Filling out the written composition (part 4)

A FIVE-PAGE paper??? How am I going to fill the pages?

writing papers

I remember the dilemma in high school. If you don’t know how to meat on your skeleton, don’t panic.

  • Don’t cut and paste from internet.
  • Don’t enlarge your font size.
  • Don’t alter margins.

Here’s what you fill your paper with:

  1. Summarize. When you refer to parts of the story, it is fair game for you to use one or two sentences to summarize the part of the story of particular importance. Of course, your teacher knows the story, but you are highlighting to her the part that you want to make a point about.
  2. Quote the book. Use quotes sparingly and limit only to truly significant or moving quotes. Don’t quote back-and-forth dialogue between characters; if it is important, just paraphrase. Sum up the build-up, quote the zinger.
  3. Quote experts. What have others said about the topic/ work? What does the Bible say? What have famous personalities said about your subject? Incorporating quotes seasons your paper with wisdom and knowledge. You can do this seamlessly if the expert says what you have been saying. A quote should be one or two sentences. Don’t think you can just quote entire paragraphs to fill your paper.
  4. Explain. Never assume your opinion is obvious. Use deductive or inductive reasoning. But make sure to explain thoroughly every step in logic. Inexperienced writers frequently skip steps in logic, assuming they are obvious. They may not be and can fill your paper with good material.
  5. Answer the opposition. Usually, you can write a whole paragraph on this. What is the opposite opinion to your own? Show why they are wrong. Respect your opponents; don’t mock them with bombastic charges. The opposing opinion has adherents, so there must be some good reason why people follow that view. You are naive if you assert that yours is the only logical position.
  6. Cite statistics. Numbers are powerful to prove your point. Do a little research and compliment your paper with some survey material.
  7. Make comparisons. Though they tend to get discredited under a microscope for “false analogy,” still they are powerful and everybody uses them. Unless your paper is a debate assignment or a very rigorously-graded persuasion essay, use comparisons. Just try to make sure they apply as best as you can.
  8. Consult. After you have written everything you can think of, have a friend or parent read it and suggest missing points. The inexperienced writer is unaware of these “holes” in his paper. A friend often will pick up on something you didn’t fully explain. You need to fill all the holes.

Writing used to be absolutely miserable for me. Because I wanted to write, I learned the tricks of the trade.

Part 1 of the series.

The most important part of writing: crafting the thesis statement (part 1)

CS LewisSpend a great chunk of your time working and re-working your thesis statement. This is the most important part of your paper. All the rest of the paper proves your thesis. If you don’t have a good thesis, you can’t have a good paper. When a teacher reads a stellar thesis, she expects to give an “A.” Only if the rest of the paper is sadly disappointing will she lower that expectation. If you have a weak thesis, the teacher already has a “B” or “C” in mind. Rarely will you be able to “pull up” your paper to an “A” because your start is so bad.

Not all sentences are equal. The thesis stands above every other sentence in supreme importance. That’s why it deserves so much more attention than the other sentences.

When you craft your thesis statement, make sure it:

  1. states an opinion that is original (maybe even controversial).
  2. is beautifully expressed.
  3. uses the perfect words (not just big words to show off).
  4. is not boring.
  5. takes a side, doesn’t just cover the opposing views (especially in English class; other classes like history can survey existing positions only).
  6. tries for shorter and golden rather than long and academic (contrary to popular conception, convoluted writing is not by any means better. Just ask Hemingway about that.)

When I grade papers, I want thesis statements to be exciting. I totally agree with C.S. Lewis that most people don’t like to have to read essays. They prefer to read/hear stories. So if you don’t excite me with a though-provoking thesis statement, I’m hunkering down for a miserable affair.

Read part 2 here.