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15 Tips to Help You Write a Stellar Essay
Essay-writing can be easier than you might think if you have a grasp of the basics and a willingness to engage with the subject matter. Here are 15 top tips for writing a stellar essay.
Do Your Research
This is one of the most important tips you’ll ever receive. Research thoroughly, even if it means you have too many notes. It’s better to have to leave stuff out than not have enough to write about.
Make an Outline
Without a properly structured outline (with an intro, a four- to five-point body and a conclusion), your essay may be hard to write and to follow.
While you might just be writing your essay for a teacher or professor that is paid to read it, it still pays to grab their attention. A “hook” like a quote or surprising statistic in your intro can make your reader want to read on.
Lay Out Your Thesis
The intro isn’t all about flair and grabbing attention. It’s also about laying out your thesis. Make your main argument clear in the first few sentences, setting up a question to answer or statement to prove.
Avoid Passive Voice
If you want your writing to be persuasive, passive voice should be avoided. (That sentence was full of it, by the way. For example, “You should avoid passive voice” is a more convincing way to say “passive voice should be avoided.”)
Avoid First-Person Voice
If you’re writing an academic essay, you should almost certainly avoid first-person voice. In other words, avoid saying “I” or “my.” Also restrict your use of the second-person voice (e.g., don’t use “you” unless it’s necessary).
Start With Your Strongest Point
In general, it’s a good idea to start with your strongest argument in your first body paragraph. This sets the scene nicely. However, this might not be appropriate if you are structuring your essay points chronologically.
Relate All Points Back to Your Thesis
Make it clear to your reader how each point you make relates back to your thesis (i.e., the question or statement in your introduction, and probably your title too). This helps them to follow your argument.
Contextualize Without Losing Focus
Add contextualizing information for a richer presentation of your topic. For example, it’s fine (or even desirable) to discuss the historical background for certain events. Just don’t get bogged down by irrelevant details.
Use Transition Phrases
Transition phrases, such as “furthermore,” “by contrast” and “on the other hand,” can also help your reader to follow your argument. But don’t overuse them at the cost of clarity. Read your essay aloud to gauge how it flows.
Conclude With a Return to Your Thesis
A conclusion can do many things, but it’s useful to think of it as an answer to the question or statement in your intro. It’s sensible to summarize your key points, but always relate back to your thesis.
Make Your Conclusion Seem Obvious
Restating your thesis in your conclusion (after having made all of your points and arguments in the body) can be persuasive. Aim to make your conclusion feel irrefutable (at least if it’s a persuasive essay).
If your spelling is sloppy, it’s natural for your reader to assume your approach to writing the essay was too. This could harm the strength of an otherwise persuasive essay.
Grammar is also important, for the same reason. It’s usually easy to pick up on dodgy grammar if you read your essay aloud. If you’re not a native English speaker, however, you might want to ask someone who is to check your essay.
To avoid harming your persuasiveness and authority, it’s fundamentally important to use the right words. Overly obscure language can detract from the clarity of your argument, but if you feel you have to use it, then you better know what it means.
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Purpose of Writing an Essay
Rochelle spears wilson, 24 jun 2018.
There are many steps that go into writing an essay, and the first step is to ask yourself why you're writing this piece in the first place. Every essay must, therefore, have a purpose, and the purpose of your essay is determined by your goal as a writer, as well as your subject matter. There are many types of essays a person can write, but in general, there must be a purpose to the essay: to inform, to persuade, to explain or to entertain.
Explore this article
- Writing to Inform
- Writing to Persuade
- Writing to Explain
- Writing to Entertain
1 Writing to Inform
When you write to inform, your goal is to introduce the audience to a topic they may not be familiar with, yet they may already have some background information about. In this case, your job is to report facts, not provide your thoughts on the subject. An example of an informative essay might be one that focuses on three types of dog breeds. If you are asked to include research in your informative essay, choose reputable resources that provide facts, not opinions.
2 Writing to Persuade
When you write to persuade, your goal is for your audience to take action — or at least, to want to take action — based on what you’ve written. An example of a persuasive essay might be one in which you persuade your audience to vote for your chosen presidential candidate. If you are asked to include research in your persuasive essay, your thesis statement should let the audience know what action you expect of them, and the research you provide in your essay should explain why that action is important.
3 Writing to Explain
When you write to explain, your goal is to help your audience understand a process or situation. An example of writing to explain might be an essay in which you explain to your audience how to bake a birthday cake, how to download software on your computer or how to register as a voter. If you’ve been asked to write for the purpose of explaining, it's always a good idea to choose to explain something that you're already familiar with.
4 Writing to Entertain
When you write to entertain, your goal is to provide an emotional experience for your audience. An example of writing to entertain might be an essay in which you tell about your most embarrassing moment, recount your most memorable vacation or talk about a hardship that you've faced in your life. You should try to think of it from the reader's point of view and find ways to be creative with your writing so you can evoke the senses. The object is to try to make the reader feel something, whether it be to laugh, to cry or to simply make him or her think.
- 1 Tips-o-Matic: Essays
- 2 Daily Writing tips: 3 Types of Essays Are Models for Professional Writing Forms
About the Author
Rochelle Spears Wilson holds a MA in professional writing and a BA in English. She was a classroom teacher for nine years and taught English, social studies and technology. She has worked with students in grades 4-12 and now owns her own consulting business.
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Genres in academic writing: Essays
Almost all students will at some time be expected to write an essay, or some other kind of argument, e.g. a review or discussion section, in a longer piece of writing. In English, an essay is a piece of argumentative writing several paragraphs long written about one topic, usually based on your reading. The aim of the essay should be deduced strictly from the wording of the title or question (See Academic Writing: Understanding the Question ), and needs to be defined at the beginning. The purpose of an essay is for you to say something for yourself using the ideas of the subject, for you to present ideas you have learned in your own way. The emphasis should be on working with other people's ideas, rather than reproducing their words, but your own voice should show clearly. The ideas and people that you refer to need to made explicit by a system of referencing.
According to Linda Flower (1990, p. v), "students are reading to create a text of their own, trying to integrate information from sources with ideas of their own, and attempting to do so under the guidance of a purpose ."
Your essay should have the following sections:
1. Preliminaries Title page 2. Main text Introduction Main body Conclusion 3. End matter References
1. Preliminaries Before you start the main part of your essay or assignment, there should be a title page. The title page should contain information to enable your lecturer and departmental office or other reader to identify exactly what the piece of work is. It should include your name and course; the title of the assignment and any references; the lecturer it is for etc. Check with your department for clear information.
2. Main text English essays are linear: - they start at the beginning and finish at the end, with every part contributing to the main line of argument, without digressions or repetition. Writers are responsible for making their line of argument clear and presenting it in an orderly fashion so that the reader can follow. Each paragraph discusses one major point and each paragraph should lead directly to the next. The paragraphs are tied together with an introduction and a conclusion. The main text of the essay has three main parts: An introduction A main body A conclusion I. The introduction. The introduction consists of two parts: It should include a few general statements about the subject to provide a background to your essay and to attract the reader's attention. It should try to explain why you are writing the essay. It may include a definition of terms in the context of the essay, etc. It should also include a statement of the specific subdivisions of the topic and/or indication of how the topic is going to be tackled in order to specifically address the question. It should introduce the central idea or the main purpose of the writing. II. The main body. The main body consists of one or more paragraphs of ideas and arguments. Each paragraph develops a subdivision of the topic. The paragraphs of the essay contain the main ideas and arguments of the essay together with illustrations or examples. The paragraphs are linked in order to connect the ideas. The purpose of the essay must be made clear and the reader must be able to follow its development. III. The conclusion. The conclusion includes the writer's final points. It should recall the issues raised in the introduction and draw together the points made in the main body and explain the overall significance of the conclusions. What general points can be drawn from the essay as a whole? It should clearly signal to the reader that the essay is finished and leave a clear impression that the purpose of the essay has been achieved.
PRELIMINARIES ↓ I. INTRODUCTION General Statement Organisation Statement ↓ II. MAIN BODY A. Introductory Sentence Point 1 Point 2 Point 3 ... Concluding Sentence ↓ B. Introductory Sentence Point 1 Point 2 Point 3 ... Concluding Sentence ↓ C. Introductory Sentence Point 1 Point 2 Point 3 ... Concluding Sentence ↓ III. CONCLUSION Recall issues in introduction; draw together main points; final comment. ↓ END MATTER
3. End Matter At the end of the essay, there should be a list of references. This should give full information about the materials that you have used in the assignment. See Writing a list of references for more information on the reference list.
Ways of organising essays.
Essays are organised differently according to their purpose. Essays can be divided into the following main types.
1. The descriptive essay a. Description of object or place b. Describing a sequence of events. c. Describing a process d. Describing and explaining
2. The argument essay
a. The balanced view b. The persuasive essay c. The to what extent essay.
3. Compare and contrast essays
a. The contrast essay b. The compare essay c. The compare and contrast essays
1. The descriptive essay
a. Description of object or place Describe essays require you to state the appearance of something, or to state the major characteristics of it. Note the word state i.e. you are not asked to comment on the subject or to give your personal point of view on it. Questions are often introduced by: Describe .... Narrate... Tell....
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing objects, locations & directions
b. Describing a sequence of events. Describing a sequence of events is simply telling a story. State clearly when events happened or how one event caused another. Questions may be introduced by: Give an account of... Trace... Examine developments in...
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Reporting & narrating
c. Describing a process This is like telling a story but here the connections between the facts must be clearly shown and explained. Group the events into steps or stages. Examples of such questions are : Explain/What is the connection between... Describe the procedures by which...
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing processes & developments
d. Describing and explaining Some of the words and phrases which introduce this type of description are: Explain the causes/reasons.... Account for.... Analyse the causes.... Comment on (the reasons for).... Show that.... Show why... Examine the effect of.... Suggest reasons for.... Why did...? What are the implications of...? Discuss the causes of.... Discuss the reasons for....
When we are asked to describe or explain causes, factors, functions or results, the examiner wants us to group our facts. Similar causes are put together, for instance the economic causes of a situation. There are basically two main ways to organise this type of essay.
The question is "Describe the causes of A. Illustrate your answer by specific examples."
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect
There are two main methods of presenting an argument, and in general the one you choose will depend on exactly how the essay title is worded.
a. The balanced view If the essay title begins with something like: Give the arguments for and against.... Assess the importance of.... Examine the arguments for and against.... What are the advantages and disadvantages of...? Evaluate.... Critically examine the statement that.... To what extent is...true? or even just the word Discuss....
then it is clear that a balanced essay is required. That is to say you should present both sides of an argument, without necessarily committing yourself to any points of view, which should always be based on evidence, until the final paragraph.
At its simplest your essay plan will be as follows:
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing ; - Expressing degrees of certainty ; - Generalising ; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences ; - Giving examples
b. The persuasive essay This second type of argumentative essay involves stating your own point of view immediately, and trying to convince the reader by reasoned argument that you are right. Perhaps the essay title will begin with something like: Give your views on.... What do you think about...? Do you agree that...? Consider whether....
Or perhaps the title itself will be so controversial that everyone will hold a definite opinion in one direction or another.
The form of the essay will be, in outline, as follows:
c. The to what extent essay In this type of essay the examiner is giving you a statement. It is obviously true but truth is never 100%. You must decide how true it is? Are there some areas where you disagree with the statement. If so, describe how far you agree, and your points of agreement and disagreement. Words used in the question are: To what extent .... How true .... How far do you agree....
A possible answer structure is:
3. Compare and contrast essays.
a The Contrast essay Contrast or distinguish between questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the differences between them. The question may be of the form: Contrast .... Distinguish between ... What is the difference between.... What are the differences between.... How are ... and ... different?
A suitable answer structure would be:
See: Academic Writing: Functions - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences ; - Defining ; - Generalising ; - Giving examples
b. The Compare essay Compare questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the similarities between them. Words used are: Compare .... What features do ... and ... have in common? What are the similarities between.... How are ... and ... similar?
c. The compare and contrast essay Compare and contrast essays require you to indicate areas in which the things to be compared are similar and different. Compare and contrast....
There are two main ways to answer such questions:
Plan answers for some of the questions in Understanding the question: Examples of questions.
Back to Introduction
Purpose Of Writing An Essay
- Author Sandra W.
Determining The Purpose Of An Essay
When writing an essay that one reason that makes you write that article is known as the purpose. It is the implied reason and the manner that you want your paper to be understood by your audience. The purpose of any essay is either to inform, change attitude or persuade a certain thought. It may also try to provoke a thought or express certain feelings. Always have a vision of study don’t write for the sake of it.
It becomes a challenge in writing an essay for some students at different academic levels. Essay writing is essential in studies since it helps in testing literacy levels plus their analytical skills.
Instruction to follow when determining the purpose of an essay
- In order to derive the purpose of an essay one is required to consider the topic one wants to communicate. Within the topic try to display a certain point of view which should be convincing enough.
- Your essay should consider targeting a certain group of audience knowing who your reader is will help you derive a good purpose. The need of your audience should be fully crafted within the context of your work. For example; an essay meant for people in school should be different from that one of people in unions. In the sense that one for academicians’ should use different language and images while that of unions does not consider all that. Always relate with the mood of your audience strive to meet their expectation.
- When dealing with persuasive essay, you may need to use provocative words that display strong emotions since the audience may very arrogant and hostile. By this you shall be able to connect with reader up to your point of view.
- Always be time conscious. Check to what moment you should write your essay. Some require a current and relevant argument derived from historical events. Some require making an impact that is relevant for the future purpose.
- Try to find out where you can get source of your information that you intend to share. Find out the methodology that you are going to use in gathering information. You may decide not to look for new information instead depends on literatures done previously, or you may opt for a survey.
Finally strive in getting a good purpose since it will help your readers understand you easily. They will get what you are trying to imply and therefore connect well with you. A good purpose will create a good path that directs their thoughts to where you intended to.
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Have you ever struggled with the purpose of an essay?
For some, it may be a question of “what’s the point of all this essay writing?”
For others, the word purpose is synonymous with type , and they simply need to determine what kind of essay to write in order to achieve their goal (or ace an assignment).
In either case, we hope to help you today.
What Is the Purpose of an Essay in Education?
Does it seem like every time you turn around, someone’s asking (okay, telling) you to write an essay?
That’s because there is a very good reason. Essay writing is an integral part of education that serves several purposes that may surprise you.
First, essay writing helps improve your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. However, those benefits are more on the superficial side. Necessary, yes, but writing an essay provides far more value than that.
Look at the many benefits you stand to gain:
- Writing in essay format teaches you how to communicate more effectively.
- You’ll learn to organize your thoughts and fine-tune your reasoning.
- Essay writing teaches you valuable research skills as you find and filter facts to support your viewpoint.
- As you learn to express yourself better, you’ll become more concise and precise in your language.
You are essentially practicing the ability to explain yourself clearly and articulate your thoughts. This will serve you well as you interact with future partners, bosses, and others.
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Points to Consider as You Craft Your Purpose Statement
Now that we’ve discussed the purpose of essay writing, let’s transition into learning more about the purpose of each individual essay.
It’s important to know your essay’s purpose before ever putting pen to paper.
Once you’ve decided on an objective for each essay, you’ll want to let your reader know your intent right away.
To do that, you need to learn how to state the purpose of an essay effectively. This is called, appropriately enough, a “purpose statement.”
Unlike a thesis statement, which lays out your topic and arguments in your introduction, a purpose statement is more about how you intend to do that.
Are you defending a stance in hopes of convincing someone to take action? Tell your reader that’s what you plan to do.
Are you hoping to teach people how to implement an idea or produce something? State upfront that the purpose of this essay is instructional.
A purpose statement includes defining the scope of the paper, along with sharing the focus of the essay and the direction in which you plan to take it.
Let me pause here and say something that may sound odd:
Your purpose statement doesn’t necessarily have to be used in your essay. It may, especially if it doubles as your thesis statement, but defining your essay’s purpose is more for your own direction.
Clearly defining what you are doing and why will help you craft a coherent essay that achieves its goal.
7 Types of Essays: Their Purposes and Examples
After clarifying the purpose of your essay, you’ll want to choose an essay genre to achieve your intention effectively—if it hasn’t be chosen for you, that is.
(If you aren’t sure what to write about, get help with choosing a topic here .)
There are several essay types that help communicate different ideas, so it’s helpful to know which type lends itself to the best outcome.
To help you decide, we’ve laid out seven common essay types and their purposes:
One reason to write an essay is to teach your reader new or changing information on a topic.
The purpose of an informative essay could be to provide a deeper understanding of a well-known subject, but it can also introduce the reader to an unfamiliar topic.
This would be a type of educational essay —one meant to use facts and data to inform your audience. This is not an essay designed to persuade the reader or evoke emotion.
Another form of an educational essay is one designed to teach a process or simplify a difficult subject.
One function of an expository essay , as it’s also known, is to explain a topic, so it’s important for you to be familiarize yourself with the topic first before digging into the writing.
You can’t clarify what you don’t know.
Sometimes an essay is written in response to someone else’s ideas. Depending on the topic, this can be an academic essay or less formal analysis of some sort (like a personal reaction).
In either case, the purpose of a response essay is to share your own perspective with the reader.
The ideas you’re responding to can come from a body of work, a literary analysis, a news story, or a statement from a public figure. It can even be in response to a commonly held opinion or belief.
In a response essay, you’ll begin by providing an overview of the subject to which you’re replying. You would then continue this type of essay by providing your opinion backed by research and facts.
The purpose of persuasive writing is to use logic to convince someone to react one way or another.
You may include a specific call to action, such as exhorting the reader to petition their local government for positive change.
Crafting a persuasive essay is similar to preparing for a debate but without the opposing party. It typically involves a strong opinion that is so well researched and backed by facts that it influences the reader to change their own opinion.
While most people think of formal, academic papers when they hear the word “essay,” you can also write an essay solely to entertain your reader.
Essays designed to entertain, such as narratives, aim to elicit some sort of emotional response from the reader. The purpose of descriptive text in this type of essay is to bring forth a clear picture in the reader’s mind.
Careful choice of words is critical in this type of essay. You will use them to trigger some form of emotion in the heart of your reader.
I’m sure you’ve seen or heard of an essay type called “Compare and Contrast.”
This is a common type of essay in which the writer discusses the differences or similarities between separate ideas or topics.
For example, you may be asked to compare two works of literature. On the other hand, the purpose of your essay may be to shed light on the pros and cons of two choices, such as attending college vs. heading straight into a career.
If it’s a contrast piece, you will want to note less obvious differences between your two topics. For example, everyone knows that college costs money while working pays money.
But what are the more subtle differences that the reader may not have considered? It’s your job to clearly identify those distinctions.
In a review essay, the writer summarizes and critically evaluates a body of work, usually a novel, poem, or film.
The review essay uses the writer’s own perspective of the work to talk at length about its strengths and weaknesses.
Once you solidify the purpose of an essay, your first two steps are clear:
First, you will craft either a purpose statement for your own clarification or a thesis statement to use in the introduction, which should present your essay’s topic in an intriguing way.
Then, you’ll choose an appropriate vehicle to convey that message effectively by choosing an essay type that serves your purpose well.
(Once you know what type of essay you’ll be writing, discover how to start an essay effectively .)
If you need help polishing your essay writing, don’t miss the incredible tales and tips found in Philosophy Adventure :
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As they explore the history of ideas!
About The Author
Purpose and Audience in Informative Writing
Purpose in informative writing.
Informative writing shares information in an informative instead of persuasive manner. What that means is a writer whose purpose is to “inform” should be delivering their message to their readers without bias (opinion). They should be educating their readers on a particular topic by providing information and accurate facts, but without the added goal of achieving a specific reaction or change within the readers.
Because of these guidelines, informative writing tends to serve five basic purposes:
- Sharing new information with readers
- Describing a process
- Clarifying a concept
- Giving an explanation of why or how
- Detailing parts of a greater whole
To illustrate, let’s look at a few examples of each of these five purposes within the context of different writing topics. As you review these examples, consider the main differences between the good and bad examples. Specifically, consider what role the temptation to turn informative topics into persuasive topics plays in the bad examples you see below. Also consider how you can avoid that risk as you write your own informative essay.
Sharing New Information- Introducing your reader to information he or she may not be familiar with
- Detailing the health benefits of green vegetables.
- Summarizing the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel.
- Outlining the spiritual benefits of holding Family Councils.
- Arguing that spinach is the best green vegetable
- Asserting that repentance is the most important principle and ordinance of the Gospel
- Contending that the Family Council is a “waste of time”
Describing a Process- Walking your reader through a step-by-step process or procedure
- Summarizing a simple approach to cooking pot roast
- Detailing a common approach to learning a foreign language
- Identifying a few simple steps people can take to clean their house.
- Arguing that the Argentine way of cooking beef is superior to all other approaches
- Asserting that the Duolingo program is the best app for learning a foreign language
- Contending that Marie Kondo’s method is the best way to clean your house
Clarifying a Concept- Looking at the similarities and/or differences between seemingly related topics
- Clarifying the main differences between a metaphor and simile
- Summarizing the similarities and differences between freshwater and saltwater fish
- Outlining the main differences between top, mid, and lower-level goals.
- Arguing that the metaphor is a more powerful literary device than the simile
- Asserting that saltwater fish taste much better than freshwater fish
- Contending that top level goals are the best kinds of goals to set
Giving an Explanation of Why or How- Introducing the reader to how or why something works the way it does
- Summarizing the correlation between price and demand in the free market
- Outlining what most plants need to survive and grow
- Detailing simple steps that can be taken to overcome bad habits
- Arguing in favor of the free market over a fixed one
- Asserting that overpopulation is killing plantlife
- Contending that some bad habits are worse than others
Detailing Smaller Parts- Offering details and clarification on smaller parts of a greater whole or topic
- Describing the main parts of a combustion engine
- Summarizing the role of agency in the plan of salvation
- Outlining a few steps to successful financial stewardship
- Asserting that spark ignition gasoline engine is superior to the compression ignition diesel engine
- Arguing that the pre-existance is more important than the earthlife stage in the Plan of Salvation
- Contending that getting out of debt is the most important step toward better financial management
Ponder and Record
As you review the five purposes above, consider what you want your own informative writing to accomplish and:
- Decide which informative writing purpose most closely aligns with your own writing purpose (a good place to begin would be to review the prompt question you are answering)
- Ask yourself, “How can I ensure that I answer my essay prompt question in a way that doesn’t take sides? What specific information can I share with my reader and how can I present it in a way that is not persuasive but informative?
Thesis and Purpose Statements
Use the guidelines below to learn the differences between thesis and purpose statements.
In the first stages of writing, thesis or purpose statements are usually rough or ill-formed and are useful primarily as planning tools.
A thesis statement or purpose statement will emerge as you think and write about a topic. The statement can be restricted or clarified and eventually worked into an introduction.
As you revise your paper, try to phrase your thesis or purpose statement in a precise way so that it matches the content and organization of your paper.
A thesis statement is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic.
Good: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . . Bad: In this paper, I will discuss X.
A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.
A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.
A thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.
A purpose statement announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be.
Common beginnings include:
“This paper examines . . .,” “The aim of this paper is to . . .,” and “The purpose of this essay is to . . .”
A purpose statement makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn.
A purpose statement usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph.
A purpose statement is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. If you are unsure about using a purpose statement, ask your instructor.
This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.
Sample purpose and thesis statements
The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (bold).
The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile’s agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . The Chilean reform example provides evidence that land distribution is an essential component of both the improvement of peasant conditions and the development of a democratic society. More extensive and enduring reforms would likely have allowed Chile the opportunity to further expand these horizons.
For more tips about writing thesis statements, take a look at our new handout on Developing a Thesis Statement.
Writing Process and Structure
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
Getting Started with Your Paper
Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses
Generating Ideas for Your Paper
Creating an Argument
Thesis vs. Purpose Statements
Developing a Thesis Statement
Architecture of Arguments
Working with Sources
Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources
Using Literary Quotations
Citing Sources in Your Paper
Drafting Your Paper
Developing Strategic Transitions
Revising Your Paper
Revising an Argumentative Paper
Revision Strategies for Longer Projects
Finishing Your Paper
Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist
How to Proofread your Paper
Collaborative and Group Writing
Understanding Your Purpose
The first question for any writer should be, "Why am I writing?" "What is my goal or my purpose for writing?" For many writing contexts, your immediate purpose may be to complete an assignment or get a good grade. But the long-range purpose of writing is to communicate to a particular audience. In order to communicate successfully to your audience, understanding your purpose for writing will make you a better writer.
A Definition of Purpose
Purpose is the reason why you are writing . You may write a grocery list in order to remember what you need to buy. You may write a laboratory report in order to carefully describe a chemistry experiment. You may write an argumentative essay in order to persuade someone to change the parking rules on campus. You may write a letter to a friend to express your excitement about her new job.
Notice that selecting the form for your writing (list, report, essay, letter) is one of your choices that helps you achieve your purpose. You also have choices about style, organization, kinds of evidence that help you achieve your purpose
Focusing on your purpose as you begin writing helps you know what form to choose, how to focus and organize your writing, what kinds of evidence to cite, how formal or informal your style should be, and how much you should write.
Types of Purpose
Don Zimmerman, Journalism and Technical Communication Department I look at most scientific and technical writing as being either informational or instructional in purpose. A third category is documentation for legal purposes. Most writing can be organized in one of these three ways. For example, an informational purpose is frequently used to make decisions. Memos, in most circles, carry key information.
When we communicate with other people, we are usually guided by some purpose, goal, or aim. We may want to express our feelings. We may want simply to explore an idea or perhaps entertain or amuse our listeners or readers. We may wish to inform people or explain an idea. We may wish to argue for or against an idea in order to persuade others to believe or act in a certain way. We make special kinds of arguments when we are evaluating or problem solving . Finally, we may wish to mediate or negotiate a solution in a tense or difficult situation.
Remember, however, that often writers combine purposes in a single piece of writing. Thus, we may, in a business report, begin by informing readers of the economic facts before we try to persuade them to take a certain course of action.
In expressive writing, the writer's purpose or goal is to put thoughts and feelings on the page. Expressive writing is personal writing. We are often just writing for ourselves or for close friends. Usually, expressive writing is informal, not intended for outside readers. Journal writing, for example, is usually expressive writing.
However, we may write expressively for other readers when we write poetry (although not all poetry is expressive writing). We may write expressively in a letter, or we may include some expressive sentences in a formal essay intended for other readers.
As a purpose or goal of writing, entertaining is often used with some other purpose--to explain, argue, or inform in a humorous way. Sometimes, however, entertaining others with humor is our main goal. Entertaining may take the form of a brief joke, a newspaper column, a television script or an Internet home page tidbit, but its goal is to relax our reader and share some story of human foibles or surprising actions.
Writing to inform is one of the most common purposes for writing. Most journalistic writing fits this purpose. A journalist uncovers the facts about some incident and then reports those facts, as objectively as possible, to his or her readers. Of course, some bias or point-of-view is always present, but the purpose of informational or reportorial writing is to convey information as accurately and objectively as possible. Other examples of writing to inform include laboratory reports, economic reports, and business reports.
Writing to explain, or expository writing, is the most common of the writing purposes. The writer's purpose is to gather facts and information, combine them with his or her own knowledge and experience, and clarify for some audience who or what something is , how it happened or should happen, and/or why something happened .
Explaining the whos, whats, hows, whys, and wherefores requires that the writer analyze the subject (divide it into its important parts) and show the relationship of those parts. Thus, writing to explain relies heavily on definition, process analysis, cause/effect analysis, and synthesis.
Explaining versus Informing : So how does explaining differ from informing? Explaining goes one step beyond informing or reporting. A reporter merely reports what his or her sources say or the data indicate. An expository writer adds his or her particular understanding, interpretation, or thesis to that information. An expository writer says this is the best or most accurate definition of literacy, or the right way to make lasagne, or the most relevant causes of an accident.
An arguing essay attempts to convince its audience to believe or act in a certain way. Written arguments have several key features:
- A debatable claim or thesis . The issue must have some reasonable arguments on both (or several) sides.
- A focus on one or more of the four types of claims : Claim of fact , claim of cause and effect , claim of value , and/or claim of policy (problem solving).
- A fair representation of opposing arguments combined with arguments against the opposition and for the overall claim.
- An argument based on evidence presented in a reasonable tone . Although appeals to character and to emotion may be used, the primary appeal should be to the reader's logic and reason.
Although the terms argument and persuasion are often used interchangeably, the terms do have slightly different meanings. Argument is a special kind of persuasion that follows certain ground rules. Those rules are that opposing positions will be presented accurately and fairly, and that appeals to logic and reason will be the primary means of persuasion. Persuasive writing may, if it wishes, ignore those rules and try any strategy that might work. Advertisements are a good example of persuasive writing. They usually don't fairly represent the competing product, and they appeal to image, to emotion, to character, or to anything except logic and the facts--unless those facts are in the product's favor.
Writing to evaluate a person, product, thing, or policy is a frequent purpose for writing. An evaluation is really a specific kind of argument: it argues for the merits of the subject and presents evidence to support the claim. A claim of value --the thesis in an evaluation--must be supported by criteria (the appropriate standards of judgment) and supporting evidence (the facts, statistics, examples, or testimonials).
Writers often use a three-column log to set up criteria for their subject, collect relevant evidence, and reach judgments that support an overall claim of value. Writing a three-column log is an excellent way to organize an evaluative essay. First, think about your possible criteria. Remember: criteria are the standards of judgment (the ideal case) against which you will measure your particular subject. Choose criteria which your readers will find valid, fair, and appropriate . Then, collect evidence for each of your selected criteria. Consider the following example of a restaurant evaluation:
Overall claim of value : This Chinese restaurant provides a high quality dining experience.
Problem solving is a special kind of arguing essay: the writer's purpose is to persuade his audience to adopt a solution to a particular problem. Often called "policy" essays because they recommend the readers adopt a policy to resolve a problem, problem-solving essays have two main components: a description of a serious problem and an argument for specific recommendations that will solve the problem .
The thesis of a problem-solving essay becomes a claim of policy : If the audience follows the suggested recommendations, the problem will be reduced or eliminated. The essay must support the policy claim by persuading readers that the recommendations are feasible, cost-effective, efficient, relevant to the situation, and better than other possible alternative solutions.
Traditional argument , like a debate, is confrontational. The argument often becomes a kind of "war" in which the writer attempts to "defeat" the arguments of the opposition.
Non-traditional kinds of argument use a variety of strategies to reduce the confrontation and threat in order to open up the debate.
- Mediated argument follows a plan used successfully in labor negotiations to bring opposing parties to agreement. The writer of a mediated argument provides a middle position that helps negotiate the differences of the opposing positions.
- Rogerian argumen t also wishes to reduce confrontation by encouraging mutual understanding and working toward common ground and a compromise solution.
- Feminist argument tries to avoid the patriarchal conventions in traditional argument by emphasizing personal communication, exploration, and true understanding.
Often, writers use multiple purposes in a single piece of writing. An essay about illiteracy in America may begin by expressing your feelings on the topic. Then it may report the current facts about illiteracy. Finally, it may argue for a solution that might correct some of the social conditions that cause illiteracy. The ultimate purpose of the paper is to argue for the solution, but the writer uses these other purposes along the way.
Similarly, a scientific paper about gene therapy may begin by reporting the current state of gene therapy research. It may then explain how a gene therapy works in a medical situation. Finally, it may argue that we need to increase funding for primary research into gene therapy.
Purposes and Strategies
A purpose is the aim or goal of the writer or the written product; a strategy is a means of achieving that purpose. For example, our purpose may be to explain something, but we may use definitions, examples, descriptions, and analysis in order to make our explanation clearer. A variety of strategies are available for writers to help them find ways to achieve their purpose(s).
Writers often use definition for key terms of ideas in their essays. A formal definition , the basis of most dictionary definitions, has three parts: the term to be defined, the class to which the term belongs, and the features that distinguish this term from other terms in the class.
Look at your own topic. Would definition help you analyze and explain your subject?
Illustration and Example
Examples and illustrations are a basic kind of evidence and support in expository and argumentative writing.
In her essay about anorexia nervosa, student writer Nancie Brosseau uses several examples to develop a paragraph:
Another problem, lying, occurred most often when my parents tried to force me to eat. Because I was at the gym until around eight o'clock every night, I told my mother not to save me dinner. I would come home and make a sandwich and feed it to my dog. I lied to my parents every day about eating lunch at school. For example, I would bring a sack lunch and sell it to someone and use the money to buy diet pills. I always told my parents that I ate my own lunch.
Look at your own topic. What examples and illustrations would help explain your subject?
Classification is a form of analyzing a subject into types. We might classify automobiles by types: Trucks, Sport Utilities, Sedans, Sport Cars. We can (and do) classify college classes by type: Science, Social Science, Humanities, Business, Agriculture, etc.
Look at your own topic. Would classification help you analyze and explain your subject?
Comparison and Contrast
Comparison and contrast can be used to organize an essay. Consider whether either of the following two outlines would help you organize your comparison essay.
Block Comparison of A and B
- Intro and Thesis
- Description of A
- Description of B (and how B is similar to/different from A)
Alternating Comparison of A and B
- Aspect One: Comparison/contrast of A and B
- Aspect Two: Comparison/contrast of A and B
- Aspect Three: Comparison/contrast of A and B
Look at your own topic. Would comparison/contrast help you organize and explain your subject?
Analysis is simply dividing some whole into its parts. A library has distinct parts: stacks, electronic catalog, reserve desk, government documents section, interlibrary loan desk, etc. If you are writing about a library, you may need to know all the parts that exist in that library.
Look at your own topic. Would analysis of the parts help you understand and explain your subject?
Although we usually think of description as visual, we may also use other senses--hearing, touch, feeling, smell-- in our attempt to describe something for our readers.
Notice how student writer Stephen White uses multiple senses to describe Anasazi Indian ruins at Mesa Verde:
I awoke this morning with a sense of unexplainable anticipation gnawing away at the back of my mind, that this chilly, leaden day at Mesa Verde would bring something new . . . . They are a haunting sight, these broken houses, clustered together down in the gloom of the canyon. The silence is broken only by the rush of the wind in the trees and the trickling of a tiny stream of melting snow springing from ledge to ledge. This small, abandoned village of tiny houses seems almost as the Indians left it, reduced by the passage of nearly a thousand years to piles of rubble through which protrude broken red adobe walls surrounding ghostly jet black openings, undisturbed by modern man.
Look at your own topic. Would description help you explain your subject?
Process analysis is analyzing the chronological steps in any operation. A recipe contains process analysis. First, sift the flour. Next, mix the eggs, milk, and oil. Then fold in the flour with the eggs, milk and oil. Then add baking soda, salt and spices. Finally, pour the pancake batter onto the griddle.
Look at your own topic. Would process analysis help you analyze and explain your subject?
Narration is possibly the most effective strategy essay writers can use. Readers are quickly caught up in reading any story, no matter how short it is. Writers of exposition and argument should consider where a short narrative might enliven their essay. Typically, this narrative can relate some of your own experiences with the subject of your essay. Look at your own topic. Where might a short narrative help you explain your subject?
In cause and effect analysis, you map out possible causes and effects. Two patterns for doing cause/effect analysis are as follows:
Several causes leading to single effect: Cause 1 + Cause 2 + Cause 3 . . . => Effect
One cause leading to multiple effects: Cause => Effect 1 + Effect 2 + Effect 3 ...
Look at your own topic. Would cause/effect analysis help you understand and explain your subject?
How Audience and Focus Affect Purpose
All readers have expectations. They assume what they read will meet their expectations. As a writer, your job is to make sure those expectations are met, while at the same time, fulfilling the purpose of your writing.
Once you have determined what type of purpose best conveys your motivations, you will then need to examine how this will affect your readers. Perhaps you are explaining your topic when you really should be convincing readers to see your point. Writers and readers may approach a topic with conflicting purposes. Your job, as a writer, is to make sure both are being met.
Purpose and Audience
Often your audience will help you determine your purpose. The beliefs they hold will tell you whether or not they agree with what you have to say. Suppose, for example, you are writing to persuade readers against Internet censorship. Your purpose will differ depending on the audience who will read your writing.
Audience One: Internet Users
If your audience is computer users who surf the net daily, you could appear foolish trying to persuade them to react against Internet censorship. It's likely they are already against such a movement. Instead, they might expect more information on the topic.
Audience Two: Parents
If your audience is parents who don't want their small children surfing the net, you'll need to convince them that censorship is not the solution to the problem. You should persuade this audience to consider other options.
Purpose and Focus
Your focus (otherwise known as thesis, claim, main idea, or problem statement) is a reflection of your purpose. If these two do not agree, you will not accomplish what you set out to do. Consider the following examples below:
Focus One: Informing
Suppose your purpose is to inform readers about relationships between Type A personalities and heart attacks. Your focus could then be: Type A personalities do not have an abnormally high risk of suffering heart attacks.
Focus Two: Persuading
Suppose your purpose is to persuade readers not to quarantine AIDS victims. Your focus could then be: Children afflicted with AIDS should not be prevented from attending school.
Writer and Reader Goals
Kate Kiefer, English Department Readers and writers both have goals when they engage in reading and writing. Writers typically define their goals in several categories-to inform, persuade, entertain, explore. When writers and readers have mutually fulfilling goals-to inform and to look for information-then writing and reading are most efficient. At times, these goals overlap one another. Many readers of science essays are looking for science information when they often get science philosophy. This mismatch of goals tends to leave readers frustrated, and if they communicate that frustration to the writer, then the writer feels misunderstood or unsuccessful.
Donna Lecourt, English Department Whatever reality you are writing within, whatever you chose to write about, implies a certain audience as well as your purpose for writing. You decide you have something to write about, or something you care about, then purpose determines audience.
Writer Versus Reader Purposes
Steve Reid, English Department A general definition of purpose relates to motivation. For instance, "I'm angry, and that's why I'm writing this." Purposes, in academic writing, are intentions the writer hopes to accomplish with a particular audience. Often, readers discover their own purpose within a text. While the writer may have intended one thing, the text actually does another, according to its readers.
Purpose and Writing Assignments
Instructors often state the purpose of a writing assignment on the assignment sheet. By carefully examining what it is you are asked to do, you can determine what your writing's purpose is.
Most assignment sheets ask you to perform a specific task. Key words listed on the assignment can help you determine why you are writing. If your instructor has not provided an assignment sheet, consider asking what the purpose of the assignment is.
Read over your assignment sheet. Make a note of words asking you to follow a specific task. For example, words such as:
These words require you to write about a topic in a specific way. Once you know the purpose of your writing, you can begin planning what information is necessary for that purpose.
Imagine you are an administrator for the school district. In light of the Columbus controversy, you have been assigned to write a set of guidelines for teaching about Columbus in the district's elementary and junior high schools. These guidelines will explain official policy to parents and teachers in teaching children about Columbus and the significance of his voyages. They will also draw on arguments made on both sides of the controversy, as well as historical facts on which both sides agree.
The purpose of this assignment is to explain the official policy about teaching Columbus' voyages to parents and teachers.
Steve Reid, English Department Keywords in writing assignments give teachers and students direction about why we are writing. For instance, many assignments ask students to "describe" something. The word "describe" specifically indicated the writer is supposed to describe something visually. This is very general. Often, assignments are looking for something more specific. Maybe there is an argument the instructor intends be formulated. Maybe there is an implied thesis, but often teachers use general words such as "Write about" or "Describe" something, when they should use more specific words like, "Define" or "Explain" or "Argue" or "Persuade."
Purpose and Thesis
Writers choose from a variety of purposes for writing. They may write to express their thoughts in a personal letter, to explain concepts in a physics class, to explore ideas in a philosophy class, or to argue a point in a political science class.
Once they have their purpose in mind (and an audience for whom they are writing), writers may more clearly formulate their thesis. The thesis , claim , or main idea of an essay is related to the purpose. It is the sentence or sentences that fulfill the purpose and that state the exact point of the essay.
For example, if a writer wants to argue that high schools should strengthen foreign language training, her thesis sentence might be as follows:
"Because Americans are so culturally isolated, we need a national policy that supports increased foreign language instruction in elementary and secondary schools."
How Thesis is Related to Purpose
The following examples illustrate how subject, purpose and thesis are related. The subject is the most general statement of the topic. The purpose narrows the focus by indicating whether the writer wishes to express or explore ideas or actually explain or argue about the topic. The thesis sentence, claim, or main idea narrows the focus even farther. It is the sentence or sentences which focuses the topic for the writer and the reader.
Stephen Reid and Dawn Kowalski. (1994-2023). Understanding Your Purpose. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/repository/resources/writing/guides/.
Copyright © 1994-2023 Colorado State University and/or this site's authors, developers, and contributors . Some material displayed on this site is used with permission.
The Academic Essay
The academic essay is merely a specific writing genreas is the love letter, newspaper editorial, or pop-fiction. As a genre, it functions within a set of norms, rules, and conventions. The purpose of this discussion is to make clear to you what those rules and norms are, and how to use them to express your argument clearly.
Purpose: The purpose of the academic essay is to persuade by reasoned discourse. Scholars use the essay amongst themselves to advance ideas. Its value as an instructional tool is to assist students in developing their critical thinking skills. As you recall, critical thinking is defined as: the ability to read theory accurately, appropriate it meaningfully, apply it independently, generate results based on that application, analyze the results, and form a clear argument based on those results that can be defended with a specific line of reasoning.
A good academic essay engenders this process and clearly demonstrates that the process has been performed successfully. With this in mind let's examine how to write an academic essay.
Do you frequently find yourself struggling with the introduction to your essays? Do you not know how to begin the essay? Do you find yourself searching for a generalizing statement that will get things going, and trying to find a delicate balance between BS'ing and saying something meaningful? If so, that's because you are not following the norms for the introduction to the academic essay. Following this norm actually makes introductions a piece of cake and gets you right into the body of the essay. Here is the norm:
The purpose of the introduction is two-fold: 1. To introduce the theoretical framework that will guide your analysis 2. To introduce the thesis statement that will organize your paper.
Following this norm allows you to cut to the chase. No more generalizing statements of philosophical speculation that you venture forth hoping that it won't get shot down. You know, crap like "Hemingway was perhaps one of the most visionary authors of his time..." or "The Western is perhaps the most uniquely American of all the genres..." Rather, if the purpose of the essay is to demonstrate that you have appropriated a theory and applied it independently to produce results, then the function of the introduction becomes more focused: to introduce the theoryor theoretical frameworkthat you have decided to use. Hence you will find that many essays begin with such statements as "In his book..." Or, "In her essay..."
IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the main reasons that the norm of the Introduction developed this way is because of an important rule of the Academic Essay: Avoid making statements that you cannot prove. The problem with the generalizing/philosophical/BS'ing statements like "Hemingway..." and "The Western..." is that they cannot be proven through reasoned discourse. Moreover, to even try and do so would require voluminous amounts of discourse for something that is not even your thesis: what you actually ARE setting out to prove. As a result, the genre of the Academic Essay has evolved into the above norm. It still meets an introduction's purpose of orienting the reader, it just does so in a very specific manner.
Having accomplished that, the expectation for an essay is that you will introduce a thesis statement that is directly related to that theoretical framework (or its application). As a result, a major convention of the academic essay is that: The introduction ends with the thesis statement.
Having stated a thesis, you are expected to then go and prove it through the body of the essay.
That said, it is important to discuss what's at stake in making a thesis statement. There are four basic logical forms for a thesis statement:
A banal thesis statement A simple thesis statement A complex thesis statement An impossible thesis statement
Let's discuss each of these quickly before moving on.
A banal thesis statement is a statement that does not really say anythingit is in fact meaningless because it is either so overly general or so evident as to not be of significance. Here's an example from literature. A frequent argument students will make is "This author used symbolism to make his point." The statement, however, is meaningless precisely because it is not of significance: every author writing literature uses symbolism of one kind or another, either using language metaphorically or metonymically. Thus, to attempt to single out or make a distinction of a piece for using "symbolism" is to not say anything that even needs proving to begin with.
A simple thesis statement is not quite what it may sound like. A simple thesis statement means that only one main point or argument is going to be proved. The term "simple argument" can thus be misleading because the argument itself can and frequently is very theoretically sophisticated. What makes them simple is that in terms of their logical structure, they only take on one line of proof, and hence, their organization of proof will be simple. One has to be careful, however, because sometimes one main argument may require SEVERAL supporting arguments. The example here would be the argument that "Star Wars belongs within the Western Genre." Here the writer has only one thing to prove, but in order to do so will have to establish the elements that comprise the Western Genre and demonstrate how the film embodies them--not a small task.
Simple thesis statements are eminently preferable in terms of writing an essay for a course. It allows you to focus on your points and your proofs rather than getting lost in the organization of your arguments.
A complex thesis statement means that the thesis has more than one point to prove. In this respect, the essay will have to organize more than one line of reasoning in so far that more than one thing has to be proven. Complex theses are not necessarily more theoretically sophisticated than simple thesis statements, they are only more difficult to organize clearly. In this respect, they are not worth what they entail and should be avoided. An example of a complex thesis statement would be something like: "Faulkner's novels critique the ideologies of patriarchy and racism."
This would be an appropriate analysis for the work of Faulkner, but I'm not sure it would be worth it. To begin with, it is not clear what the writer has to gain in terms of proving BOTH of these aspects of the work rather than just the one. Instead, with this complex thesis, there are going to be long sections of the essay where half of what needs to be proved will be left suspended while the other half gets discussed. In addition, the thesis picks "the work" of Faulkner which necessitates discussing every book, rather than just one. Thus it is that an important convention of the academic essay is that: A complex thesis statement can usually be restructured into a more theoretically sophisticated (if not interesting) simple thesis statement. The impossible thesis statement is a kind of corollary of the banal thesis statement insofar as you want to stay away from it. Rather than saying something which is evident or meaningless, however, the impossible thesis statement puts forward something which cannot reasonably be proved, as a result of there being no agreed upon or stable criteria from which to render conclusions. Examples of impossible statements abound, but the one most related to this course would be " The Plague is great art," or " The Plague is the most realistic of all Camus' novels." In each case, there is no stable criteria. Take the first one. What distinguishes between "good" art and "great" art? Furthermore, the essay would not be able to point to a stable definition of "art", a concept that art historians, artists, and cultural critics have been arguing over for centuries. The latter thesis has a similar problem since "realistic" is not a stable concept with firm criteria.
Making an Argument As stated earlier, the academic essay is an exercise in reasoned persuasion. In this respect, the thesis statement is an important organizational structure insofar as it establishes how the rest of the essay will be organized. Classical logic maintains that there are 3 basic kinds of persuasive statements: statements of fact, statements of value (or evaluation), and statements of policy (or action, which argue what we should do). Unless otherwise specified, the first of these, the statement of fact, is the form that the thesis statement for an academic essay should takethe obvious exception being when you write evaluative criticism (which you will NEVER do in my course).
Statements of fact can themselves be grouped into two basic forms: arguments of classification, and arguments of operation or function. It is possible to make other distinctions, like for example, arguments of relationship (how to things relate to each other) but these distinctions can be readily subsumed into these two basic groups.
Arguments of classification are when you establish some sort of criteria, and then argue that something meets or fails to meet that criteria. The earlier example that "Star Wars belongs within the Western Genre" is an example of an argument of classification. Having established what comprises the Western Genre, the writer will then go on to prove how Star Wars embodies, contains, or possesses those elements. The writer will, in other words, prove that Star Wars meets that criteria.
Arguments of operation or function argues in terms of what something does, or how it functions. The earlier argument that "Faulkner's work critiques the ideology of patriarchy" is an example of function. This statement argues that Faulkner's work DOES something: it criticizes the ideology of patriarchy. Note that unlike the argument of classification, the writer of this essay SEEMS to have to do more to prove their thesis. They will not only have to define what the ideology of patriarchy isand thus establish criteriathey will also have to demonstrate that Faulkner's work DOES something with that criteria. The question of HOW leads to a discussion of the body of the essay.
The Body of the Essay
From a conceptual standpoint, the function of the body of the essay is to prove the thesis statement laid out in the introduction. Easy enough. This section discusses how the writer accomplishes that proof.
Establishing Criteria In the discussion of types of argument, I made the point that the writer will have to establish criteria that can be used to prove their argument. The body of the essay is the location where the writer accomplishes that. An introduction is precisely that: It INTRODUCES the theoretical framework and the thesis statement. It does not DESCRIBE or DISCUSS these two things. This is a fairly common mistake that beginning essay writers make. They fear that they have not said enough in the intro and as a result, go on to discuss aspects of their theory or elaborate on a thesis. The problem with doing so is that it screws up your organization. What comes next is no longer clear to the reader.
If you keep it clear to yourself that the purpose of the introduction to your essay is to only INTRODUCE your theoretical framework, and your thesis statement, then the function of the body of your essay will also become evident to the reader. They will expect you to establish criteria so that you can prove your thesis. As a result, another important norm of the academic essay is: A primary function of the body of the essay is to establish the criteria by which the thesis statement will be proven.
Thus it is that having argued that Star Wars is a Western, the body of the paper is going to have to first establish the elements that comprise the Westernit will have to establish the criteria by which the thesis can be proven. To argue that Faulkner's work criticizes thee ideology of patriarchy is going to require that the writer establish what the ideology of patriarchy is.
Meeting Criteria Establishing the criteria by which the thesis statement will be proven leads to the next logical step: demonstrating how the object under investigation meets those criteria. Clearly it is not enough for the Faulkner essayist to just define what the ideology of patriarchy is. Their thesis is that Faulkner's work criticizes that ideology. As a result, they will have to point to specific things within the text and argue that they relate to those criteria IN A SPECIFIC WAYin this case through a process of criticism. This process of relating the object of investigation back to the established criteria is another fundamental component of the body of the essay. Without it, the proof is not complete. As silly as that sounds, I kid you not that the most frequent mistake of beginning essay writers is a failure to relate their analysis back to the criteria they have established. Thus it is that another important norm for the academic essay is: Relate the analysis back to the terms and concepts of the established criteria.
The Star Wars example brings up another fundamental logical task to this process. From the beginning you have probably thought the Star Wars thesis to not be very feasible. The film is not set in the West, and it occurs in the future. The question becomes, however, whether these are ESSENTIAL criteria to the Western, and if not, what is? In terms of proving that thesis statement, the writer is going to have to clearly establish what the elements of the Western Genre are, and then relate aspects of the film back to ALL of those criteria. Herein lies the essential importance of "completeness" to that process. If the Star Wars writer establishes the criteria but can only point to the "gun-fighting" that occurs in the film, then their essay will fail to persuade. Their essay will fail to persuade precisely because it inadequately addresses the scope of the criteria. Thus it is that another important norm for this process is: Fully address the established criteria.
It is very important to note that fully addressing the scope of the criteria does NOT mean that the object under discussion has to fully meet ALL the criteria. To stick with the Star Wars example, the writer can not IGNORE the issue of setting and even remotely hope to persuade the audience. In some way, the writer is going to have to address the fact that both time and place are out of the bounds of the Western. This is the point precisely. The author will have to ADDRESS that pointthose criterianot necessarily MEET those criteria. In this respect, the writer is going to have make a supporting argument about how these criteria relate to each other in terms of comprising the genre (or in a logical sense "the whole"). The important point is that all criteria are addressed adequately. Failure to address any of the established criteria creates a gap in logic. Subsequently, the reasoning process (and its ability to persuade) fails.
Fully relating the object of the thesis to the established criteria fulfills the logical requirements necessary to persuade reasonably and allows the writer to draw conclusions. Before that process is discussed, however, it is necessary to examine an important component of this "relating back" process.
The Role of Description Relating "the object of investigation" or the "object of the thesis" back to the established criteria is necessarily going to involve description. Description is frequently an unclear and thorny issue for writers of the academic essayespecially in terms of scope (how much is enough?). The purpose of description, however, clarifies the issue of scope. The purpose of description to is to make clear, or establish WHAT in the object of investigation (the film, the scene, the shot) relates to the criteria being used. It therefore becomes important for the writer to use description in such a manner as to establish the basis of the relationship between the object and the criteria. Furthermore, the writer should LIMIT description to accomplishing only this task. Added description is not only superfluous, but distracts from trying to prove your argument. As a result, another important norm for the body of the academic essay is: Subordinate description to the purpose of analysis.
The Conclusion As stated above the process of fully relating the object of the thesis to the established criteria has the effect of fulfilling the logical requirements. It is THAT task which ultimately persuades, not the conclusion itself. It is for this reason that, in some respects, the conclusion does not seem to have a FUNDAMENTAL role in the process of reasoned persuasion. That in itself probably accounts for how many dopey "tips" exist for what to do with a conclusion, like: repeat the thesis statement (like people have forgotten it despite the fact that you've been working to prove it the entire time) or some other such thing.
What to do with a conclusion if the work of proof is already done? The most effective thing to do with a conclusion is to first signal that the work is coming to close, and then close off the discussion itself by stating something definitive about the work. Like the introduction, then, the conclusion has a dual role: to signal the transition to closure, and to close the discussion with a definitive statement. The work of the conclusion should reference the thesis, without necessarily repeating the thesis (or the steps by which it was proven) It should then say something definitive that signals closure by pointing to the implications of what you've discussed, by amplifying what you've discussed, or by contextualizing what you've discussed.
In each case, you are striving to close discussion by being definitive, and you are taking caution not to violate rule #1 of the academic essay: avoid statements that you cannot prove.
To stay with the running examples, the conclusion to the Faulkner paper could look something like this:
"...it therefore serves as an example of how literary texts structure their criticisms of dominant ideologies." (pointing to the implications of proving your argument).
"Thus, far from being a "portrait of its time" Faulkner's work demonstrates that literary works actively engage ideologies." (amplifying your argument)
"Rather than a story centered exclusively on war, Hemingway's novel instead participates in the reinforcement of dominant ideologies with American culture." (Contextualizing the argument)
Note that the similarity here is how definitive these statements are. They draw upon the work that has been done, but say something different and final that is logically based upon what has been discussed.
Final Observations There are, of course, variations on the genre of the academic essay--some rather large difference exist, for example, between the social sciences and the humanites. This discussion is based on the humanties approach. Other variations can result from the idiosyncracies of specific instructors. To the degree that what is written here sounds heavy handed and inflexible, I caution instead that such tone is trying to reflect the manner in which your own analysis and writing will need to sound precise and rigorousthe standards by which the academic essay is evaluated.
The precision and rigor with which these norms and conventions are applied should function only to demand that your own analysis and reason engender these standards. They are thus meant to elevate your thinking, not control it. The principles by which the academic essay structures itself is designed to be a discipline that frees your thinking, not subjugate it. Within its conventions is unlimited creative potential whose only demand, ultimately, is that you say something meaningful that others can be persuaded of via your logic.
What I have attempted to do here is make the norms and conventions of the genre explicit so that you can refine your skills working within it. Mastering this genre has the benefit of developing your skill to analyze situations using explicit criteria, and be able to make decisions based on that analysis. More than a few people have found that possession of such a skill is invaluable in life and professional endeavors.