One of the most frustrating things to do as a teaching assistant is to give a promising undergraduate essay a poor grade. This may be a result of failure to adhere to all the assignment guidelines, a lack of relevant and accurate content, improper paragraph structure, or a poorly articulated argument. In fact, it could be – and often is – a combination of these elements.
Yet, what is most frustrating is docking marks because a student left their most significant point to the conclusion. Many undergraduate students lack confidence in their ability to directly address the essay topic. They mistakenly assume that they cannot state their own opinion confidently until the conclusion, if at all. Their essay builds slowly to a final climax, which is meant to awe the instructor with a point of sheer brilliance.
Argumentative essays are at their worst when the most significant discovery – that nugget of insight gleaned from a thoughtful reading of research material – is saved for the end. It is too often the case that after introducing the research topic and expressing a vague argument, students conclude their essay with a perfectly valid and significant point. Yet, this point is never introduced. The necessary evidence to support it is scattered throughout the body of the essay. From the perspective of a grader, a second – and maybe even a third – reading is necessary to stitch together the thoughts leading to that particular conclusion. To be clear, your grader is not a mind reader. They can only assess what appears on the page in front of them and not what you meant to say.
Purpose of an Introduction
Rather, your introduction provides the context/structure of the discussion that will follow and your thesis is your clear response to the research question. As the author, take ownership of your interpretation and be bold. Lead your grader and guide them toward understanding this topic through your eyes. A solid thesis statement appears in the introduction and clearly states what you will argue. You then need to show how you intend to argue it and demonstrate how your insights and interpretations of the source material furthers our understanding of the topic. The content in the body is there to prove that argument and lead to your final conclusion: that what you stated in the introduction is in fact proven by the sources. By following this road map, you will succeed in arguing your case and your grader will be eminently impressed.
Don’t hold back because you feel you have to build a stack of evidence before stating your main argument. Think of your favorite court scene from film and television. A lawyer begins the trial with compelling opening remarks outlining their case long before all the evidence is presented. Thus, I encourage you to state your thesis early. Make your argument clear in the introduction and follow it through to the conclusion. Don’t leave your reader in suspense.
Michael Akladios is a PhD. candidate in the History Department at York University. His dissertation traces the North American immigrant experience of Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt. He is a teaching assistant at Glendon College and the founder of the Coptic Canadian History Project (CCHP). The CCHP is a digital archive and community outreach non-profit organization.