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Writing the university essay. Take the University Challenge. University Expectations. IN GENERAL: You are PRODUCING knowledge, not consuming it Focus is on HOW and WHY , not just WHAT and WHEN. The Process: Ideas First!. Plan/Think Narrow your Topic

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writing the university essay

Writing the universityessay

Take the

University Challenge

university expectations
University Expectations


  • You are PRODUCINGknowledge, not consuming it
  • Focus is on HOWand WHY, not just WHAT and WHEN
the process ideas first
The Process: Ideas First!
  • Plan/Think
    • Narrow your Topic
    • Preliminary Research/Reading/Review
    • Ask a research question
    • Research: find, evaluate, skim, read, note & develop reference list
    • Outline main argument and supporting points
  • Write & Revise




  • Type of assignment
    • Essay? Reflection? Article Summary? Report?
  • Type of research
    • Primary? Secondary? Professional? News? Literature?
  • Length – Format - Referencing

For example:

This is an eight to ten page analytical essay using primary sources from the text book (available at the bookstore) and graded on analysis and interpretation of historical evidence, as well as conformance to scholarly writing conventions (for History papers), grammar, and English. Due November 20th at the start of lecture. Essay is double spaced in 12-point font (2.5 cm margins)using Chicago Style title page, bibliography, and footnotes. Instructions are posted on the course website.

consider this
Consider this
  • Course context
    • Main themes & questions
  • Assessment: What is valued?
    • Research
    • Organization
    • Clarity of Writing
    • Analysis & Critical Thinking
    • Academic Integrity
ask questions
Ask Questions
  • What do you need to know about the topic?
  • Explore facts. Define terms. Outline process. What? Who? When? Where?
  • Interrogate relationships. Consider context. Evaluate impact. Analyse significance. How? Why? So What?
is canada truly multicultural
Is Canada truly multicultural?
  • Big question! Quick brainstorm –
    • Toronto is good example – many cultures represented in population
    • Ethnic Neighbourhoods: Kensington market, Chinatown, Little Italy
    • Cultural centres – religious centres, educational opportunities, arts & culture
    • Diverse Services – language supports
    • But discrimination exists . . .
don t be predictable
Don’t be predictable
  • The five-paragraph structure can only articulate a very simple form of argument, involving a major claim and three supporting claims.

As Canada’s largest city, Toronto’s ethnic neighbourhoods, cultural centres, and diverse services demonstrate how Canada is truly multicultural.

don t write this 5 paragraph essay
Don’t write this 5-paragraph essay
  • Introduction
  • Ethnic neighbourhoods
  • Cultural centres
  • Diverse services
  • Conclusion
dig deeper ask more questions
Dig deeper. Ask more questions.
  • How do we define multiculturalism? How does the government support multiculturalism?
  • How do communities include and exclude populations? Does this change in different communities? Urban-rural? East-west? North-south?
  • What are the perceptions of new Canadians? Does this change for 2nd and 3rd generation Canadians?
  • How important is language? Religion? Cultural norms?
  • Political and economic contexts for multiculturalism?
  • Why is it important to understand multiculturalism in Canada?
do you have an opinion
Do you have an opinion?
  • The topic asks a question; the thesis answers the question according to the writer's opinion, based on his or her research.
  • The essay is organized to explore the question and support your answer or opinion.
focused analytical clear
Focused. Analytical. Clear.

Despite Canada’s efforts to support a multicultural society, ethnocentrism creates barriers for the social, political, and economic equality necessary for a nation to be truly multicultural.

a tentative thesis helps you
A Tentative Thesis Helps You:

Avoid confusion of many possible “answers”

Avoid passively absorbing rather than actively engaging with others’ ideas

Avoid plagiarism because you lack ideas

outline is crucial
Outline is CRUCIAL
  • It is the map / skeleton basis of your essay. It allows you to see a lot of information and organize ideas clearly. It stops your work from wandering off topic.
point form outline keep it close
Point Form Outline: Keep it Close

Tentative Thesis

Despite Canada’s efforts to support a multicultural society, ethnocentrism creates barriers for the social, political, and economic equality necessary for a nation to be truly multicultural.

Introduction – state thesis; map points

Defining multicultural

Considering equality – how does it inform multiculturalism?

Outline Canada’s efforts to support a multicultural society – federal govt, provincial govt, industry, NGOs

Considering ethnocentrism

Impact of ethnocentrism: Barriers for social, political, and economic equality

  • opportunities, ghettoization, discrimination,

Conclusion – synthesize points; restate thesis


The scope of a thesis must fit the size of your assignment. Are you writing a book or a three page paper?

Peterborough’s federal riding demographic benefits two of the major parties.

The shifting of riding boundaries has had surprising results in Canadian political history.

activity write a thesis for a 10 page paper
ACTIVITY: Write a thesis for a 10 page paper.

What is the value of a university education? Should universities focus on providing professional training or emphasize academic research and critical thinking? What social, economic, or technological contexts must be considered in this question?

use questions to find sources
Use Questions to Find Sources
  • Go beyond the topic
  • Complex and interesting papers require different types of evidence. For example,
    • Demographic data: ethnic origins, current cities, language data
    • Survey data (StatsCan?)
    • Government policy documents
    • NGO reports
    • Academic journals and monographs
    • Course materials
research expectations
Research Expectations
  • Assess the source
  • Is it scholarly?
    • Peer-review, scholarly press, journal articles
  • Is it reliable?
    • Who is the author? Who is the publisher or site host? When was it published/posted?
  • Is it objective?
    • Government, watchdog, business – what might be the bias? Differentiate facts, interpretation, and image.
finding sources
Finding Sources
  • Back Referencing: use found sources to retrieve others
  • Seed/Pearl Method: search headings in the index of your best source
  • Browse: bibliographies and shelves
avoiding plagiarism
Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Take notes (that support your argument). In this way you will synthesize, not plagiarize.
  • Do not simply cut and paste
  • Keep track of where information is from
organize your ideas
Organize your ideas
  • What is the overall point or message you need to convey to the user? Use this to organize your paper.
  • Structure is important:
    • introduction & conclusion present the overall message of the paper and how this message will be discussed;
    • body paragraphs develop ideas, explain evidence, and show connections
effectively integrating evidence
Effectively Integrating Evidence
  • Paraphrase: Specific evidence

According to Pazy and Ganzach (2009), in short-term or contractual employment, pay is one of the most important factors that affect job performance.

  • Summary: General argument

Evidence suggests that personal well-being, job satisfaction together affect employment status (Wright & Bonett, 2007).

effectively integrating evidence1
Effectively Integrating Evidence
  • Data

The Council of Ontario Universities (2013) reported that 95% of 2006 university grads were employed six months after graduation, and 79% of those grads were in jobs that connected to their studies.

  • Quotation

As Boswell, Zimmerman, and Swider point out, the time when a new graduate enters the workforce is “one of the most critical periods for individuals’ lifelong career success” (2012, p. 129).

paragraph structure develop your ideas
Paragraph Structure: Develop your ideas
  • Topic Sentence: introduces the one idea that this paragraph will develop
  • Evidence: data, ideas and quotations that support the topic
  • Discussion/Explanation: shows how your evidence supports the point made in the topic sentence and answers the question, "So what?"
  • Conclusion/Transition: sums up what your paragraph has shown or discussed and may connect it to the next paragraph
writing is a process
Writing is a Process
  • Re-Write
  • Re-Write
  • Re-Write
so what
  • Ask yourself “So What?” after each paragraph
  • Are you merely cataloguing information (Joyce uses a metaphor) or are you moving your thesis forward (Joyce’s use of metaphor reinforces…) ?
learn from feedback
Learn from feedback
  • Common problems
    • Vague/general writing or ideas
    • Offering quotes without explaining them
    • Not writing simply or clearly
    • Improper paraphrasing or referencing
    • Submitting the first draft
make a visit the asc part of your process
Make a visit the ASCpart of your process
  • With assignment instructions
  • With a tentative thesis or outline
  • With a first draft
  • Online Essay Writing Guide: www.trentu.ca/academicskills/thinkingitthrough/overview.php
come talk to us
Come Talk to Us!
  • Do you want to ask questions about something you heard today?
  • Do you want an instructor to look at work you did during these sessions (sample thesis, lecture notes, paraphrase)?
  • Come see us at the Academic Skills Centre during special 10 minute drop-in sessions!
special drop in appointments
Special Drop-in Appointments

Wednesday, Sept. 4, Thursday, Sept. 5, and Friday, Sept. 6

10-minute drop-in appointments

(first come-first served)

Academic Skills Centre

Champlain College 206