Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thesis Statements: Revising "There Is" and "There Are"

Watch out!  There is a hole in your thesis!
When writing an essay, a writer generally must compose a thesis statement and topic sentences before he or she can generate an outline or find the best supporting details and evidence for each body paragraph.

Drafting and revising come later in the writing process.  Because writers generate a thesis before "officially" drafting and revising an essay, they draft in the beginning what is called a "working thesis."

This name, "working thesis," presupposes that the writer will later revise the working thesis, if necessary, to make the main ideas more clear to the intended audience and to clean up any grammar, mechanics, or usage errors.



Expletive Constructions

One of the most common clarity errors student writers must revise when looking back at their working thesis statements is what is called the expletive construction.  Now, although it sounds like this has something to do with expletives (like #$@%!, for example), what it really means is that the sentence begins with "There is" or "There are" or "Here is" or "Here are."  Removing the expletive words from the beginning of a sentence, and revising the sentence so that the subject of the sentence comes first, adds clarity.

Working Thesis Statement Examples

There is nothing inherently wrong with using the expletive construction to create a working thesis statement.  As I stated above, writers get lots of chances during the drafting and revising stages of the writing process to adjust the thesis before submitting a final draft.

Some examples of working thesis statements using the expletive construction include:

  • There are three types of dangerous situations a ghost hunter might encounter while investigating a haunted location: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • There is a kind of snake that everyone should be able to identify.
  • Here are a few reasons why Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Here is how "comics" has been defined differently by comic artists Scott McCloud and Will Eisner.

All of these working thesis statements would definitely be specific enough about the narrowed topic to get a student started on an outline and on the path to planning supporting paragraphs.  However, later in the writing process, each of these working thesis statement could be revised for clarity by rewriting the sentences so that the subjects of the sentences come first.

Revised Thesis Statements

The first thing to look at when revising the expletive construction is the grammatical subject of the given sentence.  Then, it's up to the writer to determine if the grammatical subject of the sentence is what he or she truly wants to emphasize.  Here are (Did you see how I sneaked that in there?) the grammatical subjects of the working thesis statements.

  • There are three types of dangerous situations a ghost hunter might encounter while investigating a haunted location: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • There is a kind of snake that everyone should be able to identify.
  • Here are a few reasons why Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Here is how "comics" has been defined differently by comic artists Scott McCloud and Will Eisner.


To change these up, place the subject of the sentence first.


  • Ghost hunters might encounter a few dangers while investigating a haunted location.  The dangers can be broken down into three types: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • Everyone should be able to identify one specific kind of snake.
  • Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Scott McCloud and Will Eisner define "comics" differently. 

Then, the writer must determine if these subjects are really the part of the thesis they believe is most important and deserve the "pole position."  Furthermore, the writer can replace vague or ambiguous language with specific language that tells the intended audience exactly what the essay will be about and what the writer's "take" or "claim" about the topic might be.

  • Dangers ghost hunters may encounter during an investigation can be broken down into three types: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • For safety's sake, the crotalus horridus is one snake that every American hiker should be able to identify. 
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano meets the tenets of the definition of the great American novel.
  • Will Eisner's definition of "comics" is more accurate than the definition posed by Scott McCloud.

Again, what I have revised here from the working thesis statements above include


  • "Pole position," or the idea that the first words hold the most importance
  • Replacement of vague or ambiguous language for concrete, specific ideas
  • Clear expression of the writer's "take" or "claim" about the narrowed topic

Summary

Once more, there is (I did it again, did you notice?) nothing inherently wrong with beginning the writing process with a working thesis statement that includes the expletive construction.  The trick is knowing when and how to revise that working thesis later in the writing process.



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Advice for Faculty: Do Your Thing

I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 2006. Since that time I have written a full-length play, completed a textbook about diagramming sentences, wrote a supplemental text, and published six chapbooks of poetry for other poets.

I've spent the last 8 years as an English Professor, teaching first year Composition and remediation.  I started this blog and wrote essay after essay after essay. I judged writing competitions and served on editorial boards.  I created online courses.

Today, for the first time in almost 6 years, I wrote a poem.

Without getting into how uninspired I have been for a very long time, and how that lack of inspiration has affected every aspect of my life, I want to use this short post to offer a simple piece of advice to my fellow faculty members and creative souls: Do your thing.  Whatever it is you do, you must make time to do it and "fill your own cup" before it, in absentia, makes you forget why you became a teacher in the first place.

Ending this exceptionally short blog post abruptly, I now release you from the Internet so you can go do your thing.

-Amy