How to Write a University-level Essay
Heyo, so school is fast approaching, and seeing as Tumblr is made up of a lot of younger users who will soon be shipping off to college or university soon, I thought I would take it upon myself to help spread my knowledge of essay-writing. Essay-writing is my thing. I love it. I live for it. It’s how I make up for my shitty test marks, and still get by with an 85 average+ in University classes. I’m a historian by trade, so perhaps this information will seem a bit off from what you’re used to, but hopefully, It’ll help you out. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an ask.
1. Consider your question and find your thesis.
I know, I know. People always say, no! Never start with your thesis/intro paragraph! Go to the body!! Well i’m here to say forget everything you’ve been told. Forget that, forget the stupid hamburger shit they teach you, forget it all and start reading.
I ALWAYS start with my thesis. Why? Because you cannot make good paragraphs without knowing what you’re researching. You need direction, and a thesis is your map.
So, the question we’ll use shall be: What is one way in which the Union won the American Civil War?
Now remember, your thesis is your map. It shows you where to go, what to look for. The thesis is the heart and soul of all your work. You want a good, solid thesis. What does that include, you ask?
- An idea
- A reason for said idea
- Evidence to support said reason, and thus validate the idea.
So, lets do an example. Let’s say I’m writing on the use of media during the American Civil War. I like photography, and wrote a paper on this in my second year, but im gonna be doing this example freehand(idk where I put that essay lol) so lets work with how I got an A+ on that paper. This will be my idea:
“Photography during the American Civil War influenced the war’s outcome in the Norths favour.”
This is VERY vague. This is an example of a thesis in bloom! Let’s take it further. Look at the above. What questions would you have from this thesis?
- -Who was taking photos at that time?
- -Why did it influence the outcome?
- -How did it influence the outcome?
- -Who consumed photography as a media at that time?
This is where you STOP, and start the next step.
Start your basic research with your idea, and the above questions in mind. Look at libraries, ask your professor or TA or librarian, or just do some basic google searches to get to know the subject(but for the love of god if you include a google link in your citation I will personally hunt you down and castrate you.)
I like to start with the basics of any inquiry: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, HOW. Who was taking photos? Where were they displayed that caused influence? ect…These, in relation to your beginner thesis, will help guide you in what form your thesis will take.
Once you’ve finished that, and have a general feel for the time period, go back to your thesis.
3. THESIS 2.0
Go back to your original question: What is one way in which the Union won the American Civil War? Now look at your thesis again. It’s too vague, isn’t it?
As you can see, our original thesis was too vague to be a real thesis. So, we NARROW IT DOWN using our WWWWWH progress we focused on during early research!
“Photography during the American Civil war influenced the war’s outcome by providing a visual for ordinary citizens about the horrors of war, and thus helping to increase donations and awareness to the cause.”
Great! But once again, too vague! Questions that may arise include:
- Who was taking the photos
- Evidence for donations?
- Evidence for social awareness?
So, we NARROW IT DOWN again. I’m going to use Andrew Gardner’s photography during the Civil war, as he was one of the most famous and influential at the time.
“Andrew Gardner’s photography during the American Civil war influenced the war’s outcome by providing a visual for ordinary citizens about the horrors of war, and thus helping to increase donations and enlistment in the Union through awareness to the cause…”
The above then gives us the following(why and how are sometimes grouped together):
- Who: Andrew Gardner
- What: Photography helped the north win the war.
- Where: Union-aka northern states
- When: American Civil War
- Why/How: Because Andrew Gardner’s photography raised social awareness through this new and budding medium
Use this sort of outline to guide you in the next step!
4. Now that we have a thesis, you need to do some more research and evidence gathering.
The way I like to do this is to go check out a few books from the library(look for text books in particular), and leaf through the index for matching terms. Our matching terms would be:
Photography, civil war, Andrew Gardner, media
From there, you read over the pages, and see if any of the info relates to your subjects. Copy down quotes, page numbers, book title, author, publishing date and publisher. You need these for your bibliography. Pick and choose relevant information. The filter for relevant information relies entirely on your thesis, because it decides what you need to be looking for—this is why I hate when people tell me to start writing paragraphs before I write a thesis! It’s simply impossible and counter productive, and will cost you hours in revision.
So, gather your information from the library, and cross-reference with peer-reviewed articles and data. For our thesis, we would need data on enlistment numbers in an area after a date of Andrew Gardner’s photography exhibit showcases. No matter what type of essay you’re writing, you can always back up your evidence with data, and it won’t hurt one bit. Don’t be afraid of the numbers, kids!
So, if we were to go back to our thesis, we could now expand on it like this:
“Andrew Gardner’s photography during the American Civil war influenced the war’s outcome by providing a visual for ordinary citizens about the horrors of war, and thus helping to increase donations and enlistment in the Union through awareness to the cause. An increase in donations and enlistment in relation to exposure to Gardners work is seen in data/evidence point A, as well as in data/evidence point B, which will be fully outlined in the points below.”
This gives you an example of how to lead from a thesis, to your opening paragraph.
5. Data and Evidence Justifications–Paragraph making
This is the section where you can branch your essay into your data and evidence points you gathered in steps 2 and 4. You can have as many paragraphs as you like, just make sure your evidence and data is strong and supported. I personally like to work with my thesis copied and pasted onto the top of every page I write on. This keeps you on track, with your clear goal in mind, and will help you from straying. I will give you an example of how a paragraph might sound.
Andrew Gardner’s photography during the American Civil War became heavily influential upon the American population at the time, particularly the north, wherein which his work was showcased. The influence of Gardner’s photographic works is seen in the _____, which shows us that without the influence of Gardner’s media influence, war efforts and awareness may not have been as successful as they had been.
This is an alright opener for you to work with. The ___ is where you could put in your data point or evidence piece. The point of the paragraph is to show your support for your thesis by confirming it with evidence.
Your paragraphs should take this form:
- Present, Confirm, Conclude, Lead.
You present your evidence, confirm its relation to the thesis and confirm the validity of the thesis, conclude by brief revision of evidence, and then lead into your next paragraph.
Your conclusionary paragraph should be a look-over of the above paragraphs. Restate your thesis, present a summarized version of your paragraphs(one or two sentences only), and perhaps take the time to look at your own views on the subject. An example might look like this:
“Taking a moment to step away from the above mentioned evidence, I believe it to be scholarly acceptable and even necessary to state my own views on the subject presented. In drawing conclusions, I felt that the above information was correct in that it presented a reality of the time period, in which photography was becoming a medium to be embraced by popular society. People were not only astounded by Gardner’s photographs on a social level, but also a technical level. The astonishment people held at seeing the war-torn battle fields spurred them into action, and even today can still present feelings of dread, fear and loss when looking at his photos…blah blah blah”
Why is it scholarly acceptable and perhaps necessary to state your views? Oftentimes, it is to reassure the reader of your own personal bias’, which exist whether you like them or not, to the subject at hand. Having a small tidbit on your own thoughts about your research ect, breaking away from the third-person droning of an essay can be refreshing and welcoming for a prof at the end of his stack of essay reading.
7. In summary
- NARROW IT DOWN
- Data and Evidence
- Present, Confirm, Conclude, Lead
- Self opinions/Conclude
All in all, do unique things. Professors love it when they come across something that’s not cookie cutter! Even if they present you with a list of essay topics, take the leap and ask them if you can do your own research topic!! Take risks with your essay writing, talk to your professors about what you want to do, and try to have fun with your research. I’ve written on everything from civil war photography to Disney princesses in american media, to the religious formation of idea of heaven and earth. Remember, so long as there’s credible, documented evidence, it’s possible to write about it.