From Paragraph to Essay Writing

Essays are merely a series of related paragraphs that all develop different parts of the main idea.

Note the similarities here:

The Paragraph
The Essay
the topic sentence to state, limit and control the main idea The thesis statement
development using facts, examples, incidents, definition, statistics, names, senses, etc. to develop the main idea with specific points the main body paragraphs
(sometimes a concluding sentence) to conclude by coming back to the main idea the concluding paragraph

Look at the Essay Form on page 280--note the purposes of each part of the essay.

What does the introduction do?
What is in a body paragraph?
What does a conclusion do?

Here are the steps to planning an essay:

Finding a Writing Topic
Drafting a Thesis Statement
Forming Main Body Ideas

Finding a Writing Topic

Sometimes you are given a topic. But what happens when you are not assigned a topic?

You have to generate one yourself. Remember, ALL writing is a thoughtful response to some stimulus.
What in your life causes you to want to respond?
Here are ways it can be done:

1) Ask yourself questions...about...(see page 281)
2) Use prewriting techniques (what are these?)
3) Use a textbook index (for what purpose?)
4) Narrow a broad topic (how?) (see 284, and Try It Out on 285)

(The other steps will be discussed later)

Let's pick a topic--what have you found interesting lately?

Drafting a Thesis Statement

What is the difference between a Topic and a Thesis Statement?

a. A thesis statement is longer.
b. A thesis statement indicates how you will develop the ideas of the topic.
c. A good thesis statement hints at organization.
d. A thesis statement is what you are saying about the topic.

You will often find, when writing an essay, that you don't have a solid thesis yet.
This is fine--as you write your essay, you will be able to go back and revise your thesis, too.
As you revise the thesis, keep the following in mind:

1) Take a position on a topic.
2) Don't be too broad or narrow.
3) Use specific language

We will discuss each of these in turn.

I) Take a Position

A thesis statement is a COMPLETE sentence that TAKES A POSITION on a TOPIC. Your position is your attitude towards, or what you think about, the topic.

What happens to your essay if you have thesis statements like these?

Think about the above guidelines, and explain what is wrong with these statements:
Many teenage boys drive too fast.
People listen to music to relax.


Now consider the following example from the book:

Thesis Statement
The problems of a teenage marriage not a complete sentence...nor a complete thought!
About 75% of all teen marriages in the USA end in divorce. takes no position--this is a report, not an essay. So what?
When teenagers marry, they face three serious problems that threaten their happiness Complete sentence, actually takes a stance, and also promises narrow and specific development. Does this answer the "so what?" question?

TRY IT OUT: rewrite any of the following sentences that would not be effective thesis statements.

1) Fast food restaurants usually pay their workers minimum wage.
2) The joys of listening to heavy metal music.
3) Professional boxing is a dangerous sport that should be banned in the USA.
4) Many Americans graduate from college without learning a foreign language.
5) How to stay in good physical condition.

II. Not Too Broad or Narrow

An effective thesis statement needs to broad enough to be developed with specifics.
But it cannot be so broad that it takes more pages than you need to write!
If a thesis is too narrow, it is already specific, and requires no further development.

Ask yourself the following:

What information will I need to provide to develop the main idea?

Your answer will help you decide if it is narrow enough for a main idea.
Now consider the following:

Thesis Statement
Watching TV affects our lives in many ways ok? why or why not?
The average American teenager spends between four and six hours a day on the Internet. ok? why or why not?
Daytime dramas, popularly called "soap operas," are popular with certain women because they entertain, inform, and help to fulfill some of the emotional needs. ok? why or why not?

TRY IT OUT: Rewrite the following if needed. Identify the TOPIC and the STANCE.

1) Smoking cigarettes can stain your teeth and fingers.
2) Smoking tobacco is bad for you.
3) Coin collecting can be a challenging, educational and even profitable hobby.
4) Charities provide valuable services to the community.
5) We need peace; let's withdraw American troops from Iraq!
6) The war in Iraq was a bad action to take for 3 specific reasons.

III. Use Specific Language

An effective thesis statement uses specific, concrete, vivid words to give the reader (and writer!) a clear idea of what is going to be discussed in the body of the essay.

Words such as good, bad, nice, great, interesting, and things should be avoided:

Johnny's Bar and Sushi Emporium is a great restaurant.
There are many things I like about owning my own business.

See the example from the book:

Thesis Statement Comment
New York is a nice place to visit ok?
Kyoto offers visitors a wide variety of cultural and historical attractions. ok?
Seattle offers visitors a wide variety of museums, concerts and live theater to keep them busy. ok?


TRY IT OUT: which would not be effective, and why? Rewrite them to fix them.

1) Many of today's "horror" films are really "shock" films, and they depend too much on mere special effects, sex scenes, and bloody violence, rather than actual horror as typified in the original horror films from the 1930s.
2) College students have many problems.
3) There are many things I think are important in a woman.
4) There are many things I think are important in a prospective wife.
5) It is good for older people to have pets.
6) There are many different kinds of music that kids listen to.
7) Certain video games are actually beneficial because they help players develop important memory skills and problem solving skills.

Forming Main Body Ideas

Forming main body idea before you begin writing can help you in several ways:

1) These ideas help you decide if your topic is too broad or too narrow.
2) These ideas help you decide if you are being specific enough or not.
3) They guide you as you select and organize information.

Here are three methods to generate body ideas:

I. Use Prewriting Techniques
II. Use the Focus of the Topic
III. Use the Main Body Pattern ideas.

I. Prewiting

Brainstorming helps you to generate ideas and responses, in a non-structured, non-threatening way.

After pre-writing, go back and see if you have generated ideas that would work in the body of your paper.

II. Use the Focus of the Topic

Your topic or thesis often contains key words that will help you decide on a focus and on development.

Look at the following examples:

Topic: The Major Causes of Teenage Crime.
Focus: causes
Main Body ideas:

I. Poverty;
II. Boredom;
III. Lack of Supervision.

Topic: The advantages of using credit cards
Focus: advantages
Main Body ideas:

I. useful for large purchases;
II. good for emergencies;
III. safer than cash.

TRY IT OUT: For each topic below, use the focus to help you think of three effective main body ideas.

1) Sports Superstars are worth the enormous salaries they receive.
2) Sports Superstars are not worth their enormous salaries.
3) The disadvantages of going to college.
4) The advantages of starting a university education at a two year college.

III. Use the Main Body patterns.

Your book lists a set of patterns that can help you generate ideas.

TRY IT OUT (294)

Practice what you have learned:

Exercises 7D, 7E, 7F, and 7G