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Column: Connect your essay to your thesis

On Writing

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 13:02

keaton postler

The Maroon

KEATON POSTLER: On Writing

Thus far, I have covered the basic tools and rules that one needs in order to subdue the major snags that the typical college-level writer encounters when composing the introduction and the thesis statement. So, what’s next?
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with those things called body paragraphs, or what I’ll refer to as the body. Really it’s just a catch-all term for the middle ground of the paper that follows the introduction and thesis statement and precedes the conclusion.

To write a strong body, a writer generally needs three things: a solid paragraph structure, a reasoned selection of content and an interesting and relevant organization of ideas. Because this is already starting to smell a bit complex, I think it best to devote a few columns to discussing the body. The first time around, I’d like to explore two basic questions: What is the body’s function, and how should we think about the body as writers?
To begin, let’s say something by way of analogy: If the thesis statement provides the skeleton of the argument, then the body supplies the flesh. Or, perhaps this: After laying the foundations in the thesis statement, the next task is to build. However we slice it, the noteworthy implication here is that the body is inextricably connected with the thesis statement.

In fact, this point is so crucial that it bears repeating: The body is inextricably connected with the thesis statement. Consequently, everything that the writer says in the body should try to offer some level of support for or affirmation of the thesis statement.

Yes, your average reader will overlook one or two less than stellar points that you might make in the body. If, however, too much irrelevant material is present, or – lest I say it – sections of the body actually work against the thesis statement, then you’re going to find yourself behind the eight ball. You run the risk of putting off the reader, which you never want to do. (Well, this isn’t always true – some of the best writing is controversial – so let’s say instead that you never want to put off the person who is giving your writing a grade. Usually.)
I really cannot stress this point enough, if only because it’s a great reminder that the body is not some separate entity that operates independently of the thesis statement. We should never let things like paragraph indentations or the formalistic reduction of writing into different parts (introduction, thesis, body, conclusion) convince us for one second that all of these things aren’t operating in conjunction with one another.

Now, if the thesis statement and body are working together, then they must share the same goal: The making of a successful argument. And this is where we should enact a pause. Please, please note once and for good that we don’t “have” arguments. Rather, we have conversations, and during these conversations, we sometimes run into disagreements, which are often the result of clashing ideas or beliefs. What do we do to arguments? We make them.

This distinction is important precisely because the word making implies creating, which is appropriate given that writers are creators. This is also partly why writing feels like such an onerous project: Creation is a demanding business. But don’t let this distress you – let it galvanize you.

There’s a poem by William Blake, who is (arguably) my favorite poet. In this poem, there’s a character, Los, and Los says this: “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans.” So, here’s what I say: Take a hint from Los. Have an opinion on issues. Educate yourself to support your views. Be critical of (but not disrespectful of) other arguments. In writing, I can assure you that this is half the battle.

Keaton Postler can be reached at kcpostle@loyno.edu
 

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