Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Importance of Being Explicit

by Lauren Becker and Hannah Oliver

This is something that may seem obvious, but many writers—whether they are freshman or graduate students—often lack clarity in their papers. Sometimes, writers feel like being explicit may give away a climactic moment within their argument. Other times, writers believe that their argument is implicit and does not have to be expressed any more than it already is.

Whatever the case may be, it never hurts to be blunt in your papers. Hit your reader over the head with your point! Don't be ashamed to be assertive. This way, your readers won't have to search for your claim, and you won't have to worry that they may not “get it.”

Many writers feel that being explicit is tantamount to being repetitive. This is not the case as long as what you say adds to your overall claim. As long as you reassert your point in new ways, such as after introducing new evidence or restating a topic sentence at the end of the paragraph, this does not count as repetition.

Here are some places where being explicit will help give your writing clarity:

In your thesis statement:

This is perhaps the most important place for you to be explicit. When stating the main claim in your paper, you should make sure to include the main points you will prove. For example, if you  plan to use x, y, and z as evidence throughout your paper to prove your main claim, your thesis should explicitly say that you will be using x, y, and z. Here are some examples:

Unclear Thesis:           In analyzing Death of a Salesman, we can see that Arthur
                                           Miller feels very badly about the modern lifestyle.

Clear Thesis:               In Henry V, Shakespeare depicts the struggle of King Henry in
                                         order to highlight the class conflicts of Renaissance England
                                         through the social climbing of the dukes, the inspirational
                                         speeches, and the skeletons in Henry’s closet.

The first thesis is unclear because it states a claim and does not show the evidence the writer will use to prove it. It is also an example of a descriptive thesis, which means that its claim is something that talks about a nuance within a topic without explaining why it impacts our interpretation of it.

Tip: Give your thesis teeth! Make it a “teethis.” It should be something that has bite, something that you can potentially disprove. This kind of thesis makes the best paper.

The second thesis is much more explicit. It states a claim and provides us with the ways the writer will back it up. There is no way a person reading that thesis will not understand what the paper is setting out to do and how.

When starting a new paragraph:

Topic sentences are often discussed but rarely explained. When starting a new paragraph, you should have an idea of what claim that paragraph will prove. The subject of each paragraph, while it may be discussing the overall idea of the paper, should still introduce a topic that you have not previously discussed in its entirety. Each topic sentence should tell your reader exactly what that paragraph will deal with. This does not have to be the first sentence of the paragraph if the topic sentence is not a good transition sentence, but it should be close to the beginning.

Tip: This is also a good tool to use when trying to organize your paper. If you go through your paper in the editing process and decide you are worried about organization, try making a list of your topic sentences. If the order that list is in makes sense, it usually means the flow of your paper will too.

When introducing quotations:

When introducing a quotation, you should have an on-ramp and an off-ramp. The on-ramp tells you why this quotation is useful or pertinent to your argument, and the off-ramp explains what you have learned from the quote. The same is true about paraphrasing. When you paraphrase a primary source, you should make it clear why this plot point or claim from research progresses your argument. This is what good on-ramps and off-ramps look like:

Introduction of evidence:      In his book Hamlet in Purgatory, Stephen Greenblatt
                                                           says that Hamlet progressively forgets his father
                                                           and becomes more reckless.

Explication:                                 What he means here is that as Hamlet forgets his
                                                          father, he begins to forget why he set out to murder
                                                          his uncle, and his actions reflect this lapse in memory.
                                                          Therefore, one can see how Hamlet’s forgetfulness
                                                          leads to an increase in action.

When concluding your paper:

Conclusions are notoriously tricky. Your conclusion should restate your argument and the claims you have made throughout your paper, but it should not simply repeat word-for-word what you have already said. At the same time, you should not introduce anything new. You should use your conclusion to piece together your evidence one last time before your reader reaches the end of the paper. In your conclusion, you have one last chance to be explicit. Do not hold back in you conclusion, but rather make a lasting impression on the mind of your reader by reasserting your faith in your claim.

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