Blueprinting: Using the Thesis Paragraph to Plan Your Essay

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The blueprint, typically found in the thesis paragraph, is a list of the topics you plan to cover in oder to prove your thesis. A useful blueprint will preview the relationship between all sub-points (or at least list the points) in the order they will appear in the body of your paper, before the paper launches into details about the first sub-point.

Including a good blueprint will not only help your reader follow your argument, it will help your writing. It’s easier to add a room, move a hallway, or redesign a whole wing at the blueprinting stage, rather than tearing down sections of a partially-built house.

This paper will explore the economic, racial, and religious messages in Huckleberry Finn in order to argue [your thesis goes here].
Pretty dry, but it gets the job done. Don’t wait until you run out of “economic” details to mention the “racial” topic for the very first time.)
The Great Depression’s lasting impact on the structure of the working class family, the goals of public school education, and the social attitudes of a whole generation explain why [your thesis goes here]”.
Note that listing topics is really not enough — a good reasoning blueprint explains the thesis, so you need a good thesis in order to have a good blueprint. See “Thesis Statements: How to Write Them in Academic Essays.”)
Good ExampleThe biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
A reader who encounters the list “attention to cultural detail, use of Indian words, and direct quotes from Black Elk” will expect your paper to treat each of those subjects, in that order. A five-paragraph paper might have an introduction, one supporting paragraph on each topic, and a conclusion. A longer paper might devote several pages to each supporting point.

If your paper begins with a rambling introduction that serves up chunks that you recall from lectures and random web pages, the reader will have a hard time picking out your main point (because you don’t really have one).

The Great Depression was an important time in our nation’s history.  Unemployment, urban decay, and a sense of hopelessness filled almost every part of human life.  People tried many different ways to relieve their tensions, from religious revivals, to Jazz music, to membership in the Communist party.  Average people who were suffering in their daily lives often looked for things that would help them deal with the consequences of living in the industrial age. They often sought escapist entertainment in the form of movies.  One such movie was Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. In that film, “The Little Tramp” symbolizes the simple human values that are threatened by industrialism.
The author of the above passage not only wastes time composing five sentences before getting to her thesis (the very last sentence), she also clouds the issue by bringing up topics (religion, music, and Communism) that she has no intention of ever mentioning again. The following revision introduces just the three main points that drive the rest of the paper.
Good ExampleIn Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, his character “The Little Tramp” symbolizes the simple human values that are threatened by industrialism: leisure, self-reliance, and compassion.
The above revision is simply the [slightly edited] last sentence of the original wordy and vague paragraph.  This clear, direct thesis statement helps the student and reader focus on the task at hand.  The blueprint is very short — just a list of three terms; but even that is enough to communicate how the rest of the paper will work.

Serial Organization (weak integration)

Bad ExampleIn this example, we see a series of stand-alone paragraphs.

Sticking to one idea or per paragraph often leads to summary.

If I have to plough read all the details about the subject of the yellow paragraph before I see even the first mention of the topics of the blue and pink paragraphs, I will have no idea where your argument is going.

A stronger introduction would at least mention how your paper will connect the dots.

Revision: Some Attempt to Organize

In this revision below, we see an updated introduction, with a blueprint — represented here as colored text in the first paragraph, that refers to the content of the following three supporting paragraphs.

Before we see all the gory details of the gold paragraph, we are introduced to the blue and pink topics. The black sentence in the first paragraph comes right out and states, in brief, the conclusion that you will develop in the final paragraph.

An academic paper is not a mystery novel. Don’t save your best stuff for last. Give it away in your thesis statement, and use the body of your paper to prove your claim.

A clear intro would synthesize these multiple points into a coherent argument, rather than just offering a list of “things to talk about.”

 For more details about organizing, see Blueprinting: Using the Thesis Paragraph to Plan Your Essay.

The list of topics you plan to address in the body of your paper is important, but I’m using letters so that you can focus more closely on the structures that link those ideas.

Bad ExampleThis paper will talk about A, B, and C.
Yes, this is a clear list of three points, but an academic author has do more than “talk about” a string of sub-topics. A strong reasoning blueprint will knit those topics together in order to defend a position on a topic.
Bad ExampleX is better than Y.
That’s kind of stark; this paper has a purpose, but the thesis statement doesn’t offer a reasoning blueprint. Or, to use a different metaphor, the paper doesn’t point out the landmarks we will use as we navigate our way from our starting point to our destination.

Examples of thesis statements with a reasoning blueprint:

Note that the reasoning blueprint introduces subpoints that the reader will expect you to cover in the same order.

Good ExampleFor reasons A, B, and C, X is better than Y.
Good ExampleX is better than Y, for reasons A, B, and C.

For a short paper (1 or 2 pages), with a simple argument that fits the small space well, the above blueprint is probably fine.

  • Readers will expect the paper to have sections on A, B, and C, and they will expect each of those sections to support the claim that X is better than Y.
  • You might instead have a section on X that covers the benefits of A, B, and C, and then a section on Y that covers the drawbacks of A, B, and C, all knitted together in a conclusion.

Personal essays and reflection papers may require no sources other than the author’s opinions and personal experiences, but a college research paper will require deep engagement with outside sources. For the next example, we’ll assume your instructor accepts Smith as a credible source for this paper.

Good Example

Because of problems P and Q, Smith’s plan X will not actually deliver all the benefits that Smith promises when he rejects Y.

The reader will expect a section on P and Q, a section on why Smith says he rejected Y and preferred X, and then a section on why Smith was wrong. (Did he exaggerate? rely on outdated data? overgeneralize?)  If this student simply started listing accurate details — “talking about” problems P and Q — then it would be confusing and frustrating for the reader to encounter, at the top of page 3, a critique of Smith’s promises about plan X.
Good ExampleAlthough Jones is right to point out that X does a better job than Y does when it comes to problem A, in community P, incidents of problem A are so rare that community P should should still stick with Y, because only Y will help us avoid problems B and C (which are more common than usual in community P).
The above example makes a complex claim. If you want to make this argument, but you start your paper “talking about” X and then “talking about” Y, your reader may miss the whole point — which is that, despite the fact Jones is right about why X is good, community P would be better served by Y.

Below is an even more complex argument, which demonstrates a college-level ability to sift through ideas from multiple sources.

Good ExampleWhile experts Smith, Jones, Brown, and Lee all support X instead of Y, their research fails to account for special case W, which would cause big disasters A, B, and C if exposed to X, and which will provide huge benefits P and Q if exposed to Y. Although X is still a good option in most cases, no solution will be complete unless people affected by W have the freedom to choose Y.
The above is a very complex blueprint; as you can see, the idea here is so complex that the author has split the thesis statement and the reasoning blueprint up into separate sentences. That’s perfectly fine.

Use “Thesis Reminders” for Transitions

No matter how good your thesis, your writing is worth little if it does not cohere (hold together) and demonstrate to the reader how each new point advances the main idea. You can accomplish both goals by providing your reader with thesis reminders.

thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement, used as a transition between supporting points.

Bad ExampleThe next point I want to talk about is…
Not a good transition, because it does nothing to help the reader understand how the supporting points fit into the master plan of your paper.

A good thesis sentence has three main parts: the limited subject (what your paper is about), the precise opinion (what you’re trying to say about that subject), and the blueprint (what this web page is about). (See: “Thesis Statements“)

Here are two examples of using the thesis and the blueprint to maintain coherence.

Example 1

Thesis: Restoring old houses is rewarding because it is excitingrelaxing, and satisfying.

Topic Sentence #1 with reminder

Part of the reward in restoring old houses lies in the excitement of discovering the original interior.

Topic Sentence #2 with reminder:

Not only is there excitement in restoring old houses, but working with one’s hands is relaxing.

Topic Sentence #3 with reminder:

However excited and relaxed you may be when you have finished restoring your house, nothing beats the satisfaction found in viewing the completed project.

Example 2:

Thesis: Becoming a ski patroller turned out to be harder than I thought because of the studying, the skiing, and the time demands.

Topic Sentence #1 with reminder:

The first hurdle to becoming a ski patroller was the amount of studying required to learn the medical terms, symptoms and signs, and treatments.

Topic Sentence #2 with reminder:

It isn’t enough to pass the first aid and CPR exams; a ski patroller also has to train for and demonstrate skiing proficiency and toboggan handling on the slope.

Topic Sentence #3 with reminder:

Studying and ski training are both very time consuming, yet, even after ski patrollers pass all the exams, they still must commit themselves to skiing many hours regardless of the weather or snow conditions.

You Don’t Need Exactly Three Points!

If you are writing a more complex essay, you may use a different format, but you still must include blueprints and reminders.

For example, a critical essay may have a thesis, antithesis, and a synthesis.  The antithesis presents all the arguments against your thesis, and a synthesis is a kind of compromise, in which you attempt to prove that, whatever points your opponents might have in their favor, your thesis still stands.

Each of these sections may have 3 or more points, which are united by local blueprints and local reminders, capped off by local conclusions, and worked into by the tapestry of the whole argument.

Varieties of Blueprints

These are all acceptable ways to blueprint in a thesis statement.

yes.gif (203 bytes)Renting a new apartment during college is exciting because it promotes independence, rewards responsibility, and allows creativity.
This is one sentence, with commas separating each blueprint item.


Iffy ExampleTaking Professor Jerz’s Technical writing course is a wise choice.  It focuses on correct grammar.  It allows students to gain experience in the outside world.  And it permits students to budget their time.
This example is okay but a bit choppy — here, having a separate sentence for each point is pretty much a waste of words. (But see revision, below.)
Good ExampleTaking Professor Jerz’s Technical writing course is a wise choice.  It focuses on one of Jerz’s favorite things: correct grammar.  It amplifies textbook knowledge by providing students with valuable experiences outside the classroom.  And it forces students to learn time management — a skill that many college students lack.
This example is a bit more complex — the sentences which introduce the blueprint items are actually delivering some of the paper’s argument; hence, there’s a reason why each point needs a separate sentence.A student who has nothing more to say about a point than, for instance, “time management is a skill that many college students lack” is not going to want to give away that one idea in the blueprint; instead, he or she will try to create an entire paragraph around that one idea.

The result will be wordy and boring. By contrast, a student who can slip an interesting observation into the blueprint, and then follow up with even moreintelligent and insightful things in the body of the paper, is demonstrating much more advanced writing skill.

Use Good Structure

The order of the points in the blueprint should perfectly parallel the points in the essay. If you say you are going to talk about “ships, shoes, and sealing wax,” but your essay starts with “sealing wax,” then your blueprint is distorted.

Here is an example of a different kind of distortion — faulty parallelism.

Bad ExampleTaking Professor Jerz’s Technical Writing course is a wise choice because it focuses on correct grammar and allowing students to gain experience in the outside world.  Students are also permitted to budget their time.
What is wrong with this example? How could it be fixed?

  • The number of ideas the writer wants to portray is unclear (does “correct grammar and allowing students…” count as one point or two?).
  • Nothing stands out as a main idea.  The sentence could easily confuse the reader, because the main focus is unclear.
  • Faulty parallelism is a grammatical error.  Flaws in the grammar of your thesis statement can be devastating to the overall effectiveness of the essay.

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point.  Proper blueprinting facilitates the coherency of the thesis throughout the rest of the essay.

05 Nov 2000; originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior
17 Jan 2001 — updated and expanded by Dennis G. Jerz
21 May 2002 — minor tweaks
23 Mar 2012 — modest updates
10 Jun 2015 — adjustments and formatting

Related Links
Jordan and Jerz
Thesis Statements
A thesis statement is the main idea that your essay supports. The thesis statement has 3 main parts: thelimited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz
Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.