Anglistisches Seminar Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Siegel der Universität Heidelberg



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Structure & Outline

Once you have finished reading, researching, and rereading, you should develop a general structure for your paper by organizing the information and evidence that you have gathered from the various primary and secondary sources that you have examined.

What follows is a basic template for the structure and organization of an academic paper, with brief comments on the components of a paper.

The following structure partitions a paper into three sections: Introduction, Argument & Evidence, and Conclusion.

 

[Introduction]

Context/Narrative/Set-up

In order to set up your thesis, you usually need to introduce relevant contexts or narratives that relate to your argument.  For example, you might want to show the reader how your thesis relates to a larger topic or debate or you might want to discuss existing ideas about your topic which your thesis will then qualify or contradict.  You should also make sure that your introduction indicates why your topic is interesting and thus why your paper is worth reading. Do not feel obligated to start with a broad generalization.

Thesis

At an appropriate moment after your context and set-up, you should state the sentence or two that comprise your thesis. This may come at a prominent position in your first paragraph, but if you have had to debunk or contradict prevailing notions in your context/set-up section, your thesis may come early in a second paragraph. It should be perfectly clear to the reader what your thesis statement is—if this is not the case, you need to revise your thesis.  Please note: you give nothing away by stating a strong thesis.  The suspense for reader should lie in how well you prove your claims, not in what you are trying to say.

Plan/Roadmap

After the thesis has been elaborated—either immediately afterwards, or in a separate section following your introduction— many professors prefer you to offer a general summary of how your paper will proceed: how many sections there will be, how you will present your argument, what general topics, themes or questions you will discuss in order to prove your thesis, etc. You do not need to give away all of your key points; this is simply a courtesy to the reader, so that he/she knows where the following argument will be going. 

 

[Argument & Evidence]

This section comprises the main body of your paper, in which you develop all of the sub-arguments that make up your main thesis, proving each of them—and, by implication, the main argument—by deploying the evidence that you gathered during your reading and research.

Context/Narrative (the “topic sentence”)

As in the introduction, each section of your paper will require some contextual or narrative set-up. You should introduce each new point with a sentence or two that makes the claim you plan to elaborate in the subsequent paragraph or section and indicates its relevance to your thesis. Such sentences are needed to keep the reader on track and to give a sense of your argument’s general flow and direction.

Argument (mini-thesis or partial expression of thesis)

Each sub-section of your paper should have an argument of its own, which partially expresses or develops the main argument of your paper as a whole. Each sub-argument of this kind may be made up of several further components:

Argument 1

o    Sub-argument 1

>  Supported by Evidence/Example A, B, C

o    Sub-argument 2

> Supported by Evidence/Example A

·         Argument 2

o    Supported by Evidence/Example A, B

And so on….]

A common mistake in papers is simply to list several pieces of evidence or examples, as if such a list comprised an adequate presentation, and then to infer an argument based on these pieces of evidence. The problem with this form of presentation is that the argument as such is unclear from the outset, so the reader has no way to determine the relevance of many pieces of evidence or examples. Instead of this inductive structure, you may adopt a deductive structure, which means making a statement, assertion, or claim first, and then arranging the relevant evidence to support that statement.

Evidence/Demonstration (examples, interpretations, analysis, data, quotations, etc.)

Evidence must also be structured and organized, not just listed.  You may want to arrange your evidence and examples according to different criteria.  For example, you may opt to present the most obvious evidence first, followed by other pieces of information that relate to it and finishing up with your most subtle point. Alternatively, it may make more sense to present the least significant information first, leading up to the most important and persuasive piece of evidence you have. Other topics will lend themselves to a chronological presentation while still others will require a thematic structure. The structure you choose should be transparent for the reader; outlining your own draft can help you to identify structural problems that may not be apparent when you read the text.

 

[Conclusion]

In concluding a paper, it is a good idea to return to the statements you made in your Introduction, especially the thesis, and offer an overview of the general trajectory of your paper, reminding the reader of what the argument was and what was significant about it. Your conclusion should ensure that the reader understands the significance of your study—in other words, it should make sure the answer to the "so what?" question is clear. Towards the end of the conclusion, you can also return to abstract statements about your topic and its relevance and offer thoughts on future studies that might be fruitful. Be sure, though, to end your paper with your own point, not a suggestion for further research.






Letzte Änderung: Föhr am 07.August 2015
Verantwortlich: Lusin, Föhr
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