Demystifying College Writing

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." ~ Ernest Hemingway


Study the assignment and ask questions. Explore your tentative topic through brainstorming techniques (free-writing, questioning, listing, clustering, or conversations) and a visit to the Writing Center. Would readers care about the problem, issue, or question you address? Worry about what you want to say before worrying about how to say it.


A thesis statement announces the position you will defend in your paper. Good thesis statements present a view that is arguable – not a statement of fact. Generally, thesis statements are one sentence long and appear near the end of the introduction.


No one organizational structure works for all essays, but most essays will include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Some assignments or professors will specify a structure with certain required elements. The best organizational strategy is one that helps you make your argument. Some possible strategies to consider include

  • Order of importance, specificity, frequency, or complexity
  • Question and answer
  • Problem and solution


The introduction prepares readers for the rest of the paper by providing information about the topic (subject, importance, key context and background information, and stance on the topic/thesis). The best introductions also engage the readers, making them want to keep reading (a startling statistic, an unusual fact or vivid example, a paradoxical statement, or an analogy or anecdote).


The conclusion should convince readers they’ve spent their time wisely by revisiting the topic or reflecting on why the topic is important. It should not merely restate the thesis. A successful conclusion can also propose a course of action or possible solution, discuss the topic’s wider significance, offer advice, or pose a question for future study.


Print your paper and read it out loud. Is the argument clear and convincing? Does it “match” the thesis? Get a good handbook and ask a trusted reader to help you proofread and edit.

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