Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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ESSAY ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS
INTRODUCTION to SOCIOCULTURAL & LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY
ANT 102H5 Summer 2006
Dr. Heather M.-L. Miller
Read these instructions before you begin.
Read them after you begin.
Read them before you turn the paper in!
Many students lose marks because they do not follow directions.
Your major assignment for this course will be to write a 4-page essay (typed, double-spaced, 12 point font, 1 inch margins, not including figures, charts or any bibliography) summarizing and critically evaluating an ethnography of your choice. You will summarize the main points of the ethnography, and then concisely discuss the authorsÕ and your own views about the topic covered. In other words, you will write a summary plus an academic ÔargumentÕ.
An ethnography is a book summarizing the experiences and conclusions of a sociocultural anthropologist doing fieldwork with a particular group of people on a particular topic. Choose ethnographies on topics or locations of interest to you. There are ethnographies on every part of the world and every conceivable topic, from hunter-gatherers to biker gangs.
This assignment will consist of two stages of work to be turned in and marked, as detailed below. The two assignments related to your essay will be worth a total of 27.5% (110 points). All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the dates specified.
Please come to my office hours if you have any questions or hesitations, or ask your Teaching Assistant in tutorial or outside of it. SHORT questions may be sent by email, but we may want to discuss your question in person if it has a complicated answer, so don't wait until the last minute.
ASSIGNMENT 1: ETHNOGRAPHY TITLES -- DUE at Beginning of Class, Thursday May 25
Library searching and submission of 5 titles of appropriate ethnographies Ð 2.5% (10 points)
This stage is worth only 2.5% (10 points), but if it is not submitted, students may not progress to the next stage. Also see the information in the syllabus on the penalties for late submission.
Submit five titles of ethnographies you would like to read for your essay, in order of your choice, in American Anthropologist format. Each student must do a different ethnography; in case of duplicate requests, a coin will be tossed to determine who gets their first choice, etc. You may submit titles early, in which case I will indicate to the class that the title is taken.
The titles must be in the specified format, that used by the journal American Anthropologist, oryou will lose 2 points for each incorrectly formatted title. Some examples of American Anthropologist style references are given in the examples below; more can be found by looking at bibliographies in this journal.
FORMAT: Do not use a cover page! Use a single sheet of paper. Put the ethnographies in order from your first choice to your last choice.
Your Full Name, Student Number
ANT102, Summer 2006, Dr. Heather Miller
Thursday, May 26, 2006 (Date assignment submitted)
(1) AuthorÕs Name.
Year. Title of the Book. Edition. Series. City, State/Province/Country: Press.
(Note: do not include Edition unless it is a 2nd edition or higher; do not include Series unless
it is part of a series - see examples below.)
(2) Chavez, Leo R.
1998. Shadowed Lives. Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. 2nd Edition. New
York, NY: Thomson Wadsworth.
(3) Cummins, Bryan and John Steckley
2004. "Only God Can Own The Land:" The Attawapiskat Cree. Canadian Ethnography
Series, Volume1. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education.
(4) Dentan, Robert Know, Kirk Endicott, and Alberto G. Gomes
1996. Malaysia and the "Original People": A Case Study of the Impact of Development on
Indigenous Peoples. Cultural Survival Studies in Ethnicity and Change Series. New York,
NY: Pearson Education.
(5) Counts, David R. and Dorothy Ayers Counts
2001. Over the Next Hill. An Ethnography of RVing Seniors in North America. 2nd Edition.
Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.
Choosing your Ethnography
Places to look: Look through the list posted on the CCNet space for this class (go into the Student section and choose Handouts) to get ideas. These ethnographies are written for first or second year students as well as for professionals; other ethnographies may use more difficult language. However, you may choose any ethnography that you like. If you are not 100% sure that the book you have chosen is an ethnography (as opposed to a collection of essays or a theoretical monograph), be sure to check with the T.A. or instructor. Remember that you will be marked on your choice of books (only ethnographies can be included on the list you turn in!), so please check with me or your TA if you are unsure of the suitability of a book.
Be sure to check the library before you choose ethnographies for your list, unless you are willing to buy your own copy. Note that the ethnographies on the posted list may not be in the U of T library system; there are also many ethnographies in the library that are not on this list. Refer to the lectures presented by Pam King from the UTM Library for ways to search for ethnographies in the library catalogue. You may NOT use a website as a major source, although you may find that a search of websites will help you find interesting topics of research, or provide lists of published ethnographies (particularly academic websites).
Reading Your Ethnography
Read Appendix A in your textbook (Lenkeit 2003), for tips on reading ethnographies. Follow these instructions to determine what kind of perspective(s) your ethnographer used, the topics covered in the ethnography, the techniques of fieldwork, and other aspects of the book you should include in the summary part of your essay. There is also a section in Lenkeit (ÒYou and the EthnographyÓ) which may be helpful for the analysis section of your essay.
Additional Tips: One of the first things you will have to do in your essay is to present the thesis of your ethnography. The thesis the central conclusion of the ethnography, the most important point that the author wants to make. Books and articles may not state their theses explicitly, or may have several related theses. To find the thesis you as the reader need to think about what the piece as a whole is saying in the most general way, and state it in your own words in a sentence or two.
Another important aspect of your summary of the ethnography is a description and critique of the authorÕs argument. An argument is the reasoning used by the author to support his or her thesis -- the facts, conclusions, and connections between them. See the sections below on Writing your Essay and Commonly Asked Questions for more information on recognizing and writing theses and arguments.
ASSIGNMENT 2: ESSAY ASSIGNMENT -- DUE at Beginning of Class, Thursday June 15
A final essay, well researched and well written, on the ethnography approved - 25% (100 points)
If your essay is not in the format specified, no credit may be given. Also see the information in the syllabus on the penalties for late submission. You will be graded on style (spelling, grammar, clarity of expression) as well as content, so give yourself time to re-write the essay after you do a first draft.
FORMAT & ORGANISATION of the Essay: Do not use a cover page! Put the following information on the top of the first page:
Your Full Name, Student Number
ANT102, Summer 2006, Dr. Heather Miller
Thursday, June 15, 2006 (Date assignment submitted)
Title of Your Essay
Text of essay . . . . . . .
The text of the essay should be no more than 4 pages (typed, double-spaced, 12 point font, 1 inch margins). Your references/bibliography and any figures or charts can take up additional pages. Be sure to reference the figures or charts at the appropriate places in the text (e.g., Òsee Figure 1Ó), if you use them.
The essay must be written in the following way, or significant marks will be deducted, and an F mark is likely. You should NOT put in headers marking these sections (ÒIntroductionÓ, ÒSummaryÓ, etc.). Instead, demark these sections by the nature of your discussion.
(1) Introduction: Write a short introduction, which includes a summary of the topic you will discuss in the essay (your thesis), and the basic topic of the ethnography you read. It should be no more than a few sentences.
(2) Summary of Book: Write a summary of the ethnography, including a presentation of the authorÕs topic (who, what, where, when, etc.), thesis, perspective, fieldwork techniques, evidence/data, and argument. Make sure you mention all these points, although not necessarily in this order; it will vary with different ethnographies. Note that not all of these points are of equal importance, so you should not necessarily devote the same amount of space to each of these points.
Be careful to summarize what the author has presented, from the authorÕs perspective. You will have the opportunity to critique the ethnography and offer your own opinions in the next section, Analysis. This summary section should be about two pages or a little less (no more than that).
(3) Analysis: This section is where you develop your own thesis and argument about the ethnography. It should be about two pages long, more or less.
Analysis is much more than a simple declaration of whether you "liked" the book or not, so avoid this common mistake. In the analysis section, you present your analysis of the book, including an argument and evidence in support of YOUR thesis. See the section on ÒWriting Your EssayÓ below for more information on how to determine your thesis. Basically, your analysis examines the assumptions or presuppositions of the book's argument; evaluates its validity, strengths and weaknesses; and makes clear your position in relation to the authorÕs.
You will need to ask yourself some of the following questions as you think about the book: What values and beliefs come through in the book? What assumptions about the world or humans does the author make? Do you agree with those assumptions? Why or why not? How does the truth or falsity of the assumptions affect the validity of the argument? Where is the argument weakest, and where is it strongest? Does the conclusion logically follow from the argument? Does the author have any "blind spots" or commit any oversights? Use specific evidence from the book that illustrate your points about its strengths and weaknesses, possibly including short quotations. See below for the correct way to reference citations so as to avoid plagiarism!!
Keep in mind that you can like a writerÕs basic argument and still be critical of parts of it. Likewise, you can disagree with a writerÕs conclusions, but admire his or her argument. In such a case, make clear why you agree with some parts and disagree with others. Working out exactly what you like and dislike, what you agree and disagree with in a book puts you in a dialogue with its author and establishes you as an authority in your own right. You have the power to agree, disagree, or tackle what the author says just as you would in a conversation with friends. The most important thing to remember for this assignment is this: your argument about the book will be the most important and interesting part of your paper.
(4) Conclusion: This should simply reiterate your main points and conclusions. It should be no more than a few sentences long. The conclusion is NOT the place to introduce new information, facts, perspectives, sources, etc. -- if you think of things now, insert them in the proper place above. This closing statement should not be a broad generalization or sweeping statement, but a precise summary of your main thesis and argument.
***REMEMBER: Direct quotes must be in "quotation marks". References to specific sections or paraphrases of particular ideas of the author must also be cited with page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. See below for the correct way to do this. Failing to properly cite your quotations is a major source of plagiarism charges and convictions.
TIPS on WRITING YOUR ESSAY
(1) Take careful notes while you read, about the authorÕs thesis, argument, evidence, and so forth, as well as your own reactions to it. See Appendix A in Lenkeit for more advice on this.
(2) Brainstorm and create a basic outline of topics & ideas before you begin. Define the authorÕs thesis and develop your own thesis. A representative from Academic Skills will provide helpful advice in your tutorial.
A thesis statement expresses succinctly and specifically what the author intends to accomplish in his or her writing, or what interesting insight will be supported with the evidence collected. It is the main point of an essay or book, the one thing you want your reader to understand and remember. It is best to have a single sentence thesis, but do not try to present a long complex statement in one sentence if two are needed.
Here is a clearly stated (authorÕs) thesis for an ethnography on the lifestyle of a group of hunter-gatherers in Australia: ÒThe XXX aborigines live in a harsh environment, yet their economic adaptations use this environment effectively, their social systems provide backup networks in poor years, and their religious and artistic traditions illustrate the richness of cultural traditions in even the bleakest of conditions.Ó
And a (studentÕs) thesis for an essay about this ethnography: "Smith (2004) claims that the environment in which the XXX Aborigines lived was the most important factor influencing the all aspects of their cultural system. I find this convincing for their economic and kinship systems, but argue that their gender relations were a more important factor than the environment in understanding their religion."
(3) Write the paper draft to support these major points. Your paper needs to go somewhere, it must not just be a list of facts. The facts that you do include need to be there for a reason: they provide evidence for the authorÕs conclusion, or for your thesis. An important part of revising early drafts of your paper is searching for sentences and paragraphs that are tangential, and which are not relevant to the authorÕs main points (in the summary section) or to your thesis (in the analysis section). Cut them out. If there is a hole left behind, you need to find relevant evidence to fill in your argument. Never hand in first or second drafts that you have not meticulously revised for accuracy, logical consistency, and errors of spelling and grammar. Catching errors is easier if you read your paper aloud to yourself or a friend. As you write, insert citations, in the format specified below (Citations section).
(4) Once you have a draft of your paper, you can focus on writing style.
- Correct your grammar.
- Untangle complex sentences -- break them into two sentences, or remove unnecessary phrases.
- Avoid use of the passive tense as much as possible. If this is difficult for you, get advance help.
- It is now perfectly acceptable in anthropology to use "I" in published papers, and it helps the reader to understand which are your own ideas, and which are from your reading.
- Be careful to identify ideas from others (see Citations), so you don't commit plagiarism.
- Identify the topic sentences of your paragraphs in the body of your paper and see that they match the summary of your main points, both in the introduction and conclusion.
- Be sure to check for consistency in your introduction and concluding statements. Write smooth transitional sentences and paragraphs.
- Don't forget to spell-check and number your pages!
Please carefully review the logical flow of your ideas, from your introduction, through the body of the paper, to the conclusion. This is often the main difference between an excellent (A) paper and a good (B) paper. You will be marked on writing style, grammar and spelling as well as content.
CITATIONS or HOW TO AVOID PLAGIARIZING
Be sure to say where your information comes from. You must cite your source whether or not you directly quote the words of that source. In academic writing, anything that is not general knowledge, but rather comes from your reading (in this course or outside of it), and everything/idea that is distinctively the work of a particular person gets a citation.
The citation is placed in the text immediately after the material used. This is the case whether an actual quote is given, or whether you are just giving credit to an author for information or an idea. The citation should include the author and date, and in many cases, a page number. You always need the page number if you are using a quote or specific data. You can use just the author and date if you are referring to a general idea that occurs throughout the work. For American Anthropologist style, always put the date and page immediately after the author's name, do not use a comma. The citation is part of the sentence, so the punctuation comes after, like this (Smith 2001:370). Or you can move the author's name to the front and just enclose date and page in parentheses, for example: Smith (2001:370) provides new data about the origins of agriculture in Ontario.
If you actually quote material from a source, be sure to use quotation marks. Quotes longer than two lines must be block indented and single spaced, and in that case no quotation marks are used.
Use quotes sparingly, limiting their use to particularly apt statements that are ideal for the point you wish to make. For the most part, you should be paraphrasing the materials you read; that is, you should re-state the points in your own words. This involves more than just changing a few words or omitting portions of a sentence. Such changes are tantamount to plagiarism -- see the guide to plagiarism at http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/plagsep.html. However, even well-paraphrased material should be cited, as shown in the examples above and below.
Here's an example of a quote:
"Digging these tombs would have required massive co-ordinated labor, and since many of the individuals buried in the tombs are elites bedecked with exotic ornaments and surrounded by fineware ceramics and figurines, it seems clear that these were built to house elites who were capable of amassing and controlling a large labor pool" (Peregrine 2003:230-231).
And an example of a paraphrase:
These tombs were likely built for elites who controlled a large labour pool, as a great deal of labour would have been needed to dig the tombs, and to supply the exotic ornaments and fineware ceramics and figurines found in them (Peregrine 2003:230-231).
I still cite Peregrine, even though I don't quote him directly, because this was not my own conclusion -- I got this idea from reading his textbook. I provide the page numbers so that it will be easy for the reader to find this reference, if desired. Note that when I directly quote Peregrine, I leave the American spelling (labor), but when I paraphrase, I use the Canadian spelling (labour). Also note that quotes that are 2 lines or longer are indented, while paraphrases are not.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Q: How can I figure out what my thesis is?
Having done your reading, you may have a thesis in mind from the start. In this case, write your thesis first, and then proceed to build your paper around it. Sometimes your thesis will not be completely clear to you until you have spent some time writing and thinking your way along through your first draft. Then, summarizing your own paper can help you find your thesis. By looking over your rough draft, you can see what general point seems to underlie what you are writing. You may find more than one, or see that the point you were trying to make doesn't hold up. In this case you need to remove some parts of your essay or think about a better way to focus your paper. In a way all writing is summarizing, deciding what to include or exclude. Part of this decision depends on your purpose, your audience, and how much space you have. Your thesis is, in a sense, the most boiled down summary of your paper that is possible, and will usually be one sentence (but no longer than a paragraph) in length.
Q: What is meant by "argument" in writing?
An argument consists of facts or statements put forth as evidence--a reason to accept the writer's thesis. All papers must have an argument, but this does not mean that you are necessarily attacking the work of others; rather you are presenting a flowing, logical stream of information to back up your thesis. An argument is a course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating truth or falsehood. It is the connections drawn between the bits of evidence that demonstrate your thesis. Connections are many, and the one you are interested in may not be obvious. A successful argument identifies relevant bits of evidence and those elements that are indicative, and connects these with each other for your reader. Just as math professors ask you to show your work, in writing you need to show your reader the course of your thinking that led you to your conclusions. DonÕt assume that your audience is thinking the same way you are; you have to lead them by the hand without being patronizing.
Many thanks to Dr. Robin Smith, Anthropology, Western Oregon University, and Dr. Roger Lohmann, Trent University, for the use of a modified version of their essay instructions.