How to Write a Formal Essay To the teacher



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How to Write a Formal Essay

To the teacher

  • The following PowerPoint has been designed to assist you in your grade 11 & 12 classroom as you work with students to develop essay writing skills. It is comprised of 7 mini lessons which focus on the specific components of the literary essay.

Table of contents

  • Slides 4 - 7
  • Title
  • Slides 39-44
  • Slides 8 - 19
  • Introduction and Thesis
  • Slides 45-55
  • Things to Remember
  • Slides 20 -23
  • Body
  • Slides 56-60
  • Citations
  • Sample Paper
  • Slides 24-38
  • Transitions
  • Slide 61
  • Closing Humor

Choosing a Title

  • Your title must be specific to your topic so that it is obvious to your reader exactly what your essay will prove.

Problematic Titles

  • Romeo and Juliet by John Smith
  • Romeo and Juliet Essay by John Smith
  • Problems with these titles:
  • William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, not John Smith.
  • Romeo and Juliet is too broad a topic.
  • Avoid using the word “essay” in your title.

Strong Titles

  • The Importance of Choice in Romeo and Juliet by John Smith
  • Accidental Villainy in Romeo and Juliet by John Smith
  • The Darkness of Love in Romeo and Juliet by John Smith
  • The Character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet: Friend or Foe? by John Smith
  • These titles work because
  • -they are specific and focused on the topic of the essay.
  • -it is clear that John Smith did not write the play, but rather the literary essays addressing specific elements of the play.

Sample first page MLA format

  • District 18 Sir Charles GD Roberts Medal Format - OWL at Purdue

The Introduction

The Introduction

  • The introductory paragraph should give important details.
  • Clearly introduce the general topic.
  • Provide direction for the essay through a strong thesis statement.
  • Identify the literary work and author.

Example of topic and thesis

  • Example of a general topic:
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee presents discrimination against black people.
  • Example of a specific thesis statement:
  • The persecution of Tom Robinson by the residents of Maycomb County demonstrates how an innocent man can be destroyed through racism.

The Thesis

  • The thesis is a powerfully worded declaration of the intent of your essay.
  • It states the purpose of the essay and establishes the focus and direction which will be proven in the body.
  • It is often stated in the last sentence of your introduction.
  • It is your comment or position on the issue you are discussing.
  • A successful thesis statement will help unify your essay.

How to write a thesis statement

  • Ask yourself:
  • How do you feel about the issue?
  • Is there anything about your topic that relates to something else in an interesting way? If so, how?
  • What makes your topic different from any other?
  • What are the parts of your topic?
  • Can you break down the topic and address only one specific part of it?
  • Narrowly focused thesis statements often result in better writing, especially if the essay is short.

Things to consider:

  • Be persuasive. You should attempt to convince readers of something that is not obvious. After all, there is no point in arguing a point of view that everyone shares.
  • Your thesis may present a problem that has no easy solution. As an essay writer, you should choose a problem that you can discuss in depth.
  • Your thesis should be supported by all your arguments and facts. If the thesis does not encompass all of the points in your essay, you will either have to re-work your thesis or remove unrelated points.

For further consideration:

  • You might be able to state your thesis as an answer to a question. For example, the thesis, "essay assignments are a form of torture”, answers the question, "what are essay assignments?" (Somebody else might disagree and answer "essay assignments are a measure of student understanding.")
  • You may develop or modify your thesis throughout the writing process.
  • Don't hesitate to be original. Your thesis may pose an argument in response to a question nobody has thought of asking before.

Testing your thesis

  • Strength: make a list of arguments that support your thesis. Then, make a list of objections to it. If these objections are stronger than your arguments, you should re-work your thesis.
  • Interest: does it state the obvious? If it is so obvious that nobody could fail to see it, it is probably not worth arguing. An interesting thesis offers a fresh, subtle, or controversial perspective.

Testing your thesis

  • Specificity: is it too vague? Be sure that you have narrowed your topic and the thesis statement is specific.
  • Manageability: can you handle the topic within the time frame/space provided? For example, can your thesis be proven in a 1200 to 1600 word essay?

Refining the thesis statement

  • Example of a weak thesis statement:
  • Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. (This is too broad).
  • Example of a strong thesis statement:
  • Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy that occurs as a direct result of the decisions made by characters, not those made by fate.
  • *Note that the second sentence summarizes the writer’s argument and sets up a pattern for the discussion.

Example of an Introductory Paragraph

  • Romeo and Juliet is widely known to be a tragedy, but what caused the atrocity for which it is so renowned? Some may argue fate was to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, that the situations these young lovers faced were depicted as being out of their control. Could Romeo have refused to attend the Capulet masque? Was Romeo destined to duel the raging Tybalt? Did Romeo and Juliet truly have to kill themselves? If one considers the specific circumstances and causes of these situations, the fact that all scenarios are the result of choice rather than chance, and the notion that the characters were never left without options, only one conclusion can be determined. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy that occurs as a direct result of the decisions made by characters, not those made by fate.
  • The Body

The Body

  • The content of the body provides analysis and evidence to prove and support your thesis.
  • Organize, develop, and expand the analysis and evidence into paragraphs to prove and support the thesis.
  • Connect the paragraphs through the use of transitional expressions.

Sample Body Paragraph

  • To fully comprehend how fate and destiny had no role in the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the terms “fate,” “destiny,” and “tragedy” must be first understood. Fate can be defined as “a power that determines and controls everything that is or happens,” (Newfeldt 431) while destiny can be described as “what is predetermined to happen despite all efforts to change or prevent it” (Newfeldt 321). Therefore, fate is the entity that decides all that will occur, and destiny is the decision made by fate. Tragedy can be defined as the dramatic representation of serious and important actions that turn out disastrously for the main character. This indicates that the tragedies in the play were the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and to say fate and destiny were not responsible for these tragedies, is to say the characters of the play, rather than some intangible force, were aware of and in control of the actions that caused Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.

Transitions

  • All writers want their papers "to flow." This rather vague phrase usually refers to the idea of continuity and progression to which most writers aspire. Often, a writer will create a well-argued paper, complete with a strong thesis and substantial evidence, only to find the paper "dry." Other times, the lack of fluidity in an essay may stem directly from weakness in the organization of ideas. In both cases, the effective use of transitional words helps immeasurably.

Identifying connections between ideas

  • Just as linked sentences within a paragraph lead the reader, so too must linked paragraphs direct the reader from one idea to another. But no writer can cover up a misdirected argument. The first step in writing a cohesive argument lies in outlining your ideas and organizing them soundly. Take the time to prioritize your arguments; exploit the differences between points, set up comparisons and contrasts, then construct transitions to explain the relationship between your ideas. Let your organization do the transition work for you. Often, you need only to state the relationship between successive paragraphs in order to have a successful transition.

Example

  • A paragraph citing the shortcomings of a provincial lottery ends:
  • The state focuses nearly all its publicity effort on merchandising a get-rich-quick fantasy, one that will come true for only a handful of people, while encouraging millions of others to think of success as a product of luck, not honest work.

Or a contrasting view

  • While the shortcomings of the provincial lottery system are numerous, there are sound arguments for allowing state lotteries to continue and spread...
  • The reader now sees the relationship between paragraphs and expects to read a defense of the lottery system.

Implementing transitions

  • The transition process applies to all types of arguments. If you have strong evidence in each paragraph, transitions may simply mark the movement from one point to another.
  • If you want to show a cause and effect relationship, you need only to express that connection.
  • Whatever relationship your ideas share, identify that connection and communicate it to the reader.
  • You may add to, emphasize, summarize, or end an argument.
  • Once you know the relationship, the options are plentiful and logical.

Transitional strategies

  • The end of one paragraph can set up a clear connection to the next paragraph, whether you aim to reinforce or debunk what has been stated.
  • One way to create a transition is to repeat a key word or phrase from the preceding paragraph.
  • In addition, since all paragraphs should help prove the thesis, another strategy could be to remind the reader of that larger goal.

An example:

  • If your thesis is an attempt to prove Satan to be a sympathetic character in “Paradise Lost,” you may move from a paragraph citing Satan's self doubt to another that explains Satan's monologues:
  • Because Satan doubts his choices throughout “Paradise Lost,” he appears human, fallible, and ultimately sympathetic to reader who identifies with the human rather than the super human. Another characteristic which suggests Milton viewed Satan sympathetically emerges in Satan's melancholy monologues. Like Satan's self-doubt, his monologues display the manner in which Satan longs for acceptance in Eden...
  • In the previous example, the word 'doubt' was repeated and the transitional word 'another,' connected both sentences to the thesis about Satan's 'sympathetic' nature.

Common Transitional Words & Phrases

To link complementary ideas:

  • again, in addition, at the same time, in the same way, similarly, likewise, hence, as a result, furthermore, moreover, secondly, thirdly

To link conflicting ideas:

  • in reality, in truth, on the contrary, on the other hand, nonetheless, however, in contrast

To demonstrate cause and effect

  • therefore, thus, so, it follows, then, as a result, consequently

Transitional sequence words

  • after, afterward, ahead of, all through, as, before, beforehand, during, earlier than, first, second, third, finally, following, later, now, prior to, sooner than, subsequently, then, throughout, while

Transitional restatement or synonym signal words

  • also, as well as, by the same token, correspondingly, equally, equally so, especially, for example, in that, in the same way, just as, likewise, similarly, such as, these, too

Contrast or antonym signal words

  • alternatively, although, apart from, but, by contrast, contrary to that, conversely, despite, even though, however, in contrast, in spite of this, nevertheless, nonetheless, not withstanding, on the other hand, regardless, some…, but others, still, then again, yet

The Conclusion

The purpose of the conclusion is

  • to bring the main argument of your essay to a close and explain to your reader why your paper was worth reading.
  • to remind your reader of your thesis and main points of the argument, but it should be more than a restatement of your introduction.
  • to strengthen your essay by bringing logical closure to the full scope of your ideas.

Possible strategies for a successful conclusion

  • You first need to consider the larger purpose of your paper.
  • Ask yourself, "Why is my argument important?"
  • Decide how best to convey this insight to your reader.
  • Expanding your thesis in this way gives you the opportunity to highlight the key insights of your argument.

Possible strategies

  • Address ideas from a fresh perspective in order to encourage the reader to continue thinking about your topic.
  • Include something from the introduction, such as a detail, image, or example, to bring the argument full circle.
  • Save a provocative, unexpected, or exciting insight or quotation for the conclusion.

Example of a Concluding Paragraph

To take one’s own life is the sole choice of the one committing suicide; it is not the responsibility of fate, as only the individual is in control of his or her own life. Romeo and Juliet’s deaths were the final result of a long series of consequential choices and actions. The possibility of tragedy was established with Romeo attending the Capulet’s masque, and with Romeo and Juliet swearing their love in marriage with the help of Friar Lawrence. The likeliness of their deaths was augmented by Tybalt battling Romeo, Romeo’s banishment, and Juliet and Friar Lawrence’s plan to reunite the lovers. The tragedy ultimately took form when Romeo and Juliet were faced with the decisions to kill themselves. At no point in the sequence of events was Romeo, Juliet, the Friar, or anyone else left without an alternate choice to his or her actual deeds. They were always conscious of what was happening around them, and had good ideas as to what may come about as a result of their actions. There was no intricately designed destiny that could not have been prevented; Romeo and Juliet’s road to destruction was paved simply by the poor choices they made and their own fate.

  • To take one’s own life is the sole choice of the one committing suicide; it is not the responsibility of fate, as only the individual is in control of his or her own life. Romeo and Juliet’s deaths were the final result of a long series of consequential choices and actions. The possibility of tragedy was established with Romeo attending the Capulet’s masque, and with Romeo and Juliet swearing their love in marriage with the help of Friar Lawrence. The likeliness of their deaths was augmented by Tybalt battling Romeo, Romeo’s banishment, and Juliet and Friar Lawrence’s plan to reunite the lovers. The tragedy ultimately took form when Romeo and Juliet were faced with the decisions to kill themselves. At no point in the sequence of events was Romeo, Juliet, the Friar, or anyone else left without an alternate choice to his or her actual deeds. They were always conscious of what was happening around them, and had good ideas as to what may come about as a result of their actions. There was no intricately designed destiny that could not have been prevented; Romeo and Juliet’s road to destruction was paved simply by the poor choices they made and their own fate.

Remember

  • Be authoritative and persuasive.
  • Write in the present tense– check for verb agreement.
  • Give evidence and quotes to support your personal opinions.

Remember

  • Avoid using contractions. (For example, use cannot not can’t.) Contractions are colloquial and detract from the formality of your essay.
  • Avoid using first person phrases such as: “I am going to…” or “I want to…” or “I” anything.
  • Never use the phrases “In this essay…” or “This essay is concerned with…” when introducing your topic and thesis statement.

Remember

  • Avoid using the phrase “In conclusion” to begin your final paragraph.
  • Begin and end with a sharp and definitive statement.
  • Indent five spaces (tab) when beginning a new paragraph.

Remember

  • Pay attention to paragraph length. Generally, paragraphs are 4-6 sentences in length.
  • Note the opportunities to break up your paper into interesting bites.
  • Check for linking sentences (transitions).

Remember

  • Avoid drop-ins; that is, throwing in unrelated material.
  • Every idea or fact you use must be connected or explained. For example, it is great to say that Shakespeare had three children, but so what? You need to discuss why this is important to your essay or leave out this information altogether.

Remember

  • Proofread your essay.
  • Be careful of those commonly confused words like “there” and “their”.
  • Use a dictionary; it takes time, but it can make a huge difference in your grade.
  • Use a thesaurus – expand your vocabulary!

Remember

  • Revise your essay - the introduction you wrote at the beginning of your paper may change completely after you have finished writing.
  • Avoid padding -- try not to lengthen your essay by repeating your ideas or concepts in different terms.
  • Confirm that your essay has a well-constructed and logical beginning, a steady and clear progression of ideas, and a conclusion that summarizes and reaffirms your findings. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.

Remember

  • Use your own words and do not plagiarize.
  • Relate your conclusion directly to your introduction.

Remember

  • Italicize the title of a major literary work (a novel or play). For example, Of Mice or Men, or Romeo and Juliet.
  • Use quotations around the title of a short story, article, song, or poem. For example, “The Lottery,” or “The Raven.”

Remember

  • Use 8.5 by 11 plain white paper without side holes.
  • Type the final copy in black ink-- size 12 font in Times New Roman.
  • Double space the essay consistently throughout.
  • Staple your essay in the upper left hand corner - no plastic coverings or duo-tangs.

Remember

  • Use proper margins on all sides (2.5 cm or 1 inch all around).
  • Number the pages properly (refer to MLA Sample Page).

Documenting Sources

  • To figure out how to properly document the sources you use in your essay (in-text citations) and on a Works Cited page, and to avoid plagiarism, consult one of many useful sites on the Internet explaining the finer points of properly documenting sources.

Citation Hyperlinks

  • MLA Formatting and Style Guide - The OWL at Purdue
  • Bibliography/ Works Cited Maker
  • Citation Machine
  • UNB's Guide to MLA Style
  • Easy Bibliographies
  • Avoiding Plagiarism - The OWL at Purdue

Works Cited versus Bibliography

  • Works Cited refers to the page where you credit the sources you have quoted directly in your essay.
  • Bibliography refers to the page where you credit all sources consulted in preparation for the essay (whether you quoted them directly or not).
  • For the purpose of a literary essay, a Works Cited page is required.

To the student

  • It is your responsibility to determine the specific requirements of any given assignment.
  • The expectation is that you familiarize yourself with the formatting standards of academic writing.
  • MLA Sample Paper in PDF

A little levity…

  • For a lighthearted look at the importance of using formal language appropriately with transitions and complete thoughts…please visit:
  • Miss Teen South Carolina


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