The Components of an Essay
Now that you have taken the time to see the connections between the rhetorical situation of your assignment, you may begin the journey into your essay. If we consider that the essay is like a journey, we may be more mindful of our intended audience, with whom we are bringing along as fellow travelers. So embarking upon the steps of the writing process we reviewed earlier, and the components of an essay we will explore now, you will be able to take your intended audience with you on a grand tour of your thoughts and insights.
Though title is the first thing your audience reads, you usually create your title last since it both reflects your essay and echoes your thesis statement. It is the overall impression of your trip; thus, you must experience the journey before giving it a name. But please do name it, since all good stories have one!
Your introduction situates your audience with the topic of your paper and often times can be thought of in terms of answering the who, what, when, where, and why (why is your thesis statement) of your paper’s topic. Think of traveling somewhere, you cannot see everything, so you will learn about and share the background of the place with your traveling companions to situate them with what is to come. Paris, anyone? Not all of Paris, but perhaps the glorious and grand museums? Or maybe a tour of Montmartre, following the footfalls of those great artists from the Belle Époque? The introduction does not need a “hook,” but rather, is an invitation to your audience to step into the world you are sharing with them and the experience that lies ahead.
Every persuasive or expository essay has a main point, a main idea, or central message—a thesis statement. Your thesis statement is where you are taking your audience along this journey of your essay to establish, advance, or defend your overall argument, so be specific and clear.
To do this, the thesis statement in college level writing should not reveal all of the topics you will address in your essay, as many of us were taught in high school. Share these reasons with your audience in your topic sentences, one at a time. This gives your audience something to look forward to learning about and experience. Stating everything in your thesis statement rivals sharing all the places you will visit on your travels at once, which can be overwhelming and provoke your audience to lose interest.
While drafting we often list all of the reasons for our opinion about the topic in our thesis statement (like planning the itinerary of our trip), so when we revise, we remove those reasons, which make a more general (and sophisticated) thesis statement.
Depending on the length of your paper, your thesis statement may be one to two, or even three sentences. (Think about those long fifteen page papers; their thesis statements will be more complex and thus, longer than, say, a six page paper.) The longer the journey the more you experience, so the longer your thesis statement will be.
A Strong Thesis Statement: Checklist
- Comes early in the essay, typically at the end of the introduction, to establish, advance or defend your position, and give your audience a sense of what your paper will address—where you will take them on this journey.
- Is clear while balancing being specific enough to introduce the topic and your opinion, and general enough to not divulge everything you will address in your paper.
- Addresses the assignment’s task. Here is a trick if you need help figuring out your argument: turn the assignment’s task into a question. Answer the question using the language of the task, and you will have a working thesis statement. You can refine this working thesis statement as you move through the writing process since your view of the topic shall evolve. Also, while your thesis statement may be a generalization, it should not be vague; keep in mind that you are addressing a specific assignment.
- Addresses the intended audience’s expectations by establishing your credibility based on with whom you are sharing your opinion about the topic.
- Focus on a point that is worth making and is original in your own words. Beware of opinions that are so widely accepted that they are almost facts. You want to address something that is new and has not been argued or considered before, or is being extended or defended in a different way. Be creative as you explore and reflect on the topic you are working with. By doing so, you reveal your consideration about the ideas that have informed your opinion about the topic, which signals to your audience your commitment, intelligence and enthusiasm about the topic and sharing it with them.
Okay, by sharing with your audience the reasons you hold the opinion you state in your thesis statement, you now take your audience through your journey of thought. As the “thesis statements” of your paragraphs or the signposts of your journey, topic sentences relate both to the thesis statement and to the evidence and analysis in the body paragraph/s.
To give your audience a sense of where they are along the journey of your trip, typically topic sentences are the first sentence in the paragraph. With this framework, your audience has proof of one aspect of the thesis statement and an expectation of what will follow in the body paragraph/s. Your topic sentences hold all the following sentences together in unity while proving one part of your thesis statement.
A Strong Topic Sentence: Checklist
- Relates to and illuminates an aspect of the thesis statement that is illustrated, developed, and/or defended in the sentences that follow
- Is the most general sentence in the paragraph
- Focuses the body paragraph/s on the topic and your opinion about the topic
- Provides a context for understanding what follows in the paragraph
Guidelines for Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences
- A thesis statement and topic sentence must predict or promise what follows, so they cannot be a question. (If you have written a question, answer it and the answer will be your working thesis statement or topic sentence.)
- Phrases such as “I think” or “In my opinion” muddle or weaken thesis statements and topic sentences. Your writing is always your opinion, so you do not need these phrases unless they are central to the idea that you are trying to convey.
- Because the thesis statement is a reference for the essay and a topic sentence is a reference for the rest of the paragraph, they need to be exceptionally clear. Writing clearly over figuratively or flowery is always preferred. Clarity is key!