Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Math/Science Students Might Have an Easier Time Writing an Essay

I’ve had students tell me, “I can’t write essays because I’m a math person” or “I can’t write essays because I’m a science person.”

I share a secret with these students: They have an advantage over the more humanities-orientated student. Writing an essay starts with a very clear order: an argument (thesis) supported throughout your paper. That support is clearly stated in each body paragraph’s topic sentence. The rest of the paragraphs provide the details that analyze the smaller (topic sentences) and large claim (thesis.)

Imagining myself a free-thinking poet from a very early age, I often wrote disorganized essays. I started on one topic and then got distracted by an idea that might have been loosely connected. Suddenly, my essays were dealing with too many issues and by the end, nothing had been proven.

Students who enjoy math and science classes tend to approach things in a very logical fashion. This logic translates quite well into essay writing. You can imagine your essay supports the central “If/Then” statement. Your topic statements contain the supportive “if” statements. Your main argument contains a summary of the "if" statements and the final "then" statement. This is your thesis. Does this language remind you of math or science classes?

A good way to understand the internal order of your essay is to craft an outline. It is crucial to not only write an outline, but *use* it as you write your paper. Refer back to it. If you do more research and slightly alter your argument, go back and revise your outline. Here is a great sample outline with the related paper from Diana Hacker.

Yes, good writing has a creative element. It might seem as though the more creative students in the class will shine above the science/math oriented students. Again, I think this is faulty thinking. Scientists and mathematicians make discoveries. Those discoveries are based on facts, but first scientists and mathematicians had to draw new conclusions in order to make those discoveries. What could be more creative than that?

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