Published on February 15, 2014
English 104 Structuring your essay
Introduction • One paragraph (for shorter essays) • Gives the reader general information about your topic, such as background • Leads to the thesis statement
Introduction Example: At the 2011 TED Global convention, Mark Pagel, professor at the University of Reading and head of the Evolution Laboratory, presented an interesting theory regarding the impact of language on humans as a species. Pagel states that language is unique to humans and the defining factor in our evolutionary success. Although Pagel makes a convincing case regarding language’s transformative power, his logic is flawed since it is confined to verbal language; it is not verbal language but written language that has enabled the technological growth of the human species.
Main Body In the body of your essay, you should: Explore your thesis in-depth Avoid simply repeating your thesis without elaborating Clarify and define any vague terminology Provide concrete supporting evidence from credible sources Include quotations and citations Discuss quotations and how they relate to your thesis statement and support your argument Assume your reader has already read/watched the material Avoid simply summarizing the text
Main Body Example: Thesis: Although Pagel makes a convincing case regarding language’s transformative power, his logic is flawed since it is confined to verbal language; it is not verbal language but written language that has enabled the technological growth of the human species. It is true that humans are a uniquely successful species. No other species has acquired the same level of technological growth. As Pagel says, “the world has changed out of all proportion to what we would recognize even 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. And all of this because of cumulative cultural adaptation. The chairs you’re sitting in, the lights in this auditorium, my microphone […] all are a result of cumulative cultural adaptation.” Thesis statement is expanded upon ‘Success’ is defined as technological growth A quotation is provided showing a point of agreement with the speaker, Mark Pagel
Main Body Example: Thesis: Although Pagel makes a convincing case regarding language’s transformative power, his logic is flawed since it is confined to verbal language; it is not verbal language but written language that has enabled the technological growth of the human species. Pagel, however, states that ‘cumulative cultural adaptation,’ i.e. the ability to learn from others and to build on their ideas, is a uniquely human ability resulting from language; Pagel says, “Once we have language, we can put our ideas together and cooperate to have a prosperity that we couldn’t have before we acquired it. And this is why our species has prospered around the world while the rest of the animals sit behind bars in zoos, languishing. That’s why we build space shuttles and cathedrals while the rest of the world sticks sticks into the ground to extract termites.” A statement about the speech is supported using a direct quotation. Always support a paraphrase with an in-text citation or direct quotation
Main Body Example: Thesis: Although Pagel makes a convincing case regarding language’s transformative power, his logic is flawed since it is confined to verbal language; it is not verbal language but written language that has enabled the technological growth of the human species. Pagel defines ‘language’ as verbal language. Pagel states, “your language relies on pulses, discrete pulses of sound […] we know that there are words we cannot use, phrases we cannot say, because if we do so, we might be accosted, jailed, or even killed. And all this from a puff of air emanating from our mouths.” His discussion of language is confined to the verbal, for language is ‘pulses of sound’ and ‘a puff of air emanating from our mouths.’ Even at the end of the speech, language is still confined to the verbal, for Pagel speaks of it in terms of “fine motor control of their mouths.” ‘Verbal language’ from the thesis statement is explored further and supported with direct quotations from the speech The quotations’ relation to the topic is clarified
Main Body Example: Thesis: Although Pagel makes a convincing case regarding language’s transformative power, his logic is flawed since it is confined to verbal language; it is not verbal language but written language that has enabled the technological growth of the human species. While other species may not have human language, all species have a method of verbal or visual communication, which can even be similar to human verbal language. For example, studies show that “dolphin whistle repertoires contain higher-order internal structure or organizational complexity. This suggests their whistle ‘language’ contains elements loosely analogous to grammar or syntax in human language” (Dorminey). Verbal communication, then, is not a uniquely human gift as Pagel claims. However, written communication is specific to humanity. Nowhere does Pagel discuss written language, when it is in fact written language that has enabled cumulative cultural adaptation to span generations, ultimately allowing each generation to improve upon the ideas of their ancestors. Claim is supported using specific, quoted example Conclusion is drawn Paper moves on to discuss written communication
Conclusion Brings the essay to a feeling of closure Summarizes the main points of your paper Tip: After finishing the first draft of your essay, you may wish to go back and refine your thesis statement to make sure it fits with your overall paper.
Common Structure Classical Oration Introduction/Background Gains readers’ interest Presents relevant information States your claim (thesis) Lines of Argument Presents valid, logical reasons supporting your claim Alternative Arguments Examines alternative points of view Notes the advantages and disadvantages of these views Explains why your view is better than others Conclusion Summarizes the argument Elaborates on the implications of your claim
Common Structure Classical Oration Used by ancient Greeks and Romans Lets readers/listeners know what your subject is, how you intend to cover it, and what evidence you have to offer Not every argument will follow this structure or include all the components However, many arguments will resemble the classical oration and include some of the elements
Alternative Structures Toulmin Argument Components: Claim: the argument you wish to prove Qualifiers: any limits you place on your claim Reasons/Evidence: support for your claim Warrants: underlying assumptions that support your claim Backing: evidence for warrant Thinking about the above will help you to come up with ideas when structuring your essay, and also help you to examine the arguments of others
Alternative Structures Rogerian Argument Introduction: describe the issue showing understanding and respect for alternative positions Contexts: describe contexts in which alternative positions may be valid Your position: state your position on the issue and present the circumstances in which your opinion would be valid Benefits to opponent: explain to opponents the benefits of adopting your position
Alternative Structures Rogerian and Invitational Arguments Non-confrontational Willingness to think about opposing positions and their validity Aim is to work together to resolve a dispute and arrive at a greater understanding, rather than to ‘win’ the argument Emphasis is on respect for the opposition and mutual communication Strives for connection, collaboration, and conversation Good for peer-review sessions and group discussions Useful when structuring your own arguments to learn opposing positions accurately and to understand your opponents’ points of view
Activity Plan and outline an essay on Mark Pagel’s ‘How Language Transformed Humanity,’ structuring the essay around a centralized thesis statement. If you have time, you may begin writing the essay, but you do not have to finish. Consider the following: What evidence will you use to support your claims? Are there any vague terms that need to be defined? What assumptions does Mark Pagel make in his speech? Are his assumptions correct? Are there any flaws in Pagel’s logic? How many pages will your essay be? Do you have enough room to explore your thesis in-depth in 5-7pgs?
Critique Groups In groups of 4-5 people, critique each others’ outlines and drafts: Is the thesis statement focused and clear? Are vague terms clearly defined? Does the evidence logically support the claim? Does the essay demonstrate an understanding of Pagel’s assertions? Does the main body of the essay explore the thesis in-depth and develop the thesis statement fully? Can the essay be written thoroughly in 5-7pgs?
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