The following outline attempts to show you how to construct a good essay; it represents, in as simple a form as possible, the basic pattern to follow in putting together any “argument paper” whether this paper is a class essay, a dissertation, or an article designed for publication. An “argument paper” is best defined as a paper which states a thesis, or says something, and attempts to back it up or support this thesis with evidence which tends to convince the reader of the truth and validity of this thesis; this kind of paper is distinct from the kind of paper which merely presents information. (Also, the argument paper is more interesting, both to write and to read). These instructions are presented in outline form merely to make it more apparent that a good essay is put together step by step. If you are writing outside of class you will be able to follow this outline at your leisure; if you are writing in class, or answering an essay question on an exam, you still should mentally follow this outline to construct your essay before you start to write.



I.                   Form a good, strong thesis sentence, stating what you propose to show.

This is the most important part of the whole process, the foundation upon which your whole essay is constructed, and it must be the first thing done; until you have written the thesis sentence it is useless to try writing anything else. Given a topic, assemble your material and review it (mentally if in class during an exam) until you are familiar enough with this material to form an opinion or judgment about your topic. This opinion or judgment is the stand you are taking on this particular topic and it will be the conclusion which your entire essay will to try to establish and support. This is your thesis sentence; and this is why the thesis sentence has to come first when you construct an essay.


II.                Build your argument to support this thesis sentence.

Return to your assembled material. Go through it again, and this time copy down every argument, every bit of evidence, or every reason you can find in it which will support your conclusion. After you have done this you should be able to tell whether your conclusion is valid or not. If you cannot find enough support to convince yourself of the validity of your own conclusion, you should discard your thesis sentence and form a new one. Never attempt to argue on behalf of something which you yourself do not believe, if you do, your paper will not be very good.


III.             Arrange your argument to produce the maximum effect on the reader.

Go through the evidence or separate arguments you have copied down and arrange them in the order of their strength. Usually it is best to arrange them in the order of their strength. It is often best to start with the weakest and end with the strongest; this arrangement is not always possible, but when it can be done your argument will accumulate more force as it progresses. If this type of arrangement cannot be use, merely arrange the arguments in the order in which they will appear in your paper. Along with each argument, list any contrary arguments. You must state these fully and fairly, but show that on balance your viewpoint is to be favoured. If you ignore them, your essay will be weak, one sided and unconvincing.


IV.              Write your outline.

a)       Begin with a thesis sentence

b)      Always write complete sentences

c)       A brief introduction is needed if any questions or terms have to be defined before you start your argument; otherwise it is optional

d)      Roman numeral I will be the first argument or reason in support of your conclusion. Roman numeral II will be the second argument – and so on – as you have already arranged these arguments in order

e)       Just as the Roman numeral entries must support your conclusion, so must the sub-head entries under each roman numeral support that particular argument (usually by clarifying, explaining or the citing of examples).

f)       Copy your thesis sentence word for word as the conclusion at the end of your outline. (This may seem a bit of an insult to your intelligence, but if your outline has gone astray you will fins that your thesis will no longer fit in the position it was originally created to occupy. Thus, by doing this you can sometimes save yourself time and wasted effort.


V.                 Check your outline

a)       Are there any self-contradictory concepts in it?

b)      Is any of your material irrelevant?

c)       Does each argument follow logically from everything preceding it?

d)      Are there any gaps in your reasoning?

e)       Are there any terms which need to be defined?

f)       Are there any statements which are merely platitudes?

g)      Have you made any dogmatic statements?


VI.              Write the paper itself

About three-fourths of your work should be done before you reach this step. If steps I-V are done well and carefully, the paper should just about write itself.


VII.           Proofread you Paper.

And do it at least twice- more times if possible. (Never write anything which will be read by others unless you proofread it to the best of your ability; this is one rule that is rigidly observed by all mature scholars and authors who have been writing for years).

a)       Proofread your thought and style, and again check the list in V. Also does your paper read smoothly and easily? (Read it aloud, if possible, and you will find out).

b)      Proofread for mechanical errors.

  1. Check all questionable spelling.
  2. Check all the minimum standard requirements


VIII. Turn in your finished paper and wait patiently for your “A”.