How to Write an Essay even essays have a story to tell the Process



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How to Write an Essay

  • EVEN ESSAYS HAVE A STORY TO TELL….

The Process

  • Research & Brainstorm
  • Thesis Statement
  • Structural Map
  • Alternative Structures
  • The Body
  • Refine your Writing
  • Edit

Research & Brainstorm

  • Primary Sources
  • From the start: While reading, note down all meaningful quotes and their pages.
  • Include observations of both form and content.
  • After a while, begin to note major themes and issues; try to begin grouping quotes and events according to these themes.
  • (e.g. from Utopia, some themes from my notes include: golden age, manipulation of the masses, selfishness as natural law, written in first person, etc.)

Research & Brainstorm

  • Secondary Resources
  • While reading the primary text, if anything comes to mind from previous research (e.g. Plato, theories of economics, contemporary news, etc.) note these. Cross-disciplinary associations are often what make an essay unique and interesting.
  • Use your own ‘library’ first, then general internet searches, then do catalogue and e-resource searches.
  • Check ‘criticism’ from similar books (e.g. critical essay introductions).
  • Including an actual book from the library can be nice.

Research & Brainstorm

  • Consolidation and Categorization
  • Spend some time closely examining the notes made from primary and secondary texts.
  • Determine what is really interesting from these notes and do not be worried about leaving out stuff that does not seem as important.
  • Begin to put together 2-5 categories of themes/theories/issues; like a puzzle.

Research & Brainstorming

  • What are some themes, quotes, narrative events, issues, or interesting techniques of structure and form from Brave New World?

Thesis Statement

  • The Thesis Statement is the Riddle and its answer at the Heart of the Essay. It comes out of ‘puzzling’ through the categories of themes and theories from your research and calculating what the sum of these categorical parts are ‘equal’ to.

Thesis Statement

  • Thesis Statement Formula:
  • Archive + Proofs + Argument
  • Archive is the text, topic, and/or author(s).
  • Proofs are the 2-5 categories you found interesting.
  • Argument is the sum of these categorical parts.

Thesis Statement

  • Examples:
  • In Psycho the director uses cinematography, editing, and sound to create an atmosphere of suspense.
  • What is the archive, proofs, argument?
  • The statement can be in any order:
  • Arguing that altruism does not exist and that sympathy is fundamentally selfish, in her text The Psychology of Sympathy, Karen Wispe suggests that sympathy is a collective survival mechanism.
  • Archive, proofs, argument?

Thesis Statement

  • Simple vs. Sophisticated Thesis Statements
  • Simple:
  • In Psycho the director uses cinematography, editing, and sound to create an atmosphere of suspense.
  • Slightly more sophisticated:
  • In Psycho, Hitchcock uses distorted angles, rapid editing, and alarming sound effects to generate anxiety for the spectator.
  • How is this 2nd example more sophisticated?

Thesis Statement

  • If the ‘argument’ part of your statement seems too obvious, too general, or too simple…
  • Use more specific language.
  • Try moving this ‘argument’ around and using it as a proof instead.
  • If this ‘argument’ is really general, think of it as a topic and brainstorm proofs that deal with that topic; generate an argument after writing about these proofs.

Thesis Statement

  • The Thesis Statement can and should be revised later on, so do not stress about it being perfect at this point. Just try to have a statement to work from.

Thesis Statement

  • In groups of 3 or 4, create a thesis statement for Brave New World or “A Modest Proposal” using the archives+proofs+argument formula.
  • As a class, we will analyze the statements and brainstorm ways to make them as sophisticated and specific as possible.

Structural Map

  • A Structural Map is an Essay Outline.
  • Traditional Structural Map: the ‘Hamburger Essay’

Structural Map

  • More specifically, the traditional map would have:
  • Title:
  • Introduction: start off general, move to specific, ending with Thesis Statement.
  • Body 1: Proof 1
  • Body 2: Proof 2
  • Body 3: Proof 3
  • Conclusion: Restate thesis (in a way that shows how you’ve progressed through the argument); end with general observations on topic.

Structural Map

  • The Thesis Statement provides the Blueprint because it provides the 3 proofs, or body paragraphs.
  • The main argument is then restated at the start or end of each paragraph as that individual proof is used as evidence towards proving it.
  • Most importantly: The thesis statement gives the reader an idea of what to expect in terms of structure. This is an invaluable rhetorical technique in terms of convincing the reader of the soundness of your argument.

Structural Map

  • This traditional format, much like the ‘hamburger’ essay with its bread and meat in the middle, is okay to use. As long as your thesis is sophisticated and you follow through with critical analysis, research, and insight throughout the body of the paper, using an introduction, body with 3 paragraphs, and conclusion is great.
  • It is classic essay architecture for a reason: it provides a strong, argumentative structure.

Alternative Structures

  • The traditional structure is a good format to start with and to master. However, as long as your essay has structure; makes that structure known, or easily recognizable, to the reader; and proves, and states, an overall argument, it will be a good academic essay.
  • Has structure
  • Reader can follow structure
  • Has an argument

Alternative Structures

  • There are infinite alternatives; some may be stronger than the traditional, some weaker.
  • Some examples:
  • Modified Hamburger (personalized toppings, sliders)
  • Progressive (each proof builds upon the previous)
  • Comparative (weave threads of similarity between texts)
  • Dialectic (A+B=C)
  • Machine (process paragraphs with different purposes of logic)

Alternative Structures

  • A good way to be creative with structure is to use visualization. If the ‘hamburger’ or ‘inverted triangle-rectangle-triangle’ formats are not working for you, play around with the shape(s):
  • For example:

Alternative Structures

  • The only ‘rule’ that governs essay structure is the same as that which governs all great stories: it should have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • How you choose to shape this journey for the reader is your own creative volition.

Alternative Structures

  • In your groups, brainstorm alternative essay structures.

The Body

  • If you have spent some constructive time categorizing themes, creating a thesis statement, and organizing the material into a coherent structure, then when it comes time to the actual writing of the essay, things will just fall into place.

The Body

  • However, take care not to just ‘plug’ in proofs and quotes. Here are some techniques for avoiding this:
  • Quotes…
  • Comment on quotes before and after stating them. Avoid ending paragraphs, and especially entire essays, with someone else’s words.
  • Further, don’t let other people do the majority of the speaking in your paper. A few good rules are to have as many references as you have pages of writing, a maximum of 3 short quotes per page, and a maximum of 2 long quotes per 10 pages.

The Body

  • Order…
  • Order your paragraphs in such a way as to make a ‘progressive’ argument that builds upon previous paragraphs. What is each paragraph about? What could be the ‘title’ of each paragraph? What is the best order for the paragraphs?
  • Within each paragraph, order your quotes and discussions in a progressive manner.
  • Within each sentence, order thoughts and lists in a meaningful way.

The Body

  • Perspective and Analysis
  • Move from big-picture (i.e. restatement of thesis) to small (i.e. close analysis) throughout.
  • Always include close readings of the primary and secondary texts, but be selective in regards to what you choose to include.
  • Detailed analysis of everything you end up selecting is just as important as thoughtful structure.

Refine Your Writing

  • Formatting:
  • Use a creative Title (that includes creativity + topic or even thesis argument; many use the two part-colon format…creative phrase: topic information)
  • Use Topic Sentences at the beginning of each paragraph
  • Use Transitional Sentences at the end of each paragraph
  • Use sentence variation throughout
  • Aphorism at the start? Should be relevant, and revisited in the paper (maybe at the end)

Refine Your Writing

  • Common Grammar mistakes…
  • Semi-colons (use when lists have commas within items); also,
  • There needs to be complete phrases on both sides of the semi-colon; each phrase potentially could stand alone as a complete sentence, but the two are like one disconnected thought.
  • Colons
  • The first phrase needs to be complete: followed by either a complete or incomplete phrase, typically a list or phrase illustrating the first phrase.

Refine Your Writing

  • Commas…The 21 rules
  • http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp
  • Some important rules from ‘the 21’:
  • Rule 1: In a series of 3 or more (use serial comma before third)

Refine Your Writing

  • Rule 8: Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt sentence flow. (Writing skills development, you must agree, is so exciting.)
  • Rule 12: Use comma between two strong clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor). (I have finished for the day, but the lecture has not.)
  • Rule 14: Comma Splice: I have finished for the day, the lecture has not. Needs a conjunction!-but, and…

Refine Your Writing

  • Rule 16: Use a comma before introducing short, direct quotes. He said, “give me that pie!”
  • Rule 20: Surrounding interrupters (however and therefore).

Edit

  • Edit 3 x…at least
  • Edit for overall structure and revise thesis statement to match.
  • Edit for flow and MLA format.
  • Edit for spelling and grammar.

Edit

  • Writing Help at Ryerson…
  • Ryerson Writing Center
  • (one-on-one appointments and online resources to help you write an essay from start to finish)
  • http://www.ryerson.ca/writingcentre/
  • Writing Skills Initiative (my email is mjsandhu@yorku.ca)
  • The End:>


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