Prewriting

Understand the assignment

In your essay, you will describe a historic person.

Research

Encyclopedias can be an excellent place to begin looking for information on a specific person. Remember that after you do enough preliminary research to brainstorm and choose your focus, you should do more detailed research about your topic so that you can make your outline.

Brainstorm

A Google search for "influential people" might be a good place to start if you aren't sure who you want to write about. Choose people that you can find research on that is written in English and published in a trustworthy place. Research will be much more plentiful and easy to access if you choose someone who was recognized internationally instead of a local figure.

You may start thinking about types of people that you would be interested in writing about. For example, you could look for athletes, artists, politicians, scientists, explorers, inventors, musicians, philanthropists, etc.

As you brainstorm, you may also find it helpful to make an idea map like the one below.

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Choose your focus

Make sure the topic isn't too broad to cover in your essay. Don't try to give a complete biography for the person; focus on describing a few key attributes or accomplishments that make the person influential.

Outline

Start with your topic sentences and thesis. Add questions or quotes to help you develop each of your ideas.

Introduction

Your introduction should start by describing any background of the person that will be important for the reader to know. For example, in the introduction paragraph for an essay about Martin Luther King Jr, you might explain the context of what was happening in the 1950's in the United States. A brief description of the racial discrimination of the time would help give your reader valuable background knowledge to understand the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement.

At the end of your introduction paragraph, you should give your thesis. The thesis should describe the person in very specific terms.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a courageous, nonviolent social reformer.

Sometimes when you are describing a person from history, you talk about the influence or impact of the person. As you will write a cause/effect essay during this semester, try to focus this essay away from causes/effects. Think about your topic in terms of adjectives. How can you describe your person? What qualities are unique to that person?

EXERCISE: Revise thesis statements

Revise these thesis statements to be more effective for a descriptive essay.

  1. We understand that Ghandi was a spiritual leader for people around the world and could know the best ways to show people how to live and become more peaceful and caring.
  2. First, his concept of leadership, his role in World War 1, and at last his legacy.
  3. Let me analyze what makes us remember Madame Curie as an important person in history.
  4. Khalo changed the way women were depicted and percieved in Mexico through her art.
  5. His educational life in Spain at the age of 16 and his married life were two facts in Simon Bolivar's life before he passed away on December 17, 1830, near Santa Marta, Colombia.
  6. Vygostky was one of the forerunners of developmental psychology, and one of the most important works in Psychology and Education was the Zone of Proximal Development.

Body

Your body paragraphs should explain how or why your thesis sentence is true. As you plan each of your body paragraphs, remember that using sources will make your writing more credible and interesting. Use sources properly so that you do not plagiarize. Each of your body paragraphs should have citations.

Conclusion

Your conclusion paragraph should start by restating your thesis. Then, you should speak about the person/event in more general terms and apply their situation to the world more generally. End with a concluding statement.

EXERCISE: Make an outline

Make an outline for the example essay in this chapter.

Think about what you have learned about outlines. Remember that the more details you include now, the easier it will be to create your first draft.

EXERCISE: Revise the outline

Revise the outline on a piece of paper. Make sure the topic sentences support the thesis.

TH:    Jose de San Martin released three countries from Spanish rule including Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

TS:     San Martin was a good leader because he created a regimen of grenadiers.

TS:     San Martin was a freedom seeker.

TH:     San Martin truly left an important mark on Argentina and the whole world.

As described in chapter one (see pages 19-20), when your basic outline is finished, you should consider asking some developing questions about your topic sentences to guide additional research.

If your basic outline was about Jane Goodall, it might look something like this:

TH: Jane Goodall was an inquisitive, dedicated natural scientist.

TS: Jane Goodall was very curious and investigated new ideas to answer questions.

TS: Another of Jane Goodall's distinguishing characteristics was dedication to her research.

Some questions that could develop the first topic sentence might include:

Q: How did she show that she was curious?

Q: What new ideas did she investigate?

Q: How did she answer questions with her research?

Be careful to not include questions that are not connected to your topic sentence. If you ask unconnected questions, your paragraph will lack unity.

For example, these questions would not support the first topic sentence about Jane Goodall:

Q: Where was Jane Goodall born?

Q: Why did Jane Goodall want to be a researcher?

Exercise: Revise developing questions.

Cross out the developing questions that do not help develop the topic sentence.

Some of the developing questions below don't support the topic sentence or would be better to provide background information in the introduction. 

Peyton Manning was a talented leader.

Q: Who was Peyton Manning?

Q: What were some of Peyton Manning's talents that helped him lead others?

Q: How did Peyton Manning show leadership?

Q: What teams did Peyton Manning play on?

Q: What successes did Peyton Manning have in his career?

Q: What did Peyton Manning help his team achieve through his leadership?

Some of your preliminary research may be used to answer your developing questions. Additional research may be required to answer your questions. Remember (see page 20), you may need to adjust your questions based on your research.

Be careful to look for specific quotes that support your claims and are not merely interesting facts. Consider the second topic sentence (and developing question) about Jane Goodall:

TS: Another of Jane Goodall's distinguishing characteristics was dedication to her research.

Q: How did Jane Goodall show dedication to her research?

How can the author show that Jane Goodall was actually a dedicated researcher? A quote like this might help:

"She imitated their behaviors, spent time in the trees and ate their foods" ("Jane Goodall,"2018, "Chimp Behavior Discoveries", para. 1)

This quote could be used to argue that after moving to Africa, she was committed enough to her research that she was willing to live with and eat like her research subjects.

On the other hand, a quote like this shows Jane Goodall's dedication to protecting chimpanzees, but doesn't really support the claim that she was dedicated to her research.

"When she discovered that the survival of their species was threatened by habitat destruction and illegal trafficking, she developed a breakthrough approach to species conservation that improves the lives of people, animals and the environment by honoring their connectedness to each other" (The Jane Goodall Institute, n.d., "Our Story," para. 1).

Everything you read can help to deepen your understanding of the topic you are researching and give greater focus to your writing. However, some of your research may not actually be included in the final draft of your paper because it doesn't fit within the focus of your essay.