You were assigned it in your syllabus and you’re nervously watching the days count down as the semester starts to get into full swing. It always takes so much time and effort and it’s your worst subject. Never fear! It’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be!
Back to the basics! is the theme of this installation in the Essay Writing Made Easy series.
Recently, I have been working with several students (both traditional and non-traditional) that did not have good basic skills for essay writing and were trying to make heads or tails of what their English/Comp 1101 and 1102 classes were trying to teach them.
I’ve noticed that several teachers try to give students the same basic tips for writing their essays when the students are trying to unlearn what Highschool poorly taught them and are trying to re-build their essay writing foundations.
These tips include telling students:
– Always have a hook
– Steps on how to write a strong thesis statement
– Make sure to include quotations from scholarly sources
…yeah yeah yeah…these are great and all, but to a student that is starting basically from scratch, this is absolute gibberish!
First of all, they don’t know what a hook is. Not only do they have no idea what this concept is and what is being asked of them, but now they’re going to completely overthink it.
Second, several students don’t actually understand what a thesis statement is. They’ve been told the word over and over but it’s never been defined for or explained to them. Throughout my tutoring experience, I’ve had way more than a few students think that a thesis statement was their entire introductory paragraph simply because a thesis was never explained to them in the first place.
Third, yes, direct quotations are amazing to have within your paper. But most of the time, students just throw in a quote and are not being taught the actual use of having direct quotes from scholarly sources in the first place.
If you’re one of these students I am referencing throughout these examples…here’s a tip…set it to the side for now
Seriously…forget every single tip that is on that packet you were handed for the time being. You have to start with the bare bones basics before you can dress it up. It’s like handing a toddler some lipstick and expecting them to put it in the correct place on their face. Or like going to a baseball game for the first time and being put in as the first batter without ever being told the rules or the function of the game.
If you don’t know/have never been exposed to the basic rules/ideations…then you’re not going to know what to do with more creative pointers. And that’s okay! Not knowing the rules yet doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It’s a learning curve and it takes time. You’ve got more in you than you realize, you’ve got this!
Alright, Alexis, so what SHOULD I know?
Well thank you for asking.
The simplest and most effective way I’ve been able to put it is this: remember when you were a child and begging/asking your parents for/to keep a pet? How did you go about doing that?
Did you slowly work up to the final point and jump them with it at the end? NO!
Did you provide them some context information and then tell them your overall goal before launching into the various reasons you should have a pet? YES!
Writing an essay is no different than a natural discussion…except it is wearing a tuxedo and flows MUCH more smoothly than a conversation because you’re actually able to put thorough thought into crafting it. AND you’re able to find others words, people that have more credibility than you, to weave into your own discussion to make yourself more credible (direct quotes).
Let me create an outline for you of this asking for a pet scenario:
1) Context/background information (that’s your introduction)
2) Stating your purpose is to ask for a dog and that you deserve one (that’s your thesis. It’s arguable, and gets to the point of your paper)
3) Launching into the reasons you deserve a dog (those are your body paragraphs. Each reason can be further backed up with quotes from credible sources to make your argument look even stronger.)
4)Explaining to your parents how much you, they, and the whole world would benefit from having a dog and what it could lead to in the future. (that is your conclusion. Specifically, a So What conclusion as I’ve defined in the past).
It’s really that simple. Take your time and try your best to not overthink things
– What is a hook anyways?
A hook is just a fancy first sentence that is immediately engaging to the reader. Something that, if someone was skimming through a magazine, would catch their eye and make them stop to read YOUR piece of writing. I will go into more detail on writing effective hooks and how to best go about practicing/learning what works for you and your type of papers in a later writing of Essay Writing Made Easy.
– What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is the trailer to the movie that is your paper. It is calling a bush a bush (aka putting your overall point right up front) and it a statement that someone can look at and easily say they do not agree with it/they could argue your claim to be false.
The biggest hang-up that students have is trying to wrap their head around the fact that not everyone will agree with their ideas, which makes writing a strong thesis statement hard. Everyone wants to be agreed with and told they’re right, so students tend to stay with thesis statements that are more facts or popular opinion than what would be arguable and make an interesting paper.
– How SHOULD one use quotes within their essay?
Think of your essay as a face and think of direct quotes as make-up. They enhance your argument, they do not make it for you. If you put a quote somewhere it doesn’t belong (like swiping mascara across your cheek) it’s going to look terrible and it’s going to be ineffective for your paper.
Here are some quick tips for quotes:
1) Always introduce your quote, and then explain how the quote pertains to your essay and why it is important after: Doctor person said, “quote quote quote” how this pertains to my argument and why it is important is x.
2) When explaining why the quote matters, always pretend the quote is blank and then restate what the quote said in your own words and then explain why this matters to your essay.
Please remember: An essay is not a surprise party. It is NOT effective to slowly work up to your overall point and reveal it for the second time (the first being your thesis statement) in the conclusion of the essay. You are trying to persuade your audience, not surprise them with what it was all leading up to all along.
Thank you for reading and I hope these three tips are helpful! Happy writing!
If you’d like more pointers, stay tuned for future posts!