How to Organize Your Paper Like a Scholar
When it comes to structuring writing, we’re traditionally taught in school the five-paragraph essay. It goes something like this:
- Introduction: “hook” the reader, give background information, state your thesis in one final sentence.
- Supporting paragraphs: take one subpoint, introduce it w/ a topic sentence, give 3 pieces of evidence, and conclude w/ a clear point.
- Conclusion: Restate thesis & main points. Never, ever add new ideas.
College-level essays are not so simply structured. But this means they also allow more flexibility.
Furthermore, the five paragraph essay is hard because it sort of makes you start from scratch–a blank page. Scholars usually start their writing by building off what others have said.
Academic Structure Tips & Tricks
In the beginning: • Quote/summarize what other scholars have said about your topic (you can use the article you read in our book for this) • Explain the background of the “academic discourse” (field) you’re writing in • Explain why this topic is an important thing to study (this can be as simple as saying “This topic is relevant to explore because….”) • Identify what the other scholars you quoted haven’t talked about • Tell the reader what you plan to accomplish in the paper, and also what you’re NOT trying to do (this is different from a thesis statement) • Examine (don’t just state) definition of key terms
In the middle: Free your paragraphs from the whole “subpoint” mentality, and instead divide your paragraphs more naturally: • Paragraphs on examples that illustrate your topic • Paragraph on relevant history of your topic • Paragraph on an appropriate personal example • Paragraphs responding points other scholars are making • Paragraph contrasting your topic with related topics • Paragraph exploring (not just listing) the potential positives • Paragraph exploring (not just listing) the potential negatives Tie all your body paragraphs together by relating your ideas & points to what the other scholars you quoted have said.
At the end: Feel free to bring up new ideas! • Consider predicting the future: how will we think about your topic 20 years from now? • What other related things should be questioned? • End with a series of questions that encourages further scholarly research in the field.