Making an Argument
As stated earlier, the academic essay is an exercise in reasonedpersuasion. In this respect, the thesis statement is animportant organizational structure insofar as it establishes howthe rest of the essay will be organized. Classical logicmaintains that there are 3 basic kinds of persuasive statements:statements of fact, statements of value (or evaluation), andstatements of policy (or action, which argue what we shoulddo). Unless otherwise specified, the first of these, thestatement of fact, is the form that the thesis statement for anacademic essay should takethe obvious exception being whenyou write evaluative criticism (which you will NEVER do in mycourse).
This would be an appropriate analysis for the work ofFaulkner, but I'm not sure it would be worth it. To beginwith, it is not clear what the writer has to gain in terms ofproving BOTH of these aspects of the work rather than just theone. Instead, with this complex thesis, there are going to belong sections of the essay where half of what needs to be provedwill be left suspended while the other half getsdiscussed. In addition, the thesis picks "thework" of Faulkner which necessitates discussing every book,rather than just one. Thus it is that an importantconvention of the academic essay is that:
The impossible thesis statement is a kind of corollary ofthe banal thesis statement insofar as you want to stay away fromit. Rather than saying something which is evident ormeaningless, however, the impossible thesis statement putsforward something which cannot reasonably be proved, as a resultof there being no agreed upon or stable criteria from which torender conclusions. Examples of impossible statementsabound, but the one most related to this course would be "ThePlague is great art," or "The Plague isthe most realistic of all Camus' novels." In eachcase, there is no stable criteria. Take the firstone. What distinguishes between "good" art and"great" art? Furthermore, the essay would not beable to point to a stable definition of "art", aconcept that art historians, artists, and cultural critics havebeen arguing over for centuries. The latter thesis has asimilar problem since "realistic" is not a stableconcept with firm criteria.
Likewise, there are several things your paper is not. It's not a murder mystery, for instance, full of surprising plot twists or unexpected revelations. Those really don't go over well in this arena. Instead, lay everything out ahead of time so the reader can follow your argument easily. Nor is a history paper an action movie with exciting chases down dark corridors where the reader has no idea how things are going to end. In academic writing it's best to tell the reader from the outset what your conclusion will be. This, too, makes your argument easier to follow. Finally, it's not a love letter. Lush sentiment and starry-eyed praise don't work well here. They make it look like your emotions are in control, not your intellect, and that will do you little good in this enterprise where facts, not dreams, rule.
Note that what constitutes a good introduction may vary widely based on the kind of paper you are writing and the academic discipline in which you are writing it. If you are uncertain what kind of introduction is expected, ask your instructor.
IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the main reasons that the normof the Introduction developed this way is because of an importantrule of the Academic Essay: Avoid making statements thatyou cannot prove. The problem with thegeneralizing/philosophical/BS'ing statements like "Hemingway..."and "The Western..." is that they cannot be proventhrough reasoned discourse. Moreover, to even try and do sowould require voluminous amounts of discourse for something thatis not even your thesis: what you actually ARE setting out toprove. As a result, the genre of the Academic Essay hasevolved into the above norm. It still meets anintroduction's purpose of orienting the reader, it just does soin a very specific manner.
The academic essay is merely a specific writing genreasis the love letter, newspaper editorial, or pop-fiction. Asa genre, it functions within a set of norms, rules, andconventions. The purpose of this discussion is to makeclear to you what those rules and norms are, and how to use themto express your argument clearly.
For other types of academic writing, including research papers, literature reviews, and summaries, begin with a statement of the problem the paper addresses, followed by background information on the problem and why it is significant. Then, provide an explanation of the focus and purpose of the paper, and conclude with the thesis statement and/or a brief summary of the paper's contents. (See our handout on “Formal Academic Introductions” for examples.)
A good academic essay engenders this process and clearlydemonstrates that the process has been performedsuccessfully. With this in mind let's examinehow to write an academic essay.
Every essay or assignment you write must begin with an introduction. It might be helpful to think of the introduction as an inverted pyramid. In such a pyramid, you begin by presenting a broad introduction to the topic and end by making a more focused point about that topic in your thesis statement. The introduction has three essential parts, each of which serves a particular purpose.
Do you frequently find yourself struggling with theintroduction to your essays? Do you not know how to begin theessay? Do you find yourself searching for a generalizingstatement that will get things going, and trying to find adelicate balance between BS'ing and saying somethingmeaningful? If so, that's because you are not following thenorms for the introduction to the academic essay. Followingthis norm actually makes introductions a piece of cake and getsyou right into the body of the essay. Here is the norm:
Think of it this way. As the writer of an essay, you're essentially a lawyer arguing in behalf of a client (your thesis) before a judge (the reader) who will decide the case (agree or disagree with you). So, begin as a lawyer would, by laying out the facts to the judge in the way you think it will help your client best. Like lawyers in court, you should make an "opening statement," in this case, an introduction. Then review the facts of the case in detail just as lawyers question witnesses and submit evidence during a trial. This process of presentation and cross-examination is equivalent to the "body" of your essay. Finally, end with a "closing statement"—that is, the conclusion of your essay—arguing as strongly as possible in favor of your client's case, namely, your theme.
Introductions are an important part of any academic essay or report. They introduce readers to the topic being discussed and give the writer an opportunity to explain a) the topic about which they are writing and b) why they are writing about it. In addition, introductions enable the reader, within a few words, to make a decision as to whether or not they wish to continue reading.
Listen to an of the learning object
Academic Introduction: This is the type of introduction you would use for a standardized test or a history paper. A typical standard introduction answers one or more of the six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. It gives the reader an idea of what to expect. You should try to stay away from simply restating the question unless you are limited by a word count and need to get to the point quickly. Your basic academic introduction or thesis statement is best used as the follow-up sentence to one of the more creative introductions described below.