Tuesday, June 19, 2007

2. Brainstorming. 3. Main Idea or Thesis Sentence with Topic Sentences

Question: How do I apply your “writing process” to expository writing?

Answer: Yesterday, I demonstrated a model for exposition. Today I will discuss brainstorming and constructing the main idea or thesis sentence and topic sentences.

Review: The five-step writing process for exposition: 1. Study a model. 2. Brainstorm the topic. 3. Write the main idea and topics for topic sentences. 4. Write a draft, including final paragraph and introductory material. 5. Revise and edit.

2. Brainstorming. I don’t think I need to demonstrate how to brainstorm again. I have already done several examples of brainstorming in my blog, “Q & A on Writing.” But a quick review might be in order. You brainstorm a topic when you are not sure what you want to say about it. Spend 10 to 15 minutes on brainstorming. Make them 10 or 15 intense minutes of listing ideas about your topic. Use words, phrases and short sentences. Pay no attention to correctness in grammar or spelling, which will only slow you up or even stop you cold. When you think you have emptied your mind of ideas on the topic, keep trying for the full 10 or 15 minutes. Your best ideas will come when you think you have no more to give. Stop exactly at the end of the 10 or 15 minutes you have set.

3. Constructing the main idea or thesis sentence together with the supporting topics for topic sentences. Look over your brainstormed ideas. Try to summarize your main point in one sentence. Example: “Autumn is a time of great natural beauty, a time for Halloween memories, and a time for walking at night in the fields under a bright harvest moon.” The topics for topic sentences are “great natural beauty,” “Halloween memories” and “walking in the fields at night under a bright harvest moon.” The topic sentences support the thesis sentence or main idea.

Below are some examples of original thesis sentences done by students in my classes together with the improved, more specific thesis sentence and the implied topics for topic sentences.

Original thesis: My ambition is to get my doctorate in psychology.
Improved (more specific) thesis: My ambition is to earn my doctorate in psychology and then to work with the homeless and with teenagers to help them lead productive lives. First topic: earn my doctorate; second topic: work with the homeless; third topic: work with teenagers.

Original thesis: Civility is a forgotten value in today’s world, especially in controversy, on the road and with consumers.
Improved (more specific) thesis: Civility is important when discussing controversial issues, when dealing with other motorists and when solving consumers’ problems. First topic is civility in discussing controversial issues; second topic is civility when dealing with other motorists; and the third topic is civility when dealing with consumers.

Original thesis: As a nurse, my job is to relieve the patient’s anxiety, to be accurate, and to help the patient’s loved ones.
Improved (more specific) thesis: As a nurse, my job is relieve the patient’s anxiety, to be accurate in dispensing medications and in keeping records, and to help the patient’s loved ones to understand the nature of the illness. The first topic is to deal with the patient’s anxiety; the second topic is be accurate in dispensing medication and in keeping records; the third topic is to explain clearly to loved ones the nature of the patient’s disease.

The topic sentences and middle paragraphs should clearly support the thesis sentence or main idea. The thesis sentence or main idea represents the “tell them what you are going to tell them" in my model of an expository composition. The topic sentences and the paragraphs that follow them represent the “tell them” in my model of the structure of expository writing.

Don’t ever ignore the topic sentence. A friend of mine who just completed his doctoral thesis in engineering told me what he learned from the experience: the topic sentences keep you on target. When it came time to defend my dissertation, I simply put together all of my topic sentences in one place. All I needed to know was in those topic sentences.

Tomorrow: writing a draft.

All the best. RayS.

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