Writing 140: Invention
Handouts & Activities
Developing Topic Segments with AXES
AXES (Assertion, example, Explanation, Significance) is a useful tool, both for generating ideas and for revising your papers. The key to using AXES successfully rests in the fact that it should apply to topic segments, not paragraphs. A paragraph is a typographical block on a page signaled by an indentation at its beginning. A topic segment, however, is a unit of prose in which a writer states and develops a limited topic. A topic segment may be a paragraph, but it may also be two or more paragraphs that are all dedicated to one controlling idea. In other words, not every paragraph will contain every element listed below. Using AXES as a formula will result in formulaic writing - and that will weaken your papers. Instead, make sure that your treatment of a single controlling idea (i.e. each topic segment, which may span over two or more paragraphs) contains each of these components. Remember, formulas work best in science and math classes, not writing classes.
A-Assertion: What is this paragraph about? Also known as topic sentences, assertion statements contain an implicit argument and can also link arguments to each other as well as to your central concern (or thesis statement). An assertion should frame ideas for the topic segment that follows it. You may find it helpful to think of this as a "mini thesis."
X-eXample: What evidence is there to support you assertion? The more specific the example, the more precise the analysis. Consider what concrete details or facts that you can provide from your readings or from your pre-existing knowledge or the world. Without examples, your readers will constantly wonder where and how you derived your assertions and will be less likely to accept your assertions.
E-Explanation: What does your example say about your assertion? Does it prove it? Does it make it more complicated than the reader might have assumed? Without any explanations, the reader will not be clear as to how you see the evidence, and will be forced to guess as to why you have included your example(s).
S-Significance: This is an often overlooked but exceptionally important part of any analysis. Why is your assertion + example + explanation important? How does the idea or object under scrutiny relate to your main idea? What is important about your topic segment, and what connections can you draw between it and the world at large? By including this element, you prevent your readers from dismissively asking "so what?" and you provide reasons for the reader to think about your ideas.
In the following paragraph, the student has blended abstract examples and general assertions, resulting in repetitive description:
In City Lights, Charlie Chaplin, the greatest director of all time, has created a masterpiece that brings up many issues that were relevant then and are relevant now. For example, at one point he meets a blind flower girl who wouldn't have noticed him if she could see, thus showing us that love is blind. I can relate to this and would recommend the movie to everyone.
The paragraph contains an example but merely throws it on the page without analysis; the example has significance but the writer states it in general terms that everyone already knows. By sharpening our AXES, we can turn this paragraph into a more precise analysis. Can you find each AXES element in the new version?
Chaplin's set up of the initial meeting between the blind flower girl and the tramp in City Lights provides a literal representation of how 'blindness" may make love possible, especially when society possesses misplaced values. The tramp, crossing a busy intersection, avoids a policeman by moving through a parked limousine. Since she is blind to first appearances, the flower girl does not simply dismiss the tramp as someone lacking the wealth or dignity for such an extravagance. Once the tramp realizes this, he has hope that his actions may bring him love, something that he probably felt was less attainable that a flower (especially given his shabby treatment by others up to this point in the film). The blindness sets up both the hope and the tragedy of the flower girl and the tramp's relationship and, to various degrees, all relationships. Often, people fall in love with an image, "blind" to the qualities in the other person that might complicate that image. However, in a fuller light, that image does become complicated when we are forced to see the other person's shortcomings. So we all have to choose which qualities and which shortcomings should hold the most importance. When the flower girl eventually "sees" the tramp in fullness, perhaps she will remember that the more respectably dressed people simply passed her by, while the poor tramp took it upon himself to buy one of her flowers with his last coin.
Tips on Writing a Thesis Statement A good thesis statement: " is most helpful to the reader when you place it in your introduction, and is often the last sentence of an introduction.. " doesn't have to be contained in one single sentence, but often is. " should avoid vagueness and generalities (stay away from wishy-washy sentences like "This policy demonstrates a negative perspective about the environment to a certain extent" or "There are many different attitudes toward beauty expressed in this painting, depending on your point of view"). " should be specific and focused: don't be too broad (i.e., stay away from pronouncements in which you suggest, for instance, that all people at all times will interpret the evidence or argument in question in exactly the same way, as well as from any statement including such grandiose phrases as "since the beginning of time …" or "ever since the world began …"). " should be original, insightful, worth making; it should not be a repetition of facts or a rehashing of conventional wisdom. " should be contentious and argumentative - should be something with which someone sane could disagree (one question to ask yourself is whether or not there is a position diametrically opposed to yours-if there is, you know you've got a contentious and therefore worthy thesis statement. Also, ask yourself if a sane person could make an argument in opposition to yours. If not, it's not a contentious thesis). Keep in mind, however, that a thesis statement should not be pure opinion. " should provide a rationale (i.e., should answer the questions "why?" and "so what?"). Providing a rationale up front will help you unify your support. " can show an awareness of potential qualifications (i.e., exceptions to the argument being made) and should make them clear to the reader, too. " can be discovered in the process of drafting (i.e., you don't necessarily have to wait until you find your thesis before you start to write - you can always change your introduction after you've written enough to know what your thesis is). If your thesis changes over the course of writing your draft, however, be certain that you augment your draft so that the entire draft reflects those changes. " should govern the entire paper; everything in your essay should have a clear link to the thesis.
How to Plan a Paper
How do you get started on a paper? How do you schedule your time? These are difficult questions for many freshmen, and this handout will - hopefully - provide some help in answering them.
1. Read the directions (5 minutes) - In this class, you'll always have an assignment sheet and we will always spend time in class discussing the assignment. When we do this, be sure to have a highlighter or other utensil that will allow you to focus on key elements of the assignment. Note due dates and requirements. How many pages must the paper constitute? Do you have to use additional sources or particular readings? Be sure that you know these things.
2. Read the topic and begin to dissect it (20 minutes) - Highlight or circle key terms. You may need to define them for yourself before you can go any further. Brainstorm a list of places that you've seen these terms or seen terms that you know will be important to your "take" on the topic. Have you seen them in your SOCI 142 lecture? In your SOCI 142 readings? Are you likely to find key ideas or terms in readings that I've assigned? Will reviewing your SOCI 142 syllabus help jog your memory? Next, note any questions that you have or any confusions about the assignment that you experience and ask me to clarify these confusions RIGHT AWAY. Think about ways to focus the topic (to make a more unified essay) that interest you. Is there a particular way of honing in on the subject that will make it more interesting to you or that will make a particular reading or concept from SOCI 142 more applicable to the assignment?
3. Choose a topic (10 minutes to 2 days) - You may, by this point, have decided on a focus that interests you. If not, complete the next step to help you make up your mind. But once you have a topic or focus in mind, begin to brainstorm and prewrite on it to help you think about it from many different points of view.
4. Research (2-3 hours to 2 days) - First, review all pertinent notes that you've taken on the subject and review the places that you noted in step 2 where you're likely to find information on your topic. Then, review all other course materials to make sure that you haven't missed any potential sources of information/inspiration. If I've assigned readings for the assignment, read them carefully, keeping your potential focus in mind and looking for pertinent quotes. If outside sources are necessary for the assignment, give yourself another afternoon (about two hours) for online database searching. You'll want to find AT LEAST three more sources than are necessary for the requirements, as some of the sources that you find might not ultimately be good enough to use in your draft.
5. Find patterns in your research/notes (3 hours) - Look at your research/prewriting to identify any trends, patterns, reoccurring themes, or strong contrasts that might lead you toward a thesis. Make note of all these, as they may help develop support for your topic.
6. Revisit the question (10 minutes) - Look at the assignment sheet again. Have you found answers to the questions that you noted upon first reading the prompt? Reviewing the topic, do new questions come to mind? If so, can you work them into your step 5 patterns?
7. Devise your thesis (1 hour) - Now you're ready to synthesize your findings into a well-written, carefully conceived main point: your thesis statement. If you devise a thesis too soon, it might not reflect accurately the support that you've discovered. Constructing a thesis too soon may also give you "tunnel vision," causing you to ignore material that might lend interesting ambiguities or subtleties to your paper.
8. Prepare to draft (1 hour to 2 hours) - Review all of your invention prewriting. Now, work on organizational prewriting - develop outlines or points-to-make lists that will order your material effectively. Should you start with your strongest point? Your weakest? Think about what kind of order will have the most powerful impact on your reader and put your support in order.
9. Draft, re-draft, and draft again (4 hours to 2 days) - A few tips for this process: save as you go, don't be afraid to delete, print out drafts if that helps you "see" your topic in a new way, and don't forget about formatting requirements.
10. Proofread (3 hours - ideally, at least one day after the drafting process) - This is a separate step from drafting, because too great attention to detail during drafting can distract you from larger issues (like analysis and effective proof). Delete anything that, upon returning to your draft, doesn't work. If necessary, spend more time re-drafting.
11. Spell-check and format-check (1 hour) - Spell check last, as any changes that you make can introduce accidental glitches. But don't forget that your computer's spell-check don't find everything, so BE SURE to print out one draft in which all you do is look for typing mistakes. Then, make sure that your draft adheres to all formatting requirements. Print out your final draft THE NIGHT BEFORE the assignment is due! You may have problems printing your paper, so make sure you give yourself enough time to do something about it so that you won't incur late penalties. Remember, as per the course policies sheet, experiencing computer problems IS NOT a reason to prevent late penalties to your grade.
Characteristics of a winning thesis statement:
Doesn't have to appear in the opening paragraph, but it's usually best to let you reader know right where you stand " Doesn't have to be contained in a single sentence but often it is
Should avoid vagueness and generalities (stay away from sentences like "this image demonstrates a negative perspective about the environment to a certain extent" or "there are many different attitudes toward the environment in this image, depending on your point of view")
Should be specific and focused: don't be too broad (i.e. stay away from pronouncements in which you suggest, for example, that all people at all times will interpret the image in question in exactly the same way)
Should be original, insightful, worth making; not a repetition of facts or rehashing of conventional wisdom
Should be something that someone could disagree with (one question to ask yourself is whether or not there is a position diametrically opposed to yours - if there is, you know you've got a contentious and therefore worthy statement). Keep in mind, however, that a thesis statement should not be pure opinion
Should provide a rationale (should answer the questions "why?" and "so what?")
Can be discovered in the process of drafting (i.e. you won't necessarily have to wait until you find your thesis before you start to write)
What to avoid when drawing up thesis statements:
Lists: which are overly general and do not lend themselves to an in-depth exploration of an issue
Simply stating a fact: "liberal education is valuable in many ways but it is more expensive than other alternatives" Taking a stand without a reason: "liberal education is beneficial to students"
Expressing the thesis in the form of a question: "Shouldn't everyone have a liberal education?"
Unsupported thesis: The paper moves away from its thesis and addresses instead an excessive amount of peripheral data.
Off-topic thesis: Thesis statements that fail to address the prompt you have been given
Cluttering thesis with unnecessary phrases: "In this essay I will show how in my opinion education can be somewhat valuable for those seeking public careers for several reasons which I will further explain"
Writing with Style. John R. Trimble
Write 140 Course Book.A28-A31
Example Thesis Using Sheridan-Baker Thesis Machine
Step 1. Topic (state the topic under construction)
Financial reparations for descendants of slaves
Step 2. Issue (state the specific issue in the form of a debating proposition or resolution)
The United States should offer reparations to descendents of slaves.
Step 3. Position and Rational (using a because clause, convert the resolution into a sentence that states your position on the issue and provides a main rationale for that position, thereby creating a rough thesis)
The United States should offer reparations to descendents of slaves because white Americans need to take responsibility for the past and present impact of slavery on African Americans.
Step 4. Polish and qualify (refine the rough thesis: add any qualifications - although clauses are good for this-and consider dropping overt use of because.)
Although opponents argue that the distribution of reparations to descendants of slaves would undermine the capabilities of many African Americans, it nevertheless holds true that white Americans must take responsibility for the past and present impact of slavery on the African American community.
Step 5. Reverse and Test (test your faith in the thesis and expose potential counter-arguments by reversing your position.)
While we cannot ignore the suggestion made by many civil rights advocates that white Americans should take some responsibility for the impact of slavery on African Americans, the distribution of reparations to the descendents of slaves would only perpetuate the perception of African Americans as incapable victims.