Expository Writing

Expository Writing

Week 4

Moving From a Research Problem/Question to a Tentative Thesis

Introduction to Writing a Research Essay/Editorial

Goal: To learn to make well-reasoned arguments on controversial issues and to think critically about our own as well as others’ arguments

What arguing a position involves

It presents a controversial issue

It asserts a clear position on the issue

It argues for the position by presenting plausible reasons and support

It anticipates readers’ objections and arguments, either by conceding or refuting them

From Problems to Sources

What are you looking for in finding your sources?

You are looking for sources with data, arguments, and views that either confirm your tentative thesis or give you reason to reject it.

You are looking for sources that are reliable.

You are looking for sources that are current.

Finding Sources in the Library

Caution: using an internet search engine to start research on your project is a bad way to find reliable sources

Begin your search with your library


The library catalogues (www.loc.gov)

In the stacks

Online Databases

Finding Sources on the Internet

Printed sources are more reliable than almost any source on the internet.

There are some situations in which you can use the information you find on Internet sources reliably:

It is provided by a reliable journal or online publisher

It is in precisely the same form you would find in a library. (Many government, civic, and business reports are released simultaneously on the Internet and in print.)

It supplements print sources. Some journals use the internet to archive data not included in articles, to disseminate illustrations to expensive to print, or to host discussions between authors and readers.

It is too recent to be found in libraries.

It is available only on the Internet. Many government and academic databases are now available only online.

It is your primary source. What is posted on the Internet is primary data about what people are thinking, the views of specific groups, and so on.

Gathering Data Directly From People

Make sure your source knows what you are focusing on so they will know what information will be most useful (give them your three step formula)

Experts as sources of bibliography

People as primary sources

Bibliographical Trails

Example Journal

Preserving What You Find

Get a source journal

Record Complete Biographical Data

The author or authors’ name (s)

Book or journal title

Title of chapters, essays, or articles that you consulted within the book or journal

Name of the publisher

Place of publication

Year of Publication

Volume and Issue Numbers (if applicable)

The page number where the information appeared.

General Principles for Note Taking

Put notes about different topics on different pages

On each sheet of notes record at the top the author, title, pages, and keywords

Important: Clearly and unambiguously distinguish four kinds of references

What you quote directly

What you paraphrase

What you summarize

What you write as your own thoughts

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is a list of sources relevant to a subject (or of sources a writer has consulted while conducting research).

To annotate is to analyze, summarize or explain.

An annotated bibliography is a summary and evaluation of each source used for research.

Annotated Bibliography Guidelines

Logical Fallacies

Ad hominem: an attack on the character of a person rather than her/his opinions or arguments

Straw Man: oversimplifies an opponent’s viewpoints and then attacks the hollow argument

Research Essay Contd.: Counterargument

Importance of writing the voices of others into your text.

“Broadly speaking, Academic writing is argumentative writing, and we believe that to argue well you need to do more than assert your own position. You need to enter a conversation, using what others say (or might say) as a launching pad or sounding board for your own views.”


“The characters in the Sopranos are very complex.”

“Some say that the Sopranos presents caricatures of Italian Americans. However, the characters in the series are very complex.”

Templates for Introducing a Counterargument

A number of sociologists have recently suggested that X’s work has several fundamental problems.

In their recent work, Y and Z have offered harsh critiques of ______ .

Many Americans believe that ____________.

Many people assume that ________.

Of course some might object that _________. Although I concede that ______, I still maintain that __________.

Formulating an Opinion

Identify and research an important issue

Formulate a reasoned opinion





Supporting Arguments


Research Essay Contd.

Suggested Structure

Introduction – The lead/relevance and committal statement


Arguments for your thesis

Strongest argument against your thesis


Avoiding Plagiarism

Rules for avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism and Common Knowledge


Document and Citation Formats


Academic Voice

Academic Voice

Most academic papers should be written in academic voice.

Academic voice tends to suppress the natural voice of the author in an effort to focus the reader on the material instead of the author’s persona. Therefore, you write academic papers in third person.

If you write in first person (I, we, etc.), the reader tends to focus on the author.

If you write in second person (you), the reader tends to focus on her/himself. I wrote this handout in second person because I am addressing you – telling you to do something.

You want your reader to focus on the material about which you are writing; therefore, your paper must be written in third person (him, her, they, etc.).

Other general rules for academic writing include:

1. Avoid weak language (maybe, possibly, might); act like you know what you are talking about (even if you do not).

2. Avoid contractions (can’t, won’t, etc.).

3. Avoid slang.

4. When writing about literature (literary analysis) use present tense.

5. State your opinion as fact.

6. Avoid rhetorical questions.

7. Never start a paper with, “This paper is going to be about…” or anything similar to that.

Inappropriate Shifts in Pronouns

Be consistent in your use of a pronoun.

Do not switch from singular forms to plural forms.

After one has written a paper they should take a break.

Shifts in Person/Number

One of the most common problems in writing comes with a shift in person/number.

“I continue to teach these teenagers that despite the odds against them, what they have been through, and their nationality you can still overcome diversity in all areas and become successful.”

“Like a serpent without its head, a gang will theoretically become unstable when the people holding them together are removed from power.”

“Everyone should try to read more because it can help with your communication skills.”

Ambiguous Pronoun References

Common pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, her, him, them, this, and that.

We use them instead of repeating nouns or ideas mentioned earlier.

One of the most common writing problems occurs in sentences that have unclear antecedents (the nouns that the pronoun refers to).

Clear Pronoun References

Shirley called to say she would be glad to help decorate for the party on Friday.

The movie’s humor was rather sophomoric, and it didn’t go over well with most of the audience.

Unclear Pronoun References

We will now have a chance to find out if charter schools can outperform public schools when efforts are made to improve them.

During the 1960s, many American college students joined in demonstrations against the Vietnam War; during the same period many students also joined in civil rights demonstrations. This fact surprised the media.

Before we can improve the access problems for students with disabilities, we must learn where they are.

Indefinite Pronoun References

Indefinite pronoun references occurs in the following situations:

1. when a pronoun is used to refer to the object of a prepositional phrase.

In the average television drama, it presents a false picture of life.

In the directions, they said that the small box should be opened last.

2. When a pronoun does not refer to a specific antecedent at all.

Public transportation makes it easy to get around the city.

An ambiguous pronoun reference occurs when it is not clear what noun a pronoun refers to.

(Here, this refers to an implied concept that could be phrased something like “the fact that she gave the Red Cross all her money” rather to a specific noun.)


In the preface, it says why the author wrote the book.

It says in the book that Elizabeth was a great queen.

They say that The Impending Crisis is a good book.