Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

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When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

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Another new semester

by Abby Ponder

Well, friends, it’s that time of year again: the start of another new semester. Whether you’re a freshman who has finally gotten a handle on this whole “college thing,” or a senior standing on graduation’s threshold (as I am), each new semester introduces a host of emotions. And, let’s be honest, a fair amount of stress, as well.

Fortunately, the WKU Writing Center is here to help.

As of this week, we’re officially open for business! If you’ve never visited the WKU Writing Center before, our main location is in Cherry Hall 123. Simply head towards the building’s computer lab and take a right just before you get there. We’re the first room (not the bathroom) on the right. All you need for an appointment is your paper, a pencil, and a smile. Knowing your 800 number helps, too.

If you can’t make it to our Cherry Hall location during the day, though, we’re happy to say that we’re open in Cravens Library from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Our station is at the Reference Desk in the Commons at Cravens. If you’ve never been there before, simply go to the fourth floor of the taller of the two buildings and find the area with several computers. We’ll be there!

Our hours for both locations this semester are as follows:

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You can schedule an appointment with us by calling (270) 745-5719 during our operating hours. Or you can drop in when you’re nearby and schedule an appointment in person. We’re also available for drop-in appointments, though spots are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Be sure to stay up to date on Writing Center happenings by following us on Facebook and checking out this blog every now and then. We typically post once a week, so keep an eye out for more content heading your way!

The WKU Department of English also has a newly updated blog: First Floor Cherry. Check it out to have a great sense of what’s happening in the overall department and to read some great content.

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