By Cassie Childs, Writing Consultant
In Part I of this blog I discussed my consultation with Joe, an introductory composition student whose paper did not meet the assignment requirements set by the instructor. After asking a lot of questions and gathering as many resources as possible in the first 5-10 minutes, I have a plan for Joe’s paper: focus on “big picture” areas like the introduction, thesis statement, and topic sentences. I know that Joe has only two hours for revision and I see the instructor’s feedback particularly highlights the paper’s misguided argument and overall organization.
After our initial 10 minutes, I work with the writer on the following:
Review the assignment requirements. This step may sound familiar (and perhaps repetitive), but I hope we all agree that rereading is a worthwhile practice. Asking the student to describe the assignment from memory might not always be enough information and may even be misinformation. Whenever possible, reread the assignment description, objectives, and requirements together. Not only will this help to guide your feedback, but it will also model for the writer to reread assignment descriptions. More than once I have had a writer recognize they are not meeting the requirements simply by rereading the assignment description.
Revise the thesis statement. In many cases, a paper will drastically improve with a clear and focused thesis statement. Ask the writer to identify where he or she believes the thesis/argumentative statement is in the introduction. It may exist and need revision, or it may not be present in the paper at all. Review the assignment requirements and make sure the thesis directly addresses the aim of the assignment.
With Joe, he identified a thesis statement in the introduction, but the instructor feedback clearly stated that the thesis needed to fit the assignment requirements. We focused on revising the statement and fitting it to the assignment and the paper as a whole. It wasn’t until we read the instructor feedback, (re)read his current thesis statement, looked at an example thesis, and discussed the assignment requirements and purpose of the assignment, that Joe recognized he was in fact not following the assignment. While this was a process, and took the majority of our session, it was ultimately the most beneficial outcome and helped him to see how the other parts of his paper (the topic sentences, for example) also did not meet the requirements.
Revise topic sentences. A shiny new thesis statement deserves equally strong topic sentences. The topic sentence should present the main idea of that paragraph and should refer back to the thesis statement. I often say to writers that a reader should be able to read only the thesis statement and topic sentences to know the paper’s overall argument. Topic sentences help to organize the paper and also help a writer to see if their paragraphs are indeed focused on one main idea.
Craft a compelling introduction. Introductions are important! They tell the reader what to expect from the remainder of the paper and make the reader want to keep reading. Just as a weak introduction can negatively influence a reader, a strong introduction compels the reader to read on and learn more.
While a writer’s paper may need improvement on integrating sources and editing for style and grammar, “big picture” issues often produce instant improvement to a paper’s overall organization and focus. When a writer is faced with limited time for revision, a strong thesis statement and topic sentences provide—at the very least—the allusion of organization and critical thinking. And, I doubt we will hear an instructor complain about that!