Tag Archives: lexicon terms


The Lexicon in Sappho’s “Ode to Aphrodite”

Pretty much every frosh, even those of us who ended up loving Writing Sem, has complained about it at some point. All those different types of motive start to get confusing, and if you find yourself scrambling to finish a D2 at three in the morning, you might wonder whether it’s worth it. But what if the lexicon isn’t just a tool to present your argument clearly and convincingly to readers in any discipline – what if it could help you enlist divine support to win over the object of your unrequited love?

That’s what the ancient Greek poet Sappho does in the poem known as the “Ode to Aphrodite.” The text isn’t just a lament for the girl Sappho loves; it’s also a well-structured argument to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whose help Sappho hopes to enlist. (The speaker in the poem is explicitly identified as Sappho herself.) As she moves through her argument, Sappho deftly employs each part of the writing lexicon to get the goddess on her side.

Sappho begins by praising the goddess in the first stanza, her introduction. The description isn’t necessary for Aphrodite herself, who knows, after all, that she’s immortal, sits on a golden throne, and weaves wiles. Instead, this first stanza is Sappho’s chance to orient the situation for her listeners by introducing the main figures (like key terms) in her poem: the all-powerful Aphrodite and the helpless Sappho. In the final two lines of the first stanza, Sappho moves from orienting to the motive of her ode. Aphrodite has the power to help her, and Sappho’s supplication is motivated by the stark difference between their positions.

Sappho then states her thesis clearly at the beginning of the second stanza. Just as a good paper will present the thesis in the introduction, Sappho makes sure that we – and Aphrodite – know what she wants: “but come here.” Once she’s established her motive and thesis, Sappho begins to ply the goddess with evidence, pointing out that she’s helped her with unrequited love in the past. She links this evidence explicitly to her thesis in the second stanza: “come here, if ever before [you did the same thing].” When Sappho says “come to me now, too,” she’s analyzing her evidence to support her thesis. The seventh and final stanza acts as her conclusion, where Sappho reiterates her thesis and leaves Aphrodite to make her choice.

— Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

Sappho Fragment 1, “Ode to Aphrodite” (my translation):

Immortal Aphrodite on your golden throne,
daughter of Zeus, wile-weaver, I beg you,
don’t crush my spirit, queen,
with anguish and pain:

but come here, if ever before,
hearing my cries from far away,
you left your father’s golden house
and came here

with your chariot yoked, and beautiful
quick-winged birds led you over the dark earth,
fluttering their fast wings down from heaven
through midair.

Soon they arrived, and you, blessed one,
with a smile on your immortal face,
asked me what had happened now and
why I had called you

and what I wanted more than anything to happen
in my crazy heart. “Whom should I persuade now
to love you? Who, oh Sappho, is
doing you wrong?

For if she runs now, soon she’ll follow,
and if she won’t accept gifts, soon she’ll give them,
and if she doesn’t love now, soon she’ll love you,
even reluctantly.”

Come to me now, too, and free me from cruel
cares, and do what my heart longs to
see done, and you yourself
be my ally.


Workouts and the Lexicon

In my eternal attempt to get in shape, I recently started attending a group fitness class at Dillon Gym called BODYPUMP.  Written by the fitness company Les Mills, BODYPUMP is a strength-training class in which you use a barbell and plates to tone specific muscle groups.  The workout is choreographed to upbeat music, where each song is paired with a major muscle group in the body.  During one track, we might do different kinds of squats to target our glutes, and in another we might do chest presses and push-ups to work our chest muscles.  We do hundreds of reps, until our entire bodies are sore and shaky, but stronger.

While doing all those reps, I started thinking about workout classes like BODYPUMP and how they relate to the Lexicon.  They are choreographed just like essays are written, so we can analyze them with the same concepts.  They have, for example, theses and motives.  BODYPUMP’s mission or thesis is to build strength and tone muscles so that attendees become healthier.  Workouts can have structure built around the muscles in the body, like BODYPUMP does, or on skills or techniques that are being used, such as karate or boxing.  One might think of individual moves—squats, chest presses, push-ups, etc.—as evidence, since these are what must be manipulated for the workout to achieve its goal (or support its thesis).  Our reps of these moves are like our analysis, since they are how we enact our moves (or interpret our evidence).  Lastly, specific kinds of reps are the key terms of workouts.  For example, in BODYPUMP we have a rep which consists of a move done quickly twice in a row followed by the same move done slowly with pulses.  We perform this kind of rep with all our moves—squats, deadlifts and rows, chest presses, etc.—and it marks our maximum effort level for each muscle group.  Like key terms, it is versatile, gives each of our tracks a focus, and helps the workout feel cohesive.

Next time you are at the gym, think about how you structure your workout to achieve your health goals.  Maybe you’ll find that your “evidence” is not varied enough, or that you aren’t doing enough “analysis.”  And if you don’t even know where to start, try out a class like BODYPUMP and let them structure your workout for you.  I hope to see you there!

— Leina Thurn, ’20

Orienting, Spring 2016


Bits of information, explanation, and summary that orient the reader.

Orienting is all about context. Depending on the discipline, the assignment, and the expected expertise of one’s audience, a writer will naturally pepper her words with varying tidbits of explanation and information. Regardless of the specificities of the assignment, however, the goal is always clear: you want to hold your readers’ hands and guide them by providing necessary, illuminating facts, but you don’t want to insult the reader’s intelligence with excess repetition and fruitless oversimplification.

While a good essay needs to have a compelling motive and thesis, it is imperative that the author accompanies those elements with sufficient orienting so the reader can understand the underlying concepts and ideas of the argument. To do so, the author oftentimes will define and contextualize key terms, explaining what the terms mean and how they will be used in that particular paper. Depending on the discipline or genre, orienting can also include providing background information on a novel’s plot, the current scholarly conversation on a certain topic, or the data available in a given field. Well-oriented papers employ these techniques throughout the entire work to produce a clear and cohesive piece of writing.  

The papers we have chosen to showcase are exemplary models of orienting done well. Alexandra Marino’s “A Nation of Maniacs” is good at orienting because it explains both key primary texts and the key terms that form the scaffolding of the paper’s analytical lens. In Benjamin Gallo’s excerpt, he provides an excellent example of orienting both key terms and plot points simultaneously in order to prove how “risk factors” affect Tracy’s school and family life in the movie Thirteen.

For more details, refer to the Orienting Preface from our 2014 issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/orienting-14/.

Evidence & Analysis, Spring 2016

Evidence and Analysis

Evidence, or data, is the universe of interpreted primary sources, empirical observations, or factual information relevant to a paper’s argument. Analysis is the interpretation of sources. 

However fascinating an essay’s thesis or compelling its motive, the reader is unlikely to be swayed without valid evidence, proof for the author’s claims, whether in the form of experimental data or quotations gathered from a primary source. Of course, this does not mean that a convincing essay can merely be a collection of claims and supporting evidence. The author must also provide analysis to help the reader interpret the evidence. Ultimately, this analysis links the selected evidence to the author’s claims and then weaves these claims together to support the author’s broader thesis

In the following excerpts, we see how evidence and analysis must work together to help the author first convince the reader that the individual claims in the essay are valid, and then show the reader that these claims can be brought together to justify the thesis as a whole.

In Ali Houston’s excerpt from “The Nature of Gender Inequality in Rousseau’s Second and Third Discourses,” she critically examines the claims of natural female inferiority that pervade Rousseau’s influential writings. Her paper features an exemplary application of evidence and analysis by fragmenting Rousseau’s multifaceted argument into bite-sized pieces that Ali can then introduce to her readers and subsequently counter with examples of her own.

Heather Newman’s excerpt from an essay on the character of Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice expertly balances the use of evidence and analysis throughout the piece. In addition, Heather use a broad range of evidence, coupled with a unique interpretation of the text, to support her argument from multiple facets while maintaining her own scholarly voice throughout.

The excerpt from Andrew Mullen’s essay “The ‘Immense Edifice’: Memory, Rapture, and the Intertemporal Self in Swann’s Way” concerns the analysis of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way through the lens of Claudia Brodsky’s essay on narration and memory. The essay is an exemplary demonstration of the lens essay–an essay that is structured around the analysis of a source text using a theoretical framework provided by another.

Finally, in Aparna Raghu’s “Works in Progress” excerpt, we see how it is nearly impossible to justify a claim when the evidence is irrelevant or insufficient. This ultimately makes it difficult for the reader to trust the thesis as a whole, since it relies so heavily on precariously justified claims.

For more details, refer to the Evidence & Analysis Preface from our 2014 Issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/evidence-analysis-14/.

Spring 2016, Structure


A paper’s line of reasoning, from beginning to end and also within and between paragraphs.

The writing process begins long before the writer is ready to put a pen to paper. It begins instead when the author begins brainstorming, whether by gathering evidence or drafting thesis statements. Thus, by the time drafting begins, the author is already an expert about the argument. While this helps make the writing process quicker, the author’s expertise can hinder the ability to communicate the argument to others, to nonexperts. To avoid this, it is crucial that authors consider not only what they argue but also how they can clearly share their arguments.

This need to communicate the argument to a nonfamiliar reader forces the author to develop a clear, organized structure for the essay. At a broader level, the writer must provide the reader with a framework that pieces together individual claims into the larger argument. And at a narrower level, the author must periodically remind the reader, while analyzing each particular claim, how it relates to some larger point.

In the following examples, we see how, through careful planning of structure, the respective authors succeed in linking the evidence and analysis back to the thesis and motive, balancing exploration of specific examples with development of the larger argument as a whole.

In the selected passage from his paper “The Fishy Business of Transgenic Salmon: Explaining the Delay in the Mass Commercialization Process,” Eric Qiu demonstrates how roadmaps, clear transitions, and paragraph structure can be used to effectively introduce and analyze multiple sources while maintaining focus on the paper’s original argument.

The excerpt from Lavinia Liang’s essay “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf(stonecraft)?” shows how writing out the framework of the essay in the introduction, and reminding the reader of the place of each bit of evidence within this framework, can help the reader work through a comparative argument without getting stuck in one source or the other.

For more details, refer to the Structure Preface from our 2014 Issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/structure-14/.

Spring 2015


We all know that a paper’s body goes between the introduction and conclusion. But actually crafting a strong body can be challenging — in that text lies the detail of our entire argument! There, we present evidence from our research and analyze how this evidence builds upon itself to support our overarching argument. We structure this evidence and analysis differently from discipline to discipline. But, regardless of the form it takes, that structure is  critical to the success of the paper.

First comes the question of what evidence to include. In both technical and humanities papers, we identify a question or puzzle (motive); design our experiment or investigation around this question; and then use our findings as evidence for a thesis that answers our initial motive. In this section, we include papers from different disciplines that all marshal evidence and analysis to make a claim. Karen Jin’s paper on The Faerie Queen analyzes a few key lines of textual evidence from different scenes that address her initial question, and she uses this evidence to craft her thesis. Katie Hanss’s paper similarly presents findings based on her central question on zooplankton. She presents her data in its entirety, then locates key findings within the context of her experiment’s question and builds an argument from those. In both cases, the evidence we see is the result of their research; the thesis built from these results.

While a paper’s body always has evidence and analysis, the structure of this information varies across disciplines. Macro-structure, or the way we organize the body as a whole, is our first concern. In the humanities, we progress through our evidence to build to our thesis. In the sciences, clear sections delineate our structure: materials and methods, results, discussion, etc. In all fields, macro-structure logically leads the reader through research and findings to reach final destination of our argument.

Once we have macro-structure down, we turn to individual sections: micro-structure. In the humanities, each section or paragraph follows a repeating format. We introduce the topic or claim (in an argumentative fashion), provide evidence to support it, analyze and explain the evidence. Then we repeat in a new paragraph. Though the format remains the same, every section must build on the one before it to move the argument forward. Isabelle Laurenzi’s paper provides an excellent example of this type of progressive structure. She leads us step by step through her argument, every paragraph of her body building on the claims of the paragraphs before it, but never repeating the same step twice.

In the sciences, every smaller section has a distinct purpose. In the materials and methods section, we explain how we solved our initial problem. The results section is dedicated to what we found — evidence we collected via our methods. In the discussion section, we explain what our evidence proves. We can see some of this structure in Adrian Tasistro-Hart’s excerpt, which includes portions of his results and discussion sections. Adrian moves from detailing his findings (evidence) in the results section to showing implications of this evidence in his discussion (analysis and argumentation).

Within these sections, we present much of our evidence and analysis through figures (charts, tables, graphs, maps, etc). Both Adrian and Katie include figures as a form of evidence in their papers that translate into analysis in the discussion section. Figures and table present evidence (data) visually and make it easier for the audience to absorb. Figures can also analyze: The form in which data is displayed is in its own right an analysis. The data we choose to include, the way in which we display it, and the trends we choose to highlight are all choices that contextualize and give meaning to our raw data, and should further our argument.



Writing introductions is hard, and not just because it’s usually a battle against a blank page. In The Sound of Music it’s simple to start at the beginning. But an introduction actually asks a lot of a writer—an exciting hook, background information, introduction of key terms and ideas, one or more motives, and, eventually, a thesis.  The writer has a lot of ground to cover. She also has to capture the reader’s attention and convince her to stick along for the ride.

Students often ask about the conventions of an introduction.  Where should the thesis go?  Where should I put this background information, and how much is necessary?  How long should the introduction be?  Too often, these questions convey a misconception: That the introduction is simply something to get through before the real part of the essay begins. But an introduction isn’t just a dumping ground for background information and a single-line thesis at the end. Rather, it is in many ways the most important part of a paper. It marks the bona fide beginning, where critical elements of the essay are introduced: a motive, key terms, orientation, and a thesis.  Instead of thinking of these elements as distinct, the best introductions tie them together.  Orienting the reader means curating the background information that explains or justifies key terms and motive.  An introduction is a place for analysis and excitement, where every fact points to the future of the paper. It is the hard-boiled, condensed roadmap to the paper.

The essays in this section demonstrate the essence of introduction writing while also showcasing diversity.  In Katherine Raber’s lab report on a mangrove population, for example, the majority of the introduction is background information in the service of motive.  Katherine curates her information elegantly—she does not tell us everything she may know about mangroves; instead, she chooses facts that tie orientation and motive together.  Ramie Fathy’s lab report, “Characterization of the Pathogenicity of the MSH2 P640T Mutation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” demonstrates how a short literature review can also function as orientation (to a scholarly discourse) and motive (finding a gap in the conversation).  In his personal reflection on his writing process, Ramie explains how he imagined his introduction as a “pyramid” that gives the reader broad-to-specific background information in order to articulate his experiment.

Often at the Writing Center we read papers that veer towards the far ends of the spectrum:  those that dramatically reveal a thesis in the last few pages of the paper, and those that include the thesis in the first few sentences of the first paragraph.  It seems to us that this reflects an anxiety about the structure of an introduction.  Do you keep some tricks up your sleeve or reveal them right away?  We think, however, that theses should not just be a mic drop at the end of a three-page introduction.  Rather, “soft” references to the thesis can be placed all over the introduction, with each reiteration reflecting progress made in introducing orientation and key terms.

In this section, Lexi Tollefson’s essay demonstrates how to present a thesis two distinct times in an introduction without sounding repetitive.  She first articulates her thesis in her first paragraph, but it is a simple version.  After a few paragraphs in which she introduces key analytical terms and methods, her thesis reappears in a refined and complicated way—in a way that is all the more comprehensible to the reader because of its earlier appearance.  

As demonstrated in this section, an introduction can take many forms.  Between lab reports, classic humanities “close reading”-type papers, and an analytical philosophy paper, our editorial team tried to capture the essence of an introduction while showcasing it in many forms.

Spring 2015


An abstract is an elevator pitch to our audience.  It’s a short 250-350 words, but those few words have to win over the audience with orienting, motive, and thesis.  It’s an exciting opportunity with high stakes:  this pitch could get your work into a conference or journal.

The key to any abstract is writing to our audience.  An author does not need the abstract, but the reader does.  What does our audience need to know to understand and care about this research?

Orienting and Key Terms

Audience determines orienting and the specificity of key terms.  Usually, readers do not have a deep knowledge of our topic, so we must orient and explain key terms.  Adrian Tasistro-Hart’s abstract in this section demonstrates straightforward language and orienting that make his paper and research accessible to a broad audience, including readers in his field.


Motive, the justification for our research, also must be tailored to our audience.  Why should a reader be interested in this paper?  What problem are we addressing?  What gap in the current study of this topic are we filling?  Motive is what drives us to research and write and what drives our audience to read.  Benjamin Spar illustrates this in his abstracts.  He includes an abstract for a biology conference and then re-frames the same paper for a computer science audience in another mock abstract.  His research is the same, but he frames motive to fit his audience.


If the motive is our “ask,” then the thesis is our “answer,” and we want to give the gist of this argument and our conclusions so that readers know where we are going.  Both Will Squiers’s and Adrian’s abstracts include clear theses that explain the argumentative result of their research and resolve their motivating questions.

Nitty-Gritty Word Choices

Being concise means focusing on individual word choices and sentence structure.  Use simple, nonjargon words, define them, and write in a straightforward manner.  Transitions and conjunctions like “yet” and “but” become powerful, one-word tools that can show motive or argument.  We see this in Will’s abstract, where he uses markers such as “then” and “finally” to capture the movements of his argument in a single word.
In short, an abstract is like a miniature record of academic inquiry and research.  We give background (orienting), pose a question (motive), and then proceed to solve this question (thesis).  And if we keep our audience in mind, we will hopefully succeed in enticing them to read and find out more.

Spring 2014


Bits of information, explanation, and summary that orient the reader.

When we orient ourselves in the real world, we figure out where we are relative to our physical surroundings. When we orient ourselves in a paper, we figure out where we are relative to its factual and theoretical background. The writer’s role is to make that process as easy as possible: to make us familiar with the tools necessary to understand the rest of the paper. We need enough background information for the motive and thesis to make sense. We need to grasp key terms so that we can follow analysis. We need a sense of what is to come so that we don’t feel lost in a meandering argument. In short, we need a general familiarity with – or a guidebook for (if you’ll forgive the extended metaphor) – the new world we’re entering.

Admittedly, crafting that guidebook isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. But one can break orienting into three primary components. The writer has to paint a quick outline of his subject. This is the picture of our destination on a map – the physical descriptions in the guidebook. We need to know what it is we’re reading about, and what its most important features are. If not, we’re lost from the start: we don’t even know where we are.

The writer also has to explain the key sources he’s dealing with as he tackles this subject — who they are, what they say, and how they say it. This is in many ways equivalent to our destination’s political and historical background. Nobody wants to step off the plane and realize he’s landed in the middle of a civil war. Nor does a reader want to be smacked in the face with a new, un-introduced source halfway through a body paragraph. Part of explaining key sources involves explaining their key terms – or any key terms that the writer is going to rely on for his paper.

Finally, the writer has to explain his motive and thesis and, with them, provide all necessary road-mapping of his argument. At the risk of stretching the metaphor, this is the “what to do” section of the guidebook: you’re in the new country, you know about its history, but what do you do when you leave the airport?

There is no set way to go about providing this orienting information – and different disciplines ask that it be done differently. For some it’s subtle, and for others it’s heavy-handed. The papers in this section cover both sides. Benjamin Jubas’s is a philosophy paper with explicit orienting moves and steps. Eunice Lee’s is a sociological paper that relies on fluidity and subtlety in its orienting. Both do an excellent job.