#9. Writing an Academic Essay (Part 1)
by Jayna Tokie Tanaka
I wrote my first report for school when I was in the fifth grade. I still remember scouring the National Geographic magazines for photos of Canada, which I was supposed to write about. I don’t remember what exactly it was that I wrote, but I do remember that I found a lot of pretty photos in travel ads trying to lure people to travel in that vast country. That report does remind me, though, that before we were allowed to write anything, we had to write an outline and show it to the teacher. That was probably my first experience with outlines, but learning how to write a proper one is the first step in writing academic essays. The academic essay is a good model for all types of writing, and there is a definite process that should be followed.
The academic essay is simply the kind of writing that teachers in all levels of education expect students to be able to write when they ask for a report. In elementary school, we were told to pick a country and write about it using words and illustrations. In middle school, a teacher in an English class may ask for a “book report.” Such a report would usually be about a work of fiction, so it would call for some information about the author, the plot line, and a critique of the work. In high school, I had a very good social studies teacher who liked to make us write reports about such topics as the “relationship between the U.S. and Japan” and the “candidates in the next U.S. presidential election.”1 In college, almost all courses required writing a “term paper.” By this time, everyone had a handbook of English writing, which included tips on grammar, usage, and the very important section on format. Format is what the final report should look like.2 In any case, format is so important that teachers in college will ask students to use a particular style book.
The first step in writing an academic essay is to decide the most important sentence in the essay. This sentence is called the “thesis statement,” and it is exactly that, a statement which gives the proposition made by the writer to be discussed in the essay. The thesis statement is labeled with the Roman number “I” because it will be a part of the first paragraph of the essay. The thesis statement, just as the topic sentence of a paragraph, consists of two parts: a topic and a controlling idea. This sentence must be very clear because the writer can only discuss the thesis statement in the essay. In other words, this statement provides the limits that the writer can discuss. The writer cannot overstep these limits by giving irrelevant information, nor can the writer fail to completely discuss the thesis statement.
To illustrate, I have chosen the topic “guns in the U.S.” Since I feel very strongly about this issue, I think it should be easy to convince the reader of my thesis. As with any topic, the possibilities for the controlling idea are countless. However, since the controlling idea is what the essay will be about, it must be chosen carefully, and in addition, the writer should not be afraid of changing the controlling idea if it proves impossible to make a persuasive argument for it. Some possibilities for thesis statements include: guns in the “kill too many people,” “guns in private hands” in the U.S. “must be banned,” and gun laws in the U. S. “must adopt Hawaii state gun control laws.”
(To Be Continued)
1. With no Internet at the time, this meant long hours in the school library and even trips to the public library
in Honolulu to find material to use in the reports.
2. For some reason, my students do not seem to think that format is important. I make them rewrite their
homework if the format is wrong. They usually say, “Just for something like that?”
Jayna Tokie Tanaka（ジェイナ・トキエ・タナカ）