How to Draw Lewis Structures: A Comprehensive Guide

Lewis structures are an essential tool for chemists, allowing them to visualize the arrangement of atoms and electrons within molecules. These diagrams can be used to predict molecular geometry and determine chemical properties, making them a crucial part of modern chemistry. However, drawing Lewis structures can be a confusing process for those new to the field or struggling with the concept. This guide aims to provide a step-by-step approach to creating these structures, along with tips and tricks for more complex molecules. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to confidently draw Lewis structures and gain a deeper understanding of chemical bonding.

What are Lewis structures?

The basics of Lewis structures

The basics of Lewis structures are essential to understanding the concept of chemical bonding. The octet rule is a fundamental principle that plays a crucial role in drawing these structures. It states that atoms tend to gain, lose or share electrons in order to achieve a full outer shell of eight electrons, which is a stable electron configuration.

To represent the valence electrons of an atom in a Lewis structure, dots are used. These dots are drawn around the atomic symbol of the element and represent the number of valence electrons present. For example, the Lewis structure for nitrogen would have five dots around the atomic symbol.

Lines are also used in Lewis structures to represent chemical bonds between atoms. A single line represents a single bond, a double line represents a double bond, and a triple line represents a triple bond. Single bonds involve the sharing of one pair of electrons, while double bonds involve the sharing of two pairs of electrons, and so on.

An example of a Lewis structure using the basics of dots and lines can be seen in water (H2O). Oxygen has six valence electrons and each hydrogen has one, giving a total of eight valence electrons. The oxygen atom is placed in the center and surrounded by two hydrogen atoms. A single line is drawn between each hydrogen atom and the oxygen atom to represent the chemical bond. Two dots are placed above and below the oxygen atom to represent its remaining two valence electrons.

In summary, the basics of Lewis structures include the octet rule, dots, and lines. By understanding these concepts, we can accurately represent the valence electrons and chemical bonds between atoms. This knowledge is crucial in predicting molecular geometry and determining the properties of molecules.

Why are Lewis structures important?

Lewis structures are essential in the field of chemistry, as they allow us to predict molecular geometry and determine chemical properties. By understanding the structure of a molecule, we can gain insight into its physical and chemical behavior.

One important application of Lewis structures is predicting molecular geometry. The arrangement of atoms in a molecule dictates its shape and size, which in turn affects its properties such as melting point, boiling point, and reactivity. For example, water has a bent shape due to the lone pairs of electrons on the oxygen atom, which causes it to have a strong dipole moment and exhibit hydrogen bonding. On the other hand, carbon dioxide has a linear shape with no dipole moment, resulting in weak intermolecular forces and a low boiling point.

In addition to predicting molecular geometry, Lewis structures also help us determine the chemical properties of a molecule. The number and type of bonds between atoms affect the molecule’s polarity, acidity, basicity, and stability. For instance, a molecule with multiple double or triple bonds may be more reactive due to the presence of pi electrons, while a molecule with polar covalent bonds may dissolve easily in water due to its ability to form hydrogen bonds.

Overall, understanding Lewis structures is crucial for any chemist or student of chemistry. By utilizing this tool, we can decipher the underlying structure and behavior of molecules, leading to a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Steps for drawing Lewis structures

Identify the atoms and valence electrons

Identify the atoms and valence electrons

Before you can begin drawing a Lewis structure, it’s important to identify the atoms involved and determine their valence electrons. Valence electrons are the outermost electrons of an atom that participate in chemical bonding. Understanding the valence electrons of each atom is crucial for predicting how they will interact with one another.

Atomic symbols

The first step in identifying the atoms involved is to locate their atomic symbols. These are the one or two letter abbreviations used to represent each element on the periodic table. For example, the atomic symbol for carbon is ‘C’.

Group number

Once you have identified the atomic symbols, you can determine the group number of each atom. The group number indicates the number of valence electrons an atom has. For example, carbon is in group 4, which means it has 4 valence electrons.

Valence electrons

After finding the group number, you can easily figure out the number of valence electrons an atom has. For elements in groups 1-2 and 13-18, the number of valence electrons is equal to the group number. For elements in groups 3-12, the number of valence electrons can be determined by subtracting the group number from 10. So, for carbon (group 4), it has 4 valence electrons.

It’s important to note that when dealing with ions, the number of valence electrons can change due to the addition or subtraction of electrons. For example, a chloride ion (Cl-) has gained one electron, giving it 8 valence electrons instead of 7.

Understanding the basics of atomic symbols, group numbers, and valence electrons is key to successfully drawing Lewis structures. By identifying these components, you can predict how the atoms will interact and begin the process of creating a detailed electron dot diagram.

Determine the total number of valence electrons

Determine the Total Number of Valence Electrons

Determining the total number of valence electrons is a crucial step in drawing Lewis structures. Valence electrons are the electrons located in the outermost shell of an atom that participate in chemical bonding. In order to determine the total number of valence electrons for a given molecule or ion, you need to add up the valence electrons from each individual atom.

To find the number of valence electrons for a main-group element, you simply refer to its group number on the periodic table. For example, carbon is in group 4 and has 4 valence electrons. Oxygen is in group 6 and has 6 valence electrons. However, if the atom is an ion, you need to take into account its charge. If the ion has a positive charge, subtract that number of electrons; if it has a negative charge, add the number of electrons.

For example, let’s consider the ammonium ion, NH4+. Nitrogen is in group 5 and has 5 valence electrons. Hydrogen is in group 1 and has 1 valence electron each. The “+” charge on the ion indicates that one electron has been lost, giving it a net charge of +1. So, we subtract one electron from the total number of valence electrons:

 (5 valence electrons for N) + (4 x 1 valence electron for H) - 1 = 8 valence electrons

Therefore, the total number of valence electrons in the ammonium ion is 8.

It’s important to accurately determine the total number of valence electrons because it dictates the number of bonds that can be formed between atoms. The octet rule states that most atoms prefer to have 8 valence electrons in their outer shell, which creates a stable arrangement. Knowing this, you can use the total number of valence electrons to determine how many bonds need to be formed between atoms to achieve this stable arrangement.

In summary, determining the total number of valence electrons is an important step in drawing Lewis structures. It involves adding up the valence electrons from each individual atom and adjusting for ion charge if necessary. This information is crucial for predicting how atoms will bond with one another and ultimately determine the properties of molecules and ions.

Draw the skeletal structure


Distribute the remaining electrons

Distribute the Remaining Electrons

Once you have drawn the skeletal structure and determined the total number of valence electrons in your molecule, it is time to distribute the remaining electrons. This step is crucial for ensuring that all atoms follow the octet rule, which states that each atom should have eight valence electrons in its outermost shell.

The first step in this process is to place any remaining electrons as lone pairs on the terminal atoms. A lone pair is a pair of electrons that is not involved in bonding with other atoms. Each lone pair consists of two electrons, which means that they will take up two of the available valence electrons.

After placing the lone pairs on the terminal atoms, it’s time to add electrons to the central atom. If the central atom has not yet achieved an octet, you can form double or triple bonds between the central and terminal atoms. A double bond consists of four electrons, while a triple bond consists of six electrons. These additional bonds will help the central atom achieve its octet.

As you distribute the remaining electrons, it’s important to keep an eye on the formal charge of each atom. The formal charge of an atom is the difference between the number of valence electrons it would have if it were neutral and the number of electrons it actually has in the molecule. You want to minimize formal charges as much as possible.

If you end up with a molecule where the central atom has fewer than eight valence electrons, you may need to move lone pairs from the terminal atoms to form multiple bonds with the central atom. However, this will increase the formal charge of those atoms, so it’s important to find a balance that minimizes formal charges while still following the octet rule.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you are drawing the Lewis structure for the nitrate ion, NO3-. Nitrogen has five valence electrons, and each oxygen has six valence electrons. So the total number of valence electrons is:

5 (nitrogen) + 3(6) (oxygen) + 1 (negative charge) = 24

To distribute the remaining electrons, you would first place lone pairs on each oxygen atom, leaving 18 electrons. You could then form double bonds between nitrogen and two of the oxygen atoms, using four electrons for each bond and leaving six electrons remaining. Finally, you could add a lone pair to one of the oxygen atoms to achieve its octet, while leaving the other two oxygen atoms with a formal charge of -1.

By following these steps and keeping an eye on formal charges, you can confidently distribute the remaining electrons in your Lewis structure and ensure that it follows the octet rule.

Check the formal charges and make adjustments

Check the Formal Charges and Make Adjustments

After distributing the remaining electrons in step four, it’s important to check that the formal charges of all atoms are as close to zero as possible. A formal charge is the difference between the number of valence electrons on an atom in isolation and the number of electrons assigned to it in a Lewis structure.

To calculate the formal charge of an atom, use the following formula: Formal Charge = Valence Electrons – Non-bonding Electrons – 1/2 Bonding Electrons.

For example, let’s consider the Lewis structure for nitrate ion (NO3-). Nitrogen has five valence electrons and three oxygen atoms each have six valence electrons, making a total of 24 valence electrons. Distributing these electrons according to the octet rule results in three double bonds between the nitrogen and each of the oxygen atoms, with two lone pairs on each oxygen atom. This gives nitrogen a formal charge of +1, while each oxygen has a formal charge of -1. The overall charge of the molecule is -1, which matches the charge of the ion.

However, this structure is not optimized since there is another valid resonance structure where the double bonds alternate between the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. In this structure, each atom has a formal charge of zero, providing a more stable arrangement of electrons. Therefore, we need to make adjustments to our initial structure to account for resonance.

By checking the formal charges, we can identify any potential problems with the Lewis structure and optimize it for resonance or stability. Remember, the goal is to get as close to zero formal charges as possible, while still following the octet rule for each atom.

Keep in mind that formal charges are just a guide for determining the most likely arrangement of electrons in a molecule. The real structure may be a combination of several resonance structures, and using molecular orbital theory provides a better representation of the molecule’s true electron distribution. Nonetheless, understanding formal charges is an important step in learning how to draw accurate and meaningful Lewis structures.

Tips and Tricks for Drawing Lewis Structures

Resonance structures

Resonance structures are a fascinating aspect of Lewis structures and play an essential role in understanding the molecular structure of compounds. Resonance structures occur when multiple valid structures can be drawn for a single compound, indicating that the electrons in the molecule are delocalized.

Delocalized electrons refer to electrons that are not confined to a single bond but instead distribute themselves over the entire molecule. This distribution creates multiple possible structures, known as resonance structures, where only the arrangement of electrons differ.

One example of resonance is the carbonate ion (CO3^-2). The three oxygen atoms form a triangular shape around the carbon atom, with each oxygen sharing a double bond with the carbon atom. Yet, the experimental evidence suggests that all the bonds have equal length, indicating that the electrons are shared equally between all three oxygen atoms. Therefore, we can draw three resonance structures for the carbonate ion, each with a different oxygen atom carrying a negative charge.

Another example comes from the benzene ring, where the six carbon atoms form a hexagonal shape with alternating single and double bonds. Each carbon has two electrons in a p-orbital, which overlap with adjacent carbons, leading to delocalization of six electrons over the entire ring. This delocalization leads to multiple resonance structures, each with slight variations in how the double bonds are distributed.

In conclusion, resonance structures provide a more accurate representation of molecular structure than any single Lewis structure could achieve. Understanding the concept of delocalized electrons and multiple valid structures is crucial in predicting chemical properties and reactions accurately.

Polar molecules

Polar Molecules

When atoms with different electronegativities bond, they share electrons unequally, resulting in a polar covalent bond. A polar molecule is one that has a positive and negative end due to differences in electronegativity between the atoms.

The degree of polarity in a molecule can be measured by its dipole moment. Dipole moment measures the separation of charge in a molecule, which is determined by both the magnitude of the charges and the distance between them.


Electronegativity is a measure of an atom’s ability to attract electrons towards itself in a chemical bond. The scale of electronegativity ranges from 0 to 4, with fluorine having the highest electronegativity value of 4.0. In general, the greater the difference in electronegativity between two atoms, the more polar the bond will be.

For example, in the water molecule (H2O), oxygen has a higher electronegativity than hydrogen, resulting in unequal sharing of electrons and a dipole moment. As a result, the oxygen end of the molecule has a partial negative charge, while the hydrogen end has a partial positive charge.

Dipole Moment

Dipole moment is a measure of the overall polarity of a molecule. It is calculated by multiplying the distance between the charges by the magnitude of the charges. The units for dipole moment are Debye (D).

A molecule with a net dipole moment is considered polar, while a molecule with a net zero dipole moment is nonpolar. For example, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a linear molecule with two polar bonds, but since the bond polarities cancel each other out, it has a net zero dipole moment and is therefore nonpolar.


Polarity in molecules plays a significant role in many chemical reactions and physical properties. Understanding the concepts of electronegativity and dipole moment can help predict the polarity of a molecule, which in turn can assist in determining its behavior in various chemical reactions.

Ionic compounds

Ionic compounds

Ionic compounds are a type of chemical compound that result from the combination of cations and anions. Cations are positively charged ions, while anions are negatively charged ions. This occurs through a process known as ionic bonding, where electrons are transferred from one atom to another.

One of the most common examples of an ionic compound is table salt, or NaCl. Sodium chloride is formed by the combination of a sodium ion (Na+) and a chloride ion (Cl-). This ionic bond results in a crystal lattice structure, which is held together by electrostatic forces between the cations and anions.

It’s important to note that ionic bonding typically occurs between metals and nonmetals. Metals tend to lose electrons and form cations, while nonmetals tend to gain electrons and form anions. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as with transition metals, which can form multiple types of cations.

In addition to table salt, other examples of ionic compounds include magnesium oxide (MgO) and calcium carbonate (CaCO3). These compounds play important roles in various industries, including agriculture, construction, and medicine.

Overall, the formation of ionic compounds involves the combination of cations and anions through ionic bonding. This process results in a crystal lattice structure that is held together by electrostatic forces. By understanding the basics of ionic compounds and their properties, we can better understand the world around us and utilize these compounds for various applications.
In conclusion, drawing Lewis structures may seem daunting at first, but with practice and patience, it can become second nature. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can confidently draw electron dot diagrams for a variety of molecules and predict their molecular geometry and chemical properties. Remember to identify the valence electrons, draw the skeletal structure, distribute the remaining electrons, and check for formal charges. Additionally, keep in mind the tips and tricks for drawing resonance structures, polar molecules, and ionic compounds. Understanding how to draw Lewis structures is an essential skill for any student or professional in the field of chemistry. With this knowledge, you can better understand the behavior of molecules and compounds and contribute to scientific research and innovation.

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