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When you're writing thesis-driven papers, your audience will generally expect you to guide them through the structure of your ideas, instead of just randomly stringing thoughts together (or instead of presenting a theme to your reader and hoping that they'll get the bigger picture). There are several typical strategies you can use to help orient readers to the structure of your argument. The notes on They Say / I Say provide a more detailed discussion of effective structure, but here are the basic elements you should consider:
You should strive for a title that is relevant and unique. Even though you might think of your paper as "Paper 2," that's probably not the most relevant or most unique title. So you might consider a very direct title (The Effects of Mass Media on Eating Habits), a question to draw your readers in (Does Mass Media Make You Fat?), or a reference to some engaging key idea/example from your essay (Jay Z and the McDonalds Empire).
In "closed-form" writing, readers typically expect the introduction to engage them (the "hook"), to introduce them to the general topic (the "context"), and then to identify the writer's specific position about the topic they've presented (the "thesis").
Leading Topic Sentences
A key difference between closed-form writing and more open-form writing is that closed-form writing consistently orients readers to new ideas at the beginning of paragraphs. Generally, topic sentences should identify the specific claim you intend to make in the paragraph that follows, and they may also connect that claim back to the overall thesis as well.
Transitions, along with topic sentences, help readers understand the logical relationships between ideas throughout a paper. As you move from one idea into a new but related idea, your reader will be more able to follow your train of thought if you incorporate transitional cues into your writing. Here are some of the most common transitional phrases:
- To show spatial relationships: nearby, above, surrounding, here, there, next to, in front of
- To show chronological relationships: before, after, next, then, immediately, in the meantime, currently, previously, until now
- To show addition: additionally, also, further, not only x but also y
- To introduce illustrations or examples: for example, for instance, to illustrate
- To show contrast: on the other hand, in contrast, in spite of, still, unlike, yet, conversely
- To indicate cause and effect: as a result, consequently, then, therefore, since
- To conclude or summarize: finally, in other words, in summary, in conclusion
Generally the conclusion should draw your writing to a close and help it feel finished. Conclusions can be the hardest section of a paper to write well, but you may consider these approaches:
- Ending with a question. Often you can ask a question that brings the reader back to a consideration of the significance of your topic. If you've been arguing that the educational system is out of date, for example, you could try a question like this: If we continue to use the same old teaching methods, how can we ever expect American students to be ready for the world of tomorrow?
- A return to your opening scene/image. If you start with a story about little Jimmy's new toy, you can return to that image as a way of bringing your writing "full circle."
- With a call to action. If you've effectively made your point, you can sometimes end by looking forward to the action that you believe should now be taken by your readers.
- With a summary. Though this approach can feel repetitive, it's often a way for you to reinforce the key ideas of your argument and tie everything into a tidy package so that your readers walk away feeling a complete sense of the big picture.