Getting Ready to Write Study Guide (page 2)
Getting Ready to Write
Have common sense and stick to the point. - W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM (1874–1965) ENGLISH NOVELIST
In this lesson, you will learn how to save yourself time in the end. By reevaluating your thesis statement and doing preliminary planning, you'll be able to cut down on your actual writing time.
This lesson will guide you through the preliminary steps you need to take before you actually begin to write your essay. All this preparation may seem tedious and boring, but you will benefit in the end. Writing your essay becomes a much less painful process if you've prepared adequately in advance.
Step 1: Reevaluate Your Thesis Statement
Sometimes in the rush to get started on an essay, you get impatient, throw up your hands, and decide you've simply got to get started writing. And so you begin prematurely, before you've had time to reconsider and reevaluate your thesis statement.
Don't rush into writing. It's always a good idea to take a break, walk around the house, or even sleep on it, and then come back to take a hard last look at the statement that is going to be the cornerstone of everything you write in your assignment.
Once you've reevaluated your thesis statement, and perhaps revised it in light of the checklist here, it's time to start thinking about how to organize your essay. In later lessons, we'll look in detail at the various types of essay organization; for right now, it's important to think in very general terms about the structure of your essay.
Step 2: Imagine The Three Parts of An Essay
Every essay, no matter what is its length, subject matter, or organizational pattern, is made up of three parts:
Think of yourself as a bird flying over the landscape and looking down. View your essay from on high, and contemplate its borders, its hills and valleys, from above. If you think in these lofty terms right at the beginning, you're likely to be able to swoop down more easily later in the writing process to look at details up close and personal.
The Introduction of An Essay
The introduction of the essay typically includes the thesis statement. However, the thesis statement does not have to appear as the first sentence. In certain cases, you can write a whole introductory paragraph that does not include the thesis statement at all. In such an instance, it is probably best to put the thesis statement near the top of the second paragraph so that the reader doesn't get confused trying to figure out what the essay is really about. Here's an example:
I walked into the interview not knowing what to expect, but confident that I had come prepared with a list of challenging questions for the principal. She looked at me sternly, and nodded for me to take a seat. Feeling a bit jittery, I stumbled as I sat down, and giggled nervously. But I took a deep breath, regained my calm, and decided to plunge right in.
"I'm here to represent all the students in the eighth grade," I explained, "and we are prepared to boycott classes if you institute a rule requiring us to wear school uniforms." All the kids in my class had voted, and we wanted the principal to know just how seriously we were opposed to the proposal that we wear school uniforms.
Note that the reader has to wait until the second paragraph to find out what the essay is about, but note also how interested you as a reader are by the drama created in the first paragraph. This is good writing, and good use of delaying the thesis of the essay.
There are numerous ways to introduce an essay, so don't fall into the same old trap of starting out with a direct statement of your thesis. Spark up your introduction in any way you can.
Tips on Writing an Interesting Introduction
- Ask a question, whether or not you answer it right away.
- Use a quotation, which needn't be from a famous person; it might come from someone you've interviewed for the essay.
- Include a startling or shocking fact that will grab your reader's attention.
- Include a dramatic description of a situation or event related to your topic.
- Start out with an exclamation: "Wow . . . who knew the problem was this great!" This isn't a question that calls for an answer; it's simply a dramatic device (known as a rhetorical question) that can often be used effectively. Be cautious about using this device; it is quite informal and may not be appropriate in many assigned essays.
The Body of The Essay
Wherever you decide to put your thesis statement, make sure that every subsequent paragraph supports your thesis statement. This is absolutely essential to a well-written essay. The body paragraphs, no matter how many of them there are, must build on—and ideally, expand on—the idea put forth in the thesis statement.
It is helpful to think of your essay as a puzzle. Each piece contributes to the whole, and the picture wouldn't be complete without all those little parts. Alternatively, think of each paragraph as a steppingstone in a path that leads to your final conclusion. But be careful: Don't let your path take too many detours and wind around unnecessarily. The path should be straight as an arrow—each paragraph following the one before, either elaborating on or supporting it, or adding new information that builds toward the conclusion.
The Conclusion of An Essay
Weak conclusions simply repeat the thesis statement from the introduction:
In conclusion, it is clear that kids are watching too much television.
Strong conclusions offer a summation of the thesis statement and offer either some new insight, or at the very least something more to think about.
While the most reputable studies are unanimous in their condemnation of the amount of time most middle school students spend watching television, there is strong evidence that the Internet is replacing television as a favorite pastime for kids aged 8 to 12. Does this mean that kids are learning something useful while they're staring at their computer screens? Let's hope so.
Practice 1: Evaluating Thesis Statements
Fill in the following chart with improved thesis statements to replace the weak thesis statements provided. Please note the sample response provided. If you need more room, use a separate piece of paper. Save your answers; they will be useful in subsequent lessons.
Practice 2: Writing Lively Introductions
For the three strong thesis statements that you have written, write an opening sentence, or complete introductory paragraph, for the essays that might follow your thesis statements.
If you like, you may write your introductory sentences (or paragraphs) right in this chart. If you do so, they'll be easy to refer back to during subsequent lessons. Otherwise, write them on a separate piece of paper and be sure to save what you've written for future use.