Section 1: An Overview of Academic Writing
Make the process of academic writing your friend, or it will become your surest enemy. You need no frantic late night vigils, nor the dubious panacea of phony term paper services to write persuasive and powerful papers. It takes a step by step process, revealed to you in this writing tutorial program. First-rate writers begin by heeding the advice of that classic guide book to writing, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the
same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
As a student assigned to compose an academic term paper, you must understand and meet your instructor's expectations and criteria for a successful paper, realize the biases of this person, and play his or her game. Carefully inspect the paper's assignment sheet, speak directly to the instructor, and answer the following questions:
What will it take for me to compose a perfect paper for this instructor? Precisely what does he or she want? What guidelines must I follow? What method must I use to convince the instructor I have constructed a persuasive argument? What format must I use for endnotes, footnotes and references? What resources are available to help me successfully write this paper?
Section 2: The Academic Term Paper
To compose a successful academic term paper, we must understand its two components: FORM and CONTENT. The form is the paper's structure, its skeletal frame. Upon this frame we place the meat of the composition, the content of what you have to say. We will analyze content and form, since you need both the content of a persuasive thesis, something to say which you must defend, and a means of logically presenting this argument, the ready framework the form provides. These two components of writing work always in tandem, according to the specific paper's requirements. The Virtual Writing Tutor provides tools and distinctions for better writing, for you to apply to your particular writing situation and finish with aplomb.
Section 3: Getting Started: The Thesis
First and foremost, as an academic writer you must
understand the difference between...
SUBJECT and THESIS.
The subject is what your paper is about, its topic. The thesis is your argument regarding this issue, the idea the piece will support. You must support your arguments by persuasive evidence and reasons for your position. If your subject is too broad, a good thesis gives you focus by limiting the perameters of the inquiry. Ross Garner reminds us that "the inquiry of a short critical paper must be tiny in scope that it may be deep in reach; it must not deal with big things superficially, but with little things really."
Let's clarify the difference between subject and thesis. "Homelessness is a prevalent problem in
America today" states a subject. This statement tells us the paper is about America's homelessness problem, but gives no reasons nor argument to explain this fact. "Homelessness in America is caused by the addiction and pathology of homeless people" is a thesis statement. Throughout the paper, the writer must defend this argument that homelessness in American society is caused by the addictive and pathological behavior of homeless people. Another writer, starting from the same subject of homelessness, might present a different thesis such as "Homelessness in America is caused by the unfair and unequal distribution of wealth." To limit the scope of the inquiry, the writer could explore the issue of homelessness in a specific region or state of the United States, and apply the thesis to that specific area. Now apply these distinctions to your own topic, and develop a thesis which your paper will support.
Section 4: Generating Thesis Ideas
Perhaps you are stuck and feel you cannot develop a compelling thesis. You need not fret and fume, nor should you resort to a bogus term paper service. Take a deep breath, and let's visualize the process of writing as akin to a MAP for a JOURNEY. Consider your outline (consisting of INTRODUCTION, BODY, and CONCLUSION) as the map, which gives the general contours of your destination, without telling what happens on the journey. Take assurance in E. M. Forster's remark, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"
A technique enabling you to see what you have to say is CLUSTERING (also called “Mind Mapping”) a "whole brain" method of generating ideas, visually organizing information, and making a plan for the paper.
OUTLINING is a familiar way of organizing your ideas, though clustering has the advantage of utilizing your brain's visual and verbal sides. To cluster a topic, place the name of that topic in the middle of a piece of paper, and draw a circle around it. Branch off from this original topic circle by drawing connecting lines to any words that freely come to mind regarding the topic, then put a circle around these associated words. Don't worry about organizing these thoughts; just let the associations pour out. Then you can look at your clusters and group related concepts together. You may add tiny pictures and colored pens to help you distinguish and organize your bits of information.
Remember to utilize "The Journalist's Questions" to clarify the precision of your subject and the point of your thesis: "Who, What, Where, When, How, Why?"
The thesis statement is the single most important aspect of your paper; it is, essentially, the
justification for its very existence. A good thesis sentence should contain:
- Your basic argument
- The blueprint for the organization of your supporting details
Developing the Argument - Topic versus thesis
At the outset of your brainstorming, you will likely first decide on a topic for your paper; namely, the particular subject you plan to address in response to the assignment (in some cases, the assignment will already include a specific topic). Your job in formulating a thesis is to find a specific statement to make about that topic.
Section 5: The Paper's Basic Structure
Once you have a compelling thesis, you can apply it to the paper's BASIC STRUCTURE: INTRODUCTION, BODY, and CONCLUSION, the beginning, middle, and end of the
paper. Let's take a closer look at these basic but important elements of academic writing.
The paper's most important sentence is the first. Make sure the opener grabs the reader's attention, and compels further reading. In the introduction you will summarize the essence of your argument, the thesis, which you will support throughout the body of the paper. The introduction sets up the EXPECTATIONS for the rest of the paper.
Be direct and concise; imagine you are telling your best friend or roommate about your paper, and express your passionate position on this issue. Then transform your ideas into formal academic language.
Here's where you defend your position with everything you've got: argument, persuasion, examples, and definitions of your terms. You will present the DATA that either
fulfills or reverses the EXPECTATIONS you set up in the introduction. Soon we will examine more closely these tools of persuasion.
Here you wrap things up, but realize that a powerful conclusion does not reiterate everything you have already said throughout the paper. You must distill the
essence of your thesis, and also surpass what has come before. Save the best for last; go out with a bang not a whimper!
Section 6: Writing and Rewriting
The student writer needs to take heart, and realize even the best writers usually write and rewrite their material before they have a worthwhile piece. You must plan, draft, revise,
and edit, often more than once. Gene Fowler assures us that "(w)riting is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Red Smith offers further consolation: "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and
open a vein." If we replace "sheet of paper" with "computer screen" and "typewriter" with "word processor," the tough love wisdom of these wags remains. There is no such thing
as getting more out of anything than what you put into it, in any sphere of life! The goal of this manual is to provide you with timesaving techniques and tips, so that you can direct the efforts demanded of you with greater intelligence and effectiveness. When you apply your thesis to the BODY and CONCLUSION of the paper, the process of THESIS, ANTITHESIS, and SYNTHESIS becomes a useful model. Present your argument or thesis step by step, give a fair and objective
presentation of the opposing viewpoint or antithesis, then draw an original conclusion or synthesis. Consider this process also in terms of EXPECTATIONS, DATA, and ELABORATION. The introduction creates expectations for the rest of the paper, and the writer fulfills them or surprises us with the unexpected.
Skillfully present your data (including opposing points of view) in the body of the paper, and
elaborate as you DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS from this data.
Section 7: Point of View
To transform your thesis into an incisive work of writing, the piece requires a distinctive point of view. The writer needs to account for AUDIENCE, SITUATION, and PERSONA.
1) For what AUDIENCE do you write? Use the hypothetical "R.I.R." (Reasonably Intelligent Reader) as a guideline. You need not talk down to your audience as ignoramuses, nor can
you assume that their swift intelligence simply "should" agree with whatever argument you present. As a writer you must NEVER commit the literary "mortal sin" of assuming that
your reader agrees with you; otherwise, you neglect the hard work an academic paper requires: to state your major premise, argue, persuade, illustrate, and define your terms.
2) What SITUATION prompts you to write? What is your SUBJECT, and what is your viewpoint or THESIS regarding the subject?
3) What PERSONA are you using in the piece? What worldview are you adopting: Conservative Republican, Liberal Democrat, Marxist-Revolutionary, Fundamentalist Christian, New Age
Mystic, Scientific-Rationalist, Radical Feminist, or something not so easily classified? What are the attitudes, ideologies, presuppositions, and limitations behind your particular belief system? Consider, present, and refute an intelligent counter-argument to your persona's belief system.
Now that we have a general overview of how to write a powerful academic paper, we present a variety of specific styles and techniques designed to help you write more successfully.
Section 1: Regarding Essay Tests
Learn to anticipate the kinds of questions the instructor is likely will ask on a test, by paying close attention to what he or she focuses on in class. Note the essential words on the
essay test question, such as "compare," "contrast," "analyze," "define," etc., and do just that. Plan your response with an outline or the clustering technique, assess the time available, and use it efficiently. Engrave on your mind this invaluable tip for succeeding on essay tests: Always give the gist of what you have to say in the first paragraph, then spend the rest of your time elaborating on this thesis paragraph. In the time provided, you cannot expect to construct
an essay utilizing all the techniques discussed in this manual. By "spilling all the beans" in the first paragraph, you show that you know your stuff; by elaborating throughout the rest of the paper, you show you've done your homework and can defend this position.
Section 2: Sentence Styles
Here are some specific SENTENCE STYLES to spice up your writing:
1) The This - Not That Pattern
Example: "By just a whim of fashion, not by aesthetic choice, disco became a fad."
2) The Not Only - But Pattern
Example: "A human being must live not only a private life as an individual, but also a life in society among his or her fellow citizens."
3) The Just As - So Too Pattern
Example: "Just as the summer sun can cause brush fires, so too can absolute power corrupt absolutely."
4) The If Not - At Least Pattern
Example: "The investor wants results, if not a dollar more, at least not a dollar less."
5) The More - The More (or Less) Pattern
Example: "The more Odysseus tries to sail home, the more he loses his way."
6) The One - The Other Pattern
Example: "There are two factors for success in art: one, to practice your art
and attain mastery; two, to find a patron, or become your own patron."
Section 3: Types of Linguistic Statements
Let's examine three types of linguistic statements: REPORT, INFERENCE, and JUDGMENT. By understanding these distinctions, you gain tremendous intellectual precision and avoid the wishy-washiness which plagues inexperienced writers.
1) A REPORT is a statement subject to universal agreement; it is a verifiable account of events, with no judgment passed on these events.
Example: Ronald Wilson Reagan served as President of the United States from 1980 to 1988.
2) An INFERENCE is a statement about the unknown based on the known; it is subject to common consent but not universal agreement.
Example: In our lifetimes, there will not be an economic catastrophe like the New York Stock Market crash of 1929.
3) A JUDGMENT is strictly a matter of private opinion; it expresses the writer's approval or
disapproval, it always says more about the speaker than the issue under consideration, and it expresses utter subjectivity.
Example: Michelangelo was the greatest artist of all time.
Section 4: Tools for Analytical Thinking
To more convincingly present the argumentative thread of your thesis, you should utilize INDUCTIVE reasoning, DEDUCTIVE reasoning, and SYLLOGISM .
Let's peruse these methods of logic...
1) The INDUCTIVE method goes from specific to general observations, from minor to major premises. First you collect the raw data, set up your conditions ("If this, then that"), and then you develop your hypothesis.
2) The DEDUCTIVE method goes from general to specific observations, from major to minor premises. Then you develop your conclusion. Example: Starting from the general observation and major premise that "murder is wrong," we can make the specific observation that "murdering Joe Smith is wrong." Using the deductive method, a thesis starting from the general premise that "the cause of homelessness in America is the unfair and unequal distribution of wealth" then could analyze the specific homeless situation in New York City.
3) SYLLOGISM is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Example: The Greek philosopher Socrates presented a classic syllogism. "All men are mortal" is the major premise. "Socrates is a man" is the minor premise. "Therefore
Socrates is mortal" is the logical conclusion of this syllogism. All syllogisms follow this pattern, where A has B, C is part of A, therefore C has A. Utilize this method to argue the logic of your thesis. Conversely, the wise writer avoids the following LOGICAL FALLACIES...
1) ARGUMENT AD HOMINEM/DENIGRATION/CHARACTER
ASSASSINATION: (Ad Hominem in Latin literally means
"to the man.") Different names for when an opponent of a belief attacks the personality and character of the belief's proponent, rather than the contentions of the argument.
2) ARGUING FROM AUTHORITY: Quoting from authorities and experts does not in itself prove your point. After all, experts have been proven wrong at times. You need to explain the
reasons for your position, not merely name-drop its supporters.
3) EMOTIONALLY LOADED LANGUAGE: Using words with emotional rather than intellectual connotations is often a means of evading a debate over the legitimacy of the argument itself.
When the Supreme Court denied appeal for controversial death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal in fall 1999, two headlines appeared online: "Convicted Cop Killer Denied Appeal" and "Political Prisoner Denied Appeal." Both statements represent entrenched positions, supported
by emotional fervor. Such incendiary language discourages sober analysis of Abu Jamal's innocence or guilt. Writers usually use pejorative terms such "nonsense" or "pure hokum" to
dismiss rather than refute controversial topics. Do you believe something is manifestly nonsensical? Don't just say so and pretend that settles the issue. I repeat that you must state
your major premise, argue, persuade, illustrate, and define your terms -- and enjoy trying to eviserate your opponents. Otherwise you're only preaching to what you imagine as
4) UNIVERSALS/ABSOLUTIST STATEMENTS such as all, every, never, and always are strong words properly reserved for cases of apodictic (absolute) certainty. Let's take the always controversial topic of Unidentified Flying Objects or UFOs, and note the absolutist language employed by following ideological groups, in statements I have created which often (not always!) characterize the viewpoints of these warring paradigms.
1) Scientific Materialist Skepticism
"All UFOs can be explained by hoax, hallucination, or misidentification of prosaic phenomena, or by hallucination."
2) New Age "True Believers"
"All UFOs are alien crafts containing our benevolent Space Brothers and Sisters who are here to enlighten us and solve all of humanity's problems."
3) Christian Fundamentalism
"All UFOs are the work of the Devil, deceptive signs and wonders of the apocalyptic end times."
Although these groups often violently oppose one another, regarding UFOs they share (in my
characterization of their dominant views) a preference for dogma over scrupulous analysis of a complex and baffling phenomenon, a reflexive attitude of certainty antithetical to true
critical thinking. The topics of your term papers might be more mundane; you nevertheless will benefit when you cease to generalize and ask yourself: Do I really mean all? every? never? always?
Section 5: Definitions: Formal, Negative, and Stipulative
The three types of DEFINITIONS are a powerful system for organizing and clarifying your subject and thesis. Forthwith...
1) FORMAL definition consists of TERM, CLASS, and DIFFERENTIA. Let's take the topic of rock and roll, considered our term. The class of this term, rock and roll, consists of a specific description of what the thing is: a form of music emergent in 1950s American culture, derived from rhythm and blues music, with important antecedents in jazz and country and western. Based upon their viewpoints, various observers will define the class and its subsequent differentia. Take Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart (who are cousins, as dramatized in the film Great Balls of Fire). Singer Lewis might define the class of the term rock and roll as "a form of youth music meant to make you dance and bring you to wild abandon." His evangelist cousin
Swaggart probably would define the class of the term rock and roll as "a form of youth music based on sin and depravity, the work of the Devil." Differentia refers to specific distinctions about the term and class underconsideration. Differentia for rock and roll might
a) it's a youth music
b) it's heavy and fast-paced, primarily based in rhythm and blues
c) it can be electric or acoustic and
d) it can be lyrical or instrumental. The differentia you choose to highlight depends on the viewpoint implied by your thesis.
2) NEGATIVE DEFINITION tells what the subject under consideration is not. Example: "Rock and roll music is not a music for the cultural elite."
3) STIPULATIVE DEFINITION is almost totally private and personal; more than anything it tells the emotional state of the writer. Example: "Rock and roll music is nothing but a
form of degradation." Let's probe a controversial subject such as the Vietnam War, to see how different groups apply varied definitions to describe the same event. The average American of the 1960s era termed the event a "war." According to China, it was a "war of liberation" by
North Vietnam. The U.S. government insisted on calling the event a "police action." North Vietnam regarded it as a "civil war," while the people of South Vietnam saw it as an
"invasion." The guerrillas in South Vietnam hailed the conflict as a "revolution." The writer should understand how the definition itself defined, and hence created for these different groups their perspective on the reality of Vietnam. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. is a stark reminder of the ultimate reality of this catastrophic event, the massive death and human tragedy which transcend the perspectives of language and ideology.