Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, automatically generate references for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Dissertation

What is a Theoretical Framework? | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.

A theoretical framework is a foundational review of existing theories that serves as a roadmap for developing the arguments you will use in your own work.

Theories are developed by researchers to explain phenomena, draw connections, and make predictions. In a theoretical framework, you explain the existing theories that support your research, showing that your work is grounded in established ideas.

In other words, your theoretical framework justifies and contextualises your later research, and it’s a crucial first step for your research paper , thesis, or dissertation . A well-rounded theoretical framework sets you up for success later on in your research and writing process.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Be assured that you'll submit flawless writing. Upload your document to correct all your mistakes.


Table of contents

Why do you need a theoretical framework, how to write a theoretical framework, structuring your theoretical framework, example of a theoretical framework, frequently asked questions about theoretical frameworks.

Before you start your own research, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with the theories and models that other researchers have already developed. Your theoretical framework is your opportunity to present and explain what you’ve learned, situated within your future research topic.

There’s a good chance that many different theories about your topic already exist, especially if the topic is broad. In your theoretical framework, you will evaluate, compare, and select the most relevant ones.

By “framing” your research within a clearly defined field, you make the reader aware of the assumptions that inform your approach, showing the rationale behind your choices for later sections, like methodology and discussion . This part of your dissertation lays the foundations that will support your analysis, helping you interpret your results and make broader generalisations .

  • In literature , a scholar using postmodernist literary theory would analyse The Great Gatsby differently than a scholar using Marxist literary theory.
  • In psychology , a behaviourist approach to depression would involve different research methods and assumptions than a psychoanalytic approach.
  • In economics , wealth inequality would be explained and interpreted differently based on a classical economics approach than based on a Keynesian economics one.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

To create your own theoretical framework, you can follow these three steps:

  • Identifying your key concepts
  • Evaluating and explaining relevant theories
  • Showing how your research fits into existing research

1. Identify your key concepts

The first step is to pick out the key terms from your problem statement and research questions . Concepts often have multiple definitions, so your theoretical framework should also clearly define what you mean by each term.

To investigate this problem, you have identified and plan to focus on the following problem statement, objective, and research questions:

Problem : Many online customers do not return to make subsequent purchases.

Objective : To increase the quantity of return customers.

Research question : How can the satisfaction of company X’s online customers be improved in order to increase the quantity of return customers?

2. Evaluate and explain relevant theories

By conducting a thorough literature review , you can determine how other researchers have defined these key concepts and drawn connections between them. As you write your theoretical framework, your aim is to compare and critically evaluate the approaches that different authors have taken.

After discussing different models and theories, you can establish the definitions that best fit your research and justify why. You can even combine theories from different fields to build your own unique framework if this better suits your topic.

Make sure to at least briefly mention each of the most important theories related to your key concepts. If there is a well-established theory that you don’t want to apply to your own research, explain why it isn’t suitable for your purposes.

3. Show how your research fits into existing research

Apart from summarising and discussing existing theories, your theoretical framework should show how your project will make use of these ideas and take them a step further.

You might aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Test whether a theory holds in a specific, previously unexamined context
  • Use an existing theory as a basis for interpreting your results
  • Critique or challenge a theory
  • Combine different theories in a new or unique way

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation. As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

There are no fixed rules for structuring your theoretical framework, but it’s best to double-check with your department or institution to make sure they don’t have any formatting guidelines. The most important thing is to create a clear, logical structure. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Draw on your research questions, structuring each section around a question or key concept
  • Organise by theory cluster
  • Organise by date

As in all other parts of your research paper , thesis, or dissertation , make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

To get a sense of what this part of your thesis or dissertation might look like, take a look at our full example .

The only proofreading tool specialized in correcting academic writing

The academic proofreading tool has been trained on 1000s of academic texts and by native English editors. Making it the most accurate and reliable proofreading tool for students.

how to write a theory in an essay

Correct my document today

While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work based on existing research, a conceptual framework allows you to draw your own conclusions, mapping out the variables you may use in your study and the interplay between them.

A literature review and a theoretical framework are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work, a literature review critically evaluates existing research relating to your topic. You’ll likely need both in your dissertation .

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a  literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation . As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. (2022, October 10). What is a Theoretical Framework? | A Step-by-Step Guide. Scribbr. Retrieved 25 March 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/thesis-dissertation/the-theoretical-framework/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, what is a literature review | guide, template, & examples, how to write a results section | tips & examples, how to write a discussion section | tips & examples.

  • USC Libraries
  • Research Guides

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • Theoretical Framework
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Research Process Video Series
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • USC Libraries Tutorials and Other Guides
  • Bibliography

Theories are formulated to explain, predict, and understand phenomena and, in many cases, to challenge and extend existing knowledge within the limits of critical bounded assumptions or predictions of behavior. The theoretical framework is the structure that can hold or support a theory of a research study. The theoretical framework encompasses not just the theory, but the narrative explanation about how the researcher engages in using the theory and its underlying assumptions to investigate the research problem. It is the structure of your paper that summarizes concepts, ideas, and theories derived from prior research studies and which was synthesized in order to form a conceptual basis for your analysis and interpretation of meaning found within your research.

Abend, Gabriel. "The Meaning of Theory." Sociological Theory 26 (June 2008): 173–199; Kivunja, Charles. "Distinguishing between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework: A Systematic Review of Lessons from the Field." International Journal of Higher Education 7 (December 2018): 44-53; Swanson, Richard A. Theory Building in Applied Disciplines . San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2013; Varpio, Lara, Elise Paradis, Sebastian Uijtdehaage, and Meredith Young. "The Distinctions between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework." Academic Medicine 95 (July 2020): 989-994.

Importance of Theory and a Theoretical Framework

Theories can be unfamiliar to the beginning researcher because they are rarely applied in high school social studies curriculum and, as a result, can come across as unfamiliar and imprecise when first introduced as part of a writing assignment. However, in their most simplified form, a theory is simply a set of assumptions or predictions about something you think will happen based on existing evidence and that can be tested to see if those outcomes turn out to be true. Of course, it is slightly more deliberate than that, therefore, summarized from Kivunja (2018, p. 46), here are the essential characteristics of a theory.

  • It is logical and coherent
  • It has clear definitions of terms or variables, and has boundary conditions [i.e., it is not an open-ended statement]
  • It has a domain where it applies
  • It has clearly described relationships among variables
  • It describes, explains, and makes specific predictions
  • It comprises of concepts, themes, principles, and constructs
  • It must have been based on empirical data [i.e., it is not a guess]
  • It must have made claims that are subject to testing, been tested and verified
  • It must be clear and concise
  • Its assertions or predictions must be different and better than those in existing theories
  • Its predictions must be general enough to be applicable to and understood within multiple contexts
  • Its assertions or predictions are relevant, and if applied as predicted, will result in the predicted outcome
  • The assertions and predictions are not immutable, but subject to revision and improvement as researchers use the theory to make sense of phenomena
  • Its concepts and principles explain what is going on and why
  • Its concepts and principles are substantive enough to enable us to predict a future

Given these characteristics, a theory can best be understood as the foundation from which you investigate assumptions or predictions derived from previous studies about the research problem, but in a way that leads to new knowledge and understanding as well as, in some cases, discovering how to improve the relevance of the theory itself or to argue that the theory is outdated and a new theory needs to be formulated based on new evidence.

A theoretical framework consists of concepts and, together with their definitions and reference to relevant scholarly literature, existing theory that is used for your particular study. The theoretical framework must demonstrate an understanding of theories and concepts that are relevant to the topic of your research paper and that relate to the broader areas of knowledge being considered.

The theoretical framework is most often not something readily found within the literature . You must review course readings and pertinent research studies for theories and analytic models that are relevant to the research problem you are investigating. The selection of a theory should depend on its appropriateness, ease of application, and explanatory power.

The theoretical framework strengthens the study in the following ways :

  • An explicit statement of  theoretical assumptions permits the reader to evaluate them critically.
  • The theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge. Guided by a relevant theory, you are given a basis for your hypotheses and choice of research methods.
  • Articulating the theoretical assumptions of a research study forces you to address questions of why and how. It permits you to intellectually transition from simply describing a phenomenon you have observed to generalizing about various aspects of that phenomenon.
  • Having a theory helps you identify the limits to those generalizations. A theoretical framework specifies which key variables influence a phenomenon of interest and highlights the need to examine how those key variables might differ and under what circumstances.
  • The theoretical framework adds context around the theory itself based on how scholars had previously tested the theory in relation their overall research design [i.e., purpose of the study, methods of collecting data or information, methods of analysis, the time frame in which information is collected, study setting, and the methodological strategy used to conduct the research].

By virtue of its applicative nature, good theory in the social sciences is of value precisely because it fulfills one primary purpose: to explain the meaning, nature, and challenges associated with a phenomenon, often experienced but unexplained in the world in which we live, so that we may use that knowledge and understanding to act in more informed and effective ways.

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Corvellec, Hervé, ed. What is Theory?: Answers from the Social and Cultural Sciences . Stockholm: Copenhagen Business School Press, 2013; Asher, Herbert B. Theory-Building and Data Analysis in the Social Sciences . Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1984; Drafting an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kivunja, Charles. "Distinguishing between Theory, Theoretical Framework, and Conceptual Framework: A Systematic Review of Lessons from the Field." International Journal of Higher Education 7 (2018): 44-53; Omodan, Bunmi Isaiah. "A Model for Selecting Theoretical Framework through Epistemology of Research Paradigms." African Journal of Inter/Multidisciplinary Studies 4 (2022): 275-285; Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Jarvis, Peter. The Practitioner-Researcher. Developing Theory from Practice . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Strategies for Developing the Theoretical Framework

I.  Developing the Framework

Here are some strategies to develop of an effective theoretical framework:

  • Examine your thesis title and research problem . The research problem anchors your entire study and forms the basis from which you construct your theoretical framework.
  • Brainstorm about what you consider to be the key variables in your research . Answer the question, "What factors contribute to the presumed effect?"
  • Review related literature to find how scholars have addressed your research problem. Identify the assumptions from which the author(s) addressed the problem.
  • List  the constructs and variables that might be relevant to your study. Group these variables into independent and dependent categories.
  • Review key social science theories that are introduced to you in your course readings and choose the theory that can best explain the relationships between the key variables in your study [note the Writing Tip on this page].
  • Discuss the assumptions or propositions of this theory and point out their relevance to your research.

A theoretical framework is used to limit the scope of the relevant data by focusing on specific variables and defining the specific viewpoint [framework] that the researcher will take in analyzing and interpreting the data to be gathered. It also facilitates the understanding of concepts and variables according to given definitions and builds new knowledge by validating or challenging theoretical assumptions.

II.  Purpose

Think of theories as the conceptual basis for understanding, analyzing, and designing ways to investigate relationships within social systems. To that end, the following roles served by a theory can help guide the development of your framework.

  • Means by which new research data can be interpreted and coded for future use,
  • Response to new problems that have no previously identified solutions strategy,
  • Means for identifying and defining research problems,
  • Means for prescribing or evaluating solutions to research problems,
  • Ways of discerning certain facts among the accumulated knowledge that are important and which facts are not,
  • Means of giving old data new interpretations and new meaning,
  • Means by which to identify important new issues and prescribe the most critical research questions that need to be answered to maximize understanding of the issue,
  • Means of providing members of a professional discipline with a common language and a frame of reference for defining the boundaries of their profession, and
  • Means to guide and inform research so that it can, in turn, guide research efforts and improve professional practice.

Adapted from: Torraco, R. J. “Theory-Building Research Methods.” In Swanson R. A. and E. F. Holton III , editors. Human Resource Development Handbook: Linking Research and Practice . (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1997): pp. 114-137; Jacard, James and Jacob Jacoby. Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists . New York: Guilford, 2010; Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Sutton, Robert I. and Barry M. Staw. “What Theory is Not.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (September 1995): 371-384.

Structure and Writing Style

The theoretical framework may be rooted in a specific theory , in which case, your work is expected to test the validity of that existing theory in relation to specific events, issues, or phenomena. Many social science research papers fit into this rubric. For example, Peripheral Realism Theory, which categorizes perceived differences among nation-states as those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel, could be used as a means for understanding conflicted relationships among countries in Africa. A test of this theory could be the following: Does Peripheral Realism Theory help explain intra-state actions, such as, the disputed split between southern and northern Sudan that led to the creation of two nations?

However, you may not always be asked by your professor to test a specific theory in your paper, but to develop your own framework from which your analysis of the research problem is derived . Based upon the above example, it is perhaps easiest to understand the nature and function of a theoretical framework if it is viewed as an answer to two basic questions:

  • What is the research problem/question? [e.g., "How should the individual and the state relate during periods of conflict?"]
  • Why is your approach a feasible solution? [i.e., justify the application of your choice of a particular theory and explain why alternative constructs were rejected. I could choose instead to test Instrumentalist or Circumstantialists models developed among ethnic conflict theorists that rely upon socio-economic-political factors to explain individual-state relations and to apply this theoretical model to periods of war between nations].

The answers to these questions come from a thorough review of the literature and your course readings [summarized and analyzed in the next section of your paper] and the gaps in the research that emerge from the review process. With this in mind, a complete theoretical framework will likely not emerge until after you have completed a thorough review of the literature .

Just as a research problem in your paper requires contextualization and background information, a theory requires a framework for understanding its application to the topic being investigated. When writing and revising this part of your research paper, keep in mind the following:

  • Clearly describe the framework, concepts, models, or specific theories that underpin your study . This includes noting who the key theorists are in the field who have conducted research on the problem you are investigating and, when necessary, the historical context that supports the formulation of that theory. This latter element is particularly important if the theory is relatively unknown or it is borrowed from another discipline.
  • Position your theoretical framework within a broader context of related frameworks, concepts, models, or theories . As noted in the example above, there will likely be several concepts, theories, or models that can be used to help develop a framework for understanding the research problem. Therefore, note why the theory you've chosen is the appropriate one.
  • The present tense is used when writing about theory. Although the past tense can be used to describe the history of a theory or the role of key theorists, the construction of your theoretical framework is happening now.
  • You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible . Later, your discussion of methodology should be linked back to this theoretical framework.
  • Don’t just take what the theory says as a given! Reality is never accurately represented in such a simplistic way; if you imply that it can be, you fundamentally distort a reader's ability to understand the findings that emerge. Given this, always note the limitations of the theoretical framework you've chosen [i.e., what parts of the research problem require further investigation because the theory inadequately explains a certain phenomena].

The Conceptual Framework. College of Education. Alabama State University; Conceptual Framework: What Do You Think is Going On? College of Engineering. University of Michigan; Drafting an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Lynham, Susan A. “The General Method of Theory-Building Research in Applied Disciplines.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 4 (August 2002): 221-241; Tavallaei, Mehdi and Mansor Abu Talib. "A General Perspective on the Role of Theory in Qualitative Research." Journal of International Social Research 3 (Spring 2010); Ravitch, Sharon M. and Matthew Riggan. Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2017; Reyes, Victoria. Demystifying the Journal Article. Inside Higher Education; Trochim, William M.K. Philosophy of Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Weick, Karl E. “The Work of Theorizing.” In Theorizing in Social Science: The Context of Discovery . Richard Swedberg, editor. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014), pp. 177-194.

Writing Tip

Borrowing Theoretical Constructs from Other Disciplines

An increasingly important trend in the social and behavioral sciences is to think about and attempt to understand research problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. One way to do this is to not rely exclusively on the theories developed within your particular discipline, but to think about how an issue might be informed by theories developed in other disciplines. For example, if you are a political science student studying the rhetorical strategies used by female incumbents in state legislature campaigns, theories about the use of language could be derived, not only from political science, but linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, psychology, and, in this particular case, feminist studies. Building theoretical frameworks based on the postulates and hypotheses developed in other disciplinary contexts can be both enlightening and an effective way to be more engaged in the research topic.

CohenMiller, A. S. and P. Elizabeth Pate. "A Model for Developing Interdisciplinary Research Theoretical Frameworks." The Qualitative Researcher 24 (2019): 1211-1226; Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Undertheorize!

Do not leave the theory hanging out there in the introduction never to be mentioned again. Undertheorizing weakens your paper. The theoretical framework you describe should guide your study throughout the paper. Be sure to always connect theory to the review of pertinent literature and to explain in the discussion part of your paper how the theoretical framework you chose supports analysis of the research problem or, if appropriate, how the theoretical framework was found to be inadequate in explaining the phenomenon you were investigating. In that case, don't be afraid to propose your own theory based on your findings.

Yet Another Writing Tip

What's a Theory? What's a Hypothesis?

The terms theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably in newspapers and popular magazines and in non-academic settings. However, the difference between theory and hypothesis in scholarly research is important, particularly when using an experimental design. A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world. Theories arise from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested assumptions that are widely accepted [e.g., rational choice theory; grounded theory; critical race theory].

A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, an experiment designed to look at the relationship between study habits and test anxiety might have a hypothesis that states, "We predict that students with better study habits will suffer less test anxiety." Unless your study is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expect to happen during the course of your research.

The key distinctions are:

  • A theory predicts events in a broad, general context;  a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.
  • A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted among a set of scholars; a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

Cherry, Kendra. Introduction to Research Methods: Theory and Hypothesis. About.com Psychology; Gezae, Michael et al. Welcome Presentation on Hypothesis. Slideshare presentation.

Still Yet Another Writing Tip

Be Prepared to Challenge the Validity of an Existing Theory

Theories are meant to be tested and their underlying assumptions challenged; they are not rigid or intransigent, but are meant to set forth general principles for explaining phenomena or predicting outcomes. Given this, testing theoretical assumptions is an important way that knowledge in any discipline develops and grows. If you're asked to apply an existing theory to a research problem, the analysis will likely include the expectation by your professor that you should offer modifications to the theory based on your research findings.

Indications that theoretical assumptions may need to be modified can include the following:

  • Your findings suggest that the theory does not explain or account for current conditions or circumstances or the passage of time,
  • The study reveals a finding that is incompatible with what the theory attempts to explain or predict, or
  • Your analysis reveals that the theory overly generalizes behaviors or actions without taking into consideration specific factors revealed from your analysis [e.g., factors related to culture, nationality, history, gender, ethnicity, age, geographic location, legal norms or customs , religion, social class, socioeconomic status, etc.].

Philipsen, Kristian. "Theory Building: Using Abductive Search Strategies." In Collaborative Research Design: Working with Business for Meaningful Findings . Per Vagn Freytag and Louise Young, editors. (Singapore: Springer Nature, 2018), pp. 45-71; Shepherd, Dean A. and Roy Suddaby. "Theory Building: A Review and Integration." Journal of Management 43 (2017): 59-86.

  • << Previous: The Research Problem/Question
  • Next: 5. The Literature Review >>
  • Last Updated: Mar 26, 2024 10:40 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide
  • Skip to content

Davidson Writer

Academic Writing Resources for Students

Main navigation

Literary analysis: applying a theoretical lens.

A common technique for analyzing literature (by which we mean poetry, fiction, and essays) is to apply a theory developed by a scholar or other expert to the source text under scrutiny. The theory may or may not have been developed in the service literary scholarship.  One may apply, say, a Marxist theory of historical materialism to a novel, or a Freudian theory of personality development to a poem. In the hands of an analyst, another’s theory (in parts or whole) acts as a conceptual lens that when brought to the material brings certain elements into focus. The theory magnifies aspects of the text according to its special interests. The term  theory may sound rarified or abstract, but in reality a theory is simply an argument that attempts to explain something. Anytime you go to analyze literature—as you attempt to explain its meanings—you are applying theory, whether you recognize its exact dimensions or not. All analysis proceeds with certain interests, desires, and commitments (and not others) in mind. One way to define the theory—implicit or explicit—that you bring to a text is to ask yourself what assumptions (for instance, about how stories are told, about how language operates aesthetically, or about the quality of characters’ actions) guide your findings. A theory is an argument that attempts to explain something.

Let’s turn again to the insights about using theories to analyze literature provided in Joanna Wolfe’s and Laura Wilder’s  Digging into Literature: Strategies for Reading, Analysis, and Writing (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016).

Here’s a brief example of a writer using a theoretical text as a lens for reading the primary text :

In her book,  The Second Sex , the feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir describes how many mothers initially feel indifferent toward and estranged from their new infants, asserting that though “the woman would like to feel that the new baby is surely hers as is her own hand,. . . she does not recognize him because. . .she has experienced her pregnancy without him: she has no past in common with this little stranger” (507). Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song” exemplifies the indifference and estrangement that de Beauvoir describes. However, where de Beauvoir asserts that “a whole complex of economical and sentimental considerations makes the baby seem either a hindrance or a jewel” (510), Plath’s poem illustrates how a child can simultaneously be both hindrance and jewel. Ultimately, “Morning Song” shows us how new mothers can overcome the conflicting emotions de Beauvoir describes.

Daniel DiGiacomo.  From Mourning Song to “Morning Song”: The Maturation of a Maternal Bond.

Notice that in this brief passage, the writer fairly represents de Beauvoir’s theory about maternal feelings, then goes on to apply a portion of that theory to Plath’s poem, a focusing move that establishes the writer’s special interest in an aspect of Plath’s text. In this case, the application yields new insight about the non-universality of de Beauvoir’s theory, which Plath’s poem troubles.  The theory magnifies a portion of the primary text, and its application puts pressure on the soundness of the theory.

Theory Dialectic

Applying a Theoretical Lens: W.E.B. Du Bois Applied to Langston Hughes

Experienced literary critics are familiar with a wide range of theoretical texts they can use to interpret a primary text. As a less experienced student, your instructors will likely suggest pairings of theoretical and primary texts.  We would like you to consider the writerly workings of the theory-primary text application by examining a student’s paper entitled “Double-consciousness in ‘Theme for English B,” an essay which uses W.E.B. Du Bois’s theory (of  double-consciousness ) to elucidate and interpret Langston Hughes’s poem (“Theme for English B”). W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was an American sociologist, civil rights activist, author, and editor. Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American poet, activist, editor, and guiding member of the group of artists now known as the Harlem Renaissance.

But before you can make sense of that student’s essay, we ask that you read both a synopsis of the  theoretical text   and the   primary text .

Primary Text

The instructor said,

Go home and write  a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you—

Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am a twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem,

I am the only colored student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, site down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be  a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.

Theoretical Text 

W.E.B. Du Bois

Of Our Spiritual Strivings

O water, voice of my heart, crying in the sand,

All night long crying with a mournful cry,

As I lie and listen, and cannot understand

The voice of my heart in my side or the voice of the sea.

O water, crying for rest, is it I, is it I?

All night long the water is crying to me.

Unresting water, there shall never be rest

Till the last moon drop and the last tide fall,

And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west;

And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea,

All life long crying without avail

As the water all nigh long is crying to me.

                    —Arthur Symons

Between me and the other world there is an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or I fought at Mechanicsville; or Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain sadness that I was different from the others; or, like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world as by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time, or beat them at a footrace, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the hears all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I long for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white, or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his tw0-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strengths alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

This, then, is the end of his striving: To be a coworker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius. These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted, dispersed, or forgotten. The shadow of a might Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness. Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man’s turning hither and thither in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to loos effectiveness, to seem like absence of power, like weakness.  And yet it is not weakness—it is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan—on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde—could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people—has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.

Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faither as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:—

“Shout, O children!

Shout, you’re free!

For God has bought your liberty!”

Years have passed away since then—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy scepter sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—

“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves

Shall never tremble!”

The Nation has not yet found peace from its since; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp—like a tantalizing will-o-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku Klux Klan, the lies of carpetbaggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power—a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”: the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway to Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or someone fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those somber forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that deadweight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.

A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the lower races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to such much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything b lack, from Toussaint to the devil—before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save the black host to whom “discouragement” is an unwritten word.

But the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came borne upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what we need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud—and behold the suicide or a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.

So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress today rocks out little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives without doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong—all false? No, not that, but each alone was oversimple and incomplete—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. The training of the schools we need today more than ever—the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defense—else what shall save us from a second slavery? Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire. Work, culture, liberty—all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gamed through the unifying ideal of Race; the idea of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other race, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that someday on American soil two world races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are today no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is not true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folklore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. Will American be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humility? of her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs?

Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.

Using a Theoretical Lens to Write Persuasively

Applying a theoretical lens to poetry, fiction, plays, or essays is a standard academic move, but theories are also frequently applied to real-world cases, hypothetical cases, and other non-fiction texts in disciplines such as Philosophy, Sociology, Education, Anthropology, History, or Political Science. Sometimes, the theoretical lens analysis is called a  reading , as in a “Kantian reading of an ethical dilemma,” or a “Marxist reading of an historical episode.” At other times, the application of a theory is known as an  approach , as in a “Platonic approach to the question of beauty.”

The basic writerly moves to using a theoretical lens include:

  • name and cite the theoretical text and accurately summarize this text’s argument. Usually this short summary appears in one or two paragraphs at the beginning of the essay. You will want to be sure your summary includes the key concepts you use in your paper to analyze the primary literary text.
  • use the surface/depth strategy to show how deeper meanings in the primary text can be explained by concepts from the theoretical text.  You might think about this as creating a “match argument” between the primary and theoretical text (or case under consideration). Take important points made in the theoretical argument and match them to particular events or descriptions in the primary text. For instance, you could argue Langston Hughes’s line  So will my page be colored as I write? (27) matches Du Bois’s argument that the veil prevents Whites from seeing Black’s individuality. Such a match argument can form an organizing structure for the essay as you develop whole paragraphs to support different points of connection between the theoretical and primary texts. You may be able to devote an entire paragraph to the claim that Du Bois’s concept of “the veil” can help us understand Hughes’s description of the challenges his speaker faces in asking his instructor to see him on his own terms.
  • support your surface/depth claims linking the primary and theoretical texts with textual evidence from the primary text . If you claim that a particular passage exemplifies a particular theory, you need to provide evidence in the form of quotations or paraphrases to support this interpretation. This evidence will most certainly need to be provided from the primary text you are analyzing but perhaps also occasionally from the theoretical text, too, especially if you connect the primary text to a small detail in the theoretical text or if the wording of the theoreticl text helps you explain something in the primary text. Use the patterns strategy to provide multiple examples from the primary text supporting your claims that it matches elements of the theoretical text.
  • reveal something complex and unexpected about the primary text. The goal of the theoretical lens strategy—like all strategies of literary analysis—should be to show that the text you are analyzing is complex and can be understood on multiple levels.
  • challenge, extend, or reevaluate the theoretical text (for more sophisticated analyses).  The most sophisticated uses of the theoretical lens strategy not only help you better understand the primary text but also help you better understand—and reveal complexities in—the theoretical text. When you first start applying this strategy, it may be sufficient to argue how the theoretical text helps you understand the primary text, but as you advance, you should attempt the second part of this strategy and use the primary text to extend or challenge the theoretical argument. Such arguments may serve as starting points for you to contribute to literary (or philosophical, or sociological, or historical) theory as a theorist yourself. These arguments are often made in the concluding paragraphs of analyses using the theoretical lens strategy.

Common Words and Phrases Associated with Theoretical Lens

A Sample Student Essay

Title: Double-consciousness in “Theme for English B”

Paragraph 1

The post-slavery history of African-Americans in the United States has been one of struggle for recognition. This struggle continued through the civil rights movement in the 1970s and ’80s. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the most influential African-American leaders of the early twentieth century, described the complicated effects racism had on African-American selfhood. In his treatise  The Souls of Black Folk , Du Bois introduces the term “double-consciousness” to describe African-Americans’s struggle for self-recognition. Double-consciousness is the sense of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (8). It means that an African-American “[e]ver feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (8). According to Du Bois, double-consciousness means that African-Americas are always judging themselves through a veil of racism, experiencing how others judge and define them rather than how they might define and express themselves.

Paragraph 2

Langston Hughes’s poem “Theme for English B,” written nearly fifty years after Du Bois’s essay, depicts one African-American’s continued struggle with double-consciousness. However, where Du Bois sees double-consciousness as a painful condition he hopes will one day disappear, Hughes seems to have a more positive view, suggesting that mainstream Americans should also have an opportunity to experience this condition. Instead of eradicating double-consciousness, Hughes seeks to universalize it. His poem suggests that true equality will be possible when all cultures are able to experience and appreciate double-consciousness.

Paragraph 3

We see the poem’s speaker struggling with double-consciousness when he expresses difficulty articulating what is “true” for himself. Hughes writes:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you and me

I feel and see and hear. Harlem, I hear you:

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who? (16-20)

In this passage, which concludes with a question about who he is, the speaker expresses a divided self. At first, he seems to identify with Harlem, an African-American neighborhood in New York, where he is currently sitting and writing. However, this identification becomes troubled by his acknowledgment that Harlem does not completely define him. When the speaker writes “hear you, hear me—we two” (19), he suggests that “you” (referring to Harlem) and “me” (referring to himself) are intimately related by not identical. They are two voices that, while both present in his poem, still “talk” (19) to one another. The fact that these voices converse, rather than speak as one, indicates they are not completely merged.

Paragraph 4

This sense of a divided self is further reinforced by the claim “(I hear New York, too.)” (20). This aside is interesting because it establishes Harlem as both separate from and connected to the larger city. This division reflects what Du Bois calls the “two-ness [of being] an Amercan [and] a Negro” (8). By placing New York in parentheses, the speaker may be suggesting that the American part of himself represented by New York plays a weaker role in his identity than the African-American self represented by Harlem. Like Du Bois, the speaker in “Theme for English B” experiences inner conflict when he tries to reconcile the different parts of himself.

Paragraph 5

We further see evidence of the speaker’s conflict when he writes that he likes “Bessie, bop, or Bach” (24). “Bessie” refrs to the popular blues singer Bessie Smith, an African-American woman who sang a very African-American style of music. At the other end of the spectrum is “Bach,” which refers to the classical European composer J.S. Bach and represents a traditionally White form of music. In the middle is “bop,” which refers to “bebop,” a form of jazz made popular in the 1940s that inspired a particular form of dance most practiced by White teenagers at the time. In saying that he likes all of these forms of music, the speaker indicates that he is a mix of both African and European identities—like Du Bois, he feels both traditional White and traditional African-American culture calling him.

Paragraph 6

The “page” that the poem’s speak has been asked to write likewise reflects the two-ness of being African-American. An essay can be thought of as black ink on white paper, which in the context of the poem represents Black identity articulated against a White background. The speaker refers to this conflict of identities when he writes, “So will my page be colored that I write? / Being me, it will not be white” (27-28). These lines suggest that the speaker is worried that his instructor will only see him as a representative Black student. It shows how the speaker is caught in a double bind: when the teacher asks the class to write something “true” (5), he will expect this particular student (who in the first stanza tells us he is the only Black student in the class) to write in a way consistent with his obvious Black heritage. But the student is aware that his White teacher doesn’t really know what it means to be Black. Thus, if he writes in a way that fulfills his instructor’s expectations, he will write a page that seems to a White teacher to be an authentic depiction of what it means to be Black—in other words, a White representation of Blackness. This dilemma illuminates what Du Bois refers to as “always looking at one’s self thorugh the eyes of others” (8). Because the speaker in the poem is so aware of what his instructor (and possibly the other students in the class) already thinks of him, he is having difficulty articulating just who he really is.

Paragraph 7

At the end of the poem, however, instead of calling for the eradication of double-consciousness as Du Bois does when he longs for the day that African-Americans will be able to “merge his double-self into a better and truer self” (9), Hughes seems to suggest that instead his instructor needs to feel the double-identity that he feels so strongly. Thus, he writes “You are white— / yet a part of me, as I am a part of you” (31-32) and “As I learn from you, / I guess you learn from me—” (36-37). These lines indicate that the White instructor needs to accept, African-American identity as part of his own culture, just as the speaker has needed to see both parts of his identity calling him. This ability to feel and be multiple perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds at once is labeled “American” in the second stanza. Hughes seems to be suggesting that even though the”two-ness” he feels is often difficult and painful, it needs to be seen as central to American—and not just African-American—identity. When he states at the end of the poem, “I guess you learn from me” (38), he is turning the tables on the teacher, and on Whites in general, by suggesting that they have as much to learn from exploring Black culture as Blacks have to learn by studying classic White culture.

php stylesheet cookies for comments


Reading, understanding and using theory

  • Why do we read theory?
  • Understanding theory
  • When and how to read theory
  • Using theory in your assignments
  • Using theory in research
  • References and further reading

Writing about theory

If possible, try to engage with relevant theory in some way whilst writing assignments. If you can at least show your awareness of major theorists, concepts or arguments – even in passing – it will demonstrate that you have an understanding of the wider academic context of the subject that you are writing about.

It might be that you are only able to describe a particular theory and not say much else. If it is very complicated, and you’re not confident with doing any more than this, then it’s still better to acknowledge the theory or theorist than to leave this out completely. However, if you are able to raise any points that evaluate or critique the theory then this will always impress your marker.

Critiquing or evaluating theory

It can feel very daunting to critique theory, but one way to do this is to think about how theory can reduce or constrict the ways we approach a topic, as well as helping us to see other points of view. Remember that theory works like a lens: when we use it to ‘look’ at a certain topic, it will bring particular elements of it into focus. However, by the same logic, individual theoretical perspectives can make us quite blinkered; it might be that we miss other perspectives that are important, or are forced to looks at things from a certain angle that prevents us from seeing the big picture.

This doesn’t mean that you can just straightforwardly complain that ‘Feminism is only interested in women’s perspectives’, for instance. But if you think that a Feminist theoretical perspective, when applied to your subject, is reductive or leads us to ignore other important points, then that might be a valid critique.

Comparing and contrasting theory

Another way to critically evaluate theoretical arguments or approaches is to put them side by side. It’s very difficult to critique ideas in isolation, but can sometimes be easier if you compare or contrast people’s perspectives on a subject. Thinking about the relative strengths or weaknesses of different arguments or explanations can also help your writing to be less descriptive. Consider the following two examples:

If you can acknowledge or describe a theory in your writing then that is better than nothing! But if you can, try to critique or evaluate it. Remember that no theoretical approach is perfect - it will give you one perspective on your topic. Therefore, there will likely be shortcomings with it. It might be easier for you to identify these if you compare different theories. Is one approach more rounded or complete than another? Does one provide a more suitable way in for you to consider your subject?
  • << Previous: When and how to read theory
  • Next: Using theory in research >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 5, 2023 4:26 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.bham.ac.uk/asc/theory


A weblog devoted to the underlying craft of research, how to write the theory section.

[See also: How to write a research project . How to write the background , methods , analysis and discussion sections. How to write the introduction and conclusion . How to review the literature and how to structure a research paper . How to finish on time and how to reference properly . Part of the Craft of Research series. Full program here .]

Your reader already understands the basic concepts of your theory. So you don’t have to teach your theory to your reader; you simply have to explain how you are applying it to your particular object. In an important sense, your theory section constructs the objectivity of your object, it establishes a space of possible arrangements of things in the world, it “frames” your observations within this space. It is true that it identifies your “point of view” on your empirical material but it is no less true that this point of view is easily available to your readers. Their own training (in your discipline) allows them to easily step into it and see the world through your eyes. You share a perspective on the world and we call this perspective your “theory”.

In this talk I tried to bring together Ezra Zuckerman’s suggestion that you should strive to make your theory “compelling” with Steve Fuller’s understanding of theory as “presumption”. I lose track of my argument a bit near the end, when I accidently say (at 44:52) that you don’t have to help your reader to believe that your theoretical claims are true because the reader already believes them. It would be more precise to say that the reader presumes that they are true “for the sake of argument”, that is, they are willing to proceed (to your analysis) as though the theory is true. That’s why you have to make sure that your theoretical model is compelling — we should be in a certain sense “forced” to see the world as the theory suggests. By reminding ourselves that we no more believe in our theories than we believe that the accused in a trial is innocent (we may, indeed, believe the opposite!) we naturally check our biases — our “compulsion” to believe certain things without thinking carefully about them. Theoretical presumptions are not hypotheses to be tested (that comes later); they are frames that remain in place while the testing going on and are then removed when the testing is complete. Presumptions are “procedural” checks on our compulsions.

This ties in nicely with my other ideas about theory, such that a theory is a “system of expectations” or what Bourdieu calls a “program of perception”. Our theories lead us to expect certain things of our objects and therefore “program” us (like computers) to see the world in particular ways, noticing some things and ignoring others. When writing our theory section we’re being upfront about our programming. As I say in the talk, theories are ways of marshalling our passing “thoughts” about “things” in the more logical space of “concepts” and “objects” . Without theories, things are just lying around wherever and however they like. Our theories provide a “frame” in which to “model” their behavior, helping us to distinguish “normal” from “deviant” data points (yes, I’m trying to pun on statistical language there). This also become the frame in which you set up the hypotheses you will test. As Ezra reminds us, it is your “null” that is (presumably!) compelling. Your hypotheses (which, if true, will “reject the null”) are even more interesting.

There are softer ways about this. You can use your theory simply to shape your reader’s curiosity, or you can even leave the explication of your model until the end, after you have “grounded” it inductively. In such cases, I would strongly recommend writing a literature review that anticipates the conceptual resources you end up using, and putting it before your methods description. These are issues that we’ll touch on again next week, when we talk about method, and then again when we talk about how to structure the whole project.

Here are some more resources on the subject:

“Theory as Expectation”

“Theories, Concepts, and Models”

“Theory, Method, Style”

“Reading, Talking, Seeing”

“Consensus, Controversy, Contribution”

“Never Write Literature Reviews”

Here’s what I say about it in the “How to Structure” lecture:

And here is the video from 2022.

English and Comparative Literary Studies

Foundation module: critical theory - essay tips.

There are a number of ways to conceive of the Critical Theory essay. The simplest is to choose one of the set authors or topics and write on that with suggestions from the relevant tutor.

Slightly more ambitious is to compare and contrast theorists especially if there is a debate between them or one has criticised the other and there is an implicit or explicit dialogue between them. There may be topics where literary or other texts and readings of them have been deliberately built into the syllabus, e.g. readings by Baudelaire and Benjamin of Poe’s ‘The Man in the Crowd’ or Freud’s analyses of dreams and symptoms. Here you might give an account of the readings of these texts and how they are motivated by the theoretical premises and feed their own contributions to or disagreements with those readings into the discussion of the relevant theoretical frameworks. More ambitiously, and perhaps only to be attempted by the more theoretically confident students, is to select a literary or cultural text and generate a reading within a given theoretical framework or in relation to certain theoretical issues.

In both the last two options it must be stressed that this is a critical theory essay, not just an essay on a literary text, and the readings of the latter are there only to forward the discussion of the theoretical issues being addressed and should be organised to confirm, complicate or query the terms of the relevant theoretical issues and frameworks. We don’t want an essay that is mainly just a reading of poem x or novel y (you have other modules in which to do that).

The bottom line here is that students should be able to analyse the work of one of the theorists studied, to be able to explain their key terms, how they operate and the problems they are addressing. The more ambitious will want to play different theories off against each other and consider the limitations, blindspots or weak points of the theoretical frameworks being addressed. The starting point should be the texts read and discussed in the seminars, while the more confident will move a bit beyond them. However, the essay is only 6,000 words and that doesn’t leave much scope for too much ranging around. The essays should be focussed on particular theoretical essays and chapters and the structure of the argument as laid out there. You should think of yourself as giving an account of or arguing with particular theoretical texts and the arguments and terms deployed in them. Sweeping generalisations about Marxism or Psychoanalysis or Deconstruction should be avoided in favour of textually focussed argument.

Most importantly all students must have a discussion with the tutor responsible for each module and agree a topic and especially a title in advance so that we have a list of agreed titles (even if these may evolve in the writing process). This is an opportunity to get some guidance as to reading as well as to the formulation of the topic and title, and it should have happened by the end of the term in which the module is taken.

how to write a theory in an essay

Glasgow School  for Business and Society

The Glasgow School for Business and Society integrates the areas of business, law and social sciences to ensure that they are well placed to meet the needs of business and society. The School has an international outlook and is committed to developing partnerships across the world.

Writing critically about theory or models

Critical reading about a theory or model.

A theory is a system of ideas that tries to explain something. It is generally based on general principles independent of the phenomenon (thing) being explained. Theory also refers to a body of ideas or a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based eg a theory of education, or a theory of marketing.

A model is a graphical, mathematical (symbolic), physical, or verbal representation or simplified version of a concept, phenomenon, relationship, structure, system, or an aspect of the real world. It is used to help understand complex real-world phenomena. When reading about a theory or a model, find out:

  • a. What issue does it seek to explain?
  • b. Who developed the theory/model?
  • c. What are its origins? Did it develop out of another model or theory?
  • d. How it has changed/evolved over time?
  • e. What are the principles on which it is based?
  • a. What new explanations/insights does it offer?
  • b. What contribution does it make to understanding of issue?
  • a. What are its limitations and/or gaps?
  • What other theory or model may be important in understanding this issue? Is this theory or model more, less or equally important in improving understanding of issue?
  • a. In what way is this theory or model relevant to my assignment?
  • b. What are the implications of this theory or model for practice?
  • c. How can it be applied usefully to enhance practice?

Click on this link for an  example of critical discussion of theory

Notre Dame 5 Star University

  • University Library

How do I reference a theory in my essay?

Referencing a theory, model or a test in your assignments. 

  • FiNDit Support
  • Have Your Say
  • Library Announcements
  • Student Wellbeing
  • University FAQs
  • 60 Academic support
  • 25 Access issues
  • 32 Blackboard
  • 71 Borrowing
  • 23 Copyright
  • 50 Databases
  • 86 Finding information
  • 85 IT Services
  • 45 My Library
  • 26 Print/copy/scan
  • 34 Reading Lists
  • 190 Referencing
  • 15 Refworks
  • 18 Research support

Answered By: Reeti Brar Last Updated: Jul 01, 2022     Views: 16741

When referring to a model, theory, or test, you only need to provide a citation the first time the model, theory, or test is mentioned in the text. After that, it is not necessary to keep including the citations when the model, theory, or test is mentioned again. Example:

Cite the first time you mention the theory in the text:

 “Leader–member exchange (LMX) theory (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995) is . . . .”

After that, you can just use the phrase:

 “LMX theory” without providing the citations.

Please note when mentioning a theory, philosophy, therapy, or technique, and also disorders, the rule is not to capitalise e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Acronyms are capitalized to show they are acronyms, not because the terms that form them are necessarily capitalized.

Another example of how to cite a theory:

One theory of exceptional employee behaviour posits that star employees “have disproportionately high and prolonged performance, visibility, and relevant social capital” (Call, Nyberg, & Thatcher, 2015, p. 630).

Also refer to the links below from the American Psychological Association APA style blog.

Chicago 17:

Though usage varies widely, Chicago recommends that names of laws, theories, and the like be lowercased, except for proper names attached to them. For example:

Avogadro’s hypothesis (or Avogadro’s law)

the big bang theory Boyle’s law

(Einstein’s) general theory of relativity

Newton’s first law

Cite the source of the theory according to the resource type in your footnotes. You can then follow the rules for abbreviated/short form footnotes for subsequent citations referring to the same work.

Links & Files

  • When to include the year in citations appearing more than once in a paragraph
  • Do I capitalize this word?
  • Punctuation junction: Quotation marks and ellipses
  • Do you have to quote a whole sentence?
  • How do I reference a direct quote in APA referencing style?
  • If I am referencing a research paper, but it quotes other research papers, do I have to cite those too?
  • Do I have to provide page numbers if I APA reference a quote or write about an author's idea in my essay?
  • Chicago: Laws and theories
  • Share on Facebook

Was this helpful? Yes 3 No 0

Comments (0)

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors


how to write a theory in an essay

Guide to the TOK Essay

What’s covered:.

  • What is Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?
  • What is the Theory of Knowledge Essay?

How is the Theory of Knowledge Essay Scored?

How to structure your theory of knowledge essay.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB/IBDP) is a rigorous and rewarding internationally based educational program that offers courses in numerous studies, from humanities to chemistry. Students take part in a two-year curriculum that includes external examinations, internal assessments, research papers and community service hours. Essentially, students will have to do a bit of everything, especially with IB’s core, which is CAS, TOK, and the extended essay (EE). Understanding how TOK, IB’s flagship class, is assessed with its essay is important to success in the course overall. 

What is Theory Of Knowledge (TOK)?

Theory of Knowledge is IB’s way of introducing a more intuitive way of thinking into classrooms. TOK is at its surface as simple as it sounds: you essentially learn the “what” and “why” of how we learn and understand knowledge. In order to assess students of their skills in TOK, IB uses an essay and a presentation. The essay makes up 67% of your total TOK score, making it the most important task to focus on for getting a high score. 

What is the Theory Of Knowledge Essay?

The TOK essay is a 1600 word essay written about topics usually given to students from their teachers from a list of numerous options. It is an essay that promotes arguments and counterarguments for the topic at hand. Understanding your ways of knowing (WOKs) and areas of knowledge (AOKs) is extremely crucial before you even start choosing a topic to write on, as your essay will revolve around and structure itself based on these two concepts. Being able to demonstrate higher-level thinking and using examples to solidify the points you make in your essay is also important. Additionally, you’ll need to reference every source of information that you use, since that is something examiners look for as well.

As said earlier, 67% of your grade is from the essay, and your overall TOK score receives a letter grade using a calculated score out of thirty. Your essay score and presentation score are each out of ten. The grades for your TOK presentation and essay are determined by sending material to the board of IB, from which they designate a grader/examiner to read your essay and grade based on a rubric that determines the level of knowledge you exhibit in your writing.

The following formula should better explain how to find your TOK grade. 

(presentation score) + (essay score * 2) = overall score out of 30

The grade boundaries out of 30 that determine your letter grade can vary each year so checking in with your school for the most recent ones is the best course of action, but an example set would be like this:

Once you have a letter grade for IB, your extended essay, which is another part of the core, is also included into a larger grading schema to calculate your core score, which is three additional points required to complete and earn the diploma. The following table details this grade further:

Doing well in the core is important to passing IB and getting three points out of the total 45 attainable points. 

There’s a trick that most IB students use in writing the TOK essay, and it boils down to understanding four key components of learning:

  • Content : Understanding knowledge issues
  • Clarity : Structuring your essay in a legible and clear/easy to read manner
  • Creativity : Using your personal ways of thinking and applications of knowledge specific to your understanding of the knowledge issue
  • Critical Thinking : Using a counter argument for every argument you have to analyze your own claims constantly 

Dividing your actual essay into three main chunks helps, starting with an introduction. Your introduction should be where you state your knowledge question, the central point of your essay, and you should make use of jargon specific to the concept. As the basis of your essay, the introduction should be where you form claims and counterclaims that either support or challenge the knowledge question through heavy analysis and evaluation. 

The body of the essay follows the introduction, and it is where most of the conceptual analysis of your knowledge question takes place. Every argument and its counterargument should have a dedicated paragraph of its own, and make sure to not jump back and forth too much throughout the essay. to avoid creating messy transitions for the reader and potentially harming your score. Understanding the essay from the reader’s point of view is important, as it will help you better understand how to structure the body of your essay.

A conclusion in the TOK essay is mainly for finding closure among the numerous arguments that have been taking place thus far in the essay. Make sure to summarize but not repeat previous information entirely to refresh the reader. A conclusion should essentially loop back to the beginning of the essay, the knowledge question. The knowledge question’s answer should be the conclusion and the stopping point of the essay, and by now the answer you provide should be backed by paragraphs of supporting claims and counterclaims. If done right, concluding the essay can be how you earn most of your points. 

Start Early

Starting early is an obvious and effective advantage to students. Aside from TOK, let alone the presentation, IB has substantial work that requires focus and allocated time dedicated to it, such as external examinations and the extended essay. These tasks are equally as important as the TOK essay, so starting your outlining, drafting or even just planning early will set you up for success.

Send Your Drafts to Your Teacher

Your TOK teacher is a great resource for drafting essays and making edits to perfect your final product. Making use of time outside of the classroom to catch your teacher for a quick review of your essay could be a bigger advantage than you realize. Making use of an outside perspective is essential to forming a great essay. 

While your final IB grade isn’t as important as you’d think regarding college admissions, understanding how to pass TOK and using the lifelong practices you’ll learn in the class is even more important. TOK creates students who think outside conventional methods, making them excellent candidates in the eyes of college admissions offices. Taking TOK and showing proof of understanding it as well as capability of academic rigor is what colleges are looking for. For more information on how your chances of college admissions might look, use CollegeVine’s admissions calculator !

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

how to write a theory in an essay

The beginning of a journey

My Theory of Writing

Throughout the semester I have learned and developed my theory of writing through various styles/genres. Using the knowledge, I have gained, I have come to an understanding that interpreting a writing task consists of many factors that I was unaware of before. This has changed my theory of writing from how I used to think about writing before to how I think about it now. To get my point across of how my theory of writing has changed, first I must introduce my previous style.

Writing was a big chore before I understood the mechanics and structure behind it. Coming from public school writing assignments were always assigned based on literature that was read in class. Every essay written would have the same structure intro, body, and conclusion. The body would always use textual evidence from the novels we read. This led to many works of the students sounding monotonous and repetitive. However, coming to city college has made me realize writing needs more than just quotes and explanation of them from text. Writing needs more thought put into each and every line written in order to flow well. The flow of the writing keeps readers engaged. Writing to the specification of the task was also very important and new to me as in writing. Before I was only given ideas and not allowed to express my thoughts on a subject and I would have to use textual evidence to support. While writing my second research paper I realized the credibility of an author also is important in persuading the reader. Running a background check was also useful in understanding where the writer was coming from. While working on that assignment I developed my sense of identifying genres which was greater than I had expected. With my previous history of writing explained I will now begin to explain my thoughts on how writing is to me as of now.

My theory of writing, depending on the task at hand you may use different language and tone from another work. Styles and genres can also vary but must tie into the assignment. The use of textual evidence may be needed or not in the case of a reflection piece. You may also wish to use various rhetorical strategies based on your goal. Some of which include logos, ethos, and pathos. My favorite rhetorical strategy among these is logos because I have written my assignments around scientific sources. To back up my evidence I had to understand the subject myself along with proving my point. I tried my best not to give my personal opinion, but some required it based on a model essay or model article. Some examples of this include the heading of a newspaper being bold and controversial with this I had to mimic the same style/format. I still have some beliefs that remain from my previous form of writing. I’ve been told grammar and mechanics is not important to writing but I am still conscious of it and in my writing. Observing mistakes in spelling or syntax often sets me back. Writing to a set amount of words or pages is also frustrating. I personally like to be frank and get straight to the point but also clear in my writing.

The various assignments given to me throughout the semester helped me explore and develop my theory of writing. I started off the semester with something familiar such as using sources and summarizing their ideas. I proceeded to analyze each source and translate their ideas without injecting my own opinion. Up until college, this is what I have been doing with essay assignments. This was different though because instead of novels assigned to the whole class, I had the freedom to choose the articles and research the topic I wanted. Exploring the topic of air pollution was definitely interesting, during peer review people had various opinions on it. Some agreed with mine while others did not. This does not mean that they were wrong or gave inadequate advice, but some definitely gave useful criticism regarding my writing. The feedback given to me genuinely improved my writing and my expression of ideas. Having a peer read my work helped me understand that my work was not always clear for the reader because they more than likely have not read the sources or evidence. I realized this when readers took my writing at face value and did not question the validity of it.

My theory of writing helps me creates knowledge. While organizing my ideas through summary, quotes, and analysis I can express my ideas in an organized way. Creating knowledge for readers is pretty basic if I am talking about something scientific or complex, I try my best to explain it simply for readers. For example, in my second essay I referenced CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons) before that I explain what they are and their uses. This helps readers better understand their purpose and why they must be replaced with a better alternative. Terminology from scholarly articles is sometimes difficult to comprehend because the language used by highly educated professors is not used in everyday conversations. I paraphrase and explain to the reader what I believe the message is supposed to mean. I realized this was apparent during peer review and meetings with Professor Harris. A topic like Air Pollution may seem straightforward but the terms and background behind it are complex requiring a deep and well-thought explanation.

I believe my theory of writing can be applied to various genres inside and outside of the classroom. As an engineering major I will most likely be writing in a serious tone and clearly to get the message across. Writing short and concisely will be key because readers and my peers will not sit through a 4-10-page essay when it can be explained in a page or less. I realize that it is only a matter of time before I will have to write research papers but when the time comes, I will know how it should be done.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

This entry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

how to write a theory in an essay

Need help with the Commons?

Email us at [email protected] so we can respond to your questions and requests. Please email from your CUNY email address if possible. Or visit our help site for more information:

CUNY Academic Commons logo

  • Terms of Service
  • Accessibility
  • Creative Commons (CC) license unless otherwise noted

CUNY logo

How to Write a College Application Essay

Find the right college for you..

Your essay reveals something important about you that your grades and test scores can't─your personality. It can give admissions officers a sense of who you are and showcase your writing ability. Here are some things that admissions officers look for in a personal essay for college.

1. Open Strong.

Knowing how to start a college essay can create a strong opening paragraph that immediately captures the reader’s interest. You want to make the admissions officer reading your essay curious about what you say next.

2. Show You Can Write.

Colleges want to see that you have a command of the basics of good writing, which is a key component of success in college.

3. Answer the Prompt.

Admissions officers also want to see that the student can give a direct answer while sticking to a comprehensive narrative. When writing college essays, consider the point you want to make and develop a fleshed-out response that fits the prompt. Avoid force-fitting prewritten pieces. Approach every personal essay prompt as if it's your first.

4. Stick to Your Style.

Writing college essays isn't about using flowery or verbose prose. Avoid leaning too heavily on the thesaurus to sound impressive. Choose a natural writing style that’s appropriate for the subject matter.

Also, avoid stressing about trying to write what you think colleges want to see. Learning how to draft a good essay for college is about showcasing who you are. Stay true to your voice. Keep in mind that authenticity is more important than anything else.

5. Proofread.

Correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling are essential. Proofread several times after you've finished. Then ask a teacher, parent, or college English major to give it a quick read as well.

6. Keep Track of Length.

Finally, admissions officers value succinctness. Remember to pay attention to the recommended essay length or word count.

Bonus Tips and College Essay Writing Help

For more on how to write a college essay, check out these Tips for Writing Your College Admissions Essay .

What is the college application essay?

A personal essay for college applications is an opportunity for admission admissions panels to get more insight into who you are and what you have to offer. It's often the most personal component of the application, going beyond grades and standardized test scores. Essays usually have open-ended prompts, allowing you to flex your writing skills and make a personal statement.

Does my college application essay really matter?

Learning how to write a successful essay for college is crucial. This essay's exact weight on your chances of acceptance varies from one school to the next. But it's an element of your application that all admissions teams consider. Your essay could be the thing that gets you off a waiting list or gives you a competitive edge over other applicants.

What are colleges looking for in my application essay?

Knowing what to include in a college essay is half the battle. Admissions teams look for many things, but the most influential are authenticity, writing ability, character details, and positive traits. The purpose of the essay is to shed light on your background and gain perspective on your real-world experiences.

When should I start writing my college essay?

Because you'll want to tailor each application to each school, expect to write multiple personal essays. Advisers typically recommend starting these pieces during the summer before your senior year of high school. This will give you ample time to concentrate on writing a college essay before you're hit with schoolwork.

What can I do to write an effective college essay if I'm not a strong writer?

Good writing skills matter, but the best college essay is about the quality of your response. Authentic stories in a natural voice have impact. The story you want to tell about yourself will work better for you if it’s told in language that’s not overly sophisticated. Work with a writing coach for help with the academic aspects. Make responding with substance a priority.

How can I write my college essay if I have no monumental experiences?

You don't need life-changing moments to impress an admissions panel. Think about your personal experiences. Describe moments that left a lasting impact. The important thing is to have a fleshed-out narrative that provides insight into your life and way of thinking. Some of the best essays revolve around meaningful moments rather than flashy ones.

How should I start brainstorming topics for my college essay?

Most colleges provide open-ended prompts. Using the topic as inspiration, think about critical milestones or essential lessons you learned during your academic career. Tell stories about real-life experiences that have shaped the person you are. Write them down to brainstorm ideas. Choose stories that highlight your best traits.

What is a good list of essay topics to start with? What essay topics should I avoid?

Good topics when writing college essays include personal achievements, meaningful lessons, life-changing challenges, and situations that fostered personal growth. It's best to avoid anything too intimate or controversial. You want to open up, but it's not a good idea to go overboard or alienate members of the admissions panel.

What format should I use for my college essay?

Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

How long should my essay be?

The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

Who should I ask to review my college essay?

Turn to your school counselor for review. They understand what college admissions panels are looking for, and they can provide valuable insight into your piece's quality. You can also reach out to English teachers and other educators for proofreading.

Related Articles

How to Write an Essay Introduction (with Examples)   

essay introduction

The introduction of an essay plays a critical role in engaging the reader and providing contextual information about the topic. It sets the stage for the rest of the essay, establishes the tone and style, and motivates the reader to continue reading. 

Table of Contents

What is an essay introduction , what to include in an essay introduction, how to create an essay structure , step-by-step process for writing an essay introduction , how to write an introduction paragraph , how to write a hook for your essay , how to include background information , how to write a thesis statement .

  • Argumentative Essay Introduction Example: 
  • Expository Essay Introduction Example 

Literary Analysis Essay Introduction Example

Check and revise – checklist for essay introduction , key takeaways , frequently asked questions .

An introduction is the opening section of an essay, paper, or other written work. It introduces the topic and provides background information, context, and an overview of what the reader can expect from the rest of the work. 1 The key is to be concise and to the point, providing enough information to engage the reader without delving into excessive detail. 

The essay introduction is crucial as it sets the tone for the entire piece and provides the reader with a roadmap of what to expect. Here are key elements to include in your essay introduction: 

  • Hook : Start with an attention-grabbing statement or question to engage the reader. This could be a surprising fact, a relevant quote, or a compelling anecdote. 
  • Background information : Provide context and background information to help the reader understand the topic. This can include historical information, definitions of key terms, or an overview of the current state of affairs related to your topic. 
  • Thesis statement : Clearly state your main argument or position on the topic. Your thesis should be concise and specific, providing a clear direction for your essay. 

Before we get into how to write an essay introduction, we need to know how it is structured. The structure of an essay is crucial for organizing your thoughts and presenting them clearly and logically. It is divided as follows: 2  

  • Introduction:  The introduction should grab the reader’s attention with a hook, provide context, and include a thesis statement that presents the main argument or purpose of the essay.  
  • Body:  The body should consist of focused paragraphs that support your thesis statement using evidence and analysis. Each paragraph should concentrate on a single central idea or argument and provide evidence, examples, or analysis to back it up.  
  • Conclusion:  The conclusion should summarize the main points and restate the thesis differently. End with a final statement that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Avoid new information or arguments. 

how to write a theory in an essay

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write an essay introduction: 

  • Start with a Hook : Begin your introduction paragraph with an attention-grabbing statement, question, quote, or anecdote related to your topic. The hook should pique the reader’s interest and encourage them to continue reading. 
  • Provide Background Information : This helps the reader understand the relevance and importance of the topic. 
  • State Your Thesis Statement : The last sentence is the main argument or point of your essay. It should be clear, concise, and directly address the topic of your essay. 
  • Preview the Main Points : This gives the reader an idea of what to expect and how you will support your thesis. 
  • Keep it Concise and Clear : Avoid going into too much detail or including information not directly relevant to your topic. 
  • Revise : Revise your introduction after you’ve written the rest of your essay to ensure it aligns with your final argument. 

Here’s an example of an essay introduction paragraph about the importance of education: 

Education is often viewed as a fundamental human right and a key social and economic development driver. As Nelson Mandela once famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is the key to unlocking a wide range of opportunities and benefits for individuals, societies, and nations. In today’s constantly evolving world, education has become even more critical. It has expanded beyond traditional classroom learning to include digital and remote learning, making education more accessible and convenient. This essay will delve into the importance of education in empowering individuals to achieve their dreams, improving societies by promoting social justice and equality, and driving economic growth by developing a skilled workforce and promoting innovation. 

This introduction paragraph example includes a hook (the quote by Nelson Mandela), provides some background information on education, and states the thesis statement (the importance of education). 

This is one of the key steps in how to write an essay introduction. Crafting a compelling hook is vital because it sets the tone for your entire essay and determines whether your readers will stay interested. A good hook draws the reader in and sets the stage for the rest of your essay.  

  • Avoid Dry Fact : Instead of simply stating a bland fact, try to make it engaging and relevant to your topic. For example, if you’re writing about the benefits of exercise, you could start with a startling statistic like, “Did you know that regular exercise can increase your lifespan by up to seven years?” 
  • Avoid Using a Dictionary Definition : While definitions can be informative, they’re not always the most captivating way to start an essay. Instead, try to use a quote, anecdote, or provocative question to pique the reader’s interest. For instance, if you’re writing about freedom, you could begin with a quote from a famous freedom fighter or philosopher. 
  • Do Not Just State a Fact That the Reader Already Knows : This ties back to the first point—your hook should surprise or intrigue the reader. For Here’s an introduction paragraph example, if you’re writing about climate change, you could start with a thought-provoking statement like, “Despite overwhelming evidence, many people still refuse to believe in the reality of climate change.” 

Including background information in the introduction section of your essay is important to provide context and establish the relevance of your topic. When writing the background information, you can follow these steps: 

  • Start with a General Statement:  Begin with a general statement about the topic and gradually narrow it down to your specific focus. For example, when discussing the impact of social media, you can begin by making a broad statement about social media and its widespread use in today’s society, as follows: “Social media has become an integral part of modern life, with billions of users worldwide.” 
  • Define Key Terms : Define any key terms or concepts that may be unfamiliar to your readers but are essential for understanding your argument. 
  • Provide Relevant Statistics:  Use statistics or facts to highlight the significance of the issue you’re discussing. For instance, “According to a report by Statista, the number of social media users is expected to reach 4.41 billion by 2025.” 
  • Discuss the Evolution:  Mention previous research or studies that have been conducted on the topic, especially those that are relevant to your argument. Mention key milestones or developments that have shaped its current impact. You can also outline some of the major effects of social media. For example, you can briefly describe how social media has evolved, including positives such as increased connectivity and issues like cyberbullying and privacy concerns. 
  • Transition to Your Thesis:  Use the background information to lead into your thesis statement, which should clearly state the main argument or purpose of your essay. For example, “Given its pervasive influence, it is crucial to examine the impact of social media on mental health.” 

how to write a theory in an essay

A thesis statement is a concise summary of the main point or claim of an essay, research paper, or other type of academic writing. It appears near the end of the introduction. Here’s how to write a thesis statement: 

  • Identify the topic:  Start by identifying the topic of your essay. For example, if your essay is about the importance of exercise for overall health, your topic is “exercise.” 
  • State your position:  Next, state your position or claim about the topic. This is the main argument or point you want to make. For example, if you believe that regular exercise is crucial for maintaining good health, your position could be: “Regular exercise is essential for maintaining good health.” 
  • Support your position:  Provide a brief overview of the reasons or evidence that support your position. These will be the main points of your essay. For example, if you’re writing an essay about the importance of exercise, you could mention the physical health benefits, mental health benefits, and the role of exercise in disease prevention. 
  • Make it specific:  Ensure your thesis statement clearly states what you will discuss in your essay. For example, instead of saying, “Exercise is good for you,” you could say, “Regular exercise, including cardiovascular and strength training, can improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.” 

Examples of essay introduction 

Here are examples of essay introductions for different types of essays: 

Argumentative Essay Introduction Example:  

Topic: Should the voting age be lowered to 16? 

“The question of whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 has sparked nationwide debate. While some argue that 16-year-olds lack the requisite maturity and knowledge to make informed decisions, others argue that doing so would imbue young people with agency and give them a voice in shaping their future.” 

Expository Essay Introduction Example  

Topic: The benefits of regular exercise 

“In today’s fast-paced world, the importance of regular exercise cannot be overstated. From improving physical health to boosting mental well-being, the benefits of exercise are numerous and far-reaching. This essay will examine the various advantages of regular exercise and provide tips on incorporating it into your daily routine.” 

Text: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee 

“Harper Lee’s novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ is a timeless classic that explores themes of racism, injustice, and morality in the American South. Through the eyes of young Scout Finch, the reader is taken on a journey that challenges societal norms and forces characters to confront their prejudices. This essay will analyze the novel’s use of symbolism, character development, and narrative structure to uncover its deeper meaning and relevance to contemporary society.” 

  • Engaging and Relevant First Sentence : The opening sentence captures the reader’s attention and relates directly to the topic. 
  • Background Information : Enough background information is introduced to provide context for the thesis statement. 
  • Definition of Important Terms : Key terms or concepts that might be unfamiliar to the audience or are central to the argument are defined. 
  • Clear Thesis Statement : The thesis statement presents the main point or argument of the essay. 
  • Relevance to Main Body : Everything in the introduction directly relates to and sets up the discussion in the main body of the essay. 

how to write a theory in an essay

Writing a strong introduction is crucial for setting the tone and context of your essay. Here are the key takeaways for how to write essay introduction: 3  

  • Hook the Reader : Start with an engaging hook to grab the reader’s attention. This could be a compelling question, a surprising fact, a relevant quote, or an anecdote. 
  • Provide Background : Give a brief overview of the topic, setting the context and stage for the discussion. 
  • Thesis Statement : State your thesis, which is the main argument or point of your essay. It should be concise, clear, and specific. 
  • Preview the Structure : Outline the main points or arguments to help the reader understand the organization of your essay. 
  • Keep it Concise : Avoid including unnecessary details or information not directly related to your thesis. 
  • Revise and Edit : Revise your introduction to ensure clarity, coherence, and relevance. Check for grammar and spelling errors. 
  • Seek Feedback : Get feedback from peers or instructors to improve your introduction further. 

The purpose of an essay introduction is to give an overview of the topic, context, and main ideas of the essay. It is meant to engage the reader, establish the tone for the rest of the essay, and introduce the thesis statement or central argument.  

An essay introduction typically ranges from 5-10% of the total word count. For example, in a 1,000-word essay, the introduction would be roughly 50-100 words. However, the length can vary depending on the complexity of the topic and the overall length of the essay.

An essay introduction is critical in engaging the reader and providing contextual information about the topic. To ensure its effectiveness, consider incorporating these key elements: a compelling hook, background information, a clear thesis statement, an outline of the essay’s scope, a smooth transition to the body, and optional signposting sentences.  

The process of writing an essay introduction is not necessarily straightforward, but there are several strategies that can be employed to achieve this end. When experiencing difficulty initiating the process, consider the following techniques: begin with an anecdote, a quotation, an image, a question, or a startling fact to pique the reader’s interest. It may also be helpful to consider the five W’s of journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how.   For instance, an anecdotal opening could be structured as follows: “As I ascended the stage, momentarily blinded by the intense lights, I could sense the weight of a hundred eyes upon me, anticipating my next move. The topic of discussion was climate change, a subject I was passionate about, and it was my first public speaking event. Little did I know , that pivotal moment would not only alter my perspective but also chart my life’s course.” 

Crafting a compelling thesis statement for your introduction paragraph is crucial to grab your reader’s attention. To achieve this, avoid using overused phrases such as “In this paper, I will write about” or “I will focus on” as they lack originality. Instead, strive to engage your reader by substantiating your stance or proposition with a “so what” clause. While writing your thesis statement, aim to be precise, succinct, and clear in conveying your main argument.  

To create an effective essay introduction, ensure it is clear, engaging, relevant, and contains a concise thesis statement. It should transition smoothly into the essay and be long enough to cover necessary points but not become overwhelming. Seek feedback from peers or instructors to assess its effectiveness. 


  • Cui, L. (2022). Unit 6 Essay Introduction.  Building Academic Writing Skills . 
  • West, H., Malcolm, G., Keywood, S., & Hill, J. (2019). Writing a successful essay.  Journal of Geography in Higher Education ,  43 (4), 609-617. 
  • Beavers, M. E., Thoune, D. L., & McBeth, M. (2023). Bibliographic Essay: Reading, Researching, Teaching, and Writing with Hooks: A Queer Literacy Sponsorship. College English, 85(3), 230-242. 

Paperpal is a comprehensive AI writing toolkit that helps students and researchers achieve 2x the writing in half the time. It leverages 21+ years of STM experience and insights from millions of research articles to provide in-depth academic writing, language editing, and submission readiness support to help you write better, faster.  

Get accurate academic translations, rewriting support, grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, and generative AI assistance that delivers human precision at machine speed. Try for free or upgrade to Paperpal Prime starting at US$19 a month to access premium features, including consistency, plagiarism, and 30+ submission readiness checks to help you succeed.  

Experience the future of academic writing – Sign up to Paperpal and start writing for free!  

Related Reads:

  • What is an Argumentative Essay? How to Write It (With Examples)
  • How to Paraphrase Research Papers Effectively
  • How to Cite Social Media Sources in Academic Writing? 

How Long Should a Chapter Be?

Similarity checks: the author’s guide to plagiarism and responsible writing, types of plagiarism and 6 tips to avoid it in your writing , you may also like, what are journal guidelines on using generative ai..., types of plagiarism and 6 tips to avoid..., similarity checks: the author’s guide to plagiarism and..., what is a master’s thesis: a guide for..., should you use ai tools like chatgpt for..., what are the benefits of generative ai for..., how to avoid plagiarism tips and advice for..., plagiarism checkers vs. ai content detection: navigating the..., plagiarism prevention: why you need a plagiarism check....

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples

Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .

Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.

You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:

  • Start with a question
  • Write your initial answer
  • Develop your answer
  • Refine your thesis statement

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Upload your document to correct all your mistakes in minutes


Table of contents

What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.

The best thesis statements are:

  • Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
  • Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
  • Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Style consistency

See an example

how to write a theory in an essay

The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.

You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.

You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?

For example, you might ask:

After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.

In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.

The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.

In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.

The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.

A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:

  • Why you hold this position
  • What they’ll learn from your essay
  • The key points of your argument or narrative

The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.

These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.

Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:

  • In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
  • In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

College essays

  • Choosing Essay Topic
  • Write a College Essay
  • Write a Diversity Essay
  • College Essay Format & Structure
  • Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay

 (AI) Tools

  • Grammar Checker
  • Paraphrasing Tool
  • Text Summarizer
  • AI Detector
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Citation Generator

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :

  • Ask a question about your topic .
  • Write your initial answer.
  • Develop your answer by including reasons.
  • Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.

The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, August 15). How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved March 26, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/thesis-statement/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, how to write an essay introduction | 4 steps & examples, how to write topic sentences | 4 steps, examples & purpose, academic paragraph structure | step-by-step guide & examples, what is your plagiarism score.

WELCOME TO THE FAMILY! Please check your email for confirmation from us.

Sob stories? Trauma dumps? Black kids worry about writing college essays after affirmative action ban

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email
  • Copy Link Link Copied

how to write a theory in an essay

CHICAGO (AP) — When she started writing her college essay, Hillary Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education , it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color, instantly more was riding on the already high-stakes writing assignment. Some say they felt pressure to exploit their hardships as they competed for a spot on campus.

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life’s hardest moments to show how far she’d come. But she and some of her classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

“For a lot of students, there’s a feeling of, like, having to go through something so horrible to feel worthy of going to school, which is kind of sad,” said Amofa, the daughter of a hospital technician and an Uber driver.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action. The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” he wrote.

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds. Brown University asked applicants how “an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you.” Rice University asked students how their perspectives were shaped by their “background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity.”

Wondering if schools ‘expect a sob story’

When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, he knew the stakes were higher than ever because of the court’s decision. His first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child.

Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “And if you don’t provide that, then maybe they’re not going to feel like you went through enough to deserve having a spot at the university. I wrestled with that a lot.”

He wrote drafts focusing on his childhood, but it never amounted to more than a collection of memories. Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. The essay had humor — it centered on a water gun fight where he had victory in sight but, in a comedic twist, slipped and fell. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and getting made fun of for listening to “white people music.”

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to write this for me, and we’re just going to see how it goes,’” he said. “It just felt real, and it felt like an honest story.”

The essay describes a breakthrough as he learned “to take ownership of myself and my future by sharing my true personality with the people I encounter. … I realized that the first chapter of my own story had just been written.”

A ruling prompts pivots on essay topics

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he constantly felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

Recommended Stories

' decoding=

Ahmaud Arbery’s killers seeking to overturn their hate crime convictions

Associated Press

' decoding=

High school teacher and students sue over Arkansas’ ban on critical race theory

' decoding=

House Republicans aim to strip funding from medical schools over diversity programs

Ashlee Banks

' decoding=

DEI programs and concepts that could make someone feel guilty about their race banned in Alabama

' decoding=

America’s youngest teacher is a 16-year-old MBA student

TheGrio Lifestyle

' decoding=

MF Doom and Madlib’s ‘Madvillainy’ — now 20 years old — is the timeless classic album we all thought it would be in 2004

Panama Jackson

' decoding=

Before heading ‘outside,’ spring-clean your finances in 4 steps

Jennifer Streaks

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” he wrote.

As a first-generation college student, Decker thought about the subtle ways his peers seemed to know more about navigating the admissions process. They made sure to get into advanced classes at the start of high school, and they knew how to secure glowing letters of recommendation.

If writing about race would give him a slight edge and show admissions officers a fuller picture of his achievements, he wanted to take that small advantage.

His first memory about race, Decker said, was when he went to get a haircut in elementary school and the barber made rude comments about his curly hair. Until recently, the insecurity that moment created led him to keep his hair buzzed short.

Through Word is Bond, Decker said he found a space to explore his identity as a Black man. It was one of the first times he was surrounded by Black peers and saw Black role models. It filled him with a sense of pride in his identity. No more buzzcut.

The pressure to write about race involved a tradeoff with other important things in his life, Decker said. That included his passion for journalism, like the piece he wrote on efforts to revive a once-thriving Black neighborhood in Portland. In the end, he squeezed in 100 characters about his journalism under the application’s activities section.

“My final essay, it felt true to myself. But the difference between that and my other essay was the fact that it wasn’t the truth that I necessarily wanted to share,” said Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane, in New Orleans, because of the region’s diversity. “It felt like I just had to limit the truth I was sharing to what I feel like the world is expecting of me.”

Spelling out the impact of race

Before the Supreme Court ruling, it seemed a given to Imani Laird that colleges would consider the ways that race had touched her life. But now, she felt like she had to spell it out.

As she started her essay, she reflected on how she had faced bias or felt overlooked as a Black student in predominantly white spaces.

There was the year in math class when the teacher kept calling her by the name of another Black student. There were the comments that she’d have an easier time getting into college because she was Black.

“I didn’t have it easier because of my race,” said Laird, a senior at Newton South High School in the Boston suburbs who was accepted at Wellesley and Howard University , and is waiting to hear from several Ivy League colleges. “I had stuff I had to overcome.”

how to write a theory in an essay

In her final essays, she wrote about her grandfather, who served in the military but was denied access to GI Bill benefits because of his race.

She described how discrimination fueled her ambition to excel and pursue a career in public policy.

“So, I never settled for mediocrity,” she wrote. “Regardless of the subject, my goal in class was not just to participate but to excel. Beyond academics, I wanted to excel while remembering what started this motivation in the first place.”

Will schools lose racial diversity?

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court’s ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at some public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

It’s been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The first drafts of her essay focused on growing up in a low-income family, sharing a bedroom with her brother and grandmother. But it didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said.

Her final essay tells how she came to embrace her natural hair. She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro. When her grandmother sent her back with braids or cornrows, they made fun of those too.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“I stopped seeing myself through the lens of the European traditional beauty standards and started seeing myself through the lens that I created,” Amofa wrote.

“Criticism will persist, but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!”

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.

  • Share on Facebook Facebook
  • Share on Twitter Twitter
  • Share via Email Email
  • Copy Link Copy Link Link Copied

how to write a theory in an essay



  1. How to write answers in theory subjects for CS/CA/CMA Students

  2. How to write theory effectively-time management and tips

  3. 🖊️How to write theory paper📝 #theoritical #paper #write #writing #exam #exams #caexams #career

  4. Essay On Iraq With Easy Language In English

  5. What are Unsubstantiated Assertions ? & how to avoid them

  6. How to unpack the ToK Essay Titles


  1. What is a Theoretical Framework? How to Write It (with Examples)

    How to write a theoretical framework . The following general steps can help those wondering how to write a theoretical framework: 2. Identify and define the key concepts clearly and organize them into a suitable structure.; Use appropriate terminology and define all key terms to ensure consistency.; Identify the relationships between concepts and provide a logical and coherent structure.

  2. What is a Theoretical Framework?

    Test whether a theory holds in a specific, previously unexamined context; Use an existing theory as a basis for interpreting your results; Critique or challenge a theory; Combine different theories in a new or unique way; Tip As you write your theoretical framework, keep an eye out for potential hypotheses for your own research.

  3. Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

    The present tense is used when writing about theory. Although the past tense can be used to describe the history of a theory or the role of key theorists, the construction of your theoretical framework is happening now. You should make your theoretical assumptions as explicit as possible. Later, your discussion of methodology should be linked ...


    together. As you write, your paragraph may transition from theory to practice, then back to theory, or vice versa. Here are some tips for doing this well: • Use . concrete examples . from your experience, practice, or observations. These should be specific and easy for the reader to identify. • Link theory and practice with clear

  5. Literary Analysis: Applying a Theoretical Lens

    A common technique for analyzing literature (by which we mean poetry, fiction, and essays) is to apply a theory developed by a scholar or other expert to the source text under scrutiny. The theory may or may not have been developed in the service literary scholarship. One may apply, say, a Marxist theory of historical materialism to a novel, or ...

  6. How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay

    Paragraph 1. - Say one or two interesting things about the prescribed title question. This shows us, right away that you know what the question is asking. - Define one or two of the key terms in the title. Get definitions for all of the main words in your title. You don't need to include all of them in your essay, but it's useful to see how ...

  7. What Is a Theoretical Framework?

    A theoretical framework is a foundational review of existing theories that serves as a roadmap for developing the arguments you will use in your own work. Theories are developed by researchers to explain phenomena, draw connections, and make predictions. In a theoretical framework, you explain the existing theories that support your research ...


    A successful political theory paper in part depends to a huge extent on its architecture: the introduction (1.1), thesis statement (1.2), body (1.3) and conclusion (1.4). Understanding the role that each of these components are meant to play within the essay will hopefully aid you in crafting a strong, argumentative essay. !

  9. Reading, understanding and using theory

    As well as discussing theoretical ideas within an essay, you can use a theoretical perspective or approach as a framework if you are doing research of your own, such as a dissertation. ... see this piece on using theory in academic research. When writing about your use of theory in research, try to remember the following key points: Try to ...

  10. How to Structure an Essay

    The chronological approach (sometimes called the cause-and-effect approach) is probably the simplest way to structure an essay. It just means discussing events in the order in which they occurred, discussing how they are related (i.e. the cause and effect involved) as you go. A chronological approach can be useful when your essay is about a ...

  11. How to use theory in essays & assignments in social science

    In this video, you will learn how to use a theory to ease your discomfort, start working on your project, and finish on time.I assume you need a theory for a...

  12. Reading, understanding and using theory

    Writing about theory. If possible, try to engage with relevant theory in some way whilst writing assignments. If you can at least show your awareness of major theorists, concepts or arguments - even in passing - it will demonstrate that you have an understanding of the wider academic context of the subject that you are writing about.

  13. How to Write the Theory Section

    When writing our theory section we're being upfront about our programming. As I say in the talk, theories are ways of marshalling our passing "thoughts" about "things" in the more logical space of "concepts" and "objects". Without theories, things are just lying around wherever and however they like.

  14. Foundation Module: Critical Theory

    Foundation Module: Critical Theory - Essay Tips. There are a number of ways to conceive of the Critical Theory essay. The simplest is to choose one of the set authors or topics and write on that with suggestions from the relevant tutor. Slightly more ambitious is to compare and contrast theorists especially if there is a debate between them or ...

  15. Writing critically about theory or models

    Critical reading about a theory or model. A theory is a system of ideas that tries to explain something. It is generally based on general principles independent of the phenomenon (thing) being explained. Theory also refers to a body of ideas or a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based eg a theory of education, or a ...

  16. PDF Writing a 'describe and evaluate a theory' essay

    essay about Gibson's theory: (1) describing the theory accurately and in detail; (2) describing studies in only their essential details; and (3) evaluating the theory using evidence. Your essay will be assessed using the criteria below. The first three are compulsory. If you're confident with them you can have a go at the last.

  17. How do I reference a theory in my essay?

    When referring to a model, theory, or test, you only need to provide a citation the first time the model, theory, or test is mentioned in the text. After that, it is not necessary to keep including the citations when the model, theory, or test is mentioned again. Example: Cite the first time you mention the theory in the text: "Leader ...

  18. How to Write an Essay Introduction

    Step 1: Hook your reader. Step 2: Give background information. Step 3: Present your thesis statement. Step 4: Map your essay's structure. Step 5: Check and revise. More examples of essay introductions. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.

  19. Guide to the TOK Essay

    TOK is at its surface as simple as it sounds: you essentially learn the "what" and "why" of how we learn and understand knowledge. In order to assess students of their skills in TOK, IB uses an essay and a presentation. The essay makes up 67% of your total TOK score, making it the most important task to focus on for getting a high score.

  20. My Theory of Writing

    To get my point across of how my theory of writing has changed, first I must introduce my previous style. Writing was a big chore before I understood the mechanics and structure behind it. Coming from public school writing assignments were always assigned based on literature that was read in class. Every essay written would have the same ...

  21. Q: Do I need to provide a citation for an existing theory?

    No, if you are simply referring to the theory, it won't be considered a citation. If however you are referring to some other paper and what they have said about the theory or how they have used it, that of course would need to be a citation. That is, you would need to cite the referenced paper (and the author/s) rather than the original theory.

  22. How to Write the Best College Application Essay

    When writing college essays, consider the point you want to make and develop a fleshed-out response that fits the prompt. Avoid force-fitting prewritten pieces. Approach every personal essay prompt as if it's your first. 4. Stick to Your Style. Writing college essays isn't about using flowery or verbose prose.

  23. How to Write an Essay Introduction (with Examples)

    Writing a strong introduction is crucial for setting the tone and context of your essay. Here are the key takeaways for how to write essay introduction: 3. Hook the Reader: Start with an engaging hook to grab the reader's attention. This could be a compelling question, a surprising fact, a relevant quote, or an anecdote.

  24. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Placement of the thesis statement. Step 1: Start with a question. Step 2: Write your initial answer. Step 3: Develop your answer. Step 4: Refine your thesis statement. Types of thesis statements. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

  25. Sob stories? Trauma dumps? Black kids worry about writing college

    When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions.For many students of color ...