Writing Good or, ways to improve on a thesis,research paper, essay, critical review, or book chapter in 28 easy lessons
Audience• The audience for your essay? • The best educated student in the seminar.• Not the professor• Test: • Would I know what this term meant before I wrote the paper?
Thesis Statement• Every essay, book, or article has one main idea. – A “controlling” idea• The thesis statement, properly constructed, is that main idea.• It is the principal idea, thought, or causal relationship you propose to convey to a specific audience of readers.
Several general rules on thesis statements• Not necessarily the first sentence in the paper;• Should be a complete sentence;• The thesis sentence should have a workhorse verb – Avoid "this paper will discuss;" ”this is very interesting;" or ”this has many implications."
Testing the clarity of the thesis sentence• Count the number of ideas you have written: – narrow it down• Reverse the order of the sentence – what is the main focus?• Test out the idea: – Use counterfactual analysis
Counterfactual Analysis• Testing the relative merits of a particular statement, idea, or thesis.• “Contrary to fact, conditional.”• Conditions to be met: * Must be close in time * Must be within the feasible; * Facts must be accurate; * Must have some relationship to acceptable body of literature.
Paragraphs• A paragraph is a mini-essay• The topic sentence its thesis statement• The ideas expressed in the paragraph should cohere – (from the Latin, glue: to stick together).
The best paragraphs• Supply details and evidence;• Use a clear organizational plan;• Employ cohesive and transitional devices;• Develop the idea sufficiently to suggest a convincing argument.
Sentence clarity• Verbs: Active vs. Passive Voice• Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. • "Joe saw him" is strong. "He was seen by Joe" is weak. • How often was he seen? Once? Every day? Once a week?
Sentence Clarity (cont.’d) Verbs: Active vs. Passive VoiceThere were a great Dead leavesnumber of dead covered theleaves lying on the ground.ground.At dawn the The cocks crowcrowing of a came withrooster could be dawn.heard.
Sentence Clarity: Nominalization• Nominalization is the conversion of a verb into a noun; substituting the action verb with a “to be” verb.• Generates a “passive construct” in which the actor (subject) becomes less obvious.• Some examples: – His reflection on X is (he reflected that) – Her insistence on Y was (she insisted that) – The U.S. war declaration occurred (the U.S. declared war) – Weapons of mass destruction (weapons that massively destroy)
Sentence Clarity (cont.’d) Nominalizations Nominalized Changed to main verb“Public support for the “The public weakly supportedJohnson administration the Johnson administrationwas problematic due to…” because. . .”“Summers stated that a “Summers showed that thedeclaration of war was U.S. failed to declare war atlacking when the U.S. the beginning of the conflict.”became involved in theconflict.”
Sentence Clarity (cont.’d) Nominalizations (cont.’d)Nominalized Changed to main verb“Machiavelli’s strong “Machiavelli believedbelief [in] power being strongly that powerthe only goal in life is was the singular goala backdrop for the to pursue in life.”picture he tries topaint.”
Put statements in positive form• Make definite assertions.• Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language.• Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.
Put statements in positive formHe was not very He usually cameoften on time. late.He did not think He thought thethat studying study of Latin aLatin was a waste of time.sensible way touse ones time.
Express even a negative in a positive formnot honest dishonestnot important triflingdid not remember forgotdid not pay ignored attention tonot different similarnot notice overlooknot many fewnot often rarely
Place negative and positive in opposition“Not charity, but simple justice.”“Not that I loved Caesar less, but thatI love Rome more.”
Use definite, specific, concrete languageA period of It rained everyunfavorable day for a week.weather set in.He showed He grinned assatisfaction as he pocketed thehe took coin.possession ofhis well-earnedreward.
ExampleObjective consideration ofcontemporary phenomenacompels the conclusion thatsuccess or failure in competitiveactivities exhibits no tendency tobe commensurate with innatecapacity, but that a considerableelement of the unpredictable mustinevitably be taken into account.(recast by George Orwell)
ExampleI returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (King James version, book of Ecclesiastes)
Simplify: omit needless words• Vigorous writing is concise.• A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences. • For the same reason, a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Simplify Some common tendencies:the question as to whether whetherhe is a man who heowing to the fact since, because thatin spite of the fact though, although that
Simplify Example:Such preparations "Tell them that inshall be made as will buildings where theycompletely obscure all have to keep the workFederal buildings and going to putnon-Federal buildings something across theoccupied by the windows." (FDR,Federal government frustrated with theduring an air raid for Blackout order,any period of time Federal Regulations,from visibility by 1942)reason of internal orexternal illumination.
Avoid Redundant Modifierscompletely finish true factsbasic free gift fundamentals various differentfinal or eventual personal beliefs outcome consensus ofterrible tragedy opinionpast history each individualfuture plans anticipate in advance
Avoid Redundant CategoriesDuring that period of TIME, the membrane AREA became pink in COLOR and shiny in APPEARANCE.During that period, the membrane became pink and shiny.
Replace a Phrase with a• the reason for Word• due to the fact that• owing to the fact that • because, since,• in light of the fact or why that• considering the fact that• on the grounds that• this is why
Replace a Phrase with a Word• as regards• in reference to • about• with regard to• concerning the matter of• where. . .is concerned
Last Words (for now)• Key to writing is. . .writing• Key to good writing is editing• Key to editing is willingness to learn• Good writing is good thinking• We write to learn as we learn to write