How to Write a Cogent and Comprehensive Essay at the Collegiate Level
How to Write a Cogent and Comprehensive Essay at the Collegiate Level
By and large, the ability to write critically in college will markedly affect the GPA and future prospects of a student. I have taught several classes on how to write to freshmen students while I was at college. As I have plowed through the LSATS and read books as well as articles from the Wall Street Journal in my spare time, it becomes rapidly clear how imperative transparent writing is in the professional world. As a result, I figured that I would take a break from writing intellectually-heavy material and, in an attempt to broaden my fan base, post a “How to” on a topic that I feel I have the authority to discuss.
Introduction: When writing an introduction, one should conceptualize a “funnel” or an upside-down triangle. The goal is to start out with a general statement and slowly carve it down into a unique, specific thesis. For instance, you may begin with “Throughout the 20th Century, there have been many celebrities that have had a global impact on society” but then write a thesis along the lines of “Michael Jordan’s unique economic impact on the rest of the world elevated him to an unrivaled platform of success” ect… Through this, you have clearly illustrated what subject you are talking about: celebrities and their global impact. Then, the essay became more specific, fixating on a particular celebrity in question: Michael Jordan. What is this essay about? Michael Jordan’s economic impact on the international landscape. MAKE SURE YOUR THESIS IS SIMPLE: You should be worried about discussing complex ideas, not the verbosity of language. You want to be sure that you are taking the reader by the hand. DO NOT ASSUME that the reader has any background or prior knowledge to what you are writing about. Definitively outlining your essay from the beginning ensures that there are no surprises and that the reader can follow your pattern of topic sentences, argument and analysis (the three steps to writing a body paragraph).
Here is an example of an introduction:
Today, the concept of Hollywood immediately engenders images of grandeur, financial extravagance, immeasurable "stardom" and achievement at the pinnacle of an incredibly competitive industry. Though these aspirations materialize for a small percentage of dreamers, they continued to be viewed as the "yellow tape" for the race to theatrical success for many. Of course, the elegant facade of Hollywood today derives its appearance from a particular epoch wherein layers upon layers of exorbitance and artistic genius were laid upon it. From the financial genius of entrepreneurs such as Adolph Zukor to actors such as Humphrey Bogart, these talents created the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, beginning post-World War I and ending in the early 1950s. Similar to a Greek tragedy, Hollywood was propelled by the same savvy financial methods and entrepreneurial spirit that would ultimately act as the catalyst of its demise.
Please notice how I began the introductory paragraph. It was a general statement that is eye-catching but still conveys the general theme of the essay. At the end of the introduction, which is where the thesis statement usually (and should) resides, I made my essay more specific. If you read the first sentence of the introduction, the reader would immediately understand the thrust of the essay. However, once the reader gets to my thesis statement, the trajectory of the essay has been solidified; it will be talking about how Hollywood’s surge and demise are similar to a classic Greek tragedy. There is no dispute, confusion or question about where this essay is driving towards.
Several of my students have complained about the daunting task of beginning an introduction. There are several ways to do this. You could start with an attention-grabbing quote, a though-provoking question. In addition, an essay may begin by stating the counter-argument to your essay, and, by the end of the introductory paragraph, the author has stated that he/she intends to refute the argument posited at the beginning. If none of this works, don’t write an introduction! Yes, that’s right. Write the rest of the essay including body paragraphs and a slim conclusion. After writing it out, re-read the essay and try to tease out the mainstream theme of your essay. You may find that you have more ideas on how to begin and articulate your introduction.
2nd Introduction: This is my favorite element of an essay. It is usually used in most professional law journals (and many legal documents for that matter) as well as other graduate work (ESPECIALLY theses). The function of this is to clearly define the order in which subjects will be analyzed, scrutinized, examined and discussed. DO NOT USE “I WILL” OR “WE WILL” OR “MY/ME” unless told otherwise by a professor. Here is an example from one of my essays that uses this method: This paper will trace Hollywood's ascension as one of the premier industries in the United States (and later internationally), first, delving into the reasons why the film industry, at its nascence, decided to settle there. Next, the life of movie moguls such as Carl Laemelle and Adolph Zukor will be traced, illustrating the dynamics of the movie industry's financial construction envisaged from the mind of a Hungarian immigrant. Innovative studios like MGM, who edified the rest of the industry as to efficient movie production, will also be dissected. Subsequently, the landmark Supreme Court case and onset of television will be examined in relation to the decline of movie audiences.
Although this may be little more than formalized listing, it still adds sophistication and demonstrates well-thought out organization of the subjects (chronology is the best, of course). Observe that there was no “I, Me, You, We” involved here. This “road map” also helps the writer with the essay, as it serves as a personal checklist to be sure that these are the desired topics that were written about and delved into.
Body Paragraphs: As previously stated, the body paragraph should be written in three steps. The Topic Sentence (Consisting of 1-2 sentences) should briefly introduce your topic. For instance:
During its infantile stage, the direction of all aspects of film production had fallen on the heavily burdened shoulders of the director.
Clearly, this paragraph will be discussing how Hollywood was manned by directors at first.
Subsequently, the argument and evidence should follow:
However, a fresh frame of management would be introduced by Thomas Ince, a young producer who would forever alter the model under which movies were completed. Instead of individual director units where all were under the sovereignty of a director, Ince implemented a "central producer system" in which producers would oversee several productions at once. This opened the floodgates for commercialism, as businesses and management firms who saw the potential in this industry began to hire directors who could generate financially successful films (Sitton, 258). Myriad actors who prided themselves as true artists were outraged by the exploitation of their work by financial consultants who helped tame budget costs
In this case, the “However” demonstrates that the paragraph will demonstrate a departure from the director-led model, in which producers and businessmen began to infiltrate the movie-making industry. At the end, there should be some analysis and/or a transition sentence, which helps introduce the next paragraph in order to maintain the fluidity of the essay:
In fact, most of these businesses hailed from New York, which would remain the viable financial epicenter for the film industries until the 1930s. (This is the transition sentence)
At first blush, movie studios relied on large theater chains as not only lucrative ventures, but also as assets for the company, as financial stability and longevity for the company was vital. (This is the topic sentence for the next paragraph).
Financial structures were discussed towards the end of the first paragraph, which helped introduce the idea of large theatre chains. Although economics is still being discussed, it has moved from businesses moving into Hollywood to how it was maintained, as large theatre chains were a tool in which movie moguls could maintain profits. Although these ideas are sophisticated, the language is not. Superfluous writing is not to be venerated or aspired to; it is to be bludgeoned to death. I still have traces of that problem from time to time (it used to be MUCH worse) but focusing on the content of the essay is the most important piece. There is always time to go back and fix sentences in order to bring a mature, astute voice to your essay.
Conclusion: Already? (I don’t expect you to read my 25 page thesis on Hollywood! But, if you care to, it is available on one of my other hubs). The conclusion should be a restatement of what has been discussed. Assuming the reader has read all 25 pages of my essay, I can’t very well discuss subjects that he/she has already read! Instead, think of the conclusion as a shoelace in a shoe; it weaves through all of the holes (subjects) and the conclusion should be a tight knot (hence a tight, cogent essay). A trick to begin the conclusion is simply a restatement of the thesis:
The "Golden Age" of Hollywood was driven by financial savvy and the imaginations of writers, producers, actors and audiences abound. Tragically, it was these same traits that brought it to its knees, through a landmark Supreme Court case and the advent of television, a by-product of the success of the movie industry.
Sound familiar? Well it should! This is my thesis regurgitated at the end of the conclusion. The conclusion proceeds by bringing up SOME facts that the author may want the reader to take away from the essay (You can’t very well expect a reader to memorize 25 pages). Only mention pertinent, essential elements of your essay:
Hollywood has continued to encapsulate, to some capacity, the magic that continues to draw millions to movie theaters. Though the anachronistic "studio system" has been supplanted by hundreds of independent studios, this unique epoch not only helped an industry grow, but also gave the United States hope through the Great Depression and World War II. It's unfathomable to imagine Hollywood not a part of these perilous times, where its shining lights gave hope to millions who unloaded their outside baggage briefly in front of theaters to enter a realm of endless possibilities portrayed by their most beloved actors. Billed as romantic and a higher form of entertainment, large audiences have continued to gravitate towards movies despite declining attendance and hiked prices. Mediums such as the internet continue to corrode its appeal, as entertainment continues to be more accessible and cheap to create or replicate. Perhaps the only tragedy here is that the movie experience itself has become a relic to younger generations.
Finally, towards the end of your conclusion, you may reflect on how the essay compares to something else such as modern times or the future. It allows the reader to pause and consider the totality of the essay along with the question or interesting insight posed at the end of the conclusion (ending with a question or quote can be very effective, but make sure it is relevant!). Please let me know if this has helped you and don’t be shy to ask for my opinion on your essays! Good luck!
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