Outlining Essay One

By now, you’ve read some pieces about “cancel culture” and free speech.

The goal here is pretty simple. In the same way that people at a cocktail party might engage in fervent conversation, these authors are doing the same thing in print. Each author is expressing his or her viewpoint, complicating the view of another. What comes next involves you. Amid these differences of opinion and perspective, you need to decide what your contribution to the discussion will be.

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This contribution will be your thesis — the central claim of your future essay. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sculpting this essay and thinking of it as your entry into the conversation. Try to imagine that for a second.

Author 1 claims X. Author 2 claims Y. I claim…Z.

Z, whatever that is, is your thesis.

The central question to which you’ll be responding is this: To what extent is cancel culture a threat to free speech in 2020? How extreme is that threat?

To kick-start your thinking, I’d like you to answer the following questions for yourself:

1. Do you think cancel culture is a threat in the 21st century? For whom? How extreme is the threat?

2. Why do you think that? How do you know your claim is valid?

3. What might someone who thinks in the opposite way from you argue in response?

4. Why should readers care about this?

Go on. Answer them.

Now: in order to generate a complex, college-level thesis, you’ll need four ingredients: (1) a claim, (2) some context, (3) a counterargument, and (4) the significance. Each of these is explained below. I’m going to walk you through each of these ingredients.

Let’s get started.

Part One – Claim

Every good thesis begins with a claim. Make an arguable claim that contributes to the subject we’ve been discussing.

For the sake of providing an example, I’m going to do this with an unrelated question—just keep in mind that you are not writing about monogamy. I’ll be answering this: “Do you think monogamy is useful in the 21st century?”

Your answer to this is your claim.

Example: “Monogamy is useless in the 21st century.”

Part Two – Context

Now, try giving the reader an idea of why or how your claim is valid.

Answer: “Why/how is your claim about monogamy valid?”

Example: “Monogamy is useless in the 21st century because dating apps and easy hookups have left us tempted by too many options.”

Part Three – Counterargument

Is there a counterargument here? If so, try tipping your cap to your “opposing critics.” (Use “Although,” “Even though,” or “While” to create a dependent clause.)

Example: Although many Americans continue to seek marriage as an ultimate goal, monogamy is useless in the 21st century because dating apps and easy hookups have left us tempted by too many options.

Part Four – Significance

What about the significance? Why should an audience care about your thesis?

Example: Although many Americans continue to seek marriage as an ultimate goal, monogamy is useless in the 21st century because dating apps and easy hookups have left us tempted by too many options. If Americans would only embrace non-monogamy, they might eliminate some of the anxiety, stress, and jealousy that so often comes with traditional coupling.

Part Five – Editing

What you’ve come up with might be a little messy. Spend a little time tweaking the phrasing, moving things around. Make it clear and readable. Then, when you’re done, submit your thesis. (*If you have not begun using Grammarly, this might be an ideal moment for that.)

Example: Although many Americans continue to seek marriage as an ultimate goal, monogamy is useless in the 21st century because dating apps and easy hookups have left us tempted by too many options. If Americans would only embrace non-monogamy, they might eliminate some of the anxiety, stress, and jealousy that so often comes with traditional coupling.

Note: this is just one way (of many) to construct a thesis. However, with a claim, some context, a counterargument, and significance, you’re setting yourself up for success. Do not copy my ideas, listed here, simply because you think they’ll be “easier” to write about. Your essay is not about monogamy. This assignment should extend logically from your annotations — the place where you recorded YOUR ideas.

For this submission, I only need to see this finished thesis statement; however, if you’d like to include the above steps, I’ll gladly take a look. 🙂

Now that you’ve written a thesis statement (with claim + context + counterargument + significance) you have a map for outlining your first essay.

Let’s pretend that this is your thesis:

“Although many continue to defend marriage as a sacred institution, the practice of monogamy is outdated and has no place in 21st century relationships. Rather than drawing two people closer, exclusivity only encourages possessiveness and jealousy. If American culture can agree to move beyond “old-fashioned” monogamy, we can build relationships based on mutual pleasure—instead of ownership.”

Unlike the five-paragraph essay that you’re probably used to writing, this thesis statement does not lend itself to an essay “three reasons = three body paragraphs” structure. So how do we structure an essay that illustrates this complex, college-level thesis?

Let’s start by color-coding it, assigning one color to each element (claim + context + counterargument + significance).

“Although many continue to defend marriage as a sacred institution, the practice of monogamy is outdated and has no place in 21st century relationships. Rather than drawing two people closer, exclusivity only encourages possessiveness and jealousy. If American culture can agree to move beyond “old-fashioned” monogamy, we can build relationships based on mutual pleasure—instead of ownership.”

As you can see: pink highlights the counterargument, yellow highlights the claim, blue highlights the context, and green highlights the significance. Each of these “colors” will need to be explained further in the essay. After all, we can’t make pronouncements without supporting them, so let’s pose some questions that will help us expand upon and illustrate what we mean.

Why do people continue to defend marriage in the 21st century?
Why is monogamy considered old-fashioned, outdated, out-of-place?
How does monogamy encourage possessiveness and jealousy?
Why is it important that we move beyond monogamy?

Answering these four questions would probably help to clarify what we’re arguing in our thesis, no? Because they help to support and illustrate the main argument (thesis), we call them “sub-argument questions.” Once we’ve settled on our sub-argument questions, we may wish to (1) add some more or (2) re-order them.

First, adding. Ask yourself: are there any additional questions that (if answered) might give the reader even more relevant context and knowledge? In this case, we might ask: “What is monogamy?” (to give readers a proper definition). We might even ask: “What can we do, as a culture, to move beyond monogamy?” (providing a solution). Adding more sub-argument questions is up to you.

Why do people continue to defend marriage in the 21st century?
Why is monogamy considered old-fashioned, outdated, out-of-place?
How does monogamy encourage possessiveness and jealousy?
Why is it important that we move beyond monogamy?
What is monogamy?
What specifically can we do to get past monogamy?

Second, think about re-ordering these questions. Put them in a sequence that delivers information in a digestible and orderly fashion. Maybe something like this:

What is monogamy?
Why do people continue to defend marriage in the 21st century?
Why is monogamy considered old-fashioned, outdated, out-of-place?
How does monogamy encourage possessiveness and jealousy?
Why is it important that we move beyond monogamy?
What specifically can we do to get past monogamy?

[There are no “right” answers when it comes to the order — only what makes sense to you as the author and what will make sense to your reader. I chose this order because (to me) it makes sense that I would define monogamy first — before discussing it in detail. Counterarguments can go anywhere in an essay, but I thought — for this project — I’d begin by discussing the traditional view of monogamy before attacking it. Questions 3 & 4 (claim + context) attack the counterargument by showing what’s wrong with it. After that attack, question #5 gets us thinking more broadly about the significance of the claim. To me, it makes sense to put question #6 last because it offers the reader a potential solution: something he or she can do, now that the essay is ending.]

Now that we’ve settled on sub-argument questions and an order, we should answer each question in a complete sentence.

“Monogamy” is a hotly debated term and the subject of much disagreement in the 21st century.
Despite high divorce rates and greater access to dating apps and quick hookups, millions of Americans continue to seek marriage as a goal, mainly because they’ve been brainwashed by sappy romantic movies and cultural norms.
Limiting our options and asking us to make long-term decisions, monogamy no longer fits in with our fast-paced, 21st century lifestyles.
Monogamy encourages possessiveness and jealousy because it creates a space in which partners feel they have a right to snoop through one another’s phones and patrol each other’s social media.
If we don’t move beyond monogamy, we will only be denying and repressing our most human impulses: to spread our influence among multiple partners and seek out lives of freedom.
Those interested in experimenting with non-monogamy might seek out dating websites for polyamorous singles and couples and learn more by reading the most up-to-date research on marriage and coupling.

Having answered those sub-argument questions, you now have — shockingly! — your sub-arguments. These are also called “topic sentences” when they appear in the essay. Topic sentences (like the ones we’ve written above) issue the central claim of each paragraph. From the above list/outline, we can reasonably assume that this essay will have at least six paragraphs.

Here, you might wish to ask yourself: do all of these (six, in this case) topic sentences belong in the same essay. Is it clear that each of them speaks, in some way, to the larger thesis? If yes, go on. If no, make some edits to make everything coherent and unified.

The final step involves finding support and illustration for each of your topic sentences. Typically, we look for passages from outside sources — “quotations” — that will serve to support and illustrate. Here’s an example.

In order to support Topic Sentence #3, I found a quotation from Jenna Goudreau’s “What’s So Wrong With Monogamy?”

Topic Sentence: “Limiting our options and asking us to make long-term decisions, monogamy no longer fits in with our fast-paced, 21st century lifestyles.”

Quotation: “He believes that because we live in a ‘pornified culture,’ in which pornography is widely available, sexual experience begins at an earlier age and sex is easier to obtain, monogamy is becoming more and more difficult to uphold.”

Notice how the quotation supports the topic sentence. You can very easily see how this notion of a “pornified” and available culture speaks to “our fast-paced 21st century lifestyles.”

But you can also use quotations that complicate or challenge your topic sentence, as in this example:

Topic Sentence: “Despite high divorce rates and greater access to dating apps and quick hookups, millions of Americans continue to seek marriage as a goal, mainly because they’ve been brainwashed by sappy romantic movies and cultural norms.”

Quotation: “Monogamy is likely the best way to maintain the emotional security and satisfaction in the primary relationship. ‘Open relationships have been tried for centuries and do not work for most people,’ says Fisher. ‘They’re being decent by not wanting to sneak around, but they spend a huge amount of time discussing their jealousies. The human brain is not well built for sharing’.”

Here, your topic sentence differs from the author’s claim — and that’s okay. What matters is that they both speak to the same issue. They relate, even if they don’t agree.

For this assignment, I’d like you to submit an outline that includes:

1. Your thesis.

2. Your sub-argument questions.

3. Your topic sentences (remember: these are your sub-argument questions, answered in complete sentences)

4. One relevant quotation from the texts for each topic sentence.

 

It might look like this:

Thesis

Sub-argument questions

Topic Sentence #1

Quotation

Topic Sentence #2

Quotation

Topic Sentence #3

Quotation

Topic Sentence #4

Quotation

Topic Sentence #5

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