Making an Argument
As stated earlier, the academic essay is an exercise in reasonedpersuasion. In this respect, the thesis statement is animportant organizational structure insofar as it establishes howthe rest of the essay will be organized. Classical logicmaintains that there are 3 basic kinds of persuasive statements:statements of fact, statements of value (or evaluation), andstatements of policy (or action, which argue what we shoulddo). Unless otherwise specified, the first of these, thestatement of fact, is the form that the thesis statement for anacademic essay should takethe obvious exception being whenyou write evaluative criticism (which you will NEVER do in mycourse).
An introduction is like a guidebook to your whole assignment. It gives background information into your topic area and outlines all the ideas you are going to present. Remember that most introductions will be about 10% of the final essay and will include some or all of the following:
Following this norm allows you to cut to the chase. Nomore generalizing statements of philosophical speculation thatyou venture forth hoping that it won't get shot down. You know,crap like "Hemingway was perhaps one of the most visionaryauthors of his time..." or "The Western is perhaps themost uniquely American of all the genres..." Rather,if the purpose of the essay is to demonstrate that you haveappropriated a theory and applied it independently to produceresults, then the function of the introduction becomes morefocused: to introduce the theoryor theoreticalframeworkthat you have decided to use. Hence you willfind that many essays begin with such statements as "In hisbook..." Or, "In her essay..."
IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the main reasons that the normof the Introduction developed this way is because of an importantrule of the Academic Essay: Avoid making statements thatyou cannot prove. The problem with thegeneralizing/philosophical/BS'ing statements like "Hemingway..."and "The Western..." is that they cannot be proventhrough reasoned discourse. Moreover, to even try and do sowould require voluminous amounts of discourse for something thatis not even your thesis: what you actually ARE setting out toprove. As a result, the genre of the Academic Essay hasevolved into the above norm. It still meets anintroduction's purpose of orienting the reader, it just does soin a very specific manner.
For other types of academic writing, including research papers, literature reviews, and summaries, begin with a statement of the problem the paper addresses, followed by background information on the problem and why it is significant. Then, provide an explanation of the focus and purpose of the paper, and conclude with the thesis statement and/or a brief summary of the paper's contents. (See our handout on “Formal Academic Introductions” for examples.)
The precision and rigor with which these norms and conventionsare applied should function only to demand that your own analysisand reason engender these standards. They are thus meant toelevate your thinking, not control it. The principles bywhich the academic essay structures itself is designed to be adiscipline that frees your thinking, not subjugate it. Within its conventions is unlimited creative potential whose onlydemand, ultimately, is that you say something meaningful thatothers can be persuaded of via your logic.
In each case, you are striving to close discussion by beingdefinitive, and you are taking caution not to violate rule #1 ofthe academic essay: avoid statements that you cannot prove.
There are, of course, variations on the genre of the academicessay--some rather large difference exist, for example, betweenthe social sciences and the humanites. This discussion isbased on the humanties approach. Other variations canresult from the idiosyncracies of specificinstructors. To the degree that what is written here soundsheavy handed and inflexible, I caution instead that such tone istrying to reflect the manner in which your own analysis andwriting will need to sound precise and rigorousthestandards by which the academic essay is evaluated.
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This can be as easy as outlining the major points that your essay will make on the way to the conclusion. You don't need to go into much detail in the introduction: just signal the major ‘landmarks.’
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The Role of Description
Relating "the object of investigation" or the"object of the thesis" back to the established criteriais necessarily going to involve description. Description isfrequently an unclear and thorny issue for writers of theacademic essayespecially in terms of scope (how much isenough?). The purpose of description, however, clarifiesthe issue of scope. The purpose of description to is tomake clear, or establish WHAT in the object of investigation (thefilm, the scene, the shot) relates to the criteria beingused. It therefore becomes important for the writer to usedescription in such a manner as to establish the basis of therelationship between the object and the criteria. Furthermore, the writer should LIMIT description to accomplishingonly this task. Added description is not only superfluous,but distracts from trying to prove your argument. As aresult, another important norm for the body of the academicessay is:
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