Bristol Community College

Bristol Community College
http://bristolcc.edu/

Composing your essay

The best way to approach composing your essay is to use your outline as a road map or a list of “things to do.” That is, think of each sentence in your outline as the topic sentence or controlling idea for a paragraph in the essay. As you copy the topic sentence and develop the paragraph that introduces, illustrates or explains the idea, you can cross it off, just like you would on a list of “things to do.” This will improve your chances of staying focused and organized as you go about writing the essay.

Remember that the first sentence in your outline is the main idea of the essay and should show up somewhere in the first paragraph of the essay, otherwise know as the introduction.

For example, in the sample outline for Topic Option A, the main idea of the essay is: When I was a high school student, I witnessed one situation in which two young men got into a fist fight because neither one wanted to back down.

In order to turn this into an introduction you need to add a couple more sentences that get the reader interested and give a context for what you are about to write. Your introduction might look something like this:

Like Brent Staples, I have seen a few violent situations between men that could have been avoided if either were willing to walk away without feeling that he had been “one-upped.” When I was a high school student, I witnessed one situation in which two young men got into a fist fight because neither one wanted to back down. I saw the whole thing, and honestly, I believe that the cause of the fight was innocent, an accident in the cafeteria line, but if I came in upon these guys the middle of the fight, I probably would have thought that these two were lifelong enemies based on the way they went at each other.

Notice, this introduction is only a few sentences long, but it

  • states its main point,
  • links that point to the passage, and
  • sets up the narrative or story (that illustrates both Staples and the writers point about how excessive pride can lead to violence).

After writing a paragraph of introduction, check off or cross out the first sentence of your outline. This will help you to keep track of what you’ve accomplished and see what’s left to do.

Main idea: When I was a high school student, I witnessed one situation in which two young men got into a fist fight because neither one wanted to back down.

Next you’ll need to develop three or four supporting paragraphs. Do this the same way, including the sentence from your outline in each one, but also adding details and specific examples to support that sentence.

For example, in the sample outline for Topic Option B, one of the supporting ideas is: Some men take the hurt they feel and turn it into anger because they feel that is more acceptable than crying.

Use could use this sentence to begin your first supporting paragraph:

Some men take the hurt they feel and turn it into anger because they feel that is more acceptable than crying. For example, when my brother,Joe, and his girlfriend, Ann, broke up, he moped around the house for weeks, and would snap at me or my mother whenever we tried to talk to him. One day, I went up to his room and said that I felt bad for him because I remembered how hurt I was the first time someone broke up with me. “Don’t you remember how I cried myself to sleep every night for a week?” I said. Joe just gave me a dirty look and said, “I’m not hurt. I don’t even care. She’s not worth crying over. I can’t stand her.” Just a few days before he was telling me how great Ann was, so I knew he was just hiding his hurt feelings. All he wanted to do those first few weeks was go to the gym and work off his anger.

Notice that although this supporting paragraph is about one of those labels that limit men, it uses a specific example to create a picture in the readers mind of how this problem plays out in life, and more specifically, in the experience of the writer.

Exam Tip: Using specific examples from your experience, dialogue (i.e. “Don’t you remember how I cried my eyes out?”), and proper names (i.e. Joe and Ann) is likely to enhance your essay.

Finally, develop a brief, but reflective conclusion that restates your main point, sums up your ideas and perhaps, opens the topic of your essay up for further thought.

For example, the concluding idea from the sample outline from Topic Option A reads: Although neither of these boys ended up dead or in prison as a result, the situation is similar in that they both got suspended because neither one was “man enough” to walk away and risk being perceived as weak.

One way you could develop a conclusion based on this idea by adding more of your thoughts on the bigger issue of male stereotypes:

Although neither of these boys ended up dead or in prison as a result, the situation is similar in that they both got suspended because neither one was “man enough” to walk away and risk being perceived as weak. I never put much thought into this issue before, but after comparing Brent Staples’ observations with what I’ve seen, I am wondering if what I have sometimes assumed is the “natural” aggressiveness of males, is really just a result of the pressure that we, as a society place on men and boys to be not only strong, but the strongest. I wonder if we will ever come to see the strength it takes to “turn the other cheek.”

Exam Tip: You should dedicate 20-30 minutes to composing your essay.