Tag Archives: structure

Methods, Spring 2018

Light and Fire in August: Violence, Body, and the Dichotomy between Spiritual and Savage

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper on Light in August by William Faulkner, Nina Wang argues for a new reading of Christmas’s character that focuses on the dichotomy between the spiritual and savage. The strength of Nina’s argument lies in its effective structure, as she uses clear topic sentences to ensure that each body paragraph only argues one idea at a time, but links them together in an effective way that allows her to move through three complex sub-arguments in a short six-page essay.

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Feature, Spring 2017

Designing Indigeneity: French Polynesian Tifaifai as Homelands and Knowledge Systems

In a TortoiseshellThis is not only an exemplary R3, but also a phenomenal research paper in general. The piece is expertly structured, argued coherently, and uses an unorthodox (yet well-explained) method to analyze specific cultural artifacts. The overarching question is identity formation through artistic creation in French Polynesia, a provocative topic that is — as the author claims at the end — not exclusive to this part of the world.

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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/.


The Fishy Business of Transgenic Salmon: Explaining the Delay in the Mass Commercialization Process

In a Tortoiseshell: In the excerpted paper below, Eric Qiu explores the skepticism with which researchers and the general public view the introduction of transgenic salmon. In tracing this common skepticism to the fish’s perceived violation of “naturalness” and the unknown long-term effects of its introduction, Eric uses structure to clearly introduce his many sources and advance his argument.

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf(stonecraft)?

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper, written for an introductory political theory class, Lavinia Liang compares the treatment of women in marriages to the treatment of slaves as property. The essay is notable for its thoughtful structure, as Lavinia chooses to give the reader a skeletal framework of the argument in her introduction, which she proceeds to fill with details throughout her presentation of evidence, so that the reader is always able to see how her evidence links back to her larger thesis.

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Structure: Works in Progress


Thus, large portions of Lévi-Strauss’s work can be read as attempts to establish the group as capable of almost unilaterally perpetuating a magical system’s validity. This conception seems particularly inconsistent, however, in light of an anecdote the reading provides about a boy on trial for witchcraft after his touch appeared to send a young girl into a seizure. Although the boy initially claimed his innocence of sorcery, he soon realized that providing a rich and detailed account of his supposed supernatural powers would prove a much more persuasive defense.  This approach is so successful because, in fact, the group is not capable of maintaining the validity of their magical system alone. The boy offers them complex detail and physical proof–a plume which he claims is the source of his power–and, in the process, transforms and solidifies the group’s magical beliefs which had previously constituted “a diffuse complex of poorly formulated sentiments and representations” (Lévi-Strauss 174). As Lévi-Strauss concludes, the group is desperate for the boy to confirm its system and ‘become the guardian of its spiritual coherence,’ meaning that the group is reliant on the supposed witch to validate its system (Lévi-Strauss 174). Therefore, when the boy is able to cure his ‘victim’ using a root it is at least less likely that he would have been successful had he not corroborated the system and even begun to ‘become the dupe of his own impersonation’ (Lévi-Strauss 174).


This excerpt comes from the draft of my first Writing Seminar paper. My professor provided my class with a text on magical beliefs by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and asked us to identify and respond to an inconsistency in his theories.  I argued that, based on Lévi-Strauss’s own evidence, he overemphasized the role of group-consensus in the perpetuation of magical beliefs and downplayed the key role played by witches and other magical practitioners. In taking a fresh look at my draft, I found it difficult to determine the function of the paragraph above and its relation to my thesis. A few revisions to the paragraph’s structure could make it much easier for the reader to follow my train of the thought. One easy tweak would be to move the current topic sentence to the next paragraph. That way, the new topic sentence would capture the main claim of the paragraph. The last sentences of the paragraph could also be revised. Right now, the paragraph ends with a quote. This means that the reader is left to interpret the significance of the quote herself. Adding a few sentences to analyze the quote and link the paragraph’s main claim back to my thesis would frame my ideas more clearly. In revising my drafts, I’ve found that minor revisions to paragraph structure can have a huge impact on the logical “flow” of a paper.


“One thing only, as we were taught”: Eclipse and Revelation in Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse”

In a Tortoiseshell: This paper analyzes a 1982 personal essay written by Annie Dillard about the experience of watching a total solar eclipse. The author, Isabelle Laurenzi, observes a strong link between the structure of Dillard’s essay and the subject of Dillard’s recollection, thus arguing that the essay features an eclipse of its own. The excerpts below, taken from the paper’s introduction and body, balance a chronological organizational strategy with a thematic one, thereby showcasing the author’s excellent command over the structure of her essay.  Continue reading


Bounded by Beauty: The Influence of Photography on Perception and Approaches to Cultural Landscape Assessment

In a Tortoiseshell: This paper is about the impact of the huge amount of photography and photo-sharing networks available on the internet on viewers’ perception of cultural landscapes. This paper was written for Alice’s writing seminar Cultural Landscapes and responds to a prompt asking her to make an argument about the impact of photography on cultural landscape conservation. It is showcased here for its masterful approach to structure. Continue reading


Promoting U.S. University-based Hybrid Centers as a New Window for Advancing Rule of Law in China

In a Tortoiseshell: This summary of a WWS policy paper is incredibly coherent and well-written, an example of effective structure. Jean begins the summary with a brief introduction on the increasing presence of U.S.-based hybrid centers in China, then addresses the unique benefits and advantages of these institutions in promoting legal reform, and ending with recommendations to further improve their efficiency.  Continue reading