Elements of the Essay
Shared by: NLCP
Elements of the Essay HOCs (higher order concerns) i.e. the things you should revise first Thesis, Claim, or Argument (these are all synonyms) The thesis is your main insight or idea about a text or topic. It ought to be true but arguable (not so obvious that everyone would agree), and it should be limited enough to be explored thoroughly within the length of your paper. The thesis should be stated early in the essay in some way, and reiterated throughout. It should govern the whole essay (not disappear in places). Evidence The facts, data, examples, details, and opinions of others that you quote, paraphrase, or summarize in support of your thesis. An essay needs to have enough evidence to prove the thesis, but also needs to have the right kind of evidence for the particular essay. The kind of evidence that is most appropriate will vary depending on the type of essay (literature review, research paper, personal narrative). Each piece of evidence you present requires set-up to explain its source, analysis to show its relevance to your argument, and a citation to prove its validity. Analysis The analysis is your work of breaking down, interpreting, or commenting on the evidence and explaining how it supports your thesis. This is what you do with the data when you go beyond observing or summarizing it; you show how its parts contribute to a whole or how causes contribute to an effect, or you draw out the significance or implication of your evidence not apparent at first glance. Your analysis is perhaps the most important part of the essay because it is where you demonstrate original thought. Structure The structure is the sequence of sections or sub-topics and the transitions between them. Your essay should follow a logical order and the links between paragraphs should be apparent. Paragraph division, topic sentences, and transitions are important pieces of the structure. Background Background is the bits of information, explanation, and summary which orient the reader who is likely not an expert on the subject about which you are writing. Background also includes key terms, which are words or phrases that are vital to your paper and reoccur throughout it. Making sure that you and your reader have the same understanding of these terms is an important part of providing background information. Audience or Tone For any paper, it is important to know who your audience (besides your teacher) is supposed to be. The amount of background information needed and the tone of your writing (i.e. persuasive, personal) will change depending on who will be reading it. The intended audience will also have some effect on the appropriateness of the personal pronouns, “I” or “you” in a given paper. And some essays will require… Counter-argument and rebuttal This is a chance for you to demonstrate that you have thought about all sides of your argument – even the argument against it. In the counter-argument, you present a strong opposing viewpoint and then explain why your thesis still holds up with a rebuttal. Sources Sources are the people or documents referred to, summarized, or quoted that help you demonstrate the truth of your argument. Sources must be fully integrated into your paper and evidence from sources must be explained and analyzed so that your reader sees their connection to your thesis. Sources should also be cited properly to avoid misunderstandings or accidental plagiarism. LOCs (later order concerns) Note: the following are considered later order concerns because they cannot and should not be dealt with until the higher order concerns have been considered. It would be counter-productive to spend a great deal of time perfecting the commas in a sentence if that sentence does not support your thesis and needs to be removed. Grammar Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, subject-verb agreement, correct use of the verb to be, etc. Punctuation Commas, periods, colons, semicolons, quotation marks, question marks, ellipses, dashes, etc. Capitalization Spelling Citations Correct MLA formatting for citing quotations, paraphrased opinions, or facts within the text and in the bibliography or work cited page. Style Style comes from the choices you make of words and sentence structure. Your style should be exact and clear (bring out the main idea of each sentence) without being too plain or repetitive. In other words, style may involve using a thesaurus to find synonyms for words you use regularly or crafting varied sentence structures so that your reader does not get bored. Style also includes choices like deciding between using rhetorical questions or statements. If you write a lot, you will eventually develop your own distinctive writing style. Title The best titles are both interesting and informative. The title should give a hint of what the paper will be about, but perhaps also provoke a question for the reader or employ a pun or play on words that makes the reader want to see more. Writing a title can often be a good test for yourself of whether or not you’ve figured out exactly what the main point of your paper is.
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