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How to write an Essay. The guide that (if you actually care) will save your grade. MLA. .

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how to write an essay

How to write an Essay

The guide that (if you actually care) will save your grade.


MLA stands for the Modern Language Association. The Modern Language Association has created standards on how academic manuscripts in liberal arts and humanities should be formatted. These standards are often described as MLA Style. In all English Language Arts classes you take at Dunwoody, and in college, you will be required to write in MLA style.

MLA style also dictates how to properly cite sources within your manuscript (in-text citation) and at the end of your manuscript (Works Cited Page).

Consistent formats for academic manuscripts are important because it eliminates confusion, increases readability, and reduces generalities.

mla style
MLA Style


  • Typed on a white, 8.5 by 11 in. sheet of paper.
  • Doubled spaced (This means no spacing before or after a line. Demonstrate)
  • 12 pt. Font.
  • Leave only one space after periods
  • 3rd person (No we, you, I, me, us, or our) *unless told otherwise
  • 1 inch margins on all sides of the paper
  • Indent the first line of each new paragraph 1 half inch from the left margin. Use the TAB key, not the space bar.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages in the upper right hand corner, one inch from the top and flush with the right margin (Purdue OWL).
  • Typed from left to right (not centered), not justified.
mla style continued
MLA Style Continued…


  • Do not make a title page
  • In the upper left hand corner on separate lines, type your name (first and last), your instructor’s name, the course, and the date in this format: 27 January 2014.
  • A centered title that is not underlined, italicized, all caps, bold faced, a different font, or in quotation marks. The title should maintain size 12 point font and should be one double space down from the date.
mla style continued1
MLA Style Continued…

Ultimately, it is up to your instructor how writing assignments should be formatted. So if I decide that anything should be different, then I will let you know. However, everything in this class should turned in using MLA format. So do that.


Let me tell you a story about wedding food…

My fiance and I, we’re casual people that love food and we want our wedding and wedding reception to exemplify that. We want really good food served at our wedding that is both creative and cheap. We want our food to be diverse, easy to eat, relatable, unpretentious, and light. A food that is all of those things is hard to find, but it exists. That food, is tacos. The food at our wedding should be tacos.

Now, let’s say I didn’t include the first six sentences of that story. What would I be left with?

The food at our wedding should be tacos.


Let’s again say that I am trying to convince my fiance that tacos are the best kind of food to serve at our wedding. How should I craft my argument to her? Isn’t my argument more compelling if I include those six sentences? What sounds better to you, the first or second option?

I mean the difference between this paragraph:

My fiance and I, we’re casual people that love food and we want our wedding and wedding reception to exemplify that. We want really good food served at our wedding that is both creative and cheap. We want our food to be diverse, easy to eat, relatable, unpretentious, and light. A food that is all of those things is hard to find, but it exists. That food, is tacos. The food at our wedding should be tacos.

And this sentence:

The food at our wedding should be tacos.





You’ve got to warm your reader up to your idea before you just give it to them. This is called an Attention Getter, and your attention getter goes at the beginning of your introduction. See your attention getter handout.


After your attention getter, your thesis statement should come next.

Your thesis statement is the backbone of your paper. It is the most important part of your argument and lets your reader know exactly what you are talking about/arguing for.

Simply put, if you don’t have a thesis statement, you don’t have an essay.

There is no way to easily write a thesis statement, because all thesis statements are different. However, there are a couple of key components to a thesis statement that you must have.

  • Narrow and Debatable
  • A summary of your argument/entire paper.
  • Easy to find in your paper
  • No more than two sentences long
  • A claim that you consistently defend throughout your paper.
  • Directly answers the question provided, while also saying why that answer matters (So what?)
  • Comes at the end of the introduction.
  • Thesis passes the “how and why?” test?
  • A thesis statement doesn’t “think.” A thesis statement “is.”

Tips for writing a thesis statement

  • Think of what you want to argue beforehand.
  • Think of why that argument matters and how that argument is true.
  • Write out your argument, the reasons your argument is true, and why your argument matters.
  • Begin condensing that argument into one or two sentences.
  • Eliminate vague generalities. Make sure your thesis is as specific as possible.
  • No declarative statements (“My paper is about…” or “I am going to argue…”) (In your thesis or anywhere else in your essay.)



An example thesis. Tacos are the most appropriate dish at my wedding because a wedding, and all the subsequent parts of the wedding, should be about the people who are getting married. Tacos are not only a universally loved dish, but accurately reflect the kind of wedding my fiance and I want to have, as well as our unique personality and values



  • Don’t use quotes from your primary text in your introduction.
  • Don’t use in-text citation in your introduction
  • Don’t use the Toulmin Method in your introduction.
  • Introduce your reader to the topic, but don’t blow all your good arguments in the beginning.
  • Think about starting your introduction very general, and then quickly get more specific until you get to your thesis statement.

… Wait… what is the Toulmin Method?


We’ll get to the Toulmin Method later. But let’s continue to the conclusion.

Your conclusion should summarize your argument, while emphasizing why your argument matters (So what?).

Your conclusion should reach out to larger, similar ideas.

Your conclusion should never have new information and should only reinforce the argument you just made, and why that argument matters.

Pastors often organize their message this way: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em (introduction), Tell ‘em (body paragraphs), and Tell ‘em what you told ‘em (conclusion).”

body paragraphs
Body Paragraphs

Often times teachers tell you that your body paragraphs are the meat of your essay. Your body paragraphs are where the real information happens.

All of that is correct, but when you get down to the nitty gritty details of a body paragraph, often times people don’t tell you what to write.

They will usually tell you that you need a claim for each body paragraph and “supporting details” that help enforce that claim. But what are supporting details?

In terms of importance, your essay has a MAJOR CLAIM (thesis statement) and supporting claims that help make your major claim true. Generally speaking, you have one supporting claim for each body paragraph.

body paragraphs1
Body Paragraphs

Here is a visual representation that might help you comprehend your essay better.

body paragraphs2
Body Paragraphs

An argument is a claim, but an argument isn’t made until you defend that claim. And if an essay is a major claim, that is defended by a series of supporting claims, and if want to make an argument, then you need to defend all those supporting claims.

Traditional teacher generalizations would say that your defense of your supporting claims would come from “supporting details.”

I, however, am no traditional teacher.

You will not defend your claims using “supporting details.” You will use...

the toulmin method
The Toulmin Method

The Toulmin Method is a method of logic that organizes your argument in an easy to read, easy to follow arrangement.

In my opinion, the Toulmin Method transforms writing into a formulaic process. It removes the scary “artistic” interpretation of writing and transforms it into an easy to create “plug and play” manuscript.

However, it’s not just an easy way to write, but it’s also a correct way to think. The Toulmin Method is a method of logic. This means that your argument will not only be logically organized, but also make sense logically.

toulmin method
Toulmin Method

The Toulmin Method is made of six parts, all of which are essential for Argumentation:

  • Claim: In terms of your body paragraph, this is a supporting claim that helps make your main claim true.
  • Data: Evidence gained to support your claim
  • Warrant (Bridge): Explanation of why or how the data supports the claim, the underlying assumption that connects your data to your claim.
  • Backing: Additional logic or reasoning that you may need to support your claim
  • Counterclaim: A claim that negates your claim
  • Rebuttal: Evidence that negates or disagrees with the counterclaim. (Purdue OWL)
toulmin method1
Toulmin Method

Well what do you know?

6 parts of the Toulmin Method, and roughly six sentences in a paragraph. It’s perfect.

Now, does this mean that you should only write six sentences in a paragraph? NO! What the Toulmin Method is leaving out is transitions.

You have to have transitions that help your paragraph and paper flow from one thought to the next. Do all these transitions have to be sentences? No! They can be anything from the list provided in your hand out.

toulmin method2
Toulmin Method

The Toulmin Method is made of very different parts and you will need to include transitions for all those parts.

You might also need more sentences to help each part make sense. At the same time, though, you might not need to include a part because it might make sense without it.

However, there are 4 parts of The Toulmin Method that you ABSOLUTELY need to include in your body paragraph. Claim, Data, Counterclaim, Rebuttal.

the claim
The Claim

Each of your body paragraphs will have a mini- Thesis Statement. That is the claim.

Your claim is an argument, and you must make that argument throughout the paragraph, using the Toulmin Method.

Remember, a Claim is debatable. It is not a fact.

Here are a couple of examples of unacceptable claims:

Creon made laws.- Fact

Martin Luther King Jr. and Antigone created tension. - Fact

Martin Luther King Jr. fought for what he believed in. - Fact

the data
The Data

Data is usually defined by statistics and numbers.

But for our essays, Data are quotes from the text we are reading.

For example, let’s say my Claim is: Antigone and Martin Luther King Jr. are different because Antigone doesn’t seem to care for the rights of others, but only for her brother.

My Data would be this quote: “This death of mine/Is of no importance; but if I had left my brother/Lying in death unburied, I should have suffered./Now I do not.”(1.78-81)

the warrant most of the time
The Warrant (Most of the time)

The Warrant can be many things, but here is a short list of what it can be:

  • Answers “So what?”
  • Connects back to your thesis
  • Builds a bridge between your data and claim (explains why the data supports the claim)
  • Repeats the claim
  • States that the data does support the claim

The warrant for the previous example is: If Antigone really cared for the well-being of others, she would have wanted to survive so she could continue to fight unjust laws for people who were going through similar problems.

This is the warrant because it explains why the data supports the claim.

the warrant
The Warrant

Sometimes you might not need the Warrant.

For Example:

Let’s say my claim is that red meat is bad for you.

My data is something like red meat increase your blood pressure by 20%.

I don’t necessarily need to say my data because it is widely known that a high blood pressure is bad.

However, it never hurts to be thorough. In my opinion, a good warrant, is the indication of a good argument.


Sometimes your warrant needs support. That is what backing is for.

Let’s say I was to include the warrant in the previous example.

Red meat is bad for your health because it can increase your blood pressure by 20%. (Claim and Data). A high blood pressure is bad for you because it can lead to heart disease, which can kill you. (Warrant and backing).

Sometimes, though, you might not need backing. Once again, though, it’s helpful to be thorough.


A good rhetorician doesn’t care what side they take in an argument, because they know that they are able to argue either side.

To write a good argumentative paper, you have to know the other side of your argument.

By simultaneously proving your argument correct, and disproving the other arguments, you make your claim more believable.

This is where the counterclaim comes in. You include the counterclaim so that you can include the...


The rebuttal disproves the counterclaim, while proving the initial claim correct.

Many teachers will tell you that this is the most important part of the argument, but I disagree with that.

The Warrant is the most important part, but a good counterclaim and rebuttal shows that you are thoughtful of the opposing side, but still confident in your stance.

a rough outline planning style
A rough outline/planning style...

A. Intoduction

Attention Getter


B. Body Paragraphs

Toulmin Method for each body paragraph

C. Conclusion

Repeat your thesis

Say why it matters.