Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Write an Essay 3 - Structure

Notes from The Practical Stylist, by Sheridan Baker, 7th edition

1. Every essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

2. The opening paragraph sets the tone and direction of your essay, and should clearly state your thesis, usually at the end.

Example Comparison:

A Bad Opening Paragraph:
"All people think they are good drivers. There are more accidents caused by young drivers than any other group. Driver education is a good beginning, but further practice is very necessary. People who object to driver education do not realize that modern society, with its suburban pattern of growth, is built around the automobile. The car becomes a way of life and a status symbol. When teen-agers go too fast they are probably only copying their own parents."

A Good Revision:
"Modern society is built on the automobile. Children play with tiny cars; teen-agers long to take out the car alone. Soon they are testing their skills at high and higher speeds, especially with a group of friends along. One final test at extreme speeds usually suffices. It is a sobering experience, if survived, and can open one's eyes to the deadly dynamics of driving."

3. The middle, or body, of your essay is your chance to defend your thesis with arguments. A common mistake for students is to skip a solid beginning and go straight into argumentation. "It's all chaotic middle . . . with no structure. It has no beginning, it just starts; it has no end, it just stops, burned out at two in the morning."

4. Organize your arguments, from least to most important, saving your best for last. This will keep people interested - remember boredom grows with every passing paragraph.

5. If your least important arguments aren't very strong, cut them out altogether.

6. Run your comparisons and demolish the opposition point by point. Don't dwell on just one side. The second you concede an opposing view, strike it down with a logical retort. And don't spend three pages talking about cars, and then switch to motorbikes. You'll have to repeat yourself.

7. The final paragraph is your summation and reassertion of your thesis. "You need to imply, 'I told you so,' without saying it . . . and leave them convinced, satisfied, and admiring."

8. Essays are made up of paragraphs, and while each paragraph should focus on one idea, writers have some freedom as to how and when to make them. The purpose of a paragraph is to organize your thoughts, so that it's easier for the reader. Every paragraph is a resting place and a marker, to help readers find their place when they have to pause, or to find some quote they liked, maybe a few days earlier. Every paragraph is also like a miniature essay, with its own beginning, middle, and end.

9. The size of your paragraphs depends on what you're writing. Newspaper articles traditionally fit in narrow columns, so small, one-sentence paragraphs are common. Paragraphs in books are often longer, though not always. In essays, paragraphs are typically longest, breaking only to lead the reader in a new direction.
10. The first sentence of every paragraph is the "topic sentence". It introduces the thought. Every other sentence in that paragraph should support and expand on it.

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