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Writing Structures for the Most Common College Papers

June 17, 2016 - Posted toWriting Tips

Content writing structures for the most common college papers

Every paper you will write in college will have two major aspects – a thesis and a purpose. Your thesis is obviously the main point you are making by writing the paper in the first place, and it is often tied directly to your purpose.

There are the same types of college papers as there were essays and papers in high school. The difference is that they are more complex and scholarly than they used to be. The theses will be deeper and the resources you use will be as well. Your evidence will have to be based upon the research of others (primary sources) rather than just what others report (secondary resources).

Structures for College Paper Writing

Structure will depend on purpose. You may or may not recall that there are several different types of purposes for essays and papers:

  1. Expository – Provides explanations of concepts, how-to instructions, and descriptions of people, places, or events/circumstances. These are factually based college writing assignments.
    Structures for expository writing are very basic. The introduction introduces the topic and states the thesis. Suppose, for example, you were writing a paper on the programs of the New Deal put in place during the Great Depression. Your introduction would briefly state the topic and perhaps a thesis that speaks to the fact that many of these programs are still around today, although under different names and titles.
    The body of your paper would be easily divided into section, each of which would explain one of the New Deal programs, who it impacted, and how it helped the recovery.
    The conclusion of your paper would tie back to your thesis. What programs are still in place and why are they still important to the American people. (e.g., Social Security).
  2. Cause/Effect: Here you must establish a relationship between two or more events, circumstances, etc. These, too, are factually based works, but the goal is to show the relationship between them not just to report them.
    Keeping with the topic of the Great Depression, this writing structure lists the causes of the Depression, usually in order of importance, during the laissez-faire capitalism of the 1920’s – risky lending practices, stock market speculation, over-valuation of companies, etc.
    While cause-effect papers have expository elements, that is, the explanation of things, the overall purpose is to show the relationship.
  3. Comparison/Contrast: This paper will explain the similarities, differences, or both of two people, ideas, events, circumstances, etc. The structure is straight forward. You will need to develop a list of similarities and/or differences and address each in an expository way.
    Keeping the topic of the Great Depression, a good comparison/contrast paper might be to explain the similarities between the causes of the Depression and those of the financial meltdown of 2008 in the U.S. for example, what were the risky lending practices of banks in the 1920’s compared to those of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. And how were they different? What protections were not in place in the 1920’s that are in place now, so that consumers are not as badly impacted? What were the government interventions during the 1930’s vs. the government interventions after 2008?
  4. Persuasive: Also called the argumentative essay, this one will require that you put forth opinions on an issue, and that you have factual data to support the opinions you espouse. The purpose of this type of paper is to convince the reader that your opinions are correct.
    During the Great Depression, what measures could the government have had in place that might have prevented that disaster? And now that we have been through another financial crisis that came very close to another depression, what measures should be in place to protect both the nation and individual consumers from personal disasters. For example, risky mortgage lending was a primer factor in the crisis of 2008. What laws, if any, should be in place to prevent banks from engaging in such behaviors in the future? How much cash should banks be required to have on hand to prevent a failure?
  5. Narrative: This type of paper tells a story. While more academic papers for college will be of the previous types, there will still be a place for narratives in a variety of courses. You may be asked, for example, to write a narrative of a typical family during the Depression in which the father has lost his job and foreclosure is imminent. What strategies will this family use to move forward and take care of their basic needs? These types of papers will require that you use your imagination and be more creative. They may require research too.
    The structure of a narrative is usually chronological, and rather than an outline, a storyboard works well as an organizer.

A variety of purposes means a variety of writing structures. And students need to develop their structures with some form of graphic organizer for each type and purpose. For many types of essays, an outline will do well. For others, such as comparison/contrast, organizers such as a Venn diagram will work better to drive the best structure. Remember, structure is what will hold your paper together – it gives it coherency and logical flow. Unless the structure is established right from the beginning papers will be disorganized and ineffective in meeting their purposes. Identify your purpose and use the information above to develop the structure you need.


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