The Fulcrum of Academic Writing

There is one aspect of academic writing that has confused writers for centuries. One sentence has initiated the rise and fall of papers, caused worried high school and college scholars to lose sleep at night, and affected the comprehension of papers everywhere the English language is written. As authors near the end of their introduction paragraph, they are faced with the daunting task of writing the sentence that, in many ways, determines the success of their paper: the thesis sentence.

As a writing consultant, the most common question I receive is “what is a thesis?” Second to this one is the question, “Why does my thesis matter?” If a student writes a paper with a good introduction, body, and conclusion, can one sentence really be that important?

The answer to those last two questions is a most definite YES! Think about it this way: Have you ever been listening to a friend ramble on and on about some subject, but you have no idea what his or her point is? This has happened to me, and sometimes, after a few minutes, I want to say, “Just get to the point!” And I’m sure others around me often feel the same urge! Or, have you ever read a paper or book, but, at the end, been unaware of what the author want to you learn from it? Well, the purpose of the thesis is to clarify said point. Papers are similar to such long verbal explanations. The thesis allows the main idea, the attitude regarding this idea, and the main sub-points that are going to be discussed to be introduced early in the writing.  This sentence allows the reader to know what he or she is getting into, so to speak, when this person begins to read your paper.

In order to avoid such ramblings, you may ask how to compose a thesis, which is such a necessary aspect of your written masterpiece. There are three important components of a strong thesis: the main idea, the attitude or indication of the writer’s position on said idea, and the reasoning (2-3 main points) that support said attitude.

Let’s look at an example: “Cats are amazing because they have an independent disposition, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors.” Whether you agree with this statement or not, we have our topic (cats), our attitude (that they are amazing), and our three points (disposition, tendencies, and behaviors), and it would be my job as the author to prove this point to you in the rest of my paper. A strong thesis statement will not only excite our readers about what is to come but also help us, as writers, to follow a logical order in our writing process.

Of course, there are many ways to write theses; the one above is just the simplest way to do so: subject first, followed by the attitude then the main points. We could also flip that sentence around to say, “Due to their independent attitude, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors, cats are clearly the most amazing pet to own” OR “Their independent attitude, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors cause cats to be the best all-around pet.” These theses communicate the same message but emphasize the topic and sub-points in different ways. Each style is used to stress a particular part of a thesis or to relate parts of the thesis to each other in a unique way. However, the order of the components of the thesis pales in comparison to the importance of actually including these three parts, arranged in a logical manner.

In scientific terms, the thesis is the hypothesis attempting to be proved by the experiment of your paper. It is the position of your debate, the climax of your story, and the blueprints to your building. It is the fulcrum of academic writing, and you must learn the importance and “how-to’s” of thesis writing, as it will determine the comprehension, flow, and success of every paper you write for the rest of your life.

Written by Michelle

For more information on thesis statements and other writing subjects, check out our Writing a Thesis handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

 

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How to Write an Outline

I’m not going to lie; writing is hard. Even as an English major who works in the Writing Center, I find writing difficult. I love writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I outlinethink the toughest part about writing is actually starting the writing process. I can have my topic picked out and all of my research done but still have absolutely no idea where to go from there. Maybe you’ve been in that boat, too. You might have a great idea for a written composition in mind but not know exactly what to start writing about. This is where an outline can truly save the day. An outline can be the most helpful method in the writing process. It can help to break down broad ideas and organize them in an understandable way. By creating an outline, the writer gives form to his or her thoughts and to the paper itself.

I find it helpful to simply jot a few points down first. What are some of the major issues that need to be addressed throughout the essay? How do they relate to each other? What evidence is there to support the claim? Think about these questions pertaining to the topic and write down at least three ideas you would like to discuss in the paper. If there are more than three points, that’s good. Longer papers require more content. And sometimes, smaller points can be included within the larger points if they are closely related. Ever heard of the expression “it’s better to have too much than not enough?” Well, it is always better to have more ideas to work with than fewer.

Now, it is time to take on the thesis. The thesis will include the main points previously mentioned. Remember not to include too many details in the thesis, but give enough information so that the reader has a sense of the purpose and structure of the essay. Think about it like this: if you were to summarize your entire paper into one sentence, then that would be your thesis.

For example, I wrote a paper about digital technology and its impacts on society. I knew there were at least three areas of impact I wanted to thoroughly address, so I put those in my thesis. My working thesis statement became something like “The long-term effects of the digital age can hinder the health, education, and even character of the current and future generations of society.” My thesis clearly states my essay’s topic, the negative effects of digital technology, and gives a general overview on the types of problems my paper addresses, which are the impacts in the health, education, and character of current and future members of society. Notice there are no specific examples or evidence in my thesis, but simply a general idea and some organized points. The thesis doesn’t have to be perfect yet; you can always work on the grammar of your thesis later when you start writing your paper. You simply need to get the main ideas of your paper down into one sentence. This is the most important part of the essay because it gives the reader a preview of what is to come.

The thesis and the main points are the core of the paper, so once those have been solidified, you can start working on the details. For the main points, research and support will be needed. Under each point, write down some examples that can support that point. These may consist of examples from a literary work, a fact quoted from a science textbook, or a statistic from an internet article. List everything that supports your point and be sure to cite your sources when it comes to putting quotes and paraphrases into your paper.

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations! You’ve outlined most of your paper. The only things left are the introduction and conclusion. For the introduction, list some things that would be helpful information for the reader to know in order to understand the subject of the paper. Are there any terms that need defining? Would giving a brief plot summary help? Basically, list any background information that you consider necessary in order to understand the topic.

As for the conclusion, three things should be included: thesis, summary, concluding last statement. I’ve found it helpful to list these things out so that I remember what I want to write in the conclusion by the time I finish my paper. It is best to restate, but also reword, your thesis in order for the paper to appear cohesive. Then, summarize the main points of your paper. You can even refer to the bullet points you wrote in the beginning of the outline. Lastly, you’ll want a concluding sentence or two. It might be a call to action or statement of importance. It needs to be something that ties the paragraph together.

This outline technique has benefited me many times in the past, and I hope it benefits other writers, too. If this method doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. There are several different ways to outline a paper. This is simply one of them. I know writing is hard, and starting the writing process can be quite the challenge. That 8-10 page research paper can seem like a beast that might bite your head off, but don’t worry. It is best to simplify your thoughts. Break them down to organize them, and you’ll be able to build them up again to write that essay.

Written by Taylor C.

For more information on outlining and other writing subjects, check out our Outlining: Structuring a Paper handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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Topic vs. Thesis: A Tale of Two Cokes

If you’re Texas born and raised, you’ve probably noticed that people who live in Not Texas tend to say some funky stuff. My favorite is the use of the word “soda,” or even coke_smallbetter, the laughable “pop.” In Texas, we like to keep things interesting and use “coke” to refer to literally any carbonated soft drink on the market. It’s a simple concept, but for my proud Yankee readers*, here’s an explanation:

Texan 1: We’re going to Sonic, y’all want a coke?

Texan 2: Sure, get me a Dr. Pepper.

Texan 3: Yeah, I want a cherry Coke.

Texan 4: I’ll take a Sprite.

Texan 1: Speeds off in a Chevy Silverado Texas Edition with Jason Aldean** blasting through the speakers

Cut scene

See? Simple. In Texanese, “coke” is just a generalized category that umbrellas dozens of beverages. Just as “Mexican food” and “rom-com” and “soda” are unspecified generic topics, so is the word “coke” in Texas.

Understanding the difference between a topic and a thesis can be just as easy if you realize the coke is like your topic, and your thesis is all the other individual drinks it represents. The topic of a paper is usually pretty darned generic, and it is often what is given to you by your professor. It’s the thing on the syllabus that makes you think, “That’s way too broad of an assignment. I still don’t know what to write about!” Here are some examples:

  1. An argument paper about making college free for everyone.
  2. A research paper on the leadership of the Founding Fathers
  3. A compare and contrast essay of the ancient Hebrews and pagan religions.

These are topics, the coke of the writing world. Theses, on the other hand, are born from within topics, but they are much more specific because they include a stance on the topic, as well as basic support for the stance. Some examples might be:

  1. Although the idea of tuition-free college sounds appealing to many, universal post-secondary education is dangerous to the quality of university education, the health of the economy, and the careers of future graduates.
  2. Thomas Paine and George Washington had vastly different roles in the American Revolution, but their similar transformational leadership styles encouraged and equipped Americans to achieve victory in independence.
  3. The ancient Hebrews and pagans shared similar proverbs and cultural tales, but the two groups differ greatly on their theology of God and humanity and practices for worship.

Now you’ve transitioned from generic coke to Dr. Pepper, Orange Fanta, Diet Sprite, and whatever else the kids are drinking these days. The original topics pointed in a general direction, but the theses that evolved from them are highly specific.

As you prepare for the semester ahead and struggle to get back in the academic swing of things, remember that the difference between a topic and a thesis is as simple as knowing that, in Texas, when somebody asks if you want a coke, you better tell them what kind of coke you want. Otherwise, they’ll probably bring you a Dr. Pepper because this ain’t New England, y’all.

* No Yankees were offended in the making of this blog. My dad and my fiancé are both from Not Texas, and I love ‘em both.

** I’m not as blatantly Texan as I appear. I had to Google “famous country singer” because I had no idea.

Written by Savanna

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Hope Restored

Hope Restored

Josh’s heart raced like that of a mouse scuttering from boulder to boulder, escaping the molting lava of Pompeii. Or, as a meerkat, fleeing the thudding hooves of a herd of Wildebeests. But Josh would have been content with either situation, for his predicament was far worse.

As a mere freshman, Josh faced a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: English 2301.

Testing out of freshman English, Josh entered college with chest held high. Destined to be the next Mark Twain, no English class could daunt him. So, he barged into his first class session of 2301. Bypassing the trembling students in the back, Josh strutted to the front row and stared the professor in the eye. Breaking a moment of awkward silence, the professor asked, “Can I help you?”

“No, but I can help you… teach this class!” Josh remarked, not releasing his glance.

But, when he saw the syllabus, everything changed.

“12 essays!” Josh exclaimed, “This is impossible!”

The professor chuckled and said, “Some professor you are, freshman.”


Josh sat on his couch agape. “What am I going to do?” He asked his roommate.

“You should visit the Writing Center. They’ll write your paper for you,” His roommate replied.

A sparkle graced Josh’s eye and his dreams shone anew. There was hope for his future. Navigated by destiny herself, no obstacle could impede him.

With the speed of Hermes, Josh rushed to the Writing Center.

“Here are my 12 essays. Write them for me.” Josh demanded as he flew through the Center’s door.

The receptionist calmly replied, “Sorry sir. We assist writers in developing their capabilities. We won’t write it for you, but we can certainly help you.”

Taken aback, Josh fell to his knees; once again, his dream slipped from his grasp.

“Do not be dismayed,” reassured the receptionist. Her hair burned golden in the light. Josh swore he saw an angel.

“Help is here.”

A hand grasped Josh’s. Leonard, a Writing Center consultant, pulled Josh up.

“Though times are rough,” Leonard stated, “You can’t give up!”

Leonard sat Josh down at the nearest table and said,

“If we work together, we can accomplish this task.”

“I now know that: though college is difficult, hard work pays off,” Josh responded, tears welling in his eyes.

Leonard grabbed an MLA instruction packet and sample essay. He and Josh discussed the rules for MLA, looked over the sample paper, and brainstormed some ideas for Josh’s first essay.

“See Josh,” Leonard explained, “the thesis is like a roadmap for an essay,” Josh nodded in agreement, “It is a brief, clear statement of the argument of your paper, helps you plan your paper, and helps your reader see how you divide your main ideas into subtopics.”

“Wow!” Josh exclaimed with fist held high. “Now I can write all my essays for English 2301 without having a panic attack.”

Restored, Josh galloped out of the Writing Center. As he skipped away, the sun set an orange aura on the horizon. Hope was alive, and so was Josh.

Co-Authored by John Brock and Ben Jones