Chapter 8: Writing in University: It’s All About the Process!
After your prewriting activities, including topic selection, research, reading, and outlining, and writing a working thesis statement, you’re ready to start drafting your paper. As you draft, you will be using your sources, and will need to know how to incorporate and cite them to maintain academic integrity. This chapter will explain how to craft a thesis statement, use evidence, and organize your essay. The act of translating your thoughts and ideas about a complex topic on to a page is challenging, especially because you can’t use non-verbal communication cues such as facial expressions, body movements and posture, gestures, touch, or vocal volume and tone. So, don’t be hard on yourself about your first efforts; all good writers, including your professor, write numerous drafts before they get it right.
Basic Essay Structure
You will notice that from discipline to discipline, there are different ways to structure an essay. For Comm 119 you will be writing an essay and a basic structure of: introduction, body, and conclusion should be followed. You will be using the APA citation style.
At this stage in the essay-writing process, you may have done some bits of drafting already, which is a wise thing to do; for example, writing responses to what you read while researching, for example, can help you to think more clearly about it and to understand it.
When you write, you will tend to think more slowly and carefully about a topic than you do when you brainstorm or think about the topic. You may find that through writing, your initial understanding of something is changed or complicated in some way. If you have given yourself time for each stage in the writing process, encountering these new ideas, contradictions, or insights will not pose a problem. In fact, wrestling with those likely will make your final essay stronger. Professors mark many essays that start with one argument, but then begin to argue something different by the end, showing that the student didn’t allocate enough time to revise.
Staying organized while drafting can help to make it a more efficient process. Use an outline and working thesis created in the prewriting stage to stay on track. Remember to avoid imagining a critical professor reading what you write! After all, you will have planned a third of your time for editing and proofreading. Write your first draft for your own understanding; don’t try to sound impressive or erudite. That’s not to say that you forget the point of the paper or that you go off topic; rather, just write down what you mean as clearly, directly, and plainly as you can.
Using Evidence and Being Persuasive
It’s fine to have an essay with a strong thesis statement, but in order to persuade your reader, you must have strong evidence. That means finding good evidence, explaining how that evidence relates to your argument, and making logical claims based on that evidence. Here are a few types of evidence that you will use in your essays and research papers:
- Facts: Facts are indisputable forms of evidence, verified to be true and logical by a scientist, scholar, or another credible person in a position of authority. Many people also checked them by experiments, research, or examination of logic. Fact is not the same as “truth,” which is more like a belief that cannot be proven. Personal opinions, such as “cilantro tastes awful,” are not facts. Fact: “Today it is 12 degrees outside in Saskatoon.” Opinion: “Today it’s too warm.”
- Statistics: Statistics can be manipulated, and the methods to reach certain statistics can be dodgy, even in peer-reviewed academic work. According to the Statistics Glossary, “A statistic is a quantity that is calculated from a sample of data. It is used to give information about unknown values in the corresponding population. For example, the average of the data in a sample is used to give information about the overall average in the population from which that sample was drawn.”
- Quotations and Paraphrasing: A quotation is a direct, word-for-word reproduction from your source, flanked, of course, by quotation marks: “ ”. They are used in disciplines where close readings and textual analysis are valued. Usually, quotations will be short, and you may add to them by using brackets [ ] or take words out by using ellipses …”
- Examples: Use examples from personal experience, but only in courses that allow it. Personal examples can be subjective, but many assignments will stress conscious subjectivity. Examples must be applicable to the assignment (for example, don’t use a personal example of getting into a car accident to discuss a novel where a character gets into a car accident, especially if your professor wants you to analyze the novel using evidence from the text). They must also consider the reader’s level of background understanding, and must be related to the thesis.
Many disciplines, especially in the sciences, do not use direct quotations. Instead, they use paraphrasing. No matter what discipline you’re writing in, though, it’s crucial that each paraphrased passage is cited carefully, and worded in such a way that doesn’t manipulate the meaning of the original text, but also doesn’t plagiarize the original text.
When you’re trying to persuade someone, use the ancient Greek rhetorical principles of ethos, pathos, and logos. These are still used by advertisers, scholars, and politicians to convince people to believe them. You can use ethos, pathos, and logos in your essays, job interviews, arguments, and presentations.
- Ethos: With ethos you are appealing to the audience’s ethics via your own authority, credibility, honesty, and character. Since you are a first-year student, you don’t have a lot of inherent ethos to work with. The gray-haired, well published, articulate professor down the hall might, though. Yours will have to be earned: 1) if you aren’t an expert in the topic, you must rely on strong sources; 2) give the reader a reason to believe you by using evidence; 3) present yourself well by writing grammatically and clearly. If you are presenting, dress appropriately for the occasion, and attend to all other non-verbal cues, such as voice intonation, facial expression, posture and gestures.
- Pathos: With pathos, you appeal to emotions, needs, and values. Sometimes advertisers use fear (e.g., a deodorant company warning people that they won’t have any friends if they don’t wear that deodorant), which isn’t exactly ethical, especially if it’s used in a scholarly context. Appeal to pathos with care. It can backfire if people feel manipulated. It can be tremendously powerful if you understand your audience enough to know what will appeal to them. Other strategies for appealing to emotion: use of metaphors, imagery, personal anecdotes, and facts that evoke feelings (startling statistics or comparisons, for example).
- Logos: With logos, you appeal to logic and reason. Arguably, this is the most powerful of the three when used in an academic setting. Avoid logical fallacies by attending to small details and holes that can be poked in your arguments. Use low-connotation language that isn’t poetic or metaphorical. Support your points with statistics, facts, examples, and quotations from reliable, up-to-date sources. Anticipate counter-arguments.