Category: Compositions

The Thesis

What is a thesis?

  • The controlling idea that is supported by the body/argument of the essay;
  • It provides direction for the reader and the writer;
  • It is an assertion with which a person can reasonably disagree.

However, bear in mind that the thesis is a conclusion (which appears in introduction) at which you, the writer, arrive by the process of writing.

Start with a topic and articulate a question about what you want to explore. Here is an example:

  • Topic: The role of women in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.
  • Question: Do women function to help or hinder the progress of the hero’s quest in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural?

Now begin the writing process:

  • Define key terms and state your question in the first draft of the introduction;
  • Begin drafting the essay after you have formulated the question;
  • Return to the introduction after you have completed the first draft; rephrase the question as an assertion.

Here is what one of my students came up with. I think it is pretty good:

Harriet Bird and Memo Paris interrupt and hinder Roy’s development in The Natural, thus expressing a misogyny inherent to heroic quest narratives.


The Expository Paragraph

Students in college write expository essays. They might write the occasional creative piece–fiction, or what is called (awkwardly) creative nonfiction–but there will be no getting around writing nonfiction essays intended to explain, interpret, or clarify some topic. I would submit that a student who can’t add or subtract could probably do just fine in college on the strength of good expository writing alone.  Hell, I think it is probably, in terms of academic success, the single most important skill in the student arsenal.

The paragraph you just read is a piece of expository writing, but I want to describe the structure of a paragraph that incorporates a quotation:

       Spectral evidence was just one manifestation of the invisible during the hysteria in Salem. According to the account of John Alden’s trial, it was “usual for the accusers to tell of the Black Man [Satan], or of a spectre, as being on the table…. The people about would strike with swords, or sticks at those places…sometimes the accusers would say they struck the spectre and it is reported several of the accused were hurt and wounded thereby” (32). According to the accusers, the specters were not only visible, but in some sense physical as well. Such spectacles made the invisible world even more palpable–even more real. The metaphysical, it seemed, encroached on the physical.

This paragraph contains three important elements that I would expect to see in virtually every paragraph in the body of a short analytical paper.

First: A clear topic sentence. Notice that his focus, “spectral evidence,” is in the subject position. This might seem obvious, but many writers will choose an awkward construction like the following: “During the Salem hysteria spectral evidence was just one manifestation of the invisible.” What is the subject of this sentence? Is it missing a comma?

Second: Relevant evidence is introduced and properly quoted.

Third: The evidence/quotation is analyzed to advance the argument. When I finish reading the paragraph, I know where the author is going: he will further discuss and refine his analysis of this curious physicality of the invisible.

I suggest that you strongly prefer this paragraph structure in your expository essays:

1. Clear topic sentence;

2. Evidence properly introduced (which will often mean placing it in the context of a larger work or issue), quoted, (though evidence can be summarized rather than quoted), and cited;

3. Discussion and analysis that develops the argument.