Tag Archives: argument

Write the introduction last

by Samantha Bronkar

Writing an introductory paragraph can be daunting, especially if you try to write it first. Introductions are the first part of the paper, but they do not have to be the first part you write!

You could start by writing your introduction, but you may run into some obstacles, such as:

– not knowing how to introduce a paper you haven’t written yet
– not knowing how to handle a blank document
– not knowing which points you should include in the introduction, and which ones you should leave out

Before you begin to write, choose a working thesis or, in other words, a thesis that certainly may change. As you learn more about your topic, your thesis may become more complex, or you may decide to change your thesis entirely.

Because your initial thesis may change throughout the writing process, writing the introduction first may not be the best approach. If your thesis changes, you may have to rewrite your entire introduction.

Instead, write the body paragraphs—or the detailed argument—first. This process will take more time than writing your introduction, but it will allow you to build your argument fully and freely, without being limited by what you stated in your introduction. And it will save you time on your introduction when it’s time to write it!

Once you finish writing your body paragraphs, you are ready to write your introduction!  By the time you finish writing the body of your paper, you can decide what you feel are the most important points of your argument.

You can think of your introduction as a guide for the reader to understand the main points of your argument before moving into the body of your paper. Make sure to include essential background information and key points you will discuss in your argument, now that you know what they are.

Saving the introduction for last can also ensure that your conclusion matches your introduction. While they are not the same exact paragraph, they should identify the same main points. Once you’ve finished up your introduction, you’ve got a complete, unified draft!

Samantha Bronkar is a junior and will be in Prague next fall studying creative writing and visual art.

Claims + evidence = persuasion

by Shannon Naylor

Claims and evidence make sense in a courtroom: the prosecutor claims that the defendant did the crime and provides evidence to build her case. If there is not enough evidence, or it takes the wrong form, the jury doesn’t accept the claim of guilt. The same system applies in persuasive writing, although with lower stakes. As the writer of a persuasive paper, you must make a claim or series of claims that must then be supported by evidence.

Let’s clarify what we mean with some definitions. In our example of a court case, the claim is the accusation of guilt. In a paper, the claim is the thesis and every other statement that is something that can be argued. Courtroom evidence might include video surveillance footage or fingerprints left behind at the scene of the crime. In a paper, evidence is comprised of facts, examples, and data.

We have claims and evidence, but how do we use them? The first step is to remember that any paper that is all evidence (that means only evidence) is a report, not a persuasive essay; likewise, a paper that is made of only claims cannot be persuasive because the claims are unfounded (without evidence). To illustrate: if I were to lecture on the theme that cats make the best pets, I would never persuade you of my position if I didn’t list reasons why. Similarly, if I rattled off cat facts, you would probably be confused (and then frustrated) at my lack of explanation. A balance must be struck between the two so that you have something to be persuasive about (claims) and something to be persuasive with (evidence).

In practice, this is easily seen in the structure of a typical paragraph, which opens with a topic sentence, or claim. This is followed by the body of the paragraph, which is a mixture of facts (evidence) and commentary (claims tying facts together). To see the balance of claims and evidence in your writing, try going through your papers with two highlighters. Use one color to highlight each claim, and the other color to highlight each piece of evidence. Now that they are visible, you can check to make sure that your claims and evidence are working together harmoniously.

Shannon Naylor is a senior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. Currently, she is working on capstones for her majors and has just finished the spring production of Our Country’s Good.

Five foolproof thesis tips

by Meredith Hamilton

When trying to formulate a thesis statement it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you have spent an extensive amount of time researching your paper topic, you might not know how to focus your information. If you don’t know the point you’re trying to argue, then you might be struggling with turning a general statement into a claim. No fear! Here are five tips for better thesis statements:

  1. WRITE OUT ALL IDEAS. Write down all of the ideas that interest you on a piece of paper. Decide which ideas are most relevant and narrow your list down to one or two ideas. If you have more than one idea, think of how they relate to each other. These connections will make your thesis statement cohesive. If you only have one idea, you’re already on your way!
  1. CREATE A QUESTION. Formulate a question that you want your paper to answer. Your answer is your thesis statement. The more specific the question, the more focused the answer. For example if I were to write a paper about Jane Austen, I might ask: How do Jane Austen’s novels promote or detract from feminism? Don’t be afraid to write the first answer that comes into your head. You can revise and refine your thesis statement as many times as you need to!
  1. ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY INFO. Cut out the parts of your thesis statement that you can explain in your introduction paragraph. You can’t explain all of your ideas in one sentence! Let the supporting information precede your thesis. This info will lead your reader to your claim and ultimately make for a stronger, more organized, paper.
  1. SWITCH SENTENCE COMPONENTS. If your thesis statement isn’t sounding right, try switching the end of your sentence with the beginning. This is especially helpful when dealing with compound sentences. Allow yourself to see your thesis with fresh eyes and consider how the new sentence construction affects it. It might not work, but don’t be afraid to try it out!
  1. EMPHASIZE DIFFERENT WORDS. Read your thesis out loud several times, emphasizing different words each time. This can reveal nuances you hadn’t noticed before. By emphasizing different sections of your thesis you sometimes realize you’re focusing on the wrong ideas. This will also give you a new look at your statement.

A well-constructed thesis statement sets your paper up for success. Always remember to ask yourself these questions: Is it debatable? Am I making a claim? Does it make sense? If your answer is yes, you’re on your way! If you’re not sure, use these tips to reevaluate. Happy thesis crafting!

Meredith Hamilton is a sophomore majoring in political science and English. Two of her favorite college experiences thus far have been studying abroad in England and Spain. 

Yea or naysayer

by Laura Tibbetts

I used to think that the process of writing a research paper was essentially the following:

  1. Gather information.
  2. Come up with a thesis.
  3. Write about the information in order to prove the thesis.

However, a couple years ago, I read a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein called They Say / I Say, which changed my perspective a bit.

One of the topics of the book is the importance of including a “naysayer” in thesis papers. The term “naysayer” refers to someone who disagrees with a point that you are trying to prove. It may seem counterintuitive to include contradictory ideas in your paper, but when used correctly, the contradictory ideas can make your thesis even stronger.

Why?

Because they provide an opportunity to respectfully explain that while the naysayer’s opinions are valuable, your thesis should be considered correct for whatever reasons you present in your paper.

This allows you to show that you are aware of the different perspectives on your topic and that you have thought through them and chosen your thesis for a reason.

The point of the naysayer is to create a conversation that allows you to prove your thesis, or argument. Without a naysayer, your thesis paper would be purposeless, because you would basically be trying to prove a point that no one was even questioning in the first place.

The naysayer does not necessarily have to be a specific scholar; it could be the opinion of a group of people, or it could simply be a common perception about your topic that you would like to debate (e.g. “It may seem that…” or “It is generally believed that…”).

Whatever form it takes, a naysayer is a valuable tool for making research papers more meaningful, interesting, and convincing.

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Reining in your creative genius

by Samantha Bronkar

Have you ever had writing moments when thoughts flowed directly through your fingertips onto paper? Rather than letting the flow of inspiration stop so you can find a perfect word or phrase, you can be free to express ideas as easily as they enter your mind.

The kicker? Revision.

If a writer wants to embody joyous, inspired thoughts on paper, she must also take on the task of reviewing her ideas individually and collectively. She must evaluate her ideas for validity, clarity, and flow.

Below are three questions that can guide your editing process:

How can I say this sentence more clearly? Take this question one sentence—one phrase, even—at a time. First drafts are often full of cluttered and unclear sentences. Once you stumble across a confusing or long-winded sentence, try breaking it down into its basic elements. Figure out what it was you were trying to say in the first place. When you understand what you wanted to say, simply say it! In the words of Jack Kerouac, acclaimed American novelist and poet, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Rough draft thoughts can be messy. Revision is the time for tweaking and refining; this is the step when useless words, phrases, or sentences can be removed.

Does this sentence (or thought) help my argument? Look at your paper as a whole. First, decide what your thesis or purpose is in the paper. Next, take on the introductory sentence for each paragraph. Your introductory sentence should guide the rest of the paragraph. If you come across a sentence that seems to counter your main purpose, or sidetrack from it, the sentence may belong somewhere else in the paper, or the thought is irrelevant altogether. Tying each point back to the original thesis can help determine a sentence’s importance (or weakness).

Does this paragraph make sense in the context of my entire paper? (Is it being a good neighbor?) Does it prove my thesis? Some paragraphs can be complete and insightful on their own. However, they must also work with the other paragraphs to prove the thesis. Start with one paragraph. Read through it and decide the purpose it serves in your entire paper. With that overall goal in mind—your thesis—move on to the paragraph following it. The following paragraph should build on the material from the previous one, and both of these—along with all the others—should work together to prove your original thesis or point.

Help yourself out by leaving plenty of time to revise. In your rough draft, you should feel free to be messy, ask big questions, and take leaps of faith. Let your inspiration flow! Before the final is due (and hopefully not the night before), take the time to re-evaluate your initial thoughts and refine them. Remember, revising should be the largest part of the writing process!

Samantha Bronkar is an English major, and she is a member of the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.