Emilie Zickel and Charlotte Morgan
Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
Essays written for an academic audience follow a structure with which you are likely familiar: Intro, Body, Conclusion. Here is a general overview of what each of those sections “does” in the larger essay.
Be aware, however, that certain assignments and certain professors may ask for additional content or require unusual formatting, so always be sure to read the assignment sheet as carefully as possible.
This paragraph is the “first impression” paragraph. It needs to make an impression on the reader so that he or she becomes interested, understands your goal in the paper, and wants to read on. The intro often ends with the thesis.begin by drawing your reader in – offer a statement that will pique their interest in your topicoffer some context or background information about your topic that leads you to your thesisconclude with the thesisIntroductory Section
The Body of the Essay is where you fully develop the main idea or thesis outlined in the introduction. Each paragraph within the body of the essay enlarges one major point in the development of the overall argument (although some points may consist of several sub-points, each of which will need its own paragraph). Each paragraph should contain the following elements:Clearly state the main point in each paragraph in the form of a topic sentence.Then, support that point with evidence.Body of the Essay
64 | 4.1 BASIC ESSAY STRUCTURE
Provide an explanation of the evidence’s significance. Highlight the way the main point shows the logical steps in the argument and link back to the claim you make in your thesis statement.Remember to make sure that you focus on a single idea, reason, or example that supports your thesis in each body paragraph. Your topic sentence (a mini thesis that states the main idea of the paragraph), should contain details and specific examples to make your ideas clear and convincing) (Morgan).Details on how to build strong paragraphs can be found in section 4.2.
Many people struggle with the conclusion, not knowing how to end a paper without simply restating the paper’s thesis and main points. In fact, one of the earliest ways that we learn to write conclusions involves the “summarize and restate” method of repeating the points that you have already discussed.
While that method can be an effective way to perhaps begin a conclusion, the strongest conclusions will go beyond rehashing the key ideas from the paper. Just as the intro is the first impression, the conclusion is the last impression–and you do want your writing to make a lasting impression.
Below are some things to consider when writing your conclusion:
what is the significance of the ideas you developed in this paper?
how does your paper affect you, others like you, people in your community, or people in other communities?
what must be done about this topic?
what further research or ideas could be studied?
Amanda Lloyd, Adam Falik, and Doreen Piano
Body Paragraph Development
The term body paragraph refers to any paragraph that appears between the introductory and concluding sections of an essay. A good body paragraph should support the claim made in the thesis statement by developing only one key supporting idea.
Some ideas will take more time to develop than others, so body paragraph length can and often should vary in order to maintain your reader’s interest. When constructing a body paragraph, the most important objectives are to stay on-topic and to fully develop your idea. When constructing a body paragraph, make sure that you never begin or end with a quotation or a paraphrase. Rather, you should think of a body paragraph as conforming to the following pattern.
Typically, a body paragraph contains three main elements:
a main idea,
supporting evidence, and
an explanation of that evidence.
While body paragraphs in some essay assignments (certain summary assignments for example) may not adhere to this pattern exactly, for the most part, following this basic formula will help you to construct a focused and complete body paragraph.
Amanda Lloyd, Adam Falik, and Doreen Piano
Function and Elements of a Topic Sentence
A topic sentence is usually the first sentence of a body paragraph. The purpose of a topic sentence is to identify the topic of your paragraph and indicate the function of that paragraph in some way. The topic sentence is often more conceptual than the rest of the paragraph in that it provides the idea of what the rest of the paragraph will be about without the supporting details, which will arrive in the sentences that follow.
In order to create an effective topic sentence, you should do the following:
Use a transitional device to effortlessly segue from the idea discussed in the previous paragraph.
When choosing a transitional device, you should consider whether your new paragraph will build onto the topic of your previous paragraph, begin to develop a new key idea or sub-claim, or present a counterargument or concession.
Clearly identify the key idea or reason that you intend to expand upon in your new paragraph.
Even if you are building onto the idea of the previous paragraph, you will still need to identify the sub- claim in your topic sentence. When constructing a topic sentence, you may feel as though you are stating the obvious or being repetitive, but your readers will need this information to guide them to a thorough understanding of your ideas.
Make a connection to the claim you make in your thesis statement.
It might help to think of your topic sentence as a mini thesis statement. In your body paragraph, you should be expanding upon the claim you make in your thesis. For this reason, you should link your topic
sentence to your thesis statement. Doing so tells your readers, “This is the point I mentioned in my thesis that I now intend to support and either prove or explain further.”
To connect to your thesis, you should consider the function of the body paragraph, which will usually depend upon the type of essay you are writing; for example, your topic sentence should suggest whether your goal is to inform or persuade your readers (your topic sentence should indicate whether or not you have an opinion or perspective on the topic).
Here’s an example. If you are writing an argumentative paper with the claim: “Collegiate athletes should be paid to play for their school teams,” then a strong topic sentence might be: “Colleges athletes often bring in a great deal of income to their college and university through sponsorships.” This topic sentence is a reason which supports the claim. The rest of your paragraph will develop details and give evidence that support this reason.
Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel
Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
Like sentence length, paragraph length varies. There is no single ideal length for “the perfect paragraph.” There are some general guidelines, however. Some writing handbooks or resources suggest that a paragraph should be at least three or four sentences; others suggest that 100 to 200 words is a good target to shoot for. In academic writing, paragraphs tend to be longer, while in less formal or less complex writing, such as in a newspaper, paragraphs tend to be much shorter. Two-thirds to three-fourths of a page is usually a good target length for paragraphs at your current level of college writing. If your readers can’t see a paragraph break on the page, they might wonder if the paragraph is ever going to end or they might lose interest.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the amount of space needed to develop one idea will likely be different than the amount of space needed to develop another. So when is a paragraph complete? The answer is, when it’s fully developed. The guidelines above for providing good support should help.
Some signals that it’s time to end a paragraph and start a new one include that
You’re ready to begin developing a new idea
You want to emphasize a point by setting it apart
You’re getting ready to continue discussing the same idea but in a different way (e.g. shifting from comparison to contrast)
You notice that your current paragraph is getting too long (more than three-fourths of a page or so), and you think your writers will need a visual break
Some signals that you may want to combine paragraphs include that
You notice that some of your paragraphs appear to be short and choppy
You have multiple paragraphs on the same topic
You have undeveloped material that needs to be united under a clear topic
Finally, paragraph number is a lot like paragraph length. You may have been asked in the past to write a five- paragraph essay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a five-paragraph essay, but just like sentence length and paragraph length, the number of paragraphs in an essay depends upon what’s needed to get the job done. There’s really no way to know that until you start writing. So try not to worry too much about the proper length and number of things. Just start writing and see where the essay and the paragraphs take you. There will be plenty of time to sort out the organization in the revision process. You’re not trying to fit pegs into holes here. You’re letting your ideas unfold. Give yourself—and them—the space to let that happen.
AttributionsThis chapter contains material from “The Word on College Reading and Writing” by Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood, OpenOregon Educational Resources, Higher Education Coordination Commission: Office of Community Colleges and Workforce Development is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
Monique Babin; Carol Burnell; Susan Pesznecker; Nicole Rosevear; and Jaime Wood
So you have a main idea, and you have supporting ideas, but how can you be sure that your readers will understand the relationships between them? How are the ideas tied to each other? One way to emphasize these relationships is through the use of clear transitions between ideas. Like every other part of your essay, transitions have a job to do. They form logical connections between the ideas presented in an essay or paragraph, and they give readers clues that reveal how you want them to think about (process, organize, or use) the topics presented.
Why are Transitions Important?
Transitions signal the order of ideas, highlight relationships, unify concepts, and let readers know what’s coming next or remind them about what’s already been covered. When instructors or peers comment that your writing is choppy, abrupt, or needs to “flow better,” those are some signals that you might need to work on building some better transitions into your writing. If a reader comments that she’s not sure how something relates to your thesis or main idea, a transition is probably the right tool for the job.
When Is the Right Time to Build in Transitions?
There’s no right answer to this question. Sometimes transitions occur spontaneously, but just as often (or maybe even more often) good transitions are developed in revision. While drafting, we often write what we think, sometimes without much reflection about how the ideas fit together or relate to one another. If your thought process jumps around a lot (and that’s okay), it’s more likely that you will need to pay careful attention to reorganization and to providing solid transitions as you revise.
When you’re working on building transitions into an essay, consider the essay’s overall organization.
Consider using reverse outlining and other organizational strategies presented in this text to identify key ideas in your essay and to get a clearer look at how the ideas can be best organized. See the “Reverse Outlining” section in the “Revision” portion of this text, for a great strategy to help you assess what’s going on in your essay and to help you see what topics and organization are developing. This can help you determine where transitions are needed.
Let’s take some time to consider the importance of transitions at the sentence level and transitions between paragraphs.
Transitions between sentences often use “connecting words” to emphasize relationships between one sentence and another. A friend and coworker suggests the “something old something new” approach, meaning that the idea behind a transition is to introduce something new while connecting it to something old from an earlier point in the essay or paragraph. Here are some examples of ways that writers use connecting words (highlighted with red text and italicized) to show connections between ideas in adjacent sentences:
To Show Similarity
When I was growing up, my mother taught me to say “please” and “thank you” as one small way that I could show appreciation and respect for others. In the same way, I have tried to impress the importance of manners on my own children.
Other connecting words that show similarity include also, similarly, and likewise.
To Show Contrast
Some scientists take the existence of black holes for granted; however, in 2014, a physicist at the University of North Carolina claimed to have mathematically proven that they do not exist.
Other connecting words that show contrast include in spite of, on the other hand, in contrast, and yet.
The cost of college tuition is higher than ever, so students are becoming increasingly motivated to keep costs as low as possible. For example, a rising number of students are signing up to spend their first two years at a less costly community college before transferring to a more expensive four-year school to finish their degrees.
Other connecting words that show example include for instance, specifically, and to illustrate.
To Show Cause and Effect
Where previously painters had to grind and mix their own dry pigments with linseed oil inside their studios, in the 1840s, new innovations in pigments allowed paints to be premixed in tubes. Consequently, this new technology facilitated the practice of painting outdoors and was a crucial tool for impressionist painters, such as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Cassatt.
Other connecting words that show cause and effect include therefore, so, and thus.
To Show Additional Support
When choosing a good trail bike, experts recommend 120–140 millimeters of suspension travel; that’s the amount that the frame or fork is able to flex or compress. Additionally, they recommend a 67–69 degree head- tube angle, as a steeper head-tube angle allows for faster turning and climbing.
Other connecting words that show additional support include also, besides, equally important, and in addition.
A Word of Caution
Single-word or short-phrase transitions can be helpful to signal a shift in ideas within a paragraph, rather than between paragraphs (see the discussion below about transitions between paragraphs). But it’s also important to understand that these types of transitions shouldn’t be frequent within a paragraph. As with anything else that happens in your writing, they should be used when they feel natural and feel like the right choice. Here are some examples to help you see the difference between transitions that feel like they occur naturally and transitions that seem forced and make the paragraph awkward to read:
Too Many Transitions: The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, and for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. In spite of this fact, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible this movement in art to take place. Then, In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. To illustrate the importance of this invention, pigments previously had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. For example, the mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. In addition, when working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Thus, Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Subtle Transitions that Aid Reader Understanding: The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, for their
everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. However, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible for this movement in art to take place. In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. Before this invention, pigments had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. The mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. When working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Transitions between Paragraphs and Sections
It’s important to consider how to emphasize the relationships not just between sentences but also between paragraphs in your essay. Here are a few strategies to help you show your readers how the main ideas of your paragraphs relate to each other and also to your thesis.
Signposts are words or phrases that indicate where you are in the process of organizing an idea; for example, signposts might indicate that you are introducing a new concept, that you are summarizing an idea, or that you are concluding your thoughts. Some of the most common signposts include words and phrases like first, then, next, finally, in sum, and in conclusion. Be careful not to overuse these types of transitions in your writing. Your readers will quickly find them tiring or too obvious. Instead, think of more creative ways to let your readers know where they are situated within the ideas presented in your essay. You might say, “The first problem with this practice is…” Or you might say, “The next thing to consider is…” Or you might say, “Some final thoughts about this topic are….”
Use Forward-Looking Sentences at the End of Paragraphs
Sometimes, as you conclude a paragraph, you might want to give your readers a hint about what’s coming next. For example, imagine that you’re writing an essay about the benefits of trees to the environment and you’ve just wrapped up a paragraph about how trees absorb pollutants and provide oxygen. You might conclude with a forward-looking sentence like this: “Trees benefits to local air quality are important, but surely they have more to offer our communities than clean air.” This might conclude a paragraph (or series of paragraphs) and then prepare your readers for additional paragraphs to come that cover the topics of trees’ shade value and ability to slow water evaporation on hot summer days. This transitional strategy can be tricky to employ smoothly.
Make sure that the conclusion of your paragraph doesn’t sound like you’re leaving your readers hanging with the introduction of a completely new or unrelated topic.
Use Backward-Looking Sentences at the Beginning of Paragraphs
Rather than concluding a paragraph by looking forward, you might instead begin a paragraph by looking back. Continuing with the example above of an essay about the value of trees, let’s think about how we might begin a new paragraph or section by first taking a moment to look back. Maybe you just concluded a paragraph on the topic of trees’ ability to decrease soil erosion and you’re getting ready to talk about how they provide habitats for urban wildlife. Beginning the opening of a new paragraph or section of the essay with a backward-looking transition might look something like this: “While their benefits to soil and water conservation are great, the value that trees provide to our urban wildlife also cannot be overlooked.”
Evaluate Transitions for Predictability or Conspicuousness
Finally, the most important thing about transitions is that you don’t want them to become repetitive or too obvious. Reading your draft aloud is a great revision strategy for so many reasons, and revising your essay for transitions is no exception to this rule. If you read your essay aloud, you’re likely to hear the areas that sound choppy or abrupt. This can help you make note of areas where transitions need to be added. Repetition is another problem that can be easier to spot if you read your essay aloud. If you notice yourself using the same transitions over and over again, take time to find some alternatives. And if the transitions frequently stand out as you read aloud, you may want to see if you can find some subtler strategies.
Exercise: Try Out Some New Transition Strategies
Choose an essay or piece of writing, either that you’re currently working on, or that you’ve written in the past. Identify your major topics or main ideas. Then, using this chapter, develop at least three examples of sentence- level transitions and at least two examples of paragraph-level transitions. Share and discuss with your classmates in small groups, and choose one example of each type from your group to share with the whole class. If you like the results, you might use them to revise your writing. If not, try some other strategies.
6.6 Intros and Outros
In today’s world …
Those opening words—so common in student papers—represent the most prevalent misconception about introductions: that they shouldn’t really say anything substantive. The five-paragraph format that most students mastered before coming to college suggests that introductory paragraphs should start very general and gradually narrow down to the thesis. As a result, students frequently write introductions for college papers in which the first two or three (or more) sentences are patently obvious or overly broad. Charitable and well rested instructors just skim over that text and start reading closely when they arrive at something substantive. Frustrated and overtired instructors emit a dramatic self-pitying sigh, assuming that the whole paper will be as lifeless and gassy as those first few sentences. If you’ve gotten into the habit of beginning opening sentences with the following phrases, firmly resolve to strike them from your repertoire right now:
In today’s world …
Throughout human history …
Since the dawn of time …
Webster’s Dictionary defines [CONCEPT] as …
For one thing, sentences that begin with the first three stems are often wrong. For example, someone may write, “Since the dawn of time, people have tried to increase crop yields.” In reality, people have not been trying to increase crop yields throughout human history—agriculture is only about 23,000 years old, after all—and certainly not since the dawn of time (whenever that was). For another, sentences that start so broadly, even when factually correct, could not possibly end with anything interesting.
I started laughing when I first read this chapter because my go-to introduction for every paper was always “Throughout history…” In high school it was true—my first few sentences did not have any meaning. Now I understand it should be the exact opposite. Introductions should scream to your readers, HEY GUYS, READ THIS! I don’t want my readers’ eyes to glaze over before they even finish the first paragraph, do you? And how annoying is it to read a bunch of useless sentences anyways, right? Every sentence should be necessary and you should set your papers with a good start.
So what should you do? Well, start at the beginning. By that I mean, start explaining what the reader needs to know to comprehend your thesis and its importance. For example, compare the following two paragraphs:
Five-Paragraph Theme Version:
Throughout time, human societies have had religion. Major world religions since the dawn of civilization include Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Animism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These and all other religions provide a set of moral principles, a leadership structure, and an explanation for unknown questions such as what happens after people die. Since the dawn of religion, it has always been opposed to science because one is based on faith and the other on reason. However, the notion of embodied cognition is a place where physical phenomena connect with religious ones. Paradoxically, religion can emphasize a deep involvement in reality, an embodied cognition that empowers followers to escape from physical constraints and reach a new spirituality. Religion carefully constructs a physical environment to synthesize an individual’s memories, emotions, and physical actions, in a manner that channels the individual’s cognitive state towards spiritual transcendence.
Organically Structured Version1:
Religion is an endeavor to cultivate freedom from bodily constraints to reach a higher state of being beyond the physical constraints of reality. But how is it possible to employ a system, the human body, to transcend its own limitations? Religion and science have always had an uneasy relationship as empiricism is stretched to explain religious phenomena, but psychology has recently added a new perspective to the discussion. Embodiment describes the interaction between humans and the environment that lays a foundation for cognition and can help explain the mechanisms that underlie religion’s influence on believers. This is a rare moment where science and religion are able to coexist without the familiar controversy. Paradoxically, religion can emphasize a deep involvement in reality, an embodied cognition that empowers followers to escape from physical constraints and reach a new spirituality. Religion carefully constructs a physical environment to synthesize an individual’s memories, emotions, and physical actions, in a manner that channels the individual’s cognitive state towards spiritual transcendence.
In the first version, the first three sentences state well known facts that do not directly relate to the thesis. The fourth sentence is where the action starts, though that sentence (“Since the dawn of religion, it has always been opposed to science because one is based on faith and the other on reason”) is still overstated: when was this “dawn of religion”? And was there “science,” as we now understand it, at that time? The reader has to slog through to the fifth sentence before the intro starts to develop some momentum.
Training in the five-paragraph theme format seems to have convinced some student writers that beginning with substantive material will be too abrupt for the reader. But the second example shows that a meatier beginning isn’t jarring; it is actually much more engaging. The first sentence of the organic example is somewhat general, but it specifies the particular aspect of religion (transcending physical experience) that is germane to the thesis. The next six sentences lay out the ideas and concepts that explain the thesis, which is provided in the last two sentences. Overall, every sentence is needed to thoroughly frame the thesis. It is a lively paragraph in itself, and it piques the reader’s interest in the author’s original thinking about religion.
Sometimes a vague introductory paragraph reflects a simple, obvious thesis and a poorly thought-out paper. More often, though, a shallow introduction represents a missed opportunity to convey the writer’s depth of thought from the get-go. Students adhering to the five-paragraph theme format sometimes assume that such vagueness is needed to book-end an otherwise pithy paper. As you can see from these examples, that is simply untrue. I’ve seen some student writers begin with a vague, high-school style intro (thinking it obligatory) and then write a wonderfully vivid and engaging introduction as their second paragraph. Other papers I’ve seen have an interesting, original thesis embedded in late body paragraphs that should be articulated up front and used to shape the whole body. If you must write a vague “since the dawn of time” intro to get the writing process going, then go ahead. Just budget the time to rewrite the intro around your well developed, arguable thesis and ensure that the body paragraphs are organized explicitly by your analytical thread.
Here are two more examples of excellent introductory paragraphs written by undergraduate students in different fields. Note how, in both cases, (1) the first sentence has real substance, (2) every sentence is indispensable to setting up the thesis, and (3) the thesis is complex and somewhat surprising. Both of these introductory paragraphs set an ambitious agenda for the paper. As a reader, it’s pretty easy to imagine how the body paragraphs that follow will progress through the nuanced analysis needed to carry out the thesis:
From Davis O’Connell’s “Abelard”2:
He rebelled against his teacher, formed his own rival school, engaged in a passionate affair with a teenager, was castrated, and became a monk. All in a day’s work. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Peter Abelard gained the title of “heretic” along the way. A 12th-century philosopher and theologian, Abelard tended to alienate nearly everyone he met with his extremely arrogant and egotistical personality. This very flaw is what led him to start preaching to students that he had stolen from his former master, which further deteriorated his reputation. Yet despite all of the senseless things that he did, his teachings did not differ much from Christian doctrine. Although the church claimed to have branded Abelard a heretic purely because of his religious views, the other underlying reasons for these accusations involve his conceited personality, his relationship with the 14-year-old Heloise, and the political forces of the 12th century.
From Logan Skelly’s “Staphylococcus aureus”3:
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is causing a crisis in modern healthcare. The evolution of multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus is of particular concern because of the morbidity and mortality it causes, the limited treatment options it poses, and the difficulty in implementing containment measures for its control. In order to appreciate the virulence of S. aureus and to help alleviate the problems its resistance is causing, it is important to study the evolution of antibiotic resistance in this pathogen, the mechanisms of its resistance, and the factors that may limit or counteract its evolution. It is especially important to examine how human actions are causing evolutionary changes in this bacterial species. This review will examine the historical sequence of causation that has led to antibiotic resistance in this microorganism and why natural selection favors the resistant trait. It is the goal of this review to illuminate the scope of the problem produced by antibiotic resistance in S. aureus and to illustrate the need for judicious antibiotic usage to prevent this pathogen from evolving further pathogenicity and virulence.
If vague introductory paragraphs are bad, why were you taught them? In essence you were taught the form so that you could later use it to deepen your thinking. By producing the five-paragraph theme over and over, it has probably become second nature for you to find a clear thesis and shape the intro paragraph around it, tasks you absolutely must accomplish in academic writing. However, you’ve probably been taught to proceed from “general” to “specific” in your intro and encouraged to think of “general” as “vague.” At the college level, think of “general” as context: begin by explaining the conceptual, historical, or factual context that the reader needs in order to grasp the significance of the argument to come. It’s not so much a structure of general-to-specific; instead it’s context-to-argument.
My average for writing an intro is three times. As in, it takes me three tries at writing one to get it to say exactly what I want it to. The intro, I feel, is the most important part of an essay. This is kind of like a road map for the rest of the paper. My suggestion is to do the intro first. This way, the paper can be done over a period of time rather than running the risk of forgetting what you wanted to say if you stop.
In conclusion …
I confess that I still find conclusions hard to write. By the time I’m finalizing a conclusion, I’m often fatigued with the project and struggling to find something new to say that isn’t a departure into a whole different realm. I also find that I have become so immersed in the subject that it seems like anything I have to say is absurdly obvious. A good conclusion is a real challenge, one that takes persistent work and some finesse.
Strong conclusions do two things: they bring the argument to a satisfying close and they explain some of the most important implications. You’ve probably been taught to restate your thesis using different words, and it is true that your reader will likely appreciate a brief summary of your overall argument: say, two or three sentences for papers less than 20 pages. It’s perfectly fine to use what they call “metadiscourse” in this summary; metadiscourse is text like, “I have argued that …” or “This analysis reveals that … .” Go ahead and use language like that if it seems useful to signal that you’re restating the main points of your argument. In shorter papers you can usually simply reiterate the main point without that metadiscourse: for example, “What began as a protest about pollution turned into a movement for civil rights.” If that’s the crux of the argument, your reader will recognize a summary like that. Most of the student papers I see close the argument effectively in the concluding paragraph.
The second task of a conclusion—situating the argument within broader implications—is a lot trickier. A lot of instructors describe it as the “So what?” challenge. You’ve proven your point about the role of agriculture in deepening the Great Depression; so what? I don’t like the “so what” phrasing because putting writers on the defensive seems more likely to inhibit the flow of ideas than to draw them out. Instead, I suggest you imagine a friendly reader thinking, “OK, you’ve convinced me of your argument. I’m interested to know what you make of this conclusion. What is or should be different now that your thesis is proven?” In that sense, your reader is asking you to take your analysis one step further. That’s why a good conclusion is challenging to write. You’re not just coasting over the finish line.
So, how do you do that? Remember that a complex thesis situates an arguable claim within broader implications. If you’ve already articulated a thesis statement that does that, then you’ve already mapped the terrain of the conclusion. Your task then is to explain the implications you mentioned: if environmental justice really is the new civil rights movement, then how should scholars and/or activists approach it? If agricultural trends really did worsen the Great Depression, what does that mean for agricultural policy today? If your thesis, as written, is a two-story one, then you may want to revisit it after you’ve developed a conclusion you’re satisfied with and consider including the key implication in that thesis statement. Doing so will give your paper even more momentum.
Let’s look at the concluding counterparts to the excellent introductions that we’ve read to illustrate some of the different ways writers can accomplish the two goals of a conclusion:
Victor Seet on religious embodiment4:
Embodiment is fundamental to bridging reality and spirituality. The concept demonstrates how religious practice synthesizes human experience in reality—mind, body, and environment—to embed a cohesive religious experience that can recreate itself. Although religion is ostensibly focused on an intangible spiritual world, its traditions that eventually achieve spiritual advancement are grounded in reality. The texts, symbols, and rituals integral to religious practice go beyond merely distinguishing one faith from another; they serve to fully absorb individuals in a culture that sustains common experiential knowledge shared by millions. It is important to remember that human senses do not merely act as sponges absorbing external information; our mental models of the world are being constantly refined with new experiences. This fluid process allows individuals to gradually accumulate a wealth of religious multimodal information, making the mental representation hyper-sensitive, which in turn contributes to religious experiences. However, there is an important caveat. Many features of religious visions that are attributed to embodiment can also be explained through less complex cognitive mechanisms. The repetition from religious traditions exercised both physically and mentally, naturally inculcates a greater religious awareness simply through familiarity. Religious experiences are therefore not necessarily caused by embedded cues within the environment but arise from an imbued fluency with religious themes. Embodiment proposes a connection between body, mind, and the environment that attempts to explain how spiritual transcendence is achieved through physical reality. Although embodied cognition assuages the conflict between science and religion, it remains to be seen if this intricate scientific theory is able to endure throughout millennia just as religious beliefs have.
The paragraph first re-caps the argument, then explains how embodiment relates to other aspects of religious experience, and finally situates the analysis within the broader relationship between religion and science.
From Davis O’Connell5:
Looking at Abelard through the modern historical lens, it appears to many historians that he did not fit the 12th-century definition of a heretic in the sense that his teachings did not differ much from that of the church. Mews observes that Abelard’s conception of the Trinity was a continuation of what earlier Christian leaders had already begun to ponder. He writes: “In identifying the Son and Holy Spirit with the wisdom and benignity of God, Abelard was simply extending an idea (based on Augustine) that had previously been raised by William of Champeaux.” St. Augustine was seen as one of the main Christian authorities during the Middle Ages and for Abelard to derive his teachings from that source enhances his credibility. This would indicate that although Abelard was not necessarily a heretic by the church’s official definition, he was branded as one through all of the nontheological social and political connotations that “heresy” had come to encompass.
O’Connell, interestingly, chooses a scholarly tone for the conclusion, in contrast to the more jocular tone we saw in the introduction. He doesn’t specifically re-cap the argument about Abelard’s deviance from social norms and political pressures, but rather he explains his summative point about what it means to be a heretic. In this case, the implications of the argument are all about Abelard. There aren’t any grand statements about religion and society, the craft of historiography, or the politics of language. Still, the reader is not left hanging. One doesn’t need to make far-reaching statements to successfully conclude a paper.
From Logan Skelly6:
Considering the hundreds of millions of years that S. aureus has been evolving and adapting to hostile environments, it is likely that the past seventy years of human antibiotic usage represents little more than a minor nuisance to these bacteria. Antibiotic resistance for humans, however, contributes to worldwide health, economic, and environmental problems. Multi-drug resistant S. aureus has proven itself to be a versatile and persistent pathogen that will likely continue to evolve as long as selective pressures, such as antibiotics, are introduced into the environment. While the problems associated with S. aureus have received ample attention in the scientific literature, there has been little resolution of the problems this pathogen poses. If these problems are to be resolved, it is essential that infection control measures and effective treatment strategies be developed, adopted, and implemented in the future on a worldwide scale—so that the evolution of this pathogen’s virulence can be curtailed and its pathogenicity can be controlled.
Skelly’s thesis is about the need to regulate antibiotic usage to mitigate antibiotic resistance. The concluding paragraph characterizes the pathogens evolutionary history (without re-capping the specifics) and then calls for an informed, well planned, and comprehensive response.
All three conclusions above achieve both tasks—closing the argument and addressing the implications—but the authors have placed a different emphasis on the two tasks and framed the broader implications in different ways. Writing, like any craft, challenges the creator to make these kinds of independent choices. There isn’t a standard recipe for a good conclusion.
Form and function
As I’ve explained, some students mistakenly believe that they should avoid detail and substance in the introductions and conclusions of academic papers. Having practiced the five-paragraph form repeatedly, that belief sometimes gets built into the writing process; students sometimes just throw together those paragraphs thinking that they don’t really count as part of the analysis. Sometimes though, student writers know that more precise and vivid introductions and conclusions are ideal but still settle on the vague language that seems familiar, safe, and do-able. Knowing the general form of academic writing (simplified in the five-paragraph theme) helps writers organize their thoughts; however, it leads some student writers to approach papers as mere fill-in-the-blank exercises.
I hope you will instead envision paper-writing as a task of working through an unscripted and nuanced thought process and then sharing your work with readers. When you’re engaged with the writing process, you’ll find yourself deciding which substantive points belong in those introductory and concluding paragraphs rather than simply filling those paragraphs out with fluff. They should be sort of hard to write; they’re the parts of the paper that express your most important ideas in the most precise ways. If you’re struggling with intros and conclusions, it might be because you’re approaching them in exactly the right way. Having a clear, communicative purpose will help you figure out what your reader needs to know to really understand your thinking.
The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina offers excellent advice on writing introductions and conclusions.
Browse a handful of articles on websites that feature examples of strong writing, such as longreads.com, newyorker.com, and theatlantic.com. Evaluate the quality of the introductions and conclusions that you see, based on the principles explained in this chapter.
1 This example is slightly adapted from a student-authored essay: Victor Seet, “Embodiment in Religion,” Discoveries, 11 (2012). Discoveries is an annual publication of the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines of Cornell University which publishes excellent papers written by Cornell undergraduates.
2 Davis O’Connell, “Abelard: A Heretic of a Different Nature,” Discoveries 10 (2011): 36-41.
3 Logan Skelly, “Staphylococcus aureus: The Evolution of a Persistent Pathogen,” Discoveries 10 (2011): 89-102.
4 Seet, “Embodiment in Religion.”
5 O’Connell, “Abelard,” 40.
6 Skelly, “Stapholococcus aureus,” 97.
Writing in College by Amy Guptill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
6.7 TONE, VOICE, AND POINT OF VIEW
Monique Babin; Carol Burnell; Susan Pesznecker; Nicole Rosevear; and Jaime Wood; Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
Tone, Voice, and Point of View
Hey, how you doin’? Hello, how are you today?
Which of the above greetings sounds most formal? Which sounds the most informal? What causes the change in tone?
Your voice can’t actually be heard when you write, but it can be conveyed through the words you choose, the order you place them in, and the point of view from which you write. When you decide to write something for a specific audience, you often know instinctively what tone of voice will be most appropriate for that audience: serious, professional, funny, friendly, neutral, etc.
For a discussion of analyzing an author’s point of view when reading a text, see Point of View in the “Writing about Texts” section.
What is point of view, and how do I know which one to use?
Point of view can be tricky, so this is a good question. Point of view is the perspective from which you’re writing, and it dictates what your focus is. Consider the following examples:
I love watching the leaves change in the fall. (First person point of view)
You will love watching the leaves change color. (Second person)
The leaves in fall turn many vibrant colors. (Third person)
Which of the above sentences focuses most clearly on the leaves? Third person, right? The first person sentence focuses on what “I” love and the second person sentence focuses on what “you” will love.
First person uses the following pronouns: I, me, my, us, we, myself, our, ours…. Any words that include the speaker/writer turn the sentence into first person.
Second person uses any form of the word “you,” which has the effect of addressing the reader.
Third person uses pronouns like he, she, it, they, them…. Any words that direct the reader to a person or thing that is not the writer or reader turn the sentence into third person.
That’s a lot to think about. When is it okay to use each of these points of view?
TONE, VOICE, AND POINT OF VIEW | 81
Many of your college instructors will ask you to write in third person only and will want you to avoid first or second person. Why do you think that is? One important reason is that third person point of view focuses on a person or topic outside yourself or the reader, making it the most professional, academic, and objective way to write. The goal of third person point of view is to remove personal, subjective bias from your writing, at least in theory. Most of the writing you will do in college will require you to focus on ideas, people, and issues outside yourself, so third person will be the most appropriate. This point of view also helps your readers stay focused on the topic instead of thinking about you or themselves.
The best answer to your question is that the point of view you choose to write in will depend on your audience and purpose. If your goal is to relate to your audience in a personal way about a topic that you have experience with, then it may be appropriate to use first person point of view to share your experience and connect with your audience.
The least commonly used point of view is second person, especially in academic writing, because most of the time you will not know your audience well enough to write directly to them. The exception is if you’re writing a letter or directing your writing to a very specific group whom you know well. (Notice that I’m using second person in this paragraph to directly address you. I feel okay about doing this because I want you to do specific things, and I have a pretty good idea who my audience is: reading and writing students.) The danger of using second person is that this point of view can implicate readers in your topic when you don’t mean to do that. If you’re talking about crime rates in your city, and you write something like, “When you break into someone’s house, this affects their property value,” you are literally saying that the reader breaks into people’s houses. Of course, that’s not what you mean. You didn’t intend to implicate the readers this way, but that’s one possible consequence of using second person. In other words, you might accidentally say that readers have done something that they haven’t or know, feel, or believe something that they don’t.
Even when you intend to use third person in an academic essay, it’s fine in a rough draft to write “I think that” or “I believe” and then to delete these phrases in the final draft. This is especially true for the thesis statement. You want to eliminate the first person from the final draft because it moves the focus—the subject and verb of the sentence—to the writer rather than the main point. That weakens the point because it focuses on the least important aspect of the sentence and also because it sounds like a disclaimer. I might say “I think” because I’m not sure, or “I believe” because I want to stress the point that this is only my opinion. Of course, it’s okay to
use a disclaimer if you really mean to do so, and it’s also fine to use first person to render personal experience or give an anecdote. Overall, though, you should remove “I think” and “I believe” because it is implied and redundant. When you write (for instance) that “recycling will have a positive impact on the environment”, there’s no need to write “I think that recycling will have a positive impact on the environment.” The reader will understand you believe the impact positive because you will back up the statement with evidence.
Remember to remove the passion.
The impact of your paper, and the success of an argument, should be made structurally, not through tone. In other words, if your argumentative paper has a clearly articulated claim with good reasons, and those reasons are supported by strong evidence, it will be a convincing argument. Be wary of sullying the quality of your argument with words and tone that seek to insult an opposing argument. Do not claim that your idea is “obvious” or “self-evident” and that another approach is “wrong” or “stupid”. Passion does not win the day (or the argument). In your writing seek dispassion, the cool, collective mind of an academic writer who seeks the assent of readers with carefully constructed and evidence-supported arguments.
Does anything else affect the tone of my writing?
Yes! Many times writers are so focused on the ideas they want to convey that they forget the importance of something they may never think about: sentence variety. The length of your sentences matters. If you start every sentence with the same words, readers may get bored. If all of your sentences are short and choppy, your writing may sound unsophisticated or rushed. Some short sentences are nice though. They help readers’ brains catch up. This is a lot to think about while you’re writing your first draft though, so I recommend saving this concern for your second or third draft.
Visit the Purdue OWL page, “Strategies for Variation” for some examples of sentence variety and exercises that will improve your sentence variety superpowers.
Julie A. Townsend
A review of the five-paragraph format
Many writers will be able to detail the five-paragraph format.
The introduction previews the entire essay.
The thesis statement goes at the end of the introduction and describes what the three body paragraphs will be about.
The body paragraphs discuss each topic described in the thesis statement in detail.
There should be transitions between each body paragraph.
The conclusion revisits key points made in the essay and could be the introduction re-worded in a different way.
These are sample answers from writers who describe what they have learned about the five-paragraph format. The five-paragraph format is a reader-friendly organizational structure that writers can rely on if they need to get information quickly and formally across to a wide audience. For instance, the five-paragraph format might be useful when writing a report to a supervisor with the purpose of explaining progress on a project. The introduction gives the most important information at the beginning and each paragraph is clearly related to one topic. The conclusion leaves the reader with a summary and a possible call to action.
Problems with the five-paragraph format
Donald Murray in his article “Teach Writing as a Process Not a Product” argues that writing should be taught as “…the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world” (4). However, when writers use writing to discover more about a topic, the five-paragraph format can be limiting because of the following:
Writers usually decide on the three main body paragraphs before they start drafting.
With three large topics to change from, writers are less likely to dig deep into a specific topic.
Writers may use the five-paragraph format in ways that avoid detail and make their essays indistinguishable from other essays on the same topics.
For instance, a writer might want to discuss communication on social media. They decide before they start writing that their three main topics will be Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. By the time they write a few details about Facebook, they move on to Instagram. There is not enough space for the writer to get into details and differentiate ideas on their topic and to describe observations, experiences, and research in depth. When writers start with three main topics, it’s also hard to find the space to teach the reader something new.
Discover with writing
Writing is an opportunity to share unique experiences with readers. If writers feel like they are not sharing anything valuable through their writing, they should reconsider their stance on the assignment or schedule a meeting with their instructor so that they can orient themselves more meaningfully to the assignment. Often, five-paragraph format writing is uninspired. Writers race to jot down what they know on three loosely related subjects so that they can finish the essay. The writer is not learning through the writing and neither is the reader. The main problem with the five-paragraph format is that it discourages writers from discovering what they could write on one focused and specific topic.
When to use the five-paragraph format
Published essays, in any genre, that use the five-paragraph organization are very rare. It might be interesting for writers to pay attention to how published material that they read on their own time is organized. Because first-year writing is a context where writers are encouraged to learn and teach through their writing, the five- paragraph format might not be the best choice for organization. However, when writers are in situations that demand them to relay information quickly, the five-paragraph format can be useful. Formulaic writing is not uninventive or inherently bad. Different genres use various kinds of formulaic writing, and it’s important for writers to adhere to conventions and pay attention to how essays are organized in the genre they are writing in.
Murray, Donald. “Teach writing as a process not product.” The Leaflet, vol.71, no.3 (1972), pp. 11-14.
Julie A. Townsend
How to get started writing without the five-paragraph format
If writers are not going to use the five-paragraph format, then how should they get started with the writing process? While it might seem logical to start writing the essay with the introduction, there are downsides to starting with the introduction if the writer has not already done extensive thinking or planning for the essay:
The writer does not know exactly what the essay is about yet, so they might have to rewrite the introduction to match what they end up writing.
The writer may end up writing multiple introductions while trying to find a way to summarize and introduce a topic they have not yet written on.
The writer may feel stuck and experience writer’s block (Thelin, Writing Without Formulas91).
Instead of beginning the writing process with the introduction to the essay, writers could:
Write the body of the essay
Make a working outline
Create a list of what they want to include
Follow the steps of the writing process (as suggested in section 3.1 “The Writing Process”).
What essays could look like without the five-paragraph format
The LB Handbook describes different kinds of organizational patterns for writers including: chronological, general to specific, specific to general, climactic, problem-solution, and spatial (21). The following sections
detail these techniques. Writers often use multiple kinds of organization within one essay, using one technique for one paragraph, one technique for another paragraph, multiple techniques in a single paragraph, and a technique for the overall organization and flow of the essay.
Writers who use chronological organization for their essay write about events that took place first in the beginning of the essay and then move to events that occurred later, following the order in which the events took place. Chronological order could be interesting for writers to purposefully play around with in their writing. Could the writer start at the end or the middle of the event to draw the reader in or make their structure more interesting? Writers might use chronological for sections of their essay in which they detail events that have already taken place or to describe historical events relevant to their topic.
If a writer wants to describe how they learned German, they can start with the first time that they heard the language, then describe (in the order which they occurred) the events and significant moments in their journey of learning the language.Example of chronological organization
General to specific
With general to specific organization, the writer starts with a broad perspective and then moves in more closely to their subject. This organization meets imagined readers at a level of specificity that they can easily connect with. The writer then gets more detailed, bringing the reader with them, and zooming in on the specific topic they are describing.
Example of general to specific organization
If a writer wants to describe how students at CSU use Blackboard to communicate (and they want to reach a wider audience than college students and instructors), they could begin by describing the broader topic of how college courses use online technologies, then the writer can get more specific into the details of Blackboard as they write more.
Specific to general
When using specific to general organization, the writer starts with details of their topic and then moves the focus to a broader context as they continue to write.
Writers can start with their findings or their main point and then work backwards, describing how the more specific points fit into a larger context.
Writers can start with very minute details of the situation they want to describe. Readers may not know exactly what the writer is describing, but as they continue reading, the writer reveals the context by zooming out more.
If a writer wants to describe communication in soccer, they could begin by describing an exciting minute of gameplay and how players communicate with each other during those intense moments. The writer might want to include jargon to make the situation realistic. Then, as the writer moves further away from the details, they can describe the jargon for the reader and contextualize the communication by putting it in the broader context of the soccer game and soccer culture.Example of specific to general organization
In problem-solution format, writers describe a problem and then describe the solution to the problem. Not
every essay topic can utilize problem-solution organization because there might not be a problem or a solution involved with the topic.
If a writer wants to discuss health literacy and why it’s important, they could start by describing problems that might occur if adults do not have health literacy, then they could describe how health literacy could be improved.Example of problem-solution organization
In spatial organization, writers describe their subject based on its location in space with other objects. To use this technique, writers could identify a concrete space to describe. Writers could also imagine their topic and how it relates to geography, describing relevant events in an order that progresses from east to west or north to south, depending on their purpose.
If a writer is describing the impact of social media, they could include a spatial description of the screen a user sees on Instagram. What appears on the screen as users scroll through the app they are investigating? What’s on the top and bottom of the screen? What about from the left to the right of the screen?Example 1 of spatial organization
Example 2 of spatial organization
If the writer is discussing a workplace, they could start from one corner of the workstation and move systematically through the space describing each part and section making sure to use details to bring the location to the reader.
Most writers will be familiar with movies, video games, novels, or plays being climactic. Climactic plots have the most action-filled scenes, major twists, or character deaths towards the end, around 75-90% of the way through the plot. Climactic college writing can vary widely. In climactic organization, the thesis statement will most likely not be at the end of the introduction but towards the end of the essay. According to Thelin, if the writer has a controversial stance, it might be best to save their conclusion towards the end (95). Saving a controversial finding until the end of the essay gives the writer time to get the reader feeling and understanding the topic like they do. However, topics don’t need to be controversial for writers to use climactic organization.
If a writer wants to discuss how social media is addictive, they could save their findings until they are almost finished with their essay. The beginning of the essay could include descriptions, observations, and research. Then, after the writer has drawn a clear picture of social media for the reader, they can reveal their finding that social media may be addictive.Example of climactic organization
Essay organization and culture
Fan Shen in “The Classroom and the Wider Culture”describes a variety of differences between what he calls “English rules” and “Chinese composition” (462). In English, he points out, readers expect a “topic sentence” that explains the main information before getting into the details (462). He argues this “is symbolic of the values of a busy people in an industrialized society, rushing to get things done, hoping to attract and satisfy the busy reader very quickly” (462). Chinese writers, he explains, “often clear the surrounding bushes before
attacking the real target” (463). Whether writers choose to take their time to get to the main point or want to reveal it in a more traditionally academic manner, the choice is theirs.
Application to your own writing
Read the essay that you are working on. Create an outline for what you have written. In the outline, label the organizational techniques that you have used. These may be from the list above or may not be listed. Do your best to describe how the essay is organized in each section. Keep in mind that you will likely have more than one kind of organization in your essay.
Aaron, Jane E. LB: the Little, Brown Handbook, Brief Version. Pearson Longman, 2014. Shen, Fan. “The Classroom and the Wider Culture: Identity as a Key to Learning English Composition.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 40. no. 4, 1989, pp. 459-466. Thelin, William. Writing Without Formulas. Second edition. Cengage, 2000.
Chapter 7: Revising and Refining
7.1 REVISING YOUR DRAFT(S)
Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel
Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
You have a draft! In many ways, you have done a lot of the hard work by getting ideas down on paper or on the screen.
There are many steps to drafting and revising, so try to resist going straight to the editing, in other words, looking for grammar errors or a misplaced or misused word. Those are important things to look at eventually, but in the early stages of revision, you have the opportunity to focus more on major concerns (we sometimes call them global concerns): idea development, essay focus, coherence among your ideas, whether or not you are meeting the assignment goal and purposes.
Here are some strategies for approaching the first revision, the “shape up” phase of your draft. There is a lot of opportunity here, for you to add, delete, rearrange, expand, and realize what you would like to rethink or express differently.
Early Draft Questions: Reading Your Draft to Look at Structure and Content
Your introductory section of the essay
Do you have a working claim? Does that claim respond to the question on the assignment sheet?
Are you beginning the paper with an introductory paragraph that leads the reader up to your claim?
Is your claimat the end of the intro?
The body of the essay
Does each paragraph focus on only one idea? In an argumentative or persuasive paper, paragraphs often explore reasons, which support your claim. When you begin to discuss a new idea/reason, do you make a paragraph break?
Do all of your reasons support your claim, and are your reasons supported by evidence?
Have you cited the sources that you have integrated into the draft as evidence?
Do you have a Works Cited page for those sources you referenced?
The conclusion of the essay
The conclusion may be the last thing that you write. Some writers choose to take sentences that feel out of place or perhaps repetitive and copy and paste them into a draft conclusion paragraph, which can be edited later. Do you have a conclusion? If so, great. If not, keep working on it for the final draft.
As you continue working on your paper, think about using your rhetorical reading skills to examine your work.
Early Draft Revisions: Reading Rhetorically
What is your main point? Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or does it wander at any point?
What information do you provide to support the central idea? Making a list of each point will help you analyze. Each paragraph should address one reason, and all paragraphs should relate to the text’s central idea.
What kind of evidence are you using? Is your evidence based more on fact or opinion? Which type of evidence does this assignment require? Where does your evidence come from? Are the sources authoritative and credible?
What is your main purpose? Note that this is different that the text’s main idea. The text’s main idea (above) refers to the central claim embedded in the text. Your purpose, however, refers to what you hope to accomplish in your essay (or assignment). Do you need to be objective or persuasive? Be sure to revisit the assignment if you are not clear on what the assignment’s purpose is!
What is your tone in the piece? Authoritative? Sarcastic? Are you using simple language? Informal language? Are you too passionate? Sometimes one’s outrage or belief in the righteousness of their claim prevents the reasonableness of an argument. Make sure that your claim is supported by reasons and well-researched evidence versus merely personal belief in the integrity of your claim. Does the language feel positive or negative? Most importantly, is the tone that you are using appropriate for the audience for your text?
Once you have gone through your own early draft review, peer reviews, and any other read-throughs and analyses of your draft, you may be ready for the final stage of revision. This is not simply editing — checking for misspelled words or missing commas.
Once again, you have the opportunity to “re-see” your paper, to look closely and deeply at it to make sure that it is making sense, that it flows, that it is meeting the core assignment requirements, to re-envision what the
paper can be. You still have time to make major changes, such as providing additions or deleting entire sections. Those are all wonderful things to do at this final revision stage in order to make your paper stronger.
Later Draft Revisions: Making Final Changes and Getting Ready to Submit the Assignment
Carefully consider all feedback – Based on that feedback from readers – peer reviewers, tutors, your instructor, friends, etc., where can you make your essay more reader-friendly? Where does it need more effort and focus?
Revisit the Assignment– If there are evaluation criteria, use them to evaluate your own draft. Identify in the paper where you are adhering to those criteria, where you feel like you still need work.
Consider your Sources – Are you engaging with required source materials as much or as deeply as you need to be? Would your paper be stronger if you reread the sources another time to better understand them? Do you need more source support in the paper? Do you need to enhance your source integration (signal phrases, citations)?
Revisit feedback on previous papers – Often, we make consistent errors in our writing from paper to paper. Read over feedback from other papers – even from other classes – and review your paper with special attention to those errors. There is still time to come talk to your professor about fixing them if you don’t understand how to avoid them!
Visit the Writing Center – It never hurts to have an objective pair of eyes look over your work. Bring the assignment sheet with you so that the Writing Center tutors can see what the instructor’s requirements for the assignment are. Communicate to the tutor about your key areas of concern or areas of focus.
Read your paper aloud – slowly – This can help you to hear any missing words or components. We often miss things when we only read because we read so quickly. If, when reading aloud, something sounds off, it probably is. Revisit those sentences that sound clunky on the tongue.
Ask for Instructor Feedback – If there are areas of your paper that you are struggling with, talk to your professor and ask for some guidance. It is best to visit office hours or schedule an appointment with your professor several days before the due date of the essay.
7.2 PEER REVIEW AND RESPONDING TO OTHERS’ DRAFTS
Emilie Zickel, Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
Students tend to have a love or hate relationship to peer review. Some have had wonderful, helpful, rich histories with classmates offering feedback on their work; others have the perspective that peer review is pointless.
When it works, both giving and receiving peer feedback can be a great learning opportunity. If you look at other people’s work in progress, you undoubtedly get some ideas about how you could do something different or better in your own draft. But even if you are looking at a draft that is weaker than yours, you may learn a lot: about what writing looks like when it is not working, perhaps why it is not working, or even what specific choices or revisions that writer could make to strengthen the draft. Identifying what makes things work – so important in the learning process – can be hard to detect in our own work.
Remember that in peer review, you don’t need to cast judgment on a classmate’s work.
You don’t need to take on the role of a “grader” or offer suggestions to fix the paper. You don’t need to correct things. Sometimes, what is more valuable is if you share your experience as a reader of the draft, explaining what felt easy and clear to you, and also where you struggled to understand what the writer was trying to accomplish. Be honest, accurate, detailed, and descriptive. Write in such a way that you offer your genuine readerly perspective to your partner, not a list of directions or directives.
Rhetorical Reading Questions for Peer Feedback
The use of rhetorical reading questions can offer feedback on the effectiveness of the text-in-progress. Ask yourself the following while reading your own or a peer’s draft:
What is the writer’s main point? Can you see what your partner’s main point is in this draft? Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or did you get lost while reading at any point? If so, can you
point out where reference to or reiteration of to the main point would have helped your reading experience?
What information does the writer provide to support the central idea? Did you
need more information to feel like the central idea was well supported? Do all paragraphs relate to the text’s central idea?
What kind of evidence does the writer use? Is it based more on fact or opinion? Can you clearly identify where this evidence comes from? Are the sources authoritative and credible?
Is the writer working towards achieving the assignment’s purpose? This is a question that is easiest to answer if you fully understand the assignment’s purpose. What are the goals of the assignment? What are the goals of this particular writer? Do those goals overlap?
Describe the tone in the draft. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language, or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Now, consider the audience for this essay. Does the tone seem appropriate for that audience?
Using “I” statements to offer feedback on others’ work
Offer observations of assignment goals met/not met
I see your thesis/claim at the end of your intro paragraph
I see transition phrases at the beginning of each new paragraph
I can see that you, which is a goal of this paper
In yourparagraph I see….but I do not see….
I do not see a Works Cited
Express your experience as a reader
1. My understanding is that the thesis/claim of this paper should. I did not clearly seein your thesis. Instead, I see (explain).
I was confused by this sentence (share the sentence) and I took it to mean (explain how you read that sentence).
In paragraphI thought that, based on what you said in the first sentence, the whole paragraph would discuss X. But it looks to me like at the end of the paragraph, you begin discussing Y, which felt to me like a new and different idea.
Express places where, as a reader, you were drawn in to the writing
I thought that the second paragraph was really clear and interesting because….
I like the way that you structured paragraph X because ….
I appreciate your use of (signal phrases? citations? MLA format? transitions? etc) because I have been struggling with that in my own writing. Thanks for the example
Phrases that can be ineffective
These types of phrases are telling the writer what to do and/or simply offering judgment. They are “you” statements, not “I” statements. Try to avoid these types of peer assessment phrases:
You should fix
The assignment says tobut you didn’t do that
You need more
You need less
To make the paper better, you need to
7.3 PROOFREADING AND EDITING YOUR FINAL DRAFT
Sarah M. Lacy and Emilie Zickel
Adam Falik and Doreen Piano
You have drafted, received feedback, revised, redrafted, received more feedback, revised, redrafted…and now you are ready to polish the paper up and hand it in.
To help you engage with this step, consider using a variety of the following strategies:
Proof-Reading and Editing Strategies
This strategy is always important to complete, as it requires intense analysis of your paper and prose. Use any rhetorically-based reading skills you have learned and apply these to this close read.
Be careful not to only rely on this tactic. It can be very easy to accidentally overlook an issue if you are only reading the essay in one way. Make sure to use this strategy in conjunction with any of these other options.
This strategy is specifically helpful when checking the flow of your sources once integrated into your own work. By reading aloud, you can hear how you have synthesized the sources amongst your own work, allowing you to check that there is no break in the narrative.
Reading aloud also forces you to experience your writing in a different medium; in so doing, many structural and word choice issues can become clear, among others.
Shift your start point
What this means is that you start reading over your essay in the middle of the essay, rather than always from the beginning.
Reading an essay out of order can help your mind experience each part of the essay in a new way, keeping you from becoming tired during a read though.Print the paper, then editOnly working on an assignment through one medium (a computer screen, tablet, etc.) can cause your eyes to gloss over the same error over and over again. By printing out your work, you are allowing yourself a chance to physically see your work, which often leads to the recognition of additional errors.Walk awaySometimes the best move is to give yourself a day or two away from your paper and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Doing so will allow you to gain some perspective on your topic and some psychological distance from your work.Note that this means you will need to give yourself plenty of time before the paper is due.
In addition to practicing proof-reading and editing strategies, it is also a good idea to create a checklist of common errors that many writers make. Below is a general checklist for the final editing stage of a paper. Any assignment will have additional specific requirements, and those should be found on the assignment sheet. What follows is a general checklist for ensuring general submission readiness:
Document FormatIs your paper laid out in the formatting that the assignment requires? (MLA, APA, CMS, etc). If you are not sure of how to meet the formatting guidelines, Google can help! There is a plethora of information out there about how to format documents, and image searches can give you a visual example.SpacingAlmost all of the papers that you write in college will require a double spacingFinal Editing Checklist
throughout. Have you checked to be sure that your paper is double spaced without any additional spaces after the header, the title, or any body paragraph?
Indenting a new paragraph is a rhetorical move that signals to the reader that you are beginning a new idea in a new paragraph. You can hit tab at the beginning of each paragraph to indent.
Is your thesis/Claim at the end of the Intro section? Does it directly respond to the assignment question?
Have you used transitional phrases at the beginning of new body paragraphs (except for the very first paragraph to follow the intro) to help guide the reader from one idea to the next?
Are you carefully introducing all source material that you have quoted, paraphrased, or summarized? When you cite, are your citations formatted according to the style guide required by the assignment?
Even if you have used only one source in the paper, you must include a Works Cited page. Is your Works Cited in alphabetical order by the first letter in the work that you are referencing? Is the Works Cited formatted according to what the assignment requires(MLA, APA, CMS, etc)?
Have you gone through the essay to ensure that you’ve corrected spelling or wording errors?
7.4 CLARITY AND CONCISION