Tag Archives: claims

1-2-3-4 Introduction!

by Meredith Hamilton

Introduction paragraphs are easily the most daunting part of the writing process. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the sheer magnitude of information you need to convey. If you’re feeling this way, take a step back and take a deep breath.

Here are the FOUR COMPONENTS OF A PERFECT INTRODUCTION:

  1. Logical organization. Think of your introduction paragraph as an upside-down equilateral triangle—broad at the top and focused at the bottom. Mirror this in your organization. Begin with a broad statement about your topic and slowly ease your reader into your focused thesis statement at the end.
  2. Assertive voice. Try not to use words like “seems” or “appears.” This will weaken your overall argument and not make the strong stance that your introduction paragraph should take.
  3. To the point. Don’t give in to the temptation to state all of your information in your introduction. I know it sometimes feels like you need to tell your readers everything at the beginning so that they’ll understand later, but this just isn’t the case. It’s actually more helpful to a reader if you keep your introduction simple and focused—drawing on the basic information that will best introduce your topic.
  4. Re-evaluate. Okay, so you’ve finished your introduction paragraph. Leave it alone for a few days. Let yourself have time away to think and evaluate. You’ll come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective! Then you’ll be able to revise your introduction as needed.

The key to a good introduction is a clear focus. If you know and can articulate where you want your paper to go, then your introduction will reflect your intentions. So don’t be scared! Introduction paragraphs are the best way to build a claim, and it’s about time you made your own claim!

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. 

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.

Reading scholarly articles—demystified

by Clayton Harper

In order to be a good researcher, you must be a good reader, or at least a diligent and strategic one. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I’ve noticed that students struggle to use ideas from their research to strengthen the arguments in their writing and participate in demanding classroom discussions. Let me say a few things to address that.

Reading scholarly articles and academic sources is hard. Writers will often dress up simple ideas in complex language. Many will throw as much jargon at their readers as they can. Name-dropping can be frequent and disorienting. Some of this complexity is important to understand. Some of it is unnecessary.

In order to “get something” out of your sources, you must read as a writer. That means reading a scholarly article by identifying the elements you use yourself to write a paper. Generally, this means separating the content of an article into claims and evidence. Scholarly articles tend to be composed of claims, which are statements that argue a broad concept, trend, or  idea; and evidence, which includes specific examples that support or illustrate each claim. When you read, underline or note on a separate piece of paper (or a Word document, if you prefer working digitally) all the claims you find. Sometimes a paragraph contains only one claim. Sometimes there will be more. For the most part, though, an article has much more evidence than claims.

By focusing on the claims of an article, you will remember more of its content. When you read an article to understand its claims/evidence structure, the content will condense into a handful of main ideas. Now you understand what you have read, and it’s much easier to remember 5-10 general ideas than 25 pages of wordy stuff. If you can discipline yourself to do this, you may also remember important bits of evidence that are linked to each claim. And if you don’t, because you underlined or took notes as you read, you will know exactly where to look to refresh your memory.

Don’t be discouraged by the reading process. No one flies through this stuff nodding their head and walking away with complete comprehension. Good readers are workmanlike. They take sources one piece at a time and slowly assemble the larger picture from the bits they understand. Don’t get hung up on the desire to master a source. Do take the steps to extract something that is understandable and useful from what you read. That’s the point of research, isn’t it?

Clayton Harper is a creative writing major and writing tutor at Principia College. He never doodles during class and isn’t known to daydream about crazy adventures to write about later.

A problem-solving approach to introductions

by Shamus Jarvis

I find it helpful to think of writing as a vehicle for problem solving. But before I can offer a solution to any given problem, I have to first gain a reader’s attention; otherwise I have no audience that can respond to the solution that I provide. The most effective way to ensure that a paper will both engage a reader—be it a fellow student or a professor—and establish the foundation for any claim or solution that a writer will defend in the body of the paper is to provide an intriguing and thought provoking introduction. The late Joseph M. Williams, in Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, insists that an introduction should include three primary components: shared context between the writer and the reader, a description of the problem, and the writer’s solution or claim.

By establishing a shared context with the reader, the writer explains why the reader is or will be affected by the problem presented within the paper. If the reader perceives that the given problem is unrelated to his or her own life, it is unlikely that that reader will be interested in reading about a solution to a problem that he or she does not perceive as a threat. The writer must convince the reader that he or she has something to gain or lose that is related to the central issue. This concept of gain and loss is related to a problem’s cost.

According to Williams, a problem is some event that is associated with a perceivable cost. If a condition, situation, or event has no cost, then no problem exists. Every problem has at least one or more consequence(s) that results in some unwanted or unintended result. Within a paper, it is important for the writer to present the consequences of an event in order to explain why that event should be recognized as a problem. As much as possible, the writer should endeavor to relate the consequences directly to the reader. Remember, if the reader believes that he or she has nothing at stake, there is no reason to continue reading. Imagine a reader asking, “So what?” after being presented with a problem. It is the writer’s job to answer the reader’s hypothetical inquiry in a way that clearly identifies the consequences of a problem and how they affect the reader.

Additionally, it is important for a writer to recognize whether he or she is attempting to solve a practical or a conceptual problem. When dealing with a practical problem, the writer will encourage the reader to execute a specific action that will either totally resolve or at least mitigate the problem. Conceptual problems often lack solutions that require specific actions. Instead, solutions are typically theoretical and require the reader to understand the larger context of the issue. Within the college environment, students are commonly asked to solve conceptual, rather than practical problems.

After the writer has presented a problem and its significant consequences or general cost to humanity, he or she should provide a solution or claim that addresses at least one of the problem’s consequences without introducing any additional ones. Obviously, the proposed solution should not magnify the intensity of the original problem. The solution or claim serves as the foundational point which the body of the paper will aim to support.

(Works Cited: Williams, Joseph M. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 9th ed. New York: Pearson Longman,    2007. Print.)

Shamus Jarvis is a junior at Principia College studying theatre and English. Hear him sing aboard the Titanic on November 14, 15, and 16 in Cox Auditorium.