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How To Write A Theme Essay For College

Writing the perfect paper is a lot like a military operation. It takes discipline, foresight, research, strategy, and, if done right, ends in total victory. It follows then that the best advice for writing a paper -- be it a high school essay, a college research paper, or even an office memo at a Fortune 500 company -- would come from the tactics of a brilliant military commander.

I discovered these tactics myself as a student, reading in awe of the mastery of ancient military masters and put them to good use. I could then -- and still can, when necessary -- bust out a ten or even twenty page paper with a few days notice. I've developed a worry-free formula for your academic paper or essay (called the Spartan System) that has been so successful that it was printed out and taught as a curriculum by almost every English teacher I've had. Naturally, I was hesitant to teach my secrets to more than a few friends but after I left school and published the formula online in 2007, the formula went viral across the web. It's since been used in classrooms across the country by many satisfied strangers. I've gotten countless emails from adherents -- and these emails are always the same: your system got me an A. In my own life, I applied the tactics to my writing and knocked out a 70,000+ word book in 90 days... which I sold for a cool six-figures.

What Was My Secret?

In my reading of Greek history, I stumbled across an obscure military maneuver, one designed for troops penetrating deep in enemy lines. It seemed to be used by the greatest of generals from the Spartan Brasidas to the Athenian Xenophon (an actual student of Socrates). I thought, if this one trick can protect a ten thousand man march through country after country of hostile territory, it can probably work for a silly school paper.

Their tactic was this: to successfully march or retreat, the general brings his troops together in an outward facing square with their supplies and wounded in the middle and the strongest troops at the front and back. As they moved away from unfavorable ground, the men would defend their side, stepping out only slightly to meet their attackers and then retreating immediately back to the safety of the shape. And thus they were completely impenetrable, able to travel fluidly and slowly demoralize the attacking army. As Xenophon wrote, the idea was that having prepared hollow square in advance, so that "we should not have to plan [everything defense related] when the enemy is approaching but could immediately make use of those who have been specially detailed for the job."

My essay format works the same. Consider your introduction as the creator of the shape, and then the following paragraphs making up each side. They venture outwards when called to but never abandon the safety of the formation entirely. It is a process of constant realignment, maintaining the square at all cost. In terms of "writing" you need only to create a handful of original sentences for the entire essay: a thesis, a theme, a mini-thesis which begins each paragraph and a conclusionary sentence that says what it all means. Everything else is a variation of these four sentences in some way. Together they create the square, and the serves as the point of return -- much like Chuck Palahniuk concept of "chorus lines (see in books like Fight Club, where whenever the plot gets off track he immediately comes back to one -- "I am Jack's sense of rejection.") And so the reader always protected and the troops defend your point.

Forget your teacher's boring prompt. Forget "Commentary/Concrete Detail/Commentary/Concrete Detail" and all that nonsense. Let's do real work, real writing.

Here is the outline for a hypothetical five paragraph paper:

Introduction: (see a complete intro example here)

  1. Begin with a broad, conclusive hook. This will be the meta-theme of the paper. Example from a paper on The Great Gatsby: "When citizens exhibit a flagrant disregard of morality and law, societies quickly crumble."
  2. Thesis. This needs to specify and codify the hook in relation to the prompt/subject. Ex: "This atmosphere as shown in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby -- with blatant corruption and illegal activity -- eventually seems to become all but incompatible with a meaningful incarnation of the American Dream."
  3. One sentence laying foundation for first body paragraph. (These are mini-theses for each point you will argue.)
  4. Sentence for second body paragraph.
  5. One sentence for third body paragraph.
  6. Restate the hook and thesis into a single transition sentence into the first paragraph. "The 1920′s as the epitome of excess and reactionism symbolized a sharp break in the American tradition; one that no one seemed to mind."

Notes/Advice: Some say the thesis should go at the bottom of the intro instead of the top, which I think is a huge mistake. The point of a paper is to make an assertion and then support it. You can't support it until you've made it.

Body #1

  1. Rewrite first body paragraph thesis.
  2. Support the mini-thesis with evidence and analysis.
  3. Restate body paragraph thesis in the context of thesis as a whole.

Notes/Advice:

-Begin with your strongest piece of evidence

-Introduce quotes/points like this: Broad->Specific->Analysis/Conclusion

-Always integrate the quote, and try to incorporate analysis into the same sentence. As a general rule never use more than 5-7 of the author's words. Normally you can use even less: "It was Jay, who despite the corruption around him, looked forward to what was described as an 'orgastic future.'"

Body #2

  1. Rewrite second body paragraph thesis.
  2. Support mini-thesis.
  3. Restate body paragraph thesis in context of the paragraph above and thesis as whole.

Body #3

  1. Rewrite third body paragraph thesis.
  2. Support mini-thesis.
  3. Restate body paragraph thesis in context of the paragraph above and thesis as whole.

Conclusion

  1. Restate hook/meta-theme.
  2. Specify this with restatement of thesis once more.
  3. One sentence for each body paragraph, surmising its assertion.
  4. One sentence for each body paragraph, surmising its assertion.
  5. One sentence for each body paragraph, surmising its assertion.
  6. Rewrite hook and thesis into a conclusion sentence.
  7. Last sentence must transition to general statement about human nature. "The American Dream -- and any higher aspiration -- requires a society that both looks forward and onwards as well as holds itself to corrective standard."

****

That's it. Seriously. You can see why this frees you up as a writer; essentially, the format requires just six original sentences and the rest is nothing more but reiteration and support. It works for a paper of 300 words just as much as it does for one of 300 pages. It's self-generating, self-reinforcing and self-fulfilling. Could you ask for anything better?

Just like the tactics of the great generals, by laying out the square in advance with clear, orderly lines, you insulate yourself from the chaos of improvisation. You mark the boundaries now so later you don't have to. Each paragraph is given a singular purpose and its only duty is to fulfill it. No longer is the professor or teacher grading you in terms of the prompt, because you have redefined the dynamic on your terms. By marking the boundaries out early, excellence is achieved simply by filling them in with your sentences. You take the prompt and make it your own. You place the reader in the middle of the square, protected by all sides, and methodically move them forward, defending doubts and objections as they arise.

With the strongest thoughts at the introduction and at the conclusion, you make it so that the reader -- or the soldiers, as historian VD Hanson pointed out -- "might be led by the former and pushed by the latter." The thesis is buttressed at the top by your intro hook and at the end by your look forward. The middle is just details. The thesis is the entire paper-as it is, and always should have been. Once that is written, everything else falls quickly into place. The meta-theme, logically, is deduced from your primary theme just as your mini-themes are. All that is left to the writer is to simple decide a theme and record it to paper. And like Palahniuk, when we venture too far from it, remind the reader with a chorus line.

And if you object too much to rigid structure, consider the freedom this truly allows you (none of which is ever permitted in the horrible "Schaffer Method"). Once you've disregarded-or been able to reduce to the subconscious-the actual form of the paper, all that is left is the ideas. Isn't that what is truly important? Would you rather parrot back plot summary or take the theme not only to a new level, but an understandable one? If a professor can't respect that, what does their grade even mean? All I know is that this technique has allowed me both to remove any sort of stress from paper-writing, and even better, given me the opportunity to put to words concepts I'm grappling with.

So go now. Internalize this system and watch as it does all your work for you. See if you can beat the record: an 8 page paper in 3 hours... with a nice big A+ stamped on the front.

Follow Ryan Holiday on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ryanholiday

Collage Proposal

Introduction

In 1912, Pablo Picasso, an avid painter of nature and still life, tore part of a makeshift tablecloth and glued it to his painting, Still Life with Chair Caning, and thus, by adding different items to aid his painting, he began the art of collage making. (Pablo Picasso – Still Life with Chair Canning). A collage is simply a group of objects arranged together to create a complete image of an idea, theme, or memory. For example, David Modler created a collage called “Big Bug” to represent the irony that is the importance of insects to our natural world in comparison to their size. The bug in the image is the smallest feature of the collage yet it is to be viewed as the most important aspect (Modler, David). All these parts of a collage collaborate together to create a unifying theme or message and can be used as a helpful tool in education.

Statement of Purpose

I propose that each student make an artistic collage to be presented to the class that will symbolize the context, audience, setting, structure or any key ideas found in one of the readings this semester. Students who make a collage will be able to drop the lowest quiz grade.

Plan of Action

The students will have one week from the announcement of the project to complete the collage and prepare a presentation for it. Each student must choose one reading that we have done so far or will read in the future, and no two students may choose the same work. Conflict with students wanting to present the same work will be resolved by a first come first serve basis. The students will be given a rubric with the exact requirements of the project and what the purpose of the project is.

I will make the rubric myself and submit it for approval, or we can use the rubric that I have attached.

Benefits of Collage Proposal

  1. Making a collage would allow the students to think and inspect the readings and ideas visually (Rodrigo, “Collage”), thus giving them another perspective, or possibly clearing up any misconceptions and confusions they had about a work when we were just discussing it in class verbally.
  2. A collage provides the opportunity for revision of a certain work and would certainly help to clear up any topics in the readings that might come up on the final exam or a future test, via a visual and more creative method.
  3. If a student received a bad grade on a quiz because they did not understand the reading, the collage would give the student an opportunity to go back to the reading and understand it, or to read ahead and grasp concepts that might be useful to present to the class before the class does the reading. A collage would allow the student to become familiar with the work in a visual way and give them an opportunity to understand the main themes, topics, and ideas of a work, even one we might not have read yet.

Viability of Collage Proposal

Since a collage would be like giving the student an opportunity to go back and review a subject and at the same time would resemble preparation for a presentation, the time and effort required to go back and re-read a work as well as prepare the collage creatively would be sufficient to justify replacing the lowest quiz grade.

Our course mentor said that this project would be a nice addition to the class because, just like any play is better seen than read, the collage will allow students to get the visual aspect behind a work and help them to grasp the ideas better.

Past visuals that we have used in class to describe scenes from our readings such as The Tempest and The Odyssey have greatly helped me to understand some of the ideas of the stories. For example, I always pictured the cyclops as a nasty, vile creature, but after some of the “fuzzy” drawings on the board done by some of my peers, I imagined and understood that he could in fact be a gentle creature that was just angered by Ulysses trespassing and blinding him. I could not have seen that perspective of the story had it not been for some of the more innocent visuals on the board.

Finally, I have discussed with the students in our class about the idea of a collage replacing the lowest quiz grade and the overwhelming majority approved of the idea. Since a collage will substitute for a quiz grade, the assignment will be optional. Just as a quiz is almost always optional based on class initiation of discussion, the collage will also be optional based on similar student effort parameters. The students who do not want to do a collage can choose “door number 2” and take a quiz that would be created by the teachers and/or myself. This quiz can be used to make the total number of assignments for each student in the class even, and may or may not be graded based on the professor's discretion.

Desired Outcomes

The first goal of my collage proposal is to give students a chance to be creative and step outside the boundaries of classroom discussion. They can use their imaginations to find a way to creatively put together a collage that will help the class as well as themselves to better understand the course reading.

A second goal of my proposal is that the time and effort put into making the collage and presenting it in front of the class will equal the worth of dropping the lowest quiz grade. Because this collage requires the creator to examine the context, audience, setting, structure of any one of the readings, it is essentially like a quiz itself, which includes questions on similar topics.

Necessary Resources

The literary work that a student chooses to create a collage on will determine how much time is necessary to fully complete the project. One week to create a collage should give each student—no matter what reading they choose to do—ample time to create a presentable and educational collage for the class.

In terms of tangible resources, this project is not very demanding. A simple poster or a series of photographs or drawings assembled neatly together by the student will be about as resourcefully demanding as this project gets.

In addition, a few hours of class time will need to be allocated in order to present the collages. If each student takes at least five minutes to present the total time needed for the presentations will be 1 hour and 15 minutes. The presentation day(s) and time(s) can be decided by the class as a whole.

The rest of the resources needed are already available:

  • The readings are all published online if a student needs to refer back to them
  • Craft supplies are readily available

Skills for Successful Completion

  • As a good planner and organizer I made a rubric that is specific enough to give the students a good idea of what they should be doing for the collage. The rubric can be made available upon your request.
  • In addition I can also come up with a quiz if there are students who want to opt out of the collage project.
  • I can talk to the class and come up with a good presentation time and date for everybody.
  • I would volunteer myself to hold an early presentation session a few days before the due date so the others can get an idea of what their collage could look like and why they can benefit from the project.
  • I will make myself available to the class if they have any questions about the proposed project.

Conclusion

A collage will allow students to understand visually a reading or topic in a reading that they may have been confused about. The project is a fun and creative way to get students to think about a reading more in depth as well as review for future exams. As a result of the effort and time put into the collages, the students should be allowed to drop their lowest quiz grade in the semester.

Works Cited

Modler, David. Big Bug. Photograph.Kronos Art Gallery. Web. 12 Oct. 2011

"Pablo Picasso - Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)." Lenin Imports. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Rodrigo. "Collages." Web 2.0 Toolkit. 11 Mar. 2009. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.