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Write to the Point

This presentation gives guidelines to help students package analyses, evaluations, and argumentative research in the style of academic writing.

Aileen Farrar

on 1 September 2014

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Transcript of Write to the Point

To make a linear argument, write with a beginning, middle, and end.
Body paragraphs make up the paper's middle.
The introductory paragraph is the beginning of your paper.
The conclusion ends the argument
Concluding Summary
A concluding summary is likely the first type of conclusion many of us have been taught. This conclusion only asks that you repeat the thesis, or main idea of the paper.

However, if your paper is structured and supported effectively and clearly, readers should already know what the point of the paper is before they get to the conclusion.

Therefore a concluding summary is redundant.
Evaluative Conclusion
The lead-in is essentially the beginning of the beginning.
This is perhaps one of the easiest lead-ins to abuse.
Only use a quotation if it
is intellectually striking,
stimulates particularly relevant discussion that leads specifically to your thesis.
Especially be sure to properly frame (introduce
explain) the quotation.
Brief Anecdote, Statistic, or Fact
Use a brief anecdote or a specific statistic/fact to present an
of the broader point you mean to make in your thesis.

The goal here is to move from very specific raw data to the crux of your main argument. So avoid digressions and excessive emotional appeals. Instead, use your anecdote, statistic, or fact as an opportunity for showing why or how you'll make your argument.
Write to the Point
Western academic writing is linear and to the point. Introduce your main claims up front, then expand upon them.
Catching your readers' attention means:

keeping the lead-in brief (generally 1-2 sentences)
avoiding generalizations and cliches
specifying the particular conflict that has inspired you to write

A successful title counts as a lead-in, but you'll typically want a lead-in in your introductory paragraph to begin your paper as well.
There are several types of in-text lead-ins. Choose yours with your audience and purpose in mind.
...because the background can conveniently function as both lead-in (beginning) and context (middle) in an introduction.

You must have a background section in your introduction to fully orient your readers. But the good news is that your background can also introduce and attract readers to the subject.

To give background, think about the who, what, when, where, and why of your subject. This is your chance to contextualize your argument and clarify what conflict is inspiring you to make this argument.
This may include the "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why" of your main argument.

In other words...
Who are you arguing about?
Who are you arguing with/for/against?
Who is your target audience?
Who is your argument relevant to?
What conflict or problem are you responding to?
What is your argument's method?
What have others already said?
What is new about your argument?

If you are focusing on a modern issue, how far back or forward are you planning to look to contextualize and/or examine your subject?

If you are not focusing on a modern issue, in which historical period is your subject based?

How recent are your resources?
Which geographical region, culture, or space (abstract or literal) will you focus on? Be specific.
Why are you writing about this argument?
Why should others care about your argument?
This includes your method of argumentation and any subpoints you have.

The type of argument you use and the inclusion of subpoints will affect the language of your thesis.

Said another way, how you plan to structure your argument will affect how you articulate your thesis.
Methods of Argumentation
There are four basic types of arguments that can shape the structure of your paper and thesis.
Subpoints are the points that make up your main claim.

You should include subpoints in your thesis when possible to help alert readers to the details of your argumentative plan.

Thesis Template:
An analysis of [subpoints A, B, and C] will show [main argument].
Compare and Contrast
Thesis Template:
[Subject X] is more/less [effective/logical/useful/valuable] than [subject Y] because of [comparative features A, B, and C].
Causal Analysis
Thesis Template:
[X effect] is occurring not just because of [cause A] but because of [cause B].
Thesis Templates:

[X] is a problem because [definitional features A, B, and C] and therefore demands a solution.

Since [factors A, B, and C] are causing [problem X], a solution entails [resolution for factors A, B, and C].

[Problem X] can be solved not by [solution A] but by [solution B].
Thesis Template:
[Subject X] fits/doesn't fit in [category Y] because of [definitional features A, B, and C].
This is the most frequently used lead-in.

The most important part of your introduction is the thesis. It comes at the end of your introduction and includes the "what" and "how" of your main argument.
Although the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion comprise a macro-structure framing the argument's beginning, middle, and end, each paragraph is a micro-structure that also contains its own beginning, middle, and end. This structure is repeatedly iterated in successful writing.

Answering these types of "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why" questions help us to articulate "what" our arguments are. But it is impossible to answer all of these questions in one thesis statement. So, use these questions as guidelines and remember the overall picture--
the thesis should say "what" your argument is and "how" you will make it.
The above is just one sample template of a thesis made with subpoints, but actually every thesis template introduced so far has subpoints.
In each thesis, they are represented by the letters "A," "B," and "C."

It consists of a lead-in (beginning), background (middle), and thesis (end).
Background information may take more than one or two sentences. This is okay. Just remember that you should only be providing what is necessary to introduce your thesis.
(In general, the whole introductory paragraph for a paper under 12 pages should be less than one page.)
(Note: A thesis is a statement of your main argumentative claim.)
Avoid rhetorical questions. In academic writing, these should be used sparingly - in particular, they should be used as opportunities to simplify rather than astound.
In academic writing, you will always be making an argument. The goal of argumentation is always to
something new to already extant conversations. That is, to move conversations forward together in dialogue, not to "win".

So be respectful and don't be afraid to take risks when asking questions.

(Discovery in any field means recognizing something when you didn't already know what it looks like. Therefore, ask questions and risk inquiry.)

Background image from
Its purpose is to
orient readers to the subject at hand
and catch your readers' attention
The "body" includes all your body paragraphs, and like the introduction, it has its own beginning, middle, and end which consist of a background section, argument section, and counterargument section.
Support your main argument, or thesis with "argumentative paragraphs."
Wrap up the paper's body with counterargument and rebuttal paragraphs
First, orient your readers with "background paragraphs"
You may not need a background paragraph if your introduction has already adequately oriented readers. For short papers, if you do include a background paragraph, limit yourself to just one.

If your paper is extensive (e.g. more than twelve pages), you might use more than one.

However, in any case, remember that the majority of your paper should focus its energy and space on presenting an argument, not background. So use discretion.
Use background paragraphs to
Define key terms
Provide historical context
Explain what others are currently saying about your subject
The Body
Organize your argumentative paragraphs by addressing each subpoint of your thesis one at a time.
Remember, subpoints help support and develop your thesis.

If your thesis is that,
"The solution to [problem X] is not [solution A] but [solution B]," then you have at least two subpoints (A and B), which can be discussed in two paragraphs.
Argumentative paragraphs make up the core of the paper's body and consequently the paper as a whole.

"To reduce high outdoor feline
populations, we need to
neuter not exterminate."
Subpoint B
(solution B)
Paragraph 1:

Extermination reduces the morale
of communities.
Subpoint A
(solution A)
Extermination causes more problems than it solves.
Paragraph 2:

Extermination creates
a "vacuum" that invites other cats to move in.
Include as many argumentative paragraphs as you need to clearly substantiate your claim.
You are not limited here to the traditional "five-body-paragraph" essay structure.
Make your argument more unique and useful by breaking down each subpoint into its separate conceptual components.

Consider the
The body
1) orients readers
2) substantiates your main argument
3) considers a counterargument
Subpoint A breaks down into at least two smaller points which each comprise
their own paragraph
Counterargument Paragraph

By including a counterargument
you can anticipate and preemptively defend against objections.

(Example of simplifying rhetorical question)
If you feel overwhelmed by this structure, prioritize the "what" question. At the very least, you must convey "what" the main idea of your argument is.
Each subpoint can be discussed in one paragraph each. Or you may even break a subpoint into further micro-points. In this example, subpoint A is too complex for one paragraph. Thus it is broken into two further micro-points, each of which will be given their own paragraphs.
Counterarguments are
essential in every paper. That is, if you do not feel comfortable tackling counterarguments, focus on your main argument instead.

Counterarguments are an added element that show readers that
1. you are a knowledgeable, open-minded, and strong critical thinker who has already considered objections
2. you believe they are also intelligent critical thinkers who would like to know what the objections are.
But what if the counterargument actually undermines my argument?
Note: This is a counterargument that challenges the idea that we should include counterarguments in our papers.
It is a counterargument
If a counterargument successfully undermines your argument--in other words, if you cannot refute it--then you have just proven that your argument IS weak and needs to be revised.

Rebuttal Paragraph
A rebuttal is your response to the prospective counterargument.
To create a successful counterargument paragraph, you must show respect...

1. Pick an objection that legitimately
challenges your argument.

2. Spend time on the counterargument.

3. At the beginning of your counterargument paragraph,
indicate that you are presenting a counterargument
rather than your own view by using phrases such as,
"Some critics might disagree with me because..."
A counterargument is an objection to your claim.
Weak counterarguments are called "straw man" arguments because they are flimsy (and a waste of time)
Do not simply dismiss the counterargument by glancing over it in one sentence. Explain the counterargument with at least one body paragraph.
If you do not clearly distinguish the counterargument from your own, readers may think you are simply flip-flopping.
Be careful! Many beginning writers slip into a cycle where they just repeat themselves in their rebuttal paragraphs. That is, they just repeat information and claims they have already made.

Don't just repeat yourself. Instead, focus on directly addressing a weakness of the counterargument.
Repeating the same thing over and over in the face of new information is how "shouting matches" are started. "Shouting matches" are unproductive.
Your rebuttal doesn't have to directly disagree with the counterargument. In fact, if the counterargument does what it's supposed to and actually challenges your main argument, often the best rebuttal you can respond with will begin with a concession, "Yes / That's true, but..."
Let's review...
The "body" of your paper has a beginning, middle, and end. This consists of
1. background (optional)
2. main argument paragraphs (essential)
3. counterargument (optional).
Each paragraph follows the same basic structure.
Let's review...

An introductory paragraph has a beginning, middle, and end. These are the
1. lead-in (may be combined with the background)
2. background
3. thesis

Next we will review the "body" of a paper. This consists of body sections and body paragraphs.
The final section of your paper's body is the counterargument section
Body Paragraph Structure
Body paragraphs break down claims, evidence, and logic in order to support your main claim (or thesis). They do this by following some basic guidelines in structure.
help connect the paragraph at hand with those that came before and those that will come after.
Topic sentences
state the main point of the paragraph.

Whereas the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph presents the paper's main argument overall, the topic sentence presents and prepares to support just a portion of the thesis, i.e. a subpoint. Topics sentences should be stated at the beginning of paragraphs. This helps to keep readers oriented.
sentences should only come after your topic sentence and should only be one or two sentences in length.

Background within an argumentative or counterargumentative paragraph allows you to provide some additional information necessary to prepare readers for the specific argument the paragraph is about to make.
consist of
summaries, paraphrases, quotes, and data from personal observations, the cultural text at hand, or external resources that provide concrete support for the claim at hand
are sentences that allow you to show how the evidence supports your claim.

You cannot let your evidence do the talking for you because you cannot assume that readers will interpret the evidence the same way you have. Because of this, for every sentence of evidence you present, you should include two sentences of explanation.

1. Transition (optional)
2. Topic Sentence
3. Background (optional)
4. Example
5. Explanation
6. Summary sentence
All body paragraphs include the
same six structural components
Examples of transitions:
In this case...
This is especially important when...
Summary sentences
are statements at the end of each body paragraph that restate the main point of the paragraph.

It is especially useful if the paragraph presents complex critical thinking.
Let's review...

The "body" consists of the following sections:
1. background section
2. argument section
3. counterargument section
And each section consists of body paragraphs, each of which follow the same structure:
1. Transition
2. Topic Sentence
3. Background
4. Example
5. Explanation
6. Summary Sentence

Finally, we will conclude with a review of conclusion paragraphs.
There are two types of conclusions:
1. summary
2. evaluative
Note: If you feel like you need the conclusion to clarify yourself, then you need to go back and improve your introduction and body paragraphs (i.e. reorganize, explain yourself more extensively, or provide further support).

Instead of repeating yourself, try answering the "so what" and "who cares" questions. The evaluative conclusion answers these questions. It shows how your paper can be important to people other than yourself.
Who cares?
To whom is your argument or subject relevant?
So what?
Why is your subject important? What current controversy, pressing issue, or overlooked conversation is it a part of?
The evaluative conclusion shows more sophistication in writing because it shows more awareness of audience needs.

Still, the most important task of your paper is to articulate and support your main argument. That is, perfect your introduction and body paragraphs. If you feel that learning how to write a new style of conclusions will distract you from this, then use the summary rather than evaluative style of conclusion.
Let's review...

A conclusion paragraph ends a paper by either
1. repeating the argument (i.e. summarizes)
2. connecting the argument to a bigger picture (i.e. evaluates)
Concluding remakrs:
Always state your claims up front, then expand upon them.
The paper, each section, and each paragraph has a beginning, middle, and end.
This structure can be used to guide academic writing for papers less than twenty pages in length.
Therefore, be prepared to reverse your position completely if need be.
In fact, this is part of the normal process of writing. This is how writing becomes a part of the discovery process--it allows us to put our thoughts down in black and white, so that we can examine them and see what needs to be improved.
Well, let's consider this...
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