How to Roadmap Your Essay -- Writing Prompts Can Predict Your Outline
Here’s some good news: The question provides the answer. Here’s what I mean: The writing prompts for your assignments provide built-in directions on how to answer them. Let’s examine some essay prompts from a history class about the Middle East. Don’t know anything about the Middle East? Doesn’t matter. Here’s the first one:
In what ways did Arab Socialism succeed and fail? Give two examples of Arab Socialist states in the 1950-1970s and compare and contrast successes and failures.
First consider the introduction and thesis. An effective thesis rephrases the prompt using its key words. Next would come the first Arab Socialist state, its successes and failures, then a second Arab Socialist state, its successes and failures. Then you bring the discussion together as you compare how the two states are similar and different. Finally, your conclusion would make an overall statement about Arab Socialism, its success and failures.
The second prompt is also very straightforward:
Why did Nasserism emerge in the 1950s? Offer three reasons and analyze.
After an introduction and thesis (which, again, rephrases the prompt using its key words), your outline would consist of the first reason Nasserism emerged in the 1950s, the second reason Nasserism emerged in the 1950s, the third reason Nasserism emerged in the 1950s. Then your conclusion. Given the prompt, this is actually about the only form your outline could take.
Here’s the third prompt:
What role has nationalism played in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle over statehood? Select one decade and analyze nationalism's role.
In the introduction you could state the decade along with your thesis. Then would come the first role that nationalism played in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle over statehood, the second role that nationalism played in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle over statehood, and the third role that nationalism played in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle over statehood. Wrap it up with a conclusion.
In this fourth example, pay special attention to the last sentence. That’s where the main prompt is. The first two sentences are background.
The Iranian Revolution was a watershed in the history of the region. While religion played a prominent role, a united front of various groups played the key role in the overthrow of the Shah. [And now here’s the real prompt] How did Khomeini supporters win this struggle for power by the early 1980s?
After the introduction and thesis, you must list and discuss the ways that Khomeini supporters won the struggle for power in the 1980s. You really don’t have any other choice. Your outline would be something like this: Reason number one that Khomeini supporters won the struggle for power, reason number two that Khomeini supporters won the struggle for power, and reason number three that Khomeini supporters won the struggle for power.
Wrap it up with a conclusion.
The fifth prompt:
What were the primary causes of a more politicized Islam by the 1980s? Select three and analyze. Define politicized Islam in your response.
In your introduction you could define “politicized Islam” of the 1980s. Then would come the causes, one by one: the first cause of a politicized Islam by the 1980s, the second cause of a politicized Islam by the 1980s, the third cause of a politicized Islam by the 1980s. Conclusion.
The sixth prompt is a two part:
What roles did the First Gulf War (Iran-Iraq War of 1980s) play in dividing the region and why? How much of this division was denominational (Sunni vs. Shi'a), ethno-cultural (Arab vs. Persian), and ideological (secular vs. religious)?
After the intro, you discuss the first way that the First Gulf War divided the region, then the second way the First Gulf War divided the region, then the third way the First Gulf War divided the region. Along the way, you would identify whether the division is denominational, ethno-cultural, or ideological.
Here's the next prompt:
How has the Kemalist, secularist, army-led state in Turkey been under siege over the last 20 years and why? Give three reasons and analyze.
After the intro come two main parts. In the first part you have to convince the reader that the regime in Turkey has been under siege for 20 years. So you could describe the ways that the regime in Turkey has been under siege. Then you have to give three reasons why it has been under siege: the first reason it has been under siege, the second reason it has been under siege, the third reason it has been under siege. Then add your conclusion.
The eighth prompt:
What were the primary causes of the Arab Spring? Give three reasons and analyze.
By now you know the pattern: Introduction, cause number one of the Arab Spring, cause number two of the Arab Spring, cause number three of the Arab spring. Then the conclusion.
The ninth prompt asks for something specific:
How have the Syrian Civil Wars (notice the plural) influenced the region? Give three influences and analyze.
After the introduction and thesis come influence number one of the Syrian Civil Wars on the region, influence number two of the Syrian Civil Wars on the region, and influence number three of the Syrian Civil Wars on the region. The word “influence” is being used similarly to “effect.”
In the last prompt you deal with factors:
What factors led to the rise of Daesh (ISIS)? Give three and analyze.
After the intro comes factor number one that led to the rise of Daesh, factor number two that led to the rise of Daesh, and factor number three that led to the rise of Daesh. Then add your conclusion paragraph.
Now, your first reaction to this method might be—“But it’s so mechanical!” Yes, you are correct. But remember that all forms of writing have an underlying template, whether it’s a Shakespearian sonnet with its strict rules or a get-well card. It’s what you put inside the template that counts and makes it individual.
Second, think about what position your teacher is in: Having to read and grade 20 to 30 of these in a limited time frame. Therefore, the clearer the structure of your response, the easier it will be for the teacher to see that you have addressed the question directly and logically. In other words, being a little mechanical serves an important purpose.
Finally, keep in mind that these are just suggestions on how to outline your response. The suggestions illustrate that when responding, you should:
- Repeat key words from the prompt in your thesis statement. A good strategy for the thesis is to turn the prompt into a declarative sentence.
- Try to find what the teacher wants you to list in the body of your essay. Is the prompt asking for a list of reasons, causes, influences, factors, ways, whatevers? And don’t be afraid to number them.
Good luck with your essay and, as always, let us in the EWC know however we can help.