Writing Essays - Using Examples to Support Your Thesis

Writing Essays - Using Examples to Support Your Thesis
After you've written out a great thesis for your essay, you must give it substance and credibility by supporting it thoroughly with:
stories
examples
reasoning
Why? Because if you've got lousy support for your fantastic thesis with weakly developed stories, poorly worded examples, and sketchy reasoning, you'll be lucky to get a C- on your essay!

So let's talk about examples, and what makes good example support for your essays. To help us, we'll use George Orwell's widely popular essay, Politics and the English Language (to access Orwell's essay, at Google Search type "Politics and the English Language" and be sure to include the quote marks).

First, you'll see that good examples begin with generalizations that narrow to specifics. For instance, Orwell says, in his thirteenth paragraph,

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

Those sentences show the first of three main traits of good examples:
generalize, narrow, introduce
present specific, described things
link to keywords/ideas of generalization or thesis

Generalize, narrow, introduce. When you generalize, you make a broad statement about a group of things, such as "trees" or "feelings."

The group "trees" contains many subgroups, such as birch, maple, and oak, each of which has their own different specific examples. The group "feelings" also contains several subgroups, such as love, fear, and admiration, each of which has their own different specific examples.

Generalizing about trees would be something like, "Trees are a valuable source of oxygen and aesthetic pleasure, and some trees are better than others as a source for both." That generalization would be followed by examples of specific types of trees, which we can see because of the narrowing that is included with "and some trees."

Generalizing about feelings would be something like, "We start to understand our feelings after we reach age forty, especially those about our family relationships." That generalization would probably be followed by examples of specific types of family relationships, which we can see because of the narrowing that is included with "especially those."

When you generalize, then, you make a broad statement about a group of things tangible or touchable, such as trees, computers, buildings, or about a large group of things abstract or not touchable, such as feelings, values, relationships, ideas, or thoughts.

The sentences above from paragraph thirteen of Orwell's essay begin with this generalization:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.

The phrase political speech and writing identifies a large group of things that is being narrowed to the quality called the defense of the indefensible, which is still a very general quality, a generality. The next sentence begins with "Things like," continuing the narrowing and introducing some less general-but still general-statements:
Things like

the continuance of British rule in India,

the Russian purges and deportations,

the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan,

can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.

Note that several different short phrases can be used to introduce both general and specific examples, for instance:

things like; like
for instance
such as
for example
the following
once; one day
occasionally
this is called
thus
But here Orwell isn't ready to present the specific examples, yet, so he uses the next sentence to narrow his idea even a bit further-

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
This is the low-category level of ideas that Orwell wanted to get to: "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." And now he's ready to present specific, described things that are examples.

Present specific, described things. In the paragraph we're dealing with, Orwell is through narrowing and introducing, and he starts presenting specific, described things that are examples of euphemism:

Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification [a euphemism]. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers [a euphemism]. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements [a euphemism].

Specific things. Named and described. Simply presented, with enough details to form a mental image, such as, "villages are bombarded from the air," "huts set on fire with incendiary bullets," and "shot in the back of the head." As shown. Enough said.

Link to keywords of generalization or thesis. You simply haven't handled your example well if it's not linked to a generalization. You must use keywords or ideas the reader can see are linked to a generalization that precedes the described specifics or that are linked directly to the thesis.

In the case above, the specific, described things were preceded by the phrase, "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness," with "euphemism" being the first generality of the three in that phrase, so that's the linking word and meaning.

Now, the definition of a euphemism is, "the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend of suggest something unpleasant," such as substituting "passed on" in place of "dead," or substituting "eliminated" for "murdered." And euphemisms are what make possible the politicians' defense of the indefensible, from the generalizations in the first sentence of paragraph thirteen. So there's the link of the specific description to a preceding general idea.

Furthermore, the repetitious use of "this is called" signals a substitution in the quote, even though that phrase follows, not precedes, each example. The definition above shows that substitution is the heart of the idea of a euphemism and that is what the specific, described examples are about-substituting a mild or inoffensive word or phrase for a meaning that is unacceptably offensive.

You'll know you've got your example support for your thesis in good shape when all your examples follow Orwell's pattern of,

first, generalizing, narrowing, and introducing;
second, presenting specific, described things that can be visualized; and
third, linking to keywords in a preceding generalization or to the thesis.
This article was written by Bill Drew, a writing expert specializing in the theory and practice of how to write an essay, thesis writing, and topic sentences that entice readers, as well as writing about literature, writing advertising, and other business writing.

Using his NewView Principle of What's new to the reader and his 5 NewView Options, Drew has authored and published The Secret DNA of Writing Essays-And Everything Else, The Secret DNA of Topic Sentences That Entice Readers, The Secret DNA of Analyzing Short Stories and The Secret DNA of Analyzing Published Essays. His e-books plus software are available at his website and also at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.

Drew's NewView methods of writing, reading, analyzing, and communicating are being successfully taught in elementary, middle school, and high school classes.

Drew is also currently writing NewView: THE Key Insight into Writing & Communicating and The Secret DNA of Analyzing Novels with NewView. Stay tuned.

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