Here are a few tips on how to develop a compelling and well-thought argument that will demonstrate you know what you are talking about and even have original ideas about it.
Every academic paper should have the following:
1. Opening statement:
· This is where you present the questions you are about to deal with in a coherent manner, so the reader would immediately recognize what the topics you wish to discuss are, and how you plan to approach them.
· The main points of your paper should be mentioned in the order you are later to present them.
· The order your topics of discussion are arranged in is meaningful. It shows what, in your opinion, is more important or relevant. Some writers like to leave the most central question to the end, others would mention it first, but good writers will always have an apparent reason for the order they choose. For example: one question would naturally lead to another. You need to give this point some thought before writing your opening statement and your paper in general.
· By the end of your first paragraph, or no later than your second, at least one of the following should be clear to the reader: what you are going to talk about, what will your main argument be, or what the questions you are proposing to address are. In other words, at this point the reader should not be wondering: “why should I bother to read this paper?”
· Stating your argument: Many students have asked me: “should I present my argument/thesis right at the beginning?”
Well, I know of two main approaches to this issue:
a. Making your argument at the beginning of the paper and later developing it.
b. Posing questions without answering them, and developing your thesis throughout the paper, culminating with your main argument in the conclusion.
The advantage of the first approach is that it helps one write a well-organized paper. It offers one the ability to come back and check, while writing, if the outline of the paper conforms to what is presented in the opening statement.
The advantage of the second is that it is considerably more fascinating to read. Think about it – why would someone want to read your entire paper if he/she already knows what your final conclusion is?
• Introduce the question(s) you wish to address.
• Briefly mention topics/parameters/characteristics/similarities or differences without elaborating.
• If your space is limited, pick one or two topics and explain your choice. Your choices usually demonstrate your understanding of the big question and affect the strength of your argument, so give it some thought.
2. The body of the text:
· This is where you develop each of the topics you mentioned in the opening statement.
· Remember that by definition, a paragraph is devoted to a single topic. Make yourself a list of what you want to discuss, and write 1, 2 or 3 paragraphs on each issue.
· Within this discussion, each paragraph has to include an opening statement, a discussion with examples, and a closing statement, which links it to the next paragraph. This closing statement is your chance to explain what the meaning of what you have just discussed is – this should be YOUR contribution, and together with the other paragraphs, it should give the reader a sense of what you make of the question.
Two guidelines to follow:
• Keep the story flowing – think of a work of fiction. Each paragraph has to be a direct continuation of the previous one.
• Do not repeat what has already been said – whether explicitly or implicitly. Doing so suggests that you do not have much to say or are just trying to fill space, and considerably weakens your thesis. In a short paper, there’s no need to remind the reader what he/she has read only a few pages or paragraphs earlier.
3. Closing paragraph:
This is where you tie together all the arguments you made in previous sections and reach your conclusion. This cannot be implicit; it has to be clearly stated. You also might want to consider leaving the last paragraph, after your conclusion, to the “so what” question, which would be an additional discussion of the meaning of what has just been argued; you can also present some further questions or thoughts you might want to approach in the future, without answering them here.
An “A” paper will always ask the “so what” question. The “so what” question expands your opinion to explain why this discussion is important/why it is relevant to deal with the questions you have proposed, and what other important and relevant questions could have been asked.
Alternatively, the “so what” question can come at the beginning of your paper. After presenting what you are about to discuss, you may want to explain in a sentence or two why the issues you have raised are worth the reader’s time.
Finally, your argument needs to make sense. Sometimes, a paragraph or a sentence may seem quite inherent to us, but would appear meaningless or confusing to other readers. The only way to prevent that is to share your written work with others before submitting it, and to ask them for comments. The more people look at your work, the more insights and ideas you may get, and the end result will no doubt be better.