A Writer's Check Sheet
to Better Architecture

By Vince Miholic
Southeastern Louisiana University


Titles: What's This Then?

  1. Avoid stalling on the first line. Write the title last, after the composition is finished.
  2. Sell the thesis through the title; approach it like a billboard advertisement—you have about eight words to capture my interest and attention as my sedan rushes past at 70 mph.
  3. Vague concepts and subjects—"Success" or "Improving Self-Esteem," for instance—are not titles.
  4. "Manners" is a topic and not a title; "Mind Your Tongue, Young Man" is an inviting title that more closely reflects a thesis. While not necessarily written as a sentence, a title must convey a main idea.

The Opener: "Tell me what you're going to say"

In the opening paragraph, you need:

  1. A lead statement to capture the reader's interest and gain momentum—for example, a common experience, a poetic image, metaphor, or engaging gambit (quotes can work but can also be overused or misleading); if the lead is poor, the reader will instinctively conclude that the balance of the composition is unlikely to be much better. Invite the reader to enjoy your writing.
  2. A focused, limited thesis statement, the main idea or position controlling the entire composition. Everything revolves around this claim: I shall argue fill-in-the-blank. The position placed in the blank is the thesis and is the most specific sentence of the opening paragraph, but do not say, "In this paper, I am going to discuss" or" I will argue that...." Just state your point.
  3. An encompassing scope statement --sometimes combined with the thesis statement; it should include the significant key words or ideas that emerge in each paragraph.
  4. Reconsider this paragraph after you have written the rest of the paper. Ask yourself, "What am I really trying to say?" "Am I saying it clearly and boldly and with breadth and depth?" The original idea may have changed. Your closing paragraph may actually state the intended main idea better than the opening one.

The Middle: "Say it"

The interior of the composition should:

  1. Be clear, precise and concise—the reader should not have to struggle with interpretation.
  2. Include detailed, vivid description the kind that appeals to the senses, all of them.
  3. See beyond the obvious and look at the issue in a new way. Consider levels of perception such as depth, focus, focal point, framing, time, angle, and vantage points.
  4. Provide transitional expressions or sentences. Stay away from the basic "First," "Second," "Next," "Finally." Build coherent, fluid movement between paragraphs by threading sentences at the beginning or end of paragraphs that weave relationships by using key words found in adjacent paragraphs.
  5. Include logical signal words or "signposts," such as "nevertheless" or "however," but should not become exclusively or overly dependent upon them.
  6. Defend and support the thesis with appropriate examples and extended illustrations, not padding.
  7. Stay unified around a single point, building topic sentences, relationships, and explanations of examples that advance the main idea of the composition.

The Closing: "Tell me what you said"

The closing paragraph should:

  1. Not merely repeat what has already been said in the thesis and body; take some chances here, experiment, challenge the reader, but shun redundancy.
  2. Bring the main point into sharp focus with fresh language and thoughtful resolution.
  3. Possibly posit one new idea but be more general than specific.
  4. Leave the reader thinking.
  5. Possibly bring the reader to the next logical step or present an issue beyond those stated.
  6. Bring closure to the composition, rounding out ideas and thoughts.