Drake English 207

Developing and Refining Analytical Essays


The simplest way to develop, organize and refine any essay is to think in terms of a thesis and organize in terms of paragraphs.


1) The essay makes a single, clear claim (thesis) and then supports it; say something is true and then prove it.


2) The first sentence of every paragraph -- the topic sentence -- supports the thesis; the rest of that paragraph supports the topic sentence.


Writing essays will become much easier, and you'll work much faster, once you begin "seeing" this structure.





The Thesis


Qualities of a strong thesis:

a) A strong thesis addresses the assigned or central question or questions, is “on topic”.


b) A thesis must have tension; it must be arguable or debatable.


Not a thesis: “The Jerry Springer Show hopes to have high ratings and appeal to viewers.”


Thesis: “The specific events and characters on The Jerry Springer Show are used to market specific products advertised during the commercial breaks.”


c) A strong thesis addresses the “so what?” question: it says something interesting or valuable, or both.


Analytical theses can:

       ~ Reveal hidden meaning

       ~ Reveal hidden purpose/reveal ulterior motives

       ~ Identify how something complex works/reveal structure

       ~ Reveal the social significance of something commonly taken for granted

       ~ Describe something familiar in an unfamiliar way.


But none of these will be interesting to the reader if he or she can’t answer the question “Ya, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter?” The thesis must be meaningful -- at least to you, the author, but, generally, we write to tell people things they didn't and should know.


Qualities of a complete thesis:
A thesis is not just the main idea; it is a roadmap, synopsis, abstract or preview of the entire essay, so it should also briefly outline the entire argument put forward in the paper, in the order presented in the paper, including:

a) the main point (the claim)

b) the supporting points, and (the explicit reasons)

c) the conclusion


Example of complete thesis: “In this essay I hope to show that he specific events and characters on The Jerry Springer Show are used to market specific products advertised during the commercial breaks.  Specifically I want to argue that the show encourages its audience, middle-class viewers, to fear an unrealistic threat to their social values from the Springer Show’s so called “guests”.  These fears are reinforced by the middle-class studio audience, which takes pleasure from separating itself from the actions and social class of the ‘guests’ etc etc. Logically, the show reinforces the values presented in most of the advertisements.  Finally I would like to show how the Springer Show advances its commercial purpose, to sell products, in an unethical and potentially damaging way.”






In many ways, each paragraph is a mini essay: a claim followed by supporting points.


Writing Fully Developed, Topic-Sentence Driven Paragraphs:  Work from general concepts to specific examples and make explicit connections between the two.


General concept/topic sentence:  “The Jerry Springer Show carefully controls its use of strong emotional appeals to effectively persuade its audience to adopt the producers' values.” (note this is a "mini-thesis" or premise supporting the central, main thesis)


General example: “Characters are either cheered or “booed” by the studio audience when they walk on stage.  For viewers at home, this audience reaction seems spontaneous or ‘natural’, but of course the audience is in fact reacting to cue cards, scripted by the producers.”


Specific example: “In the segment we watched, when Crishon walks out on stage he is instantly ‘booed’, effectively setting him up as ‘the bad guy’ before he has even spoken his piece.  Later the audience cheers enthusiastically as they watch him physically attacked by Taiwana. These audience reactions signal to viewers who is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as well as what values are acceptable or unacceptable.  Later we find these acceptable and unacceptable values will be mirrored in the specific advertisements.  For example, in the Western Union ad, the Black man is, like Crishon, the bad guy, as they are in the Cops preview. ...etc.”




Thesis? Thesis, where's my thesis?
Often when I grade student papers and mark the paper as lacking a thesis, I can flip to the back page, and there, in the very last paragraph, at the very end of the paper, is the complete and accurate thesis.  What's it doing there?  Well, the student probably didn't actually reach his or her full conclusion about the topic until the paper is complete; that is a good thing!  That's the way good minds work: you don't come to a conclusion until you have completed your analysis and evaluation.


But although that's good thinking, it's unclear writing, so copy or paraphrase or just cut/paste that conclusion and stick it in the beginning of your paper, in a clear, complete thesis paragraph.


For this reason, I recommend students write the body of the paper before writing the introduction, and then make sure you review your thesis after you've written the rest of the essay.  Writing the outlines will also tend to help you avoid this problem.