Where's Your Thesis Statement and What Happened to Your Topic Sentences? Identifying Organizational Challenges in Undergraduate Student Argumentative Writing

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TESOL Journal

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thesis statements, topic statements, undergraduate student argumentative writing


English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition


The authors examine the challenges students faced in trying to write organized texts using effective thesis statements and topic sentences by analyzing argumentative history essays written by multilingual students enrolled in an undergraduate history course. They use the notions of macro-Theme (i.e., thesis statement) and hyper-Theme (i.e., topic sentence) from systemic functional linguistics to categorize students' challenges constructing effective macro-Themes and hyper-Themes. They compare higher graded essays and lower graded essays at six time points during one semester. Both higher and lower graded essays showed challenges with the fronting, specificity, and consistency of their macro-Themes and hyper-Themes. However, there was improvement over the course of the semester. By identifying these challenges, the authors aim to help teachers and students develop a meta-language to talk about these textual features of academic writing and thus enhance the teaching and writing of academic writing. They call for the need for explicit instruction to enhance students' organization of their ideas.