Essay Time…HELP!!!


Imagery, Anecdote or Narrative: People are drawn to stories—consider opening with a descriptive anecdote to draw the reader into the topic. Make sure what you write is relevant to the thesis!

The smell of blood was heavy in the air. In front of Napoleon, a pile of corpses sent a clear statement to the rest of the survivors, who looked on in shock. The rest of the animals vaguely remembered some rule about not killing other animals—but since Napoleon had ordered the killings, the rule must not be what they had remembered.

What NOT to do: Imagine…

Funnel (Generalization to Specificity): Consider a generalization that can be made about your thesis—what universal statement is implied in your thesis? Open with this generalization, then focus in on a specific.

In society, people put trust in leaders and laws. Leaders are trusted to make the best decisions for the group, and laws are turned to as a guide for how to act. However, when leaders are corrupt and laws are manipulated, society suffers.

What NOT to do: Since the dawn of mankind…

Relevant Quotation (rarely done well): Two keys to success with a quotation: (1) choose one that is relevant to your overall point and (2) make sure to transition into your synopsis.

“Man serves the interests of no creature except himself… among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle.  All men are enemies. All animals are comrades” (812). These words from Old Major may have inspired the animals to rebel, but by the end of George Orwell’s novella Animal Farm, it was clear that man was not the only animal guilty of such selfishness.

What NOT to do: “Life is a box of chocolates,” –Forrest Gump. The animals on Animal Farm…

Startling Statement: A bold, controversial statement (related to your topic) can draw your reader in, but make sure you aren’t offending your audience or turning them against you immediately.

Being unintelligent dooms a person to slavery. Education and literacy is the key to freedom and happiness because these enable free thinking. This rings very true in George Orwell’s novella…

What NOT to do: Blood! Gore! Throats torn out! …

Rhetorical Question: If done poorly, a question as a hook can ruin a paper. However, it is possible to pose a question that does engage the reader.

  • The key: the whole essay should be aimed at developing an answer to that question.
  • Never ask a question directly to the reader using “you”!
  • Never ask “Have you ever…?”
  • Never ask “What if…?”

What NOT to do:

  • Have you ever seen a pig walking on two legs?
  • What if the animals on a farm overthrew the farmer?
  • What would you do if you noticed rules were changed


Remember that you must always consider your reader. The introduction is a critical place to remember this. The jobs of an introduction include (but are not limited to):

  • Engaging the reader by using a relevant “hook”
  • Offering necessary context to establish your ethos as a speaker on the topic
  • Establishing a clear sense of purpose, usually through a concise thesis statement

For some ideas about hooks, click here.

The middle part of the introduction helps to establish your ethos as a writer. (In this case, ethos refers to your credibility, character, or reliability as a speaker about your topic.) In this middle section of your introduction, your job is to provide context or background that your reader will need to be ready to consider your thesis. By providing this context, you make yourself look more intelligent and credible as a speaker on the topic.

  • In a literary analysis, this usually means you offer a brief synopsis of the work of literature you are analyzing.
  • In a persuasive research essay, this usually means defining the “problem” or the social context of the problem your thesis proposes a solution to.
  • In a historical analysis, this means establishing the political, social, or economic context that your reader needs to know in order to be ready for your thesis proposition.
  • In an expository or narrative, it is even more vague (if that is possible), but your task is to get your reader “on the same page” as you before you begin your argument or explanation.
  • _________________________________________________________________________________________


A very basic but effective thesis statement is the “three prong” thesis. For most high school writing, it will suffice, though more sophisticated writers learn to transcend this. You might remember it’s ancestor: “My paper will be about puppies, kittens, and hotpockets…” where the thesis hints that paragraph one will be about puppies, paragraph two will be about kittens, and paragraph three, for some reason, will be about hotpockets.

This essential structure is fine, but you have to get away from the “my paper will be about” inclination.

Consider the thesis has being a fork: it has a handle and three prongs. (There is nothing magical about the number three, but it is considered a rhetorically “beautiful” number which offers a well structured argument.)

The HANDLE contains the root assertion or proposition, while the PRONGS establish the supporting propositions.

NOTE: Check the prongs closely: each prong must start with the same grammatical part of speech in order to maintain parallel construction and sound grammar in the final thesis. In the example above, focus, talk, and struggle are all verbs. This leads to strong parallel construction in a thesis.

A complete thesis can then be composed through a little math: H + P1, + P2 + and P3. Voila, a functional thesis.

Blood imagery in Macbeth most vividly symbolizes the effect guilt can have on a psyche when the main characters focus on the bloody daggers, talk of wading through blood, and struggle to remove the sight and smell of blood.

The same pattern can apply to any essay which seeks to establish and prove a proposition:

In this case, the first words of each prong are each adjectives. The completed thesis would therefore read as follows:

The American government should increase funding for cancer research because increasing numbers of Americans are affected by cancer each year, innovative technologies require funding support and better understanding of cancer will lead to better preventive care.

The result is a clear proposition and a succinct preview of what the argument will discuss.



The paragraph is the most basic content structure of any kind of writing. Academic writing is based on the “proposition-proof” model. Once you’ve mastered this kind of model, you can adapt it, rearrange it, and add your own personal flourishes.

TS: Topic Sentence

Here, you identify the essential proposition you intend to prove. What are you proposing? What is it you plan to discuss or defend?

Cx/CD: Context and Concrete Detail

This is evidence to support your proposition…this is your proof. The “Concrete Detail” is specific, often word-for-word evidence illustrating evidence of your proof. The “Context” comes first because it is necessary to give your reader contextual background information prior to giving evidence. See the example below.

Cm3: Commentary

This is where your critical thinking emerges. I tend to thinking of it in three segments:

  1. Review: What did your CD just state? You may need to explain or interpret what it the evidence is saying.
  2. Connect: Tie your CD to your TS… how does your evidence prove your point?
  3. Extend: What is the broader significance of your point and your evidence? Answer “so what?”

Click here for the Body Paragraph Scaffold which is the handout we use in class for constructing the basic paragraph.

Example Paragraphs:

Fiction Analysis (TS/Cx/CD/Cm)

(about William Golding’s Lord of the Flies)

The imagery during the murder scene illustrates that the “beast” is actually the boys themselves. As the novel nears its climax, Simon heads down to the beach to tell the other boys that the beast they had seen was actually the fallen airman, not a vicious creature. When Simon arrives at the beach, though, the boys are overcome by their savage chant and dance on the sand. As Simon collapses into the middle of the circle, Golding describes how “the sticks fell and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed. The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face…At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (188). Overcome by their savage ritual, the boys lose the ability to recognize what they are doing, and they even lose the ability to recognize their friend Simon. Golding uses diction such as “the mouth of the new circle” and “screamed, struck, bit, tore” to illustrate the actions of the boys. This diction, more appropriate for describing a vicious beast, describes the boys acting as one organism with a single-minded focus on destroying Simon. Simon, who had just heard from the Lord of the Flies that the beast was not something he could hunt and kill, is killed by the beast that emerges when the boys lose their civility and individuality. The beast is within the boys, and makes its first kill there on the beach.

Poetry Analysis (TS/Cx/CD/Cm)

(about Theodore Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz)

Some readers see this poem as a story of child abuse, but it is actually a description of a rare moment of happiness that a little boy has with his father. The poem describes a father and son “waltzing” in the kitchen after the father returns home with whiskey on his breath. While phrases such as “I hung on like death” (3), “My mother’s countenance / Could not unfrown itself” (7-8) and “You beat time on my head” (13) might be interpreted as hinting at abuse, other phrases suggest that the boy and the father were engaged in a more playful dance. In the second stanza, the father and son “romped until the pans/Slid from the kitchen shelf” (5-6). In this context, “romped” implies physical play, and since the following lines describe the mother’s frowning reaction, it is reasonable that the boy and his father are rough-housing in the kitchen and the mother is displeased about this. At the end of the poem, the father waltzes the boy “off to bed / Still clinging to [his] shirt” (15-16). This could easily be interpreted as the father dancing his son off to bed, while the boy doesn’t want the fun to end. If the poem is read as a story of child abuse, then this interpretation comes from the reader’s choice of which details to pay attention to, since the poem could just as easily be read with a more positive, happy tone.

Persuasive Argument (TS/Cx/CD/Cm)

Most convincingly, increased federal funding for cancer research would also make it possible for research into preventive measures. As David Samuelson, director of public policy for the International Cancer Foundation explains “Cancer research is not just about petri dishes and genetic testing, it is also about discovering what kinds of lifestyle choices and environmental factors might increase cancer risk” (Samuelson par. 8). By considering the factors which might lead to cancer, future cases of cancer can be prevented. This prevention ultimately saves money in the long run, as Julie Meyer of the Centers for Disease Control explains: “Countless millions of insurance dollars and private funds are spent on cancer treatment each year. This is all money that might not need to be spend with better understanding of preventive care” (par. 11). Clearly, this is not just an issue of funding the search for a cure. By investing in good preventive care and research, the federal government would actually be reducing the amount of money spent in the future on cancer treatment and recovery. Through education, better understanding of what triggers cancers, and increased knowledge about environmental influences, the long run cost can be decreased.

Personal Response or Experience (TS/Cx/CD/Cm)

When I saw that we were going to be studying poetry, my immediate reaction was not positive. In fact, I am dreading having to study poetry. In middle school when we had to read poetry, I always felt like we were making up stuff that wasn’t there. I remember one poem that was about people on a boat and the teacher tried to convince us that is was about the Bible and God. I think it was just about a boat. This makes me feel like when I read poetry I’m either missing something or I have to make it into something it isn’t. Sometimes I also don’t get why the poet switches words around or uses confusing langauge. I have a hard time with simile and metaphor. I have a hard time understanding those, so I get frustrated when I have to “say what a poem means.”



What does the word “conclusion” really mean? What does it mean “to conclude”? Too often we think that it just means “to finish” or “to bring to a close.” However:

TO CONCLUDE also means to use the given evidence to make a statement or make an inference based upon logic and reason.

A conclusion, therefore, is not merely a summary of what you just wrote in your essay. A conclusion is a summary of what you just wrote in your essay AND a broader statement or inference based on the evidence and logic you’ve just provided.

I have found that this pattern seems to help construct conclusions which go beyond simply “summarizing”:

  • REVIEW: Briefly summarize the evidence you’ve provided to illustrate your point. What key ideas or observations have you presented?
  • CONNECT: Consider the ideas or observations you just reviewed… what do these have in common? In the most basic sense, this is a more articulate rewording of the handle of your thesis–but go further…what does all your evidence have in common? What is the common thread?
  • EXTEND: Considering the common thread you just identified, so what? Why is this common thread, this core idea, significant to the broader context? If you are writing about literature, why is this idea significant to the work as a whole, and further, why is it significant to human experience? If you are persuading, why is this common thread important enough to your audience or to society in general to be persuasive?
  • ECHO: Look back at the rhetorical device you used in your hook. Echo key phrases from your hook, and consider concluding with a complementary rhetorical device: if you open with an anecdote, close with the conclusion of that anecdote; if you open with a question, offer the concise answer to that question or pose a follow-up question; if you open with a quotation, comment on the critical idea or point of that quotation. This “echo” gives your reader a sense of closure.

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