Some writers take their working thesis and dive into the writing. Others like to plan it out, deciding what to include in each paragraph before writing a sentence. The difference seems to depend as much on the writer’s personality as on the project. The end goal of either approach, however, is the same: to develop a clearer sense of how the thesis will be developed in the body of the essay. Here are two suggestions for accomplishing this goal: Write a discovery draft. If you like to dive into the writing, you might simply begin writing a draft in support of your working thesis.
Since your goal is to discover your main points and how you can organize them, you should write quickly, not worrying about your introduction, about transitions, clear paragraph structure, grammar, and so on. Unlike freewriting, you can certainly take time to think about your ideas, but don’t spend time on aspects of the writing that don’t help you accomplish your goal. Once you’ve exhausted your ideas, you can study your draft for the main ideas and create a separate outline to decide how you would organize them.
Discovery drafts might look like a more polished draft, especially if you typed it on the computer, but they are usually intellectually vague and unorganized. Writing the draft can clarify your thinking and give you more information to work with, but you should still outline your main points to ensure your information will be accessible to readers. Outline your main points. Main points are those key insights that readers need to learn in order to accept the truth of your thesis. Here are three suggestions for deciding how to organize your main points:
Ask “What do readers need to know? ” Sometimes you can anticipate what readers will need to accept before accepting the next point, and so on. For example, consider the thesis “Hybrid cars offer average consumers an opportunity to reduce smog. ” If we wanted to make this point, readers might first need to accept that smog is a serious problem; otherwise, they won’t care to learn that gasoline-run cars produce nitrogen oxides, which help create smog, and that hybrid cars produce fewer nitrogen oxides, thereby producing less smog.
Listen to your thesis. Sometimes your thesis will suggest a structure for you. For example, if your thesis is “Humans contribute to air pollution by creating chlorinated fluorocarbons that deplete ozone, nitrogen oxides that produce smog, and sulfur oxides that produce acid rain” your readers will expect each of these three chemicals to be discussed in the order you presented them. They would also expect you to show that humans create each chemical and that each chemical pollutes the air. Appeal to conventions of the writing situation.
Many types of writing come with their own organizing strategies. For example, narratives are usually organized around key moments in the story (e. g. , “Little did we know what lurked behind that door. “), shifts from one scene to another (e. g. , “Meanwhile, at my friend’s house . . . “), or changes in the timeline (e. g. , “The next day . . . “). Here are some additional suggestions to help you organize your main points: Focus on points not paragraphs. A main point is an idea you want to communicate.
You may need one or several paragraphs to communicate it. If you think of each main idea as a paragraph, you may create paragraphs so huge that readers will need an antacid to digest them. Create a strategy. Separating your main points is not enough. You should also organize the points progressively, so as readers go from paragraph to paragraph they feel like they are getting somewhere. For example, you might organize your points from the most to least important. You might organize your points from the most familiar to the least familiar.
If you tell readers how you are organizing and reinforce that strategy with clear transitions, they can think about your ideas rather than trying to figure out how the ideas go together. Remember that different strategies can work. Students sometimes get overanxious about finding the “right” way to structure their main points. Often several structures can work very well for the same thesis. Letting a few readers comment on early drafts can help you discover whether your particular structure works well for that audience.