The total number of electrons represented in a Lewis structure is equal to the sum of the numbers of valence electrons on each individual atom. Non-valence electrons are not represented in Lewis structures.
Once the total number of available electrons has been determined, electrons must be placed into the structure. They should be placed initially as lone pairs: one pair of dots for each pair of electrons available. Lone pairs should initially be placed on outer atoms (other than hydrogen) until each outer atom has eight electrons in bonding pairs and lone pairs; extra lone pairs may then be placed on the central atom. When in doubt, lone pairs should be placed on more electronegative atoms first.
Once all lone pairs are placed, atoms, especially the central atoms, may not have an octet of electrons. In this case, the atoms must form a double bond; a lone pair of electrons is moved to form a second bond between the two atoms. As the bonding pair is shared between the two atoms, the atom that originally had the lone pair still has an octet; the other atom now has two more electrons in its valence shell.
Aside from organic compounds, only a minority of compounds have an octet of electrons. Incomplete octets are common for compounds of groups 2 and 13 such as beryllium, boron, and aluminium. Compounds with more than eight electrons in the Lewis representation of the valence shell of an atom are called hypervalent, and are common for elements of groups 15 to 18, such as phosphorus, sulfur, iodine, and xenon.
Lewis structures for polyatomic ions may be drawn by the same method. When counting electrons, negative ions should have extra electrons placed in their Lewis structures; positive ions should have fewer electrons than an uncharged molecule.
When the Lewis structure of an ion is written, the entire structure is placed in brackets, and the charge is written as a superscript on the upper right, outside the brackets.
A simpler method has been proposed for constructing Lewis structures eliminating the need for electron counting: the atoms are drawn showing the valence electrons, bonds are then formed by pairing up valence electrons of the atoms involved in the bond-making process and anions and cations are formed by adding or removing electrons to/from the appropriate atoms.
A trick is to count up valence electrons, then count up the number of electrons needed to complete the octet rule (or with Hydrogen just 2 electrons), then take the difference of these two numbers and your answer is the number of electrons that make up the bonds. The rest of the electrons just go and fill all the other atoms' octets.
Another simple and general procedure to write Lewis structures and resonance forms has been proposed.
Before beginning this procedure it is necessary to know the basic geometry of the molecule, i.e. whether it is cyclic or noncyclic, and which atoms are connected to which. Several worked examples for the determination of the Lewis structures of simple and more complicated species using the above described method can be found on the following website.
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