Jennifer Franz (Allegheny College)

The premise of this module is that all writers – especially multilingual writers – benefit from explicit instruction in the different types of writing that is expected at a college level. There is a strong link between reading and writing skills – as a reader’s experience and exposure to different types of texts help them better understand the expectations surrounding purpose and appropriate structures or patterns; however, students need guided practice to ‘notice’ specific features of a genre within a discipline. The module includes the examples (see below) of noticing activities, reflective prompts, text analysis assignments, as well as an analysis of faculty-created written prompts.

Essay Structure and Thesis Development
Workshop on Teaching Writing to International Multilingual Students
College of Wooster Nov. 1 -3, 2019

Taken from In Our Own Words, Rebecca Mlynarczyk, Steven B. Harber, St. Martin’s Press, 1991 (some adaptations)


Formulating a Thesis Statement

One thing that American professors consider important in more formal writing is a clear thesis statement. Basically, a thesis statement is the main idea of an essay. In personal writing, the thesis is often implied rather than stated directly, but in more formal writing it is desirable to state the main idea explicitly, usually toward the beginning of the essay. 

In most college writing classes, a simple explanation of the topic – for example, “In this essay, I plan to discuss the changes that have taken place in American family life as a result of women working outside the home” – is not considered an acceptable thesis. You must take it one step further and state an opinion (what you believe) about how these things have affected American family life – perhaps the assertion that “American family life has benefited because of women working outside of the home.” 

In-Class Activity

This activity will give you a chance to practice developing a thesis. 

     1. Working with a small group of classmates, read and discuss the following sample thesis statements. 

Topic: Elderly people in American society.
Possible thesis statements: 

a. Elderly people are not respected in American society.
b. American television commercials are responsible for the lack of respect toward the elderly.
Because the United States is a youth-oriented culture, elderly people are not respected.
As a larger proportion of the population ages, elderly people will gain more respect in American society.

While some of these statements are obviously more complex than others, they all fulfill the basic requirements for a thesis statement. 

2. With your group, choose one of the following topics and try to formulate an acceptable thesis statement for it. Discuss your ideas as much as you need to, and come up with two or three
possible thesis statements. When the group has settled on a thesis, have one group member write it down.

Topic A: The American university system

Topic B: The difference between high school and college

Topic C: Dating customs in the United States

Topic D: The role of women (or men) in your home culture

3. Share the groups’ results with the class by having a member of each group write the thesis statement on the board. What do the various thesis statements have in common? How are they different? What have you learned from this activity? 


We have defined the thesis as a statement of what you believe about a particular topic. It may help to think of an outline as a shortened way of explaining why you believe this. In other words, an outline lists the major reasons or evidence used to support the opinion stated in the thesis.

Outlining is a tool to help in organizing ideas. Some writers like to get their ideas down in outline form before they write the first draft. Others prefer to write a rough draft and then go back and improve the organization. 

In-Class Activity

This activity will give you a chance to practice outlining and to observe how other students approach this process. You can then decide whether outlining would be a useful strategy in your writing. 

1. Work with the same group of students as for the activity on thesis statements. Practice making an outline for an essay using your group’s thesis. (Your teacher will let you know whether or not you will eventually write an essay based on the outline you develop.)

2. Working as a group, develop an outline to support your thesis statement, using this basic outline format:


I. Tentative thesis statement for essay
II. First major supporting idea and evidence
Second major supporting idea and evidence
Continue with additional ideas

3. Once your group has written its outline, discuss what else you might need to do before writing the first draft. For example, you might need to look up some facts and figures to support the points you are making. 

4. Have one student from each group write the outline on the board. How are the outlines alike? In what ways are they different? How would you use an outline such as this in writing an



Essay Structure and Thesis Development
Workshop on Teaching Writing to International Multilingual Students
College of Wooster Nov. 1 -3, 2019

Adapted from: Mlynarczyk, R., & Haber, S. B. (1991). In our own words: student writers at work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

How Can I Adapt My Writing For Different Purposes And Audiences? 

Purpose and audience, two factors that often are not mentioned when you are asked to write something, can greatly influence what you say and how you say it. Purpose refers to the reasons for writing – what you want the readers to do or think after they have finished reading. For example, the purpose of a letter of complaint to a department store might be to convince the store that they made a mistake on your bill. The purpose of a personal essay describing an important experience in your life might be to describe the experience clearly and entertain the reader. The purpose of a lab report on your dissection of a rat might be to inform the reader of the procedures you used and the findings you made. The purpose of an essay for a literature class might be to analyze the psychological motivation of one of the characters in a short story. 

Audience means the intended readers for a piece of writing. In the first example in the preceding paragraph, the audience would be the person who handles complaints for the department store. For the other examples, the audience would most likely be the instructor and interested classmates. 


This activity will give you an idea of how audience and purpose influence what you write. You will be asked to do four short pieces of writing. The subject of each of them is the same – yourself. But the different audiences and purposes will influence what you say.

1. Spend 10 to 15 minutes doing each of the following:

a. Write a letter to a close friend explaining what kind of person you are. (You will not be asked to show this letter to anyone else).
Write a short description of yourself to share with your writing class.
Write a one-page description of your personal background as part of a job application for a position in a student-run organization.
Write a one-page description of your personal background as part of a job application for a position for a work-study position in the department of your choice. 

2. Before your next writing class, read over all four pieces. How did the different audiences influence what you wrote? What was your purpose for each piece? In other words, what did
you want the reader to do or think after reading it? 

3. Write your intended purpose at the bottom of each piece. For example, the purpose for the first piece might be  “to reveal my deepest personal qualities.” For the second piece, it might
be “to introduce myself to the class and explain personal information that relates to our concerns as a class.”


With a small group of students from your writing class, discuss some or all of these questions:

1. How did the different audiences influence what you said in each of the four pieces of writing?
2. Which one was the hardest to write? Which was the easiest?
Compare the purposes you wrote at the bottom of the page with those written by others in your group. Were your purposes basically the same or different?
Have each student choose one of the four pieces to read to the group. Then, discuss how effective it would be at achieving the purpose stated at the bottom of the page.


Essay Structure and Thesis Development 
Workshop on Teaching Writing to International Multilingual Students
College of Wooster Nov. 1 -3, 2019

Adapted from: Axelrod, R. B., & Cooper, C. R. (2010). The St. Martin’s guide to writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.

For class, students should have read the assigned essays. Read and annotate (make notes in margins) with the following questions in mind:

  • What seems to be the writer’s main purpose ? For example, to inform the readers about a controversial issue, to clarify different points of view on the issue and the kinds of arguments people typically use to support their position, to analyze the important points of disagreement, or to suggest where there may be potential for compromise based on shared values or interests? 
  • What does the author assume about the audience – for example, that audience members will be unfamiliar with the issue, and the essay will serve as an introduction; that they will know something about the arguments typically made on the issue but will think agreement is impossible; or that they will have strong opinions themselves on the issue?
  • For each essay, determine where you find the following basic features of the argument and make notes in the margins:

* Issue – Underline and put stars next to where the writer introduces the issue
* Position Highlight in yellow where the writer’s position or opinion on the issue is stated (thesis statement)
* Support – Determine where the writer offers supporting reasons and evidence for the position – number the supporting reasons and put arrows next to evidence
* Concession/Refutation – Where, if anywhere, the writer concedes (accepts) or refutes (argues against) other points of view on the issue. Circle sentences where the writer does this.

Make annotations on the essays where you detect any of these underlying motivating factors: 

* Values – moral, ethical, or religious principles (for example, fairness, justice, equality)
* Ideas or ideals (for example, ideas about democracy, such as every adult has the right to vote and freedom of speech)
* Needs and interests (for example, food, shelter, work, respect, privacy, choice)
* Fears and concerns (for example, regarding safety, abuse of power, consequences of actions taken or not taken)
* Goals and priorities about what is most important or urgent (for example, whether obedience to authority is more important than independent thinking, whether global warming should be a concern)



Essay Structure and Thesis Development
Workshop on Teaching Writing to International Multilingual Students
College of Wooster Nov. 1 -3, 2019

Taken from: Hall, E., & Jung, C. S. Y. (2000). Reflecting on writing: composing in English for Esl students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 267 – 291.

Discuss with a partner: What things do we do when we argue?
(Have students share out ideas that hopefully include giving an opinion, using information and knowledge to defend that opinion) 

A Good Argument:

States an Opinion
A good argument clearly presents the opinion of the writer so that the reader clearly understands what opinion is being discussed.

Supports the Position
A good argument uses facts, information, and other beliefs to explain why the opinion being presented is a good one.

Anticipates Rational Opposing Views
A good argument – particularly in formal English essays – will present the opposite opinion. The writer acknowledges these opposing views. 

Concedes to Valid Opposing Views
When an opposing opinion is a good one, a good argument will admit this. A good argument respects opposite opinions. In other words, it includes the writer’s concession. 

Weakens the Opposition
The argument refutes the opposing opinions by explaining why they are weak. 

Model: Argument Paragraph

Using Model Paragraph: Students work with a partner to identify writer’s opinion and the opposing opinion
(Possibly go through an essay and identify these ‘moves’?)

Ordering Points in an Argument
Whenever we make an argument, some of our points are stronger than others. Likewise, some of the opposing points are stronger than the others. Use a model paragraph or essay to identify the strongest opposing point and the weakest; do the same for the argument side. 

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