Have you been avoiding thinking about that essay you have to write for the January deadline? Well, wait no more. This week Words, Pauses, Noises brings you a piece on academic essay writing by the expert in the field, Dr David Rogers.
David is Director of the Kingston Writing School and his book ‘The Mastermind Approach: A Process for Structuring Argumentative Essays’ will be published in 2014. Here’s something to help your academic essay go in the right direction.
‘The Mastermind Approach: A Process for Structuring Argumentative Essays’
By David Rogers
All essay writers need a reliable process for their writing. You probably already have one for your creative writing, and it may be appropriate for your essay writing. If so use it. But, if not, then here are steps for one that will work:
1) The Procrastination Stage: Incorporate whatever form of procrastination puts you in the right frame of mind to begin writing.
2) The Freewriting Stage: Set aside around 30 minutes and write with abandon about your topic. Then take a break.
3) The Planning Stage: Reread your freewriting and then organize the ideas, trying not to become too attached to your plan.
4) The Mastermind Stage: Compose a mastermind draft writing or typing yourself to a conclusion.
5) The Argumentative or Persuasive Stage: Copy the conclusion at the end of your mastermind draft and paste it to the start of your mastermind draft.
6) The Weighty Stage – Thesis Statements: Revise your newly pasted conclusion into a more effective thesis.
7) The Content Stage – Paragraphing: Substantiate and refine the content of your essays and check your style
8) The Stylish Stage – Formal Introductory Paragraphs: Insert one of the four most common types of formal introductory paragraphs (or combination of types) before your thesis statement.
9) The Refinement Stage: Reread your entire essay and then read your thesis a final time. Check your spelling, punctuation, conventions and referencing.
10) The Final Stage: Submit your essay, knowing that you have been patient and careful and done justice to your ideas and respected your readers, yourself.
Before you try this process, however, you need to know how a good argumentative essay is best structured.
Formal Introductory Paragraph:
Leading to or including
Mastermind Conclusion Refined as Thesis
Argument: Analysis & Supporting Evidence
(Two Effective Organizational Structures:
General to Specific or Specific to General
Least Important to Most Important)
(Including Rephrased Version of Initial Conclusion)
This structure is ‘circular’ and ‘reiterative’. By contrast, argumentative essays written by inexperienced writers are usually ‘linear’. They lead to a conclusion that catches the reader by surprise rather than developing an original thesis (a thesis, remember, is a sentence or two that states the main argument of your essay). Let’s call this type of essay a mastermind essay after the catchphrase that the mastermind hosts use when the buzzer goes off in the midst of their asking a question: ‘I have started, so I will finish’. For once the writer of this type of essay has started s/he writes until s/he is finished – ie until s/he reaches the word limit and expresses a conclusion. That conclusion may be engaging. But it will seldom be the same as the writer may have previously indicated. And it will never be persuasive.
Yet such an essay has the benefit of generating ideas and, usually, producing a conclusion, and so it can play a key role in our process as the ‘mastermind stage’. After you procrastinate; after you freewrite and discover ideas; after you plan, if you want, then use this stage to develop a conclusion. But do not worry about sticking to any plan. Be receptive to ideas that emerge as you write. Allow yourself to deviate from your outline or mapping paragraph or mind map. Most of us are smarter when write or compose than when we sit and ponder and put abstract plans on paper. So trust your writing process and the conclusion you reach in this stage. Just don’t make reaching that conclusion the last act of your process.
Instead take a simple step once you have finished this stage: copy and paste your conclusion at the top of what becomes your mastermind draft. This step, which is our ‘argumentative stage’, will immediately transform your linear essay into a circular and reiterative one – or at least a circular and repetitive one. You complete the transformation to reiterative with the ‘weighty stage’, in which you initially revise your initial conclusion at the top, turning it into a thesis statement for your essay. This stage may look almost as easy as the argumentative one, but, in a paradox of persuasive essays, writing a good thesis is one of the hardest things to do. In fact, you will usually want to revise your thesis statements at least once more after you have revised the ‘body’ of your essay in the ‘paragraphing stage’ and before you submit your essay.
The revision of the content of your essay should be easier now that you know more clearly what your central argument is. This knowledge will help you to re-arrange the order of ideas, if necessary, since they now support a thesis rather than simply lead to an unanticipated conclusion (the simplest orders are from the least important ideas to the most important or the most general to the most specific). It will help you ensure that you have developed each of your paragraphs as fully as possible. One characteristic that distinguishes average essays from good ones is the extent to which writers explain themselves. Good essayists are more methodical and reiterative than not-so-good ones. Their paragraphs are also more coherent. So, as you revise, use transitional devices to ensure that each sentence links with the ones before and after it.
Next add a formal introductory paragraph. There are four conventional types: narrative, inquisitive, preparatory, and corrective. At least one will fit each essay and selecting the most effective one will be easier now that you should be clear about your thesis and how you support it. Your aim should be to engage your reader while, at the same time, setting out an appropriate context that prepares your reader so that s/he can evaluate as well as understand your thesis, which will now appear either at the end of the introductory paragraph or at the start of your second paragraph.
Then check to see if you can refine your thesis further. The overall aim of an argumentative essay is to persuade the reader. So your thesis must be subjective. It must be contentious, at least to some degree. It should not be an assertion nor factual. It should not be expressed as a question. You should express it in as succinct and clear a declarative sentence (or two) as you can.
Then check your spelling, punctuation, conventions and referencing before you submit your essay. That essay will not be that ‘product’ of one sitting. It will have emerged from a process of drafting and be structured effectively. In the future you may want to adapt our process to suit your temperament and situation. You may want to abandon it entirely for a process of your own devising. But always remember: the best argumentative essays are circular and reiterative. They contain a clear thesis. They are coherent, and they include a stylish and engaging opening.
A final tip: never use ‘this’ by itself as a demonstrative pronoun when referring to a preceding idea. Always use ‘this’ as a descriptive adjective. That is, always follow it with a clarifying phrase. For example, don’t just say ‘this’ makes sense. Say instead that ‘this illuminating insight that I will never forget’ makes sense.
We hope this was helpful and you’re happily writing away. See you again next week, but meanwhile, have you seen our competition page?