Tag Archives: thesis

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. 

What’s it all about, Alfie?

I like giving my students as open-ended writing assignments as I can. If they can choose a topic or a piece of literature that they connect with, their papers will be stronger and more thoughtful. But often they sit staring blankly at a piece of paper trying to think of what to write about or how to get started. That’s when I use a free-questioning method. That’s right: free-questioning, not free-writing.

The technique is simple. I ask them to choose a poem from one we’ve read (or if we are focused on one particular piece of literature, to think about that piece) and sit and write for five minutes. My one restriction is that they can only write questions. I tell them that it’s okay if the process seems unnatural at first. If they can’t think of any questions to start with, they can write, “Why do we have to do this silly exercise?” But it doesn’t take long before they move into truly substantial questions.

When the five minutes are up, I ask them to cross off all questions that would require outside research (if the assignment is a close reading assignment) or to cross off any questions that don’t require research (if it’s a research paper). Once they’ve narrowed down the questions, I ask them to choose their three most difficult questions–the three that would require them to really dig into the material. Once they’ve done that, I ask them to choose the one question of the three that they most care about exploring. The students then share their questions, and I give them feedback on whether or not the question might need refining or expanding. Finally, I point out to them that once they discover their answer, that will be their thesis.

This procedure has many advantages, but the main one is that they begin to understand that writing a solid paper requires real engagement with a topic, real questioning and exploring. They also learn that formulating a thesis isn’t as much a mystery as they thought.

Heidi Snow is an associate professor of English at Principia College, and she has been teaching at Principia College for 12 years. Besides being a professor, Heidi is also a published writer. Heidi enjoys reading and traveling abroad to Europe.

How to write a research paper without feeling overwhelmed

by Laura Tibbetts

  1. Find a topic that interests you. Even if professors assign an overall topic for the paper, the topic will often be broad enough for you to find some aspect of it that interests you.
  1. Get sources. Use the library, I-Share, and databases to collect as many sources as you need about your topic.
  1. Research! Skim or browse through all the sources you’ve found, taking note of information that strikes you as particularly relevant to your topic or that provides an interesting opinion/perspective. Be on the lookout for short passages where an author expresses an idea clearly and concisely, because those passages may be useful to quote later in your paper. This stage of the process would also be a good time to start a bibliography so that you can keep track of your sources.
  1. Formulate a thesis. Based on the research you’ve done and the different opinions you’ve found on your topic, come up with a specific and arguable thesis—one that shows what the focus of your paper will be and illustrates your opinion about a question/perspective on your topic that came up in your research. Your thesis can always evolve as you write your paper.
  1. Outline. Now that you have a specific topic and thesis, make a basic outline with an introduction, conclusion, and the main topics supporting your thesis that you want to cover in the body of your paper. Add a few supporting points under each main topic. After making the basic outline, expand it by adding details to all of your paragraphs in the outline, and include specific quotes, paraphrases, or summaries from what you’ve found in your research (don’t forget to cite your sources!). Sandwich the research in between your own thoughts and opinions about the research. (See “A quote sandwich to remember.”)
  1. Make the outline into full sentences. You essentially already have your paper—now you just need to turn all the phrases in your outline into full sentences. You may need to add transitions so that everything flows smoothly, as well as introductory and concluding sentences to each paragraph.
  1. Revise and edit. This is arguably the most important step in the process of writing a paper, so make sure you leave enough time for as much revising as possible. It doesn’t matter if your initial paper is terrible; as long as you devote enough effort to this stage, you could still end up with a great paper.

One of the benefits of this process is that if you follow it, you entirely avoid the problem of staring at a blank page and trying to create a paper out of thin air. Breaking up the process into steps has made writing research papers much less overwhelming for me, and I hope you find it useful as well!

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

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.

Use WIRMI when you’re squirmy

by Ellen Sprague

A student just left my office, the third this week to whom I’ve touted what is fast becoming my favorite revision strategy—WIRMI. When students come to me feeling squirmy about their writing; when they are confused and uncertain about why their professor has told them to “clarify” or “explain”; when their professor has dared ask “What do you mean?” in the margin—that’s when I like to pull out WIRMI.

I learned about WIRMI in Linda Flower’s now out-of-print Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. That title zeroes in on just what WIRMI does; it solves problems.

WIRMI stands for this:

What

I

Really

Mean

Is

Here’s how to use it:

When you’re working on clarifying a thesis, just start with “What I really mean is” and follow with a direct explanation. You can refine the language once you get the right ideas  onto the page.

When you’re writing or revising a draft, WIRMI can act as a placeholder—again allowing you to get the ideas out before worrying how to craft them into graceful prose (which comes after other revision steps). After the paragraph, or perhaps in the margin, write “What I really mean is…” and complete that sentence simply and directly. The new sentence will likely serve as the basis for a clear and accurate topic sentence.

Don’t worry about the actual words “What I really mean is” cluttering up your paper. In some instances you can replace WIRMI in your draft with something like this, “This means that…,” and again, complete the sentence. It will flow. In other cases, you can drop the initial phrase completely because the rest of your revised sentence will be clear and say, believe it or not, what you really mean!

WIRMI will help your reader understand exactly what you mean because you’ll actually have to write it clearly. Quit squirming and give it a try!

Ellen Sprague teaches Principia College’s writing/research tutor training course, Teaching the Writing Process, and manages the tutor program and this blog. She holds an MA in French from Middlebury College and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.