The videos and tutorials below–developed by St. Mike’s librarians and writing instructors–support students throughout the research essay and assignment process. You can access them using the Explore tabs in each section.
If you have any questions or feedback related to these tutorials, we’d love to hear them. Please send any comments or queries to Richard Carter or James Roussain.
Narrowing a Topic
Once you’ve got a basic understanding of your topic, it’s time to zero in on a finer aspect of it. Focusing is important. It’s only by whittling a topic down that you can write about it convincingly. Take these statements:
Aristocratic Life in the Middle Ages.
The Leisure Activities of Aristocratic Women in 13th Century England.
The first topic is so broad that it is hard to know which aspect of life to start with. Without being more specific, you are likely to ramble through descriptions of hunting, or dancing, or cooking, or jousting, or education, or socializing, or spinning, or games, or romance,etc., from one sub-topic to another, without developing a clear line of thought. The second topic, on the other hand, is much more focused than the first topic and offers you a place to start.
A useful way to narrow your topic is to use a concept map. Click the Explore tab to find out more.
A concept map allows you to develop a sophisticated picture of your topic or research question. The key to this picture is relationships. You begin with some basic information and brainstorm to get it on paper or on a screen. Concept mapping helps you flesh out this information in several ways:
Organizing it into similar themes, topics, and categories.
Sorting details into hierarchies, from general concept to specific instance.
Pinpointing connections among these details.
There is no one way to develop a concept map, but here are some basic steps:
1. Begin with some introductory information about the topic (e.g. from class lectures, an encyclopedia, or a textbook chapter).
2. Brainstorm everything about the topic that comes to mind, and arrange it visually on paper or on a screen.
3. Sort into groups by topic.
4. Sort again by their relations with one another (e.g. general to specific).
5. Drum up new details (broader or more specific) and, if necessary, delete others.
6. Re-arrange details if necessary.
7. Work out connections among different details and indicate these connections with arrows.
Concept Maps – Example
Take a look at this concept map on the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump. Click through the slides to see how you can develop your understanding of a topic from a brainstormed list of details to an organized, interconnected web of subtopics.
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Concept Maps – Practice 1
In this French Revolution concept map example, drag & drop the shapes in the top-right corner to their correct places. Click Submit to check your answer.
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Concept Maps – Practice 2
In this Celtic cinema concept map example, drag & drop the shapes on the left to their correct places. Click Submit to check your answer.
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When researching, you need information. Even the smart and knowledgeable can’t know everything. In fact, the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know yet. You might need facts, you might need an overview, or you might need a thoughtful analysis. Having an idea what kind of sources you need before you look for them will make researching much easier.
Often your professor will tell you which sources, or kinds of sources, to look for. This guidance will depend on your subject area, discipline, and assignment. But, in general, there are several ways to identify what you might need:
1. PHYSICAL FORMAT: (e.g. book, DVD, magazine, ebook, microfilm, audio file, handwritten letter, webpage, film, cassette tape, photograph)
2. PURPOSE: (e.g. to inform, to entertain, to explore, to introduce, to analyze, to persuade, to sell, to discover)
3. INFORMATION TYPE: (e.g. Fact, argument, interpretation, criticism, opinion)
4. AUDIENCE: (e.g. scholars, children, general public, businesspeople, friends, family, a group with a shared interest)
5. RESOURCES: (e.g. tools used for finding sources such as catalogues, article databases, search engines, print indexes, bibliographies, subject headings, research guides, online text collections, webpages)
6. CONTENT TYPE: (e.g. newspaper article, book-length study, advertisement, movie, TV news broadcast, scholarly journal article, book review, documentary, interview, email, government document, lecture, statistical table)
7. MEDIUM: (e.g. print, online, TV)
Scholarly Publication Types
Use the slideshow below to try guessing the correct publication type based on the text alone. The exercise is intended to clarify the usefulness of different publication types used in scholarship.
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Wading works best. Jumping straight into a scholarly journal article, a statistics table, a government report, or an in-depth study, is likely to leave you in the ring unfairly matched. Without background, you have no ground at all.
Imagine a party where, not knowing anyone, you hover around animated groups hoping to join the conversation. That’s no fun–but it’s exactly what will happen if you cliff-jump into research. Luckily, no instructor expects you to be a subject expert: you are, after all, an undergraduate. Sure, professors hope you gain basic knowledge from listening in class and doing course readings and assignments. But in general, starting at close to zero is perfectly normal–and most of your fellow students will start there too.
Getting a List of Books on Your Topic
When searching for materials on your topic, reduce your essay topic to keywords. Keywords are the major words in your topic. They represent the main ideas you’re looking for and they are usually nouns.
2. Subject Headings
Peeking in catalogue and database records to see what the subject headings are is a good strategy. Often these headings are to guess–and without them you may miss important books and articles on your topic.
Searching Using Keywords: Moving Beyond Google™
Building on topics covered under Developing a Research Question: From Topic to Argument, this session takes a research question and breaks it down into a series of useful keywords and search strings. This session also covers elements of Boolean searching and, using UTL resources, reviews effective database search strategies.
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Keywords are essential tools for a researcher, whether rummaging through a catalogue, scouring an article database, or trying your luck with Google. Open this video to learn what keywords are, why you need them, how to choose them, and how to use them.
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Using Subject Headings
Subject headings are standardized descriptions you find in catalogue and database records. Librarians apply them to books and articles to give an accurate gist of what different sources are about. Here’s an example:
Knights and knighthood — England — History
Since they are standardized, they are not always the first words or phrases you’d think of. But without them you may miss important books and articles on your topic.
Click the sample keywords below in the orange boxes to see what the real subject headings are. Click the white background to try another keyword.
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Primary & Secondary Sources
Primary and secondary sources refer to two key types of information used in scholarship.
A primary source
is studied, either for its own sake, or for what it reveals about the time and place in which it was produced. Scholars, like bees among flowers, are drawn to primary sources because by examining these original documents they can create substantial contributions to research.
Examples: poems, archival letters, the Magna Carta, an email, historical newspaper articles, Ontario government internal documents, Second World War broadcasts, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, scholarly journal articles presenting original studies, Shakespeare’s plays, leases, census schedules, etc.
A secondary source
is studied chiefly because it comments upon or analyzes a primary source or another secondary source.
Examples: monographs (book-length studies written by one author), essay collections, encyclopedia articles, many scholarly journal articles, most literary criticism, Biblical commentaries, etc.
Begin with secondary sources. Authors of these have already done a lot of work for you. They can tell you what has been written on a topic: which theories underlie it, which scholars have most advanced it, which controversies animate it, which arguments knot and unravel it, and which sources underpin it. For some courses, this second-hand scholarship is often all you need. All the same, a committed researcher rightly wonders how scholars come to their conclusions. Ask yourself Why as you read, and follow-up footnotes and bibliographies. Dig deep enough into secondary sources and you will usually find one or more primary sources beneath.
An Introduction to Primary Sources
Watch this 8-minute video on primary sources: what they are, why they’re useful, and how to find them.
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Paraphrasing & Synthesizing
Putting other people’s thoughts in your own words is essential to success at university. It helps you understand others’ ideas, it helps you ponder and critique them, and it helps you integrate them into your own work. Shuffling the words an author uses and substituting a few synonyms may give your sentences the appearance of paraphrase but they often expose a lack of understanding. Paraphrasing means rephrasing entirely—so what you’ve read is clear, both in your mind and on paper.
Understanding is key. Grasp a text’s ideas well enough and they naturally sprout an independent life, both in your brain and on your keyboard.
Here are 8 steps that may help.
1. Read the original text carefully.
2. Read it again till you feel you really understand it.
3. Hide the text away so you can’t see it.
4. Sit back and think about what you’ve read—in particular, figure out:
– what the gist (or main idea) is;
– what details the author uses to support this idea.
– what you NEED from this source—and what it has to do with your assignment.
5. State the main idea to yourself out loud. Don’t worry yet if you ramble at first, or if your interpretation is simplistic. Better a simple interpretation that means something to you than a complex one you haven’t grasped.
6. Write down what you said out loud. Revise a few times. Then go back to the original text to see if you’ve given an accurate account.
7. Switching from talking aloud to writing thoughts down can be challenging. If that happens to you, try a voice recorder. Many smart phones have one.
8. As with quotations, when you paraphrase you must always cite your source.
Using and Integrating Quotations
By Jordana Greenblatt
Many students find quotation baffling. You know you have to do it, but when, how much, and how aren’t terribly clear. Some assignments and/or disciplines will specify that they don’t want much—if any—direct quotation, telling you to paraphrase instead.
If that’s what your assignment or instructor says, listen to them! Don’t quote, just paraphrase as needed, citing appropriately. But what about when you are supposed to use quotation?
How Much Should You Quote?
Some assignments will ask you to close read or analyze a specific passage. For these assignments, you need to make sure that you engage substantially with the passage you have been assigned. Throwing in one or two lines from it and quickly moving on won’t suffice. You should use few, if any, examples from the rest of the text the passage comes from, instead prioritizing material from the passage itself.
What if you’re just writing a regular assignment (direct quotations are permitted, but you are not restricted to a single passage)? Quote as necessary to support your argument. If you’re writing an essay, say, about literature, and you almost never quote directly, you’re quoting too little. If the quotations—including from researched articles—are overshadowing your own voice, then you’re quoting too much.
When Should You Quote?
In general, you want to quote directly only when one or more of the following situations applies:
- You will be engaging in substantial analysis of the specific passage or phrase you have quoted.
- You will be critiquing, in detail, the position expressed in the passage or phrase you are quoting.
- The specific language that the writer uses to express their idea is particularly interesting, eloquent, or noteworthy.
How Should You Quote?
Analyzing Your Quotations
Whenever you quote, you must follow your quotation with analysis immediately. It is your job to demonstrate why and how the quotation is important; don’t leave this task to your reader! Here are some examples (I have used MLA format. You should cite using whichever citation format has been specified by your instructor):
Bad: When Shakespeare writes “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate” in Sonnet 18, the reader can see that the person he is writing about is beautiful (1-2). The reader can see from the line “thy eternal summer shall not fade” that the beauty will last for a long time.
Good: Asking first “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, Shakespeare’s speaker soon asserts that his beloved is not only “more lovely,” but “more temperate” than a single day (18.1-2). While the beauty of a day can vary even in the summer, the beloved’s temperate loveliness never fluctuates. Rather, preserved by the speaker’s poetry, his beauty stretches beyond the changeability of a single day into an “eternal summer” (18.9).
Integrating Your Quotations
Quotations must be integrated into sentences of your own. They cannot stand alone as a sentence, and they must work with the rest of your sentence in a way that is grammatically correct. Here are some examples:
Wrong: In “Economic Man and Literary Woman,” Robin West claims that literature helps us to understand others. “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (874).
Wrong: In “Economic Man and Literary Woman,” Robin West talks about “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (874).
Right: In “Economic Man and Literary Woman,” Robin West argues that “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (874).
Right: Claiming that “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign,” Robin West positions the use of literary techniques in our interpersonal interactions as enabling us to grasp the experiences of others with whom we have little in common (“Economic” 874).
Sometimes you might have to change some words in the quotation to make it work grammatically with the rest of your sentence. To indicate that you have done so, use square brackets. To indicate that you have omitted words, use ellipses. Here’re some examples:
- In “Economic Man and Literary Woman,” Robin West represents “Metaphor and narrative [as] the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (874).
- In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare’s speaker represents his beloved’s beauty as constant and unchanging, telling him: “Thou art … more temperate” (2) than “a summer’s day” (1).
If you feel unsure as to how to integrate a quotation into a sentence, you can always just begin by writing that the author “writes,” “argues,” “contends,” “claims,” “implies,” “suggests,” “explains,” etc. Here’s an example:
As Robin West contends, “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (“Economic” 874).
Make sure that your punctuation fits the sentence construction that you have used. Here are some options:
- Robin West argues that “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (“Economic” 874).
- Robin West argues: “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (“Economic” 874).
- As Robin West argues, “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (“Economic” 874).
- According to Robin West, “Metaphor and narrative are the means by which we come to understand what was initially foreign” (“Economic” 874).
For more information, consult the UofT Writing website.
Quoting and Paraphrasing: Understanding and synthesizing information
Session discussing the different approaches to, and applications of, quotations and paraphrasing and in academic research and writing. This session focuses on the mechanics of each as related to plagiarism and phrasing.
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Summarizing Practice: The Capture of Jerusalem
Use this tutorial to gain practice summarizing a scholarly paragraph.
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Ask why you’re opening a book or scholarly article in the first place. You want something–but what? If you’re not sure, there’s a good chance that book or article will suck you in like a swamp and keep you stuck for hours. That’s because you’re letting your sources take charge. Once you wade in, it’s their world, their time, their rules. Don’t let that happen! Instead, venture with purpose.
You may have a thesis statement, you may have a research question, or you may just have a basic topic. All these can help you decide:
What kind of information you want. For example:
What kind of source you need. For example:
Skimming & Scanning
Once you’ve been to the library and brought home books and scholarly articles, you’ll need to decide what’s worth reading closely. Skimming and scanning can help with this selection. Scanning means glancing quickly and strategically for a specific word, or series of words. Skimming also means glancing quickly and strategically–not for specific words but for general meaning.
Scanning helps you figure out if a chapter may relate to your essay topic, whereas skimming gives you the gist of a reading you’re covering in class tomorrow. Rather than reading every word, or flipping unproductively through a book or article, use scanning and skimming to stand back, either to suss a text’s relevance (in the case of scanning) or its general gist (in the case of skimming). To do that, you pick up a book chapter or article and quickly glance through it for gist or relevance. Focus on:
Tables of Contents
First and last paragraphs of chapters or articles
First sentences of paragraphs
Diagrams, charts, and tables
The Main Idea
In an argumentative paragraph, details support an argument; in a descriptive paragraph, details round out a general topic. In both cases, the writing has a purpose called the gist or main idea. In short, the main idea is the essence of what any communication is about. Think of a keystone at the top of an archway that holds the other stones in place. That’s what a main idea does.
Take, for example, the argument pollution is bad. This statement is a main idea; but facts about the deaths of seabirds from a Gulf of Mexico oilslick and respiratory illnesses due to smog pollution in Los Angeles are details that support this main idea.
Skimming & Scanning
Everyone should have more than one way to read. Professor Steve Hoselton focuses on two methods that help you read (and feel more relaxed) under pressure.
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Read excerpts of a scholarly journal article and get practice identifying a research question, a thesis statement, and concrete evidence.
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Developing an Argument
By Jordana Greenblatt
You probably already know that you need to devise an argument for your academic papers and express it succinctly in a thesis statement. This handout assumes that you’ve got your thesis down and want learn to move beyond the thesis statement to the next skill to master in order to write an effective essay: effective argumentation throughout the body of your paper.
To develop a good argument, it’s not sufficient to have a viable thesis statement. Your whole paper has to work together to support the argument, which must build and progress as the paper continues.
Click the In-Depth tab to continue.
Developing An Argument (Continued)
By Jordana Greenblatt
In high school, essay writing tends to be taught in the language of “topics” and “subtopics.” In university, that way of thinking can make it harder both to write an effective thesis statement and to develop a continuous argument in the body of your essay. It encourages you to think in the form of a list.
Imagine you’re going to the grocery store, and you want to remember what to buy. You make a list, but it really doesn’t matter what order the items are in:
. . . is effectively the same as:
Many essays using the topic/subtopic premise come out looking a lot like that grocery list. Effectively, you end up producing an essay that looks like this 1st chart on the left. The topics are visualized horizontally, because they don’t really progress. You could rearrange your body topics in any order, and it wouldn’t make much difference. This is the mark of poor argumentation.
An essay with the thesis statement below might look like this 2nd chart below on the right:
In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe criticizes the colonization of the Ibo people through describing pre-colonial Ibo culture, British legal systems, and British violence against the Ibo.
The problem here is that there is no clear sense of how the argument builds from topic to topic (a problem reflected in the structure of the thesis itself which, as you can see from the 3rd chart below, lists subtopics instead of relating them together as part of an overarching argument).
In an argumentative essay, your reader should feel as if each paragraph builds on the one before. It shouldn’t feel like the paragraphs could be rearranged. Instead, it should feel like you need to have established the sub-argument you made in the paragraph before to move on the next paragraph and sub-argument.
In the interests of effective argumentation, we might remodel our prospective thesis and essay body as follows in the 4th chart below:
In order to get to each sub-argument of this example essay, the writer needs to establish what s/he does in the preceding paragraph(s). That’s the sign of an overarching argument, rather than simply a list of subtopics, and it is something that you must accomplish in order to write an effective essay.
Argument & Evidence: An Introduction
Click through this brief interactive tutorial on the basic components of an argument.
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Building An Argument: Practice
Read an article by author Mark Manson and arrange the parts into the best order.
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Understanding Your Assignment
Understanding what your professor wants is as crucial for your learning as a destination for a traveler. You may not have a map, you may not have a car, you may not have clean water, and you may not have any money, but if you know where you’re going you at least have a chance of getting there. It’s the same with assignments.
Here are 6 tips for getting a good grasp of your assignment.
1. Go to your lectures and tutorials. Just attending and paying attention will give you a good idea what professors expect you to do.
2. Read the assignment instructions and syllabus carefully. Most professors post these in Quercus.
3. If you don’t understand the written instructions in Quercus or the verbal instructions in class, speak to a professor or TA face-to-face. Don’t rely on your classmates: they might not understand either. Visit your professors during office hours and ask them to clarify their expectations.
4. If your professor’s explanation still confuses you, try showing her or him a rough plan of your assignment and ask if you’re on the right track.
5. Try one of the UofT libraries’ online encyclopedias. Say you’re writing a paper on the civil rights’ movement in 1960s America. The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences has an article on the movement. Reading it will give you a reliable but accessible overview; key terms, themes, events and names; and–in most encyclopedias–a bibliography of sources you could use to follow up.
6. Ask librarians and writing instructors for help. We may not understand an assignment as well as the professor who wrote it, but we’re familiar with academic assignments enough that we can offer sound advice.
Developing a Research Question: From Topic to Thesis
This tutorial introduces three key pieces of essay arguments: research problems, research questions, and thesis statements.
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Problems, Questions, & Thesis Statements
This tutorial introduces three key pieces of essay arguments: research problems, research questions, and thesis statements.
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By Jaclyn Piudik
When you are asked to write an essay that creates an argument, your reader will probably expect a clear statement of your position. This statement is called a thesis statement. Typically, this summary statement comes in the first paragraph of the essay, though there is no rigid rule about its position.
Understand Your Essay Question
There are no set rules, since every professor sets assignments differently, but many will use these kinds of words – illustrate analyze explain evaluate compare and/or contrast discuss show interpret reflect. These words ask you for an ARGUMENT that shows how your reading is put together, how it works – and it will determine what kind of thesis statement you write.
Know What An Argument Is
It is – a process of sharing knowledge, presented so that others can test your claims and reasoning, a way for others to determine whether they agree with what you think. In other words, it is like a conversation with someone interested in your claims but not necessarily convinced by them.
Your thesis statement is a way of presenting your argument to the reader… think of it as a roadmap or contract.
So…What Is A Thesis?
A one or two sentence statement that:
explicitly outlines the purpose or point of your essay
points toward the course of argument your essay will take
contains an arguable point (NOT an observation or fact)
Click the In-Depth tab to continue.
Thesis Statements (Continued)
By Jaclyn Piudik
How Do I Create a Thesis?
Think of your thesis as having two parts:
A Claim to make specific argumentative points rather than sweeping general statements
A Strategy for proving that claim: indicates a theoretical basis and promise of substantial support
The CLAIM of the Thesis
Answers a question of “who, what, where or when”
Offers something the reader can argue against (for example, reader can respond by saying “no, I don’t agree”)
Is of limited value; only a starting point for the thesis
The STRATEGY of the Thesis
Explains “how” or “why” you will develop your argument
Can ‘indirectly’ or ‘directly’ indicate your argumentative strategy
Compels you to be interpretive
Characteristics of a Good Thesis Statement
1. It makes a definite and limited assertion that needs to be explained and supported by further discussion:
David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life is a great Australian novel [Weak].
In his novel An Imaginary Life, David Malouf develops a contrast between a witty Roman poet and a wild child he meets in a primitive colony by the Black Sea [Moderate].
In his novel An Imaginary Life, David Malouf, in developing a contrast between an urbane Roman poet and a wild speechless child, emphasizes the importance of language in forging a connection to others and the world [Strong: Shows Interpretation].
2. It shows the emphasis and indicates the methodology of your argument:
The First World War was caused by political alliances and treaties [Vague].
The origins of the First World War lay in the alliances of Serbia with Russia and France, Germany with Austro-Hungary, and Britain with Belgium [Specific: Shows Strategy].
3. It shows awareness of difficulties and disagreement:
Having an official policy on euthanasia just causes problems, as the Dutch example shows [Sweeping, Vague].
Dutch laws on euthanasia have been rightly praised for their attention to the principles of self-determination. Recent cases, however, show that they have not been able to deal adequately with issues involving technological intervention of unconscious patients. Hamarckian strategies can solve at least the question of assignation of rights [Strong: Shows Strategy].
Thesis Statement FAQs
No. They are related, but not interchangeable. The research question is the first step. It focuses your research on a significant issue, controversy or contradiction, but does not necessarily make a claim.
No. This is the conventional place for a statement of focus, but it is not the only one. Some thesis statements can be made in the opening sentences of an essay. Other papers need more than one paragraph for an introduction.
Yes. Clear, concise writing is the most important rule of thumb, but a complex argument might require more than one sentence.
No. It should show that the essay will discuss and support its argument, but does not need a specific number of points. Use as many or as few points as you need to present a suitably complex and clear argument.
Yes. Some arguments are explicitly opinions and personal speculations, while others are presented in a more objective, neutral way. Whether you use the first person or not will often depend upon the type of essay you are writing. As long as your argument is grounded in evidence and analysis, you need not be too concerned about using the “I.” When in doubt, ask your professor or TA!
Yes. Sometimes when we start to write we have a tentative claim or hypothesis. It is not set in stone. Your thesis statement can evolve as you do your research or as you think through your ideas in the writing process. You can always refine your thesis statement once you have finished your draft to reflect the complexities of your argument.
Test Your Thesis Statement
Does your thesis show depth of thought or is it mainly descriptive?
Does the thesis present an argument and is it worded as an argument?
Is the thesis debatable? Can someone contest your claim?
Does the thesis answer the “so what” question?
Does the thesis address the assigned question?
Thesis Statements: An Introduction
Click through this slideshow to get a fast idea what a thesis statement is and how it differs from an essay topic.
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Thesis Statements: Practice
Read excerpts of scholarly journal articles and try your luck at identifying thesis statements.
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Ideas, by nature, fertilize. An old thought feeds a new one, a new thought breeds fresh habits, and youthful thoughts and habits run riot over old ones. Stealing someone else’s ideas is plagiarism; universities take that seriously. But a key part of scholarship is expressing other people’s thoughts to develop your own. You need to refer to others’ work; but you don’t want to be a thief.
Citation–also called documentation or referencing–solves this problem.
It allows you to quote or paraphrase what others say by simply giving them proper credit. In short, citation is a standard way of saying where you got your information.
In Essays Always Cite in 2 Places
In the text of your paper (Called in-text citation)
At the end of the paper (Called a bibliography, a reference list, or a works cited)
Refer to What an Author Says 2 Ways
Quotation (Using the author’s exact words)
Paraphrase (Putting the author’s ideas into your own words)
In both cases, you must cite the author.
Distinguishing Between Different Source Types
It’s handy to know what kind of source you’re looking at in a bibliography: is a book, a journal article, or a book chapter? Or something else? Try the drag & drop activity below to gain practice identifying the three main source types: books, journal articles, and book chapters.
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MLA Style – An Introduction
The Modern Language Association (MLA) has been around since 1883. Best known for 2 products–the MLA International Bibliography and the MLA Handbook–the MLA is the major North American professional association for academics in language and literature.
The MLA International Bibliography is the major article database for anyone researching language or literature.
MLA Style is the key citation style used by many disciplines in the humanities, including English Literature, Philosophy, and History. The official guide, the MLA Handbook, has been published since the 1970s and is now in its 9th edition. The UofT Libraries have many copies you can borrow: see the links below.
Citations and Your Sources: Crediting others’ work using MLA style citations
Session discussing why and how scholars cite their sources, the value of citations in the research process, and the consequences of poor citations. Examples are used to highlight the specific steps involved in forming an MLA in-text citation and Works Cited page.
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APA Style – An Introduction
The American Psychological Association (APA) supports scholars and scientists working in psychology. It style guide, however, is used by many academics throughout the social sciences, including geography, sociology, anthropology, economics, information studies, and political science.
Now in its 7th edition (2020), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is available in print at several UofT Libraries: see the links below.
Citations and Your Sources: Crediting others’ work using APA style citations (7th edition)
Session discussing why and how scholars cite their sources, the value of citations in the research process, and the consequences of poor citations. Examples are used to highlight the specific steps involved in forming an APA in-text citation and References page.
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APA Style – Drag & Drop Practice
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Chicago / Turabian Style – An Introduction
Chicago Style owes its existence to the University of Chicago Press, which started in printing in the 1890s and, by 1903, was cranking out its own stylesheet. The most recent edition (from 2017) is the 17th.
Unlike most other styles, Chicago comes in two flavours: a notes-bibliography style used in the humanities, and an author-date style used in social science disciplines like political science.
Turabian Style–also the offspring of the University of Chicago Press–is an undergraduate and high school version of Chicago Style and largely the same. Like Chicago it offers both notes-bibliography and author-date versions.
The latest editions of the Chicago and Turabian style guides are available in print or online at several UofT Libraries: see the links below.
Chicago Notes-Bibliography Style – Drag & Drop Practice
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By Jaclyn Piudik
More than simply proofreading for errors, revision is a process of evaluating and amending your written work. The word revise comes from Latin and means to look or see again [revisere = to look back at, revisit; revidere = to see again]. While the value of revision is often underestimated, it is a crucial stage of the writing process, one that can change a good essay into a great essay.
Revising will not only help you to become a better writer and a better editor, but it will also help you to become a better thinker! Writing is a way of “thinking on the page” and the revision process will allow you to groom your thoughts, hone your ideas and craft your arguments. During this phase, you can review what you’ve written to make large-scale improvements in structure, organization and content, as well as refinements in style, language and grammar.
Revising is an opportunity:
to determine whether you have fulfilled the purpose of your assignment and responded effectively to the prompt
to examine the logic and the development of your argument
to see if you’ve omitted any important details, if you’ve digressed or integrated extraneous/irrelevant information (and then expand or cut as necessary)
to correct problems at the sentence level (word choice, grammar and sentence structure)
You’ll begin to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your writing in order to build upon what you already do well and make improvements in problem areas. It is true that revision adds to the time you spend on your assignments and it might mean that you will have to rewrite parts of your essay. But the benefits will be worth the extra time and effort!
Leaving yourself the time to revise will also afford you an unexpected freedom in the drafting phase. Knowing that you don’t have to write the perfect essay on your first try, that you can return to it, reshape, reconfigure, adjust and fine-tune it, will make the initial writing a far less stressful and – perhaps surprisingly – more creative, productive process.
Click the In-Depth tab to continue.
By Jaclyn Piudik
Getting Down to Business
Once you have a full working draft, you are ready to begin the revision process.
Hopefully, you’ve left yourself some time; so, try setting your draft aside for a day or two so that you can gain an objective distance from what you’ve written. You’ll come back to it with a fresh perspective and will likely see things that you might otherwise have missed.
You’ll be working on two different levels:
The macro level: structure, ideas, argument and evidence
The micro level: editing and proofreading, format and citations, grammar and spelling, (i.e. the technical elements, mechanics and details).
Revision and editing are generally better done on a hard copy – this will help you to see the essay as a whole; you will make the adjustments on your computer later:
Before you print your draft, read through it on your computer first to pick up any obvious mistakes.
Use your computer’s spell check tool, but be aware that you will still need to re-check your draft.
Spell check will only identify misspelled words; if you have used a wrong word, such as a homonym (e.g., their vs. there vs. they’re), it will not pick up the error.
If you find it easier to do revisions directly on your computer, the “Track Changes” function in your word processing program is a useful tool for monitoring your revisions.
Start On The Macro Level, The Big Picture And Then Proceed To The Details, The Micro Level:
Ideas, argument, evidence
1. Main Argument/Idea
A key question to keep in mind as you read through you draft is whether you have formulated and developed an argument that responds to the prompt question and the guidelines of your assignment.
Remember to pay close attention to the prompt words, to the way the instructions are set out: Are you being asked to take a position? Are you being asked to define, explore, discuss?
The language in the prompt will indicate the kind of thinking you are expected to do in your assignment and will help you to determine how your response should be constructed.
Your thesis statement will be the first element to review.
Does it engage with the prompt? Is it specific and unified? Is it significant (i.e. does it introduce a “so what?” factor)? Does it have a claim and a strategy? Does it offer your reader a map of the essay?
A strong thesis statement should suggest the structure of your essay: think of it as a contract that clearly sets out the trajectory or your argument for your audience.
2. Organization of the Body
Reviewing the organization of your essay is crucial in order to see whether you have developed your argument effectively and whether each part of your argument is in the appropriate place.
Here are some general questions to keep in mind as you read:
Do your arguments support your thesis statement?
Do your points follow a logical, coherent progression?
Do you support your claims with evidence and analysis?
Have you fully fleshed out the issues with solid reasoning?
If you created an outline for your essay, you can use that as a starting point to see how the essay aligns with your initial structure. But sometimes as the essay develops, you might integrate new points or shift your direction slightly; you might have found and incorporated new research or decided on a different order. So it is best not to rely on your original outline.
Try a Reverse Outline instead.
3. Development of the Essay
This stage of the revision process requires close attention to substance, to content.
As you read through each paragraph of the essay, you will need to ask yourself some important questions:
Did you introduce evidence for all of your arguments?
Does your evidence adequately support your claims?
Do you offer sufficient analysis of your evidence to advance your claims? (Do you explain the connection between the evidence and the claim?)
Are there places in the paper where more details, examples, or specifics are needed?
Does your essay present a nuanced treatment of your topic? Have you considered where they might be grey areas or counterarguments that might raise questions for your reader or potentially undermine your argument?
Is there material that is irrelevant? If so, you will need to decide whether it is superfluous (does it distract your reader from the trajectory of the overall argument and need to be omitted) or whether it needs further explanation or analysis.
Remember: You want your reader to see that you understand the material and that you are making the proper connections. However, if something is irrelevant, you can lose ground in what you are trying to argue and at the same time, lose your reader’s attention and comprehension.
4. Flow between Sections
Look at your topic sentences to make sure they connect back to where your previous paragraph left off.
Have you used transitions effectively to indicate the relationship between one paragraph and the next?
It is usually best to review your introduction AFTER you review the body of your essay. WHY? Once you’ve combed through the body of your essay, you will have a clear idea of what you’ve actually argued. Your essay might have taken a different direction than you initially intended and the introduction may need to be refined to correspond with the finished draft. It is important, therefore, to make sure that your introduction matches what follows. Even if you didn’t veer from your original vision, its always a good idea to make sure that you get off to a good start.
The introduction of your essay is where you establish its purpose for your reader. It is where you provide background to contextualize the subject and the issue at hand. A successful introduction will offer enough information to lay a foundation for your argument, but will avoid unnecessary details that are better left for the body of the essay as you develop your points. In most essays, the introduction is where you state your thesis (generally – but not always – at or near the end of the introduction).
Review your introduction to determine whether you have:
Provided adequate information to situate the topic
Defined terms that might not be familiar to your reader
Included your argument/thesis statement and a direction for the paper
It is a common belief that the conclusion is simply a restatement of your thesis, but it can be used to do much more. While a good conclusion will revisit the essay’s argument, this is where you can consider its broader implications, its relevance or significance. You put a great deal of effort into the 5 or 10 pages you just wrote, so make the ending as interesting as everything that came before it. Don’t leave your reader flat! Here’s your chance to make an impact, to leave an impression on the audience so that they continue to think about your argument even after they put the essay down.
Ask yourself: Why is this important? What can we learn from this? ‘So what?’
Does your conclusion draw together what you have argued in an interesting way?
Did you restate your central argument in a new way (not verbatim!)?
Have you engaged with the significance of your arguments in a way that leaves the reader thinking about what he or she has just read?
Now we can begin to move in closer to look at the sentence level …
Start with questions of style, keeping in mind that clear, concise writing is always preferable. Streamlining your writing will allow your reader to understand your points, which is the goal of your essay.
Opt for plain language: don’t use fancy language for its own sake.
Is the connection between your sentences clear?
Have you guided the reader from one sentence to the next in a logical manner with words that will show the relationships?
(For example, on the other hand, however to show contrast; therefore, consequently to show cause and effect)
Are you using precise language that is appropriate to your topic?
Are you using language that is clichéd or too general?
Remember: Don’t rely on a thesaurus alone. When you find a synonym, be sure to look up the definition in the dictionary to be sure that it accurately conveys the meaning you are looking for. Make sure that you are using terms that you understand and that you are using them correctly!
Do you use doubled words or redundancies? (eg. close proximity, full and complete, reconsider again, join together)
Do you rely on intensifiers or qualifiers? (eg. Very, extremely, really, a considerable amount of, to a certain extent)
Do you use catch-all terms that are vague? (eg. aspect, factor, thing, feature)
Do you use formulaic phrases where one you can use one word? (eg. for the purpose of vs. to; due to the fact that vs. because; with regard to vs. about). Occasional use of such words and phrases can add variety to your sentences, but be careful not to overuse them or your writing will become cumbersome. Note words that get in the way of or complicate the sentence’s meaning.
The Passive Voice
To locate instances of passive voice in your essay, look for verbs that consist of two or more words; if the parts include a form of the verb be plus the past participle of another verb, you probably have an example of passive voice (was given, is helped, are spoken, will be described).
Another way to identify passive voice is to look for verb phrases followed by the word by (The theory was explained by the professor.) Often, sentences in the passive voice use by after the verb to explain who or what is doing the action.
To revise passive verbs, rewrite the sentence so that the person or thing performing the action comes first (The professor explained the theory.).
Occasional use of the passive voice is acceptable – especially in certain disciplines (eg. scientific writing). You can use it for variety in your writing or when the subject is not known (e.g., “Research has been undertaken to show that…”). However, academic writing tends to favour the active voice for greater concision and clarity.
Look for repeated words and phrases and ask yourself whether they are necessary
Try to vary sentence types and lengths for lively and interesting writing.
Everyone forgets things sometimes–and when writing an essay, dropping the ball at times on citation, typos, and formatting is perfectly understandable. At the same time, small details can make a difference, and why lose marks for no reason? This online essay checklist helps you make sure your essay is ready to submit. While helping you get the details right, it will also relieve your professor of having to penalize unnecessary errors.
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