Here's a topic that deals with a controversial issue:
Topic: Should women in the military be given frontline combat duties?
- The first reason that women should be assigned to combat is equality.
- The second reason is their great teamwork.
- The third reason is their courage.
As you see, regardless of the topic, we can list three points about it. And if you wonder about the repetition of words and structure when stating the three points, in this case, repetition is a good thing. Words that seem redundant when close together in an outline will be separated by the actual paragraphs of your essay. So in the essay instead of seeming redundant they will be welcome as signals to the reader of your essay’s main parts.
Finally, when the topic is an academic one, your first goal is the same: create a list of three.
Topic: Why do so many students fail to complete their college degree?
- First, students often...
- Second, many students cannot...
- Finally, students find that...
Regardless of the reasons you might come up with to finish these sentences, the formula is still the same.
Secret #2: The Thesis Formula
Now with your list of three, you can write the sentence that every essay must have—the thesis, sometimes called the "controlling idea," "overall point," or "position statement." In other words, it is the main idea of the essay that you will try to support, illustrate, or corroborate.
Here’s a simple formula for a thesis: The topic + your position on the topic = your thesis.
Let’s apply this formula to one of our examples:
Topic: Essential characteristics of a good parent
Your Position: patience, respect, love
Thesis: The essential characteristics of a good parent are patience, respect, and love.
As you see, all we did was combine the topic with our position/opinion on it into a single sentence to produce the thesis: The essential characteristics of a good parent are patience, respect, and love.
In this case, we chose to list three main points as part of our thesis. Sometimes that’s a good strategy. However, you can summarize them if you wish, as in this example:
Topic: Women in combat duty in the military
Your Position: They deserve it
Thesis: Women deserve to be assigned combat duty in the military.
This type of thesis is shorter and easier to write because it provides the overall position or opinion without forcing you to list the support for it in the thesis, which can get awkward and take away from your strong position statement. The three reasons women deserve to be assigned combat duties--equality, teamwork, courage--will be the subjects of your three body paragraphs and do not need to be mentioned until the body paragraph in which they appear.
Secret #3: The 1-3-1 Outline
With your thesis and list of three main points, you can quickly draw a basic outline of the paragraphs of your essay. You’ll then see why this is often called the 1-3-1 essay.
- Body Paragraphs
- Claim 1
- Supporting Evidence for Claim 1
- Claim 2
- Supporting Evidence for Claim 2
- Claim 3
- Supporting Evidence for Claim 3
- Claim 1
The five-paragraph essay consists of one introduction paragraph (with the thesis at its end), three body paragraphs (each beginning with one of three main points) and one last paragraph—the conclusion. 1-3-1.
Once you have this outline, you have the basic template for most academic writing. Most of all, you have an organized way to approach virtually any topic you are assigned.