Writing An Academic Essay: Some Points to Ponder

(A popular article; a summary of two articles below)

Kathy Livingston (2010). Guide to Writing a Basic Essay. Available online at http://lklivingston.tripod.com/essay/sample.html.

University of Toronto (No year of publication). Advice on academic writing. Available online at http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice.

Most of college papers expected of students to write take the form of an essay. This is so because an essay is usually brief in writing but concise in content. Students by definition have to be able to write on a topic in such a way that they present it in some paragraphs and really elaborate on the topic in those paragraphs. From the articles studied, the following is what can be summarized regarding writing an academic essay for college students.

Firstly, they should begin with a topic, which is a noun or a noun phrase. This way a topic can be put in a single word or a phrase. Oftentimes a phrase makes a much clearer and a better topic because it is narrow and specific. In the sample essay provided, it can be said that the topic of the essay is “cats (as) excellent housepets” better than just “cats.”

Secondly, after having a topic, they should put it into what’s called a ‘thesis statement’ that makes up their argument regarding the topic. There are ways of creating a good thesis statement. What’s important is that they have to incorporate in it their point of argument that they are going to explain and prove. This point of argument can be in the form of an adjective, an adjective phrase, a noun phrase with an adjective, or a verbal phrase that sounds in such a way that it has to be further explained and supported. The point of argument can also be made explicit with the all argument details mentioned. In a third fashion, both the phrase and the explicit details can be combined in the thesis. The sample essay combines both of this. In the thesis, the point of argument “make excellent housepets” is combined with its explanation “good companions”, “civilized members of the household, and “essay to care for.”

Thirdly, after they have their thesis, they have to provide a minimum of 3 of what’s known as ‘pro-arguments’ to explain and support their point of argument in the thesis. These pro-arguments or simply ‘pros’ better take the form of complete sentences because they will later automatically become the topic sentences that will begin the pro paragraphs. If the thesis is explicit already with the argument details mentioned, others can easily see their pros from the very beginning they see the thesis. In the sample essay, the 3 pros visible already from the thesis are: In the first place, people enjoy the companionship of cats, In the second place, cats are civilized members of the household, and Lastly, one of the most attractive features of cats as housepets is their ease of care.

Fourthly, they have to ‘outline’ each of the 3 or more pros. This means that they have to provide details for each pro in such a way that it is these details that later they are going to develop into ‘supporting details or sentences’ to explain and support the pro in the paragraph. These details can be in phrases or complete sentences. But I I’d say that these details better be in phrases rather than sentences. This is so that they can flexibly develop them into supporting details or sentences later in the paragraph. There is no outline provided for each of the 3 pros in the sample essay, but in the other article, it is as follows:

II. Hamlet has a highly developed moral nature.
A. Hamlet is idealistic.
B. Hamlet is aware of his own faults, whereas others are self-satisfied.
C. Hamlet does not want to take revenge without grounds for acting.

Fifthly, they can now write the pro details in(to) full sentences in each pro paragraph. In the sample essay, the 1st pro paragraph with its topic sentence and supporting details looks (like) as follows:

In the first place, people enjoy the companionship of cats. Many cats are affectionate. They will snuggle up and ask to be petted, or scratched under the chin. Who can resist a purring cat? If they’re not feeling affectionate, cats are generally quite playful. They love to chase balls and feathers, or just about anything dangling from a string. They especially enjoy playing when their owners are participating in the game. Contrary to popular opinion, cats can be trained. Using rewards and punishments, just like with a dog, a cat can be trained to avoid unwanted behavior or perform tricks. Cats will even fetch!

Sixthly, wherever necessary and possible, they should provide statistics, tables, numbers, survey results, research findings, expert quotes etc. to back up their opinions. This can easily be done by finding sources regarding the topic they are writing on the internet. There are numerous credible sources on the net they can quote to back up or support their opinion regarding something. In one of the 2 articles, for someone writing about a topic on ancient Egyptian Pyramids and their significance, it can be like this: One writer (Von Daniken 1970) even argues that the Great Pyramid was built for the practical purpose of guiding navigation.

Seventhly, they can write the introduction to the topic of their essay. A good way to do this is by beginning with general ideas about their topic, then narrowing them down into their point of argument and ending it with their previously formulated thesis statement. This can be very brief in some cases. In the sample essay, it goes this way:

“A dog is man’s best friend.” That common saying may contain some truth, but dogs are not the only animal friend whose companionship people enjoy. For many people, a cat is their best friend. Despite what dog lovers may believe, cats make excellent housepets as they are good companions, they are civilized members of the household, and they are easy to care for.

Eighthly, they write their conclusion. Easily put, a conclusion is the re-statement of major points they have written in their previous pro paragraphs. But this doesn’t have to copy-and-paste the exact ideas that they have given. Rather, they put them in different ways rendering the same meaning. In the sample essay, it is the following:

Cats are low maintenance, civilized companions. People who have small living quarters or less time for pet care should appreciate these characteristics of cats. However, many people who have plenty of space and time still opt to have a cat because they love the cat personality. In many ways, cats are the ideal housepets

Ninthly, lastly, they go over their whole essay once again in case they forgot something they should have included or there is something they need to add. This can easily be practiced now as writing is done using a computer or laptop with anything to be corrected being able to be revised on the spot on the screen. In either case, checking their writing and possibly proofreading it again for accuracy and fluency will only make their essay better.

To conclude, writing an academic essay for college writing purposes is a task that goes beyond composing ideas that they have learnt in junior and senior high school. It incorporates more than just ideas. It includes organizing them in a logical way, providing others’ opinions to support theirs, etc. Only this way can writing in college meet its purpose of not only writing itself but also exercising (critical) thinking.

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