Why the Term Paper on China is not your Friend
Statue of Yu the Great at Wenchuan
When she was a freshman in college, Anna Hundert explained why college students should avoid what she calls the "'three-pronged thesis' structure" which is sometimes also called the five-paragraph theme. As Hundert explains, this structure in effect says "This paper will argue that A because of X, Y, and Z. Here, X, Y, and Z are often three different aspects of the argument that spread out horizontally from the main point." She calls this a "formulaic approach" and notes it "doesn’t translate well into the longer papers you’ll have to write in college," as it "leads to an essay structure that provides a breadth of discussion without a depth of discussion." Instead she explains, it is better to "try to structure your paragraphs so that they thread a single idea through different layers of critical thinking, working through the argument in a more vertical — rather than horizontal — approach." And, I would add, try developing your thesis further with each paragraph and showing that you have done so with what I call "So What?" transitions.