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How to Write a Thematic Essay With Explanations and Examples

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Written by
Dr. Helen Johnson
  • Icon Calendar 18 May 2024
  • Icon Page 4290 words
  • Icon Clock 20 min read

Thematic essays are common essay assignments in college across all disciplines. Basically, this guide begins with a definition of a thematic essay and provides sample topics for illustration. Next, the manual deconstructs the process of writing a thematic essay. Moreover, the guide covers three core stages of thematic essay writing: preliminary actions, establishing the paper’s foundation, and writing. Finally, the manual presents a sample outline and an example of a thematic essay to demonstrate a real writing situation where a student implements these guidelines of thematic paper writing correctly. Hence, students need to learn how to write a thematic essay.

Definition of a Thematic Essay

A thematic essay is a form of academic writing that requires an author to react to a particular question or theme. In this case, instructors expect students to develop a written reaction to a question or theme by connecting various pieces of information to reach a reasonable conclusion. Moreover, writing a thematic essay has a high demand for research and a critical examination of subtle relationships that exist between sources. Then, the research process yields a significant amount of information, which learners may use to generate numerous logical relationships that lead to rational inferences. Consequently, students may select any set of evidence with a clear, logical association provided that their central claim centers on a theme of interest.

How to write a thematic essay

Sample Topics for Writing Thematic Essays

1. Law

  • A pure democracy.
  • Privacy rights in the big data age.
  • Life in prison and the ex-convict experience.

2. Sociology

  • Major parenting issues of the 21st century.
  • Thematic family bonds in immigrant families.
  • Escaping the cycle of poverty.

3. Literature

  • The thematic significance of a muse.
  • Corruption in 18th-century short stories.
  • Female authors who left a mark on classical literature.

4. History

  • Memories of the holocaust.
  • Landmines on the modern political landscape.
  • The cause of the collapse of Middle East alliances in the 20th century.

5. Psychology

  • Teenage confidence after the thematic emergence of social media.
  • The impact of abuse on the formation of relationships.
  • The efficacy of proactive counseling.

How Do You Know if Your Paper Is Thematic?

A student can readily identify a thematic essay topic because it boldly pronounces a writing theme but does not hint at any specific point of view. In particular, the primary goal of a topic of a thematic essay is to inform readers of a theme rather than the particular approach of an author, which becomes more apparent in the introductory paragraph. Specifically, a thematic essay topic does not allow students to develop a particular supposition concerning a theme because authors realize there may be multiple points of view concerning the idea of a thematic essay.

3 Steps For Writing an Effective Thematic Essay

Step 1: Preliminary Actions

A. Define a Thematic Topic

The ability of students to define a topic is dependent on the extent to which they understand essay rubric and instructions. Basically, once learners receive thematic essay instructions, they should critically read their prompts to ensure they comprehend all demands of writing requirements. Then, writers should use keywords from their instructions to write one or more questions, which represent the expectations of instructors. Based on developed questions, students can create a topic that adequately captures the content of possible responses holistically. Also, authors must consider the information in the instructions, which establishes the leeway they have in the selection of a topic, for example, choose a theme not covered in-class readings.

B. Identify a Purpose for Writing a Thematic Essay

The procedure of identifying a purpose occurs in two distinct stages: the selection of a general goal and defining a specific purpose. Basically, authors may write a thematic essay to achieve two general purposes: explanation and persuasion. In this case, expectations of instructors influence the choice of the general purpose of a thematic essay to a large extent. After learners pick the general purpose for writing a paper, they should create a specific purpose that shows the particular effect their papers must have on readers. Mostly, writers generate a specific purpose from questions that represent thematic essay instructions. In turn, the early determination of the purpose is crucial because it affects the students’ approach to research and word choice during drafting.

C. Analyze an Audience

Before writing a thematic essay, students need to determine the characteristics and expectations of readers. Basically, knowledge concerning the characteristics and expectations of the audience is valuable because writing allows authors to understand the interaction between the characteristics and attitudes toward a topic, the readers’ level of expertise, and the significance of misconceptions, which aid in selecting the appropriate presentation approach. Specifically, learners can determine the most effective organization patterns, identify the best evidence, and employ an accepted documentation style. Moreover, students ensure a suitable level of explanation accompanies specialized writing terms that appear in a thematic essay.

D. Generate and Write Ideas

After learners define the purpose and comprehend the needs and traits of the audience, they begin to develop ideas for the content of a thematic essay. Mostly, thematic essay assignments for writing a particular subject focus on topics lecturers discuss in classrooms and other course readings. Consequently, students may generate ideas through brainstorming based on the relevant information from the unit and other related units they encounter during their schooling. During brainstorming, writers engage in idea mapping and clustering, which enables them to keep track of relationships between ideas.

Step 2: Establishing a Foundation for Writing a Thematic Essay

A. Search for Sources

The author’s initial ideas regarding a topic act as the starting point for acquiring credible sources that support and refine those ideas. Basically, contemporary learners engage in electronic searches to find useful and reliable sources for thematic essays. In this case, students should begin their search on the library’s website, which provides them with material that is reliable for academic writing. Also, library search engines have complex filter functionalities, which make the process of searching for academic sources quite simple. Then, authors turn to open-web searches using Google Scholar or other public search engines that generate a significantly larger number of sources. However, some articles may not be accessible to students. Moreover, the burden of determining the reliability of sources falls on authors when they use open-web search engines. In turn, students rely entirely on keywords or keyword combinations to generate working bibliographies.

B. Evaluate Sources Before Writing

Working bibliographies undergo an intensive evaluation process to establish whether they meet the necessary quality standards for inclusion in writing a college-level thematic essay. In this case, the evaluation process involves two primary stages: relevance determination and reliability test. During relevance determination, authors should examine each source by using three criteria:

  1. The level of attention that the source gives to the topic.
  2. The suitability of the sources’ sophistication to the purpose and audience’s needs.
  3. Impact of publication date on the relevance of its information.

Next, the reliability test investigates five critical writing aspects:

  1. The origin of the thematic source.
  2. The level of expertise of authors.
  3. Biases of a source in the context of existing literature.
  4. Availability and quality of the evidence supporting the source’s claims.
  5. Objectivity in the presentation of the author’s claims and handling of evidence.

C. Write a Thematic Annotated Bibliography

At this point, the revised working bibliography now contains fewer sources that are relevant and reliable. In particular, students should engage in critical reading of all sources in the working bibliography to identify useful pieces of information they may incorporate into a thematic essay. After reading each source, learners write an annotation that contains a summary of a source, ideas for using this source, and an assessment of this source. Besides the three main elements of an annotated bibliography entry, writers may choose to mention specific pieces of evidence, which are the most significant contributions of a source to a thematic essay. Typically, writers develop an annotated bibliography from notes they make as they read through a text.

D. Develop an Outline

Based on an annotated bibliography, students create an essay outline. Basically, the content of an annotated bibliography entry allows learners to develop relationships between sources, which is essential because it begins to shape an essay structure. In this case, writers identify and group sources that support a general point, which splits a body of a thematic essay into discernible sections. Then, authors break down each general point into specific points that can exist as a body paragraph and assign appropriate sources to individual body paragraphs. Furthermore, scholars logically organize particular points and establish some form of flow within each section of a body paragraph. In turn, writers document the organization of general and specific ideas and the distribution of evidence in a list, like a format that allows for easy identification of hierarchy.

Step 3: Writing a Thematic Essay

A. Design a Working Thesis

A student develops a working thesis statement, which presents his or her central claim. Basically, questions that writers derive from assignment instructions and specific minor arguments listed in a thematic essay outline are the main pieces of information they use to generate a thesis statement. Initially, writing a working thesis statement may appear as a simple combination of individual responses to assignment questions in the context of the information that forms an outline. However, authors must unite individual answers under a specific inference that demonstrates the significance of writing a thematic essay. Also, a working thesis statement undergoes multiple revisions, which occur randomly during the writing process.

B. Review an Outline

Once an author writes a working thesis statement, a person subjects an informal outline to a revision that results in the creation of a formal outline for a thematic essay. Basically, body paragraphs of a thematic essay are building blocks for a central claim. Consequently, learners must review an informal outline to ensure there is an apparent logical build-up to the inference, which they announce in a written thesis statement. During this review, students focus on the organization of minor arguments to ensure that body paragraphs contain a single minor idea while maintaining a rational relationship with other body paragraphs. Moreover, writing a formal outline contains a systematic arrangement where information with the same level of significance or roles has identical indentation or numbering.

C. Select Sources for Writing

Based on writing a formal outline, students make a final assessment of sources for each body paragraph. In particular, a formal outline contains some changes in its organization and the framing of minor arguments of a thematic essay. Also, these changes may affect the relevance of sources to each body paragraph’s argument. Then, the subdivision or merging of minor arguments may cause some sources to become inadequate because they do not extensively cover new minor ideas. Therefore, writers should check the suitability of each source to arguments it supports to ensure each source provides strong, relevant, and accurate evidence before commencing the drafting process.

D. Draft a Thematic Paper

During the drafting stage, authors expand a thematic outline into a complete paper by changing statements and brief notes into coherent paragraphs. Basically, there is no fixed approach to the drafting of a thematic essay because students may start writing at any point in a thematic essay with the aid of a formal outline. Nonetheless, it is an excellent practice for learners to begin drafting from a paragraph they understand the best because it ensures writers waste very little time trying to overcome the fear of creating the first draft. In turn, scholars should allocate adequate time for drafting.

How to Perfect a Thematic Essay

1. Revision

A. Self-Critic

After completing the first draft, students undertake a self-conducted revision process, which involves rethinking and rewriting. Basically, the process of revision focuses on the evaluation of the evidence and organization of body paragraphs to ensure they support a working thesis statement entirely. Further, learners revisit a working thesis statement to refine its wording and the claim it presents. Before starting the revision process, writers should take a break, which allows a human brain to reset and attain a higher level of objectivity while revising. Moreover, scholars should use a checklist to reduce the risk of overlooking various crucial thematic essay dynamics during individual revision.

B. Peer Review

The individual revision process identifies the apparent flaws in content presentation, but numerous flaws may go unnoticed due to the authors’ subconscious biases concerning their writing styles. As a result, students should subject their thematic essays to a peer review by a classmate, tutor, parent, or writing center staff. In this case, learners should select a peer reviewer that best represents a member of the target audience. Moreover, authors may provide peer reviewers with a checklist to guide them through the revision process, especially if a person is not an expert editor. Then, students should assign adequate time to the peer review process to allow reviewers to carry out the revision task comfortably. In turn, once writers receive feedback from peer reviewers, they consider comments when making the final revision of a paper.

2. Editing

A. Clarity and Effectiveness

The first consideration in the editing process is the clarity and effectiveness of sentences in a thematic essay. Basically, authors should edit each sentence to ensure statements convey the intended meaning to readers. In this case, it is advisable to focus on six clarity issues, which are the most common in writing thematic papers: lack of parallelism, dangling modifiers, vague references to pronouns, incomplete sentences, and incorrect separation of sentences. Besides clarity, learners should evaluate the efficacy of each statement separately and as part of a paragraph. In turn, the effectiveness of writing statements revolves around the smoothness of transitions, conciseness, variability in sentence structure and length, the distinctiveness of the author’s voice, and emphasis on core ideas.

B. Surface Errors

The subsequent stage of the editing process involves editing for thematic surface and documentation errors. In particular, students should strive to eliminate all surface errors because they divert the readers’ attention to meaning, although some writing errors do not necessarily change the meaning of sentences. For example, learners can edit surface errors by using six-item criteria: spelling errors, comma splices, sentence fragments, verb errors, punctuation errors, and pronoun errors. Moreover, students should not attempt to conduct clarity and effectiveness editing simultaneously with surface error editing, which may result in poor writing because of the extensive nature of rules governing the English language. In turn, the final step in editing a thematic essay is the correction of any documentation errors while referring to the appropriate style manual.

Sample Outline for Writing a Thematic Essay

I. Introduction

A. Hook sentence.
B. Background information.
C. Thematic thesis statement.

II. Body

A. First paragraph

1. The idea for writing the first thematic paragraph.
2. Evidence supporting this paragraph’s claim.
3. Interpretation and analysis of evidence.

  • First specific deduction from evidence.
  • Second specific deduction from evidence.

4. A concluding statement that demonstrates the link between the first paragraph’s claim and thesis statement.

B. Second body paragraph

1. The idea for writing the second thematic paragraph.
2. Evidence supporting this paragraph’s claim.
3. Interpretation and analysis of evidence.

  • First specific deduction from evidence.
  • Second specific deduction from evidence.

4. A concluding statement that demonstrates the link between the second paragraph’s claim and thesis statement.

C. Third body paragraph

1. The idea for writing the third thematic paragraph.
2. Evidence supporting this paragraph’s claim.
3. Interpretation and analysis of evidence.

  • First specific deduction from evidence.
  • Second specific deduction from evidence.

4. A concluding statement that demonstrates the link between the third paragraph’s claim and thesis statement.

III. Conclusion

A. Restatement of the thesis statement written in a thematic essay.
B. Summary of the three minor arguments in the body paragraphs.
C. Closing remarks emphasizing the significance of the central claim in the context of the three minor arguments.

Commentary on a Thematic Essay Outline

1. Identify a Central Theme

The audience can determine the central theme of a thematic essay from a thesis statement or an overview of topic statements. Basically, writing a well-composed thesis statement must explicitly mention the central theme or implicitly hint at the central theme. Alternatively, the audience can read through topic sentences and correctly speculate the central theme of a thematic essay because minor arguments in individual body paragraphs are building blocks of a thesis statement. However, the readers’ ability to identify the central theme from a formal outline is dependent on their pre-existing knowledge concerning a topic because an outline uses statements and annotations with writing little explanation.

2. Uniqueness

A thematic essay stands out from other types of essays because of the high level of freedom that writers enjoy during authorship. During the writing of a thematic essay, authors can choose any purpose or a combination of purposes to use in different sections of 5 parts of an essay, which is a luxury that argumentative essays and expository essays do not extend to writers. Also, essay instructions for writing a thematic essay tend to define a broad scope for research, which implies that authors may develop a wide variety of arguments. In turn, the expansive nature of the subject of a paper is not present for argumentative essays, which forces students to choose one of the two sides of a controversial issue.

Outlining a Thematic Essay

I. Introduction

The introduction section is the first part of a thematic essay, which consists of three main elements: hook, background information, and thesis statement. Firstly, a hook is the first statement of any paper that plays the role of capturing the audience’s attention through creative wording, which gives them a reason to read the entire paper. Since students know how to write a hook, they provide the essential background information that readers require to understand a thesis statement. Moreover, the background information element does not have a fixed length. Instead, it is dependent on the complexity of a thesis statement and the overall length of a thematic essay. Also, writing a thesis statement is the final item of the introductory paragraph. In turn, the length of introductions is approximately 10% of the essay’s word count.

II. Body Paragraphs

A. Topic Sentence

A topic sentence contains a minor claim that an author discusses within a paragraph. For example, its primary role is to establish content boundaries, which ensures students focus on a particular idea in each paragraph. Moreover, a topic statement should present a minor argument and mention a relation that it has to the central idea of writing a thematic essay or make a tacit suggestion of its link to a thesis statement. Therefore, writers should avoid the use of in-text citations in a topic statement because it implies that an idea is not original.

B. Evidence

After a topic sentence, students unveil the evidence that supports their claims. In college writing, an in-text citation should accompany any evidence that learners introduce into a thematic essay to direct readers to its origin. Also, learners should rely heavily on summary and paraphrasing in their writing, as opposed to direct quotations from sources. Nevertheless, some thematic essay instructions may specify a particular technique writers must use when integrating evidence into a paper.

C. Evaluation

This element of a paragraph structure allows authors to explain the significance of the evidence to the paragraph’s argument. In this section of a thematic essay, students provide an interpretation of the evidence, which informs the audience of the meaning of the evidence in the context of a source text. Then, writers explain the value of the evidence in developing a reasonable justification for the idea proposed in topic sentences. In turn, learners should avoid the inclusion of lengthy pieces of evidence because it creates a situation where the voice of sources is more dominant than the author’s voice.

D. Concluding Statement

A concluding statement emphasizes the logical relationship that exists between the topic sentence, evidence, evaluation, and thesis statement. In some cases, it may establish the relationship of a paragraph with the preceding paragraph. Also, students should ensure a concluding sentence of a paragraph does not contain a meaningless summary of the key pieces of evidence. Then, a concluding statement of a thematic essay must not contain any new evidence because there is no opportunity to explain the contribution of the evidence in supporting the paragraph’s argument.

III. Conclusion

A concluding paragraph has three critical features: a restatement of the main claim, a summary of minor arguments, and closing remarks. Basically, the opening statement of a thematic essay reminds students of the central argument by using new words and syntax. After the opening statement, learners summarize minor claims that appear in individual body paragraphs while maintaining a logical organization, which is identical to the arrangement of ideas in the body. Finally, authors write a strong closing statement that knits together the introduction, thesis statement, and minor claims to create a lasting impression on the audience. Moreover, students should ensure they do not introduce new evidence or arguments in a concluding paragraph. In turn, authors must not apologize for a lack of expertise on a topic or make absolute claims because it diminishes the efficacy of writing a good conclusion.

Example of Writing a Thematic Essay

Topic: Recruitment of Terrorists

I. Sample Introduction of a Thematic Essay

Terrorism is a global problem, which appears to be spreading despite an increment in the efforts to suppress its growth. Basically, the prevention of recruitment is a crucial counterterrorism strategy. Moreover, its efficacy is dependent on the understanding of the terrorists’ recruitment techniques. In turn, the terrorist groups’ recruitment methods focus on the target’s identity crisis, which puts a potential member at risk of falling for the ‘appeal’ of terrorism.

II. Examples of Body Paragraphs in a Thematic Essay

A. Motivation

An individual’s desire to be part of a movement that is effecting a radical change in society is a significant motivator for participation in terrorism. For example, recent studies show that terrorist groups begin conversations with most young recruits on social media platforms, which discuss topics concerning social, political, and economic oppression (Jacks, 2020). Basically, this finding suggests that young people in contemporary society have a desire to correct the ‘wrongs’ in society as a means of identity. Consequently, terrorists use the increased sensitivity to social injustices as a common ground to initiate and build a relationship with a prospective recruit. In turn, the youth’s strong desire to do something to stop social injustices that their respective governments ignore leaves them vulnerable to radicalization by terrorist groups.

B. Religious Beliefs

Fanatical religious belief may drive an individual to support or participate in terrorism for the sake of being part of a group. According to Mohammed (2020), the constant pressure from religious parents causes the blind indoctrination of adolescents and young adults, which enables recruiters from terrorist groups to present religious concepts as justifications for terrorism, for example, the holy war. In this case, Mohammed concedes that the mosque is an ideal site for the recruitment of terrorism because of the presence of youth with highly impressionable minds. Moreover, youths depend on teachings at places of worship for knowledge that defines their perspective of the world. As a result, terrorist recruiters disguised as spiritual leaders can easily nurture fanatical beliefs that endorse terrorist activities. Eventually, a feeling of separation from the conservative believers pushes them to pursue groups that share their fanatical religious beliefs.

C. Recruiting

The loss of a family member to counterterrorism activities may act as a motivation factor for grievers who are trying to re-establish their identities because they no longer fit into the traditional social structures. For instance, Tobias (2020) argues that recruiters prey on the pain of grieving family members by offering them retribution as a solution to the overwhelming feeling of incompleteness. After the death of a family member, the emotional turmoil increases the susceptibility of individuals to the idea that terrorist acts are an appropriate response to the ‘killers’ of their loved ones. Often, recruitment occurs during this unstable state and encourages the individual to relive the pain each day, which results in the permanent erosion of their former identity. Accordingly, grievers may find themselves as sympathizers of terrorism, which leads to active or passive participation.

III. Sample Conclusion of a Thematic Essay

Most members of terrorist organizations experience an identity crisis at the time of recruitment. Basically, the need to gain membership to a group that fights against social injustices tolerates fanatical religious beliefs or seeks revenge for the death of loved ones is a sign that identity crisis is a common characteristic in recruits. In turn, current counterterrorism initiatives should seek to break the cycle of recruitment, which will weaken terrorist groups.

Takeaway on How to Write a Good Thematic Essay

  • Students should define a narrow writing topic to guide them in generating ideas in response to a thematic paper prompt.
  • The characteristics and expectations of the audience are vital in determining an appropriate presentation approach.
  • Before drafting a thematic essay, authors must write a formal outline and annotated bibliography, which are critical for organization and evidence selection.
  • The maintenance of a high level of fluidity during drafting is critical during drafting because it allows writers to experiment with different styles of expression.
  • Revision and editing are aspects of the writing process that a student should not take lightly.
  • All body paragraphs must adhere to the four-element paragraph structure.
  • The conclusion of a thematic essay should not contain any new evidence or arguments.
  • Learners must write a thesis statement that captures a theme that instructors highlight in essay prompts.

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