Essay writing is the primary style taught in high school. The style is great for many different projects include essay tests, homework and term papers. Term papers are often secondary research projects, meaning that you are collecting what other sources have said. The primary consideration in this type of writing is that you are making an ARGUMENT.

An argument for the paper is expressed as a thesis. For an essay test or homework it is the first sentence or topic sentence of a paragraph. It is essentially your main point. The point you would put on the presentation slide. The elevator pitch. The rest of your paragraph is the explanation which is expected to support or prove the claim you’re making. On this page are examples and hints to help you 1. find your thesis, and 2. build your paragraphs.

1. Finding your Thesis

The trick with formulating a good argument or thesis is that you can’t state it clearly until you’ve already thought about it, even done a first draft and come up with your ‘answer’–with what you want to say. In effect, your thesis is the CONCLUSION of your thoughts on the idea, but it goes at the top of the paragraph or in the introduction. Often you need to go to the end of your paragraph or paper, cut the sentence that summarizes your position and paste it at the top.

Write your conclusion first and your intro last

Unless the intro is a background on the problem, you will be using a general to specific format. In that case, you can think of your conclusion and intro as mirrors of each other. The intro ends with the thesis while the conclusion begins with it (restated of course). The intro begins with a hook while the conclusion ends with one. The hook for the conclusion is actually a call to action. What should the reader do, now that your paper has inspired them. This ending can often be a good way to build the hook in your intro.

The intro and conclusion are different, in that the summary of your paper belongs in the conclusion and NOT in the intro.

The conclusion is easier to write since it comes after you’ve worked through all of your evidence. The intro is hard to write because it’s for some imaginary reader. If you like to start with an intro, plan on throwing it out later, because the intro needs to introduce the reader to your paper, but the content of your paper will have changed as you began to write out, rethink, come to conclusions, etc.

The intro begins with a general statement and ends with the thesis. DO NOT SUMMARIZE your main points in your intro. The conclusion should restate your thesis, summarize the main points, and then end with a call to action.

Fleshing out your Paragraphs

Build Content by Seeing which Analytical Tools Apply:

3C’s: Cause/Effect, Comparison, Classification

4P’s: Pros/Cons, Part/Whole, Process, Problem/Solution

Build Clarity by defining Terms, giving Examples and Explaining relevance or implications.

3 I’d Monster: Identify, Illustrate and Interpret

Transitioning between Paragraphs

It’s important to transition between paragraphs. The best place to do that is at the beginning of the following paragraph. Sometimes that means the topic sentence moves to position number 2. AVOID using transitions like FIRST, SECOND, FINALLY. It’s just as easy and much more effective to use transitions like ANOTHER REASON, THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON. Even more sophisticated transitions are done by summarizing some aspect of the previous paragraph.

Avoid Data and Quote Dumping

If you are doing a research paper, work to ensure that you don’t summarize one source in one paragraph and another source in another paragraph, etc. This is called data dumping. Your job is to integrate the sources. Make close comparisons between them as if they are “having a conversation.”

The following data dump is like a serial summary (on the topic of materialism in housing). Notice that although there are transition words, there is no integration of the ideas.

According to Howell (2014), people who are materialistic can be found in particular geographic neighborhoods that are relatively wealthy. Apparently, constantly seeing the wealth of neighbors, makes one compare and worry about keeping up. Watching the neighbors drive by in fancy cars or buying new furniture is very similar to constantly seeing a lot of advertisements.

On the other hand, according to Moodie (2019), although McMansions are now often made fun of, they remain a goal for many Americans. They range from 650 to 1200 ft per resident which is up from about 350 ft in the 1950s assuming a family of four. Of course, in the 1950s larger families and shared bedrooms were much more common. This kind of footage allows each resident to have their own space. It also allows multiple shared spaces which may be relegated for only occasional use, such as the formal dining room.

Moreover, according to Gosa (personal communication, 2022), American houses often feature the kitchen as the heart of the home. In Indonesia, the kitchens have no tables but instead are minimal work spaces. The heart of the Indonesian home is the living room or parlor where sofas line all four walls.

The following has integrated the sources very nicely but is guilty of quote dumping. Most of the paragraph is quoted material. As a rule of thumb, aim for one sentence of quoted material per paragraph and no more than 10% of all content should be quotes. APA format discourages quoting.

Corporate culture is “the system of shared actions, values, and beliefs that develops within an organization and guides the behavior of its members” (Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt & Osborn, 2008, p. 191).  In fact, every organization must have its own culture (Sugiyama, 2011, p. 1). The culture of every organization is basically based on “the values of the top management or the founders of the organization” (p. 1). Therefore, “the importance of corporate culture is growing as the result of several recent developments” (p.1). Therefore, there are four levers of culture that include the “understanding of human nature, skillful use of power, well-designed social processes, and persuasive leadership”  (Brill & Worth, 2007, p. xi). Brill and Worth indicated that “human beings are complex, full of contradictions and paradox, and internally conflicted, so obtaining clear and accurate information regarding an organization is difficult” (2013, p.3). Therefore, Williams (2012) concluded that “any organization would be wise if they never depend on one individual. But they must also never fully rely on what a group says because it may reflect only what people think they should say. The culture of the organization will determine what views are sanctioned. Furthermore, some people’s opinion will be of far greater value than others depending on their leadership role, on their fear of sanctions, and on their own creativity. In general, outside information sources are less biased” (p. 4).

Building with a Quote

When you use a quote, you should be able to build a whole paragraph around it since it needs set up and explanation. Some quotes can clinch your argument; some quotes can begin your argument, but all of them should be explained. You are taking the words out of the author’s context, so you need to flesh out your own context. You can focus on words the author used and explain why they were so important that you wanted to quote them. You can give examples that are relevant to your own context.

Below is an INEFFECTIVE (but common) way to (mis)build with a quote. If you can paraphrase it, don’t quote.

The purpose of creating a brand is to develop brand loyalty.  According to Alson and Wilson, “Brand loyalty is an irrational preference for a particular brand.  Often the customer associates the brand with the ‘right way’ to do things because his/her parents used the brand or with a particular group of people so that use of that product somehow defines who s/he is”(2008, p. B7).  Brand loyalty is important because a person will choose the brand that his/her parents always used or because s/he wants to show what type of person s/he is.

Notice that the explanation doesn’t explain at all!! It’s just a paraphrase! If you can paraphrase it, just delete the quote. Cite the paraphrase.

Below are four much better ways to build with quotes.

Example of #1: The purpose of creating a brand is to develop brand loyalty.  According to Alson and Wilson, “Brand loyalty is an irrational preference for a particular brand. Often the customer associates the brand with the ‘right way’ to do things because his/her parents used the brand or with a particular group of people so that use of that product somehow defines who s/he is” (2008, p. B7). An example of a brand which people use because their parents used it would be something like dishwashing soap or laundry soap. When a person goes to the grocery store and stands in front of the 10 or so brands of laundry soap, they don’t want to spend a lot of time, so they just grab the kind which they are most familiar with.

1. Give an example.

2. Use a quote as spice.

Example of #2: Since brand loyalty is “irrational” (Alson & Winston, 2008, p.B7), advertisers often do not attempt to make an argument.  They try to convey an idea or ideal.

3. Better yet, use the quote as a tail for your own sentence. Then add your example.

Example of #3: While brand loyalty may seem unimportant like a passing fad, in fact, such loyalty may have a deeper psychological root as “use of that product somehow defines who s/he is” (Alson & Winston, 2008, p.B7). For example, some people would rather be ‘caught dead’ than wearing certain clothes or driving a certain type of car. Students at Clarkson like to wear Clarkson apparel as a way of demonstrating that they belong here and perhaps that they have ‘made it.’

4. Another good option is to explain what the wording in the quote means. After all, the reason to choose a particular quote is because those particular words are remarkable. If you paraphrase, you’ll lose too much.

Example: Marine biologists are “working feverishly to discover the immortal jellyfish’s secret” (“Benjamin Button Jellyfish,” 2013, p.12).

Use the next sentences to explain ‘working feverishly,’ ‘immortal jellyfish,’ and ‘secret.’

Sample Essays in MLA and APA