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Interpretive Essays Outline

3. Creating a Thesis Statement & Outline

I.What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is usually a sentence that states your argument to the reader. It usually appears in the first paragraph of an essay.

II. Why do I need to write a thesis statement for a paper?

Your thesis statement states what you will discuss in your essay. Not only does it define the scope and focus of your essay, it also tells your reader what to expect from the essay.

A thesis statement can be very helpful in constructing the outline of your essay.

Also, your instructor may require a thesis statement for your paper.

III. How do I create a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is not a statement of fact. It is an assertive statement that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence. It should be the product of research and your own critical thinking. There are different ways and different approaches to write a thesis statement. Here are some steps you can try to create a thesis statement:

1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.

Example: youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs

2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.

Example: Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities.

3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.

Example: Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.

Example: Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

IV. Can I revise the thesis statement in the writing process?

Sure. In fact, you should keep the thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. In the process of researching and writing, you may find new information that falls outside the scope of your original plan and want to incorporate it into your paper. Or you probably understand your thoughts more and shift the focus of your paper. Then you will need to revise your thesis statement while you are writing the paper.

V. Why do I need to make an outline when I already have a thesis statement?

An outline is the "road map" of your essay in which you list the arguments and subtopics in a logical order. A good outline is an important element in writing a good paper. An outline helps to target your research areas, keep you within the scope without going off-track, and it can also help to keep your argument in good order when writing the essay.

VI. How do I make an outline?

You list all the major topics and subtopics with key points that support them. Put similar topics and points together and arrange them in a logical order.

Include an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion in your outline. You can make an outline in a list format or a chart format.

Next Chapter: 4. Choosing Appropriate Resources

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “interpretive”? For me, a couple things come to mind—interpretive dance, language interpretation, and fortune telling.

Hear me out on the last one for a second.

Think about Professor Trelawney’s class—what was one of the first things they did? Read tea leaves. Those young witches and wizards had to look at the tea leaves in a different way to interpret what they meant.

And that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. No! Not reading tea leaves—interpreting literature. I’ll help you learn what an interpretive essay is and how to write one.

What Is an Interpretive Essay?

Before we get into the how, we have to figure out the what. You can think of an interpretive essay the same way you think about a literary analysis.

Like the name suggests, an interpretive essay is one in which you interpret a piece of literature—a book, essay, play, or poem. It doesn’t have to be, and actually shouldn’t be, about every element you can think of.

Instead, choose one or two elements of the piece to focus on, unless you’re given a specific prompt (in which case, just follow the prompt). If you don’t have a prompt, figuring out what to write about can be a little difficult.

My suggestion is to find something that’s interesting to you. The author’s use of foreshadowing or metaphors, or a certain theme, setting, or character. Once you have this broad topic picked out, you can interpret it by breaking it down into pieces.

If this still sounds a little too theoretical and not practical enough, don’t worry. We’re just getting warmed up.

How Not to Write Your Interpretive Essay

Before we get into how to write your interpretive essay, it’s important to know what not to do from the very beginning.

Don’t write a summary

If you’re working on an interpretive essay where you’re describing what Professor Trelawney’s impact is in Harry Potter, for example, you wouldn’t just tell your reader what Trelawney is like.

Describing her profession, visions, or personality is way too surface-level. You need to dig deeper and make connections as to why her visions are important.

Go big, go small, or go home

While most interpretive essays focus on the smaller aspects of a piece of literature, some students choose to focus on the broader meaning of the work as a whole. Keep in mind, though, that you should do one or the other, not both.

Writing about the big picture and small parts can make your work seem too jumbled. So pick one, and stick to it.

For ideas on what elements to look out for—big or small—check out this super-helpful list of various elements of literature.

What an Insightful Interpretive Essay Must Have

Now that you have a couple things to look out for as you write your interpretive essay, it’s time to talk about what you should do.

1. A thoughtful thesis

Like any essay you write for class, you’re going to want a thesis statement for your interpretive essay.

A thesis usually consists of one, sometimes two sentences that tell the reader what you’re going to write about. It clearly states your viewpoint and offers a summary of your supporting reasons for that viewpoint.

If I were to write my entire interpretive essay on the role of Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter, my thesis statement might look like this:

Though Professor Sybil Trelawney does not have many visions during her tenure at Hogwarts, the one she does have is crucial to the plot of the entire Harry Potter series. Her prophecy lets Dumbledore know how important Harry is to the fate of the wizarding world and allows Harry to find out what he must do to defeat Voldemort.

As you can see, this thesis statement describes what I’m interpreting—Trelawny’s importance to the plot—and offers the supporting points that I’ll be discussing in the body paragraphs.

2. Balance

Speaking of the body paragraphs, you want to make sure they all balance out. In fact, you want to make sure your whole essay balances out.

What I mean by this is that you should have a brief introduction that introduces what you’re going to write about, followed by body paragraphs of similar lengths, then a brief conclusion that nicely wraps it all up.

In my interpretive essay, my first body paragraph or section would discuss how Trelawney’s prophecy showed Dumbledore how important Harry is to the fate of the wizarding world, as well as the repercussions of this knowledge. This would include Dumbledore’s protection of Harry throughout the years.

The second section would discuss how the prophecy showed Harry how to defeat Voldemort and the responsibility that comes with that knowledge. “Neither can live while the other survives” means one has to die, which is pretty heavy stuff for a teenager to deal with.

Both sections should be roughly the same length (no need to count words exactly, just don’t make one super short and the other super long).

It’s also important to note that you do not need to follow a five-paragraph structure unless instructed to do so. That’s why I refer to these as “sections.” Each section can be one or several paragraphs, depending on the flow.

3. Support

In essay-writing, you’re opinion is no good unless you can back it up.

How do you do that?

You use support from the text and outside sources. Supporting your argument gives you credibility and lets the reader not only know you understand the text, but also helps them understand it better too.

If you use support from an outside source, make sure it’s credible and not some meme you saw on Facebook. And always, ALWAYS cite your sources. If the idea isn’t yours, you have to give credit to the original source—even if you’re not quoting directly.

For my first body section, my support would include three points:

  • Dumbledore’s protection of Harry
  • Snape’s last memories that included his own protection of Harry at Dumbledore’s request
  • The fact that the whole reason Trelawney was hired in the first place was because that one prophecy was so powerful and important

4. Good transitions

The three “should dos”above will get you a decent interpretive essay. But we can do better than decent, right?

To have a truly great essay, you’ll need more than content—you’ll need the right kind of flow. And to get that flow, using using effective transitions is key. (You might also want to check out 97 Transition Words for Essays You Need to Know.)

Transitions are how you get from one idea to another. In elementary school, you might’ve learned using “first,” “second,” and “third” to introduce the body paragraphs. But you and your writing have both evolved since then. So it’s time to use some grown-up transitions.

Effective transitions are more conversational. Not to say that your essay should read like you’re chatting with a friend … just that it should go from one idea to the next with no abrupt stops or awkward pauses.

So to get from my first body paragraph to the second, I might write something like this:

Dumbledore was not the only one to see and be affected by Trelawney’s prophecy; it also impacted Harry by giving him the knowledge he needed to defeat Voldemort.

And then I would proceed naturally into my next point.

5. Personality

Your flow is also going to depend on how much fun you have when you’re writing.

I know, your essay probably isn’t on something like Professor Trelawney’s prophecy, but injecting some of your personality into your interpretive essay makes it read easier and stand out (in a good way) from the 20 or more other essays your teacher has to read.

Plus, it makes it much more enjoyable to write.

Last Step: Putting It All Together

Now that you know what to do and what not to do when you write your interpretive essay, it’s time to get to it. If you’re still a little unsure, check out some example interpretive essays for inspiration. Then get writing.

Many students find writing an outline before they begin can save them time and make the writing process easier. Doing so will let you organize your thoughts, so all you have to do is fill in the information.

And don’t forget, if you want to avoid making grammar mistakes or you want to know whether your support is okay, the Kibin editors are always here to help make sure you’re reading those tea leaves right.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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