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Let's take a second to review what we learned about orienting ourselves towards a writing topic and the movement from general to specific, from Subject to Question to Answer. Remember that identifying these three elements (essentially the Subject, the Issue, and your Position or Thesis) is the most important thing for you to focus on when you first look at the writing prompt. The SUBJECT is broad like a category and is what everything is about. The QUESTION is debatable and what people would disagree about, or in the case of informational writing the QUESTION needs explanation. The QUESTION is the focus for the paper. The ANSWER (or POSITION) will be your opinion on the ISSUE, your ANSWER to the QUESTION of the essay. Understanding the QUESTION (what the paper is about or what's being debated) makes it easier for you to declare your POSITION (your THESIS). Also, your whole essay will deal with that QUESTION or ISSUE, so knowing what it is helps you maintain UNITY in your essay. For example, here is how the subject--question--answer for an argument/persuasion essay:

Subject: Television or TV violence
Question: Should the government regulate TV violence? Yes or no?
Answer: I believe the government should regulate the violence shown on TV.

Your ANSWER or position is really your THESIS. It is your assertion, your opinion, your point which you are going to focus on proving and supporting in the essay. We can simplify, then, what you are doing in this type of writing as:


Keep this always in the back of your mind: "My job is to make a point and support it."

One helpful analogy for writing is to think of yourself as a lawyer. Imagine that you are like a prosecuting attorney. The trial--like an essay--focuses on a single question: Is the defendant guilty or not guilty? You have a case to make defending your answer to this question. Your readers are like the jury whom you have to convince and from whom you have to get the guilty (or not guilty) verdict. You will be presenting evidence to them which will hopefully sway them over to your thinking.

"Effective writing (narration, description, exposition, and argumentation) depends more upon showing the known details that triggered the writer's point of view than upon telling the readers (however eloquently) what the point of view is." (see Making Inferences)

One question you may have is, "Well, how do I make my case? How shall I organize it? How shall I present my case to the jury?" Let's say you are a good lawyer and you work hard to find lots of evidence to support your claim that the defendant is GUILTY. You have documents, expert reports, eye witness testimony, and various objects with finger prints and blood stains. Your brief case is bursting with all this evidence.

As many of you may know from courtroom experience, whether you win a trial doesn't always have to do so much with the excellence of your evidence or the justice of your position, but upon how you make your case. Would you walk up to the jury with your satchel full of evidence, look the jury in the eye, and then announce, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. The defendant is guilty. See for yourself!" as you dump the entire contents of your brief case on the table in front of the jury? Of course not, but that is often what writers do when they don't work to organize the presentation of their support to the reader.

We are talking here about the BODY of the essay. Inside the BODY of the essay where you will be supporting the POINT or THESIS of the essay, how will you organize and present your support? One answer to this question is to "DIVIDE UP THE PROOF."

What that means is to follow this simple rule:


Dividing up the proof, then, will define your body paragraphs and help you know when to begin a new paragraph: each paragraph in the body of the essay will contain one primary support for your point. Paragraphs spacially signify the key parts of your support.

Look at the following outlines of different types of essays:

In the case of an argument/persuasion essay, these main supports would be REASONS.

Each body paragraph will present one main REASON for why you believe your thesis (or position on the issue).

For a Cause/Effect Paper, dividing up the proof means each Body paragraph develops ONE Cause or Effect.
For a Compare and Contrast paper, each Body paragraph develops ONE common area of comparison.
For a Process essay, each Body paragraph develops ONE main step or phase in the process.
For a Problem-Solution essay, each Body paragraph develops ONE part of this type of paper.
images from the Scott, Foresman Handbook, 9th ed., 2008, pp. 34-39.

Typically, in shorter papers of two to seven pages, you should not start a new paragraph until you have fully dealt with a main support. When you get into writing longer essays, you may develop primary supports in multiple paragraph sections; however, the sections of support are still grouped together.

Other Considerations for Organization

While dividing up the proof by putting one primary support per body paragraph will help your reader see the key supports for your thesis, these main supports may have a logical relationship that could also affect how you present them.

Chronological or Sequencial Order
Perhaps you need to sequence these main supports in a time order (yesterday, today, tomorrow) or by sequence (first, second, third).

Spacial Order
Perhaps it will be important to arrange your main supports by their relationship on space. You could move from top to bottom, inside to outside, left to right, East to West.

By Significance or Precedence
You may want to sequence your main points by importance or quality--from least important to most important, from the least in quality to the best in quality. One technique of an effective argument is to save your best support for last.



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