Tone your body

The body paragraphs are the center of your essay. Use them to present evidence that supports the argument in your thesis statement. Easy, right?

Wrong. The introduction is very learnable–with a little practice, anyone can write an effective introduction. It may not be beautiful and artistic, and it may not have a great hook, but it will get the job done.

But what do we do in the body paragraphs? Let’s go back to that essay about honestly that we were writing the other day. Our simple, simple thesis was this:

In fact, deception is often justified, especially when one is trying to save someone’s reputation or someone’s life.

Many students would go from this into a body paragraph that starts something like this:

For example, you are walking down a street and you saw some big kids beating up a little kid who ran away, and that little kid ran by you and hid himself up a tree. The big kids come up and ask you if you saw the little kid running. In this situation, you would lie, because you would be saving that little kid from getting beaten up or perhaps even killed. Therefore, people should be willing to deceive when they are in a situation where someone’s life is threatened.

What’s the problem? It’s an example, right? It illustrates the principle that lying is sometimes justified, right? Well, sure: it does. But it doesn’t do it very well. It creates a hypothetical situation to support a real-life principle, which is like a scientist inventing data to prove his or her pet theory (“Well, if water froze at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the oceans would be made of ice…”).EF2087

Hypothetical data is simply not data, and it makes a poor example for an SAT essay (or any essay, really). Choose a real story, or make one up. Here’s a better body paragraph that uses the same basic idea, but supports it using real-sounding details:

Deception is justified when lying can save people from harm or death. For example, in 1968, the Communist nations who were party to the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia, which had begun to veer off the course of Communism set by the Soviet government in the U.S.S.R. The Czechs and Slovaks did not fight back, but they did use deception to make the invasion as difficult as possible, changing road signs, lying when interrogated and hiding people who might be in danger of arrest and death. This deception flummoxed the invading armies. Although they were eventually able to establish control over the country’s major cities and thoroughfares, they did so in a very protracted manner, allowing people to escape from the Soviet grip and hide inspirational books, plays and poems to nourish them during the Communist crackdown after the invasion. Had the Czechoslovakian people not lied, many more innocent people might have died, and the eventual assertion of dictatorial control may have happened sooner, with a greater loss of freedom and national self-esteem.

Both body paragraphs show how deception can help people avoid harm from greater, more powerful forces, but the second marshals details and specifics in support of that idea. That leads to Rule Number One: be specific. Please, for God’s sake, be specific.

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