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Professor Sophie Bourgault
A few tips on essay writing
Try to present your thesis as early as possible in the introduction; do not wait for the third page (or the very last page!) to tell
your reader what your thesis is. The thesis statement should explicitly address the question asked. Please note that your
thesis does not necessarily have to be a single sentence; it could be two or three (but certainly not more than that). Examples:
1) Discuss Platos assessment of democracy.
A good thesis statement: This essay will argue that Platos harsh assessment of democracy is intimately tied to his conception of
knowledge and of human excellence.
A weak thesis statement: Plato is very critical of democracy.
This statement is weak because it does not tell the reader anything that he or she could not have gathered from a superficial
reading of the text. Ask yourself, how will my paper illuminate the text for my reader? What interesting or difficult issues
does my paper address? Have I shown or at least alluded to some of the tensions present within the Republic?
This is not a thesis statement: This paper will discuss Platos views on democracy.
2) How significant is glory for Machiavelli?
A good thesis statement: This paper will argue that glory is extremely significant for Machiavellis conception of
politics because it is the essential element to the social psychology of the ruling class. With the concept of glory,
Machiavelli is able to reconcile the ambitions of the few with republican freedom.
A weak thesis: This paper will argue that glory is extremely significant for Machiavelli.
This is not a thesis statement: This paper will discuss the concept of glory in Machiavelli.
3) Discuss Platos views on courage.
Good thesis: I will show that Platos conception of courage is heavily geared towards indicating the problems with
greed and imperial politics.
A weak thesis: I will argue that Plato likes courage. (You must say more!)
This is not a thesis statement: I will discuss Platos views on courage in the Republic.
Writing a mere summary is NOT sufficient. You must analyze the text and give interpretative arguments. Look a little more
closely at particular passages, stress tensions that strike you as meaningful, etc. If you were asked a question like what is the
meaning of the allegory of the cave?, you would want to go beyond merely decoding the allegoryask yourself questions
such as the following: How are people convinced to leave the cave? What would make philosophers go back into the cave?
Would they want to? If they cannot or should not, what are we to make of the Republic? What does the cave representour
corporal, temporal lives, the life in the city, the realm of popular opinion...? Go beyond the surface of the text.
A paper that moves from one point to the next without any obvious logic will receive a very poor grade. Make sure that you
have very clear transitions between each paragraph and each section of your essay. The reader should never feel lost; it is
your job as a writer to guide him or her throughout the discussion. It should always be obvious to your reader what is being
discussed, why this is important, how it is related to your thesis, and how we got here.
PARAGRAPH UNITY: Each paragraph should express only one main claim or point; it should have unity from beginning to
end. (While I should not have to say this, allow me to remind you that your essay will NOT only have five paragraphs.
You are no longer in high school: an essay of 8 pages will have many more paragraphs than five.)
QUALITY OF THE WRITING: Aim for simplicity! Avoid excessively long sentences and a too frequent usage of your
thesaurus. Simple, clear, short and well-crafted sentences are the best means to excellent essay writing. Make sure that you
have proof-read your essay at least once and very carefully. Please note that a paper filled with grammatical errors and
spelling mistakes will not receive more than a C.
A) CITATIONS: A university paper MUST cite the text, with each argument it makes. To cite does not necessarily mean
quoting directly, word for word. It means referencing the particular passage where you are getting your
information. Make sure that your direct quotations illustrate very well what you wish to convey and that they add
something to your analysis. Be very selective in your choice of quotations: every one of them must really serve a purpose.
** If you decide to paraphrase Plato or some scholar writing on Plato, you may NOT employ the structure of the
original quotation. If you borrow (either the structure of a sentence or the words), this constitutes plagiarism.
Please use the Stephanus pagination system. Ex: Plato suggest that (374a).
- You must italicize book titles (articles titles are not to be italicized)
- quotations longer than 4 lines must be placed in block format (indented &single-spaced)
- your essay must have page numbers (in the header or the footer of your essay)
- think of a good, creative title (do not simply repeat the question posed please)