Why, Mr. McAteer, Why Do You Make Us Do These Things?!

Slacker Madonna Pap SmearDude, why are you so hung up on context, preview, thesis?  Why don’t you just chill, man, and let us write our essays without all your structural requirements?

Do you have any idea how much of a caricature of the teenage wastoid you sound like right now?

Typical of the man.  Try to change the subject.

Fine.  I’m a corporate fascist without a soul.  But that doesn’t change the fact that even smart people need to know how to organize their thinking if they want to make an argument.

So you admit I’m smart?

Of course.  It’s just that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that advice can stand the logic test, and that strategies for organizing thoughts aren’t the same thing as structural requirements that you’re your thinking irrelevant.

Whatever.  Anyway, why do you make us start the essay with context? Why can’t we just get to the point?

Good question.  If you think of the idea of the opening of the essay as a grabber, then the context is pointless, nothing more than a sentence or two before the sentence that identifies the book.  To tell the truth, the benefit of the context isn’t really present in the intro; it only becomes apparent when you go to write your conclusion.  The hidden benefit is that it gives you a reason for making an argument.

I mean, what’s the point of analyzing a play that’s 400 years old?  There is none, unless you can see how its themes are relevant to your world today.  Are Jewish people still negatively stereotyped today?  Are other ethnic or religious groups?  Do women in 21st Century America make as much money in the same jobs as men?  Think about it: a man who’s a tough boss is called tough; when a woman is a tough boss, what do her employees (men and women) call her?

So you’re saying that I’m supposed to be thinking of today in the back of my mind while I’m writing about the book?

That’s pretty accurate.

Ok, that means that my thought matters to the essay.  But what about this preview crap?  Why do you make me write “first this, then that, then the other thing?”  That’s fascist, man.

I don’t mean it to be fascist.  And you don’t even have to do it.  But let me tell you that the most important feature of good writing is the writer’s control over content.  If you are in clear control, you can pretty much violate every rule there is.  For better or worse, however, challenging texts are difficult to control.  If you give yourself a clear sense of beginning, middle and end in your intro, then your essay won’t devolve into plot summary by the middle of the second body paragraph.  If you don’t believe me, look at previous drafts of thesis essays that don’t use the intro to establish control.

Anyway, you don’t have to be as clunky as “first this, then that…” You can use your skill as a writer to preview your content in a way that doesn’t offend you; just make sure you establish control over beginning, middle and end.

Is that why you always scrawl those illegible notes about preview next to my topic sentences?

Look at you – you’re not the Hollywood cliché of a teenage slacker that you pretended to be five minutes ago.  You’ve hit the head right on the nail.


Nothing.  Anyway, can I talk about topic sentences for a sec?

Sure.  It’s your dialogue.

If you have a specific tension in mind, say moral authority or devious assertions of female power to undermine male authority…

Moral authority or devious assertions of female power to undermine male authority

No, I didn’t mean you should actually say that.  I meant that if those are examples of tension, then it is present in the text through two competing ideas.  If you use topic sentences that have two clauses, the first one the weaker, the second the stronger, then you can focus your paragraph on the tension.  Let me give you an example of a super fantabulous topic sentence:

Although Portia seems to be controlled by men at first, she uses her wit to have a sense of power.

Why, you might ask, is this a fantabulous topic sentence?  You might also ask why Microsoft Word doesn’t put a green or red squiggle under fantabulous.

Are you waiting for me to ask those questions?

Not anymore.  So if you look at those two clauses, you’ll see that the first one asks for evidence of how Portia is controlled by men.  The second asks for evidence of Portia using wit to assert power.  Thus, the paragraph in question is necessarily built on two pieces of evidence.  And we know that you can’t interpret a single quote, because a quote by itself is a fact, and a fact can’t be interpreted in isolation.

Last question, in the margins of my essay, you keep writing, “adflha sh03498 #@$ldhoeas dkfjp`-d@.”  What does that mean?

Oh, that’s not what I wrote.  I wrote, “use evidence more effectively.”  It means set up the quote with plot detail, use the quote most appropriate to the idea in your topic sentence, and then use the details of language in the quote as a follow up when you tie the quote to your controlling idea.

All right, then.  Thanks.  You’re not such a bad guy.

Don’t I know it.


One Comment

  1. This was a funny and smart read. I hope you are having a great year. — Mike

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