Work Essay And Put Every Sentence And Construction

Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You'll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, "This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I'm not convinced yet, but I'm interested to see how I might be."

An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. "Reasons for the fall of communism" is a topic. "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" is a fact known by educated people. "The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe" is an opinion. (Superlatives like "the best" almost always lead to trouble. It's impossible to weigh every "thing" that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn't that be "the best thing"?)

A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.

Steps in Constructing a Thesis

First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)

Once you have a working thesis, write it down. There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you'll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction. A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.

Anticipate the counterarguments. Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you'll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn't, then it's not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)

Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential election because he failed to campaign vigorously after the Democratic National Convention.

This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a "soft-on-crime" image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you'll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.

While Dukakis' "soft-on-crime" image hurt his chances in the 1988 election, his failure to campaign vigorously after the Democratic National Convention bore a greater responsibility for his defeat.

Some Caveats and Some Examples

A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question ("Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?") is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

A thesis is never a list. "For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" does a good job of "telegraphing" the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn't advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An ineffective thesis would be, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil." This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. "While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline" is an effective thesis sentence that "telegraphs," so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, "Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim."

A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite's inability to address the economic concerns of the people" is more powerful than "Communism collapsed due to societal discontent."

Copyright 1999, Maxine Rodburg and The Tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University

Sentence construction describes how a sentence’s different parts are put together, from its punctuation to the ordering of its words.

This article looks at some of the most common types of sentence construction problems to help you avoid them in your own writing. These include both grammatical errors and problems with clarity.

Sentence construction problems take a nearly infinite number of forms, and at times sentences are so poorly constructed that identifying the problems is almost impossible. By contrast, ideally clear sentences are relatively rare. In fact, clear sentences are written as much by avoiding what’s bad as by pursuing what’s good.

Run-on sentences

A run-on sentence emerges when phrases that could stand alone as individual sentences are joined together without the proper punctuation (put in technical terms, a run-on sentence occurs when two or more “independent clauses” are joined together without proper punctuation).

Notice that the definition of run-on sentence has to do with grammar, not style—people sometimes call very long and unwieldy sentences “run-on sentences,” but this is an abuse of the term, and run-on sentences can be fairly short.

They come in many varieties, but here are a few of the most common run-on sentences:

Comma splice

Simply put, a comma splice is a comma placed where a period would normally go, without a coordinating conjunction to follow (the coordinating conjunctions are as follows: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

The more technical (and precise) definition of comma splice is as follows: two independent clauses separated by a comma without a coordinating conjunction following the comma.

Examples: Comma splice

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years, people have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years, and people have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years. People have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

The error is not arbitrary, and the comma splice can cause much confusion in even slightly more complicated sentences. In the following sentence, for instance, the comma splice creates confusion because we don’t know to which part of the sentence “when he drank it warm” should attach.

Does he like cream and sugar when he drink coffee warm, or does he like coffee black when he drinks it warm?

Examples: Confusing comma splice

Jimmy liked to take cream and sugar with his coffee, when he drank it warm, he would also like it black.

Jimmy liked to take cream and sugar with his coffee; when he drank it warm, he would also like it black.

Jimmy liked to take cream and sugar with his coffee, when he drank it warm; he would also like it black.

“And” or “but” without a comma

Simply put, this form of run-on sentence occurs when “and” or “but” (or another coordinating conjunction) is placed where a period would normally go, without being preceded by a comma.

The more technical (and precise) definition of this error is as follows: two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction (any of these: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) without being immediately preceded by a comma.

Notice the similarity between this error and the comma splice error. This error, similarly, is one that produces confusion. Because we use “and” and “but” (and the others) so often and for so many purposes, it’s useful to know how these words are being used when we encounter them.

Unless being used in a list, the comma + coordinating conjunction formula signals to the reader that she’s likely about to read a new, related, and complete thought. In other words, it helps us navigate sentences.

Examples: Confusing “and” without a comma

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years and people have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years, and people have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

Home brewing beer and wine kits have appeared in more households than ever over the past ten years. People have never before rushed with such vigour to sacrifice the quality of the drinks for the pleasure of hands-on brewing.

Sentence fragments

A sentence fragment emerges any time something that couldn’t stand alone as a sentence appears alone as a sentence or fails to connect properly to the sentence it’s in. In other words, every sentence fragment involves a phrase that should have what it takes to be a sentence but doesn’t.

Remember, for a string of words to be considered a sentence, we have to have a “subject” and “predicate.” A subject is what does an action, while the predicate is the act. Put another way, the subject is the “nouny” part of a sentence, while the predicate is the “verby” part.

Some sentences have more than one subject-predicate combination, but the sentence always begins with in the subject position.

See below for examples of subjects and predicates in different kinds of sentences, with different kinds of punctuation. Remember, no matter how many subjects-predicate pairs come in a sentence, the ratio is always 1:1—every acceptable subject has a predicate; every acceptable predicate has a subject.

Examples: Sentences divided by subject and predicate

Ducks / fly.

Haggard and elderly ducks and geese / fly slower, lower, and with more caution.

Haggard and elderly ducks and geese / fly slower, lower, and with more caution, perhaps because of rheumatism.

Haggard and elderly ducks and geese / fly slower, lower, and with more caution, perhaps because their rheumatism / hinders them.

Ducks / fly; dogs / walk.

Ducks / fly faster than geesewhen dogs / run and bark.

The dog / catches the ball.

The dog / catches the ball, which / is covered in slobber.

The dog / catches the ball, which we / bought.

The ball / is caught.

The ball / now has the following characteristics: a slipperiness, a smelliness, and a chewiness.

The ball / now has the following characteristics: it / is slippery, it / is smelly, and it / is chewy.

The ball / now has the following characteristics: it / is slippery, smelly, and chewy.

Some common forms of sentence fragment involve breaking a sentence up with confused punctuation, while others arise from incomplete sentences being punctuated as if they were full sentences.

(note: Sentence fragments are sometimes used stylistically in journalism and creative writing, often as nouns or noun phrases standing alone, beginning with a capital and ending with a period. Appropriate use of sentence fragments in academic or formal writing is very rare.)

Semicolon for a comma

In the below example, the rules of semicolon use mean that the phrase that comes after the semicolon in the sentence below should have a subject and a predicate (i.e. it should be able to stand alone as a sentence).

“A noble pursuit,” though, is a lone subject, and there is no verb, so no predicate to accompany the subject. This makes it a sentence fragment.

Examples: Semicolon for a comma

The best way to ensure a happy life / is to study philosophy; a noble pursuit.

The best way to ensure a happy life / is to study philosophy, a noble pursuit.

Semicolon for a colon

A similar problem looms here, with only a subject (in this case, a bunch of nouns) following the semicolon.

Examples: Semicolon for a colon

He / would take only three things on his journey; his clothes, his bed roll, and his trusty walking stick.

He / would take only three things on his journey: his clothes, his bed roll, and his trusty walking stick.

Colon misused after verb

The problem here is a bit different. Here, the predicate is present, but it’s incomplete because the colon is misused. More specifically, the colon can’t be used immediately after “indicated” since “indicated,” as used here, requires something to follow (we still need to know what the study indicated).

Examples: Misused colon

The results of the study / indicated: three of the men, three of the children, and three of the women / were related.

The results of the study / indicatedthat three of the men, three of the children, and three of the women / were related.

The results of the study / indicated the following: three of the men, three of the children, and three of the women / were related.

“–ing” form of a verb misused

Sometimes people use the “–ing” form (technically called the “present participle” form) of a verb as if it were the simple form. The difference here is that “–ing” verbs can’t do the grammatical work of simple verbs, which is to mark the beginning of the predicate.

The most common verb abused with this mistake is “to be,” which is conjugated as “being” when it should be conjugated “is” or “was.”

Examples: Misused “-ing” form of a verb

He / argued all night long. The point being important.

He / talked all night long. The point / was important.

He / talked all night long, the point being important.

No main verb (predicate) in the sentence

Although creative writers and journalists sometimes use noun phrases to form a string of words with a period at the end, we should recognize that these are not sentences, since they are usually composed of subjects without accompanying predicates.

In other words, a noun phrase alone can’t rise to the status of a sentence. Even if it begins with a capital and ends with a period, it’s not a sentence unless it has both a subject and predicate.

Examples: No main verb in the sentence

After they / settled the argument, they / became friends. A fortunate turn of events.

After they / settled the argument, they / became friends, a fortunate turn of events.

After they / settled the argument, they / became friends. It / was a fortunate turn of events.

After they / settled the argument, they / became friends. A fortunate turn of events it / was.

Subordinator leading the clause

Every good writer uses subordinators all of the time, and they include such familiar words as when, after, since, while, although, if, unless, because, while, and whereas. But a “subordinator” (also called a “subordinating conjunction”) transforms a phrase that can stand alone as sentence into a phrase that cannot (in technical terms, it transforms an “independent clause” into a “dependent clause”).

This transformation causes some writers grief. In these cases, unlike the ones above, we have a clear subject and predicate pair, but the subordinator requires the sentence to have a second subject-predicate pair in the sentence.

Examples: Subordinator leading the clause

They / would go to safety. When the coast / was clear.

They / would go to safety; when the coast / was clear.

They / would go to safetywhen the coast / was clear.

When the coast / was clear, they / would go to safety.

(note: see our article “Myth: It’s incorrect to start a sentence with ‘because’” for more examples and for information on subordinators and types of clauses)

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