Review of Basic Principles
The purpose of the essay is to analyze a given topic and to present the results of that analysis in a clear, logical, coherent, and cogent fashion. Like any expository essay (i.e., one devoted to explanation), your essay should have a simple overall structure:
- You should begin your essay with a thesis statement that sets out in the first paragraph your topic and the main points you will expound in developing it.
- Subsequent paragraphs develop the thesis through supporting details that expand and clarify the main thesis. All irrelevant information is eliminated. Supporting details should include specific references and/or quotations from the text(s) being examined.
- The final paragraph summarizes the main point made in the body of the essay and restates the thesis.
This structure can be outlined as follows:
I. Introduction: thesis statement and overview of essay. II. First supporting idea. A. Specific example of supporting idea. B. Specific example of supporting idea. III. Second supporting idea. A. Specific example of supporting idea. B. Specific example of supporting idea. IV. Conclusion: summary and restatement.
Depending on the length and completeness of the essay, there may be more supporting ideas and/or additional examples of each.
Defining the essay.
An essay is a group of closely related paragraphs dealing with a single topic or idea. Usually, one paragraph, called the thesis paragraph, states the main idea of the essay (see below). All the other paragraphs must be related to this thesis paragraph. These paragraphs further explain or support the main idea.
Planning the essay.
Planning your essay is an important and necessary step in writing. Without planning, your essay could easily become nothing more than a series of disorganized, unrelated ideas that ramble on to nowhere. You must know exactly where you are going, and you must organize your essay into some kind of logical order so that your reader can follow your ideas.
As you begin to plan your essay, you may already have some ideas concerning points you wish to include. Jot them down on a sheet of paper or on 3" x 5" cards as they come to you. If you use a card for each idea, you will find that the next step in organizing your ideas will be much easier.
Having completed your list of ideas, your next step is to organize those ideas in relation to other ideas; that is, to group similar ideas with other similar ideas. If you have written your ideas on cards, all you need to do is to reorganize them into a logical order. By logical order, I mean one that is easy for the reader to follow.
Unfortunately, there is no simple onetwothree order for an essay. Some essays may be organized in order of importance; that is, from the least important idea to the most important. Some may be organized around comparisons and contrasts, with similarities set out first, then differences. However, these are merely the two most common organizational strategies; each essay presents an organizational problem of its own.
Making a working outline.
The final step in organizing your ideas is to make a working outline. Because you now have all your ideas for the body of your essay in related groups, this final step is not at all difficult. You are merely going to reorganize your ideas into a logical order.
Earlier, we saw that, in a good essay, one paragraph, called the thesis paragraph, states the main idea of the essay. All the other paragraphs must be related to this thesis paragraph. Your working outline provides the groundwork for the body or supporting paragraphs of your essay. All you need to add to the final organization is the beginning and the conclusion.
The thesis paragraph.
The thesis paragraph of your essay serves two important functions and must, therefore, be written with great care. First, a good thesis paragraph catches the reader's attention. Second, it gives the reader an idea as to what the essay is about.
Whatever approach you use in the writing of your thesis paragraph, remember that its purpose is to attract your reader, to give your reader an indication of what your subject is, and to limit the subject matter of your essay.
The appendix contains some useful vocabulary in Spanish for thesis paragraphs.
The body of the essay.
The body is the major part of the essay. It is here that the ideas indicated in the thesis paragraph are further developed or explained. There are two very important points you must always keep in mind concerning the body of the essay:
- The essay is always divided into paragraphs. The division of the essay into paragraphs has a psychological effect upon the reader. Often, if s/he sees a page covered with writing, with no blank space to relieve the monotony of that page, s/he may not want to read any further.
- Each paragraph of the essay usually begins with a topic sentence. Just as the thesis statement of the essay indicates what the essay is about, the topic sentence gives an indication as to what the paragraph is about.
Achieving unity in the essay.
In order to give a essay a feeling of unitya feeling that everything is tied together and is not merely a series of isolated ideasthe good writer makes use of transitional devices. These devices tie the ideas of the essay together by making reference both to the idea that precedes and the idea the follows. The appendix contains some useful transitional devices in Spanish.
When you have finished the body of your essay, your final step is to write the conclusion. The concluding paragraph ties all the ideas together and indicates to the reader that you are finished. The concluding paragraph should do two things:
- summarize the ideas of the essay
- restate some of the ideas from the thesis paragraph.
NOTE WELL: None of the ideas from the thesis paragraph should be merely repeated word for word.
The appendix contains some useful vocabulary in Spanish for conclusions.
A paragraph is a group of closely related sentences dealing with a single topic or idea. Usually, one sentence, called the topic sentence, states the main idea of the paragraph. ALL THE OTHER SENTENCES MUST BE RELATED TO THIS TOPIC SENTENCE. These sentences further explain or support the main idea and give the paragraph a feeling of unity. If they are not related to the main idea, unity is destroyed. You then have only a series of disconnected sentences, not a paragraph.
One problem you may have in regard to writing paragraphs is trying to decide just how long your paragraphs should be. Some textbooks recommend that the paragraph be no less than fifty words and no more than three hundred. These are good general guidelines, but the overall criterion is that the paragraph should be long enough to develop a single idea without boring your reader.
The topic sentence.
Usually, one sentence, called the topic sentence, states the main idea of each paragraph. ALL THE OTHER SENTENCES IN THE PARAGRAPH MUST BE RELATED TO THIS TOPIC SENTENCE. In order to write a good paragraph, you must be able to write a good topic sentence.
A good topic sentence is like a contract between you and your reader. In your topic sentence you are saying, in effect, "Look, I have an idea I want to explain to you." And the reader, honoring that contract, says, "All right, explain it to me." The rest of your paragraph, thenif you, yourself, hold to that contract will explain the idea.
Although the topic sentence may sometimes appear in the middle of a paragraph, and sometimes at the end, its usual position is at the beginning of the paragraph. As such, it performs two tasks:
- It makes a general statement about what is to follow.
- It controls and limits what is to be discussed in the remainder of the paragraph.
In writing the topic sentence, you must make it broad enough so that it can be supported or developed, by specific detail, through the remainder of the paragraph. For this reason, we say that the topic sentence makes a general statement, or is wider in scope, than the rest of the sentences in the paragraph. However, if the topic sentence is too general, the remainder of the paragraph will have to be either extremely long in order to give an adequate explanation of the idea, or it will have to contain nothing but more general statements.
To cover an idea adequately in a paragraph, the topic sentence must be limited or narrowed. It controls and limits what the paragraph contains.
Ways of developing the paragraph.
Once you have decided uponand properly limitedyour topic sentence, the next step in writing is to develop the idea in that sentence into a wellorganized paragraph. You must add several more sentences that set out supporting ideas. There are several ways of doing this:
- by using specific examples from the text(s) analyzed
- by using comparisons or contrasts
- by giving reasons, i.e., by stating your reasons for arriving at your opinion.
Editing and correcting your essay.
Editing is the process of checking and revising the content of what you have written, while proofreading corrects the mechanics of form. It's always difficult to edit and proofread your own writing. For this reason, it's generally a good idea to let your rough draft "sit" for at least a day before you go over it. This will enable you to get some distance from your work and to apply a more objectiveand thus more criticaleye to what you have written.
Always edit first, then proofread.
- Editing: finding the main idea and eliminating unnecessary information.
First, make sure that you have stated your thesis clearly. Next, make sure that the ideas you have included in your essay are relevant to the development of your main idea. Material is irrelevant when it does not help to advance or to clarify the main topic of discussion.
- Proofreading: spelling, agreement, and accentuation.
- After making sure that your main idea is clear and that all supporting details are relevant, check for mechanical errors.
- Check that verbs agree with their subjects, adjectives agree with nouns, and so on.
- Check the spelling of any words about which you are unsure.
- The final mechanical aspect to check at this stage is accentuation.
Finally, check for the following common problems:
- Are you following correct practice for the capitalization of titles in Spanish?
- Are you overusing subject pronouns? Spanish tends to omit them, except to avoid obscurity or to achieve clarity.
- Are you using the subjunctive correctly? Are you perceiving the situations in which it must be used?
- Are you writing runon sentences, that is, sentences that join ideas that logically should appear in separate sentences?
- Are some of your sentences too short for a fluid and readable style?
- Are you tending to end clauses and/or sentences with the verb? Spanish tends to avoid such a word order.
- Are you beginning sentences with "también"? Such a sentence opening is a stylistic flaw to be avoided. "También," like any other adverb, should usually be placed as close to the verb as possible.
- Are you making appropriate, helpful, and logical paragraph transitions?
|a su vez, por su parte||por ejemplo|
|así, de ese modo||por eso|
|aún, todavía||por lo general, generalmente|
|cada vez más (menos) + adjective||por suerte, por fortuna, afortunadamente|
|en buena medida, en gran parte||primero..., segundo...|
|para empezar (terminar)||quizás, a lo mejor|
|por ahora, por el momento||también/tampoco|
|por desgracia, desgraciadamente, desafortunadamente||una..., otra|
|ya que, puesto que|
VOCABULARY FOR CONCLUSIONS
|a fin de cuentas||en el fondo|
|al fin y al cabo||en realidad|
|bien pensado||en resumidas cuentas|
|como consecuencia, en consecuencia||en resumen|
|comoquiera que se examine el hecho||en todo caso|
|con todo||hay que tener en cuenta que, hay que tener presente que|
|de lo anterior...se deduce que||por consiguiente|
|de lo dicho...se desprende que||por lo tanto|
|de todos modos||resumiendo brevemente|
|después de todo||se desprende que|