In the process of analysis, you find things that you might say. When you analyze, you break down a text into its parts. When you synthesize, you look for connections between ideas. Consider once again the Hitchcock film. In analyzing this film, you might come up with elements that seem initially disparate. Or you may have read various critical perspectives on the film, all of them in disagreement with one another. Now would be the time to consider whether these disparate elements or observations might be reconciled, or synthesized.
This intellectual exercise requires that you create an umbrella argument - some larger argument under which several observations and perspectives might stand. Many students writing in college have trouble figuring out what constitutes an appropriate topic. Sometimes the professor will provide you with a prompt. She will give you a question to explore, or a problem to resolve. When you are given a prompt by your professor, be sure to read it carefully.
Your professor is setting the parameters of the assignment for you. She is telling you what sort of paper will be appropriate. She might not even give you a topic. For example, in a psychology course you might be asked to write a paper on any theory or theories of self. Your professor has given you a subject, but she has not given you a topic. Nor has she told you what the paper should look like. Should it summarize one of the theories of self?
Should it compare two or more theories? Should it place these theories into some historical context? Should it take issue with these theories, pointing out their limitations? At this juncture, you have two options: In other words, is your professor looking for information or argument? As you think about a topic, ask yourself the following questions:. When writing an academic paper, you must not only consider what you want to say, you must also consider to whom you are saying it.
To whom are you writing, and for what purpose? When you begin to answer all of these questions, you have started to reckon with what has been called "the rhetorical stance. When you write a paper, you take a stand on a topic. You determine whether you are for or against, passionate or cool-headed.
You determine whether you are going to view this topic through a particular perspective feminist, for example , or whether you are going to make a more general response. You also determine whether you are going to analyze your topic through the lens of a particular discipline - history, for example.
Your stance on the topic depends on the many decisions you have made in the reading and thinking processes. In order to make sure that your stance on a topic is appropriately analytical, you might want to ask yourself some questions. Why did you find some elements of the text more important than others?
Does this prioritizing reflect some bias or preconception on your part? If you dismissed part of a text as boring or unimportant, why did you do so? Do you have personal issues or experiences that lead you to be impatient with certain claims? Is there any part of your response to the text that might cause your reader to discount your paper as biased or un-critical? If so, you might want to reconsider your position on your topic. Your position on a topic does not by itself determine your rhetorical stance.
You must also consider your reader. In the college classroom, the audience is usually the professor or your classmates - although occasionally your professor will instruct you to write for a more particular or more general audience. No matter who your reader is, you will want to consider him carefully before you start to write. What do you know about your reader and his stance towards your topic? What is he likely to know about the topic?
What biases is he likely to have? Moreover, what effect do you hope to have on the reader? Is your aim to be controversial? Will the reader appreciate or resent your intention? Once you have determined who your reader is, you will want to consider how you might best reach him.
In any case, when you are deciding on a rhetorical stance, choose one that allows you to be sincere. What if you are of two minds on a subject? Declare that to the reader. Make ambivalence your clear rhetorical stance. Though some professors find it flattering to discover that all of their students share their positions on a subject, most of us are hoping that your argument will engage us by telling us something new about your topic - even if that "something new" is simply a fresh emphasis on a minor detail.
Do you really want that to happen? In high school you might have been taught various strategies for structuring your papers. Others of you might have been told that the best structure for a paper is the hour-glass model, in which you begin with a general statement, make observations that are increasingly specific, and then conclude with a statement that is once again general. When you are writing papers in college, you will require structures that will support ideas that are more complex than the ones you considered in high school.
Your professors might offer you several models for structuring your paper. They might tell you to order your information chronologically or spatially, depending on whether you are writing a paper for a history class or a course in art history.
Or they may provide you with different models for argument: No prefab model exists that will provide adequate structure for the academic argument. For more detailed advice on various ways to structure your paper, see Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. When creating an informed argument, you will want to rely on several organizational strategies, but you will want to keep some general advice in mind.
Your introduction should accomplish two things: Often writers will do the latter before they do the former. That is, they will begin by summarizing what other scholars have said about their topic, and then they will declare what they are adding to the conversation. Even when your paper is not a research paper you will be expected to introduce your argument as if into a larger conversation. For more specific advice on writing a good introduction, see Introductions and Conclusions. Probably you were taught in high school that every paper must have a declared thesis, and that this sentence should appear at the end of the introduction.
While this advice is sound, a thesis is sometimes implied rather than declared in a text, and it can appear almost anywhere - if the writer is skillful. Because your thesis is arguably the most important sentence in your paper, you will want to read more about it in Developing Your Thesis. Because every thesis presents an arguable point, you as a writer are obligated to acknowledge in your paper the other side s of an argument.
Consider what your opponents might say against your argument. Then determine where and how you want to deal with the opposition. Do you want to dismiss the opposition in the first paragraph? Do you want to list each opposing argument and rebut them one by one? Your decisions will determine how you structure your paper. Every convincing argument must have support. A topic sentence or claim is like a thesis sentence - except that instead of announcing the argument of the entire paper, it announces the argument of that particular paragraph.
The topic sentence is more flexible than the thesis in that it can more readily appear in different places within the paragraph. Most often, however, it appears at or near the beginning. For more information on structuring paragraphs, see Writing: Writing a good conclusion is difficult.
You will want to sum up, but you will want to do more than say what you have already said. You will want to leave the reader with something to think about, but you will want to avoid preaching. You might want to point to a new idea or question, but you risk confusing the reader by introducing something that he finds irrelevant.
Writing conclusions is, in part, a matter of finding the proper balance. For more instruction on how to write a good conclusion, see Introductions and Conclusions. You need to be analytical. You need to create an informed argument. You need to consider your relationship to your topic and to your reader. But what about the matter of finding an appropriate academic tone and style? The tone and style of academic writing might at first seem intimidating.
Professors want students to write clearly and intelligently on matters that they, the students, care about. The tone of an academic paper, then, must be inviting to the reader, even while it maintains an appropriate academic style.
Understand that you are writing to a person who is delighted when you make your point clearly, concisely, and persuasively. In short, then, good academic writing follows the rules of good writing. But before you do, consider some of the following tips, designed to make the process of writing an academic paper go more smoothly:. Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Learn more about our research. What is an Academic Paper? So how does a student make a successful transition from high school to college?
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