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Writing an Academic Essay

The Purpose and Process of Academic Writing

Some Parameters

We will not exhaust every aspect of academic writing We will focus on the overall process of writing an academic paper We will not focus on rules We will instead focus on strategies

What Is The Purpose of the Academic Essay?

The word essay is derived from the Latin verb exigere, which means to:

Examine Test Drive out

What could the purpose of an essay be given this definition?

Other Purposes

Discover knowledge Make a point Persuade the reader Share information Synthesis Information Analyze a topic Document your observations All of the above

Think of Writing as a Step by Step Process

Read and Research Brainstorm Ideas Develop Working Thesis and Outline Write Rough Draft Review for Content Revise Rough Draft Review for Grammar and Mechanics Revise Second Draft Continue Reviewing and Revising as Needed

Where Do I Get Ideas To Write About?

Read texts related to your topic Use brainstorming techniques like:

Listing ideas Clustering or mind mapping Free writing

Discuss the issue with others Research the topic

Reading a Text
Compare these two images about Japanese Concentration camps during World War II. The first is by American photographer Ansel Adams. The second is a cartoon by Theodor Dr. Seuss Geisel.

Contrasting the Two Texts

Ansel Adams

Dr. Seuss

Uses photograph Creates sympathy Documents history Subtle Politically motivated Captures humanity Shows us the suffering Emphasizes helplessness Focused on the individual

Uses cartoon Stirs animosity Used for propaganda Exaggerated Politically motivated Uses stereotypes Makes characters look happy Emphasizes danger Focused on the larger view


Write your main point in the center of the page and circle it As ideas come to you, branch off from the main point Think of the cluster as a tree, each idea branching off a previous idea Do not censor or edit yourself

Cluster Example

Develop a Working Thesis

A thesis comes at the end of the introduction section of your paper It lets the reader know exactly what overall point you are trying to make It should be specific, not general It can be used by the reader and the writer as a road map for the rest of the paper It is not fixed; it can and should evolve as your ideas evolve What you present in the paper should not deviate from what you promise in the thesis Establishes expectations

Thesis Examples

Dr. Seuss propaganda cartoons during World War II reduced Japanese Americans to stereotypes, played on the fears of the American public during a time of war, and focused on a the broad, generalized issues of the situation rather than the individual circumstances of the people involved.

Developing an Outline

Once you establish a thesis, use it to help you develop an outline of the paper An outline will:

Help you organize your ideas Keep you focused Save time

Keep in mind there are several ways to approach writing an outline

Outline Example

Thesis Main Point

Supporting Point

Detail Detail Detail Detail

Supporting Point

Main Point

Supporting Point

Detail Detail

Supporting Point

Detail Detail Detail

Supporting Point

Main Point

Supporting Point

Detail Detail Detail Detail

Supporting Point


Writing the Rough Draft

Now that you have a thesis and outline, you may begin writing your rough draft. As you write this rough draft, keep the following strategies in mind:

Organize information in your body paragraphs Hook the reader in the introduction Keep your paper coherent with transition words and sentences Wrap up your paper with a strong closing Utilize academic writing conventions Follow the writing process


The purpose of the introduction paragraph is to:

Bait the reader Contextualize your argument or topic Provide necessary background information about the topic

Strategies to Bait the Reader

Ask a question Tell a story Use a quote Provide interesting statistics Share an anecdote Make a provocative statement

Give Context in the Introduction

What does the reader need to know to understand this paper?

Historical background Issues relating to the topic Important authors and texts you will be referring to Cultural issues Why this topic is important or relevant

Start Your Body Paragraphs with Clear Topic Sentences

A topic sentence:

Comes at the beginning of a paragraph Presents the most important point you want to make in that paragraph Is specific (or not so broad it would require a full essay to explore)

Use Compelling Supporting Points to Support Your Topic Sentence

Supporting points are examples or pieces of evidence that support the claim you have made in your topic sentence. They can be:

Facts Examples Anecdotes (Stories) Expert Testimony Quotes Observations Statistics

Make Sure to Elaborate with Concrete Details

Once you have listed your supporting points, you can now elaborate on them by adding details or explaining what you mean further.

Topic Sentence: Dr. Seuss emphasized the danger posed by Japanese Americans during World War II. Main Point: His pictures show a parade of smiling Japanese marching down the West Coast collecting explosives. Detail: Each box of TNT these cartoon characters carry plays on the often irrational fears Americans felt toward Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

An Alternative: Using the PIE Formula

Another useful strategy to organize information is to use the PIE formula PIE

P = Point = The main point you want to make I = Illustration = A quote or paraphrase from the text E = Explanation = Your explanation about what the quote or paraphrase means

Use Transitions to Create Coherence

Use transition words or sentences to bridge ideas so the reader does not get confused First Second In addition Nevertheless In contrast Furthermore Therefore Etc.

Strategies for a Conclusion

Re-state your thesis statement in a different way Make a strong closing comment Use any of the strategies for the introduction Wrap up the paper with a neat bow tie

Academic Conventions: Things to Avoid

Avoid use personal pronouns like I, We, and You. Avoid not use contractions like isnt, theyre, wasnt, etc. Avoid slang Avoid a personal tone Avoid vague ideas Avoid plagiarism

Academic Conventions: Things to Do

Do address both sides of an argument Do cite your sources Do use a formal tone Do take a stand Do use concrete details Do give yourself time to develop your paper

Remember, Writing is a Process

Every writing assignment is practice for the next one Writing takes time Go through every step of the process Focus on your ideas first Focus on grammar and spelling last Get feedback from a peer, instructor, or tutor