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Working with Essay Questions

Working with essay questions is like composing a song. Most popular songs consist of a main theme. This theme is usually presented at the start of the song and repeats itself at the end of the piece. In between, there are a few measures of music that more or less complement the principal theme. The result is a musical composition.

Let's use "Jingle Bells" as an example:

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way."

The music that goes with these words is the main theme. Following this theme are some additional words and music ("Oh what fun it is to ride ..."), and then the main theme repeats itself.

Answering essay questions is a bit like singing "Jingle Bells." You will have a main theme (a topic sentence), followed by other sentences that support the main theme, ending with a conclusion of some type, which probably repeats the main theme.

Let's assume that you have been asked the following essay question:

What do you feel was the primary cause for the Civil War? Explain your answer.

Your response might be similar to the following:

The principal reason for the Civil War was economic. (topic sentence) The South felt economically threatened by the abolitionist movement. The end of slavery would have a tremendous impact on the economy of the rural South, which was dependent on slave labor. The plantation system was profitable, as long as the cost of labor was cheap. Providing some food and shelter for slaves resulted in inexpensive labor. Although he didn't run for election as an abolitionist, the election of Abraham Lincoln was the final threat to the South, as he was generally viewed as being in favor of abolishing slavery and, consequently, destroying the economy and culture of the South.

The sentences that follow the topic sentence support the main theme -- the economic causes of the Civil War. The last sentence sums up the main theme.