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Planning the essay

Now you're ready to plan the essay. You want to have a five-paragraph essay, structured as follows:

- The thesis anchors the first paragraph.

- The three body paragraphs support your central point (ideally with three pieces of analysis each).

- The final paragraph reiterates and amplifies the thesis.

Look for the subjects of the three body paragraphs. Sifting through the history topics in your notes, you see that they can be arranged in political, economic, and social categories. Political events include elections, increased voter turnout, universal white-male suffrage, and the spoils system. Economic trends include nullification and the defeat of the Bank of the U.S. Social happenings include the Trail of Tears, the Second Great Awakening, and women's rights.

Writing the essay

Following about five minutes of planning, you're ready to write the essay. Keep the terms that form the proof for your thesis in capital letters to make them easier for the grader to see when she's reading quickly. Let the English teachers complain about unnecessary capitalization and underlining; this exam is about history, and you're in a high-traffic situation. Capitalizing provides a road marker to help direct your reader to the destination.

In another high-traffic detour from the refined world of English composition, you may want to start your essay with the thesis sentence, not keep it waiting demurely for the end of the first paragraph. You may also want to actually label it "Thesis" so that it's difficult to miss. Make sure the thesis doesn't just repeat the question; after reading hundreds of essays, the grading teacher knows what the question is. Your thesis should restate the prompt with your own thoughts to show that you understand it.

Consider beginning your thesis with the magic word although, which (as explained in Chapter 4) is how to acknowledge that the other side may have a point counter to your thesis. This approach makes you look fair and allows you to counter possible objections to your argument on your own terms. In full debate, developing your opponent's argument and then destroying it is called the straw-man argument. The use of the word although is a quickie version of the straw-man move.


Give your essay a title. A title doesn't cost anything and makes the essay look official.

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