ANATOMY OF THE ESSAY
INTRODUCTION AND HOOK Your introduction should grab the reader’s attention,
focusing it on the immediate topic of the essay. Do not to begin an essay with some grand
characterization of human nature, a generalization of all historical development, or any
other lofty and unprovable premise. Instead, start with a “sexy” example or a bold line of
argument — a hook — that engages the reader and leads him or her to your thesis
statement. The hook should be one of the most memorable components of the essay, though
be certain that it deals directly with the subject matter. Then sculpt a transition that moves from
the opening hook directly to your thesis statement and statement of contents. For a paper
fewer than fifteen pages, your introduction should be no more than a single, page-long
paragraph. Move as quickly and fluidly as you can from the hook to the thesis statement
and statement of contents.
THESIS STATEMENT Your thesis is a single statement — an argument — no more
than one sentence in length. The balance of an essay should work to demonstrate or
“prove” your thesis. The challenge of the thesis statement is to compose an argument that
speaks to all of the issues that an assignment asks you to address. Although the best thesis
statements make interpretative arguments of the subject matter, a thesis that restates the
assignment in the terms of an argument is acceptable. Remember, that thesis statements are
arguments. If you are unsure about how a thesis statement should read, start yours exactly
as follows: “In this paper I will argue . . . .” If your thesis statement does not make sense or
sounds awkward using the verb to argue, you likely are describing or comparing. In this case,
sharpen you thesis statement and make it an argument.
STATEMENT OF CONTENTS The statement of contents is a sentence or two that tells
the reader (1) what your paper will discuss, (2) in what order you will discuss it, and
hopefully (3) the importance of that subject matter to your thesis statement. This is
important so the reader knows what to expect and so that you are certain that you can
articulate how your subject matter relates to your overall argument. But relax, the statement
of contents need not exhaustively apply your subject matter to your thesis statement, this is
the purpose of the body. So, keep it brief; just let the reader know what is coming.
THE BODY The body is composed of series of paragraphs that build off of each other to
“prove” or demonstrate the thesis statement. Each paragraph should serve a specific
purpose relating to the thesis statement. No paragraph should make claims that are
unsupported by evidence.
PARAGRAPHS Paragraphs may range in size from three sentences to about one and onehalf pages. Whatever their length, they should contain one complete concept or idea — no
more, no less. When you need two paragraphs to express one component of your argument,
you must either (1) condense and sharpen your central idea, cutting redundant prose, or (2)
identify, separate, and articulate what may be two or more conjoined ideas. If your
paragraph reads as if it is confused or without clear direction, you must identify all the ideas
contained within the paragraph, flesh each of them out, and either turn them into
paragraphs of their own or discard them as inconsequential to your overall argument.
Remember, the claims of each paragraph must be supported by evidence.
TOPIC SENTENCES The first sentence of each of your paragraphs is called a topic
sentence. It is a sort of “mini-thesis,” but unlike a thesis statement, it should not be preceded
with any kind of introduction. It is imperative that the topic sentence be the first, single
sentence of the paragraph. It should not be a string of two, three, or four sentences that
finally leads you to discuss evidence. As a rule, you should begin discussing of evidence in
the second sentence of a paragraph. If you are by then unable to at least introduce your
evidence, you need to crystallize your ideas and rewrite your topic sentence. An essay is
well organized and topic sentences well constructed when one can follow the argument,
from the beginning of the paper to its end, reading only the thesis statement and the topic
sentences. If you cannot, you need either to: (1) refine your topic sentences, making them
more specific and better establishing their relationship to your overall argument; or (2)
sharpen your argument’s logic, ensuring that it is methodical and complete.
EVIDENCE Every claim in your essay should be supported by evidence. This means that
you have to back your interpretation with examples. It does not mean that you are unable to
come to conclusions without citing authors who have identical views. Instead, piece
together many sources — the text, historical documents, lectures — to make your own
argument. It is most important that you cite authors and sources fairly. Do not take them out of
context so that they appear to support your position more than a fuller reading would reveal.
Also, be sure the evidence you use is appropriate for your claims: use historical materials
(primary sources) to demonstrate the way people thought and acted in the past; use
academic materials (secondary sources) to frame your interpretation of the past. Each
paragraph, aside from the introduction, conclusion, and perhaps a very short transition, must
discuss and cite evidence.
CONCLUSION Your conclusion should tie your essay’s subject matter back to your
thesis statement. Adequate conclusions will restate the overall argument of a paper in a
condensed form; the best will assess the broader implications posed by the essay’s argument.
Also, many of the best return to the hook, deepening its significance in the light of the
body’s evidence and argument.
ARGUMENT AND THE WRITING PROCESS An essay is only as good as its
argument. Think of essays not only as means to convey ideas, but as tools to develop
nuance in your own thought. An argument need be neither negative nor directed at another.
Instead, it is a sustained and thorough presentation of a single interpretation, supported by properly
cited evidence. Moreover, few quality arguments have ever been devised and executed
without ongoing revisions of logic and writing — during and after the completion of a first
draft. Writing is the art of rewriting. Do more than search for flaws in grammar and spelling.
Streamline the logic of your argument. Stem leaps in logical with reasoned explanations of
process. Look for repetitive passages; identify your central point and restate it in language
that is economic and precise. Finally, strengthen the links between evidence and topic
sentence, topic sentences and thesis statement.
PASSIVE VOICE As much as possible, avoid the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were,
have/has/had been, will be). Called passive voice, the verb to be emphasizes the consequence
of an action whereas active voice focuses on the action that leads to a given consequence.
Put simply, passive voice is stagnant, describing outcomes; active voice is dynamic,
explaining processes. In the Humanities, the point of writing is not only to note change
(what happened), but to describe process (how did it happen) and determine agency (who
did it and why). Passive voice conceals process and agency — the how, who, and why of a
topic. It could not be more inappropriate for formal essays in the Humanities. In these
examples, note how passive voice obscures what deserves explanation (verbs italicized).
First, passive voice: “During the Civil War, slaves were freed.” Now in active voice:
“During the Civil War, slaves seized their freedom.” Passive voice makes emancipation
appear to be an act of God or some other unknown agent. It just happened. But active
voice specifies who did what: “slaves seized.” Now, naming the how and why now becomes
easier and even natural: “During the Civil War, slaves seized their freedom, fleeing
plantations for the Northern army and demanding a part in the Union’s war effort.”
THE FORMAL VOICE All essays should be written a the third-person, omniscient voice.
The reader knows that he or she is reading the thought and opinions of an author.
Therefore, you need not hedge your assertions with self-deprecating phrases like “I think”
and “in my opinion.” Simply state your opinion as fact; then support it with evidence. It is
the reader’s prerogative to disagree with your choice and interpretation of evidence.
However, you may use the first-person voice (the pronoun “I”) very sparingly in the
introduction and the conclusion. As a general rule, use the first-person voice no more than
three times in a paper less than ten pages in length. Much of this boils down to one simple
point: avoid conversational language.
HIST 2606:40428 – TURNING POINTS
IN U.S. HISTORY II
ESSAY I – Due Monday 6 October
Discuss the role that race played in the thinking of U.S. politicians and intellectuals concerning
immigration and war. Be sure to address the following questions. Who was included in the
“American race” and who was not? What was the nature of “race” for these thinkers? What
obligations did the “American race” possess? How did the idea of race effect U.S. foreign and
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! Chs. 16 & 17.
Henry Cabot Lodge, The Perils of Unrestricted Immigration.
Josiah Strong, Our Country (1885)
Emilio Aguinaldo on American Imperialismx in the Philippines (1899)
Rudyard Kipling, "The White Man's Burden" (1899)
All papers must be typed, double spaced, and printed in a standard text font.
Use standard (1 ) margins and font sizes (12 point). (Spend your time revising your
argument and prose, not obsessing your layout.)
You must support all of your arguments with cited evidence from the course materials. (Cite
not only course readings, but cite lectures by date.)
When citing books, use MLA, Chicago (Turabian), or another academic composition style.
DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!!! Also, avoid blocked quotes (quotes over 40 words or four lines
should be blocked). Instead, recount long passages in your own words and your own tone
and style, sentence and paragraph structure.
This essay must have a clear thesis statement and must make an argument.
All essays must deal directly and exclusively with the course materials. Please remember,
any deviation from a discussion of the above materials and any additional course materials
is a deviation from the assignment. Your argument should be integrated into and indivisible
from your presentation and interpretation of these sources. Once you are in the body of you
essay, the only sentences that should not be presenting evidence are your topic sentences —
the first (and only first) sentence of your paragraph. (See the course handout, Anatomy of
Henry Cabot Lodge. The Perils of Unrestricted Immigration: For Immigration Restrictions (1896).
This bill is intended to amend the existing law so as to restrict still further immigration to the United
States. Paupers, diseased persons, convicts, and contract laborers are now excluded. By this bill it is
proposed to make a new class of excluded immigrants and add to those which have just been named the
The bill is of the simplest kind. The 1st Section excludes from the country all immigrants who
cannot read and write either their own or some other language. The 2nd Section merely provides a simple
test for determining whether the immigrant can read or write, and is added to the bill so as to define the
duties of the immigrant inspectors, and to assure to all immigrants alike perfect justice and a fair test of
Two questions arise in connection with this bill. The first is as to the merits of this particular form of
restriction; the second, as to the general policy of restricting immigration at all. I desire to discuss briefly
these two questions in the order in which I have stated them.
The smaller question as to the merits of this particular bill comes first. The existing laws of the
United States now exclude, as I have said, certain classes of immigrants who, it is universally agreed,
would be most undesirable additions to our population. These exclusions have been enforced and the
results have been beneficial, but the excluded classes are extremely limited and do not by any means cover
all or even any considerable part of the immigrants whose presence here is undesirable or injurious, nor do
they have any adequate effect in properly reducing the great body of immigration to this country. There
can be no doubt that there is a very earnest desire on the part of the American people to restrict further and
much more extensively than has yet been done foreign immigration to the United States.
The question before the committee was how this could best be done; that is, by what method the
largest number of undesirable immigrants and the smallest possible number of desirable immigrants could
be shut out. Three methods of obtaining this further restriction have been widely discussed of late years
and in various forms have been brought to the attention of Congress. The first was the imposition of a
capitation tax on all immigrants. There can be no doubt as to the effectiveness of this method if the tax is
made sufficiently heavy. But although exclusion by a tax would be thorough, it would be undiscriminating,
and your committee did not feel that the time had yet come for its application.
The second scheme was to restrict immigration by requiring consular certification of immigrants.
This plan has been much advocated, and if it were possible to carry it out thoroughly and to add very
largely to the number of our consuls in order to do so, it would no doubt be effective and beneficial. But
the committee was satisfied that consular certification was, under existing circumstances, impractical; that
the necessary machinery could not be provided; that it would lead to many serious questions with foreign
governments, and that it could not be properly and justly enforced. It is not necessary to go further into the
details which brought the committee to this conclusion. It is sufficient to say here that the opinion of the
committee is shared, they believe, by all expert judges who have given the most careful attention to the
The third method was to exclude all immigrants who could neither read nor write, and this is the
plan which was adopted by the committee and which is embodied in this bill. In their report the committee
have shown by statistics, which have been collected and tabulated with great care, the emigrants who
would be affected by this illiteracy test. . It is found, in the first place, that the illiteracy test will bear most
heavily upon the Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asiatics, and very lightly, or not at all,
upon English-speaking emigrants or Germans, Scandinavians, and French. In other words, the races most
affected by the illiteracy test are those whose emigration to this country has begun within the last twenty
years and swelled rapidly to enormous proportions, races with which the English-speaking people have
never hitherto assimilated, and who are most alien to the great body of the people of the United States.
On the other hand, immigrants from the United Kingdom and of those races which are most closely
related to the English-speaking people, and who with the English-speaking people themselves founded the
American colonies and built up the United States, are affected but little by the proposed test. These races
would not be prevented by this law from coming to this country in practically undiminished numbers.
These kindred races also are those who alone go to the Western and Southern states, where immigrants are
desired, and take up our unoccupied lands. The races which would suffer most seriously by exclusion
under the proposed bill furnish the immigrants who do not go to the West or South, where immigration is
needed, but who remain on the Atlantic seaboard, where immigration is not needed and where their
presence is most injurious and undesirable.
It now remains for me to discuss the second and larger question, as to the advisability of restricting
immigration at all. This is a subject of the greatest magnitude and the most far-reaching importance. It has
two sides, the economic and the social. As to the former, but few words are necessary. There is no one
thing which does so much to bring about a reduction of wages and to injure the American wage earner as
the unlimited introduction of cheap foreign labor through unrestricted immigration. Statistics show that
the change in the race character of our immigration has been accompanied by a corresponding decline in
its quality. The number of skilled mechanics and of persons trained to some occupation or pursuit has
fallen off, while the number of those without occupation or training, that is, who are totally unskilled, has
risen in our recent immigration to enormous proportions. This low, unskilled labor is the most deadly
enemy of the American wage earner, and does more than anything else toward lowering his wages and
forcing down his standard of living.
An attempt was made, with the general assent of both political parties, to meet this crying evil some
years ago by the passage of what are known as the contract-labor laws. That legislation was excellent in
intention but has proved of but little value in practice. It has checked to a certain extent the introduction of
cheap, low-class labor in large masses into the United States. It has made it a little more difficult for such
labor to come here, but the labor of this class continues to come, even if not in the same way, and the total
amount of it has not been materially reduced. Even if the contract-labor laws were enforced intelligently
and thoroughly, there is no reason to suppose that they would have any adequate effect in checking the evil
which they were designed to stop. It is perfectly clear, after the experience of several years, that the only
relief which can come to the American wage earner from the competition of low-class immigrant labor
must be by general laws restricting the total amount of immigration and framed in such a way as to affect
most strongly those elements of the immigration which furnish the low, unskilled, and ignorant foreign
It is not necessary to enter further into a discussion of the economic side of the general policy of
restricting immigration. In this direction the argument is unanswerable. If we have any regard for the
welfare, the wages, or the standard of life of American workingmen, we should take immediate steps to
restrict foreign immigration. There is no danger, at present at all events, to our workingmen from the
coming of skilled mechanics or of trained and educated men with a settled occupation or pursuit, for
immigrants of this class will never seek to lower the American standard of life and wages. On the contrary,
they desire the same standard for themselves. But there is an appalling danger to the American wage
earner from the flood of low, unskilled, ignorant, foreign labor which has poured into the country for some
years past, and which not only takes lower wages but accepts a standard of life and living so low that the
American workingman can not compete with it.
I now come to the aspect of this question which is graver and more serious than any other. The
injury of unrestricted immigration to American wages and American standards of living is sufficiently
plain and is bad enough, but the danger which this immigration threatens to the quality of our citizenship
is far worse. That which it concerns us to know and that which is more vital to us as a people than all
possible questions of tariff or currency is whether the quality of our cit ...
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