Evaluating Your Supporting Paragraphs Study Guide (page 3)
Evaluating Your Supporting Paragraphs
Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. - SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709–1784) ENGLISH LEXICOGRAPHER AND ESSAYIST
Even a strong introduction can't stand alone. In this lesson, you'll learn tips for evaluating the building block support you've provided to your thesis statement.
This lesson explains the next steps you need to take in evaluating and editing your first draft. Specifically, you'll review here the hard questions you need to ask yourself and the standards you need to apply to the supporting arguments you have supplied to prove your essay's thesis statement.
As you know, every essay is really some version of a problem/solution or a question/answer or a point of view/defense. All that really means is that 99% of the writing assignments you will have during your lifetime (including memos you may write once you're out in the working world, or teacher's reports you may write if you end up being a teacher) demand that you take a strong position on some subject and then persuade your reader to agree with you. That persuasion process is essential to the well-written essay. An examination and polishing revision of the supporting elements in your essay is the second step in the process of revising your rough draft.
Types Of Support For Your Thesis
In previous lessons, you reviewed many of the strategies that writers use to support the arguments of their essay. Now you're at the stage where you have to evaluate your own use of supporting material. To help you begin this process, note that, in general, writers evaluate their own work by asking themselves these questions:
- Have I argued in the most persuasive manner?
- Have I offered sufficient support for my position?
- Have I offered a variety of kinds of support?
There is no right way to support a thesis, and there is no precise number of pieces of evidence that you must supply to strengthen your argument. In most of the school assignments that you are given, it is probably wise to assume that a minimum of three supporting pieces of evidence or three related ideas will be sufficient to establish the strength of your argument. But more evidence is usually better, so if you have additional ideas to include, by all means do.
It is important to offer a variety of kinds of support. Your essay will be extremely boring and ultimately weaker if you offer only one kind of support. For review, here's a checklist of various kinds of support that writers often use.
- specific examples that illustrate the thesis
- verifiable facts that support the thesis
- expert opinions on the subject
- expert analyses on the subject
- personal anecdotes from you or others
- persuasive reasons for the reader to agree with the thesis
- acknowledgment of opposing views
- direct quotations from the text if you are writing a literary analysis or critique
Always include more than one (or two) of these support devices in every essay.
Is Your Support Relevant?
For truly effective writing, supporting material must be relevant. It is all too easy to stray from your subject and include information, arguments, or anecdotes that are merely distant cousins to your topic. Be extremely careful in evaluating your rough draft for this common error.
As an illustration, look at the rough outline below. (You saw a later version of this student's outline in Lesson 14.) Look carefully at this early draft of the outline and evaluate the supporting ideas it includes.
Title: Should School Uniforms Be a Requirement in Our School?
Introduction (Thesis Statement)
School uniforms should be instituted in our school because they will relieve tensions among students and make all students feel equal.
Body of Essay
Paragraph 1: statement of thesis and description of controversy throughout the country
Paragraph 2: list of reasons why school uniforms are a good idea
Paragraph 3: description of the high costs of school uniforms
Paragraph 4: description of negative reactions among some students
Paragraph 5: quotation and comments from a principal of a school that has rejected the use of uniforms
While there has been some serious criticism within the student body about the use of school uniforms, there is good evidence that uniforms do create a more democratic atmosphere and reduce tensions among students. An experiment for a year to try out the use of uniforms seems to be an ideal solution to the controversy.
Does this outline suggest any supporting material that you suspect may be irrelevant or otherwise inappropriate? Look at these criticisms of the outline:
- Paragraph 3, which offers facts about the cost of uniforms, does not provide good support for the writer's thesis. In revision, she might correct this problem by comparing the high cost of uniforms to the often higher cost of regular clothes. Such an argument might support the use of uniforms.
- Paragraph 5 offers a quotation from a principal who rejected the use of uniforms. While it is often a good strategy to acknowledge the opposing argument, this is a tricky way to proceed. One way of making it work might be to discount, in some way, the quotation from this principal. Another might be to add a quotation, ideally a more convincing one, from a different principal, one who supports the use of uniforms.
Be careful when you do interviews. Your interviewees might not turn out to be the people you thought they'd be!
Checking Your Persuasive Strategies
After you've checked your rough draft once to be sure that all the information you've included is relevant, you must do another evaluation of the quality of the persuasive strategies (or tactics) that you've used.
In Lesson 20, you learned six types of support for your thesis. Review them here to make sure that you have used as many types of support as possible in order to strengthen your thesis:
|1.||provide details and examples|
|2.||provide facts for support|
|3.||provide reasons to agree|
|4.||include anecdotes and descriptions|
|5.||include expert opinions and quotations from authorities|
|6.||include quotations, diagrams, or other visuals|
Another very useful way to evaluate the effectiveness with which you've supported your thesis is to ask yourself a series of tough questions. Imagine you're a serious critic, or a demanding teacher, and apply these standards to your draft:
- Is each of the supporting paragraphs very specific and relevant?
- Does the essay establish authority with a strong voice and an appropriate tone?
- Does the essay acknowledge arguments against your thesis and counter them with good evidence?
- Have you supported your thesis with enough information? (Failure to do this is a very common error made by writers in a rush to finish the assignment.)
- Have you double-checked to make sure that you have included no language or generalizations that might offend your readers?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you've done a miraculously good job of writing your first draft. If you are forced to answer no to any of the questions, you're lucky to have guidance about the draft's weak spots. These questions point you to the areas where you need to strengthen your argument, either by expanding your supporting paragraphs or by adding new ones that enhance the persuasiveness of your argument.
It is extremely rare for even a professional writer to be entirely satisfied with a first rough draft. The checklists and questions provide a roadmap to follow in reworking your essay. The hardest part of revising a draft is attacking these big-picture issues. Once you're satisfied that your draft reflects your best efforts to assert, explain, and defend your thesis statement, you can go on to do the detail work of polishing paragraphs and individual sentences. The paragraph detail work of revising an essay will be the subject of the next lesson.
If you feel frustrated and stuck about how to fix the problems, give it a rest, overnight if possible, and then come back to the draft with fresh eyes.
Practice: Evaluating Supporting Paragraphs
In this exercise, you will evaluate three paragraphs one student wrote in support of the following thesis:
The eating habits of students throughout the country are beginning to create serious health hazards.
After reading each paragraph, comment briefly on its validity as a supporting argument for the thesis statement. If you think a paragraph is a good support for the thesis, explain why. If you decide it is not a valid contribution to the argument, make suggestions for how it might be improved.
In their rush to get out the door and get to school on time, kids today are very likely to skip breakfast, and that's the worst possible way to start your day. Even a quick bowl of cereal will make all the difference between a healthy start to the day and a long, sleepy morning.
Your Evaluation of Paragraph 1:
There are way too many pressures put on kids today. Even in kindergarten, kids are starting to worry about whether or not they will get into a good college. And having the right friends is just as important as getting good grades or doing well at sports. Parents really need to relax and stop creating so much stress on their kids.
Your Evaluation of Paragraph 2:
Research shows that 75% of mothers with children under the age of ten are working mothers. What does this have to do with kids' eating habits? Everything! If both your mom and your dad are working all day and come home exhausted, what are the chances that either one of them will have the energy to cook a healthy dinner for the family? The result? Fast food. Take-out. Pizzas four nights out of five.
Your Evaluation of Paragraph 3:
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