The Essay Map

(adapted from Jean Wyrick's Steps to Writing Well, 2nd ed., published by Harcourt Brace College Publishers, pp. 41 ff.)

Many thesis sentences will benefit from the addition of an essay map, a brief statement in the introductory paragraph introducing the major points to be discussed in the essay. Consider the analogy of beginning a trip by checking your map to see where you are headed. Similarly, an essay map allows the readers to know in advance where you, the writer, will be taking them in the essay.

Let's suppose you have been assigned the task of praising or criticizing some aspect of your campus. You decide that your thesis will be "The campus bookstore is the worst place in town to buy textbooks." Although your thesis does take a stand ("worst place"), your reader will not know why the bookstore is so poor or what points you will cover in your argument. With an essay map added, the reader will have a brief but specific idea where the essay is going and how it will be developed:

Thanks to the essay map (the underlined text), the reader knows that the essay will discuss the store's prices, employees, and book shortages.

The essay map often follows the thesis, but it can also appear before it. It is, in fact, frequently part of the thesis statement itself, as illustrated in the following examples:

In addition to suggesting the main points of the essay, the map provides two other benefits. It will provide a set of guidelines for organizing your essay, and it will help keep you from wandering off into areas only vaguely related to your thesis. A clearly written thesis statement and an essay map provide a skeleton outline for the sequence of paragraphs in your essay, frequently with one body paragraph devoted to each main point mentioned in your map.

Some important advice: although essay maps can be helpful to both writers and readers, they can also sound too mechanical, repetitive, or obvious. If you choose to use an essay map, always strive to blend it with your thesis as smoothly as possible.




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