Putting Together an Essay

I want to continue our discussion about how to organize a piece of writing, specifically how do we take all of those diverse parts that go into an essay and tie them together to create one coherent whole. The principle that I like to teach my students is that “like ideas go together,” meaning that the more similar two ideas are, the closer they should be to each other in your essay. And if you do have to switch from one idea to a slightly different idea, you need some kind of link or connection to glue those ideas together.

We’re going to look at three different techniques. First, transitions, those connections between ideas that link things logically. Second, signal phrases, and this is how smoothly integrate others’ ideas into our own. And finally, a thesis echo. That’s a way to reiterate your main point and tie everything in to it. Transitions can be words, phrases, or sentences.

They show a logical connection between one idea to the next. For instance, the word “therefore” says I’m telling you something is a result of something else. In arguments, it’s especially important to remember that because we’re dealing with logic, the topic sentence of a paragraph might not come to the very last sentence of that paragraph. Therefore, the first sentence should be some kind of transition, a sentence that says, “this is what the paragraph is about and this is how it’s related to the whole or what came before.” Now, this is where you want to pause the video for a minute and check out this real student essay that I’ve annotated, and see how she used transitions to link one idea to the next.

Next we have signal phrases. Basically what this is that it takes borrowed source material and ideas that are not your own, and it smoothly takes you from yourself to that other piece. It clearly also distinguishes between what you say and what you’ve borrowed.

They can be very general statements like “critics say” or you can get down to that name and a face, telling us exactly who said something. Again, pause the video for a few minutes and carefully study how this student used signal phrases to transition from what she says to what others say. Finally, we have a “thesis echo.” And it really is those words and ideas that show that you’re subparts are connected to the whole. A technique that I like to tell my students is to make part of their pre-writing exercises is to write out their claim or thesis statement and brainstorm all of the different ways they can say the main words of that thesis statement. That way when they go to create thesis echos throughout their essay, they can use a variety of words to say the same thing.

Again, here’s how this student handled a thesis echo. Pause the video, and carefully study how she did what she did. Finally, I’d like to look at a whole paragraph from the student’s essay. Pause the video, and study how she used sentences, transition phrases, thesis echos, and signal phrases to connect everything within the paragraph to the ideas around as well as connecting the paragraph to the whole.