Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Structure

The challenge of structuring a paper is to combine clarity and complexity. Simple structures, such as a list of interchangeable points, gain clarity at the expense of complexity. Writers and readers of such papers understand exactly why they feel bored. On the other hand, ambitious papers that present multiple good ideas in an unstructured argument drain the force of their arguments by asking readers to spend too much energy making sense of the argument and not enough appreciating the paper's insights.

You probably did not need this page to understand that the best papers are neither boring nor disorganized. How do you go about finding a productive middle ground? First, think through the way a paper's thesis will create a certain structure. A strong, specific thesis will help your paper develop from point to point, whereas a weak thesis will draw you into a listing structure (as in "The feeling of darkness evident in the story's setting, imagery, and dialogue helps us to understand the author's greatness") or a vague comparison (as in "The similarities and differences between these two stories show that they are both successful in different ways"). The moral of my story is that working carefully on your thesis in advance of writing the paper can keep you from using the weakest structures before you write your first transition.

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