As part of revising, you now need to revisit the parts of your essay: introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions.
When you look over the draft of your paper, the first thing you should focus on is your introduction. Whether it is one paragraph or an entire chapter, the purpose of the introduction is to grab your readers’ attention and make them want to know more about your subject. Does it? Make sure you draw your readers in from the beginning and follow with interesting and supportive information. If readers are not intrigued from the very beginning of the piece, they will quickly become distracted and avoid reading any further.
A thesis is not only an idea, but it is also a theory that provides direction and guidance on what one is talking about. It is a theory because it is an abstract type of generalized thinking that binds the whole piece of writing together and also provides a goal and a standard for the paper. Make sure you have a clear thesis. Simply put, a thesis is your main point, the line of argument that you are pursuing in your essay. It should answer two simple questions: What issue are you writing about, and what is your position on it? A thesis statement is a single sentence (or sometimes two) that provides the answers to these questions clearly and concisely. Ask yourself, “What is my paper about, exactly?” to help you develop a precise and directed thesis, not only for your reader, but for you as well.
Most readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that you have to place it there every time. Some writers place it at the very end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. Others don’t bother with one at all, but feel that their thesis is “implied” anyway. Beginning writers, however, should avoid the implied thesis unless certain of the audience. Almost every professor will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction. Remember: The harder it is for you to write your thesis statement, the more likely it is that your entire essay is incoherent and unfocused. If you are having real problems crafting a good thesis statement, you may need to start over, narrow your topic, or dig even more deeply into what you are trying to say and write.
A good basic structure for a thesis statement is “they say, I say.” What is the prevailing view, and how does your position differ from it? However, avoid limiting the scope of your writing with an either/or thesis under the assumption that your view must be strictly contrary to their view.
Following are some typical thesis statements:
- Although many readers believe Romeo and Juliet to be a tale about the ill fate of two star-crossed lovers, it can also be read as an allegory concerning a playwright and his audience.
- The “War on Drugs” has not only failed to reduce the frequency of drug-related crimes in America but actually enhanced the popular image of dope peddlers by romanticizing them as desperate rebels fighting for a cause.
- The bulk of modern copyright law was conceived in the age of commercial printing, long before the Internet made it so easy for the public to compose and distribute its own texts. Therefore, these laws should be reviewed and revised to better accommodate modern readers and writers.
- The usual moral justification for capital punishment is that it deters crime by frightening would-be criminals. However, the statistics tell a different story.
- If students really want to improve their writing, they must read often, practice writing, and receive quality feedback from their peers.
- Plato’s dialectical method has much to offer those engaged in online writing, which is far more conversational in nature than print.
You will know your thesis statement is finished when it contains the basic information for your argument without any major in-depth descriptions.
Make sure that your reader knows your position on the issue. This should be properly expressed in your thesis, but check your entire introduction for “wishy washy” sentences. Unless you’re only writing a summary, your introduction should make it clear how you feel about the issue at stake. This is not, however, accomplished by stating your position in the introduction prior to your thesis. Employ recommended introduction strategies to illustrate your position.
Avoid sentences or thesis statements such as the following:
- Abortion is a very controversial issue in America.
- Capital punishment is both good and bad.
- This paper will present the pros and cons of modern copyright law.
Are these examples stating an issue and taking a position, or merely stating what everyone knows already? Again, your reader should already know that the issue you’re writing about is controversial; otherwise, there would be little reason to write about it. Unless you’ve been instructed to merely write a report or summary of an issue, assume that your professor wants you to take a position and defend it with the best evidence you can muster. However, you should not forget to fairly analyze all positions and debate opposing viewpoints. Even if you only cater to other opinions in order to disprove them, you will have strengthened your argument as a result.
As you build support for your thesis in the body paragraphs, always ask yourself if you are spending your readers’ time wisely. Are you writing unnecessarily complex and confusing sentences, or using 50 words when five would do? If a sentence is already plain and direct, there’s no need to fluff it up. Flowery words and phrases obscure your ideas: when writing, being concise is key. For example, why write, “Cats have a tendency toward sleeping most of the day” when you could simply write, “Cats usually sleep most of the day”? How about changing “The 12th day of the month of April” to “April 12th?” Try to pick out such sentences and substitute simpler ones.
But wait—don’t you need to inflate your text so you can meet the minimum word count? Wouldn’t it be better to use “due to the fact that” for “because” and “in addition to” for “and,” since these phrases use far more words? Answer: No. Any experienced reader will instantly see through such a pitiful scheme and will likely become irritated by the resulting “flabby” prose. If you are having trouble meeting the minimum word count, a far better solution is to add more examples, details, quotations, or perspectives. Go back to the planning and drafting stage and really ask yourself if you’ve written everything useful about a topic.
Other students worry that their sentences don’t sound smart enough. Compare these two sentences:
- Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
- Do not submit a query concerning what assets and benefits your country can bestow upon you and yours, but rather inquire as to what tasks or activities you yourself can perform and carry out that will be useful for the citizens of your own country.
Although the second sentence is longer and harder to grasp, that doesn’t make it more intelligent. In fact, it’s far more impressive to write a complex thought in simple prose than vice versa. Beware, however, that you do not lose meaning when you make a sentence simpler; cut out only the most unnecessary “fluffy” adjectives, but don’t sacrifice being descriptive.
How about your organization? From sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph, the ideas should flow into each other smoothly and without interruptions or delays. If someone tells you that your paper sounds choppy or jumps around, you probably have a problem with organization and transitions. The addition of quotations from a text that relates to your topic can be an excellent way to refocus your writing and avoid unrelated ideas.
Keep in mind that very few writers can write a well-organized paper in one draft. Instead, their first drafts are disorganized and even chaotic. It takes patience to sort through this mess, consolidating related ideas into coherent paragraphs and helping the reader to follow their train of thought without derailing. Compare:
- Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. Read your paper aloud to catch errors. Use spell check on your computer.
- Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. One technique is to read your paper aloud, which will help you catch errors you might overlook when reading silently. Another strategy is to use spell check on your computer.
The second example has better transitions between ideas and is easier to read. Note that the example with better transitions is also longer. Good transitions can improve your style and help you reach the minimum word count!
After all the work you have exerted on your paper, you want to end with a good conclusion. Your conclusion should do more than summarize the essay; it should “drive the thesis home.” It is the last opportunity to make an impression on your audience, convince them of the sincerity of your efforts, and leave them with the satisfaction of learning something new.
Chapter 6 offers suggestions to develop solid paragraphs in each stage of your essay. Refer to this chapter during the writing process.