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Theme of essay

Theme essays must be structured around a predetermined theme mentioned in an assignment prompt. To write a thorough theme essay, you'll need to separate the process into prewriting, writing, and revising stages. Brainstorm and outline your ideas first. Then, write a first draft of the essay. From there, review your work and expand in a second draft.

Read the essay prompt carefully. A theme essay usually responds to a specific prompt given to you by a teacher or professor. A theme essay may want you to respond critically to a set of ideas or facts learned in class. It may also want you to identify the theme, that is the overarching message, of a work of literature. Before you begin writing your theme essay, read the prompt your teacher gave you carefully. [1]
  • In some instances, an essay topic may be presented to you. For example, in a history class you may have a prompt that briefly talks about the Kennedy/Nixon's debates effect on American political discourse. The essay may not ask you a specific question, but may provide some vague guidelines. For example, in our example the prompt may urge you to identify examples of television's effect on political campaigns in recent history, using the Kennedy/Nixon debates as a point of reference. [2]
  • Often, however, theme essays may encourage you to explore the theme of a work of art or literature. A theme is work's overarching idea or message. For example, an essay prompt may encourage you to reflect on the theme of good versus evil in John Steinbeck's East of Eden. [3]
Figure out what you need to address in your essay. After reading the essay prompt, examine the words used in the prompt. This will help you identify what you need to address as you write your essay.
  • Prompts use different words to instruct you on how you should address a given theme. The prompt may ask you to analyze and then evaluate the effect of a historical moment on modern culture. It may ask you to compare and contrast the theme of death in two different works of literature. [4]
  • Analyzing means examining a set of ideas and facts to form an opinion or insight of your own. For example, you can analyze a poem to find its greater meaning. Evaluating means closely examining a series of facts to determine the merit, effect, or implications of something. For example, you can evaluate how increased water intake helps with concentration in school. Comparing and contrasting means pointing out the similarities and differences between two different things. For example, you can compare and contrast the ideals of socialism and communism.
  • You want to make sure you know what the prompt is asking for. You can write an intelligent and informative essay about the topic and still get a bad grade if you don't correctly address the prompt. Returning to our above example using East of Eden, you could easily write an essay identifying the Biblical allusions in the text. However, the essay prompt asked you to examine the theme of good versus evil. While Biblical allusions can certainly help with this task, you need to focus primarily on the presence of good and evil in Steinbeck's work.
Brainstorm ideas. Once you've read and considered the essay prompt, brainstorm how you can write your essay. In your essay, you will use research and evidence to support a central argument. Start to jot down examples you can use to reflect on the theme.
  • Make a list of everything you know about the topic. This can be information you learned in class, as well as information you found on your own. Try to figure out what you think about the topic. Use the information as a guide to analyze the theme and form your own opinion. You will be defending this opinion throughout the course of your essay. [5]
  • Let's look at the East of Eden example. To start brainstorming, skim the text and write down any moments that seem to speak to the theme of good and evil. Look at the writing style and comb it for metaphors and reflections on good and evil. Explore the characters and their motivations. Write a list of any evidence you find. As you write your list, you may begin making connections. In the margins of the list, jot down any insight you gain by exploring the text. [6]
Create a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that summarizes the entire essay. You'll need to include this thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and the rest of your essay will need to support it.
  • Your thesis statement will need to address the theme, your primary example or examples, and the stance you will take on the topic.
  • For example, returning to the hypothetical East of Eden prompt, a thesis could be something like, "In East of Eden. John Steinbeck rejects the black and white Biblical idea of good and evil and instead adopts the stance people are a mix of good and bad qualities." [7]
Outline your essay. Once you've figured out your thesis, you can begin outlining your essay. How many paragraphs you need depends on your specific assignment. Some teachers may require a 5-paragraph essay while others may want the essay shorter or longer. Make sure you know the specific requirements for your assignment before beginning the outline.
  • An outline is a tool that will help guide you as you write your paper. To write an outline, use Roman Numerals for headings and lower case letters or numbers for subheadings. Your headings will address the main topic of each paragraph. Subheadings should elaborate on the examples you'll be using to illustrate your point. [8]
  • You do not need to use full sentences in your outline. You can just jot down the general idea you'll be getting at with each paragraph. For example, using the East of Eden prompt, part of your outline might read something like this: "II. Landscape as Metaphor, a. Describe mountains in opening scene, b. Elaborate on how they symbolizes good vs. evil, c. State how characters live between the mountains, showing how people are caught between good and evil." [9]
Write your introduction. To start, write your introduction. Your introduction should have some kind of hook drawing readers in. From there, you can give a brief overview of what the essay should discuss. Your thesis statement should appear somewhere towards the end of your essay.
  • For a theme essay, you want to focus heavily on the theme you're providing. All the sentences in your introduction should work up to your thesis statement. This means you shouldn't just write down facts. For example, don't say something like, "East of Eden was written by John Steinbeck." Instead, say something like, "John Steinbeck examined his lifelong obsession with Biblical concepts of good and evil in East of Eden ."
  • In any essay, you want to get your reader's attention. Questions or quotations can make fun hooks for the reader. You can ask a rhetorical question ("What do you think of when you consider the terms good and evil?") or find a quote that exemplifies what you'll be discussing. However, make sure your quote is accurate if you choose that route. Many people find quotes on websites like Quote Garden which are often inaccurate. [10]
Elaborate in your body paragraphs. Build each body paragraph around one major supporting detail of your thesis statement. Make sure that the tasks listed in your writing prompt are covered throughout the body of the essay, as well.
  • The beginning of each paragraph should introduce a point. All your paragraphs should circle around the central theme or thesis of your essay. For example, "The way Steinbeck initially describes landscape points to the nature of good and evil." The body of the paragraph should then elaborate on that point, using outside evidence to support it. You might write something like, "The descriptions of the Gabilan Mountains show how they symbolize good and evil. The characters in the story live in the Salinas Valley, trapped in a gray area between these two extremes." [11]
  • Refer to the prewriting you did to help you address each paragraph of the essay. Any facts or points you wrote during your prewriting exercises can be used to help guide the flow and content of your body paragraphs.
Write a conclusion. After you've written the necessary number of paragraphs, conclude your essay. A good conclusion should sum up your main ideas and leave the reader with a memorable closing line.
  • You want to reexamine your thesis at the end of your essay. Ask yourself, "What do I want my readers to have learned through this essay?" You might want to start by restating your thesis in slightly different words. Then, try to briefly review some of the information you used to support that thesis. Remember, your conclusion should remind readers about the essay's theme.
  • Repeat some of what you initially stated in the introduction. Do not repeat it word-per-word but rather restate some of your main points. Reference some of the arguments you made in the body of your essay, reinforcing how they support your original point. [12]
  • Try to think of a creative way to end your essay. As with the introduction, you can end with the quote that best highlights your points. You ending should be memorable and leave readers thinking about your words after they finish reading the essay. [13]

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