In a previous article, I explained the purpose and necessity of a focused thesis statement in any type of nonfiction writing, or in communication in general, including speeches and presentations. I probably left some readers dangling with one of two unresolved issues, however. The first would be: “What if I can’t come up with a thesis statement before I start writing?”  The second would be: “Okay, I’ve got the thesis statement, so now what?”

The answer to the first one is to just start writing. Write the middle or conclusion or both first, and then go back and structure a thesis statement around what you’ve done to write the introduction. In the process, you may well discover changes-additions and deletions-that need to be made. The thesis statement can be done last, in other words, though I prefer that the writer at least to have a rough idea of his or her thesis before beginning to write.  If that doesn’t work for you, then adapt the process to your style.

The second question concerns what to do after writing your thesis statement. In my example in the previous article, Susan had written her thesis this way: “All television advertising should be regulated because some ads are not suitable for children, some are misleading, and some cheapen and damage the fabric of American culture.”

Susan’s thesis is that television advertising should be regulated, and her three reasons for this are unsuitable ads, misleading ads, and culture-cheapening ads.  She wants regulators to regulate all ads to eliminate, restrict or reduce these types of ads. Since she has already stated three topics, the next step is to write about them. That’s where topic sentences come in.

Topic sentences generally lead off each paragraph in the body of the paper and introduce the topic of that paragraph. (I say generally because topic sentences can be moved around in the paragraph, but for simplicity and readability, using them first works quite well.)

Susan would now take her three topics and write about them in the order she introduced them to form the body of her paper, the middle part in which she substantiates her thesis. Since topic one is about ads that are unsuitable for children, she might write:  “Parents are rightfully concerned when TV ads show a half-naked Paris Hilton cavorting about in thinly veiled sexual innuendo.”  Or:  “Parents want to protect their children against ads that show sexual or violent content.”  There are many variations, including: “Controversial ads should be kept from the eyes of children.” I think you get the idea.

For her second topic, Susan could write: “Ads that mislead or make false claims should be rejected or sent back for revision.” And for her third: “Some TV ads just cheapen the culture in which we live by extolling vice, bad habits and uncivil behavior.”

For each topic and each paragraph explaining that topic, Susan should provide three supporting statements. For controversial ads, she could merely write about controversial advertising she’s seen on TV or has read about in her research, or better, she could cite and quote three parents or parent groups on the effect of such advertising on children. The more authority these parents or groups have, the better for Susan’s argument.

The three paragraphs explaining Susan’s topics become the body of her paper, so the only thing that’s left is to write the conclusion, which could range from a summary to a call for action, but generally should repeat the thesis (reworded) to drive home the main point of the paper one last time.

It sounds simple, and it is — but to get there requires some patience and practice. As with everything in life, good writing is learned through repetition and practice.

After a career in journalism that started in the 1970s, Gary McCarty is now semi-retired and facilitating university classes while writing and producing his Weblog,

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