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Assignment | Controversial Topic Research Essay (Pentecost): Organize Your Writing

ENGL 1302 | Prof. R. Pentecost (Spring 2022)

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Your thesis is where you put forward your argument in a concise, declarative way. It is typically one sentence long and comes at the end of your introduction paragraph. You should develop your thesis from your research.

Move quickly to a topic focus, develop your research question, then develop a working thesis. Note: The thesis statement may change over time. Remember to continually check back with your thesis to be sure it is still the statement you are supporting with evidence. 


lay out exactly the arguments/reasons you're using in your thesis


if you can find a definitive yes/no answer within a few minutes of Google searching, it's not arguable enough


not about all of [topic], but this little sliver of a [topic] in a particular context


or at least something you can persuasively argue

Your thesis statement should essentially give your reader a preview of what arguments you'll be presenting over the course of your paper.



Oatmeal raisin cookies are the best cookie variation due to the healthfulness of the ingredients, the moist, chewy texture they achieve, and the consistent quality regardless of where they're bought or made.
  • Specific: yes, you know you're going to be reading about why oatmeal raisin cookies are the best for which reasons.
  • Contestable: oh yeah. You could write about the superiority of another cookie, or even a different dessert/snack/pastry altogether!
  • Narrow: Oatmeal raisin cookies and their ingredients, texture, and consistent quality. No more, no less. We're not introducing all desserts ever, or even all cookies ever.
  • Provable: This is why you do your research first, and then set up your argument. In this example, I'd quote facts about what nutrients are in raisins and oatmeal and their health benefits, for instance.


In the Introduction, we provide background and/or context to situate the reader in the topic focus. Writers do not want to assume their readers are familiar with the topic focus. The introduction should prepare the reader for the thesis. The thesis should then prepare the reader for the argument.


  • Don't start with a quote or dictionary definition
  • Don't use your sources yet to introduce factual statements... usually.  If there's a good, succinct definition that introduces your topic's scope or subject, it may work to use it. Otherwise, save your evidence for the body paragraphs. Don't treat the introduction as Body Paragraph #1, even if it's providing some background to the issue you're discussing.
  • Don't open with too big an idea on a different scale than your topic, e.g. "Since the dawn of time, people have struggled with income inequality. ... The minimum wage should be increased because reasons." Keep it in the same ballpark of what you're going to spend your time discussing. The "dawn of time" is a long ways off from the minimum wage debate right here and now. Even starting with "since the first minimum wage law was introduced almost 100 years ago..." is a little bit distant.

Body Paragraphs & Big Ideas

Main Ideas: Simple and Complex

Each body paragraph represents a main idea of your paper. In a simple 5-paragraph essay with a 3-part thesis statement, each paragraph presents one item. (So in the cookie thesis example above, one paragraph would be about the ingredients, one paragraph for texture, and one for consistent quality.)

However, we can go a little deeper than that -- and you'll need to for longer papers, unless you want to have hugely long paragraphs. Cookie example again: I start pulling things together about ingredients and realize there's a lot I can say about oatmeal, and a lot of other things I can say about raisins. Even though I'm still generally writing about the overall idea of 'ingredients,' I could split off another paragraph dedicated to raisins in addition to a paragraph just about oatmeal.

Synthesizing Ideas: It's Not a Series of Mini-Book Reports

Make sure the flow of your paper isn't:

  • Argument 1, source 1
  • Argument 1, source 2
  • Argument 2, source 3
  • Argument 2, source 4

It's not unreasonable for some of your sources to be specific enough that they may only work for one paragraph, but ideally some of them would be called on to do some heavy lifting throughout your paper instead.

At the very least, try to mix up sources within each paragraph:

  • Argument 1, source 1 and 2
  • Argument 1, source 1
  • Argument 2, source 1, 3, 4
  • Argument 2, source 3

Ch-ch-changes: Transitioning Paragraphs

Whether you're switching between two big ideas or two small ideas, you still need to wrap up one paragraph with a concluding or transition sentence and start the next paragraph with an intro. This is easier to do if you've put your ideas in an order that lets one thing logically flow into the other.

Conclusion: Drop the Mic

Your research is synthesized into your paper, which is synthesized into your conclusion paragraph.The conclusion sums up your argument, restates the thesis, and strives to leave a lasting impression on your reader.  This should be a little bit more than only summarizing your paper or paraphrasing your own introduction paragraph! You can tie your stance to larger issues or emphasize the stakes or impact of the subject. Like the information inside your paper, you're trying to synthesize all the points you made.

You want to be able to imagine dropping the mic and walking off after your conclusion is written.

Don't introduce new info in your conclusion, though. Like the introduction, this should be all you -- your argument, your voice, your views. If you realize there's some important fact that helps you, you should probably find a place in your body paragraphs to include it (or possibly even put together a new body paragraph, if it doesn't work with the available ones).