Helping Students with Argumentation and Structure
Student papers are often disorganized for a variety of reasons. Three of the most common are (1) they don't know how to structure a paper, (2) they don't want to "bore" (or insult) the reader, (3) their thinking isn't clear yet. This page provides suggestions for how to help with these three common problems.
- The student doesn't know how to structure a paper. This is much more common than you would think. It is helpful to discuss basic organization principles with students such as the thesis, topic sentences, and paragraph structure. Even more commonly, students don't understand the basic four parts of academic arguments (PDF).
- The student knows about common structures, but he doesn't want to "bore" (or insult) the reader. Students often think that the lack of structure will make their paper more interesting. Encourage your student to see that ideas make a paper interesting and clarity allows the reader to assess those ideas. If a paper is so cloudy that the reader can't tell what the argument is, how can the reader assess the ideas? Gail Sherman provides the useful analogy of a train ride: if you decide to go on a trainwide, each stop the train makes will be more interesting if you knows the final destination, rather than if you must continually ask, where are we going? Are we there yet? Why are we stopping here? Likewise, the reader needs to not only know the final destination, but be told along the way where he is stopping and why.
- The student's thinking isn't clear yet. Sometimes a paper lacks structure because the student truly doesn't know what he is arguing. Encourage the student to brainstorm, free write, and cluster. Writing center tutors can help students with all of these steps. You may also find it useful to write down what a student says during a paper conference and give it to him at the end of the meeting. Students can often verbalize an argument before they can commit it to paper.
Making Academic Arguments (Adapted from a handout by Joseph Williams)
More Interesting Introductions and Conclusions
The Problem of the Problem (Joseph Williams, University of Chicago)