Academic Form: An Explanation
- The Introduction
An introduction is the first paragraph (sometimes, in longer essays, first paragraphs) and serves, rather obviously, to introduce your topic. It here that you provide some kind of background or general information about your subject. For example, if you’re arguing for greater regulations on the financial industry, your introduction should give a brief history of previous regulations or the lack thereof. If you are writing criticism about Shakespeare’s The Tempest, you may want to begin by providing an overview of the more important or more recognized critical interpretations of the text which came before yours. However, that history does not always have to be so broad. While you may sometimes write about the larger ongoing discourse, you may also want to discuss your own personal history with the topic, using an anecdote to introduce it. If you’re arguing that eating meat is immoral for a philosophy essay, you may want to consider starting with a brief story about how you went from an omnivore to an herbivore. Of course, regardless of the approach you take, your introduction should always lead logically to your thesis.
- The Thesis Statement
The thesis statement is the heart of your essay and should, the majority of the time, come at the very end of your introduction. Typically, your thesis is a one sentence answer to an explicitly or implicitly asked question. For example, if your instructor asks you to write an essay about the influences on Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, they are essentially asking, “What cause or causes produced Bonnie and Clyde?” Your thesis statement should directly answer that question. For example, you may answer it by writing, “Bonnie and Clyde was a result of the New Hollywood era, incorporating the vernacular of the French New Wave and promoting the sexual mores and anti-establishment nature of the hippie movement.” Notice this answer is not definitive. In order for a thesis to be valid, it must be debatable. It is not a fact: It is the author’s opinion backed up by evidence. In other words, your thesis should serve as the roapmap to your paper. It should not only provide your argument but your support as well. In the previous example, the reader has made the following promise: He or she will show how Bonnie and Clyde was influenced by the New Hollywood era, the French New Wave, and the hippie movement. Also, the author has implicitly signaled to the reader that the body paragraphs will follow that order.
- How to Construct a Thesis: A Formula
Whenever you write a thesis, you have three possible answers, “Yes, no, and maybe.” The first one is “yes, I agree with this idea.” The second one is “no, I disagree with this idea.” The third one is “this idea is both true and not true.” This should be the base of your thesis statement.
The second part of your thesis should list the evidence or support you plan to explore in the body of your essay. Therefore, you can use the following approach:
Thesis Statement = Your Argument + Point 1/Body Paragraph 1/Section 1, Point 2/Body Paragraph 2/Section 2, Point 3/Body Paragraph 3/Section 3, ad infinitum
- The Body
The body paragraphs serve to prove the initial claim you have presented in your thesis. If, for example, you encounter the following a thesis, stating, “Though it is to difficult to decide the success or failure of a series of wars which took place in a nearly two-hundred year period, an investigation of the Crusades’s moral consequences yields a reasonably assertive answer: the Crusades failed because they were presented as just wars but, instead, led to institutionalized xenophobia and genocide, which continue to plague the west to this day,” you expect the first body paragraph/section to deal with how the wars were presented by church leadership, the second paragraph/section should deal with what the wars did, and the final paragraph/section should deal with the Crusades lingering effects. Here, you can again follow a simple formula to construct your paragraph.
Your first sentence, or topic sentence, should disclose to your reader how this idea proves your argument. Let’s take an example from the second paragraph: “In many respects, the First Crusade sprang out of the racial and religious fears of Christian Europeans rather than a war of revenge righting unforgivable wrongs.” This is a claim. Notice it is be an idea which is debatable (and not a fact).
The sentences which follow should provide “proof” for your claim. This is your evidence. It should be specific a fact or facts that you interpret to support your argument. You could use quotes, paraphrase, or summary from a text. In the previous case, we find, “As stated previously, Urban suggests that Muslim rule in Jerusalem has led to the most disturbing abuses against Christians; however, his description owes more to bigotry than it does to fact. As Marcus Bull observes: ‘Urban had almost certainly never been to the Holy Land himself, and what he said owed more to rhetoric than reality…. their treatment seldom, if ever, amounted to the sort of horror stories which Urban recounted. (11)’” Here the writer gives specific information to support his claim.
Following the evidence you present, you must explain its significance and how it connects to your overall point (your thesis). This is a warrant. In the Crusades paper, we expect to see a follow-up sentence, which states, “Therefore, Urban’s speech may not have been inspired by first-hand knowledge—or even second-hand knowledge—and it is fair to assume he was purposely preying on the ignorance of his audience.”
This is the typical process of laying out an argument. Depending on the length of the essay, this paragraph may end here or, if the writer feels as though he or she needs further evidence to support his or her case, the writer may continue to follow this process of evidence and warrants until the claim of his or her paragraph has been sufficiently “proved.”
The conclusion is often the most neglected part of academic form. Most writers tend to treat it as a simple restatement of the ideas presented in the introduction. If your reader wants to know what you’ve written in your introduction, they can reread your introduction. Think of it as a bigger version of what you do in your body paragraphs. The claim is your introduction, the evidence is your body, and the conclusion is your warrant. A conclusion should aim to answer the question, “So what?” Now that your reader has examined your claim and evidence, what can they do with that information?