English 101 is designed to introduce new college students to college-level academic writing. Though assignments will vary from class to class, almost all English 101 essays involve formulating and supporting a defendable thesis.
Formulating a thesis is often the most difficult step, especially for students new to academic writing. Thesis statements can take on many different forms, but the most important thing is that you must be able to defend it. For example, let's say your assignment is to write about a meaningful event in your life (this is a common English 101 assignment). You don't want to simply fill five pages narrating the events of your first Little League baseball game. You want to formulate a thesis statement that essentially says "My first Little League baseball game was a meaningful event in my life because . . ." That is a proposition that you must then defend using evidence (which we'll get to in a minute). Your wording may vary depending on your instructor's requirements, but you are getting across the same point.
You must defend your thesis with evidence, or what comes after the "because." You will want to come up with some reasons why your first Little League game was a significant event in your life. Perhaps it was because it taught you about teamwork, persistence and losing gracefully. The number of reasons you have will vary depending on the assignment and the required length, but if you are in doubt, three is a good place to start.
Once you have your reasons why your first Little League game was the most important event of your life, you will need to tell your reader more about each of them to prove that what you say is true. Support each reason Each reason with a paragraph in which you explain how it supports your thesis. These paragraphs make up the body of your paper. In the first body paragraph of your Little League paper you would use stories and personal reflections to inform the reader about how the game taught you about teamwork, and why it was a significant moment in your life.
Now that you have the "meat" of your paper (the body paragraphs), it's time to slap on the bread. First, the introduction. Introductions can be done in different ways, but the goal is to grab your reader's attention with a compelling story, clever quotation or surprising statistic. and lead them into your thesis statement, which is typically the last sentence of your intro paragraph. For our Little League paper, a good intro would probably consist of a detailed description of a key moment in the game. It gets the reader interested and lets them know what to expect in the rest of the paper.
After you have the introduction and body paragraphs, all you need is the conclusion. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean simply summarizing what you have already said. Instead, you should tie together the things you have been talking about and discuss their significance and how they relate to each other. How did the things you learned in the baseball game (teamwork, persistence, losing gracefully) combine to change you as a person?
Know your instructor's expectations. These steps provide a basic outline for typical English 101 assignments, but your instructor may have more specific requirements that are not covered. Don't be afraid to email your instructor or go to his office hours to ask for clarification if you don't understand what is expected of you.
Start early. Don't try to go through all of these steps the night before the paper is due. It takes time to formulate and organize your ideas.
Pay attention to the order of your body paragraphs. Each paragraph should flow smoothly from the last one, so put paragraphs that have a natural relationship with each other together, and find ways to transition between paragraphs that don't.
Don't go it alone. Most campuses have a writing center or other tutoring services available free for students. A writing tutor can help you with any step of the process. Friends, classmates and your instructor are also valuable resources, so make use of them.