In-Class Exercise: Organzing the Essay with Subheads

Step One

Come to class with a document file that includes all the quotations you have found so far that you plan to use in your research project and your thesis in its current form.  You should have at least eight useful secondary source quotations at this point.

Open a new document. Copy and paste your thesis at the top of it.

Examine your quotations and choose the one that you think makes the most sense to quote first in your essay. Copy and paste it into your document below the thesis. Identify it as Quotation #1. Below the quotation, type a brief explanation (one or two sentences) of why you think this should be the first quotation used in the essay. You do not have to talk about extending, applying, or rebutting here, though you may mention them if you wish. The point is why this quotation makes sense as the first one in your essay.

This should be a quotation you plan to use early (typically the first paragraph) of the essay’s body. Do not expect to quote in your introduction; that is not usually a good place for secondary source quotations.

Choose a second quotation that you think makes sense to quote next. Again, briefly explain why you think this quotation should be the second one you present.

Continue doing this until all you have a document containing all of your quotations you plan to include in your essay.

Step Two

Examine the sequence of quotations in the document. Do you see any problems with it? Typically, this list will have one of two problems, and may have both:

  1. Two or more quotations make similar points. Often, you will have put them consecutively in the document. If you identify this problem, you will need either to cut one of the quotations or discover an important distinction between them that will justify using both. Sometimes, this can also be a sign that one or more of the quotations is too high on the Scale of Abstraction.

  2. In examining the sequence of your argument, you discover a gap. You can’t immediately see a way you can get from one quotation to the next without more support or multiple paragraphs of explanation. If you identify this problem, you will need either to restructure your essay or find additional scholarly support

Step Three

At this point, you should attempt to divide the essay into sections and identify them with subheads. How may subheads you create is up to you, but I recommend between three and six.

Title your subheads, then provide a brief explanation of each one’s focus.

List the quotations you plan to include under each subhead. Obviously, these quotations should be consecutive, so you can just say something like “[Title of subhead]: Quotations 1 and 2; [Title of subhead]: Quotations 3-5”; and so on.

Note that you should not create a subhead without planning to include at least one quotation under it.


E-mail the document (it should have a doc or docx extension) to me at when the period ends.