The Role of Information in Academic Essays

Academic essays are rooted in argument. This is a key idea to understand.

While you will often be asked to gather information and present that information in your essays, it’s important to realize that the information itself is not the point.

The real point is to use the information to prove something. That “something” is your paper’s main objective – your paper’s reason for being.

The information presented in the paper is necessary, but it’s only there to support the essay’s main idea.

To use an analogy, the information contained in a paper is like the supporting cast of the film. In a romantic comedy, the movie’s star needs a best friend.

The best friend is necessary for the movie because she helps to develop the main character’s storyline. Yes, she is needed. She’s essential to the film. But she is there to illustrate the star’s growth and the star’s arc. The movie is not about the best friend. She is part of the supporting cast.

The star’s story is what the movie is really about. Everything else is there to develop, illustrate, and support that story.

And just like in the movies, whatever information you present in your paper needs to be relevant to the essay’s main idea – its thesis.

It wouldn’t make sense for a film to spend ten minutes on a scene that features the best friend off on a fishing trip by herself. The same goes for your essay. Everything has to connect to the main idea. Or else it won’t make sense.

Some students fail to see this important truth about academic essays. So they end up writing papers that present information as if that information is the point of the paper – as if an essay is supposed to be three pages of unexplained facts. That’s like a romantic comedy without a main character. It’s a misunderstanding of the genre.

The takeaway: In academic essays, the writer should first focus on the essay’s main point of argument (the thesis).

The information plays a supporting role. It’s dedicated to supporting the essay’s central point.


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