How to Write an Essay for Professor Peter
STEP ONE: The Thesis Statement
The hardest thing about writing is knowing what you want to say. This sounds obvious, but it
Many students write essays before they have a clear idea of what their argument is
going to be, and this shows up in imprecise arguments and wandering paragraphs. To avoid
that problem, you need to take the time necessary to craft a precise argument.
In my classes, I
want student essays that are BOTH argumentative AND interpretive. That means that I want
to know from the very first paragraph that the student has written an “edgy” paper that clearly
articulates an argument. Think of this almost like a debate, or “picking a fight.” But AT THE
SAME TIME I want to see that argument grounded in careful and fair interpretations of the
texts we have been reading. Both the argumentative and the interpretive dimensions are
important, and when done properly, each balances the other. Of the following examples, only
example F is really ideal. Each of examples A-E have various problems that make them not
quite appropriate for a thesis statment in this kind of paper.
A. This paper examines the theories of the New Testament, Augustine, and the Koran.
thesis--there is no argument, but only a general subject. A common cop-out thesis.)
B. The New Testament, Augustine, and the Koran all developed a theory of sin.
thesis, but not very polemical. The thesis promises to show how each text develops the
theory of sin without saying whether the author of the essay is pleased or disappointed in
what the three texts do.)
C. Most scholars agree that the New Testament, Augustine, and the Koran all developed a
theory of sin
. (A research oriented thesis–this states what scholars have said, not what the
D. It might seem as if the New Testament, Augustine, and the Koran all developed a theory of
sin, but the Koran actually avoids talk of sin and instead develops a theory of obedience.
interpretive thesis–more insightful than b, but still lacking in the author’s own point-ofview.)
E. The world would be a better place if we rid ourselves of theories of sin. (
A polemical thesis.
The view of the author is completely clear. But there is no interpretation implied and no
mention of the texts that will be used. )
F. We would be better off if we rejected negative , sin-filled views of human nature, such as
those developed by Paul in the New Testament and by Augustine, and instead regarded
human beings in the positive light expressed by the Koran.
(This thesis makes the views of
the author very clear, and it also highly interpretive, listing all three texts and mentioning
where the essay things they all stand.)