1Advice for Writing an Argument-driven Essay
Professor Maurine Greenwald
Department of History
University of Pittsburgh
I. Procedures for composing the first version of the paper you will submit to your peers
A. Read the question carefully: decide exactly what the question is asking for; decide how the parts of multi-part questions relate to one another.
B. Make a trial thesis early in the pre-writing process and spend some time revising, refining, or rejecting that thesis.
C. Formulate your specific arguments to support your thesis: outline your main points using a complete sentence for each point. (These sentences may become topic sentences of paragraphs.) List examples under each sentence. Make the examples as specific as possible rather than listing general categories of examples.
Example of a thesis
of an essay on capital-labor relations in the Gilded Age: corporate leaders exercised inordinate power to preserve the sanctity of private property as compared with the power of workers to protect their standard of living from arbitrary wage cuts.
George Pullman’s handling of the Pullman workers’ boycott and strike in 1894 placed the power of political and military authorities on the side of big business.
George Pullman succeeded in getting Governor John Peter Altgeld, to call out the state guard to end the Pullman workers’ boycott against Pullman’s twenty-percent wage reduction.
2. First Draft
A. After you have completed the pre-writing process, get on with the first draft right away. Don’t stretch out the pre-writing process too long, especially if you are having trouble. Force yourself to get something down on paper. You can reorganize your first draft later in the process, but you cannot reorganize jumbled thoughts just by thinking about them longer. Writing should produce greater clarity of thought.
3. Review Your Draft before You Submit It to Your Peers
A. Re-read the question, then
1. read your thesis: does it answer the question fully?
2. read your concluding paragraph:
a. Does it relate back to your thesis?
b. Does it answer the question and summarize why you think that answer is correct?
c. If you find problems in the conclusion (or introduction) don’t spend too much time at this stage rewriting either section. Worry about them later. Conclusions and introductions are the most difficult part of the paper. They should be polished last. The conclusion
, especially, will become much easier once you have solved all of the structural problems within the paper. Since the conclusion is the restatement of your thesis and summary of your arguments, the conclusion will reflect whatever problems still exist in rest of the paper.
B. Check your arguments: Do they substantiate your thesis?
1. Make sure each topic sentence identifies an important point. Make sure the key point of each paragraph is not misplaced in the middle or at the end of the paragraph. If your paragraph is simply a compilation of information without a main point linked to your thesis, it will weaken your essay and confuse your reader. If the reader has to ask where is the writer going, then something is wrong.
2. Copy your topic sentences onto a separate computer screen or print a hard copy.
a. Does each topic sentence relate to the thesis?
b. Are they in the correct or best order for persuading the reader. Play around with your list of topic sentences, change their order, try new possibilities for making the most of your arguments.
C. Evaluate the internal coherence of each paragraph.
1. Read each paragraph sentence by sentence; does each sentence
a. relate to the topic sentence of the paragraph? If it does not then,
1. fix it so it does relate
2. remove it
b. connect to the sentence before and after?
D. Check for transitions between paragraphs
1. Look at the last sentence of each paragraph and the first sentence of the following paragraph. There should be a transition in each case. Test: identify the exact word or words which function as transitions. If you cannot identify precise words, a transition is probably missing.
E. Reread the paper–preferably a day later
–asking questions such as
1. Does it answer the question?
2. Does it prove its thesis?
3. Does it make sense?
4. Review your draft for stylistic changes:
A. Look for vagueness in concepts and examples
B. Look for wordiness
C. Look for awkward constructions and inappropriate usage
D. Look for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Use Diana Hacker’s Manual of Style and her Website–http://www.dianahacker.com/pocket–to check on these matters
5. Submit your first draft for peer evaluation
II. Procedures for revising your essay after you receive your peer critiques
A. Revision means a total scrutiny of your essay–thesis, argument development, use of evidence, writing style. Too often students think revision involves only fixing language errors. Do what writers do: look at every aspect of your essay with fresh eyes.
B. After you have received six peer critiques, read those critiques carefully and decide which advice–conceptual and stylistic–you want to accept. If several students identify the same kinds of problems with your first draft, you should certainly pay attention to their comments. If you receive discrepant readings
, then you will have to decide which advice to accept and which to reject, which arguments need expansion or clarification, which arguments contradict your thesis
, and so on. These decisions involve your informed judgment. Use the procedure for writing your first draft to evaluate your revised essay.