    All of the above.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. Not only do bad golfers get to play more and use their equipment, but they also have the ability to improve because golf does not require the same kind of native talent that cricket does. Finally, good golfers are stuck at a level of ability where anything short of their best is not good enough, making the game much less fun.


  4. Which of the following is NOT one of the ways that Milne organizes his evidence?

    Correct Answer:

    He compares equipment of one sport to another.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. While Milne makes many comparisons throughout the essay (golf vs. other sports, gold golfers vs. bad golfers), he does not compare the equipment of one sport to another. He also examines how a famous golfer must feel and how golf allows for improvement, unlike other sports.


  5. Which of the following quotations is an analysis of the evidence Milne presents by comparing golf to other sports?

    Correct Answer:

    “At golf it is the bad player who gets the most strokes. However good his opponent, the bad player has the right to play out each hole to the end; he will get more than his share of the game. He need have no fears that his new driver will not be employed.”

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. These are all the reasons why golf is superior to other games for the bad player. The other four options are all reasons why golf is more fun for the bad player than it is for the good player.


  6. The essay “Why Women Do Not Reform Their Dress” was written in 1886 by famous early feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The type of dresses she is referring to had corsets, bustles and other very uncomfortable features. Read the essay, and then answer the questions that follow:

    WHY WOMEN DO NOT REFORM THEIR DRESS

    It would seem at first sight that there was but one answer to this question, namely, that women are fools. When you can plainly prove to a woman that her dress is unhealthful, unbeautiful, immoral, and yet she persists in wearing it, there seems no possible reason but the above. But there is a very simple explanation. A physician complained to me that women came to her actually wearing mechanical appliances to counteract diseases which were caused and fostered by the mechanical weight and pressure of their dress. She could see no reason why a woman should deliberately choose pain and weakness. Here is the reason. Let us take an average woman, with a home, family, and social circle. Like every living organism, she is capable of receiving pain and pleasure. As a human being, she receives these sensations both through mind and body. Now this woman, apart from what she considers duty, will pursue always that course of action which seems to her to bring the most pleasure, or the least pain. This is a law of life, as right and natural as for a plant to grow towards the light. This woman’s life as a human being is far more mental than physical; the pleasures and pains of the heart and mind are far more important to her than those of the body. Therefore, if a thing give pain to her body but pleasure to her heart and mind, she will certainly choose it. Let us see now how this question of dress affects mind, heart, and body. The present style of dress means, with varying limits, backache, sideache, headache, and many other ache; corns, lame, tender, or swollen feet, weak clumsy, and useless compared to what they should be; a crowd of diseases, heavy and light; a general condition of feebleness and awkwardness and total inferiority as an animal organism; with a thousand attendant inconveniences and restrictions and unnatural distortions amounting to hideousness. But it also means the satisfaction of the social conscience; gratification of pride, legitimate and illegitimate; approbation of those loved and admiration of those unknown; satisfaction of a sense of beauty, however false; and a general ease and peace of mind. The true and reasonable dress means perfect ease and health and beauty of body, with the freedom of motion and increase of power and skill resultant therefrom. But it also means long combat with one’s own miseducated sense of beauty, and fitness, and with all one’s friends’ constant disapprobation; ridicule, opposition, an uneasy sense of isolation and disagreeable noticeability, loss of social position, constant mortification and shame. Now, to the average woman, these pains and penalties of the home and social life are infinitely more to be dreaded than the physical ones; and the physical comfort and strength infinitely less to be desired than the mental satisfaction and peace. Physical suffering has been so long considered an integral part of woman’s nature, and is still so generally borne, that a little or more or less is no great matter. But to offend and grieve instead of pleasing, to meet opposition and contempt instead of praise and flattery, to change pride for shame,–this is suffering which no woman will accept unless it is proved her duty. And this is why women do not reform their dress.

    What reason does Gilman give for women wearing uncomfortable dresses?

    Correct Answer:

    Women prefer physical discomfort to the discomfort of not fitting in.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is B. Gilman wants to prove that there is more mental pain involved in being different than physical pain involved in wearing uncomfortable dresses. Answer A is what people might come to decide about women regarding their choices, but Gilman wants to prove that to be wrong. Answers C, D and E were not mentioned in the essay in any way.


  7. What information does Gilman provide to prove her point?

    Correct Answer:

    Women are used to physical discomfort so mental discomfort is much worse.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. Women are expected to feel physical discomfort because they are women (think about it—I’ll wait), so adding a little more doesn’t really bother them, whereas being considered different would really upset them. Both B and C suggest that society would be comfortable with women wearing things that feel good to wear, rather than the dresses that are “normal” for the time. D doesn’t have anything to do with Gilman’s argument. E is true, but it does not help to prove Gilman’s point.


  8. What evidence is there that backs up Gilman’s point?

    Correct Answer:

    The current style of dresses will cause physical pain, but society approves of them.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. Gilman points out that the approval of society is much more important to women than comfort. She does not quote any psychologists, but comes to this conclusion on her own. Answer B is clearly the opposite of what she is trying to say—women go against their own best interests in order to feel approval. Women do not want isolation, and they are not acting foolishly. Their actions make sense because they are trying to avoid the feeling of isolation.


  9. Which of the following is NOT one of the ways that Gilman organizes her evidence?

    Correct Answer:

    She compares men’s thought processes to women’s thought processes.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. Gilman does not at any time describe how men think in this essay. She does list the problems with fashionable dresses and comfortable dresses, she compares what these problems are each like to women, and she describes why a woman would make the choice to wear fashionable dresses.


  10. Which of the following quotations is an analysis of the evidence Gilman presents by comparing mental distress to physical distress?

    Correct Answer:

    “The present style of dress means, with varying limits, backache, sideache, headache, and many other ache… But it also means the satisfaction of the social conscience…”

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. This quotation provides an analysis of what kind of physical distress a woman would feel by wearing a fashionable dress, as well as an analysis of the social approval she would receive. That saves her from mental distress. Answer A is the thought that Gilman is trying to disprove—that women are foolish for wearing what they wear. Answers B and C are the background that Gilman provides to set up her argument. Answer E is Gilman’s conclusion.


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